Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nemoe's West Coast Swing Night

Ok, I'll admit it. I've always through WCS was a little creepy. Maybe it's just because the few WCS leads I've danced with have been on the skeezy side. There was one guy at Buenos Aires Blues 08 that was just... eugh. I now take it back and forever repent my stereotyping ways.

Bert has been bugging me for a while to check out the WCS night at Nemoe's. It's right next to my house, so I pretty much have no excuse. Sunday I went and checked it out - and had a freaking blast. The beginner class got me in the groove of the step pattern, and from there my lindy-background took over. Once I got out on the dance floor I was prefacing my dances with "I warn you - this is the first time I've done West Coast" but I quickly discovered that this wasn't really necessary. Several of the leaders gave me shit for it, too (or called me a natural, which seems like cheating on my part)!

Anyway, I had a great time. Dancing WCS is a nice step back from lindy - I really like the relaxed feeling and the welcoming environment. The music is fun, ranging from swing and blues to pop and funk. The biggest challenge so far is stylistic - WCS is smooth and slotted, where Lindy is bouncy and round. Damn if it's not hard to keep the bounce out of my step, even in blues-mode.

I think I can say my Sunday evenings are spoken for in the foreseeable future.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Swing at the Speakeasy

The directions are oblique. The venue doesn’t really have a name. The approach is sketchy – go to a busy street corner, through a squeaky metal gate, and walk down a dingy flight of stairs. Knock 3 times on a nondescript metal door. Give the doorkeeper the password, and if you’re on the guest list he’ll let you in. Step inside from the dark stairwell… and enter a long low room, paneled in dark wood, draped with red velvet curtains, and stuffed with plush, dark leather chairs.

Sure, it’s not a “real” speakeasy – there’s no prohibition, the venue doesn’t change, and there’s really no reason to keep the place hidden – but it’s fun to have a secret. And the venue is well worth keeping all to ourselves; the decor and ambiance are absolutely stellar. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band that played the first week (lots and lots of songs that were faster than I wanted to dance) but the last two weeks a blues group called Tin Pan has played. While they do throw in some faster songs to appease the lindyfolks, they also play some damn fine blues.

Other highlights include the fact that the bar has the Ron Zacapa 23 as well as a couple of varieties of Glenmorangie, and the adorable girl behind the bar remembers me every week and pour generously just for me. My one complaint for the venue overall is that because it is small it gets very, very crowded and very, very hot. Still, it’s definitely worth it for the ambiance.

I was bad and didn’t write down notable leads the first two trips, but this time I want to make sure to remember Charles (slightly older gent with a wonderful springy lead and a penchant for leading convoluted but strangely easy to execute turns and swingout variations) and Kevin (mid-twenties, quite tall, big guy – doesn’t look like he’d be an amazing dancer but damn if he doesn’t have a wonderful light, flowy, effortless lead). There was also a guy all dappered out who I had a fabulous blues dance with – he was a big fan of tango-inspired dips, which made for a very intense song.

Anyway, hooray for awesome venues! With the little taste of New York Blues that I’ve gotten at this event, I can’t wait to see what Blues Blaze is like.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blues N Soul 2 - June 19th-21st 2009

I very nearly didn't make it down for Blues N Soul in Orlando, FL. After paying way too much money for a shiny StarFire sword at the Renaissance Festival, I was thinking I might take it easy on my bank account for a while. Luckily, a combination of awesome dancing with the organizer, Steve (who I met at CHEX) and the fact that Blues N Soul fell on my birthday weekend convinced me that I should say "fuck it!" and spring for the trip.

Bert went down with me so that I'd have some company, and we arrived Friday night in time to get changed, locate booze, and head to the first dance at UCF, less than a mile from the hotel I booked. Verra nice.

I don't feel the urge to go into all of the dances, so I'll hit the themes and highlights of the weekend.

