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Practice Swing — The New Swungover Book

May 6, 2016

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Dear Swungover readers,

If you’ve noticed the blog has been a bit light on the posts during the last few years, it’s because I’ve been putting all my swing-dance-writing power into this: Practice Swing: The Swungover* Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Guide to Improving Your Dancing. It’s 450 pages long. More than a hundred chapters. And it’s available now.

I’m very proud of it and excited to share it with the community.

Follow the link below to buy the book.

 
PRACTICE SWING: THE SWUNOGOVER* CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE GUIDE TO IMPROVING YOUR DANCING
 

Also here’s a little FAQ for those wanting to know more.

What does “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” mean?
When it comes to vintage swing dances, there’s no one path to greatness. (Or even simply better-ness.) Every great Lindy Hop, Bal-Swing, Shag, and Solo Jazz dancer in the world has taken their own path to get there. And that’s why Practice Swing is a choose-your-own-adventure practice book.

With more than a hundred chapters of advice to choose from, the book covers productive practice mentality, skill-honing, self-coaching, improvisation and competition skills, and what makes great vintage swing dancers great. It also addresses how to practice alone, with a partner, at a social dance, or in a group. You can read the chapters in any order and focus on those that speak the most to you right now.

Why is this book $32?
For every person interested in a book on getting better at vintage swing dancing, there are hundreds, even thousands, even tens of thousands, who are interested in getting better at tennis, cooking, or making friends and influencing people. If that many people were interested in getting better at vintage swing dancing, the cost of producing each printed book would be lower.

If you’re still feeling hesitant about paying $32 for a book, perhaps consider the fact that it’s 450 pages long and has more than 100 chapters of information on getting better at swing dancing. Most international-level instructors charge around three times that much for a one-hour private lesson, and trust me, you couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everything that is in the book in a one-hour private lesson.

Are you going to make Practice Swing available as an ebook?
Not in the near future. Originally, Practice Swing was only going to be available as an ebook, based on the idea that surely this would be cheaper than printing actual books. However, the world of ebook publishing is actually quite convoluted when it comes to royalties, and e-publishers like Amazon Kindle are not designed for niche books. Perhaps in a few years it may be a more viable option.

Also—just throwing this out there—having a print copy around makes the book easy to lend to friends, or to get for your practice groups to have on hand at practice for inspiration.

Will you have copies at events you are at?
Yes. But, as transporting books around the world can be tough on the lumbar spine, I can carry only a limited supply. If you will be at an event where I will be teaching and are interested in reserving a copy, message me a week in advance and I’ll be happy to set one aside to bring to you.

How are you able to sell books online in a timely fashion while you travel around the world teaching?
A publishing company sells my book online—they take the order, print the books, ship them, and handle all other aspects of the transaction. So no matter where I am, the book will get to you. Do note that, as it’s print-on-demand, the book you order will take a few days for the publisher to print before it is mailed out. Hence, it may take a couple weeks to get your book.

You can buy the book here: http://bit.ly/practiceswing

And, as I mentioned earlier, I will be able to carry a few copies with me to events. See the previous question for more details.

What’s with this “Robert White” nonsense? You’re “Bobby White.” I can tell—we’re friends on Facebook.
Writing is my other passion, and I plan on publishing things unrelated to swing dancing at some point. Since I prefer my author name to be “Robert White,” it’s good to have that on everything I publish. This way, when I sell my bestselling bodice-ripper/swashbuckling romance-and-cooking novel, those readers will also go buy Practice Swing. Ultimately, every one of my readers will improve their swing dancing. Master plan.

Who published this book?
Why, Swungover did. It’s officially listed as the book’s publishing house. (Kinda cool/strange to think that, just by buying the book’s ISBN number, I started an independent publishing house.) Blurb is the company that prints the book and through which I formatted the book.

New Balboa DVDs from Bobby & Kate!

February 2, 2016

DVD collectionShameless plug time here at Swungover! Kate & I recently put out three new DVDs: Two of them go over the basic fundamentals of Pure Balboa & Bal-Swing, and a third is an intermediate/advanced collection of footwork.

For a decade we have been crafting the way we teach the dance to beginners, and the two beginner DVDs are a culmination of a lot of that crafting. For the PURE-BAL DVD, we try to approach teaching the dance organically — as a way of playing with quicks and slows — and then tackle almost the complete canon of original Pure Balboa moves.

For the BAL-SWING DVD, we build the dance with momentum, on top of giving what we see re the most important tricks and tips for mastering the rotation-based swing dance.

The FOOTWORK DVD is not only a collection of footwork for every basic Pure Bal and Bal-Swing movements— we try to cover all the major types of variations, from slides to kicks to tapping, from rhythmically punchy to rhythmically flowing. We also were excited to give variations that not only highlight each individual dancer, but also the partnership, reinforcing our belief that the best Swing partner dances highlight both.

Want them!?!? You can order them here.

The Savoy, Clarified

January 7, 2016

Savoy floor plan

Fellow dance history buff Mike Thibault recently unearthed a digital scan of the floor plan of the Savoy Ballroom from the New York Public Library Digital Collection, as well as a post card showing the interior. The result was a renewed discussion (and research call-to-arms) regarding our favorite ballroom, which until now might have existed very differently in many dancer’s heads.

So, let’s take a look around the place, shall we?

From the floor plan (available here) the most striking thing is how small the dance floor was. I had always heard “The Savoy was the size of a city block” but never thought to question how big the dance floor was in comparison. As dancer Keith Moore pointed out in the discussion, this reminds us how much the Savoy was a Social Club more than just a ballroom.

Also, dancer Kayre Morrison asked, why is the “Men’s” room so much bigger than the “Ladies” room?

Frankie Manning often mentioned what it was like walking into the Savoy, and mentioned the feeling of walking up the stairs, turning around, and seeing the bandstand and all the dancers. As you can see on the floor plan, this is exactly what would have happened.

Speaking of bandstand, a lot of people had questions about the famous battle of the bands that took place there. Over the years, there has formed in many people’s minds the idea of one band stand on each end of the ballroom. In reality, all research points to the bandstands actually being side-by-side. And, deviously, the guest bands battling Chick played on the smaller, intermission bandstand. Take a look at this visual from Christian Batchelor’s book “This Thing Called Swing.” Read more…

R.I.P Ray Hirsch, Great So-Cal “Swing” Dancer

September 1, 2015

Ray HirschRay Hirsch, great original Southern California swing dancer, passed away at 94 years of age on Aug. 29, 2015.

Ray was a true “Swing” dancer as they would have called it — meaning, he didn’t do just one dance; he instead did any and every step swing music inspired, mixing the styles and moves of Shag, Balboa, Bal-Swing, Lindy, and the numerous wild tricks he and his partner Patty Lacey could think up. He especially loved performing in contests and films. (For instance, Mad Youth)

He spent the later years of his life traveling the world as a special guest at swing dance events, and was always known for being kind, excited, and in good spirits.

I first heard the news at the International Lindy Hop Championships, an event that celebrates the music and dancing he spent his life doing and its influence across the world.

The final night, Nick Williams and I gave a tribute to Ray over the microphone, ending by urging that Ray was not the kind of guy who would want people sad over his passing. So we instead encouraged the dancers to pay tribute to him by rolling up their pant legs, getting out onto the floor, and dancing any and every step they felt inspired to do.

The next time you’re on a dance floor, take a moment to do the same. The smile on your face will match Ray’s.

— BW

To see Ray in action, Morgan Day has put up a great tribute to his dancing:

Also, some pictures of note. First, Ray with Judy Garland, a good friend of his. Second, with Frankie Manning. Photos courtesy of Morgan Day.

ray judy

ray frankie

The Swungover* Guide to Basic Floorcraft

July 21, 2015

Recovering from “Whiplash”

May 14, 2015

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This post will probably make little sense if you haven’t seen last year’s film Whiplash, and, on top of that, contains spoilers. Proceed accordingly.

The film Whiplash is about a student jazz drummer pushed by an abusive teacher. Being a recent student of swing drumming, I was interested to see it, especially since the last film to focus on a jazz drummer was probably The Gene Krupa Story in 1959. However, being passionate about pedagogy, swing/jazz, fiction writing, and also being a swing dancer who has worked very hard to get to where I have gotten, the film left me with a lot of thoughts.

Here are most of them.

(1) It is a well-told — and deceptively complex — story.

Completely from a dramatic point of view, this story, with its single, simple plotline, is very well-told. The writing is powerfully minimalistic, the acting is powerfully emotional, and the camerawork is powerfully bold. I can close my eyes and still hear the tone of voice of the teacher Fletcher, can see nothing but his eyes and the skin wrinkle around them, can still see the cymbal fall during the solo.

Furthermore, if you’re not thinking too much into it, the film’s finale is the kind that pulls you out of your seat and demands you tackle your worst demons. Or, at the very least, bang on something.

Fascinatingly, the very barrage of drums and cymbals that create this sensation also cover-up the more quiet implications and mysteries of the ending.

For instance, in his final defiant solo, the character proved he could play drums incredibly well. But what else it proved is ambiguous. Did he prove the teacher had no control over him, or, by winning the teacher’s approval, could the teacher now be more in control of him than ever? Did he prove he had what it took all along, or did he prove the abusive teaching methods worked?

Though the film ends with both the student and teacher more or less experiencing triumph in their own way, you don’t know what will happen next with the student/teacher relationship in the film, or with the life and happiness of the young drummer Andrew. (The writer/director Damien Chazelle himself, as we will discuss, thought the young man had a bleak — rather than inspirational — future.) Read more…

Happy Birthday Jewel McGowan, Queen of So-Cal Lindy

March 31, 2015

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Jewel Eleanor McGowan was born March 30, 1921. By 19, she was working as a dancer in music clubs, and doing the Southern California partnered street dance known to them as “Swing” (the dance that would evolve among a few of them into “Bal-Swing” as we know it). It was during this time in the late 1930s that a New Jersey Lindy Hop dancer going by the name Dean Collins came to town looking for a partner. He found Jewel, and out of their collaboration came what is now widely regarded as the greatest dancing partnership of the original swing dance era.

Jewel did not dance a lot of variations, but instead expressed her powerful voice in her movement and attitude. Without exception that I know of, every original Southern California dancer has acknowledged her as the Queen of Swing, and especially credit her swivels as being without equal.

Here is a compilation of her dancing created by Nick Williams:


In 1947 she married lighting director Klarence Krone. She passed away in 1962, probably of cancer. She is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, Ca.

jewel gravestone
Photo by James R. Mason.
Special thanks to Reed Miller for his genealogy research on Jewel. The picture of Jewel was from the Atomic Ballroom website. See an article on Dean & Jewel by Shani Brown there.

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