May 31st, 2009
Dear Fellow Dancer,
At last we’ve finally emerged from our dark, grey NW winter and have had some glorious sunshine! The warmth and light makes me want to do one thing: PARTY!!!! So with that in mind, I am inviting you all to join us for Sizzlin’ Summer Swing on June 27th. Come one, come all, and bring your friends to the Norse Hall because we are going to start this summer right! John Kirkconnell, our charming, funny, creative, and very talented friend from Canada, will be here teaching a couple of great lessons, we’ll be having WCS and NC2 contests, a tasty meal, and a dance with at least, count ‘em, four, but I’m guessin’ more, outrageously good DJs. You can buy the whole enchilada for a mere $25 presale or $30 at the door. We’ve taken our normal 4th Saturday dance and turbo-charged it! We’ll be having fun in June and proceeds for the event will be the “seed money” our club needs to keep BridgeTown Swing going strong in September. Please contact Jennie Beyerl or any other board member to volunteer, for more information about the event, or to buy a ticket.
While Sizzlin’ Summer Swing will be starting us off strong, there are also a couple of other opportunities to support WCS and PSDC this summer. Please pitch in to help decorate the Swing Room at the Portland Dance Festival (the theme this year is the Mad Hatter’s Ball), come to the club dance that will be held there on the 2nd Saturday in July, and engage in a little friendly competition in the WSDC-sponsored Jack ‘n Jills and Just Dance events and pro-ams that are Sunday’s highlight. PDF has a long tradition of great Country and West Coast Dancing. We plan to be there with our boots on!
Then there are our regular club dances. Dance directors live to dance too, so sign up to work the door for a mere half-hour and let Sarah Spathas get her dance on! We need helpers at the door and we are in desperate need for folks who are willing to take some pictures at the dances. Can you help?
Of course, we’re also looking ahead to PSDC’s big event, Bridge Town Swing. Every year it is our friendly local volunteers that make BTS memorable and a rockin’ good time. It’s not too early to contact the board about volunteering and/or to give us feedback about what we can do to make BridgeTown better and better. This is our club and our great event. Please do whatever you can to help it grow.
Oh, and speaking of growing, I am proud to say that, despite starting the year in a deficit, we have managed to pull ourselves out and are moving toward rebuilding our reserve and creating a financially efficient Bridgetown that still offers the quality event we expect. This growth is absolutely down to you, our members. As of this writing, we are holding strong at 246 member! That’s a phenomenal number in tough economic times and a 20% increase over our 2008 membership! You guys rock!!! Thank you to our “veterans” for renewing and for our new dancers for joining.
I wish us all a wonderful summer of BBQs, fishing, camping, swimming, vacations, and other outdoor activities, but please remember to save some time for dancing with your friends at PSDC—the AC at Norse Hall has been working fabulously well! Grab somebody and let’s dance!
P.S. What’s the difference between a beginner and the rest of us? Experience, practice, and confidence! So ask a beginner to dance!!!
November 19th, 2007
A World of Wonders
Jennilyn and I had our first child Tuesday, October 2nd and we named her Kadence because of its meaning: “One who has rhythm.” We’re hoping she’ll be a dancer, just like her mama and papa. While we’re at it, we hope she will be a musician, soccer player, video gamer, photographer, surfer, and all else that makes someone well-rounded in life. It is mind blowing to imagine all of life that awaits herâ€”and for us as parents too!
I wanted to thank those who have served with me this year. I hope you all can join me in appreciating the board members’ effort, time, and contribution to the swing club. Please take an opportunity to thank them for all that they did. They all deserve our gratitude for helping us keep our club going.
Bob Smith served as my (and the club’s) vice-president these last two years and I’ve been thankful for his knowledge, counsel, and encouragement. He double-duties as one of the club’s resident DJs and we’ve been blessed by his awesome sound system at our dances.
Monica Gration served as the club’s secretary, keeping records of each monthly meeting throughout the year. I’m glad she is organized as we sometimes get off-topic at meetings but she manages to keep the meeting minutes clear and concise. She helped Susan in aggregating the data from the membership survey this year. She is also part of the nominations committee who are tasked with recruiting next year’s board members and organizing the annual elections.
Glenna Cooke has served as treasurer these past two years. She also served as the BridgeTown event director, so if you enjoyed BridgeTown, she’s the lady to thank and praise. She works around the year to make the event weekend a success.
Leah Gross served as the dances director, who was exceptional in managing the dances, scheduling instructors, organizing refreshments, and more. One of my biggest praises for her is how well she thought ahead for others. When she was sick and couldn’t fulfill her duties, she made calls around to organize volunteers to help out the person who had to quickly fill-in for her.
Jason Isbell organized workshops and our local competitions as events director. He also helped out as the beginner instructor for our dances. Jason has many connections with various dance circles in Portland, including serving in the Lindy community, that has been a great resource.
Susan Eliot prepared monthly dance flyers and e-mail announcements as promotions director to keep everyone in the loop as to where to dance west coast swing in Portland. She also headed up the membership survey which provided valuable insight as to how the board could improve and serve the club better. Along with Monica, she served as part of the nominations committee.
Stan Cunningham was the facilities director, who worked with Ted Macy to ensure that we had a venue to dance at, that it was properly set up and cleaned up, and also scheduled DJs. Along with the dance director, the facilities director is responsible for each dance and often comes early and stays late. I’m also thankful that Stan was always out dancing and smiling between tasks..
Jolene Knight created our bi-monthly club publication as our newsletter editor. She also helped organized the annual club scrapbooking party and the scrapbook was almost complete in a few short hours!
Jennifer Beyerl served as the membership director, maintaining the members’ records. She also served as BridgeTown’s volunteer coordinator, scheduling and organizing people for various tasks. My thanks goes out to her for all the volunteering she does for the club. During workshop weekends, she was always there for support and helped out wherever she could.