The exchange was small, only 40 people pre-registered, though I'd estimate that the evening dances had close to 100 people, and the late nights 50 or 60. The Orlando scene was very friendly and inviting to the few out-of-towners, though I was glad that I hosted Sheila and Austin during ATLX so that I knew a few people. Elizabeth, an awesome chick I met at Bluesalicious also came down, as well as Jonathan and Stefanie from Macon, so between those people, Steve, and Bert I never really ran low on company.

The dancing was good, and I found it was generally of a high level. Notable dancers included Chris (massively skinny, gangly, adorable boy) who I had a bit of trouble getting connected with at first, but once we hit the right spot we really were on, and Jim who danced with me quite a lot throughout the weekend and is one of the few dancers who is much shorter than me but still fun to dance with. Austin was wonderful and light and bouncy as always - his connection is such a dream! I didn't get to dance quite as many with Steve as I would have liked, since he spent a lot of time running around organizing and I spent a lot of time taking pictures.

Other highlights: my birthday jam, which was way too lindy and way too nerve-wracking. Center of attention at dancing (which I stopped for 4 years specifically because I -didn't- want to be the center of attention) equals equals bad. Luckily I made it through without too much anxiety. The other amusing time involved me trying to leave the Saturday night late-night… I quite literally had my keys in hand, and every time I grabbed a boy to hug them goodbye, they wouldn't let me go until we had danced a song. One-handed blues isn't so hard after all.

The only bad thing I have to say about the event is that they needed some goddamn signage. Bert and I got turned around going to every single venue - UCF and The Zebra room each took us 30+ minutes to find. The person checking us in also didn't give us the exchange brochure, so we didn't have an physical copy of schedule and locations, which was sucked.

Also, not the exchange's fault, but fuck florida and all of it's toll roads!

Bottom line: I had a great time! Next year Steve plans to hold the exchange in the fall so that we won't be swimming in sweat at the less-well-air-conditioned venues - I approve! I'll definitely look to make a return trip next year!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I had already signed up for the Charleston Lindy Exchange when I had my lindy/blues epiphany back in April. Luckily I had a good friend in Charleston, so I formulated a plan to go visit him and only show up to CHEX for the Friday and Saturday late night dances.

My plan worked out quite well. Around 11:30 I'd leave the house, putter over to the dances, dance until 2 or 3, then head back. I spent the days socializing with Carroll and seeing some of his Charlestonly haunts, as well as just relaxing and taking it easy. The level of blues dancing at CHEX was somewhat lower than ATLX, though I think that was mostly due to the smaller attendence. I did have a few notably good dances: A bunch with Wesely, who is in ATL and I now have saved on facebook, one fan-fucking-tastic dance with Kirk from NC, several with Will & Claire's friend who now lives in Dallas but whose name I can never freaking remember, three with a fun asian dude (Josh?) who really let me improvise a lot, and two with Steve from Orlando.

I won't lie - I was vaguely considering going to Blues N Soul in Orlando before... but once I danced with Steve that pretty much sealed the deal for me. If I can monetarily pull it of - I'm going to Orlando.

My knees behaved pretty well over the trip, mostly due to plenty of ice, less dancing than usual, and plenty of ibuprofen. They went all weekend without hurting much though, which is a nice thing.

Next up: either Blues N Soul, or the Portland Blues Experience in July!

Monday, April 6, 2009

ATLX, Lindy, and a One Year Retrospective

As of this month, I’ve been dancing again for a whole year. I have a hard time believing both that it’s been a year already, and also that I ever went 3 years without dancing – I can’t imagine missing this huge, integral, amazing thing for so long. What was I thinking when I stopped? Well, I know what I was thinking, and it was along the lines of “dancing makes me an anxious, puking, fainting mess – maybe I should quit.” Luckily since coming back I’ve almost entirely kicked the anxiety, remarkably without too much trouble aside from a couple of incidents while dancing at Tech (no big surprise there, since tech is where I developed most of my dance-related performance anxiety).

So. I’m back, and I’m better than ever.

