Interview: Lindsay Longstreth, Organizer of Alternative-Education Swing Events
I recently did a week-long teaching residency in Atlanta, where I basically lived in the city and became a local dancer for a week, teaching classes and private lessons, performing and social dancing four or five nights of the week, and getting to know the community.
The idea was created and organized by Lindsay Longstreth, a middle-school teacher, great dancer, and pedagogical fanatic. She also happens to run an event called the Hop Shop, which is unlike any other event out there that I know of.
As teachers, Kate and myself have always been searching for new and more effective ways to teach swing dancing. I had a blast talking to Lindsay about new approaches to swing education, and thought you might be interested in the projects she’s working on.**
This is an edited version of a verbal interview.
How did the Artists in Residency Program come about?
I was thinking about different art forms other than dance, such as music, or other forms of dance like modern and ballet. And I was thinking about the way those types of artists really improve their craft; a lot of dance schools or band programs will bring in a guest musician or a guest dancer and have them reside in their school for an extended period of time, to work one on one with the students, or to choreograph a new piece, or teach classes.
Whereas we, as a dance community, only get together on weekends, and we jam pack those weekends with lots and lots of information and lots and lots of classes. As one who’s been dancing for eight years, I realize I’ve probably forgotten 75% of all the information I’ve learned at all the workshops I’ve gone to, and the reason for that I feel is it’s all so concentrated, and so much information, and it may not necessarily be catered to what we need. We just forget things; we go back to our old patterns and our old habits and we don’t have any kind of reinforcement or reminders of what we need to be focused on.
I feel if you have somebody in your scene for an extended period of time it can almost serve as a little reminder to that student of what they learned at the beginning of the week, or what they learned at a previous workshop. And that teacher/dancer can give them the inspiration to keep working on what they working on.
The other thing I see the artist in residency is good for is travel. It can inspire people to look outside their scene. You have your local teachers and they’re kind of like the jump start, the spring board in your scene. People come, take beginner classes, start social dancing. They don’t aspire to anything more and they might not know there’s dance education outside of the scene. And so if you bring in one or two people that are more advanced— national level teachers, international teachers— and you just have them hang out for awhile, and have them social dance, people are going to notice that. People notice high quality when they see it, even if they can’t put a finger on what it is.
So, I feel like it serves a lot of different roles and it inspires people to come out; it’s a new person, something fresh and new. Having that person around for such an extended period, seven to 14 days, is my goal. I want to have someone here for maxing out at three weeks. I think that would be really amazing, but so far we’ve gone seven days because most full time Lindy Hop instructors can’t get away from their scene for more than seven days.
What is a week in the Artist In Residency Like?
Well, in Atlanta, a week residency would include going to our Monday night venue, Hot Jam, which is THE night that everyone in Atlanta goes out to; it’s got really good classic swing and really good atmosphere. We would introduce the artist with a jam or a performance, which would give them a little bit of visibility, 50 to 100 dancers right away.
(However, one thing that has happened in the last few residences that I really quite like is having the instructor show up unannounced and social dance for awhile. I liked the insidiousness of having everyone on the dance floor suddenly realize there was someone who’s not one of the usual teachers on the dance floor who was kicking butt and having a lot of great attitude. I think that actually boosted the visibility just as much.)
We also have a Wednesday night venue called Graveyard Tavern with a live band every week and that dance wouldn’t necessarily be anything more thatn socializing—so the instructor would just be out social dancing and invigorating the corwd through that medium. If the artist plays an instrument, we’ll probably have him jump in and play with the band—-as a way of respecting or acknowledging the artist has more to offer than just on the dance floor.
Down South Swing, Atlanta’s local teaching company has a dance team that performs for corporate organizations. We’ll have the artist lead the team practice and push those dancers through teaching new choreography or polishing/critiquing current choreography.
We also have a pretty strong advanced crowd, so we host an invite-only masters class on Tuesday or Thursday. I don’t want to say masters class in terms of experience, but more in level of enthusiasm for learning. So it might be a mixed level, but it is a really intense class., ranging from an hour up to three hours.
At the end of the week we organize a workshop of some kind. Bobby, for instance, is world-renown for his balboa skills, so we had a balboa workshop. We don’t have a very large balboa scene but we have a few people who really really love it and I felt it would provide diversity, and people seemed to really like the idea.
So basically, when Bobby was here, he started teaching right away on Sunday night, he came out Monday night, taught Tuesday night, social danced Wednesday, Friday night, late night, taught a workshop on Saturday, and attended another dance and late night after the workshop. Thursday we had an off night and ended up having a house party at my place where we had a few people come over to work on the Big apple, (laughing) because that’s Bobby’s favorite choreography. The instructor wasn’t getting paid [the whole thing was his idea] but the instructor got to share what he loved and the people got to share back and I think it was great and really needed.
Among all of that I scheduled 10 private lessons for Bobby. Ideally I would like the artist to teach more, but with work schedules it would be challenging.
