Midtown Stomp, February 1, 2019

Happy February! DJing for a swing dance on the first day of African American History Month is a real treat. I DJed band breaks for the fabulous Harley White Jr. Orchestra, and a friend and I couldn’t stop geeking out all night over how good their music was, and how good they were at interspersing fast songs with really lovely slow ones (my friend and I both love slow Lindy). Let’s take a look at some great black artists featured in my band breaks last night!

I’ve been getting more into Johnny Hodges in the new year, and I loved playing his song “Early Morning Rock.” It has a clearly defined melody and a driving beat, and Johnny Hodges on the alto saxophone makes everyone want to dance. 

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With the exception of a few independent forays in the 1950s, Johnny Hodges played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra from May 1928 until he died in May 1970 – a musical collaboration of 32 years. That’s a long time!

When Duke Ellington found out that Hodges had died of a heart attack at the dentist’s office in 1970, he wrote a eulogy for him the same night. As such a great musician in his own right, I think Ellington was in a unique position to comment on Hodges’ legacy in jazz.

Never the world’s most highly animated showman or greatest stage personality, but a tone so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eyes – this was Johnny Hodges. This is Johnny Hodges.

Because of this great loss, our band will never sound the same.

Johnny Hodges and his unique tonal personality have gone to join the ever so few inimitables – those whose sounds stand unimitated, to say the least – Art Tatum, Sydney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Billy Strayhorn…..

Johnny Hodges sometimes sounded beautiful, sometimes romantic, and sometimes people spoke of his tone as being sensuous. I’ve heard women say his tone was so compelling.

He played numbers like ‘Jeep’s Blues’, ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’, ‘I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart’, ‘All Of Me’, ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’, Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Passion Flower’, and ‘Day Dream’ and many more.

With the exception of a year or so, almost his entire career was with us. Many came and left, sometimes to return. So far as our wonderful listening audience was concerned, there was a great feeling of expectancy when they looked up and saw Johnny Hodges sitting in the middle of the saxophone section, in the front row.

I am glad and thankful that I had the privilege of presenting Johnny Hodges for forty years, night after night. I imagine I have been much envied, but thanks to God….

May God bless this beautiful giant in his own identity. God Bless Johnny Hodges.

A song that drew some unexpected attention was “Fiddle-Dee-Dee” by Lionel Hampton and His Sextette, featuring a little-known jazz violinist named Ray Perry. I learned today from a YouTube video description that Ray Perry used to sing while soloing on violin, and inspired Slam Stewart to continue the practice on bass!

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I ended the first band break with “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” performed live by Sarah Vaughan at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1963. Kirk Stuart on piano and Charles “Buster” Williams on double bass provide an infectious rhythm, and Sarah Vaughan delivers personality-filled vocals and dope scatting. I love it!

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My second band break was short – a birthday jam and the Shim Sham, and then time for just two songs before the band came back. A friend of mine in Milwaukee recently turned me on to the song “Moonglow” by the Benny Goodman Quartet, which has a shimmering, dreamy feel. The Benny Goodman Quartet was one of the first racially integrated jazz groups to arise in the 1930s, so this song felt very appropriate.

I love the below photo of the quartet in their younger days – from left, it’s Lionel Hampton on the vibraphone, Teddy Wilson on piano, Benny Goodman on clarinet, and Gene Krupa on drums. Benny Goodman used to say, “If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.”

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I concluded my second band break with “Summit Ridge Drive” by Cootie Williams, which I’ve loved forever for Cootie’s trumpet solos. (Fun fact: one of the trumpet players in the band came over and wanted to know what I was playing, and then soloed along on his own trumpet!)

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I’ll be DJing again at Midtown Stomp in a few weeks, on February 15th. If you’re in the area, I hope I see you there!

The year of 300 songs

I recently invested in an upgraded laptop, and in the process of transferring my DJ library, I trimmed it down to the songs that I really like to play.

Looking through my newly pared-down library, I noticed that I tend to stick with certain artists that I know I like, and I want to expand my musical comfort zone. This year I am setting myself the challenge of adding 300 new songs to my DJ library!

While I often consult jazz-on-line.com for free music, I am privileged to be able to buy music from iTunes when I want a particular version of a song, and to buy modern music from Bandcamp or directly from artists at events to put more proceeds towards supporting their music.

