My Lindy Hop Story

My sister Zoey and I first saw Lindy Hop on Thursday, January 8th, 1998.

Zoey had heard about swing dancing from Jane Catkisser but we didn’t really know what to expect and we weren’t prepared for the love at first site that we experienced when we emerged upstairs at the Hooch, above the Gypsy Co-op on Queen St. W. That night we walked into another world.

It felt like we had entered the Hot Club of France with the Club Django band playing in a small, candlelit room, and one young couple was doing the most incredible partner dancing. Never before had I witnessed anything so magical. The dancers were Jana Jedlovska and Martin Nantel. They were incredible and I knew in that moment that at all costs, no matter how long it took me, I had to learn to do it.

That night we had missed the lesson but we met Peter Renzland and the next week we attended his Wednesday night group at the Tranzac Club. We also met another fabulous dancer, Jessica Somers, and I was shocked to learn that she’d only been dancing for a couple of years. I thought for sure that it would take many more years to learn to dance like that. I didn’t understand anything about how Lindy Hop worked and how freeing and individual it would be.

It was a life-changing night. The T.O. Lindy Hop Reunion will mark my and Zoey’s 20 year anniversary from that special night.

My Philosophy of Following

This note is old from 2015 and I plan to review it soon, but for now I just don’t want to lose it so I’m posting it here for safe keeping! 

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Originally from March 22nd, 2015

For many years I’ve been saying that following in Lindy Hop all comes down to just a few key principles. This weekend, my pal Krister prompted me to actually define what those principles are. So here it goes.

***THIS IS JUST MY PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. It’s evolved over the years and will likely evolve some more. I also think that most of these principles apply to leaders as well.

Mandi’s Key Themes of Following in Lindy Hop

1. Momentum – To me, Lindy Hop is all about grounded momentum. The breakaway in to an open, stretchy position is really what started to define Lindy Hop at the end of the 1920s and still does today. The stretchy momentum of swingout-type shapes is really what defines the overall feeling of Lindy Hop. Followers should keep moving through the direction that the leader creates.

2. Elasticity – The dance should feel stretchy. Delay to make sure you’re actually responding to the lead and use that delay to ground yourself so that you can snap/release and achieve momentum through the elasticity of the dance. You aren’t supposed to be a mind reader. Don’t move because you “know” you’re supposed to. Move because you’ve actually felt a lead that you’re responding to it in a stretchy, elastic kind of way.

3. Grounding – Lindy Hop should drive from the legs. Power with the lower body. Push through the floor to transfer your weight from one entire leg to the next. Strive for balance and grounding and fight the contemporary temptation to float across the floor. Work those legs and use the floor.

4. Rhythm – Every movement and shape has a rhythm. Seek it out and find the fun in all rhythms, from basic triple steps to more sophisticated variations. Without rhythm there would be no Lindy Hop.

5. Posture/Core/Frame* – Seek good lines and posture through what a lot of people call “frame*” but not at the expense of your grounding and not with a rigid upper body. Don’t pull upward to the point where you’re starting to dance “up” – you want to have good posture while also staying in to the ground. Your upper body should be open and ready to respond to your lead in a flexible, loose, absorbing way that catches your core without your arms interfering. *I’d like to find a different word than “frame” which is more appropriate for ballroom dancing but I haven’t found a word I like better yet.

6. Followers should drop the weight of their connected arm – The connection a follower creates should be equal to or less than what the leader creates. Respond to the level of connection that the leader is setting and start at a “zero” connection (dropped arm) so that you’re sensitive enough to feel the intensity of what the leader is setting. Respond by connecting through your core and your shoulders, not by pushing, pulling or flexing arm muscles. (As a follower I might choose to increase my connection under certain circumstances like when I want to let my partner know something or I want to use them for something very intentional. See bonus #8. But that’s an exception and most of the time my connection would be lighter or equal to the leader’s.)

7. Be in the moment – My overall philosophy of following is be in the moment, or even behind the moment. Don’t care about what’s coming next, enjoy and squeezing out where you are right in the instant.

And I’m going to actually add a #8:

8. SPIRIT > TECHNIQUE – Lindy Hop, at its root, is a raw and wild dance. Don’t let all of the contemporary analytical stuff spoil the spirit of the dance. Lindy Hop should be a conversation, not a lecture. Follow… But not too much. Not so much that all you’re doing is hanging on for the ride. I believe that followers should assert their voices and not let #1-7 prevent us from playing an active role in the dance… In fact, there should be times when you throw #1-7 out the window because the music overrides “good” following technique. Connecting with the music is just as important (more important?) than being a “good” follower. Find your voice and self expression and use it to influence and contribute to the dance!

This is just my personal philosophy; there are no right or wrong ways to dance the Lindy Hop. Take what you like, try it, and put the rest in your back pocket to try out again in the future. Your dancing will continue to change and evolve and what doesn’t work for you today might appeal to you some time in the future.

Have fun and happy swingouts!

Mandi
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Curtis & Jolien’s Family learns to dance: 6-Count Lindy Hop

Our friends, Jolien and Curtis, are getting married!

