Diversify Your Dancing

by David and Chelsea Lee

Most swing dancers today learn dances one at a time, achieving some level of mastery in one before moving on to the next. Start with East Coast Swing, then move on to Lindy Hop and Charleston. Spend several months or years with Lindy and Charleston, and then perhaps, if you are especially industrious, learn some Balboa. (Later you’ll get around to Collegiate Shag, Peabody, Jigtrot…right?) Watch a social dance and you’ll see this approach to learning mirrored on the floor: Dancers tend to stick with one style of dance during a song, and even during an entire night.

Well, if you’ve seen us dance, you know that’s not our approach. We switch among all the dances throughout the night and even throughout a song. This outcome is grounded in how each of us learned to dance. When David first started to learn to swing dance, the local instructors rotated in two-week increments between teaching Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, and Collegiate Shag. When Chelsea first learned to dance, she took seven kinds of ballroom dancing and Lindy Hop all at the same time. Because each of us diversified early in our dance careers, we have always tried to dance and understand many different types of dance, never limiting ourselves to just one.

There is a strong historical foundation for this approach. This versatile spirit was exhibited in spades amongst the Los Angeles swing dancers of the 30s and 40s.

At that time in Los Angeles County, the high school and college kids danced a high-energy dance with turns, kicks, and other steps, which they simply called “swing.” It was not Lindy Hop, but a different, open-position partnered swing dance. Today, it is sometimes referred to as LA Swing or Randy Swing (after Ray Randazzle, manager of the Dianna Ballroom in Culver City, which is close to Los Angeles). Ray decided to put together a dance troupe, which became well known throughout the greater LA area and was nicknamed “The Big Four” by their local admirers. The four couples in the troupe were Maxie Dorf and Mary McCaslin, Hal Takier and Betty Takier, Lawrence Wise and Lillian Arnold, and Gil Fernandez and Venna Cascon.

(Lawrence Wise & Lillian Arnold, Maxie Dorf & Mary McCaslin, Gil Fernandez & Venna Cascon, 1937) Of these four, Hal Takier and Betty Takier were known for winning just about every contest they entered (even dancing against Lindy Hoppers such as Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan). In fact, Hal and Betty won the coveted Harvest Moon Ball Jitterbug Contest at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1948.

Hal and Betty’s dancing can best be seen in this film short Maharaja from 1943.

Wow, their energy is amazing! In this clip you can see closed position movements with fancy footwork, known as Jigtrot, a modified form of the swingout called the Flyin’ Lindy, partnered and solo Charleston, and several air steps. Hal and Betty are a great example of how the LA dancers incorporated movements from different dances. We continually turn to this clip for inspiration in our own dancing whether we are using steps from Lindy Hop, Balboa, or Shag.

We encourage you to learn steps from all these dances in order to use them in your social dancing. With this in mind, we will teach an intermediate/advanced class at the Southside Stomp. The lesson will diversify your swing dancing by showing you how to incorporate Balboa and Bal-Swing movements into your regular Lindy Hop, Charleston, or 6-count swing dancing. We will help you expand your style, focus on technique, and learn to social dance all these exciting forms of swing.

Please note: While previous experience with Balboa is a plus for the class, it is not required. We hope intermediate/advanced swing dancers without experience in Balboa will attend as well.

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One Response to “Diversify Your Dancing”

  1. Switching from Balboa to Shag using the flea hop is one of my favorite things to do. Hopefully I can maybe get down for this event.

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