I also wanted to thank my wife Jennilyn. Though she was unable to serve with me this year, she was a constant encourager, listening ear, and my newsletter article editor. Her prayers and presence in my life gave me strength and courage to be the best president I could be.
Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to thank all of you. As a dance community, we all fulfill different roles that make it all happen. Some of us are teachers. Some are social dancers. Some are hosts. Some are organizers. Some are leaders. We need them all. We need each other.
For the next year, if you find an opportunity to help, I hope you take it and bless someone that way. It could be as simple as asking a beginner to dance, help bring food for refreshments, welcoming people at the desk, helping clean up at the end of a fun night, etc. That one time you helped might seem small and insignificant to you, but it does wonders for those who have dedicated a year’s worth of time and energy in service.
To the world
you may be one person,
But to one person,
you may be the world.
July 31st, 2007
Recruiting Dancers for Dancers
Two years have gone by so quickly! I can still remember being nervous running a board meeting for the first time and getting advice on speaking slowly into a microphone during a dance.
I had never taken on a club leadership role before. It took time and energy to volunteer for the Portland Swing Dance Club but what I will remember when I step down as president after this year is all the new friends I’ve made with fellow board members, club members, and people in our dance community.
I would like to encourage anyone in the club to volunteer for the board of directors next year. Join a great group of people who not only love to dance, but are dedicated in making sure everyone have a chance to dance.
There have been great dances in Portland that have come and gone. It’s my hope that we will have a Portland Swing Dance Club for a long time to come! Jennilyn and I would love to have our kids learn the dance that we fell in love to.
I’m currently looking for a nominations committee chairperson. This person is responsible for finding people to fulfill the positions of the board next year, organize and facilitate the voting process. The nominations chairperson cannot run for the board. If you are interested, please contact me ASAP.
Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for their support the last two years. People have given me kind compliments, which I can only say reflect the efforts of everyone on the board and everyone on the dance floor.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions, or comments.
July 7th, 2007
In Search of Something Better
Jenni and I signed up at the Tualatin Recreation Center for a full-year access to their swim center this past March. As her pregnancy continues, water-walking has become our regular exercise. We are currently taking a pregnancy class, learning about the Bradley Method, where the husband has the role of a coach during labor. One of the best encouragements for Jenni to do her exercises is for me to do them with her. So I join her for her water-walking excursions.
There have been a few visits where I tried to learn how to swim from Jenni. She had been a lifeguard and swim instructor before her illness. Though I have not progressed very far, trying to learn how to swim has been very beneficial to me. Most times, I feel like a lead brick that sinks. I kick my legs and I go one meterâ€”backwards. Simply put, I feel like a klutz. And my fat doesn’t float.
From trying to learn how to swim, I’ve thought about what it was like to learn how to dance. Every time Jennilyn described how my legs should do a ripple starting at my hip, I remembered the time I was determined to learn how to do body ripples for west coast swing. As she described how to have my legs and arms work together, I felt the awkwardness that came with coordinating two actions with two body parts at same time.
Learning how to swim also reminded me how difficult it is to learn west coast swing. We have to learn the rhythm, figure out where our â€œcenterâ€ is, and not worry about where our feet needs to go. I did not truly enjoy west coast swing until I felt comfortable with the basics.
I am very fortunate that there is a swing club in Portland to help me grow. One of the great things about our swing club is variety. For competitive routine dancers, they are normally get better by practicing with a dedicated partner. For me as a social dancer, competitive and non-competitive, I learned more by dancing with varying skill levels, not just those better than me.
I remember a time when I would make it a goal to dance with more advanced follows. Being shy and overthinking every opportunity, I would wait patiently until the follow was free and a good song came up. I would often have a mediocre dance. It was rarely the fault of my follow. As I tried with different advanced follows, the dances were sometimes fun and great, but what usually happened was the follow did a lot of syncopations on her own or musicality in her own body. I wanted the dance with an advanced follow to make me be advanced as well. Sometimes I would mistakenly put the responsibility of my fun at the other end of the connection.
For a time, when I went to dance conventions, I would get in line to dance with the professionals. I would dance late in the early hours so that I could get the opportunity to dance with the likes of Tatiana Mollmann or Mary Ann NuÃ±ez. In hindsight, I was too fixated on thinking that dancing with someone better makes for a better dance. I can definitely learn from dancing with them, but I’ve learned a lot more at conventions where I had more opportunities for social dancing with people from all around. I become a better social dancer by dancing with a larger variety of partners rather than dancing with just the people I admired as advanced dancers.
I’m sure it’s different for follows, as dancing with advanced leads allows them to experience new patterns and learn new adaptations. But ask an advanced follow what type of leader they prefer, and I’m certain that most would prefer a leader who took care of them than a leader who tried all their craziest moves. For me, it isn’t about dancing with the best dancer on the floor; it is helping my partner to be their best on the dance floor.
May 2nd, 2007
Meet My Parents
For those who have not heard through the grapevine yet, my wife and I are expecting our first child in September. We are very excited and appreciate everyone’s support and wishes. As Jennilyn and I prepare to be parents, we have talked about how our parents have raised us. We’re both very thankful for our parents in how they support and love us.
I discovered a new appreciation for my mom during the summer before I started college. While I was working as an assistant manager to a used-appliance store, I recognized how much my mom cared for me when she would visit me for lunch and bring me some food for the day. I usually packed a lunch, but she would bring something much more appetizing. I was also lonely at the store since I would get an average of five people walking through the store each day. My mom would bring my grandma and keep me company for my lunch hour.
If I looked back throughout my childhood, most of my mom’s free time was consumed by helping others. Whether it was making treats for them, doing yardwork, grocery shopping, movingâ€”my mom always lended a helping hand. She set a great example, but also recruited me to help as I got older. At first, I often did not respond enthusiastically when I was asked to help someone I didn’t know, but in obedience, I learned to help others without asking for anything in return. The compassion she had to help others has helped me appreciate club members who volunteer for dance admissions or bringing snacks to the dances. Their tasks appear to be little things, but those volunteers make a world of difference in making our dances more hospitable and friendly.
I was enrolled in a geometry class in middle school and I was learning how to solve proofs. I would not have done as well as I did if my dad hadn’t checked over my homework every night after he got off work at two in the morning. I would leave my homework on our dinner table and in the morning, I would have notes about on my errors. My dad’s help not only helped me excel in math but I came to enjoy working out mathematical proofs. I’m thankful for my dad’s contribution to my problem-solving skills.
While I was courting Jennilyn, she was very ill and could not drive herself places. We would go out for a date on Wednesdays and the weekends. Jennilyn’s mom drove her to weekly doctor appointments throughout our courtship. When Jenni was feeling well enough, her mom drove her the forty-five minute commute to my apartment during the day so I could hang out with her before driving her home for the evening. She is a super-mom.
On one particular Wednesday evening, Jenni and I had planned to go out for dinner. Unfortunately, she was not well enough to travel, so we canceled our plans to go out and just hung out at her house in Battle Ground. When I arrived at her parents’ house, their dining room was nicely arranged with a table for two, candles, tablecloths, cloth napkins, and a centerpiece. Jennilyn’s mom and dad gave us a special date night in their home while the rest of Jennilyn’s family ate in the basement on fold-out card tables.
I have no idea what it is going to be like raising a child of my own. Perhaps years down the road I’ll hear from my children of the mistakes I’ve made, mischief they got away with, video games they loved, and hopefully life lessons learned from dance. Most of all, I hope they will always know how much their mom and dad loved them.
Have a Happy Mother’s and Father’s Day!
March 6th, 2007
Dancing from the Heart
When I was middle school, I was interested in going to dances, but I shyed away from actually dancing because I never had the courage to ask a girl to dance. The first dance I attended was at OMSI during my eighth grade year and I sat out every song. The second dance I attended was part of my middle school graduation ceremony the same year. I remember being in the gym, the lights were turned down, and I stood around watching people have a good time.
Near the end of the dance, a slow song played, and most of my classmates coupled up and danced. One of my female classmates stood nearby alone. I hesitated in asking her, working out all her responses in my head if I asked. I feared rejection and kept hesitating even though she was a nice girl, and I was sure we would have a nice dance. When I had finally worked up the courage to ask, the song was over, and she walked away.
Since then, I’ve been fortunate to been asked to dance while I was just starting partner dancing. It has encouraged me to ask more often when follows asked me. I try my best to “pay it forward” by asking new people to dance. One dance etiquette I keep in mind is when someone asks me to dance, I try to dance with them later in the evening. I haven’t kept up as much as I’d like lately since I don’t stay at dances late anymore, but I aspire for because it builds relationships with recurring and new dance friends.
We’ve been very fortunate to have many new dance friends come to our dances. I attribute some of it to the popularity dance in movies and television. Especially with the likes of Benji Schwimmer winning “So You Think You Can Dance” last summer. There were only a handful of west coast swing videos on YouTube last year, but when I searched for “west coast swing” recently, there were a lot of great videos to enjoy. I hope the interest in dance continues as I’ve enjoyed seeing new beginners at our dances.
Last year, we started teaching a beginner basics lesson prior to each dance. It allowed our guest instructors and our members learning beginning/intermediate material while accommodating the new flood of friends who hadn’t danced west coast swing before. I’m delighted at the success of the beginner basic lessons, and I’ve had the opportunity teach them when our regular beginner instructors, Jimmy Ho and Jason Isbell, have not been available.
Many of the adventurous first-timers are intimidated after the lesson, but I encourage them to try the basics they’ve learned with each other and with everyone else. I’m thankful that there are many helpful dancers going out and asking people to dance. I’ve received compliments about how friendly our dances are and I want to keep encouraging everyone to dance with new people whenever they can.
A few years back, at the end of a Friday Night Fever dance, as one song ended and another began, there were not a lot of people left on the dance floor. There was a girl who had been dancing the whole night, but I hadn’t asked her to dance. We almost walked past each other, but we both took a chance and asked for a dance. Now, she is one of my closest friendsâ€”a sister I never had. I’m glad we both didn’t let the chance to dance with someone new get away.
I hope that each of us have made friends in the Portland Swing Dance Club. As the club celebrates its eighth birthday in March, I can imagine the club’s beginnings where a group of friends started a club for people to come dance. What started with a small group of friends, we all have a home where we can make new friends by taking a chance and asking for a dance.
January 4th, 2007
Whenever I describe my dancing hobby to someone, I inevitably bring up the fact that I get to interact with celebrities. I don’t know of any other hobbies where I have that opportunity. If I was a golfer, I don’t think I’d ever get a chance to play golf with Tiger Woods. Nor would I get to play one-on-one with Michael Jordan. But in my years of dancing, I have danced with several pros, at conventions or when they visit Portland for workshops. I learn a lot by watching them dance and can pick up nuances when I dance with them. And I always get a charge of dance energy when I’m dancing in a room where pros are dancing too.
Sometimes I get a chance to dance with someone before they become a pro. The first time I danced at Two Left Feet in Danville, California, was during a road trip to San Francisco with friends. I was just getting addicted to west coast swing and looked up places to dance near San Francisco. I remember watching the dancers there in awe. They knew the music very well and interpreted it with great moves or comedic acts. I had a great time being immersed in their dance style.
Several of the dancers there stood out from the rest. One of which was Arjay Centeno. He danced confidently with interpretive moves that were beyond what I could do. I enjoyed watching him dance with the follows as they played with the music.
The second time I went to Two Left Feet, I got the opportunity to dance with an advanced follow. Each time I visit a new dance venue, I try my best to dance with as many people as possible. Occasionally, I’ll get the nerves to ask one of the more advanced follows. There weren’t a lot of people around, so I asked the follow who danced with Arjay most of the evening. I introduced myself and she reciprocated with her name, Melissa Rutz. I enjoyed dancing with her and I learned that she studied dance at school. She was only getting started with west coast swing, but her non-swing dance background helped her start strong. Melissa was fun and very kind, and I look forward to dancing with her again in the future.