My plan for collecting music this year is to spend more time listening to swing jazz on Spotify while I’m at work – I spent the last three or four months slowly acclimating my colleagues to music in the lab, so I don’t have to wear my DJ headphones all day. They have great sound quality, but the huge ear cushions can hurt my ears after a few hours. I’ll collect songs I like into a Spotify playlist, and then hunt down or purchase 5-7 songs from that playlist every weekend.

The artists I want to explore more this year include Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington, LaVern Baker, Cootie Williams, Mildred Bailey, and Jimmie Lunceford. Watch for them in my sets!

Album review: I Love The Rhythm In A Riff by the Boilermaker Jazz Band

I Love the Rhythm in a Riff

The Boilermaker Jazz Band recently released their newest album, I Love The Rhythm In A Riff, to celebrate 30 years together as a band! Can you believe it? I can’t. Paul Cosentino, the band’s tenor and alto saxophonist, clarinetist, and bandleader, offered to send a copy of the new album to any swing DJ who told him they wanted one, and I couldn’t write my email fast enough!

Paul Cosentino explains the album’s dual theme in the liner notes:

During the wonderful but all too short time known as the Swing Era, band leaders, jazz musicians, and singers were superstars…All of the bands had a book of great tunes for people to dance and listen to. Often filling the book was a collection of catchy riffs – songs with snippets of repeated melody that get stuck in your head and are great vehicles for jazz improvisation. Another requirement was wonderful vocal numbers – usually about love…This recording brings to life those two seminal categories of swing music.

The album overall has a bright, energetic feel, with a number of songs fast enough for balboa and competition-level Lindy Hop. Special guest Gordon Webster joined the usual suspects in the studio, and his piano solos shine on every track. I’ll go through the songs individually and note what I like about each.

920 Special, 4:13, 190 BPM

This cover of the popular jazz standard “9:20 Special” has marvelous solos from several band members, including Tony DePaolis on bass and guest Gordon Webster on piano. It chugs along just like the train it’s named after!

They Say It’s Wonderful, 4:26, 130 BPM

Paul Cosentino leads the way with vocals on this sweet track. Its gentle movement is accessible for beginners, but there’s some expressive piano in there from Gordon Webster for more advanced dancers to play with.

Squatty Roo, 3:59, 204 BPM

I love every version of this Johnny Hodges tune I’ve ever heard, and this one is no exception! The melody is just so bright and engaging – it was hard not to get up and dance when this came through my headphones. Gordon Webster does some mindblowing solo work on this track – especially admirable at this tempo.

I Had The Craziest Dream, 4:09, 108 BPM

This song feels like walking through a garden in the sunshine on a day when you have nothing else to do. It’s very slow, and that only adds to its loveliness – Jennifer McNulty on vocals doesn’t hurt, either.

Esquire Bounce, 3:47, 180 BPM

This happy little riff has a more intimate feel than the cover recently released by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra on their own album, Pass the Bounce, since it opens with just Paul Cosentino and Jeff Bush leading on saxophone and trombone (as opposed to the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s, well, orchestra).

Sweet and Slow, 4:10, 101 BPM

Normally, I’d rather dance to something faster – but if anyone could change my mind, it would be the Boilermaker Jazz Band. Artful piano notes from Gordon Webster sparkle over a rumbly rhythm, held down by Tony DePaolis on bass and vocals, and Thomas Wendt on drums.

Oh! Look At Me Now, 4:39, 124 BPM

Jennifer McNulty and Paul Cosentino share the mic on this tune, made famous by Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra, according to the album liner. I enjoy Jeff Bush’s trombone solo, as well as the smooth and easy pace.

Main Stem, 4:20, 192 BPM

This Duke Ellington instrumental features a driving beat, helped along by Paul Cosentino nailing his saxophone solos, and develops into a foot-tapping swinger by the end. I’d love to DJ this song for balboa!

Any Old Time, 3:15, 126 BPM

The word “pleasant” may feel a bit bland, but it truly captures the vibe of this song – chill, but kind and sweet. Jeff Bush has a lovely trombone solo, and Gordon Webster’s piano is understated but perfectly fits the mood.

