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:

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?


A grateful leader

This Lindy Hopper Is Leaving Facebook

I’m leaving Facebook this week, just before I move to Sacramento to start a new job and join a whole new swing dance scene. Midtown Stomp, I’m coming for you!

My decision to leave Facebook was tricky, because Facebook is how I get a lot of information about dance events, and often how I contact organizers about DJing. However, I’ve decided that I would be better off without it, for the following reasons:

Facebook is an attention economy. It thrives by selling your attention to advertisers, who are then able to put advertisements in front of you as you scroll through the news feed.

Facebook, not me, controls what I see. Algorithms and personalized advertisements ensure that what I see on Facebook will be engaging for me, and keep me coming back for more. Which reminds me…

Facebook is intentionally addictive. Seeing new notifications activates dopamine centers in your brain, rewarding you every time you log on. It is really hard to stay off of Facebook, and that concerns me. I want to bring things into my life because I want them there – not because I’m addicted to them.

Liking and commenting are shallow forms of social interaction. I consistently find that Facebook interactions are of lower quality and produce less relational benefit than interactions that take place outside of social media.

The air is full of people. This is a line from one of my favorite books, Hamlet’s BlackBerry by William Powers, describing how – thanks to wireless Internet connections – we are never truly alone anymore. We are surrounded by people who can contact us at any time.

My ability to focus is in danger. Study after study after study has shown that Facebook and other social media platforms have detrimental effects on the human attention span. According to Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work, checking Facebook (or any other distraction) for one minute decreases your ability to focus for the next twenty minutes!

My contentment is in danger. As with attention, study after study after study has found that checking social media causes people to feel less content with their own lives. After careful consideration, I’ve decided I’m okay with being less aware of what other people are doing, so that I can be more content with what I’m doing.

My personal information is not safe. I’m not exactly a privacy freak, as evinced by the availability of my real name, approximate location, and email address on this blog. However, it does freak me out that Facebook has access to so much information about me – and about billions of other people – and I’ve decided that housing my personal information solely on my own corner of the Internet, namely this blog, is a safer way to share information about myself and my adventures.

I want to build genuine relationships. I have consistently found that my strongest friendships are with people who text me, call me, email me, and video chat me on a regular basis. (I have a few who even write me letters!) Leaving Facebook will give me more time to invest in my relationships with them, while wasting less time on relationships I don’t really care about, with people I don’t really know.

My online presence is less impactful than my real-life presence. I’m concerned about the problem of “social media activism,” and sharing or retweeting about a problem while not doing anything about it. Leaving Facebook will force me to actually contribute towards solutions, instead of perpetuating the echo chamber of complacent awareness.

I don’t need, and can’t have, that many friends. Robin Dunbar is famous for discovering the Dunbar Number, which is the approximate number of meaningful relationships a person can cognitively maintain. For modern humans, our brains can manage about 150 relationships. Even though Facebook’s upper “friend” limit is 5,000 people, I know that there are only about 150 people on there that I really care about – and I can keep in touch with those 150 people without the help of a massive, monopolized company.

What do I want to be good at? I’ll be honest – “getting lots of likes on social media by posting cute photos and thought-provoking shortform writing” isn’t high on the list. I want to be a good dancer, a good conversationalist, a good psychology student, a good writer, a good reader, a good lover. All of these things require effort from me, not crowdsourced social affirmation.

Enjoying the real world. It’s not every day you get to move across the country! I’m looking forward to exploring Sacramento, the nearby city of San Francisco, and all they have to offer, without the pressure to share my experiences on Facebook. If my friends want to know how things are going, they can text or call me, and I’ll happily send them photos and updates – but only if they ask for it.

I’ll be online less. Over the past few months of slowly reducing my Facebook use, I’ve started to realize that there really isn’t that much I do online besides look at Facebook. I like the idea that when I’m off Facebook for good, I’ll have more time for other offline hobbies, like practicing my solo jazz dancing!

Wherever you go, there you are. I have often used Facebook as a form of digital escapism – picking up my phone and scrolling when a real-life conversation gets boring, or a work task gets demanding, or a social event gets overwhelming. I want to stop doing this and be more present in the work that I’m doing, and I think getting off Facebook is a good first step.

How will I keep swing dancing?

It’s a valid concern, for sure – almost all Lindy Hop events and scenes use Facebook as their primary mode of communication with their attendees. However, I’ve found a few workarounds that I think will work for me, especially if I implement them as I move to a new scene.