That said, I’m also coming to realize that I don’t really give a shit about lindy and swing anymore.

This weekend was the Atlanta Lindy Exchange (ATLX) which I, of course, signed up for and attended. It would be a shame to skip your home town exchange after all, right? But as I headed to the first dance on Friday night I realized something alarming – I hadn’t been out dancing lindy in months. Before Christmas, even. I hadn’t realized I’d let lindy fall so much by the wayside, but between my crappy work hours and my awful experience at the Hop Shop, I just had no interest. The last 4 months I’ve been focused entirely on blues, attending 2 blues workshop/exchange weekends and making it out social dancing almost every week.

I headed to the first dance of ATLX and got out on the floor and realized that… well… I hadn’t missed lindy at all. And I’m not at all passionate about it anymore. And I wasn’t having all that much fun dancing it.

There are a lot of contributing factors, I think. Part of it is that lindy is a lot harder on my knees, especially at high speeds. Part is that I really hate the music that a lot of lindy DJs play. “ChunkaChunkaChunka” at 250 BPM is not fun to dance to, and accounts for a huge chunk (no pun intended) of swing music. The final part is that I’ve hit a pretty serious plateau in my lindy – I’m a good dancer but not a great dancer, and the technical challenges facing me to get to the next level are abstract and hard and frustrating.

On the flip side, there’s blues. Any dancing is rough on my knees, but the more sedate pace of blues lets me be more mindful of the potential abuse, and the slower songs give me a bit of a break. I’m passionate about the music in a way that I never really expected to be – trance and breaks and progressive move me in a way that no other music ever has… except for blues. I walk into a bar and hear blues and it’s like my soul is soothed; it’s almost a physical sensation. As for the learning curve… this time last year I had never even heard of dancing blues. A year later I’m goddamn good at it, and I’ve had very little actual instruction. I have a huge potential for improving my dancing – every time I social dance with someone new I expand my repertoire and become familiar with new movements. There is just so much for me to learn, and so many ways that I can improve, even though my level of dancing is high already.

So the first evening dance of ATLX was pretty much a bust. I danced a couple of songs. It was fun-ish, but not thrilling. Luckily the late night had a blues room set up, so I ensconced myself there and had a great few hours. Saturday’s evening dance was a lather-rinse-repeat exercise: show up, dance a couple of songs, feel “meh” about the music, then give up until the late night. Saturday’s late night was absolutely stellar – the venue was Ambient Studios downtown, and the space was just gorgeous and amazing. The room they had set up for blues was perfect from an atmosphere perspective, and the quality of dancing was incredibly high (though it didn’t quite rival bluesalicious).

It’s Monday and my legs are demolished – knees achy and swollen, muscles sore that I didn’t know could be sore… but I’m happy. I think it’s a good thing that I finally addressed the grumpy feelings that had been brewing in regards to lindy. I’m no longer in denial about it, and I know where my dancing passion lies. I don’t need to waste money on lindy workshops and exchanges – I can dedicate all my learning power to blues. Maybe this time next year I’ll feel like re-evaluating that sentiment, but for now I’m pretty ok with it.

Now – I just have to figure out a more pertinent name for this blog, since 8 Springy Counts doesn’t apply to blues at all. Damn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bluesalicious 09

I’ve been a very bad girl about updating after my big dancey events lately – I let both the Hop Shop and Enter The Blues passed unremarked, though I had quite a lot of bad to say about the former and quite a lot of good to say about the latter. So. This is me being good and writing about Bluesalicious immediately, before it has a chance to flee my sieve-like brain.

For Bluesalicious, I had the option of either taking some time off Friday and making it to Memphis in time for the Friday night festivities, or taking off Monday and being able to stick around town for the pub-crawl on Beale Street Sunday night. The choice was fairly obvious – I’ve been lusting after dance opportunities every time my coworkers and I go drinking on Beale Street, so I arranged my flight for a Saturday-Monday trip. I opted to get a hotel near Beale Street and rent a car so that I could keep my own hours and schedule (read: get fucktons of sleep in hopes that my legs would hold up and I wouldn’t get sick). It turned out to be a good choice on both counts – though I had some gripes about the hotel, being able to go places when I wanted to meant I was able to get plenty of rest and take it easy for the big events.