Dickie’s Dream, 3:34, 192 BPM

I love Gordon Webster’s piano opening for this tune – it sounds silky and sneaky, and makes you want to get up and start bouncing along in time. The riff develops with Paul Cosentino’s clarinet whistling along and Jeff Bush doing some dope mute work on the trombone.

You Oughta Be In Pictures, 3:25, 127 BPM

As soon as I heard this song, I knew I would be humming the melody and mumbling the words for weeks – and I was right! It’s catchy as all get out, and the lyrics are beautiful to boot. Jeff Bush’s vocals fit right in with the easy beat from Thomas Wendt on drums and Paul Cosentino on saxophone. Tony DePaolis’ bass solo on this track is not to be missed.

Neal’s Deal, 3:27, 200 BPM

This song opens with a relatively quiet riff that belies its tempo. It takes its time, working first into a light melody with Paul Cosentino on clarinet, and then developing into a full-blown swinger with an energetic trombone solo from Jeff Bush. Gordon Webster plays supportive background piano that helps fill out the sound.

There Are Such Things, 4:10, 120 BPM

Jeff Bush opens on trombone, followed by Jennifer McNulty’s soaring vocals, supported by Paul Cosentino whistling along on saxophone. This song’s length would make it perfect for playing in a lesson context and having dancer switch partners every minute or so.

Tippin’ In, 4:27, 137 BPM

I’ve been a big fan of Erskine Hawkins’ version of “Tippin’ In” for some time, so it was refreshing to hear this new take on it. The main melody happens on Paul Cosentino’s saxophone, and boy does he have fun improvising! Jeff Bush on trombone, Gordon Webster on piano, and Tony DePaolis on bass all contribute engaging solos.

It Could Happen To You, 3:50, 165 BPM

Jennifer McNulty leads with vocals on this track, while Paul Cosentino pipes along on clarinet and Jeff Bush adds in some delightful trombone. This is the only track on the album that falls in the 140-170 BPM range, so I anticipate I’ll end up playing this one a lot!

I Love The Rhythm In A Riff, 2:42, 205 BPM

This track is worth listening to, if only to hear Paul Cosentino and Tony DePaolis scatting together! Jeff Bush and Gordon Webster bring the heat with racing trombone and piano solos, and Thomas Wendt has a dope little drum solo midway through. The energetic instrumentation brings it together as a perfect finale for the album.

I noticed as I was writing this up that one of the strengths of the Boilermaker Jazz Band is that, in spite of having a small group – only five members, plus Gordon Webster – they make excellent use of every musician – they all get frequent solos, even while keeping their songs down to danceable lengths, and they play off each other incredibly well. I hope you check out I Love The Rhythm In A Riff, and enjoy the music as much as I did!

Whistle Stop, November 16-18, 2018

Almost six months after moving across the country, I returned to the Midwest to reconnect with friends at Whistle Stop, the dance event that everyone should go to because it’s ridiculously cheap, thanks to generous subsidizing from Purdue University. My friends at Purdue Night Train generously accepted my offer to DJ, so I picked up band breaks for Naomi and Her Handsome Devils on Saturday night.

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Songs 1-7 comprised my first band break. Jimmie Lunceford’s “Honest and Truly” is new to my library and has a perky melody that I really enjoy – chunky trumpet and trombone work interspersed with gentle sailing saxophones. The vocals are a little cheesy, but I think it’s fun to hear what “pop music” of the era sounded like.

Songs 8-13 were my second band break, and I tried to capture a more energetic vibe, using “Windy City Hop” from Slim Gaillard and “When You’re Smiling” by Louis Armstrong back to back. I don’t understand why I don’t hear “When You’re Smiling” more in the dance scene – it has an easily recognizable melody and a strong rhythm, and it’s super danceable – especially with Louis Armstrong blowing that trumpet! I also included a moment of sweetness and a different feel with Sarah Vaughan’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It” – the accompaniment is mostly piano, and midway through it transitions into a dope saxophone solo, but the overall feel is still light and lovely.

Songs 14-18 came after the band finished up and everyone got ready to leave and go to the late night venue across town, so I mostly just played what I really like to hear at the end of the night. Of course that included the muted tones of “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” by Peter Liu and the Pollcats, which I think is the best song off their new record Count On Lindy – well, maybe it’s tied for best with “Wham Rebop Boom Bam.”

