Nick Williams

Dancer – Instructor – Choreographer

February 11 2013

Feelin’ It!

Try my revolutionary 3 step program!!!

January 14 2013

Competition Season

 

It’s a new year, which means new competitions and routines.  Find out the Pro’s secrets to competing with this video.

September 24 2012

Baby Steps to Nutrition

For someone like me who is constantly on the go and who travels like I do, a steady diet is near impossible. I find myself picking food based on the time I have and choosing the lesser of the evils. Not to mention my love affair with food and desserts. Don’t judge me.

In college I had a steady diet of fast food. But what they say is true…once you pass 25 years of age, metabolism slows down and you gradually become more susceptible to obesity, disease and various other health risks. Diet and nutrition becomes a necessity to live a long, happy, fruitful life. To a dancer like myself, being healthy is even more important and will allow me to continue to do what I love to do for many years to come.

Nobody I know wants to be unhealthy or become overweight. Most people would love to be in peak physical condition, but diets and nutrition are just so overwhelming. Diets for most people are temporary fixes. People try to make too many changes too fast and they are unable to maintain the new patterns over time. Instead of crash dieting to improve your overall health, make small changes to your diet and nutrition until they become lasting habits. Over time these changes can lead to you feeling better and the oh-so-appealing weight loss.

Here’s what I did to make simple changes to my everyday diet for better health.

Changing the way I get my caffeine rush: For those long days, cut out the soda. The regular versions are filled with sugar and chemicals, and even the diet versions, though lacking in calories, still have high amounts of sodium and phosphoric acid in them. Instead, turn to tea and coffee for that rush. Although in this coffee house generation, the tendency is to order coffee and lattes filled with crap, it’s better to just avoid all that much milk and sugar. (Shush, you’ll get used to it.) Green tea has the most healthy benefits because it is both minimally processed and filled with antioxidants.

Snacking right: As you’ve probably heard before, eating many smalls meals throughout the day is better for you than eating a few big meals. The benefits are a higher metabolism and lowers the risk of stuffing your face. The trick to eating smaller meals is to set up the right in-between-meal snacks. Fruit is one of the great choices, as is a protein bar. Bananas, apples and bars are easy to carry around everywhere you go.

Trying a glass of water first: Remember that dehydration is often mistaken for hunger. Before you eat something, drink a glass of water first. It’s especially important to up your water intake when you are at dance weekends. You are sweating a lot more than you are probably used to at home, and you are also eating out a lot with all the temptations that that brings. This is especially important for you weekend alcoholics (you know who you are). If you don’t drink enough water you can end up both dehydrated and overfed…and hungover.

Letting my taste buds breathe: Avoid adding extras like salt, sugar and condiments to your meals and drinks. You taste buds will adapt. You don’t actually need the extra salt…and you know it.

Choosing the right sides: Do you want fries with that? Just say no. When you are out to eat, choose a salad, vegetables or fruit as a side instead of french fries.

Rewarding myself: Here’s the best part: Once a week, completely throw your dietary rules out the window and indulge in a meal that satisfies your food cravings. Note: I said one meal, not an entire day. Saying that you’ll “burn it off” with a workout or dancing never works. In fact, you’re more likely to eat more calories than the calories you burn making your “burn it off” premise faulty. Having a cheat meal gives you something to look forward to. Who doesn’t like to earn their gold stars?

The great news is that by making these changes, your food cravings will also change. Eventually, things like soda will loose its appeal and will taste different. Greasy foods and acidic drinks will make you feel worse. You may even end up craving healthy stuff. Ok, so I’ll never crave wheat grass, but fruit is now my favorite snack.

As the title says, this is baby steps to nutrition. Which means that if the list I gave you seems overwhelming, simply choose one or two of the small changes to start. Every choice you make will be an important step toward being more healthy.

 

written by Nick Williams
edited by Chelsea Bromstad Lee

Here is Part 1 of my project to recreate the famous umbrella scene from “Singin’ in the Rain” live on stage.

Part 2 will involve me training in the many dance forms while learning and training the choreography form the movie…among the many other challenges I run up against.

During a show in Gothenburg, Sweden, I unknowingly did the best hat trick of my life.  I threw the hat behind me and as I start to go into the Swingout, the audience starts going crazy.  I was thoroughly confused because, although Swingouts are awesome, that part of the routine did not warrant a huge response.  I didn’t know what happened until it was explained to me after the routine was over.

Watch this video at :51 seconds.

