Thursday, June 27, 2013

Origin Stories: Two BCH Dance Teachers

This week, we present the bios of the two Brew City Hops summer teachers - where they come from, what they love about dancing, and what they do when they're not dancing.  

Adam Baus

Adam Baus, 33, started Brew City Hops in the spring of 2005.  With the help of fellow BCH instructor Tory Bahe, he sponsored his very first dance at the Urban Ecology Center, and has been committed to providing the best dance experience for today's Milwaukee lindy hoppers ever since.  With the help of many other people in the dance scene, he has sponsored over 40 events, from late night dances, to the Milwaukee Lindy Hop Summits in the winters of 2010 and 2011.  He has also sponsored non-swing dance events: the Pirate Thriller Crawl, and the Winter Dance Card Formal.  

An ardent champion of good music, he has enjoyed many opportunities to DJ at places like the Down & Over, The Bayview Brew Haus, Hot Water, Chicago's Fizz, Madison's Jumptown, the Purdue Lindy Exchange, and various other events.  In January of 2009, Baus began the BCH Monday night classes with partner Becky Brodie.  He took a break from the rigorous teaching schedule in June 2011, and is thrilled to be teaching with Elise for the entire summer of 2013.  

Away from the dance floor, Adam is a pianist by trade.  He set up his business when he moved to Milwaukee 10 years ago, and still devotes most of his time to teaching private students, mainly in Shorewood.  He is an active performer, and is currently the music director for a dinner theatre in Port Washington, along with being the music designer for Optimist Theatre's "As You Like It"; Shakespeare in the Park- being performed at Kadisch Park (across from Lakefront Brewery) in July.  It's FREE, and he would love to have you come hear his selections and compositions.  

Adam is most recently the winner of a Tommy award for his musical direction of Shorewood High School's production of "Spring Awakening".  Just in this past school year, he has performed in "Phantom of the Opera" (Dominican HS), "Girl Crazy" (Cedarburg HS), "Bye, Bye Birdie" (Reagan HS), "Godspell" (First Stage Young Company), and "Candide" (Milwaukee Opera Theatre).  He is also the accompanist for the Marquette Staff Chorale, Cedarburg HS Vocal Jazz, and the Ronald Reagan HS Music Department.  He is a regular performer with the "Four Guyz in Dinner Jackets", and has done work with the Skylight Music Theatre, Combat Theatre, Off the Wall Theatre, and many other schools and performing groups.  

Pirate Thriller Pub Crawl 2012
Building on the event planning experience gained from Brew City Hops, Baus because the designer and director of "The Amazing Milwaukee Race" in 2010, and is getting ready to sponsor his 6th big Milwaukee scavenger/ clue hunt urban race experience in August 2013.  You can check out the race at  

Adam attribute's a lot to his success as a person to many of things gained in learning how to lindy hop.  "Believe it or not, I was a relatively shy person when I first came to Milwaukee.  Perhaps not shy, but socially scared.  I was generally intimidated by everyone, especially women.  The incredible confidence one gains in learning the dance, and then being able to go up to any woman in the room and ask her for a dance cannot be measured.  The ability to walk up to another guy and just introduce yourself and not feel awkward or stupid doesn't happen any more.  I love being able to connect with another person and with fun music.  I've had some incredible travel opportunities, and have friends all around the world thanks to learning to swing dance."

Baus can tell you the best thing to come about from dancing was meeting Lizzy on the dance floor in 2010.  During the last song at the Winter Dance Card Formal last December, he proposed and the two will get married in May 2014.

Elise Russell

Elise Russell, 25, started dancing because her mother forced her into ballroom dance lessons as an awkward teenager.  After a summer of smugly showing off her basic East Coast steps in her hometown scene, she sauntered off to college at University of Rochester and promptly got her mind blown by the wide world of lindy hop.

Since then, she has been devouring as much swing, lindy hop, charleston, balboa, blues, and solo jazz as she could find, first through the University of Rochester Swing Club and Rochester's local Groovejuice Swing organization, and then by traveling to many wonderful dance events nearby.  

Here are some highlights of her dance career:

- Taking a Musicality workshop that incorporated an actual live band - a feature of Rochester's annual Steven & Virginie weekend event, which is highly recommended!

- Getting to dance with Steven Mitchell, lindy hop legend, at a workshop after-party.  It was a funk song, and it was amazing!

- Founding and teaching a swing dance club on a cruise ship, as part of Semester at Sea study abroad.  Imagine doing charleston with the entire floor rolling up and down beneath you!

- Falling on her face during her first big birthday jam in Rochester - it's tough to keep track of your shoelaces sometimes.

- Attending Frankie95 in New York City, a celebration of Frankie Manning's life on his birthday just a few weeks after his passing.  There were over a thousand dancers attending; the event broke a few world records.