Now that I’m in California, I may be flying to events more often – aside from all the events in San Francisco (so many), most of the events I want to go aren’t driving distance. Maybe I’ll have to write a post about how to fly to a dance event, once I pick up some tips of the trade!

And before I go, here’s a TV version of a tune I ran across randomly in my library while writing this post and really enjoyed:

Midtown Stomp, October 26, 2018

One of the things I really like about being a swing DJ is that, even though I’ve cultivated a collection of hundreds of songs, I only get 20-30 songs each set to work with, so I’m always trying to combine them in new and creative ways. I had a couple of fun juxtapositions in this Midtown Stomp set to share!

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One great pairing came early on – “This Can’t Be Love” by Joe Williams with Count Basie, which has a smooth and polished sound, followed by the much more free-flowing energy of “Windy City Hop” by Slim Gaillard (and Slam Stewart).

Another fun transition was between “Jersey Bounce” by Peter Liu and the Pollcats, a modern band with a professional sound and soft piping saxophone and clarinet, and “Sing Me A Swing Song” by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, a very peppy, very vintage piece.

Finally, I was so happy to play “Rag Mop” by Ralph Flanagan and His Orchestra. The first time I ever recall hearing the song “Rag Mop” was from a live band – #TrustInTheRuss? – at SwingIN 2017. I danced with Sonia Ortega to that song, and Sonia, who speaks Spanish primarily, sang along with every word! It was a wonderful dance, and I always think of it whenever I hear or play “Rag Mop.”

Midtown Stomp, September 14, 2018

I was so excited to DJ last night at my new home scene, Midtown Stomp of Sacramento! Some of my new friends at Midtown Stomp are members of the Midtown Stompers, Sacramento’s performance team, and as of two weeks ago, they have won the open team competition at Camp Hollywood for three years running. This year’s routine is at the bottom of this post!

Midtown Stomp 09-14-2018

Midtown Stomp has two DJs for each three hour Friday night dance, so we get an hour and a half-ish, which I love, because that lets me build up more of a flow than just an hour set, which often feels like it runs out too quickly!

A few new tunes here – “Look Out” and “Buck Dance Rhythm” by Slim Gaillard are both wonderful numbers that maintain the guitar-strumming perkiness of “Jump Session” at faster tempos. “Buck Dance Rhythm” also has an epic tap dance solo in the middle – I don’t know who it is, but I wish I did! “The Major and the Minor” by Lionel Hampton and “St. Louis Blues” by Alberta Hunter are also new to me, and they went over really well!

The towering climax of this set was definitely “Them There Eyes” by Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie, which at 5:09 and 172 BPM, can be an exhausting song to dance to, so I usually fade it out around the 3:30 mark. However, as I watched the floor to assess how tired people looked, a small, informal jam circle crowded around the middle, as a group of maybe eight or ten people took turns stealing the center. They were having so much fun, and were so much fun to watch, I ended up letting “Them There Eyes” run all the way to the end (sorry, everyone else!).

I knew after that blast of energy I would need to reset the floor, so I picked a bold mood to do it with – “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by Jan Marie and the Mean Reds. It starts out with almost 40 seconds of slow intro, and then moves into a funky, synth-heavy rendition of the spiritual that got the whole floor moving! At around 11:30pm, that was cool to see.

Thank you so much for having me, Midtown Stomp! I look forward to DJing for you again soon!

Practical Ways to Make Lindy Hop Welcoming for LGBT+ Dancers

(Note: In this post I will use LGBT+, a shortened acronym, to refer to the LGBTQQIAP+ community. As someone who falls under the G, the Q, and the A, it is important to me to acknowledge that there are more letters in our beloved acronym than are sometimes convenient to spell out.) 

During my tenure as a Lindy Hopper, some of which was spent at an extremely conservative educational institution, I’ve become especially sensitive to and appreciative of scenes and events that go the extra mile to make the LGBT+ Lindy Hoppers feel safe and welcome. Here, I’d like to offer a compendium of tips and ideas I’ve compiled from my experiences, and from conversations with other LGBT+ dancers, to assist you in making your scene or event as queer-friendly as you can!

Making us feel welcome in class

We want to know that we can dance any role. All of your classes should open with a vocal acknowledgment from the instructors that anyone may dance any role. This may seem almost too obvious to say out loud, but I promise, this is really important – it makes us feel seen, and it makes us feel like we have the instructors’ support in case we experience discrimination from other dancers in class.