  • I’ll use Google, websites, and word-of-mouth to find out about dance events and workshops I want to visit.
  • SwingPlanIt has helped me stumble across some great events, and it’s becoming more mainstream for organizers to advertise there.
  • I can email events and organizers I want to work for, instead of Facebook messaging them.
  • Yehoodi is a great source for worldwide Lindy Hop news!
  • While I’m at an event, if organizers post a critical update on Facebook, friends who are on Facebook can help keep me in the loop. Organizers I am working with as a DJ will be fully notified ahead of time that I am only reachable by text or call, and I’ll keep my phone on me in case of emergencies. (“Quick, we need some Cab Calloway STAT!”)
  • The Lindy Blend gives organizers several options for contacting me, including my email, available on my about page, and the contact form on my contact page.

What will I do instead?

As a practicing minimalist, I’ve had to learn and re-learn the lesson that what you remove from your life is far less important than what you put into it. So, here’s what I’m planning to do with my newfound free time and distraction-free headspace:

  • Write more here on The Lindy Blend.
  • Search for great jazz music to add to my library and use when I DJ!
  • Practice yoga every day, which helps keep my hardworking dance body flexible and strong.
  • Meditate.
  • Write letters and notes to the people I love.
  • Text silly things to my friends like the goofball I am.
  • Video chat with all the dear folks I’m leaving behind in Michigan and keep up with the important things happening in their lives.
  • Throw myself into my new job – I have lots of new things to learn, including data programming and running an fMRI scanner, and I’ll need all the focus I can get!
  • Go for lots of walks and bike rides to explore Sacramento!

Leaving Facebook may not be the right decision for everyone

Facebook definitely makes life easier if you’re a swing dancer, that’s for sure. Bobby White at Swungover has a brief but interesting take on how technology has improved his life. And, obviously, there are the 2.19 billion monthly active users of Facebook, most of whom (I hope!) are finding some value in it.

I’m financially privileged to have my own online space with a .com URL that I pay for myself. Many people don’t have this kind of financial access to a personal website, and using Facebook for their career and personal purposes makes more sense for them. While I may not think social media is ultimately a very helpful tool, I know that a lot of people see it differently, and I think it’s a discussion worth having.

How racially inclusive is your scene?

The Frankie Manning Foundation just released this list of really helpful questions from Julia Loving for scene organizers, leaders, and teachers. I know that reading through this list was helpful and even a little convicting for me, and I hope it’s helpful to you too. I wanted to include the full list here for you to consider, and I have a few additional thoughts at the bottom.

  1. Do I actively recognize that Lindy Hop is a Black art form? Is that recognition and acceptance represented in the way that I run dance events, classes, and overall dance scene?
  2. Am I comfortable dealing with or discussing race matters? If not, am I in a partnership with someone else that is?
  3. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified bands or orchestras that are led by or include Black musicians and singers?
  4. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black instructors on all levels?
  5. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black DJs for my events or to cover band breaks?
  6. Does my event’s attendance (instructors, bands, audience, dancers) reflect the diverse populations of the world? If not, do I have a plan in place to make my event more welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds?
  7. Does the way that Lindy Hop is danced in my community look and feel like the original?
  8. Do I want to gain knowledge and do I seek out understanding about the African American experience? What about the dance history?
  9. Do I hire staff that have been vetted for non-discriminatory practices in the scene?
  10. Do I invite constructive responses for policy and programs to address racial inequities within my events?
  11. Do I invite local dance communities of non-whites to events?
  12. Do I share resources with my community about the origins of the dance, Black history, biographies of the original dancers, jazz musicians, music collections, etc.?
  13. Do I encourage my students to take field trips to venues or historical sites that represent the African American history or experience, especially those cities that are rich with the history?
  14. Am I committed to the long-term message of Black history and recognition, not just when the topic is trending?
  15. Do I lead by example as a dance instructor by including history lessons as an integral part of my classes. For example; we all do the Shorty George but did you know that Shorty George was a Black man who danced at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem? Etc.
  16. Do you invite lindy hoppers from earlier generations to participate and tell their history at your events? Ex: Mama Lou Parks Dancers, Harvest Moon Ball Competitors, and Savoy Dancers
  17. Do I pledge to welcome everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, body type, physical ability, and mental ability?
  18. Do I encourage my students and fellow dancers to be open to dancing with everyone and to actively ask people of all kinds to dance? Especially those that might not get asked to dance very often? There should be no wallflowers!
  19. Do I encourage mentorships, trainings, or extra tutelage for any new Black dancers in my scene? Do you offer any financial sponsorship for African American students to your attend your events or participate in other events?
  20. Am I willing to accept and embrace change even though it may change how I originally experienced the Lindy Hop community?