I’ve been asked many times about how I stay in shape while I’m constantly on the road. I spent years telling myself that I needed to work out more. I even went so far as to join a gym but then rarely went. Then there’s the hectic travel schedule. Airports, airplanes, hotel rooms, other people’s houses, not to mention the busy work schedule with very little sleep that goes along with it. What turned my exercise ethic around were DVD workout programs.

First, I was introduced to the Billy Blanks Boot Camp. What I thought would be easy soon showed me how out of shape I really was. Following that I discovered Tony Horton’s P90X, which really changed things for me, as some of you well know. After awhile Tony Horton introduced the graduate program, P90X Plus, and his One-on-One workouts. Finally, the same company that produces P90X, Beachbody, released the intense cardio program called Insanity.

For those of you who are interested in getting into shape, whether at home or on the road, I’d like to give you some helpful tips with regard to these DVD programs. For those who do travel, I’ll give you some great tips to make it work. I also want to state that these are merely my own personal findings and I’m in no way a professional personal trainer. If you want to get really serious about physical fitness, I suggest consulting a personal trainer.

Know Thyself: When it comes to working out, the most important thing is to know your own body. Know what you are capable of, your strengths and weaknesses, and what you’d like to achieve. From there you’ll be able to choose the program that is best suited to your needs and abilities.

Consistency: Nothing is going to change for you if you don’t work out regularly. I often hear the joke that someone did the “P14X” because they didn’t finish the program. You need to commit and follow through. That’s why these workout programs were great for me, because they gave me a schedule to follow. You won’t start seeing any good results until at least 2-3 weeks into each program and then again after 1 month into it. Stay with it and don’t give up. Don’t fall into the traps of making excuses, getting lazy, or feeling overwhelmed.

Programs

Billy Blank’s Boot Camp: At first the idea of doing workouts from the guy who brought us Tae Bo seemed pretty lame. Then I saw my then girlfriend working out almost every day to these DVDs, and she convinced me to try a couple. They kicked my ass. I was an athlete in high school and I have been doing Lindy Hop ever since. I thought I would destroy them, but they destroyed me. Billy 1, Nick 0. I went right out and bought the Elite program. I’m very glad I started out with this system because it prepared me for all the other ones. Boot Camp is a full body cardio program, so if you’re looking to lose some weight and tone up, this is a good one to start with. It does come with bands for some resistance exercises.
http://www.amazon.com/Billy-Blanks-Boot-Camp-Elite/dp/B000G0O5AA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1320266426&sr=8-3

P90X: Next came the big guns (pun intended). P90X is a full workout program by Tony Horton that includes weight training, cardio, yoga, stretching, plyometrics and core work. For this program I bought free weights, a yoga mat, and a pull up stand. For those who travel and/or don’t want to spend a ton of money, I recommend resistance bands in lieu of free weights, a travel-friendly yoga mat, and a pull up bar that can fit over the door. I also recommend push-up bars. They will help save your wrists. I have the Perfect Pushup travel set, which comes apart for easy packing. After a couple of years with P90X I graduated to P90X Plus as well as the One on One with Tony Horton series, and I also found great results with those. Tony can be a bit of a “fitness clown” but he can grow on you and keep things entertaining. Side note: P90X2 released at the end of last year.  It uses more whole body work instead of isolating muscles.  I recommend starting with the original before going for its sequel if you choose this series of workout DVDs.
www.beachbody.com/P90X

Insanity: A workout program from Sean T, the guy who brought you Hip Hop Abs? Right. What next, Buns of Steel? Keep in mind though, that Sean T was a track athlete. Insanity is an intense cardio/core program. Unlike P90X which requires a lot of equipment to get the full experience, all you really need for Insanity is a mat and lots of water. I added Insanity to the mix because P90X didn’t give me the cardio I wanted. Since I started Insanity, I have lost weight in my waist and have gone down a pant size. I have also seen other friends who stuck with Insanity do the same with even more weight loss results. Insanity does work the legs quite a bit so if you’re feeling wasted the next day, do a recovery DVD.
beachbody.com/Insanity-Workout-DVDs

After having done all these programs on their own, I now mix them up to create my own program. Variety and muscle confusion keep it interesting and also create better results in the long run.

Helpful Hints

The hints below help make working out, especially working out on the road, a more achievable and healthy, pain-free experience.  They’re areas that are not necessarily directly addressed in the workout programs but nevertheless will have a big impact on your long-term success if you incorporate them into your program.