We want beginner classes to offer a non-gendered way to explore role preference. A great beginner class will include an exercise that involves really basic components of leading and following, like connecting with both hands in open position and practicing leading or following each other around the floor. I wish that the first Lindy Hop class I took had done this!

We want to have an easy way to identify our role preference in class. Please – please – do not ever start class by saying, “Okay, everyone partner up!” This makes it incredibly difficult to tell who’s doing which role, and I have often experienced the isolation of being the “odd one out” after all the women have partnered up with all the men. Instead, consider having everyone hold up an American Sign Language letter L or letter F with one hand to indicate which role they will be dancing for that class, and then let people partner up.

We want to feel acknowledged by the instructors’ language. Instructors, please take note – it is perfectly acceptable to use a gendered pronoun if you are talking about your teaching partner. For instance, you might say of the female follower teaching with you, “And then I put my right hand gently around her waist.” But when referring to your students, you should use gender-neutral pronouns instead. For instance, you could say, “Okay, leads, take your follower’s hand and lead them through the turn.”

Using “them,” which is a gender-neutral pronoun, makes space to acknowledge all the followers in the class – including those who may not identify as female. Here are a few more examples to help you think about which pronoun to use when referring to your teaching partner versus your students:

  • Partner: “I’m listening for him to pull me back into tandem position.”
  • Students: “Followers, make sure you listen for your leader to use their left hand to pull you back into tandem position.”
  • Partner: “She uses those four counts to do something expressive that she chooses.”
  • Students: “Leaders, remember to support your follower as they choose what to do during those four counts.”

But Mary, you sigh. I’ve definitely taught classes in which all the women were following and all the men were leading. Do I really have to do this then? 

That’s a great question! Remember that in the LGBT+ community, it isn’t always obvious from appearances which gender someone may identify with, or which pronouns they may prefer. I have several dance friends who are nonbinary and use they/them pronouns, but are often mistaken for women because of the way they look. Using gender-inclusive language helps to make sure everyone feels welcome, even if it doesn’t always seem necessary.

We want to see ourselves represented. If it is an option for your scene or event, it’s a really dope idea to have same-gender instructor pairs teach together. This lets people who dance a nontraditional role feel represented. Some of my favorite styling variations have come from taking classes from other women who lead!

Making us feel welcome at the dance

We want to be visible. If you really want to go the extra mile towards pronoun visibility, get those nametags that say “My name is:” and “My pronouns are:” on them, and encourage everyone – including cis people – to use them. This helps trans dancers feel included, and gives people an easy way to know what other people’s pronouns are!

We want to feel safe inside the bathroom we use. It may seem so simple as to be almost unnecessary, but it makes a huge difference to hang up a sign outside the restroom indicating that people of all genders are welcome. Here are a couple of creative examples I’ve seen at different venues and events:

  • Pirate Swing 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan hung up signs that said “And non-binary” under the “Men” and “Women” signs outside the bathrooms in their main venue.
  • The inimitable Mobtown Ballroom in Baltimore, Maryland has a sign in the hallway outside the bathrooms: “This bathroom has urinals. [arrow to the right] This one doesn’t. [arrow to the left] Use whichever bathroom suits you.”
  • The Switch 2018 in San Francisco, California hung signs outside each of the single-use bathrooms that said “All genders welcome in this bathroom – just be sure to wash your hands!”

A personal aside: at Pirate Swing 2017, I was at a place in my life where I was dressing very androgynously, and as a six foot tall person with short hair, I was frequently mistaken for a man. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see a sign on the bathroom that said “Women and non-binary.” It made me feel safe to enter the bathroom and know that no one would be startled or make a disparaging comment towards me. I do not identify as non-binary, but that simple sign still made a difference for me.

We want to be danced with! It truly makes all the difference when an organizer, instructor, or experienced dancer asks an LGBT+ dancer who is new to the scene for a dance. If you are in a position of power, influence, or experience, you have the opportunity to make this a reality!