Last night their parents organized a group lesson for their friends and relatives to prepare for the wedding. They’ll be getting married in November and Alex Pangman and her Alleycatz will be playing, so learning to dance in order to be able to enjoy the band was the main goal.

Here’s a practice video that focuses on 6-count moves. It’s not exactly what we taught yesterday, but it fits into the same model.

Teaching Reflections

I used to teach a lot of these kinds of lessons, but now that I’m mostly retired it doesn’t come up very often. We had to make the decision of whether to teach 6-counts or 8-counts. Overall, I prefer to teach 8-counts first because they’re so much more musical. However, it’s easier to get dancing quickly when you teach 6-counts. Based on the group that we had, we decided to go with 6.

One of the biggest challenges with 6-counts is that people get out of sync. When we put on the music to let people practice, some beginners inevitably get lost and have to start again. There’s always a temptation to count in the entire group, but the people who have continued to dance are on a completely different count than the music, so the group isn’t in sync. You definitely end up having to sacrifice both the music and unity in a 6-count situation.

It was a really fun group of people and they did a great job. Can’t wait for the wedding!

Women in Lindy Hop

Can we PLEASE start to properly acknowledge women in Lindy Hop? I just read a comment that completely ignored the woman in a video of only two people dancing and she was frigging killing it, some of the best dancing I’ve seen, but people were only commenting about the man. My mind is blown. What is wrong with us that so many of us do that, even if it’s unconscious… Especially if it’s unconscious. BE conscious! This is a dance that gives and takes in the partnership more than any other dance I know of. If we can go on a huge campaign to change the name of the Jack n’ Jill, we can certainly start to open our eyes and give women proper acknowledgment. It needs to start NOW.

At the risk of missing people, I’d like to acknowledge some of the incredible women who have made an impact on my dancing and who are friggin’ AWESOME. It’s impossible to make a complete list and I don’t want to slight anyone. This is just a personal list and it includes people who have been important to me at various times, both from my local scene and the bigger Lindy Hop landscape:

Åsa Heedman
Alana Hock
Alexandra Alhimovich
Alexis Davila
Alice Meï
Andrea Gordon
Angela Andrew
Ann Johnson
Annie Trudeau
Barbara Billups
Bärbl Kaufer
Caitlin Wellman
Catrine Ljunggren
Cynthia Millman
Dawn Hampton
Devon Winn
Diane van Haaren
Eleonora Bogdanova
Emelie DecaVita
Erin Nazario
Erin Stevens
Erin Winn
Eva Lagerqvist Jansson
Evita Arce
Ewa “W” Burak
Fatima Teffahi
Frida Segerdahl
Gabriella Rosati
Hanna Lundmark
Heather Ballew
Helena Norbelie
Isabella Gregorio
Jana Jedlovsky
Janice Wilson
Jean Veloz
Jenia Salakhutdinova
Jenny Deurell
Jenny Thomas
Jessica Lennartsson
Jessica Somers
Jewel McGowan
Jo Hoffberg
Joanna Stillman
Jodi Fleischman
Johanna Müller
Josephine Baker
Josie Say
Judy Pritchett
Kelly Arsenault
Kelly Freeman
Kristan Jackson
Lana Turner
LaTasha Barnes
Laura Glaess
Laura Jeffers
Laura Keat
Lindy Greer
Lisa Jacobs
Lucy Falkner
Mable Lee
Malou Meyenhofer
Marie N’diaye
Marie Nahnfeldt Mattsson
Mia Goldsmith
Mickey Davidson
Mikaela Hellsten
Mimmi Gunnarsson
Naomi Uyama
Nina Gilkenson
Norma Miller
Olga Moiseeva
Ramona Staffeld
Rebecka DecaVita
Rory Lindo
Rusty Frank
Sandra Gibson
Sara Deckard
Shannon Moschenross
Shannon Refvik
Sharon Ashe
Sharon Davis
Sing Lim
Sugar Sullivan
Susan Wolff
Sylvia Skylar
Sylvia Sykes
Ulrika Ericsson
Ulrika Thulin
Valerie Salstrom
Violetta Lebedeva
Virginie Jensen
Zoey Gould

Thank you to all of these women for the inspiration that they’ve given me!

Swing Era Movement at its Best

I’ve been inspired by Åsa Heedman, previously Åsa Palm, since I first saw her dancing in 1999. I had been dancing for over a year but had never seen a follower bring such ownership of her own musicality and personality to the dance before. Seeing her changed my view of the dance completely.

A couple of months after seeing her dancing, I had the chance to take my first classes from her at the Herrang Dance Camp. That’s when I met Daniel Heedman. He was in my class and was also experiencing Herrang and her classes for the first time. He went on to become an incredible dancer in his own right, and eventually Åsa dance partner and husband.

These two have one of the most beautiful dance partnerships in the world, and they’re my favourite dancers in the world. They just keep getting better and better. The soul that they bring to this new clip epitomizes everything that I love about Lindy Hop and jazz dance culture. (Yes, it’s mainly solo dancing, but it’s an important part of our partnered culture too.)