Question 5, about considering and hiring Black DJs, is a great question. As a white DJ, I know that I need to make a more active effort to get to know Black DJs at events I work at, and then recommend those DJs to other scene leaders and organizers with whom I work. I don’t think the need for more diverse DJs means I need to step down in some way, but I do think it means I need to work just as hard to lift up and promote Black DJs as I do to promote myself.

I love question 15, about including history lessons in our classes when we teach. At my almost-all-white undergraduate institution, I often worked information about historical Black dancers and musicians into my lessons. I am doing my best to make this blog a resource for learning more about Black vintage musicians in particular. I hope that as you read along, you find information you can use when you teach to help your students and scene become more aware of the enormous debt we owe to Black jazz artists, past and present.

Question 17 is also excellent, particularly for its inclusion of mental ability in the list of characteristics that shouldn’t keep us from welcoming or dancing with someone. I hope to address this more in the future, but I have seen and heard about some pretty nasty things happening to dancers who experience autism and other differences in mental ability. If you have biases or fears about people with mental disabilities – and, culturally, most of us do – take time to educate yourself and get to know people with mental disabilities personally. The honest truth is, they’re just like the rest of us and want the same things we all want – to be loved, talked to, and asked to dance!

Thanks again to Julia Loving for creating these questions, the Frankie Manning Foundation for distributing them, and Bobby White at Swungover for posting about them, which was how I saw them originally. Julia Loving blogs at Big Girls Lindy Hop Too! and sells undergarments for Lindy Hoppers at LuckyLindysNYC on Etsy, which has shorts (the kind you might have seen flashing under someone’s skirt) in all kinds of patterns and fabrics – how fun! I might need to get a pair of the rainbow ones for Pride month!

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, June 1, 2018

For my last DJ gig before I leave Michigan to move to California, I went up to Ann Arbor and spent an evening with the dear friends I’ve come to know over the past few years.

A2FNS 2018-06-01

The first song in this set was actually the one I chose when the organizers decided, spur-of-the-moment, to do a farewell jam for me. As I noted in my last post, Maxine Sullivan does my favorite version of “Exactly Like You,” and it was so much fun to dance with all my friends to a song that I love.

I spent the rest of the set playing with songs that are new to my library, including some pieces I featured in my Lionel Hampton roundup – “Loose Wig” and “Royal Family.” I also tried out “Jacquet Bounce” and “Lean Baby” by Illinois Jacquet, which people seemed to like, and I got a great response when I played “Loch Lomond” by Maxine Sullivan. “Charlie Was A Sailor” by Lionel Hampton, at 192 BPM, got some balboa happening!

It’s sad to be leaving Michigan and all the wonderful dancers I know around the Midwest, but I’m looking forward to lots of new dancing adventures up and down the West Coast! Check in here to keep up with my travels, and if you’re an organizer on the West Coast looking for a DJ to add some delightful tunes to your event, get in touch!


This Is Why You Should Be Listening to More Maxine Sullivan

I love Maxine Sullivan.

FROM THE VAULTS: Maxine Sullivan born 13 May 1911

I know everyone loves Ella, and I’m a big fan of Sarah Vaughan myself, but Maxine Sullivan is solidly tied with both of them in my book. Her vocals are energetic and always beautifully in rhythm, and dancing to her recordings is so much fun! I have a few concert videos down below where she’s well into her fifties and sixties, and her voice ages so well – it still carries the vitality of her early recordings, while possessing infinitely more character and charm.

The Aline Gubbay Fonds - Jewish Montreal of Yesterday

This 1968 concert in Japan features Maxine Sullivan singing with Scott Hamilton’s quintet. Some great swing tunes in this concert include “As Long as I Live,” “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” “You Were Meant For Me,” and “Crazy ‘Bout My Baby.”

Hot take – Maxine Sullivan’s version of “Exactly Like You” is my favorite one. I have four versions in my library – Carmen McRae (probably the one you’ll hear most in the Lindy scene), Eddy Howard, Helen Humes, and Maxine Sullivan – and I like Maxine’s the most. The horns have a swanky energy to them, and her vocals are understated, but they have a rich, full sound – unlike Helen Humes, whose voice has more energy, but is thinner and more reedy by comparison.