Stretching: This is the one area in which I fail miserably. These programs simply do not have enough stretching in them, especially if you also dance a lot. How often have you heard or said “I should stretch,” briefly reflected on the idea, and then moved on, without stretching? Stretching can save your body from wear and tear as well as help to prevent injury. All the muscle pulls I have ever had were due to lack of stretching. Stretching is also especially important if you fly frequently like I do. Flying makes my body swell up like a balloon and tightens my muscles to the point that I feel like Gollum after a long trip. Doing stretches or yoga after flying can help your body recover as well as fight against jet lag. (Side note: warming up is very important to preventing injury as well as cooling down after a workout or dancing.)

Lower Back Care: Most of these programs can really destroy your lower back if you’re not careful, or if you’re feeling too lazy or tired to do the exercise properly. When using weights or bands, never arch your back to try to lift the weights, because this puts too much strain on that area. If you find yourself doing so during a set, pick a lighter weight or stop. P90X has you do a lot of weight lifting while standing up, so make sure you have a wide stance with bent knees. Insanity has a lot of movements that reach for the floor. Do these with a straight back unless otherwise instructed. Rely on your legs and a tight core to complete the exercises.

Ninja Skills: Be one with your surroundings. When you travel you find yourself in different living conditions constantly. Sometimes you can move furniture around in your room to create the space you need (note: chairs and beds can be very useful for different exercises – get creative). Other times, you’ll have to find a hallway, spare room or lobby in which you have enough room to exercise. Get over the idea of being embarrassed if people see you working out – most of those people are thinking that they should work out too. If you’re staying in a hotel, call ahead and see if they have a gym (workout room) with free weights. Lastly, if you’re going to use bands for doing pull-up type exercises, be careful with what you attach them to. Most things break easily. I made the mistake once of attaching them to a locked door – it sounds like a good idea, but what I failed to do was to check to make sure it stayed shut. Needless to say, the band came crashing down on my head, and I nearly passed out from the pain. Lesson learned.

Hydrate: They always say this in the programs, but seriously, drink more water. Even when you are not working out you should drink more water than you are. If you feel thirsty, then you are already dehydrated. Start carrying around a water bottle that will be a reminder to keep hydrated. Drinks with electrolytes are also very helpful. Lately, I’ve been pounding back coconut water and Vitamin Water Zero (both of which I’ve noticed are more widely available at airports now). Hydrate even more when you fly. I find that drinking a lot of water the day before I fly helps on the travel day.

Supplements: For someone who is very active, or travels a lot, and/or as you get older, daily vitamins become very useful in alleviating pain and promoting general health. Also calcium/magnesium, fiber, and joint vitamins can help. If you’re not getting enough of these vitamins and minerals in your regular diet, the store bought pills are a way to create a balance. I also use whey protein mix as a dietary supplement as well as a post workout drink. Protein mixes help your body replenish what energy you spend in the workout, as well as help build and tone muscles. I always travel with protein mix., and I sometimes use a pre-workout drink to energize myself if I’m tired. They give you a better workout, but never use them more than 2-3 months at a time without taking a month off. It’s not good for your body to constantly take them. I recommend consulting a professional for the right mix of supplements for what your body needs.

Diet: This is the other major fail to my health. I just love food too much. I find eating well to be much easier when I am consistently at home, because I can buy the right foods and plan a balanced meal. However, on the road this issue becomes near impossible to solve. Here are some helpful hints for eating while traveling: When you are at an airport, it’s easy to stop at the McDonald’s and order a number 4 but remember that pretty much anything that you order by number is going to be bad for you. Look at the airport map and choose the least egregious option. Also, avoid soda whenever possible. I’m a big soda addict, especially since I often run on little sleep and am jet lagged, but seriously, soda is bad for you. My most recent effort has been to limit soda and find other caffeine options like tea when I need it. Another useful tool in keeping a steady, healthy diet is to try to be good all week and then reward yourself with a “cheat” day or meal to pig out a bit. If you do some activity like squats for a minute and a half within an hour after the meal, it will help your body process the food better. Be careful of the mindset of “well, I’ll just work it off later”. That never ever works…ever.

Nap time:  When you’re on the road all the time, naps and resting times become rare commodities.  It’s also possible to use these times to get in a workout.  Working out can give you energy and is sometimes more beneficial than a nap.  Again, listen to your body.  If you’re running on exhaustion, or you know you’re going to get very little sleep that night, by all means take a nap.  Your body needs sleep to recover.

Final thought:
Whether or not you decide to try the workout DVDs or start working out on your own, I implore you to take care of your body.  Just dancing isn’t enough.  I have female friends who join Pilates and/or yoga classes to stay fit.  Some enjoy getting outside for running, swimming, hiking or climbing.  Whatever it is that will motivate you, I encourage you to be active.  It’s never too late to start.

