Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Summary

It has been an amazing summer. I had so much fun teaching with Adam at Brew City Hops, and it was so great to see how much everyone worked and improved these past few months!  I also had a wonderful time writing these weekly blog posts.  I hope you all enjoyed this summer as much as I did!


For posterity, and for the curious, here are all of our class warm-up choreographies.  We didn't manage a class video of the last warm-up, but I recorded myself demonstrating it in case you would like to practice it at home.

June Solo Jazz Warm-Up

Slow Song: Four or Five Times, by the Chiaroscuro All Stars (featuring Joe Williams)
Fast Song: South, by Joe Salzano and the Blue Devils

Choreography starts right on the first beat:

Walk forward, walk back (x2) - (skip this when dancing to fast song)
Shouts x2, jump shouts, mess around (x2)
Tacky annie x2, badoom badoom tacky annie, hallelujah rocks (x2)

Boogie forward, boogie back (x2)
Charleston x2, hop-hop charleston, scarecrow (x2)
Lollies x2, kick-step forward, boogie down (x2)

Shorty george, apple jacks (x2)
Jazz sqare x2, jazz square with slip slop, fishtails (x2)
Fall off the log x2, fall off the log with twisty heels, running on a log (x2)

End with a lock-turn!

June Solo Jazz Warm-Up, Slow

June Solo Jazz Warm-Up, Fast

July Solo Charleston Warm-Up

Fast Song: I Like Pie, I Like Cake, by Gordon Webster (Live in Rochester, feat. Steven Mitchell)
Faster Song: Twenty-Four Robbers, by Gordon Webster

Choreography starts in on the first verse:

Hitchhiker's x3, knee-slaps (x2)
20's charleston x3, charleston turn (x2)
20's charleston with swoops x3, charleston turn (x2)
20's charleston with running on a log variation x3, charleston turn (x2)

Crossovers x3, double kicks (x2)
30's charleston x3, lock turn (x2)
Flying charleston x3, lock turn (x2)
Flying charleston with swoops x3, lock turn (x2)

July Solo Charleston Warm-Up, Fast

August Slow Solo Warm-Up

Slow Song: Sermonette, by Gordon Webster
Slower Song: Sweet Lorraine, by the Bechet-Spainer Quartet

Choreography starts in on the first verse:

Mambo step x3, paddle turn (x2)
Camel walk, shoe shine (x4)

Mooches x3, pimp walk (x2)
Kitchen dance, wax the floor (x4)

Low downs, hip scoots, low downs, slides (x2)
Monkey leaps, pivot around (x4)

August Slow Solo Warm-Up, Fast - Demo

It has been lovely, everyone!  I'll see you out and about this fall!

- Elise

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

September BCH Classes


Henry and Kirsten are back in September for a month full of Charleston! We'll be covering tandem and jockey Charleston, as well as making sure you've got great transitions to incorporate what you learn into your dancing. As always, all ages are welcome, and no dance experience or partner is needed.

Classes will be held 7:00-9:00pm on Mondays in September*
*no classes on Labor Day

$8/$5 students
Ask about punch cards for special deals!
If finances are making it difficult to attend classes, please don't hesitate to talk to your instructors. 


Have you been itching to learn how to Swing Out? Learn the fundamentals of Lindy Hop with Tory and Trevor on Monday nights in September. Please note this class starts at 7:30 pm.

Classes will be held 7:00-9:00pm on Mondays in September*
*no classes on Labor Day
$24 for all four classes

Location The basement of Summerfield Methodist Church on 728 Juneau Ave, Milwaukee WI

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Best Dance Analogy

My favorite way to describe dance is by comparing it to language. Each dance style is like a separate language or dialect, and they inter-relate in similar ways. They are also similarly rich, complex, and full of expressive possibilities.

This is a great analogy to use with non-dancers, when you want to explain just why you'll spend three nights per week and hundreds of dollars per year doing what looks like, to them, a version of the hokey pokey.
But what is he trying to say?

Here are some of the ways that that this awesome analogy holds true:

Dance styles and languages each have unique syntax and vocabulary.  For dancing, these are moves, rhythm, and the order in which it makes sense to do things.

Both dancing and language take a finite amount of separate pieces - words or movements - and recombine them creatively in infinite different ways.