Saturday I made it to the hotel around 3ish and go settled in before taking a nice long nap. When I woke up I got in touch with the other Atlanta folks and met up with them for some good old Memphis BBQ at Rendezvous – which turned out to be adjacent to my hotel. How convenient. Once pumped full of meat I strolled back up to my room and dosed up on pain killer, and also iced my knees. These precautions did a lot to make my night less painful, I think.

At 9 I headed over to the Friday night venue. People were pretty slow both arriving and setting up, but I was happy to sit around with my feet propped up and appreciate the atmosphere. The Premiere Palace has a lot of character, though it’s got a few rough edges. Dancing finally got going around 10ish… gods how amazing is it to have a hundred blues leads to choose from? Don’t get me wrong, I love my locals, but there are only 8 or 10 of us who do blues with any level of seriousness. Having an entire room full of leads to choose from was just heavenly. It took me no time at all to get relaxed and into a groove – it seems like every single dance I had that night was amazingly connected, fun, and relaxed. The quality of dancers was super high, and I feel like I learned a lot and gained a ton of experience just social dancing. There were a few times when I felt like I might be missing really “simple” basic blues concepts, owing to the fact that I haven’t really taken any blues classes and mostly just have social-dancing experience. I need to get me to a workshop to smooth out the gaps in my knowledge, I think. It didn’t really have a negative impact on my dancing, but I did notice a couple of moves being lead that just didn’t quite make sense, but seemed omni-present.

Notable leads for the night were Erin from San Francisco, who was the first dance of the night that I really relaxed ad clicked with, Clint from Austin who lead me in the most effortless body rolls ever known to man, Z from Russia who asked me to dance twice in a row after we had an extremely fun and playful first dance, and Kyle (whose location I missed, and who I didn’t get to catch up with on Sunday). Kyle is the first short guy who I’ve had a really effortless dance with – in spite of being a head shorter than me our (3 or so) dances were completely in sync, and we both had time to be playful and expressive.

Dancing with Bert and Ben was great, as always, and it was interesting to feel how my dancing with them changed after we’d all had some variety in partners. Ben’s leads opened up a lot and he lead some moves that I’ve never seen him do, and he did a better job not taking me off my center in his dips. Bert and I both loosened up a lot in our connection, and I could really feel him starting to get down into the floor and have a more distinct pulse. I hope we can all maintain that improvement and variety and take it back to Atlanta.

Oh, did I mention how spectacular the band was Saturday night? The first couple of hours were DJed, but then a really excellent blues band took over - Ms. Nickki with Jesse Frank & the Blues Bandits. I was a little skeptical as they were setting up since they kept blasting the speakers with really nasty feedback, but they were second to none once they were actually playing.

The bottom line on Saturday night is that I was just Spot. Fucking. On. I wish I could dance like that all the time.

I headed back to the hotel around 2:30 or 3 – my legs were starting to get a little sore and I could feel my thighs shaking when I did dips, so I wanted to quit before I overdid it (unlike ETB). I got 9 glorious hours of sleep but woke up feeling a little woozy Sunday morning. Blaming dehydration I chugged water all day, which seemed to help.

One of my greatest joys in visiting new cities is finding excellent places for Bunch on the weekend. Since there was no dancing slated until mid afternoon, I decided to strike out and explore the area around my hotel and the Peabody a bit. I ended up in a pretty famous restaurant called The Majestic. And by “in” I mean “in front of” – it was a gorgeous day and they had a number of patio tables set up. I parked myself with my book for going on 2 hours and enjoyed a delicious brunch of bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits, coffee, and ridiculously good $3 mimosas. This place will definitely be on my list any time I’m back in Memphis on a weekend.

