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Made in Carolina: The Rich History of the Charleston

March 9, 2018

charelston.jpgWhile in Charleston recently on a mini-honeymoon, my wife Jessica and I ran into a history tour guide who asked us our story. When he heard we were swing dancers, he told us about a book a fellow historian, Mark R. Jones, wrote, called “Doin’ The Charleston.”

The book is engaging, respectfully written, and shines a fascinating light on the music and dances of ragtime and hot jazz. It especially highlights the Jenkins Orphanage Band, which played a large role in the creation of jazz and was home to many of its first pioneers.

Inspired to dig a little deeper, here is a quick history of the most iconic dance step in jazz history, the Charleston. If you want more, you know where to go.

A Country Runnin’ Wild

It was in the middle of the 1920s, when the jazz age was going strong, that America encountered one of its first and greatest nation-wide fads: The Charleston. In 1923 the Charleston was famously danced on the stage to a song in the popular all-Black Broadway show Runnin’ Wild. (The song is the one that comes into your head when you hear the word “Charleston.” It was composed by Black-American James P. Johnson, one of the early -20th -century’s greatest American masters of composition.)
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R.I.P. Anne Mills (1922-2018)

March 1, 2018

anne zorigian2R.I.P Anne Mills, Original Bal dancer.

Anne was one of the strongest follower voices and favorite dance partners of the original Balboa dancers. Anne was born Anna Zorigian in 1922 to an Armenian family in Massachusetts that had come from Turkey in 1913. By 1930 the family had moved to California where her father opened a shoe-repair shop.

As a teenager in the late 30s and early 40s, she was known as “one of the five bal gals,” a group of friends who were renowned for dancing (Pure) Balboa at any tempo. (Though she also did “Swing,” — roughly what we’d call Bal-Swing today — and Lindy Hop.)

For the modern generation, she was known for her knowledge of the dances and clear memory of the times, giving a great amount to our understanding of Southern California  swing dancing — She not only had much to say on the philosophies and mechanics of following and the importance of expressing oneself as a follower (see interviews below for a taste), she also had an unrivaled understanding of the leaders of the day (sometimes understanding them better than they did themselves).

International Balboa and Lindy Hop instructor Nick Williams says she could show him how all the different basics of the great leaders she danced with felt.

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“What’s it like being Black in the scene?” [Podcast]

January 30, 2018
What's it like being Black in the scene?

(From left to right) Radeena Stuckey, Darold Alexander, Javier Johnson (standing), Breonna Jordan, Latasha Barnes. Not pictured: Mikayla Pryor & James Agena Georges.

Swungover Podcast #02: What’s it like being Black in the scene? With Darold Alexander, Latasha Barnes, James Agena Georges, Javier Johnson, Breonna Jordan, Mikayla Pryor, and Radeena Stuckey. Recorded Dec 31, 2017.

Inspired by discussions at Lindy Focus 2017 held by Breai Mason-Campbell of Baltimore.

LINK TO PODCAST ON YOUTUBE (Will upload it to a podcast platform at some point in the future.)

Or, listen here:


Regarding this podcast: It’s striking to me that this is one of the most important things I’ve done at Swungover, and all that it required me to do was listen, and share.

Huge thanks to Darold, Latasha, James, Javier, Breonna, Mikayla , and Radeena for being willing to share their very personal experiences with me (and you). Also a big thanks to Lindy Focus for hosting the discussion series and for so quickly working to help us find a place to record this podcast.

If you’re interested in a place that somehow manages to be the most fun you’ve had with some fantastic serious discussions on how to improve the scene, in addition to some of the greatest swing dance music you will ever hear live, check out Lindy Focus. It’s an honor to work for a camp that puts so much effort into having an ideal of what the scene can be and working to make it a reality.

And thanks to Nathan Bugh who helped create the podcast theme music (that’s him on harpsichord, myself on drums).

The Junk Drawer — Meeting Irene Thomas, New Jewel Clip, new Charleston “soundie.”

November 29, 2017


First things first, my partner Kate and I were able to meet the legendary Irene Thomas this year. AND, hang out with her and legendary Jean Veloz together. And, Irene taught us a few of her old tricks. It was one of the highlights of my life in swing dancing.

If you don’t know who Irene is, she’s one of the most important followers and woman’s voices in swing dance history. Known for both her humorous personality, her full-bodied variations, and the big bow her agent made her wear in the movies, she invented, among many things, the quick stop drop. She would often take the momentum the leader was giving her and dramatically shape it — in one move she had, the leader would lead one outside turn, and she’d snap the energy, accomplishing two before the leader knew what happened. Sadly, she can no longer dance. But she’s still a force. Here’s a little collection of her dancing.

Huge thanks to Rusty Frank for coordinating the trip, not to mention all that she does to support Jean and Irene as legacies of the dance. The picture shows us with (from the left) Hilary Alexander, Rusty Frank, Irene Thomas, myself, Kate, and Jean Veloz.

Follow me on instagram for some reason.

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The Mysterious History of the Tranky Doo

September 25, 2017

Al Minns showing off one of the Tranky Doo steps.

Along with the Shim-Sham and the Big Apple, the Tranky Doo completes the holy trinity of the original swing-era jazz routines. But whereas the histories of the Shim-Sham and the Big Apple are pretty well-known or easily found, modern dancers tend to know less about the history of the Tranky Doo. This post hopes to solve that problem.

The First Tranky Doo

It has floated around the scene for years that Whitey’s Lindy Hopper Pepsi Bethel invented the Tranky Doo. However, the legendary Frankie Manning describes inventing the choreography in his and Cynthia Millman’s book “Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop.” Here’s the basic story.

In the mid-1940s, Frankie and his performance group, The Congaroos, liked to add different flavors to their performances with non-Lindy Hop numbers. There was a chorus girl in a club in Chicago who was given the special honorof being the last chorus girl to leave the stage. The last chorus girl in line would often show off a little step before exiting, and this particular chorus girl’s show-off step was a fall-off-the-log into a shuffle into boogies. This chorus girl’s nickname was Tranky Doo.

Frankie took this step, used it as the first move of his routine, and then added to it, naming the routine after his inspiration. Frankie’s “routine” — he wouldn’t use the word “choreography” until the 1980s — was two choruses long. This is important, and will come up again. The routine was originally done to the song Tuxedo Junction.

In his book, Frankie further discusses how, when he and his fellow Congaroos would go social dancing at the Savoy, they’d do the routine there, and others caught on and soon it had spread to the social dancers of the Savoy. Here is a 1947 clip of former Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers Tops & Wilda performing the Tranky Doo, very close to the time of its creation. The first clip shows clearly the first chorus of the routine we have come to know and love: Read more…

What’s it like to make a swing album?

September 12, 2017


Swungover Podcast Pilot #01: What’s it like to make a swing album in the modern era? With (in alphabetical order) Hilary Alexander, Josh Collazo, Michael Gamble, Jonathan Stout, and  Naomi Uyama.

About the podcast:

One of the great pleasures of being a traveling instructor is the ability to have discussions with experts all across the dance scene. Over the past months we here at Swungover have been playing with the idea of doing some podcasts to take advantage of those opportunities.
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Interview on Judging/Competing

June 28, 2017

phantom bobby

I was honored to be interviewed for Jo Hoffberg’s Competing & Judging series. Check out the interview below: