When I Die, I Hope I Go to New Orleans

I have a memory of my parents bringing back Mardi Gras beads from a trip when I was a kid, and I’ve had this inexplicable pull to New Orleans ever since. I didn’t know anything about the place, but it always sounded magical to me. The closest I’ve ever gotten till recently was Disney Land’s French Quarter.

Since I’ve started swing dancing, I’ve had even more reason to go. Being the birth place of jazz music, it continues to attract flocks of musicians who you can hear playing in bars any given day of the week. I found a reason to visit for the Fleur de Lindy exchange. I was so excited to go that I was emailing the organizers months before, asking about registration and housing.

The French Market stage at the French Quarter Festival Photo by Derek  Bridges

The French Market stage at the French Quarter Festival
Photo by Derek Bridges

The exchange takes place alongside the French Quarter Festival, a 4 day long free music festival in New Orleans’ historical French quarter. With over 20 stages, it was dizzying trying to decide what to see. I have to say, it hardly mattered. You might plan on seeing a certain band but be pulled aside by the sounds of another on the way.

For example, one of my favorite moments of the festival was wandering around with a couple of new friends and coming across a busking bluegrass jazz band playing on a corner and dancing to their music. They asked us to stay for another song and played “Jitterbug Boogie” for us. We helped them make a few extra dollars and I found out I like bluegrass.

After being at the festival all day, Fleur de Lindy provided  parties with live bands every night. And not just any bands – I’m talking Tuba Skinny, Aurora Nealand & The Royal Roses, Norbert Susemihl’s New Orleans All Stars, Smoking Time Jazz Club, and Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns. I mean, DAMN. I still can’t believe I got to dance right up in front of them all playing live. Dancing to a live band where you can feel them playing and see them react to what’s going on on the dancefloor is one of the most enjoyable experiences there is as a Lindy Hopper.

Other than the spectacular music, there were so many fun dancers I got to meet. New Orleans is such a freindly and welcoming city, that meeting new people is easy as pie. I even got to celebrate Passover with locals I had just met, NOLA style , which meant listening to brass band music while sipping our Maneschevitz. As if the people weren’t enough, it’s also such a beautiful town, I’d be happy to just wander the streets at a quieter time for a day.

I’m so happy I was able to make it to Fleur de Lindy, I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling for 4 days straight. I was so excited to be there, I could hardly get any sleep. I’d wake up before the alarm, as if my body was saying “How are you wasting time on sleep? Do you realize where you are?!”. And believe me, I am far from being a morning bird.

Since the event was an exchange and didn’t have workshops or competitions, everyone was just there to social dance and have a good time. For me, I actually feel that I learn the most from social dancing with new people than anything else. Going to a dance exchange also gives you the opportunity to see the sights outside of event venues. If you’re going to travel for an event, you might as well get to see the place you’re visiting!

Don’t pass up on visiting New Orleans and Fleur de Lindy at least once. It’ll be one of those things that you’ll look back on one day and cherish the memories.

I don’t know what took me so long, New Orleans. We’ll meet again, there’s no doubt in my heart.

Have you been to NOLA? Please tell me your favorite thing to do there so I can try it next time!


Feelin’ Blues 2014

I hope I never stop appreciating how awesome it is that as social dancers, we can go to some random country and spend a whole weekend studying dance, partying, taking part in international competitions and meeting new friends from all over the world. I mean, who’s going to top that answer to “how was your weekend?” at the office?

It’s been a few months since I was at such an event, so I was looking forward to the Tel Aviv based Feelin’ Blues festival.  I couldn’t wait for those few days and nights that would leave me with aching muscles and blistered feet.

Saturday Night Party Photo by Andrew Miller Dance Photography

Saturday Night Party
Photo by Andrew Miller

When a solo blues track was offered, I knew straight away that I wanted to try it. One of the reasons was that for the past year or so I’ve been taking different types of non-partnered dance classes and I’ve noticed how they’ve  influenced my partnered dancing. For example, I think modern and contemporary dance helped with being “in the moment” while dancing and by opening my mind to different ideas about movement. Improvisation classes, which many times will be without music, ironically helped me to be more aware of music and how to react to it, as well as develop my personal style of movement. With solo blues, I’d get to learn how to dance on my own to music I’d normally dance with a partner, so it would be able to contribute in a more direct way than the other dances.

The third edition of the international festival brought classes from 10 instructors over 3 full days of workshops: Joe Demers & Mike Legenthal, Chris Mayer & Amanda Gruhl, Adamo Ciarallo & Vicci Moore, Brenda Russell, Ksenia Parkhatskaya and Ron Dobrovinsky & Sharon Guzman. I wish I could have gone to all of their classes!

After spending all day trying to roll my knees and chest in opposite directions  simultaneously without looking at Ksenia like a confused puppy, it was great to go to the parties and have fun with partnered dancing. Each night took us to a new venue and a different atmosphere. Saturday night was a highlight with live music where you could tell the band was having just as much fun as the dancers, if not more. I’m sure it’s not often that they get to play to such an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd as the one they had last week.

Sunday night was marked by the nerves and excitement of competitions. This year, in addition to Jack & Jills and solo comps, there was a new division – showcase. Five different choreographies were performed, each with its own distinct character.