- Traveling through places like St. Petersburg, Kuala Lumpur, and Phnom Penh, and dancing with people who didn't even speak English.  Our mutual language was swing!

- Attending the International Lindy Hop Championships in 2010 and watching the entire crowd get rickrolled by Andrew Thigpen and Karen Thurman: 

- Lindy-bombing the National Mall in Washington, DC, right after the Rally To Restore Reason.  Also hitting up a Reddit party later that night, where she won +1 upvotes for dancing.

- Starting up two separate swing dance clubs while teaching English at a boarding school in Malaysia - one club for girls and one for boys, because the culture was too conservative for them to dance together.  The boys never even showed up to their club, but the girls' club was lots of fun!

- Spending eight days in Seoul, Korea, and dancing lindy hop and blues every single night.  It's true; Seoul has the largest swing scene on earth, and it was full of friendly, skilled people.

The Girls' Swing Club at the boarding school in Malaysia
- Doing a random, spontaneous Soul Train at a local dance in Baltimore, and again at a late-night party at Stompology in Rochester.  Soul Train is coming back!

- Informally jamming out on kazoo with jazz and blues musicians at several different dance events.  It turns out that playing music is as much of a rush as dancing to it.

Elise moved to the lovely city of Milwaukee in 2012 and has since had the privilege of dancing and teaching at a variety of locations, including the Down & Over, the Riverside High School Ballroom Dance Club, the MSOE Swing Club, Milwaukee Recreation, and Brew City Hops Monday Night classes.  She is very excited to be teaching Musicality with Adam Baus this summer, and knows that she will certainly end up learning as much as she teaches!

Aside from dancing, Elise has pursued singing, tall ship sailing, and a great deal of traveling.  She has a Bachelor's in Psychology with a minor in Music, and is currently taking classes with a eye toward Computer Engineering.  She has worked largely in childcare, teaching, and academic research positions, with a summer-long stint on Milwaukee's tall ship the Denis Sullivan.  She has lived on four different continents and three different boats, and still remembers how to hold a conversation in Danish.  She can also tie twice as many knots as your average Boy Scout.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Who Is Frankie, and Why The Big Deal?

If you are a swing dancer and you haven't heard of Frankie Manning yet, it is high time that you knew the story.  Every lindy hopper owes a large part of their dancing to Frankie, from his original pioneering influence to the ultimate revival of lindy hop.

Frankie Manning was a young dancer back in the original heyday of lindy hop, in Harlem in the 1930's and 40's.  He quickly rose to the top of the dance crowd at the Savoy Ballroom, due to his creative, athletic, and musical style.  One night, he and his partner Freda Washington entered a contest against their idol, the famous George "Shorty" Snowden, who invented the "shorty george".  They did a brand-new over-the-back move - the first aerial ever invented - which sent the crowd wild and won them the contest.

Frankie was soon invited to join the first lindy hop dance ensemble, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, and he traveled and performed with them all over the world as their chief choreographer.  Some of their performances are immortalized in film, such as the Marx Brothers' A Day At The Races, or this now-famous dance clip from the movie Hellzapoppin' (dancing starts at 2:40):

But all of that is history.  Swing dancing eventually fell out of style, in favor of rock 'n' roll, and Frankie joined the Postal Service and faded from the public eye.  He fully expected that his performing days were over, and settled down into a relatively normal life.

Even if this were the end of the story, it would be enough to immortalize him in the annals of dance, but we're not done yet!

In the mid-80's, a pair of dancers named Steven Mitchell and Erin Stevens were taking lessons from Al Minns, a former member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.  After introducing them to lindy hop, he told them that Frankie was still alive and living in New York.  They called every Frank Manning in the phone book to find him.  When they finally contacted him, he was very surprised, but agreed to work with them, and the lindy hop revival was born.  It soon spread to every major city, as swing music came back into style and dancers flocked to learn from the master.

From 1986 through his death in 2009, Frankie Manning traveled the world teaching, choreographing, filming, and inspiring a new generation of dancers.  It is largely due to his hard work and charisma that lindy hop is as widespread and true to its original form as it is today.  He was a beloved and engaging teacher, a subject for many jazz and swing documentaries, and an award-winning choreography consultant for several productions including Spike Lee's Malcolm X.  His opinions on technique and style are respected to the point of reverence; arguments between dancers are often resolved with the phrase, "But this is how Frankie did it!"  

Not only was Frankie Manning a leader and innovator back in the original days of lindy hop, he was also a teacher, ambassador, and figurehead in the modern days of the revival.  He was a beloved, central character in the dance world, not only for his skill as a dancer and a teacher, but also for his happy energy and his modest, engaging personality.  Everyone who met him has a story, and the echos of his life are inextricably linked with the dance we love.