In 1985, Maxine Sullivan appeared on a TV show hosted by Johnny Desmond, where she performed four songs, including two swingers – “Loch Lomond,” which is the song she’s most famous for recording, and “Ev’ry Time (I Fall In Love).”

If you haven’t heard Maxine’s rendition of “Loch Lomond,” by the way, you should listen to it. It was the song that originally made her famous, and she sang it in the 1939 film St. Louis Blues. You can see that recording in the clip below:

For dancing, I prefer this hard-swinging rendition from her album We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye, with Bob Wilber.

In this 1958 clip from Art Ford’s Jazz Party, a forty-seven-year-old Maxine sings “Ace In The Hole,” which starts out as a slow ballad and then builds into a really easy, bluesy swinger. I found this video while doing research for this post, and it makes me want to add this song to my library!

At the 1975 Manassas Jazz Festival, Maxine Sullivan did a beautiful rendition of “You Turned the Tables On Me.” I think this clip is a really great example of how you can hear the swung rhythm in her vocals – her voice has this lilting quality that perfectly mirrors what the rhythm section is doing.

For comparison, watch this clip of Maxine singing “Some of These Days.” I couldn’t find a date for the clip, but it’s clear that she’s much younger – I would guess no older than thirty-five. Her voice still has that beautiful, alluring quality, but it lacks the character of some of her later concerts. (Bonus: there’s some sweet jazz dancing in this clip!)

I have a lot of other favorite Maxine Sullivan songs, too. Here is a list of some more for you to check out:

  • Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, 135 BPM, 2:56
  • Blue Turning Grey Over You, 148 BPM, 2:32
  • Honeysuckle Rose, 176 BPM, 3:24
  • Ain’t Misbehavin’, 127 BPM, 3:20
  • As Long As You Live, 145 BPM, 2:38

Maxine Sullivan - Pittsburgh Music History

Your First Lindy Hop Event: A Detailed Guide

First off, if you’re new to Lindy Hop and you’re getting ready to travel to your very first dance event, congratulations! Fair warning: you might get hooked and start traveling a lot. Also fair warning: there is absolutely no problem with that situation.

There are some things I wish I had known before my first dance event. I usually try to give these tips in some form to any new dancers I’m traveling with, and I thought compiling them into a blog post might be a handy reference for the future!


Remember your dance shoes! It may seem obvious, but I once had a new dancer traveling with me forget theirs. Just…double check that they’re in your bag. You won’t regret checking. (If you are able, bring dance shoes that are different from your everyday shoes. This is because many dance venues require “clean shoes” to keep their floor nice.)

If you’re not sure what to wear, my favorite rule is: comfy during the day, classy at night. Jeans, leggings, and soft T-shirts are all welcome in class. But do dress up for the evening dances – it shows that you care about the live band (if there is one) and all the other dancers there. Trousers, formal shirts and tops, skirts, dresses, pretty ties, fun socks, and hair accessories are all great.

Be courteous to your fellow dancers by packing deodorant, extra shirts (I like to pack extra tank tops to wear under my formal tops for evening dances), mint gum or breath mints, and a small hand towel to wipe your sweat. Body wash to use in the shower is also important.

Pro tip: If you don’t want to lug your suitcase around all weekend, pack a smaller dance bag that you can bring to classes and evening dances. My dance bag includes dance shoes, a water bottle, deodorant, chapstick, and other essentials.


Communicate with your host ahead of time regarding what you’ll need. I always prefer to bring my own towel and pillow, and I usually bring a blanket as well, as I get cold easily and like an extra even if my host is providing bedding. Sometimes you’ll need to bring an air mattress or something else to sleep on – ask ahead and be prepared!

Get in touch with other people staying with your host, and ask what classes they’re taking, if any – carpooling with them is a good idea!

Bring a small gift for your host – they are inconveniencing themselves to host you for free, and that’s something to be grateful for. A handwritten note and some baked goods to share are my go-to!


You don’t have to experience everything at an event to have a great time. Please, if you signed up for classes, be on time to those classes – this shows respect for your instructors – but otherwise, take your time, and enjoy the people around you and the things you do attend.

Dance events are extremely taxing on your body, no matter how flexible or in shape you are. Get plenty of sleep, take time to really stretch out, stay hydrated, and eat real food that fuels your body. I always a bring a bag with some carrots, bananas, and trail mix to eat between classes.

If you have health concerns, take care of them. Bring your ankle brace, your meds, and whatever else you need. Never apologize to anyone for taking time to care for yourself.