I felt ten was the perfect number for me. Though, I was working on other things, such as family business (most of my family lives in Atlanta) and choreographies. Other instructors could probably do more if they wanted. After having done the Artist in Residency program a few times, what benefits have you noticed?
The benefits that I’ve noticed is increased attendence to dances that previously might not have been attended well. Both of the two organizations, Down South Swing and Aseda had phenominal attendance. The energy was great, it just kept building up.
Also, even though attendance wasn’t amazing at the workshop, I still feel like the people were the kind of people we wanted to be there. They were genuinely interested in learning and I’ve never seen half of the people that came to the workshop. So that made me very happy, that new people are out their and willing to learn. I also saw that more advanced dancers were out at our dances and that doesn’t happene very often.
I saw a lot of people going off into a corner and working on things like, “Hey, we learned this early in the week, let’s talk about this.” “Have you thought about that concept we din in the master’s class?” So I’m seeing a lot of collaboration and a lot more sharing because they’ve been inspired.
What cons or hurdles have you noticed in building the program?
Oh, Goodness. The biggest con that I found is the fact that people in Atlanta, the bulk of the Atlanta scene does not travel and has no idea who Bobby White is, or, Mike Faltesek, or Andy Reid. They’re like “Oh, okay, there’s a person who’s gonna teach me some classes.” They don’t really get it so the response might not be extremely high right away. So that’s a big hurdle that I’ve had to overcome. To help with this, I talk to the advanced dancers and they’re usually the first person to go “Oh! This Person!” and I’m like “Great, help me out with promo if you really want this person to come.”
Another big hurdle was getting the locals to actually acknowledge that the quality of the dancers coming is significantly higher than what they’re going to find in a local scene. Um, So to overcome that I hate to say that I used Facebook a lot and I hate Facebook messages and I hate facebook events but I basically just made an Artist in Residence: Bobby White page and started sending it out to hundreds of people. It became a nice little chain event because I realized by Saturday I didn’t invite anybody that attended the workshop. I think Facebook and the power of word-of-mouth is probably the best way to go about it.
Another challenge that I find in the program is making it worth the artist’s while. There’s a lot of giving that comes with a residency. I know a lot of teachers make between $1500 and $3000 at a workshop and I don’t even know if they’re going to make that in a whole week, and I feel really bad about that. But, I think that the returns for the artists is that they’ve gone, they’ve taught, they’ve been involved, they’ve met, they’ve social danced—now the people know their face and their name. So if they teach at another event somewhere else in the country. they’re more likely to get those students to attend. So, maybe in the long run it might work out for them monetarily, but in the short run, it’s just a week or two and they have to realize that they have a to take a little bit of a pay cut. We do our very, very best to meet their needs. I feel like the private lessons are probably where the artist is going to even out the fact that they’re losing money on the week. However, not everyone’s available or willing to do that, or can do that.
In creating the program, what are some things you’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t?
One thing that is a big challenge and that I learned about is scheduling. Since I’m the director of the program I set up their private lessons, their teaching schedule, and make sure they know where they need to be for their entire stay. This is accomplished through the miracle of goggle documents and highlighting and changing colors, etc.
However, something that you might not think about is how many people run things in your scene. So, for instance, I’m not the owner/director of Down South Swing, I’m only the director of the residency. So, [the president of Down South Swing] is actually my “boss” and she runs Down South Swing and she still has to kind of approve everything that I’ve done. Also, we had to work with multiple studios, including another woman where Bobby was teaching his lessons, so I had to make sure she was included in all the conversations and all the schedules. If she needed to change something that meant Bobby’s schedule was completely changed. We ran into a little bit of that. We also had to juggle the different venues where he was social dancing or teaching, and I had to work with those organizers and make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes, I wasn’t taking anything away from local instructors, or local events that were going on.
I have a vision and a goal for this, and its one thing to work with the teacher for an entire week; it’s another thing to work for the teacher and five other organizers in the scene and make sure everyone is happy, catered to, and feels like they have benefited from the program.
Right now, to keep the ball rolling, I’ve got a residency coming up in April and May I’m already talking to the people now saying “What did you like about Bobby being here? Would you like to change that, improve that, how can we make it better so that everybody in the scene is benefitting? It’s really not about me, it’s about, you know, the three or four hundred people we have in our scene. I just have to keep that in mind; my vision and goals shouldn’t trod on what everyone else is doing on a weekly basis.
You also run the Hop Shop. What’s that about?
Let me give you some history. Sosh Howell, who we all know is one of the trifecta of awesome that created Lindy Focus back in the day, created a class at Lindy Focus a few years ago in the masters level where he basically got all the teachers in one classroom. He divided the entire advanced maters track into pods of six people, and you got five minutes with each instructor that were all standing around the room and your pod rotated between instructors. The teachers were told “Just teach something, I don’t care what you do, it can be a private lesson, it can be one concept, just do it.” And it was the most intense learning that I had the entire three or four days of Lindy Focus.