Here is a video of Frankie at age 89, leading his favorite line dance the Shim Sham, which he choreographed from the original tap version:

Everyone post your favorite Frankie anecdote or Frankie-inspired dance move in the comments!

If you want Frankie's story in full, check out these sources:

The Frankie Manning autobiography, Ambassador of Lindy Hop

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Hows and Whys of Traveling to Dance

This is Elise, and this is my first post!  I'm very excited to be contributing to this blog!

In case you didn't know, I spent the last week out of town in Rochester, NY, where an amazing dance event called Stompology was being held.  There really aren't words enough to express everything that I gained from this weekend - friends-wise, dance-wise, and memory-wise - so instead I'll put my lingering euphoria to use writing a guide for the beginning dance-traveller.

First, the whys:

On The Benefits Of Visiting A New Scene

If you have just been dancing with one set of people, month in and month out, you have probably gotten used to everything they do on the floor.  You know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and you know how strong a dancer you are relative to everyone else.  You know what to expect, and you know what is expected of you. 

Visiting a new scene gives you the opportunity to start fresh with an entirely new set of people, all expectations removed.  None of them know what kind of skills or moves you have to offer, so you have a chance to impress both them and yourself.  You might end up trying something new or dancing far better than you thought you could! 

Also, every city's dance scene has its own dialect.  Although most scenes teach lindy hop to the same national standard, every city's style and basic moves are a bit different.  The more dialects you get exposed to, the more ways you have of understanding the dance, and the better a dancer you will be!

On The Benefits Of Attending A Dance Event

Large dance events, such as weekends and dance camps, are even better for your dancing.  They attract good bands and DJs, excellent world-class teachers, and loads of friendly people from a wide range of skill levels and dance dialects.  The atmosphere is usually fun and experimental; you can make new friends, take mind-blowing classes, and dress up for huge social dances to live music.  They are also great places to get inspired: the contests, performances, and even just the social dancing will leave you light-headed and buzzing with enthusiasm.  

There is no such thing as being too much of a beginner to go to a dance event.  Every single event since I started dancing has helped me, and none of them have left me disappointed - especially the ones I went to when I barely knew what I was doing.

Second, the hows:

There are two ways to combine travel and dancing.  Either you can dance when you travel (for example, by dropping by a new scene during a business trip), or you can travel to dance (for example, by attending an out-of-town event).

Steps for Visiting New Scenes While Traveling

1. Google "lindy hop" or "swing dancing" and the name of the city you'll be in.  Explore the most relevant sites that come up, and look specifically for a "dance calendar". 

2.  Determine if there will be any social dances in the city while you are there.  If uncertain, look for a contact person on the most active website and email them your questions.

3.  Find the days, times, and locations of dances you can attend, and work them into your travel plans.

4.  When at the dance, don't be shy - ask lots of people to dance!  Also ask the friendliest locals which people they would recommend you dance with.  Don't hesitate to make friends - you never know, maybe they'll come visit your home scene!

Steps for Going To A Dance Event

1. Find an event that you'd like to go to, on a weekend that's convenient.  (Resources: the Brew City Hops facebook group, the flyers on the registration table at the Down & Over, and sites like the Lindy Calendar).

2. Reach out and see if anyone else in the area wants to go to the event, so that you can arrange carpools, hotel room splits, and/or moral supoort.

3. Register for the event ASAP - prices usually start around $110 and go up as the event gets closer.  Remember to request housing if you don't plan on getting a hotel room!  Housing means being hosted, couch-surfer style, by a local dancer.  

4. For the economically-minded, ask the event coordinators about volunteering.  Most events need lots of help, for which you can get reduced registration fees or even cash.

5. Decide if you'd like to enter any contests - sign-up is usually packaged in with registration.  A good contest for someone just looking to get their feet wet would be an Open Jack & Jill - "open" means that anyone can do it, and "jack & jill" means that you sign up by yourself and get assigned random partners during the contest.

6. Look at the event schedule and plan your trips to and from: whether you'll be driving, carpooling, or taking a train or plane, and whether you'll need a half-day off work on Friday for travel time.

7. Pick 2-3 outfits to get fancy in, and 2 outfits to get sweaty in - there are usually 2-3 evening dances and 2 days of classes per weekend.  Bring extra shirts for hot venues! Also be sure to pack dance shoes, a gift for your housing host (if applicable), and snacks or groceries to make breakfasts and break times easier.

8. Bring a dance notebook or video camera so as not to forget the things you learn, and so that you can scribble down new friends' contact information.

9. Decide early whether you want to stay up till 5am dancing each night (the parties are worth it!), or whether you want to be awake and functional for the morning classes.  Few people can do everything that there is to do at an event and survive.  Prioritize!

10.  Prepare to have your mind blown, your social circle expanded, your dance level skyrocketed, and your ride home filled with crazy stories!