See you on the dance floor…or on the airplane.

 

*edited by Chelsea Bromstad Lee

 

November 16 2011

Dean and Jewel: The Legacy

Dean Collins and Jewel McGowanWhen I started Lindy Hop in Los Angeles back in 1998, the excitement and thrill of learning this new dance was like an addictive new drug. I was thrown terms such as Savoy style and Hollywood style. Then I was introduced to my first vintage clips. I noticed there was a difference between what people were doing now, and what people did then. I developed a new obsession to learn how the original Lindy Hoppers danced. I was greatly influenced by Frankie Manning, Lenny Smith and Al Minns. But my first love was the amazing duo, Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan.

Dean Collins was a dancer in New Jersey and New York before he migrated to Los Angeles. He frequented the famous ballrooms of New York City, as well as spending a little time in New Orleans. Dean arrived in California around 1936-1937. At that time Lindy Hop did exist in Southern California, but only in a remedial form. After winning a contest, Dean was able to help popularize the dance. In the late 30’s, he met a “Swing” dancer named Jewel McGowan. [“Swing” dancing in Southern California at that time was a broader category from which Bal-Swing stems from. It did include moves such as Lolly kicks (named decades later) and basic turns.] Jewel was your average Swing dancer until she paired up with Dean. Their pairing made them royalty on the dance floor. They appeared in dozens of Hollywood films and shorts.

Misconceptions

There are many misconceptions about Dean and Jewel. The first of them is the idea that how they danced in the movies is the only way they danced. When watching the old clips, context is extremely important. In the 80’s and 90’s, Lindy Hoppers made the mistake of dancing like Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in Hellzapoppin’ to every tempo. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, dancers made the mistake of attempting to dance like Dean and Jewel from “Buck Privates” to every song. Films and movies are performances. Dancers bring their best and flashiest when performing. Imagine dancing every dance like you do in a jam circle. Not only would that be exhausting, but would also be a very limited view of ones dancing. As an example, take the movie Dance Hall (1941). The first part of the dance sequence they are showing off to fast music. In the second part of the sequence, at (:38) and (1:56), they are merely background dancers and you can see them dancing upright in more of a social dance setting.

Another example is the 1945 film Let’s Go Steady.

Another misconception is that Dean was responsible for West Coast Swing. This is not true and, in fact, Dean was not entirely a fan of WCS.

Lastly, Dean and Jewel are often associated with Hollywood Style. Hollywood Style is Erik Robison and Sylvia Skylar’s style and interpretation of the Southern California dancers in the 1940’s. Dean and Jewel were not their main influences. Instead, dancers such as Don Gallagher, Jean Veloz, Lenny and Kay Smith, Irene Thomas, Arthur Walsh, etc. were the main contributors. Dean and Jewel’s style is different than Hollywood Style. For more information about this, check out my good friend Bobby White’s blog at swungover.wordpress.com

Jewel Swivels

There are very few things I love more in this world than Jewel’s swivels. It’s a thing of beauty. Many of today’s top dancers have had their inspiration come from Jewel. In fact, if you’re a follower reading this, your swivels have probably been indirectly, if not directly, come from her. I contend that it is these swivels that give Dean and Jewel a large part of their unique quality. A lot of attention has been given to Dean over the years (deservedly so), but not nearly enough attention has been given to Jewel, who I believe to be the key element to the dynamic.

Side story: One of my favorite stories that I heard Frankie Manning tell was the invention of swivels, or as he called them “twists”. I can’t remember the names of the dancers that invented them right offhand, but they were shown to Frankie, and before you know it, every follow at the Savoy was doing their swingouts with twists. What started out as a mere styling became a large aspect to the life of a follow.

Nobody is quite sure how much Jewel learned from Dean, and how much she created on her own. There is a theory that it’s Jewel’s “Swing” background that gave her the swivel dynamic we all know and love today. This theory was first presented to me by David Rehm. It makes perfect sense. The same twisting technique used for Lolly Kicks is the same that Jewel uses for her swivels. This extra rotational aspect gave Dean and Jewel’s dancing a new dynamic that had not yet been fully explored in Lindy Hop. This Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra (1942) short shows a few examples of Jewel’s Swing background. Particularly at (3:12) and (3:41).