Not long after my second trip at Two Left Feet, my friend Marco won his final novice Jack and Jill competition at Easter Swing 2002. I heard from friends that he got the best follow of the the finals and they took first place without question. Who was his partner? Melissa Rutz.
Flash forward to 2006. Arjay and Melissa won second place in the showcase division at the U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships over Thanksgiving weekend. In 2003, they placed fifth in the classic division. Over the last few years, they’ve won many competitions individually in Jack and Jill and Strictly Swing. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow as dancers. Their dance style is distinct and unique to them. It was from one of their early classic routines I first heard the popular song “Streetwalker.”
I had the chance to take a workshop from them at Reno Dance Sensation 2006 and got a new perspective on dance connection and partnership. It was my first workshop with them. I got to hear about their approach to dance as perpetual motion. They explained west coast swing in a fashion that I found refreshing, positive, and new. What I enjoyed best from their workshop was their emphasis on a great attitude.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know Arjay and Melissa from a distance over the past few years, and more so during their workshop. I’m excited that the PSDC has invited them to Swing Blizzard 2007! I hope you all will join me in welcoming this great couple to Portland by coming to their workshops, taking private lessons, and asking them to dance! Come celebrate the start of 2007 with Arjay and Melissa at Swing Blizzard 2007!
December 6th, 2006
Portland Swing Dance Club 2006
I wish the best holidays for everyone. I hope that you all will be able to see long-distance family members, visit grandparents and cousins, have large family dinners, and share great memories. Some of my best memories are decorating the living room with Christmas lights with my dad. We wrapped Christmas tree lights along three walls with tree ornaments between the lights, and dangled cards on the strand that was between the living room and dining area.
My family never got a real Christmas tree. The tradition was foreign to my first-generation immigrant parents. We often used a plastic tree that you plug branches into a wooden pole with holes. In my college years, the plastic tree didn’t cut it anymore, so my dad, resourcefully, used a camera tripod as our tree to decorate with ornaments. Geeky? Borderline ghetto? One-of-a-kind? You betcha.
A new year is always less than a week away from Christmas, and I always enjoy reading Google’s Zeitgeist, which is their annual report on the popular searches of the year. In that fashion, I thought I’d just highlight some of the great PSDC moments in 2006.
Back in January, in just a few weeks of being a new board of directors, we were able to pull off Swing Blizzard 2006 with Chuck Brown by the help of many volunteers. We enjoyed having Chuck with us. It’s always great to get a different dance perspective, and Chuck is well-travelled.
Thanks to everyone for being flexible as we’ve had to make adjustments this year. With our dances being on the fourth Saturday, we had several dances where we were “bumped” upstairs due to weddings. Again, thanks for working with us and we hope that it doesn’t happen too often next year.
Cool Shoes, OSU’s performance troupe, came and showed us a great WCS/hustle routine. We’ve enjoyed having college-aged dancers visit us throughout the year and especially in the summer months.
Our reunion dance was a great success, merging members from all our years to celebrate the club’s birthday. I was glad that the first club president, Mike McClure, was able to come out and visit.
We had a great time with the mixed-level Jack and Jill competitions. I’m glad people aren’t too shy to give us all a great show. It was a friendly competition and I hope that more people will participate in the future!
Mary Ann Nuñez came Mother’s Day weekend to bring our dance up another level. Thanks to all the volunteers for helping us put this event together and helping Mary Ann feel welcomed in Portland.
At the Portland Dance Festival, we rocked the black and white Swing Room. Our very own DJ and instructor Chris Jones won a pioneer award for his contributions to Portland. It was very well deserved and I’m glad Randy and Rhonda honored Chris. We are blessed that he is dedicated in our community.
BridgeTown was packed with fun. The event has grown every year and we look forward to having dancers all around come to Portland for a great three days of dancing.
We have connected with other dance groups in Portland this year, and collaborated with the Oregon Dance Fair and the Halloween Party. It gave us an opportunity to explore other dances, meet new friends, and expose others to the dance that we love to do.
We invited 16 new members to dance with us throughout 2007 from our Newcomers’ workshops. Thanks to all the dance hosts and registration volunteers who helped newcomers’ first experience with west coast swing be a postive one. Thanks to Trina and Chris for giving the newcomers a solid foundation to have fun with.
The year seemed almost a blur with all the highlights. I’m sure I left some out. We had many great blessings this year: 206 members, 23 dances, 3 workshop weekends, 2 large events… all for 1 dance.
As we finish off 2006, my prayer is safety for those who travel, joy for those reuniting with distant friends and family, hope for those who lost a loved one this year, comfort for those who are experiencing trials, and peace or sanity for those who procrastinate with last minute Christmas shopping—like me!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We’ll see you in 2007!
November 7th, 2006
The Dream Team
I admire people who chase their dreams and ambitions. Their journey gives me hope that I can be purposeful with my life and achieve goals that are outside my comfort zone. At some moment in the last few years, I dreamt of becoming the Portland Swing Dance Club president because I wanted to make a contribution to the swing community. But I knew I couldn’t do it alone. It would require a whole lot of support because my personality and demeanor is closer to a movie director rather than the lead actor. I’ve never been a president of anything before and I’m not very good at speaking in front of large crowds. But I’ve learned that dreams I’m afraid of failing at, are the dreams I ought to chase. (more…)
October 5th, 2006
The Gift of Dance
I finally caught the movie, “Take the Lead,” starring Antonio Banderas as a ballroom teacher who taught ballroom dancing to troubled high school kids. While I had expected a certain level of cheesiness, there were also some underlying themes that reverberated in my life.
I won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, but I was inspired when Antonio’s character, Pierre Dulaine (based on a real person), had to defend the value of teaching ballroom dancing to the students to the Parent-Teacher association. He demonstrated to everyone there how learning to dance extends into attitude and lifestyle. Dance has its place in school because it taught the students how to treat each other with respect, work together through differences, and find confidence in themselves.