After brunch I toodled around downtown a bit more, stopping to do a bit of shopping. After not too long I ended up back at the hotel for a nice nap. I woke up about half way through the afternoon dance at Ernestine & Hazels, so I decided to stop by and check it out, though I wanted to save most of my leg strength for the night dance. I’m really glad I went – the venue is a old Bordello that has been converted into a restaurant/bar/party space. The upstairs rooms and halls were packed with dancers going at it house-party-style; it was worth the trip just to experience that sort of atmosphere. I danced a couple of songs, but I was still tired from the night before, so I had a hard time relaxing. On guy, Matthew, wanted to dance reeeeeal close and was kind of giving me some guidance about relaxing and not amplifying his leads, as well as not getting ahead of him. I appreciated the coaching, but his tone came off a little cheesy (“I want to feel like I’m one with you” – really, dude?) so I had a hard time staying focused. I ended up bugging out after just a few dances to go back to the hotel and rest up for the evening dance.

Sunday night was the event that I was most excited about – the Beale Street pub crawl. I’d been looking forward to dancing on Beale street for months, ever since the first time my coworkers and I went drinking there while on project in Memphis. Unfortunately the night got off to kind of a “blah” start… I should have taken the 7:00 start time with a grain of salt, knowing how late the afternoon dance ran. I wandered down to Beale Street around 7:15, and there pretty much weren’t any dancers in evidence. A small group of us gathered over the next two hours, but we had a hard time getting settled anywhere – the bands kept taking long breaks as soon as we’d walk up, or there wouldn’t be enough space. It was pretty frustrating.

The situation got better once more dancers showed up around 9, and a group of us ensconced ourselves upstairs and Rum Boogie cafĂ©. I had a few decent dances, though I just wasn’t as “on” as the previous night. I did get to re-meet RJ the Flight Attendant, who I met at KLX last fall – he was probably my best dance of night. The band at rum boogie cracked me up – at one point the lead singer and guitarist had a girl sitting on stage, had his guitar in her lap, and was playing it with his tongue. I shit you not. It was pretty entertaining.

Oh, I also figured out one of the reasons I have such a hard time dancing with girls – when I follow, I tend to look at the guy’s chest for cues about where his weight is and where he’s going next. With girls if I try to do that… well, you can imagine. I danced with two ladies who were lovely leads, but as usual I stumbled my way through the dances like a blushing 14-year-old boy. Ah well.

Rum Boogie was a good time, but the band stopped playing by 11, which was disappointing. They told us we could head next door for more live music, but after 20 minutes of waiting for the band to go on I gave up an headed back to Superior, where the official Bluesalicious DJ was set up. I spent the rest of the night dancing there. I had an ok time, but I wasn’t rivaling the quality of dancing from the night before. I knew my level of dancing would be a little lower since my legs were so achy, but it was like my creativity had leaked away, as well. I had fun, but it wasn’t spectacular.

Finally around 2 I headed back to the hotel to pass out. For some reason I did the same thing that I did after KLX where I woke up ever. Single. Goddamn. Hour. Quite frustrating. I finally gave up on sleep around 10:30, achy and coming down with a cold. My knees are pretty much demolished, and I’m fairly displeased that I didn’t manage the trip without getting sick, in spite of being so very good about sleep and hand-sanitizing. Rawr!

So, there it is, my stream-of-conscious, not at all edited or reviewed, from the brain to the fingers summary of Bluesalicious. I had a really great time, though I’m a bit displeased with my knees and immune system. I’ll definitely be taking my body’s reaction into account as I choose which workshops and exchanges to go to for the rest of the year.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

When you're so caught up in the dancing...

This barely qualifies as a dance post, but I want to go on the record as saying what a surreal experience it is to be dancing to live blues and suddenly realize you're dancing to a slowed-down, bluesed-up version of "I am the Walrus."

That is all.