If you’re an introvert, take active steps to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed or burned out. Know that it’s okay to split from your friends and eat lunch alone, or leave the late night early. Taking time to recharge will help you get the most out of the event.


Be attentive and engaged in class, and please stand the whole time – your instructors have to stand and talk to you, and it shows respect to them to remain standing as well. The only exception to this is if your class space means that some people are standing behind others, in which case, getting low while the instructors are demonstrating something can help make sure that everyone sees what is happening.

You may have heard that many instructors will allow you to film them doing a class recap at the end of class. Some do, and some don’t. If it’s unclear, vocally ask the instructors’ permission before filming them doing anything. (Michael Jagger has a great discussion of this issue, if you’re interested.)

As an alternative to filming a recap, take notes in class! Keeping a small notebook and pen in your back pocket is perfectly fine, and writing things down can help keep you engaged during those periods in class where your instructors are talking for a while. You do have to ask permission to film, but you never have to ask permission before taking notes!

Dance with every person in rotation. This might seem obvious, but sometimes you may encounter something you weren’t expecting. I’ve danced with people who use wheelchairs or hearing aids, people who are significantly older or younger than the average age of the class, people who are dancing a different role than what you might expect based on how they look, and people who have dance styles that are very different from mine. In my opinion, the only acceptable reason to not dance with someone in a class is if something they are doing is painful, or if they are making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe – in which case, it is more polite and proactive to either communicate with them verbally about it, or step out of class to go find an organizer and report the issue (more on this below).


Please do ask people to dance! Even if you feel like you don’t have a lot of experience yet, you can still have a lot of fun on the dance floor and dance with many different people. If you’re not sure where to start, try finding someone you met in class and asking them to dance!

If you’re not sure which role someone would like to dance, it’s totally fine to say, “May I lead/follow you for a dance?” or “Would you prefer to lead or follow?”

It’s okay to say no to a dance! If someone asks you to dance, and for any reason, you’re not feeling it, just say, “No thanks.” If you’re tired, but you’d like to dance with them later, you can say, “I’m a little tired right now, but can you come find me later?” Otherwise, keep it short and sweet, so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

If there’s a live band, clap for them – even if you didn’t dance to a particular song! The band is working really hard to produce great music, and clapping and cheering is a great way to show your appreciation for them!

The same is true for DJs – when organizers announce a DJ, clap enthusiastically! As a DJ, I work hard to select each song I play to fit the floor in real time, and it means a lot to me to know that people enjoy and appreciate my music.


If you choose to compete in a Mix and Match, maybe for the first time, congratulations – that’s exciting! Try to remember that you’re there to make sure you and your partners have a great time, and keep an upbeat, positive attitude.

Be on time to any competitors’ meetings and prelims, and pay attention to the organizers as they line you up and shuffle you around – this helps make sure everything runs smoothly!

If you’re not sure where to have someone pin your number, a good rule of thumb is that if you’re leading, the small of your back is a good spot. If you’re following, higher up on your back is better, or just below the small of your back (the “license plate,” as my friends who follow sometimes call it).

Remember that the judges need to see your number, so when you line up, be sure to turn around so the judges can see it!

Give each person you dance with a high five and tell them “Thank you” – no matter what dancing with them was like. I often find that, even if my partner is a little less experienced than I am, smiling and staying positive often brings out their best dancing!

If you make it to finals, stay calm and pay attention to instruction from the competition coordinators. If you have any questions, it’s okay to ask! There are lots of online resources and videos from Mix and Match competitions (they used to be called Jack and Jill competitions, so searching for that on YouTube can help you find them), if you want to see what finals are like ahead of time.


While almost everyone at a Lindy Hop event is there to have a great time and enjoy jazz music and dancing, it’s important to understand that social dancing is an activity that involves complex social and physical interactions, and you might experience something unwanted, uncomfortable, or unsafe. In this situation, the first priority is for you to feel safe, whatever that means for you. If you would like to stop dancing for a while, leave the event, or talk to someone, those are all perfectly fine things to do.

If you travel with more experienced dancers from your scene, you may feel more comfortable talking to them than to an organizer you’ve never met before. Starting out with, “Hey, something weird/uncomfortable/scary happened to me, and I’m not sure what to do about it,” can be a good way to open that conversation if you’re not sure.

Most events will post something like a “Safer Spaces” policy or “Code of Conduct” that tells you what to do and how to report an incident, if you would like to do that. Generally speaking, asking an organizer is a safe bet. Many events also provide online reporting forms or a number you can text or call, if you would prefer to report anonymously.