In my life, I’ve found that dancing has helped me develop social skills and step out from to my geek-lifestyle. If it wasn’t for dancing, I’d probably be in front of a computer all the time, working on web pages, playing video games, watching clips on YouTube, and so on.
Learning to dance has helped me be more comfortable around other people, in particular women. Most women I know enjoy dancing, and drawn to the intimacy of partner dancing. It’s romantic. So knowing that I have a skill that is desired by women, helped my confidence while I was single. I once read in a motivational book how the author got better at hitting the ball in softball. He and his friend practiced with a whiffle ball instead of a softball. The whiffle ball could be thrown faster and more unpredictably. By practicing with tougher pitches, when it came time to bat at a real game, the author recollected having no problems hitting the softball because what they practiced with was harder. Talking with women became easier for me after I learned to dance. I have risked much more in asking a women to dance than just saying “Hi.”
Being in our dance community gives us the chance to interact with people beyond our peers. My circle of friends comprised of people around my age before I learned to dance. By going out dancing, I have had the chance to dance with people who have experienced more life and have much to learn from. I’ve also shared my love of dance with those who are just getting into seasons of life I’ve finished. Dance is one life investment that has had significant impact in all areas of my life. I’ve been very blessed to have met many friends through dance—and especially marrying a fellow dancer. Every time I think about it, I’m amazed at how much dance has brought growth and happiness my life.
In looking ahead in October, the Portland Swing Dance Club is hoping to entice, encourage, and excite new people into dancing. We’re holding a 2-day workshop for newcomers, people who have never danced west coast swing before. There is a big interest in dancing due to shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and recent dance movies, and we can’t be more thrilled that people are now discovering the joy and power of dance. I’m hoping that they’ll discover that dance can be a life-changing passion.
Spread the word about the newcomer workshops! Invite a friend who have always wished they knew how to dance like you. Lure your soul mate into an intimate new hobby. Get your good-looking friend swarmed by women, all of whom you’ve known for years, making yourself feel like leftover meatloaf (my roommate in college learned how to dance through me, and when we went to his first dance, he had more gals hitting on him than I had in all the years I’ve danced). I sincerely hope we have many new friends come out to our swing dances. We look forward to meeting new people and introducing them to what may be, a significant turning point in their life.
September 6th, 2006
Unconventional Dance Convention Tips
I have great memories of my dance event tour where I attended four dance conventions in three months. It was the year after I graduated from college into unemployment. I went to BridgeTown in Portland, Boogie by the Bay in San Francisco, Monster Mash at Spokane, and stopped after Sea to Sky in Vancouver B.C. I grew a lot as a dancer, and as a person going to all those events. I met dancers from all over, became friends with the people who I traveled with, and danced until I stumbled into bed as the sun peeked through the pulled window blinds.
After going to several more dance conventions since then, my wife and I have learned a few tips that help us have a more comfortable event. BridgeTown is this month, so I hope that you’ll find these tips helpful, interestingâ€”perhaps funnyâ€”but ultimately getting you to “Think BridgeTown.”
Hotel restaurants can be fairly expensive, and while I encourage supporting the event hotel, I don’t have to pay extra for the convenience of a light, late-night snack. My wife, Jenni, has some special dietary needs, so that has led us into some creative problem-solving and tricks to have food on hand. We brought a small cooler to our room last year for BridgeTown, and we kept it cool with ice from the ice machine. We stored vegetables, cooked rice, cooked chicken, sandwich meat, fruit, and juice so we would have snacks readily available. The food became a lifesaver when I’d come back to the room, late at night, with no restaurant open, except Shari’s, a few miles away.
Sometimes, Jenni has an appetite for hot food. The coffee maker can be used to heat some water. Jenni and I have managed to warm some canned lentil soup by running hot water on the can, or letting it sit in the sink full of hot water.
I generally go to only a few workshops in the weekend because I can’t remember that much material. I like to focus on one or two things. However, for conventions like BridgeTown, where most of the great workshops are included in the ticket price, it’s a waste of money and opportunity not to go. So I might stretch myself as a dancer and take a notebook to write down notes. I’ve also seen someone use the video recording feature on their digital camera to record the patterns taught after the workshop.
As a competitor, I check out the recent top competition songs before the weekend comes. I go through the lists at USA Swing Net’s web site, listen to the previews on the web, get a sense of where the music is going, and also buy some new tunes. I take some dance music with me on my PDA to listen to while I get dressed for a competition. It’s probably all in my head, but I enjoy surrounding myself with west coast swing before competing. Actually, what I’m doing is memorizing the songs so I know when the breaks are, but that’s a secret between you and me.
Speaking of competitions, a friend of mine asked me for competition tips as she’s going to do her first Jack & Jill at BridgeTown. I was flattered she asked me and I hope I gave encouraging answers. Jack & Jill competitions can be exhilarating, spontaneous, addictive, and humbling. The greatest mistake any competitor can make is basing their skill and value on their competition placement. It’s a mistake I’ve made before.
At the end of my dance event tour, I sat at a table before my final Jack & Jill competition, just watching the social dancing. I was frustrated at not being able to place high in competitions in the events I had been going to. I began to question why I competed. Was it to be “better?” To be justified and accepted as an “intermediate” dancer by others? I felt lost and ready to give up. But as I watched the social dancing, I saw people enjoying dancing, and I remembered my original desire in competing: to express why I love west coast swing.
August 9th, 2006
Talking with Dancers
First off, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who has given me feedback on my articles in the newsletter. I enjoy talking about dance with people, and I’ve gotten an opportunity to get to know some of the membership through conversations about an article someone liked. I always try to find out what people enjoy about dance, what they enjoy about our club, and solicit suggestions on improving the club.