First place went to the charming Neomi Castell Colomé:

You can see the other showcases through these links: Noy Bieber Barnea, Taras Melnyk & Vitalia Brukhanska, Vivien Nivesse & Cassiope Sydoriak and Svetlana Kogan & Dmitrii Muravev.

Next up was the solo blues finals. I had been quite nervous since hearing that I was going to be a part of it since I’d never been in solo finals of any kind before. But when the time came, I was surprised to see that my heart was staying neatly in my ribcage and my dinner wasn’t trying to come back for an encore. I don’t know if you can tell, but on the inside I was having fun ;)

Of course there can’t be a festival without a Jack & Jill or two. This year had an open Jack & Jill as well as an advanced Jack & Jill.

I was honored to participate in the J&J finals as well, and was unexpectedly more nervous than in the solo comp. Nonetheless, I didn’t make my partner, Laura trip or anything! 

Full placement results for all the competitions can be found here. Oh, and also – bonus link for whoever was here for the first Feelin’ Blues in 2012.

And now, I shall leave you with an original first world problems blues ditty because I’m writing this in the middle of the night and I’m getting silly.

Woke up this mornin’/ can’t believe what I see

The wifi ain’t workin’/ and neither is the 3G!

Oh, I got the blues/ I said, I got the blues so bad.

 My baby gone left me/ nothin’ but milk in the fridge
 Yeah, that’s all he left me/ don’t he know that I’m vegan?
Oh, I got the blues/ I said, I got the blues so bad.

I encourage writing your own verse in the comments.

See you at Feelin’ Blues 2015! It’s going to be hard to top, but you just know it’s going to happen.

My Hop Across the Atlantic

I’ve been wanting to publish this post for a couple of weeks, but I got caught up in the rest of my life since I got back from a visit to the U.S. I was there to visit family, but managed to pencil in quite a bit of dancing along the way.

Getting to dance with and meet a whole lot of new people was just what I needed on the way out of a major dance slump. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to dance in new scenes when I travel.  It doesn’t even have to be at an event, social dancing with new people is the important part. I always feel an effect it leaves on my dancing. It could be a styling I pick up, a new variation, a new fashion, even a new way to ask someone to dance. It’s usually a subconscious effect that I don’t even notice till I go back to my scene. I love having these little influences from all over the world that join together to become something that’s my own.

Jazz Age Lawn Party

New York’s Jazz Age Lawn Party – vintage swimsuit show
Credit: Jane Kratochvil - www.janekratochvil.com

First up was good old New York City. It’s always a treat visiting the birthplace of Lindy hop, with live music or special events happening practically every night. I got to go to the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island, sip a Bee’s Knees cocktail out of a teacup at a speakeasy to the sounds of Svetlana and the Delancey Five, watch over Gordon Webster’s shoulder as he was playing at Mona’s and dance with the ILHC-bound crowd to Gordon’s Grand Street Stompers in Hipsterville (a.k.a Williamsburg).

After that, I was part of the migration of Lindy hoppers to D.C. for the International Lindy Hop Championships. It was both humbling and inspiring watching the competitions and performances up close and personal, and the social dancing was probably the best I’ve had across an event. Even though I tend to prefer events with more dancing than watching, I’d definitely recommend going to a big competition event like ILHC at least once since it’s a special experience. Of course if you’re really into competing, you shouldn’t miss it. For some highlights and sound advice on expectations at dance events, watch this vlog post by Mikey Pedroza. Israelis – see if you can spot a familiar face in the video ;)

Max & Annie, together again! Copyright Andrew Fritz - www.fritztech.com

Max & Annie, together again!
Copyright Andrew Fritz – www.fritztech.com

The next weekend I kept travelling south and went to The Lindustrial Revolution in Charlottesville, VA. It was refreshing visiting a scene that was completely new to me. I signed up for it not knowing a single person who’d be there and left with a bunch of new friends.

I’m always excited to learn new things at workshops when I can, and this event had good ones. We had Michael and Jaya and Mike and Laura who all had us working hard to earn our social dancing nights. Another thing I learned thanks to the event is what steampunk is, since there was a themed dance night and costume competition. Apparently, pairing Victorian fashion with industrial inspired accessories is a thing.

I took part in the Jack & Jill, with the prelims being at the first party of the event. Like I said before, I didn’t know anyone there and no one knew me. No joke, when my name got called the only ones cheering for me were crickets. But that was actually one of the best things about the experience for me, as it made practically pressure free. I was just there to have fun and dance with new people.

I made it to finals (yay!), and though I was a tad nervous this time, I managed to not fall on my face during spotlights. We didn’t place, but like I’ve written about before, that’s not what mattered. I felt pretty good after the competition, because I could feel the difference from the last couple of Jack & Jills I’ve taken part in. It was like all those little influences from the past few weeks of dancing in new places had began to settle in and become a part of my dancing. I had fun and I gave it the best I could under pressure, which felt significantly better than past experiences. In the competition against myself, I had won. (I know, I know – cue gagging sound effects…)

Anyway, what I can take out of all this is, if you have the opportunity to go dancing in new places – do it! You’ll meet new friends, discover new aspects of the dance and improve your dancing. Even if it’s not some big event. When travelling to a new city, find out ahead of time it they have swing dancing, and plan to go. Especially if you don’t know anyone there.

Have you had the chance to dance in a far away scene? How, if at all, do you feel it improved your dancing? Feed the comment box!