Remember, you are always allowed to say no to any dance for any reason – and that includes a dance you are currently involved in. If your dance partner does anything that makes you feel unsafe, you can disconnect from them, say, “Hey, I’m not okay with that, and I need a break,” and then walk off the dance floor. Your safety is your first priority.

It is unlikely that you will experience harassment or assault at a Lindy Hop event, but just in case you do, you should know that there are people and resources in place to help you and make sure that appropriate action is taken. If you choose to report an incident, know that you are helping to make the dance environment safer for others, as well as yourself, and that’s a good thing to do.


Traveling to Lindy Hop events is really fun, and a wonderful way to meet new friends and get better at swing dancing. I have many, many friends who describe traveling to events as one of their favorite things to do, and navigating each event does get easier with practice. I hope you have a great time at your first event! If you’re a more experienced dancer with any tips to add, drop them in the comments!

Lesser-Known Songs of Lionel Hampton

It now says on my about page that I go nuts for vibraphone solos. I added that to reflect my recently unearthed obsession with all things Lionel Hampton. I love his creativity and the way his vibes always fit perfectly into the songs where they feature. However, while everyone knows “Flying Home” and “Lavender Coffin,” I wanted to take a moment to feature some really swinging Lionel Hampton songs that I don’t hear as often.

By the way – I found all of these tunes for free at Classic Jazz Online, and with better sound quality than the clips in this post. Head over there and stock up!

I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me, 130 BPM, 3:16

I can’t get enough of this easy swinger. It starts out with a sweet saxophone solo and some excellent jazz electric guitar, almost certainly played by Charlie Christian. Then Hampton kicks in on the vibes, and they lend such an elegant sound to the rest of the song. I would love to play this after the floor was exhausted after a couple of high-tempo songs – it’s a great song for more relaxed dancing.

Open House, 132 BPM, 3:16

I love this song for its easily follow-able melody, and its beautiful solos – along with those vibes, you get to hear some saxophone, piano, clarinet, and electric guitar (Charlie Christian again!), and they all sound great. The mood is pretty chill, but the more upbeat feel of the main melody gives it a little more energy.

Loose Wig, 144 BPM, 3:03

This song starts out with some peppy hand-clapping, and then moves into a sax-trumpet call-response. The instrumentation is bold and features some pretty daring stuff on a soprano saxophone, and then the vibes hit and absolutely tear it up. Hampton is laid back and yet keeps perfectly on rhythm. (I think this is less surprising once you know that in his early career as a drummer, Hampton was famous for performing tricks like tossing and twirling his drumsticks and mallets, without ever missing a beat.)

Royal Family, 158 BPM, 3:09

love the melody of this song. The A chorus has an AAAB structure – super easy to swing out to – and the full chorus is AABA (just like they teach you in solo class!). Once the first chorus is through, you get beautiful soprano sax, piano, and that electric guitar! Throughout, Hampton holds it down on the vibes in the background, and his solo around 1:50 is understated but really funky and fun to listen to.

Wee Albert, 188 BPM, 3:20

This tune is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favorites. It swings along with a spiraling trumpet melody supported by a steady sax line, and it only gets more enthusiastic and upbeat as it moves along. There’s a pretty epic tenor sax solo starting around the 1:55 mark, and that wailing trumpet comes back and just does not stop. The vibes pop in right around the end for a big finish. Super fun!

When Lights Are Low, 200 BPM, 2:15

To me, this peppy rendition is an ideal demonstration of Lionel Hampton’s remarkable ability to carry the integrity of a melody while having all sorts of fun with rhythm and mood. The vibes start around :20 in and, supported by Charlie Christian holding down a steady beat on guitar, Hampton creates an artful portrait of the main melody of “When Lights Are Low” while somehow managing to move all over the vibraphone’s expressive range. I love this piece for solo jazz, and it would also get the balboa dancers hopping!

Flying Home: The Live Performance That Will Blow Your Mind

A post on Lionel Hampton would not be complete without a moment of appreciation for this eight minute long live rendition of “Flying Home” that pumps along at 256 BPM. Even if you don’t have time for the whole clip, at the very least watch the first few minutes and notice how much energy goes into Lionel Hampton playing on those vibes. This is clearly a man possessed by rhythm. His entire body bounces up and down with the beat, his hands bopping in time with the rhythm even when waiting to make his next move. I find this clip mesmerizing. Hope you enjoy!