Two topics come up often when I get into conversations about our dance community. The first is more common for follows than leads, but it applies to leads as well. I want to be friendly and approachable, so it’s not easy for me to turn anyone down for a dance. I doubt anyone enjoys the uncomfortable rejection that comes when a dance is turned down. However, it’s sometimes necessary, for the safety and benefit of others..
My wife sometimes reminds me that I’m not aware of my own strength. When I try a new pattern with her, and I give her much more power than she needs, the pattern ends up hurting her. As much as it stings when she gives me an uncomfortable face that precedes her telling me how the move hurt, I’m always thankful that she tells me. It doesn’t mean I never try the move again, but it does mean that I need to adjust it so we can both enjoy it. I hope that any follow, not just my wife, would help me improve my dance by letting me know if something hurts them.
Conversely, I’ve had rare occurrences where follows have hurt me. While I was on a dance performance team in college, I had an injury with my right wrist. Since then, there have been occasions when a follow puts a lot of power in their coaster step made my wrist feel popped out. It didn’t hurt too much, but I sat out a dance afterwards, just in case. Of course, that’s when a great song came on.
So how does someone turn down a dance because of the potential of injury? Perhaps, refusing to dance with the person once can do the trick. For me, if I ask someone to dance, and they decline with no intention for a future dance, I don’t ask them again. No harm, no foul. But for someone who requests repeatedly, the best approach I’ve heard is being “I”-centered in explaining why you wish not to dance with them. “I hurt when I dance with you,” rather than “You hurt me,” is much less confrontational and more sensitive to the other person. The first statement does not designate a fault. It just states a fact without placing blame. It might still sting for the recipient, but I believe the sincere honesty is best, especially since it involves someone’s ability to dance safely.
The second topic that comes up often is dance cliques. While I could go at good lengths about this topic with no solution in the end, I’ll just mention one anecdote that has helped me.
When I started dancing in college, I saw more advanced dancers only dance with those of similar skill levels. I unfairly judged them as dance snobs. As I got to know more dancers and learned more about dance, I wasn’t sitting out dances as frequently. I eventually associated with the so-called dance snobs, and found most of them quite friendly.
I began to wonder if new dancers saw me as snobby because of those I associated with and because I could be perceived as a “better” dancer. So I made it a goal to dance with anyone for the first half of the dance, then to intermediate-level dancers and friends for the second half to grow in my dance. I grow so that I have a greater the range of dancers I could dance well with, and have a good time.
There’s a quote on what it means to be an advanced dancer that goes something like this, “One true mark of an advanced dancer is being able to dance with anyone, regardless of skill level, and the partnership enjoys the experience equally.”
June 29th, 2006
Dances That Capture My Attention
I carpooled home from Paradise with a friend one night last month, and we talked about dance videos. He asked me what I looked for when I’m watching videos. Depending on the pro, I could be keeping my eye out for a number of elements: leg lines, body posture, how they connect with their partner before they start dancing, musicality, and so on. Most of the time, I enjoy watching the partnership, seeing how the partnership shares in interpreting the song at the same time as well as individually.
If I’m watching Kyle Redd dance, I get absorbed into watching the song danced out in his footwork. He also has creative variations to common basic patterns that I’ve learned a lot from, such as tucking with my right hand on a two-handed left side pass with a tuck. I’m always on the lookout for simple variations to add to my dance. They’re easier to learn, and usually doesn’t require the follow to learn anything completely new (granted that I lead it correctly).
When I’m watching Jordan Frisbee, I keep track of how he emphasizes subtle nuances in the music in his body. I try to learn from his style that makes his dancing smooth and effortless. Jordan’s choice of patterns fits to the music very, very well. To prep for a stopping point in the music, I learned from Jordan that an outside turn from a whip is a good way to nail the musical hit.
What I look for can also depend on what I’m personally working on. When I focus on getting better leg lines, I watch the pros’ legs only. Other times, I work on leading a pattern that gives the follow the opportunity to play. As a side note, I think it’s funny when I look back at how I danced years ago, because I thought follows loved it when I gave them a wide opening so they could play while I stood there and watched. Some did, but I can imagine some follows probably thought I was mean to leave them out high and dry.
Now, though still a work in progress, I try to provide a structure so that the follow knows she has the choice to play or not. Then, she’s not left standing there at the end of the slot, looking at me, â€œWhat? Did you want me to do something?â€I also look for patterns and techniques that complement my style. Marco once told me that I’m most similar to a pro who dances very quiet, but then does a flashy move on cue to the music. Then that pro returns to the quiet style. I think heâ€™s right. When the occasion calls for it, I like to add some flash to reflect the song. I enjoy contrast in my dance, where the elements I want to emphasize are significantly different than what I do normally.
In watching couples dance, I watch how the lead and follow give and take. How does the connection change in the hands when the follow wants to change the pattern led? Are they looking at each other all the time? If not, when do they look each other, and what happens soon after that? How do they take care of one another? How do they support each other? Do they dance quietly when their partner is doing something cool so they have the spotlight for the moment?
What I enjoy seeing in a dance the most is great social dancing. Where leads and follows fulfill their equal, yet different roles, and creating a relationship that I canâ€™t help but watch. Best of all, you donâ€™t have to be a pro to be a great social dancer.
June 12th, 2006
Mary Ann Nuñez’s Timeless Technique
“She’s just a person.” Thatâ€™s something I think to myself whenever I dance with a west coast swing dance professional. Itâ€™s my own mind-trick to calm my nerves. Usually, I just have to repeat it to myself for the length of a song and I manage to dance well enough not to embarrass myself with a pro. However, during Spring Swing 2006, I got the privilege—or seeming misfortune—of being Mary Ann Nuñez’s dance dummy for one of her workshops. My little trick wasn’t going to work for a full hour.
I had done the classic look-behind-myself-and-no-one-else-was-there routine when Mary Ann pointed at me. When I returned my attention to her, she nodded her head and confirmed that I was her target.