The most famous sequence of Dean and Jewel is from the 1941 Abbott and Costello film Buck Privates. It’s the best example of her swivels.

http://youtu.be/bui680E50pc

Next is Rings On Her Fingers (1942). This is my second favorite dance sequence of Jewel. The camera was situated very low to the floor for many shots, which made Dean dance even lower than normal…which also meant that Jewel had more leverage to work with. Plus there are many close-ups of her footwork. She is the one with the saddle shoes. This is also my favorite helicopter aerial on film other than Ride ‘Em Cowboy.

http://youtu.be/lXfXqz6rNgg

Another wonderful aspect of Jewel was how smooth, elegant, and finessed she was. She complimented Dean, who had a more pronounced bounce. Together they created a great balance. Watch Buck Privates again and look at how much Dean’s feet move. Quite a bit of skipping, kicking, raised knees, and triple steps during switches. What made him still smooth was the fact that his head did not bounce up and down. It stayed fairly level.

As an extra treat, I edited together all my favorite clips of Jewel. Enjoy.

Dean’s Origins

People often single out Dean Collins as having a completely different style than those in Harlem. I don’t believe he did at all. Yes, he was a unique dancer, but then again all the greats were unique by having their own style. It’s part of what made them great. Frankie Manning, Al Minns, George Lloyd…all different from each other, but all Lindy Hop. Is George Lloyd not a Lindy Hopper because he was smooth and loved to slide? It’s a rhetorical question, no need to answer. Dean was a dancer from New Jersey and New York. You can see similar influences of Dean’s style all throughout the Harlem dancers. To discount Dean as a Lindy Hopper because he was unique, moved to Los Angeles, or because he was white is a ridiculous notion.

Years ago somebody made a side by side video of the swingouts of Dean Collins in Buck Privates and Frankie Manning in Hellzapoppin’, both from 1941. They were slowed down and matched in timing. Keep in mind that Buck Privates is 185 beats per minute and Hellzapoppin’ is around 313. The similarities are astounding, even with the extreme BPM difference. I decided to recreate this experiment. It shows a few different views. I want you to watch for several things: When and how much they travel, their foot placement on counts 5 and 6, how much they skip/bounce, and how much they use their bodies to lead.

Food for thought: What if you switched follows? What if Dean danced with Ann Johnson and Frankie danced with Jewel? (Cue dream sequence…)

Also I’d like you to keep in mind that Dean sent the follower out forward, sideways and backwards in swingouts. Much like what teachers teach in classes today.

Dean’s Dancing

One of the worst misconceptions that was prominent when people tried to recreate Dean and Jewel 13 years ago was the overuse of arm leads. The followers were like bulldozers and the leads tossed the followers like rag dolls. Yes, Dean was a strong lead, but his use of momentum and body leading was amazing: efficient, logical, dynamic, and fluid. In fact, all my ideas about continuous momentum originally came from Dean. (Then I noticed all the other great Lindy Hoppers did the same thing.) The short Jazzy Joe (1941) is a good example of this.

Dean and Jewel’s style has been sometimes referred to as smooth style. This is due to the fact that you don’t see their heads and upper bodies bouncing much combined with the continuous flow. It’s not a lack of pulse/bounce, but instead it’s the control of it. The drawback to learning this type of movement is that it’s difficult to master and there are many subtleties. Many people settle with the lowest common denominator, which is why I think this kind of style has never been in the majority.

I’m a big fan of finding your own voice/style in dance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot from the original pioneers. I believe the lessons that can be learned from Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan would greatly benefit the Lindy Hop scene of today. It can add elements that the majority of the scene lacks today. I’ll let you be the judge.

As an added bonus, I’ve included a clip of Dean and Jewel that you may never have seen.  Hi, Neighbor (1942)

See you on the dance floor!

October 28 2011

Defining a Dance

Inspired by a recent Facebook thread, I decided to post an article on this topic that deserves more focus. Defining a dance is not a new concept. It’s a long and distinguished subject that people spend years in school studying.

Defining is “any process serving to describe the shape of something”. What better way to define a shape than with dancing?

Lindy Hop and Balboa/Bal-Swing are what are known as street dances. Dance forms born from the culture, music and minds of everyday people. Street dances are also a form of individual expression and style. They are called street dances because there were no formalized schools or workshops teaching the dance. Most people learned from their friends and siblings, or by simply watching and copying. Many of the dancers lived and breathed the life and the dance. You could dance every night of the week. These dances were a part of the culture and society at the time. Formal classes were unnecessary.

There is a great fear and resistance among the dancers of today in putting the dances they do into words. They see how the Ballroom and Latin dances have become codified and are no longer recognizable from the original dances. (Some even say that is where West Coast Swing is, or is headed). They have lost the spirit and character that gave birth to each dance. People fear that by defining the dance they do, that individual expression and style will cease to exist.