Both dancing and language are used expressively.  I originally got hooked on lindy hop when I saw people using it to tell jokes with each other!

Ever feel like this in class?
Learning a new style of dance is very similar to learning a new language.  When you learn, you start with vocabulary and grammar (moves and patterns). You spend a while learning how to shape your mouth (body) for correct pronunciation (posture, movement style). Learning at the beginning is rote and rather awkward, but with enough practice over a long period of time, you are able to start recombining the things you have learned and expressing yourself in the moment.

With both dancing and languages, classes are certainly helpful, but the best way to reach fluency is always immersion - for example, by living with native speakers, or by social dancing frequently with good music and skilled people.

You can have an accent in both dance and speech. If I dance, say, ballroom with any competent partner, they will almost certainly spot my lindy hop background from the way I move, connect, and respond to certain cues.

Once you learn one dance style or language, it is easier to learn another. Although, when you start learning a new one, your first style or language will probably creep in and disrupt the process a bit. I know I kept trying to rock-step when I first tried salsa.

Learning a line dance is very much like learning a rote poem or chant. You can use it to practice vocabulary and pronunciation, and then you can "recite" it alone or with other people for fun.
Wow, she must have dance-dissed him
pretty hard.

Dancing with a partner is very much like having a conversation with someone.  You can share moods and thoughts, respond to each other's communications, and in the process, learn a lot about each other. In both verbal and dance conversations, people can be overbearing, shy, subtle, casual, funny, serious, challenging...the list goes on!

I am frequently sad that with most new friends, words are the only way to get to know them. If only everyone could speak a dance language!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

One-Dance Challenges

Social dancing is a time for fun and relaxation, and it is also a time to test your dancing out in the wild (as it were).  You often learn more in a good night of social dancing than you ever do in a lesson.

Look - a herd of lindy hoppers sweeping majestically across the plains!

But if it seems like your dance development is at a standstill, or you're just bored with the old routine, why not mix it up a bit and give yourself a challenge? 

Here are a few One-Dance Challenges that I've always enjoyed, some of which were also instrumental in making me a better dancer:

1. Blind Following - choose a lead that you trust, warn them about what you intend to do, and dance the whole song with your eyes closed.  It's amazing how your following can change without visual cues!

2. Level Changes - in one song, find a way to creatively work in five separate floor-touches.  This will really work your balance and your musicality, especially if you haven't done much with different levels in your dancing before.

3. Free Hand Dancing - for one song, anytime your free hand is not actively required by your partner, keep it at or above shoulder height; the challenge is in doing this creatively and musically.  You will almost certainly make up a bunch of cool arm movements that you can use in later dances!

4. Active Listening - for one song, choose a particular prominent instrument and dance only to that instrument.  Whatever it does, you respond to, and when it does nothing, you remain neutral.  You'll be surprised how much you notice about the music as a whole!

5. Opposite-Hand Dancing - for one song, use the hand that you're least accustomed to leading/following with.  For follows, you might have to specifically request that the lead only use your left hand.  It can feel mighty strange but mighty freeing to try this!

6. Box Breaking - find a partner that you feel comfortable with, and for one song, creatively twist, vary, or otherwise mess with every single move that you possibly can, even the basics!  And this goes double for follows.  This will result in a bunch of silly awkward bombs and several golden moments of "that was awesome!"

7. Solo Jam - for one song, dance with nobody but the music.  Make it a real dance, too, and use your whole body and the space around you.  "Look ma, no partner!"

8. Matrix Dancing - with a willing partner, dance one song together without touching each other.  This can mean whatever you want it to mean, as long as you're still dancing together

9. Role Switching - with a willing partner, swap lead/follow roles either for the whole dance or at multiple times throughout the dance.  See if you can pull off any cool transitions.

10. Steal Dancing - with a willing group of people, have a song where you repeatedly steal each others' partners.  See how many cool steals you can pull off in unexpected ways!

A lot of these challenges are classics, and some of them you may have never heard of.  But in my opinion, these are things that everyone needs to try at least once, not only for the learning experience, but also - mainly - for the sheer fun of it!

And now let us end with an awesome and inspiring dance video which I cannot stop watching:

Lone Star Championships 2013 Invitational Jack & Jill Contest
(The first pair, Michael and Frida, won first place!)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Milwaukee Blues Dancing Primer

What is it?

I love blues dancing, and so do people in every major city in America and many across the world.  But what is blues dancing?  Let me see if I can explain...

Blues dancing, like blues music, is raw, gritty, and expressive.  It is characterized by strong connection - between partners, between the dancers and the music, and even connection within the body of each dancer.  It is characterized by musicality and creative improvisation.  It is characterized by deep pulse, natural relaxed body movement, and physical eloquence.

It is difficult for me to describe in words.  The best thing I can say is that after a very good blues dance, I feel as if I've had an internal massage.  I would be happy to hear and publish others' descriptions and experiences of blues dancing, so please comment if you have one!

Some people are probably wondering if blues dancing is related to swing dancing, or tango, or any other dance.  I have observed a large overlap between lindy hoppers and blues dancers, and between west coast swing dancers and blues dancers, but a large portion of the blues scene is exclusively, or mainly, blues dancers.  I know of a number of moves that seem to be inspired by Argentine tango, but after trying to follow Argentine tango, I would guess that blues dancing is only loosely related if at all.  Blues dancing is entirely its own genre, even if it has inspirations and overlaps with other styles.

Some people are probably wondering where blues dancing came from.  There seems to be some controversy over whether the close, slow dancing done in rent parties during the early Swing era can be called blues dancing.  If so, then the modern incarnation is a revival of the early forms of dancing done to blues music, and if not, it is a dance that evolved in parallel to the swing revival of the 80's and 90's.  Either way, it is definitely still evolving.

Some people are probably wondering why we don't just cut to the chase and call it "sexy" dancing, because that's basically all it is, right?  Well, I and the entire international blues community beg to differ.  

From the awesome blog/tumblr
Declaration of Lindependance
There may be many elements of blues dancing that look sexy, but very little of it is actually as sexy as it seems from the outside.  Most of the time when I am dancing blues, I am feeling athletic, musical, and connected.  And most of the time when I am watching blues, I am captured by the expressiveness, the aesthetic, and the amazing things that people can do with the medium. People come to blues dancing for all different reasons, but most of them stay for the incredibly rich dance experience that they find.

Enough of the what.  Let's move on to the why.  And for that, I leave it up to the greats.

Why do it?

Damon and Liz Stone give a blues demo: 

Joe and Nelle give a slow drag (style of blues) demo: 

A mesmerizing blues performance to "Stormy Weather": 

A fast blues dance contest at BluesSHOUT! 2011 (watch it till the end - it gets crazy!): 

Where do it?

Had enough?  Me neither.  Here's where you can find blues dancing if you live in Milwaukee:

1. Madison has a very healthy blues scene, headed up by MadCity Blues.
  • They are holding a beginner Blues Bootcamp on Sunday, August 18th, $20 if you register online.  This is perfect for any level of dancer!
  • They are also holding an awesome Tri-State Workshop Extravaganza on August 23rd-25th, with incredible instructors and two nights of social dancing.  Registration is now open for a ridiculously low $50; you definitely don't want to miss it!
2. Chicago has two monthly blues venues, both very popular hotspots for dancers of all levels:
  • Bluetopia, on the last Friday of every month, located at the American Tango Institute at 325 N. Hoyne.  Lots of very friendly dancers here, and occasionally live music!
  • CodeBlue, on the second Friday of every month, located at the Enso Karate Dojo at 412 S. Wells.  Both blues and lindy are danced and DJ'ed here!
If you want to carpool to any of these, post on the Brew City Hops Facebook page and we'll have a carload in no time.

3. Milwaukee's blues scene is making a start!  So far, we've had one Blues Revival Dance - keep an eye out for another one as the weather turns cooler.

Also, Henry Boeh and I are finishing up a beginner's course, called Blues Dancing II, with Milwaukee Recreation.  Anyone is welcome to register and drop in for the last few weeks; you will fit in at whatever level!

Last, but most definitely not least, please keep an eye out for awesome live blues bands performing in the area - one of the best things to do is get a group of friends together and jam out to live music!  If you know anything, please post it at the Brew City Hops Facebook page, and we'll come out and jam with you like wild things!