As I walked up to the middle of the dance circle, I turned my thoughts to doing my best beside Mary Ann. There are pros and cons of being the dance dummy. The cons are that my mistakes become part of the lesson plan, my nervousness causes me to mess up the sequence, and Iâ€™m completely self-conscious of what my dancing looks like.
The pros are that my mistakes are part of the lesson plan, so everyone can listen in on my mini-private lesson. Also, learning first-hand how the sequence should feel, since I know which half is at fault when Iâ€™m dancing with the instructor, is a good thing. And I might just get a great tip.
Let’s be optimists and just look at the last benefit. Mary Ann gave me insight on the way I did tuck turns. She instructed me to lean my hand toward my face during the compression, which gives the follow a prep before she turns. The prep that leans toward my face lessens the wear-and-tear on the follow’s shoulder from the compression.
I appreciated her perspective on technique. While Iâ€™ve often linked technique to “looking better” in dancing, good technique also makes for an easier dance in the partnership. Even more so, it encourages safety. We all love to dance—what better way to share that love than to take care of each another so we can all continue dancing?
After the workshop, I thanked her for teaching me how to better take care of my follows during tuck turns. She also shared with me why she prefers using all four fingers for the hand connection. It provides a better hold which reduces the chance of over-extending the wrist. It also spreads out the tension between four fingers instead of two.
Again, I was quite pleased to discover that her motivation for technique isn’t so much to “look better” or “dance faster,” but to allow her to reduce the amount of deterioration caused by dancing. And it works, she moves incredibly fast. Iâ€™m still untangling my legs from trying to do swivels as fast as she does them.
One last tip I observed from Mary Ann was her kindness to all dancers. Friday night, I watched her ask many guys to dance. If she couldn’t find one, she would sit down by a follow who wasnâ€™t dancing, and strike up a conversation with them. Her hospitality made the evening welcoming, and many people noticed and were happy that she came to Portland.
So, while my mind-trick in dancing with a pro failed, I learned many great tips from Mary Ann Nuñez on taking care of my follow and myself. I hope some of these techniques will help you dance longer, safer, and often.
May 7th, 2006
Adding Attitude to My Dance
I took a workshop with Arjay Centeno and Melissa Rutz at Reno Dance Sensation, labeled as “Making Finals – Keeping Your Cool on the Dance Floor.” I figured since I was competing during the weekend, it would be helpful to hear what tips these two pros had to offer to seasoned and new competitors alike.
I enjoyed that they focused on attitude more than ability. They asked the class what follows are looking for in a lead. Their answer? Leads who take care of their follows. I’m glad they teach this attitude because all too often I see leads too wrapped up in trying to impress follows (or other people) that they end up hurting their partners. And then everyone loses.
Arjay and Melissa gave these examples on how to taking care of a follow:
Pay more attention to your partner than to the music. If a follow doesnâ€™t spin a complete 360 to finish the pattern, give her an extra few counts so she can anchor and be ready. When I took a private with Trudy Thatcher with Mario Robau, he noticed that I exerted too much energy in trying to hit breaks. I would hear a break coming and speed up a pattern so I could hit it. I’m glad he helped me change that habit. The worst that will happen is that a break is missed, but Miss Follow won’t be broken.
Give and take. Arjay and Melissa provided a mental image of a microphone in between the dance couple. If they both speak into it at once, it’s hard to understand what is being said. For the dance conversation to be clear, each partner takes their turn. They say the same thing, or they sing in harmony. After a follow has been led, the follow then has the microphone until she reaches the end of her slot when she gives it back to the lead.
All attitude. Not everyone gets the opportunity to dance. We should be grateful for the gift to dance. If you allow negative feelings to take root, they show up in your dancing.
I got a lot out of their workshop that prepared me for my competitions. It got my mind off of focusing on trying to win and helped remind me why I loved doing Jack & Jills in the first place—meeting new dance friends.
“Attitude, not Aptitude, determines Altitude”
- Albert Einstein
March 1st, 2006
Ode to Marco
Marco Widharta finally left the United States last month. I say “finally” not because I’m glad he’s gone. Actually, I feel quite the opposite. Marco told me he was moving to Australia back in July 2005. Now, in February 2006, he has gone to pursue his career. I’m happy that he is continuing in his life and I wish him the best for his future endeavors. Saying goodbye to Marco got me thinking back to my college days when we’d hang out, and how he’s impacted my dancing.
I had known of Marco for a while as I learned to dance ballroom at Oregon State University. It was hard not to notice him. His exuberant dance style would catch anyone’s eye. He spun a lot, spun his follows a lot, and made a lot of movements throughout his whole body. We became friends after getting to know each other, ironically, in Portland at the Viscount during the summer.
My last year at OSU, Marco and I were on the OSU’s Cool Shoes ballroom dance performance team together. We hung out during dance practices and at our leisure. We talked a lot about dance. I was still pretty new to the west coast swing world, so he was very kind in sharing. I attribute much of my dance growth to his knowledge and resources.
The biggest resource he shared with me were dance videos. I’m a visual learner, so I get engrossed into dance videos; obsessed sometimes. I loved watching pros like Jordan Frisbee, Tatiana Mollmann, Kyle Redd, Sarah Vann Drake, Sharlot Bott, Mary Ann Nunez, and many others. I would study more of the social dancing aspects. While I enjoyed watching practiced routines, when I load a dance DVD up, I go straight for Jack and Jill competitions or the strictly swings because they showcase more improvisational dance skills.
I distinctly remember key videos that changed my dancing. They inspired me so much that I would have a “growth spurt,” if that’s possible. One video that sticks out in my mind is the Boston Tea Party 2003 strictly swing with Jordan Frisbee and Mary Ann Nunez. Their dance to the Chilly Night remix of Randy Crawford’s â€œGive Me the Nightâ€ gave me insights as to how simple nuances can be more effective and more impressive. Instead of huge body rolls or huge splashes of arms waving, their movements were concise, sharp, and simple. At one climax of the music, both Jordan and Mary Ann stop at a break. Then at the two recurring hits to the upbeat, Jordan does a small, subtle shuffle of his feet in parallel to emphasize the two recurring hits.