The assumption of defining a dance is that it involves telling the dancers where they have to be on every count and how they have to execute the movement. This builds into the argument that the best dancer is merely the one who is able to master the technique laid out before them. What this has brought about in the Lindy Hop community is a celebration of style over technique. “Feeling it” is higher on the food chain than beautiful movement.

Dance, like any other art form, is a skill-set. Mastering an art form takes mental and physical effort as well as time. There is a process most people follow in learning. The first step is to learn the trade and techniques that encompass the art form. Next is copying great works of those before you. Followed by the phase where one picks and chooses styles and techniques from different sources to construct your own style. The last phase is to include your own self expression, creativity and ingenuity to the art. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of people follow this course.

There are those that like to skip these steps. Some bypass mastering the techniques and go straight to self expression. I can often ignore this in other art forms, except this is a partner dance. I’m affected by the follows I dance with, and the follows I dance with are affected by the leads they dance with. If bad technique or bad habits start to become at all prominent in the scene, it affects everyone.

There is an advantage for some to avoid defining, or loosely defining, a dance. It gives them the freedom to do whatever they want with no consequences in the name of self expression. The mentality “you can’t tell me what I’m doing is bad because I’m feeling it”. That in a street dance there are no rules.

This fear of putting the dance into words has become so prevalent, that often bad dancing will be praised over great dancing. People take for granted the art, skill and beauty that goes into great dancing. I’ve seen it time and time again. Some even go so far as to loathe great dancing. There are other philosophical and psychological reasons for this, but fear is one of the contributing factors.

Even though this is a larger subject that should have it’s own article, I’d like to address the idea of “feeling it.” This is usually the excuse and reason people give to fight against standards and criticism. Every dance has a character, attitude and emotion. This includes everything from the street dances (salsa, hip hop, etc.) to the ballroom and latin dances and to the trained solo dances (ballet, jazz, modern). The goal of every dance is to combine great technique with the emotional aspect. People can identify with emotion when they know nothing of the technique. Great technique allows the audience to get carried away with the emotional aspect. Bad technique is distracting and difficult to watch. The ideal dance and the ideal dancer can combine superb technique with emotion. A great example of this is everyone’s favorite routine from So You Think You Can Dance?, “Bleeding Love”:

For some reason in Lindy Hop, people will forsake technique over someone who is feeling it. Would that fly in any other dance form? Take this guy for example. He’s definitely feeling it…

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when I see someone in the moment, full of expression. It can be inspiring. But I don’t want to watch bad dancing. Just like I don’t want to see great technique with absolutely no emotion. I want to see a balance between emotion and technique. The key…is balance.

It’s true that there should be different ideas, different techniques and different styles. It’s what makes street dancing so dynamic. But we must recognize that even with these differences, some ideas, techniques and styles will be better than others. There is good and bad. It’s a fact of life that we must accept.

Words are used to identify objects and ideas. They are symbols to what our five senses tell us exist in reality. You can look at Lindy Hop and identify it as such. The words “Lindy Hop” together have meaning. Essentially, if you can identify it, you can define it. By no means is this an easy task. The process of defining something is to identify the fundamental elements that make up the subject and also distinguish it from every other form.

This does not hinder creativity or ingenuity. It merely gives a base for everything else to flow from. If you stray too far from this base, chances are you will have created something new. At that point you must identify this new form by a different name. West Coast Swing did it with Lindy Hop. It’s not a negative concept to create something new as long as one can accept and identify it as a new form. Sometimes this process takes awhile, but eventually the dance either develops into something unrecognizable from it’s origin, or the new form breaks away and creates it’s own identity.

So what would a definition look like? Take the classic example of the definition for table: “A man-made object consisting of a flat, level surface and support(s), intended to support other, smaller objects.” In no way does it specify what kind of table, color, how many legs, size, or shape. A person can make a table that has it’s own personality and it’s own distinct qualities. This can be true for dance. When you look across a dance floor, you can see each dancer is unique, yet you can identify each of them as dancing “Lindy Hop”.

This article isn’t meant to define the dances, but to first tackle the fear behind it. Once this fear is addressed, then we can rationally deal with what these dances are and what they encompass.

September 21 2011

Out and In-terest

A long, long time ago, in a Balboa Scene far far away…

Actually, it was a decade ago. The growing Balboa scene was full of young, hopeful and enthusiastic…(well let’s face it)…dance geeks. Through a combination of home movie footage from Bobby McGee’s, old movies such as “Start Cheering” and the Venice Beach Clip, combined with the DaVinci Code advice from the old timers, we were piecing together the dances (Balboa and Bal-Swing). Needless to say, our early versions from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were way off. I blame the public school system.