We want others to ask about our preferences. I’ll admit it – I don’t always ask people their role preference. I know that some people want to only follow or only lead, and that’s fine. But if I’m not sure, or it’s a person I’ve never danced with before, or a friend with whom I will occasionally switch roles, I like to ask, “Is it all right if I lead?” or “Do you want to lead or follow?” If they seem unsure, offering up “Want to switch?” as an alternate option floats some people’s boats.

Because it can be easy for scene regulars to forget about doing this when they’re accustomed to dancing with the same people week after week, I really encourage instructors and organize to say, repeatedly and with a microphone if possible,  “Here in our scene/at our event, if we’re not sure of someone else’s role preference, we like to ask!”

A nonbinary friend of mine told me this:

As a queer person and often femme-presenting person, it’s super exciting when someone notices that I lead and asks me to, or even just asks if I lead or follow instead of assuming I follow.

Which I think is reason enough to encourage scene regulars to be observant of others’ preferences and to ask if they’re unsure!

We want to be jammed in a way that respects our preferences. Okay, but for real, guys – can we make it an all-the-time-everywhere rule that all birthday jams must be preceded by getting the people in the middle to specify which roles they dance? Again, ASL hand signs are useful here. I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t cut in to dance with someone because I haven’t been sure which roles they could dance, and I suspect the same has been true of the times I have been jammed in the past. Especially for dancers who are newer to the scene, being given the opportunity to communicate this information is a must!

We want a safe person to talk to if needed. I really like it when scenes or events explicitly appoint one of the organizers to be a “safety coordinator” or something similar, whose job is basically to be a really understanding and informed person who is the go-to contact point for code of conduct violations.

Making us feel welcome in competitions

We want the competition name to reflect what’s actually going on. As we all know, for random partnered competitions, “Jack and Jill” is out, and a variety of new monikers are in – my favorite is “Mix and Match.” Just be mindful when naming your competition of what the title will say to people who dance a nontraditional role, or identify with a nonbinary gender.

We want to know that everyone else in the competition will welcome us. In some Mix and Match competitions, I have occasionally felt worried that I would be paired with someone who didn’t want to dance with me because I am a female lead. Thankfully, this has never happened, but I would really like to it become standard operating procedure to put language somewhere – maybe in the competition sign-ups, maybe announced by the emcee – that part of a Mix and Match is dancing with whoever you are paired with, regardless of their gender. This is a nascent idea of mine, and I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on how to put this into practice – toss yours in the comments!

We want to know that alternative fashion choices are acceptable. Many Lindy Hoppers are into vintage fashion, which is awesome…but it’s also from the 1940s, and tends to dictate shirts and trousers for men, and skirts and blouses for women. I would love it if we all took a moment to acknowledge that people tend to get pretty dressed up for competitions, and for queer people, formal wear can be a confusing and awkward endeavor. (As dance photos of me continue to attest.) Just…do your best to love and support and cheer for people in the competition, no matter what they’re wearing.

Incorporating ambidancing into your scene

This is a topic I have been hesitant to address, because my own feelings about ambidancing – which means being able to both lead and follow – are complicated at best. Even though I am technically an ambidancer, because I know how to both lead and follow, I am much more comfortable identifying myself as someone who leads primarily, and I have mixed feelings about the efficacy of ambidancing as a class format. Regardless, ambidancing does have some wonderful benefits of which you should be aware.

Ambidancing encourages open-mindedness and flexibility throughout your scene. People who are accustomed to ambidancing as a concept, regardless of their sexuality or gender, are way more likely to be cool with asking about role preferences, dancing with people of their same gender, and generally fostering an LGBT-friendly community atmosphere.

Ambidancing helps people appreciate each other. I’ve noticed that when people try the role they don’t usually dance, they develop a great appreciation for people who do dance that role! This is a wonderful attitude to have, and I think everyone should try the other role, at the very least to gain a better understanding of it.

Ambidancing can be an avenue towards greater musicality. Based on my own experience, I believe that when you start to dance in both roles, you start to notice some similarities between them – the biggest one being that dancing with the music, and inserting styling, breaks, stops, and footwork that matches the music, is important no matter which role you’re in.

Ambidancing is a queer-friendly class format. If you want to relieve anxiety about gendered roles, making it unnecessary to choose between those roles is a solid option. I may not personally enjoy learning both roles in a single class, but I know that there are many people for whom this learning style is a perfect fit, and it may be a good experiment to add some ambidancing classes to your scene or event to gauge interest.