I’m sure that description doesn’t do justice to the video. I thought I’d share how I learned a lot of my dance style through dance videos in hopes of others recognizing this as a valuable resource. I’m very thankful that Marco had a collection for me to learn from as they can get costly.
Marco’s music library was another resource he shared with me. It helped me get familiar with the songs I danced to by knowing their names. Part of what helped me learn song titles is deejaying for a short while. The other part is that it gave me a tremendous boost at competing and social dancing. Part of my musicality is knowing the songs I dance to.
For my favorite west coast swing songs, I download them online for $0.88 at Walmart Music Downloads or for $0.99 at the iTunes music store. Whenever Chris Jones or Bob Smith plays a song I like, I go up and ask them after dancing to the song. I purchase the song, then proceed to listen to it heavily for a week or so (perhaps I am obsessive). By the next time I hear it on a social dance floor, I’ve got a pretty good â€œfeelâ€ of where each of the breaks is.
There is a downside to knowing the songs too well and watching too many dance videos, though. I’ve had to fight the urge to try the moves the pros do at a particular moment in a song. Still, those side effects are negligible. And if you have a friend like Marco to watch videos with, they’ll see you fight that urge and understand where the inner struggle comes from. I hope that Marco will visit the States and dance with us in the future. He’s been a great friend to many. Marco and Trina really brought up the level of west coast swing in Corvallis, inspiring many of them to come up to Portland to dance. I’ll always remember the crazy trips to Portland to get my west coast swing fix with my copilot, Marco, keeping me awake for the late night drive back from the dance.
February 4th, 2006
Seven Great Years
As I celebrated my birthday last month, I realized Iâ€™m getting closer to my 10-year high school reunion. Iâ€™m amazed at how muchâ€”and how littleâ€”life has changed in 10 short years. I look forward to seeing old friends that Iâ€™ve lost touch with, asking them what theyâ€™re doing with their lives, how many kids theyâ€™ve had, high school sweethearts that worked out, class clowns that became structured business men, and hopefully meeting up with other computer nerds like me who did, one day, marry the girl of their dreams.
In March, the PSDC will be turning seven years old! In looking through the scrapbooks, seven years has made a big difference to our club. Clothing styles, hair styles, dance music, and dance stylesâ€”all have changed.
Our first board of directors consisted of:
- Mike McClure, President
- Manny Gonzales, Vice President
- Donna Mook, Secretary
- Monica Gruher, Treasurer
- Cindy Clark, Marketing and Promotions
- Steve Klein, Facilities
- Debie Rowe, Dances and Events
- Rhonda Shotts, Newsletter
- Shana Weeks, Decorations and Refreshments
- Velma Zonich, Membership
Here are some firsts:
- Feb 19, 1999. First PSDC dance at Abernathy Grange, Oregon City.
- First newsletter was 5 pages, containing announcements, the presidentâ€™s press, calendar of events, member birthdays, lesson information, editorâ€™s corner, etc.
- May 23, 1999. First Norse Hall dance with guest instructors Jim Minty and Nancy Goldberg (now Heaverlo) from Seattle.
- The first PSDC workshop weekend was with Kyle Redd and Sarah Vann Drake from October 23rd to 24th.
So after seven great years, weâ€™re going to have another firstâ€”the PSDC is throwing a reunion party. We are hoping that everyone will spread the word to dance friends past and present to come celebrate the club that ties us together as a community. Weâ€™re having a reunion dance on Saturday, March 25, upstairs at the Norse Hall. The price will be $5, just like when the PSDC dances first started. Come see friends spanning seven yearsâ€”all in one room.
Hereâ€™s to seven years and counting of great dancing!
January 1st, 2006
Happy New Year!
I hope you all had a joyous and wonderful holiday season. While you may have opened all your presents and ate all your sweets, another year of dancing has only begun!
One year can be a long time for kids who are longing to be old enough to do ‘adult’ things. One year can be a short amount of time to plan a huge dance convention. One year can bring about a significant change.
A big year in my dancing came about during my internship at Mentor Graphics in 2001. I received a tip from a dance friend in Corvallis that I should check out a dance venue in Portland. She told me about a place on Burnside and eighth street. East side of Portland. Ok, I thought, I’ll check it out.
The Viscount Ballroom was my first exposure to West Coast Swing outside of Corvallis. I took the lesson by Mike McClure and Donna Mook. I don’t remember what they taught. I just remember being welcomed by Mike and complimented by Donna. I remember dancing with Arvella Hietala, Lavaun Benavidez, and Mary Weatherby. I had a great night of dancing with everyone I asked and who asked me. I had to come back. And I did, every Tuesday until my six month internship ended. I anxiously looked forward to every Tuesday to dance more west coast swing.
I also found the Portland Swing Dance Club. And my dancing world got bigger. I don’t remember much about that night at the Sunnyside Grange except I’m sure I danced nearly every song. Now, not only did I have every Tuesday to look forward to, but also the weekends when the Portland Swing Dance Club held dances.
What made all these dances so enticing for me? I used to go to dances not really knowing anyone. I’d just go and dance. I’d rarely sit down and talk to anyone since I was there to dance. It wasn’t until I matured more as a dancer and as a person that I recognized the reason I enjoyed the PSDC dances was because of the people. People I hardly knew but were very friendly to me. A change came as I got to know the dancers in PSDC and became enamored by how diverse we all are. And we all share the love to dance.
I want to thank you all for making the Portland Swing Dance Club a friendly place to dance. I also want to encourage everyone to come on out and dance. Summer is over, but it can still get hot on the weekends if you know where to go! We’ve had many guests join us at our dances that need our friendly regulars to welcome. Bring your dance shoes and a smile, you are bound to meet a new friend this year!
Happy New Year! May it be our best yet. Let’s dance!