The new generation started off missing the mark on both Balboa and Bal-Swing. However, we were not satisfied until we truly understood both dances. Decent progress was being made with pure Balboa regarding the incredibly ginormous basics, but there was something terribly wrong with Bal-Swing. What the new generation was doing and what the old timers did appeared to be completely different. The new generation looked like they were doing Lindy Hop without triple steps. There was something missing. Then it dawned on me that there was an “away and together” motion in Bal-Swing that the older timers were doing.

The only place where we had been using this technique previously was in Crossovers, but that was just viewed as a pattern and not a concept. We adopted the term “Out and In”, which both Maxie Dorf and Willie Desatoff used frequently. It took some trial and error, but we were able to get a handle on the concept which changed Bal-Swing completely. It was the key piece of information that had been unknown to us. This was the start of the Out and In revolution. Finally the Bal-Swing scene was on the right track. It took a long time for the entire scene to adapt to this new idea, but it was ultimately successful.

I’d also like to note that Sylvia Sykes, Jonathan Bixby and Dwight Lupardis already knew these concepts since the mid 1980’s, having learned them directly from Maxie and Willie. Had we youngsters listened a bit more, we probably could have saved a bit of time. Well, live and learn.  Again, I blame the public school system.

The “Out and In” is a flowing stretch and release technique where the leader and the follower flow away from each other for two counts and back in for another two counts while taking 3 steps for every 4 beats. It gives the dance a constant and continuous breathing motion that gives both the leader and follower the ability to style within that dynamic. It’s the heart of Bal-Swing. If you know the term “Crossovers”, the Out and In is a fully encompassed fundamental concept in which Crossovers are merely a small part of.  This is a very different feel than Charleston, which generally has a sharper and more rapid movement with the out being in only one count.  Relaxation, fluidity and flow is key to Bal-Swing.

This technique also allows for a great deal of improvisation and styling. Looking at dancers such as Maxie Dorf, Willie Desatoff, Anne Mills and Natalie Esparza, you can see there is a great variety in styles using this technique. In recent years even more styles have emerged.

Today, the Out and In is still used, but it has been overshadowed by complex spins and turns. Out and In is now just a placeholder for the fancy patterns. This dynamic is quite different from how the old timers danced. It has also become very choppy and Charleston-esque. In order to make an attempt to keep the flowing and beautiful dynamic of the Out and In alive in the scene, I’ve included footage of Maxie Dorf doing the Out and In, Mess Around, as well as a mix of other variations. Keep in mind that these are advanced version of Out and In, but hopefully it can inspire you. Watch the ease, flow and variety used by Maxie. This is from rare private lesson footage from Sylvia and Dwight. Also note that the context of this footage is not social dancing but teaching lessons, so there are occasional exaggerated movement.

First off, I would like to say that I think the term “rockstar” in this scene is ridiculous and comical.  To my knowledge, I don’t know any instructor who actually thinks of themselves in that manner (as confident as some of them/us seem).  I believe in respecting and admiring talent and great work, but “rockstar” has negative connotations that I prefer to avoid.
Secondly, I want it to be known that I love my job.  There is nothing else that I’d rather do.  The fact that I get to make a living from something I am so passionate about is amazing.  There are few in this world that actually love what they do for a living.  To be able to combine my passion, job, social circles, and hobby all in one package is a gem so precious I can’t even begin to describe it.  Take this into consideration when reading the rest of this article.  I am not complaining.  I am revealing the realities behind the facade.
There are several aspiring dancers out there who wish to become full time, or even part time, instructors.  This article is to help understand what it takes to be in this business.  This information is not only from my experience, but from talking to many of the other instructors.  It can also be informative if you are a promoter.  It is not meant to discourage, but merely educate.

Money: If you like the prospect of making a lot of money, or enjoying fine luxuries in life, this is not the job for you.  Those who do this for a living are able to continue because they love it.  The Lindy Hop and Balboa instructors are the most underpaid partner dance professionals that I know of.  Being a dance professional is a business, but the social construction of this scene makes it difficult to do so.  Keep in mind that we are self-employed and that any health insurance, dental, taxes, etc. are all on our own dime.  Also, if we don’t work, we don’t get paid.  There is no salary, vacation time or sick leave.  We must constantly work and travel to make a living.

