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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


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

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.

How to Move Forward & Create Safe Dance Spaces

January 28, 2015

A follow-up on the recent sexual abuse discussion ongiong in the Lindy Hop community:

A couple nights ago Nicole Zuckerman, Manu Smith, Gina Helfrich, Rik Panganiban, Rebecca Brightly, Jerry Almonte Mikey Pedroza and I sat down to discuss how to move forward. It was at a time when several of us were in different phases of being hit by this (yours truly suddenly felt like he couldn’t say a complete sentence right) and the result is an honest conversation about what this all means.

Yes, I think many things are very well said and you could get something out of it. For me, while trying to pay attention to the conversation and formulate my own thoughts for addition, I unexpectedly and unknowingly went through a part of the grieving/anger/confusion/self-reflection process simply by seeing the faces and hearing the voices of my peers who are going through their own experiences as well. And that’s another possible reason to watch it; I imagine the same will happen to some viewers.

I want to thank those on the panel for the ways they contributed to the discussion. I love it that our community values intelligent and passionate people like those speaking so well in this conversation. (From what I understand of “The Jersey Shore,” for instance, not all communities do.)