Basically that was the concept—to have group private lessons in the space of an hour. Long story short, Sosh decided to put on what he named and is now called the Hop Shop, which is taking that concept and turning it into two days of classes. So, essentially what happened is, you sign up, you register, you show up at the door, we hand you a pad of paper and a pencil and say “you belong to the purple spotted lemur group. Go meet your fellow purple spotted lemurs.” There are no levels, we only ask that you have been dancing for about six months and can competently do swing outs basic moves, different foot rhythms and that’s really about it. Students range from intermediate all the way up to somebody who travels and competes on a regular basis. So there are no levels, so you might have someone dancing for one year in the Purple Spotted Lemurs, and someone dancing for 8 years in the PSL.
This year at the Hop Shop we have five instructors, and all five of those instructors are all teaching at the same time. So they’re staged all around the classroom. And we’ll have five of our seven pods all be assigned an instructor. The pods that are “out” are given a time to social dance, or have a private lesson. We have another room that’s going to have music playing for the entire day, where they can work on their stuff, and then those five pods that are in rotation, they get an hour to an hour fifteen minute group private lesson with one instructor.
However, what’s interesting about this is that you don’t line up with a partner, or circle up with a partner or get taught a new move and told to rotate, or taught a technique and told to rotate. You go into your pod and the instructor can approach their class however they want. They’re given free reign. You can say alright, everybody sit down and we’ll have two people spotlighted and we’re going to look at and discuss and critique their dancing. Maybe the instructor says ”I want to watch everybody dance at the same time.” And so they put on music and the entire pod dances with each other, rotating a couple times and the instructor takes a look and says “there’s one concept that every person in here needs to work on.”
As an example, Andy Reid was part of Hop Shop a few years ago [and is coming back this year], and he literally had a drill for every single student in his pod, he strung all those drills together and we all did everybody’s drill back to back. It was phenomenal how fast he thought and how quickly he would come up with an exercise for each person.
So, essentially, you’re getting a great deal of information. The other neat thing about the workshop is that with 5 teachers and seven groups of people, (our workshop caps at 50 students) when your pod’s out your encouraged to go and take those concepts, open up your notebook and really hash through it with the other people in your group. “That concept was really cool but I just couldn’t grasp it, let’s really work on it.” And so through hearing from different instructors, through the repetition of being with the same pod of people all day, having that time out your learning hasn’t ended, it’s just been elongated, so to speak.
The event also has the traditional Friday and Saturday night social dances to round out the weekend experience.
It’s four classes on Saturday, three on Sunday. While that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of classes, the classes are an hour and fifteen minutes each and you’re literally what you yourself need to work on. We also have some guests lined up for the weekend that will be hanging out, social dancing, and available for private lessons.
So that’s pretty much what the Hop Shop is –an alternative learning weekend and this is its third year. The first people that registered—like, I opened registration one day, and in three days I had my first bracket full – were the ones that attended previous years and said “This is the most amazing learning experience; I got so much out of it. I love it; I can’t wait to come back.”
And currently the Hop Shop only allows around 50 students?
Yes, we’ve upped this year’s cap from forty to fifty. This is not an event that’s meant to grow any larger. The structure of the event also limits its budget because we can only take about 50 students. If the event’s going to stay as high quality as it is with only five or six instructors, we have to cap registration. That really is a limitation of the workshop, and something I’d like to look into improving if it happens again next year.
But that’s something to keep in mind: the goal of the workshop is to have a very high quality small learning environment to focus specifically on your dancing.
What’s happening with this year’s next Artist in Residency and the next Hop Shop?
So, Bobby White’s residency went off really, really well. I wanted to do another one before summer and I already had had Mike Faltesek booked for the Hop Shop. So, I’ve combined the alternative learning events by asking Mike to stay the week after the workshop. It’s actually gotten a little out of hand, and I couldn’t be happier. Let me explain:
Our instructor line up for Hop Shop is Mike Faltesek, Andy Reid, Michael and Jaya Gamble, and Laura Glaess. Our original plan was to host the Hop Shop and have Mike stay for a whole week following Hop Shop. Then Laura Glaess and Mike Roberts heard about the Artist in Residence and Laura asked to do it, too so I asked them to do the week leading into the Hop Shop.
So now it’s worked out that we have Mike and Laura from April 25 to May 1st, and then Mike Faltesek from April 29 through May 7. So the Hop Shop has evolved into THE workshop of the Artist in Residence series, and my vision of a two week residency is a reality.
For Information on “The Hop Shop,” visit www.HopShopAtlanta.com
** — I didn’t interview Lindsay as a marketing tool for a workshop I was part of; I was truly interested in the work she’s doing with unique workshops and programs.
Therefore, any discussion of how awesome I was as an artist in residence is kept in only where it is contextually necessary.