Traveling: In the beginning, traveling is exciting.  To go around the world and teach in different states, countries, continents is thrilling.  I still love being in different cities and seeing the world.  Sometimes I’m still in awe that I’m halfway around the globe.  However, traveling takes a toll.  Much of my life is spent on airplanes and in airports.  Much of the sleep I get is in cramped, upright airplane seats (which, by the way, is terrible sleep and most of the time I wake up with sore muscles and a feeling of being hungover without the alcohol).  Traveling certainly takes a toll on your body, and considering this is a business that requires physical demands, it makes body maintenance a constant issue.

Airline Miles:
Some promoters think that we choose particular airlines to earn miles.  I rarely use my miles.  I choose my airline so that when there is a problem, I’m the first one taken care of.  You have no idea how often I’ve gotten out of a jam because of airline status.  Cancellations, delays, bad weather, mechanical problems, strikes in France…you name it.  Also shorter lines at airports and more legroom save on time and body stress.  Remember sleep?  I don’t  (haha…sigh).  Jet lag, long hours during events, travel days, all make sleep a rarity.  Half the time my body doesn’t know what time zone it’s in.  Some of us have to resort to sleeping pills or nighttime drowsy medication to help us adjust or at least have a fighting chance to get some sleep before classes.  Rarely do we get to stay in nice hotel beds.  Sometimes the bedding is barely recognizable as such.

Promoters: There are some amazing promoters out there.  All the instructors talk and know which ones they are.  We love working for them.  They feed us well, give us great sleeping arrangements, don’t complain about our requirements, and take great care in understanding the demands that we face.  Many promoters don’t fully grasp this.  Our job is seen as a luxury, or that their event is a special exception, or that we owe them for hiring us.  They see the cost of running their event, but don’t take into consideration that we are running a business as well.  We are paid for a service (teaching classes and/or performing).  It’s a mutual trade.  If we are pleased with the conditions, it will be easier to make the students happy, which in turn will create a better event overall.  Instead, we spend most of time time fighting for our basic requirements (hourly rates, lodging, travel, etc.).

Events: Teaching is a rewarding experience, but it is exhausting.  After a day of teaching, sleep or downtime is a necessity.  This doesn’t often happen.  Most of the time we are running from class to class, then to dinner, then to the dance.  Once we get back to our lodging we usually only have a few hours to sleep before getting up for the next day of classes.  Often times we are stuck at a dance or classes until the promoter can give us a ride back, which means even longer hours than the students.  It also means getting to classes extra early.  When you are at an event, you are on the clock whole time, 24 hours a day (but only get paid for classes).  By the end of a weekend, most of us are exhausted.  There are also unpaid demands that most promoters expect of you.  Judging contests, level tests, social demos, social dancing for hours each night.  Sometimes you get compensated for these, but not often enough.  It’s a very different experience to be hired for an event than to merely attend the event.  You’re in the spotlight and constantly on the job.  The food is rarely up to par.  It’s very difficult to eat balanced meals while on the road.  Promoters often settle on what is quick and easy.

Life and Home: Being home is a luxury.  To curl up in my own bed, in my own room, is an experience that I do not take for granted.  Most of the time I’m home is to do laundry, repack, catch up on business e-mails, rehearse and get ready for the next event.  It’s not as relaxing as I’d like, but there is something about it that helps me regroup.  Some instructors teach local classes which is even more tiring in between events.  Traveling a majority of the time brings up even bigger challenges…a balanced life.  Girlfriends/boyfriends, friends at home, time for yourself, family are all dynamics that are extremely difficult to maintain in this business.  As much as a loved one can understand what you do and why you do it, it is still trying on the relationship.  Want a family?  How feasible is it when you’re on the road so much?  Not to mention that our traveling schedules are always changing so it makes anything regular at home virtually impossible.

Gossip: Like I said, when you are an instructor, you are in the spotlight.  This means that your private life is never private.  It’s often used as public fodder that gets talked about thru the scene.  I’ve been called many things, both to my face and behind my back.  If you are overly concerned with whether people like you or not, you are bound to let it consume you and destroy you.  Someone is going to dislike you.  People are going to talk about your social life as if it is theirs to decide and they know better.  There are those out there who wish to tear you down.  Some will attack your dancing, some will attack your character and some will attack your love life.  Sad, but true.  It comes with the territory.  Often times it can be false information, or uninformed gossipers, and there is no way to correct it.  Self confidence and the ability to brush off the gossip that gets back to you is the key to survival.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “So You Want To Be A Traveling Lindy Hop Rockstar?”.

Nick Williams
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