Switch dancing is incredibly fun! I didn’t hold this opinion quite so adamantly until I moved to California and went to the Switch, where I had some switch dances that absolutely blew my socks off. Switch dancing means that the partners trade leading and following back and forth throughout the dance. Even as someone who isn’t super into following, I find switch dancing to be a spontaneous, creative, and exhilarating experience, and I think it’s something everyone should experience!

My friends Calvin Lu and Sam Nguyen, who help organize the Switch, did this awesome showcase at Midwest Lindy Fest this year, and you should watch it! They are incredibly hardworking dancers and so much fun to watch!

If you’re interested in learning more about ambidancing, this podcast from Michael Jagger and Evita Arce is a good place to start: https://michaelandevita.com/018-ambi-dancing/

Thank you for reading this post! If you have additional tips or suggestions to share, please drop them in the comments! I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Switch, July 27-29, 2018

I had a total blast at The Switch in San Francisco last weekend. It was an opportunity for me to connect with the California ambidancing community, and explore San Francisco for the very first time – a double win!

The Switch is an incredible workshop weekend focused all around ambidancing, and the attendees were so friendly and fun to dance with. They were also very responsive to my music, which I appreciated.

I started out Friday evening playing a few songs after the community panel on ambidancing, giving the band a chance to sound check. I chose the first four tunes in the list below to start out the evening – “Jacquet Bounce” by Illinois Jacquet and His All Stars is new to my library, and I was so glad the expressive tenor saxophone from Jacquet picked up the floor!

Switch 2018-07-27 band breaks

My first band break started out with “Sometimes I’m Happy” by Sarah Vaughan, which I love just because it’s fun to hear the lyrics that accompany the familiar melody. When Lori Taniguchi, the event emcee and resident sparkly unicorn (you probably think I am joking. I am not joking), complimented me on choosing a live recording that kept up the energy in the room, I just laughed and said I wished I had that cool of a reason to play it! Sometimes the tune that “just feels right” to me in the moment ends up suiting someone else’s taste for a completely different reason, which is always funny to me.

I was so pleased when someone came up to ask me about “Loose Wig” – “Of course it’s Lionel Hampton,” they said, “but what is it?” Its happy hand-clapping feel and unique melody catches everyone’s attention!

Switch 2018-07-27 late night

The above list was my “late night” set from 12-1am on Friday night, after the band finished. Lori and I had a good laugh over the song title “Celery Stalks At Midnight,” by Les Brown, and how it gave Lori the mental image of literal celery stalks in a row doing a side-step dance while waving their…leaves? It does have kind of a high stepping feel!

I also had the chance to play “As Long As You Live” by Maxine Sullivan, a delightful live recording that I just can’t stop listening to. Her energy is infectious and it fills the floor every time. And “Charlie Was A Sailor” by Lionel Hampton was a major hit with some balboa dancers and folks who wanted to take their fast Lindy for a spin.

A huge thanks goes to Calvin Lu and Sam Nguyen, who generously let me sleep in their apartment even though they were pulling eighteen hour days running around organizing the Switch. I certainly hope to come back next year!

Ella Fitzgerald’s Deep Cuts for Lindy Hop

Sometime last spring, a friend of mine, who also happens to be a jazz vocalist and a talented music producer, told me that she owned the Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks on CD. I knew something magical was about to happen.

Hours of downloading later, my music library was populated with some of the most incredible swing music ever to grace the dance halls of New York. Ella Fitzgerald is a queen, y’all, and today we’re going to review some of my favorites among her lesser-known tunes.

Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:36, 152 BPM

This peppy Irving Berlin tune has some lovely modulations between major and minor sounds, and it has a sweet build up to a triumphant feel at the end. (I also get a private kick out of the fact that this song features a lady singing about a very dapper outfit indeed.)

While searching for this song on YouTube, I ran across this Polish tribute to Ella Fitzgerald for her 100th birthday. The big band sounds great, and I love the vocalist’s outfit!

Things Are Looking Up, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:35, 135 BPM

I’ll be honest, the band here sounds good, but they aren’t swinging quite as hard as some other dancing tunes. However, the lyrics are so bright and pretty, and the tone is so upbeat given the slower tempo, that I love having this song around to pick up an empty dance floor.

In A Mellow Tone, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:50, 133 BPM

Hey Mister Jesse recommended this album, Ella at Zardi’s, when it was released last year, and I like it a lot! This particular version of “In A Mellow Tone” features some dope scatting, and solid swinging rhythm from a piano-bass-drums trio.

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie, 3:21, 159 BPM

The saxophones and trumpet provide great accompaniment to this foot-patting song. The rhythm is super tight and easily audible, so it’s easy to dance to. (Thanks, Basie!)

Drop Me Off In Harlem, Ella Fitzgerald, 3:51, 118 BPM

This song was originally written by Duke Ellington, so it has all the swanky swing it can handle, while moving along at a tempo perfect for beginners or a late night. Before Ella comes on, it opens with some really wonderful trumpet and trombone solos.

The Lady Is A Tramp, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:45, 168 BPM

When you need an alternative to Frank Sinatra, I love this upbeat rendition of the popular tune “The Lady Is A Tramp.” The lyrics are clearly audible and so much fun, and the bass and horns thump along in grand style.

I Got Rhythm, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:23, 144 BPM

If I were ever cool enough to teach a solo jazz class, this is definitely a song I would use. It has consistently placed stops in the first few phrases that still have a light rhythm section going, which helps students to keep time. And it’s also a great choice for the dance floor!

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Ella Fitzgerald, 5:02, 84 BPM

Okay, this one isn’t strictly a Lindy Hop tune. But truly, if you ever need to warm up a blues floor, I can’t imagine anything sweeter than this crooner. The soft hi hat in the background keeps the beat, while Ella’s voice floats along and the piano adds some texture and rhythmic interest.

Dear Followers: A Letter From A Grateful Leader

Dear followers,

Thank you for being such incredible dancers. Every time I dance with each one of you, I am awed and inspired all over again by your magic. I’m reminded why I fell in love with swing in the first place.

Thank you for being gentle with me. I don’t naturally use a lot of tone or tension when I lead, and I always appreciate it when I feel you adjust the tension on your end to let me lead you in a more comfortable way.

Thank you for putting up with me in class. It’s a huge help to me when you honestly follow whatever I’m leading, even when it means you don’t get to practice your best form every time.

Thank you for helping me when I mess up. Thank you for saving that tuck turn, that tandem entrance, that swingout. Thank you for working around my uncertainty to meet the music with a beautiful movement, and for helping me feel confident enough to give you a better lead on my next try.

Thank you for having a sense of humor. The way you turn my mistakes into moments of hilarious appreciation for the weirdness of partnered dancing makes me glow inside.

Thank you for speaking up for yourself. Each time one of you has had the courage and grace to tell me that something isn’t working, I have grown as a dancer.

Thank you for giving me the answer when I don’t even know how to ask the question. I so often hear something in the music that I want to respond to, but I don’t know how, so I open a space – and you fill it up even more perfectly than I could have imagined. I don’t know how you’re so good at that. But you are, and I love it.

Thank you for letting me be playful. When I want to have a solo jazz break, or just mess around or do knee slaps for a full eight counts, you encourage me to explore those ideas by pouring energy and spontaneity into them. I love it when you do that.

Thank you for never treating me differently. I know there are many men who are stronger than I am, more self-confident, who have more endurance and energy. I sometimes wonder if you would rather be dancing with someone else. But your smiling face makes me forget that.

Thank you for loving me in my queerness. While that isn’t the entire reason that I lead, it is part of it, and I feel most loved when I am most visible. Thank you for calling me dapper and bold and handsome and striking. Thank you for allowing me to bring the masculine and feminine parts of myself to my dancing. Thank you for letting me fall in love with you, just a little bit, and for letting that make our dancing more beautiful.

Thank you for never holding back. So many of you have hugged me after our first dance together, have said amazingly kind things to me, have encouraged and loved me into the swing community – without expecting or asking for any acknowledgment of your own invaluable contribution to this dance. I am sorry for the times I have not been just as enthusiastic about you as you are about me. I am trying to do better.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for your energy, your flair, your styling, your incredible gosh dang how-do-they-do-that swivels, your creativity, your voice. Lindy Hop would be a sad dance if I were doing it alone. The next time we see each other, let’s dance, shall we?

Sincerely,

A grateful leader