Lead on – what I’ve been learning as a lead instructor

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I started learning to lead in the first few months of my lindy hop journey. It was totally selfish. I was one of the youngest members of the Toronto swing dance scene and I wanted to bring friends along and didn’t want them to have to dance with members of the community who held you too close and gave you pointers on the social dance floor (always bad form!).

I gotta tell you, I really enjoy leading, but have always enjoyed following more. I’m competent at both, but I simply prefer following in a performance setting. Social dancing-wise, it depends on my mood. Recently, I have been making an effort to up my leading game. I’ve taken on teaching both lead and follow roles at many Swing Patrol events and teaching my first term for JazzMAD with their innovative 12-week beginners course. Participants learn to lead and follow – AT THE SAME TIME. Classes are 1.5 hours and the learning journey is so so different to a weekly drop in class. It has absolutely kicked my leading ability in the butt. Students learn lindy hop is a 2-count dance made of up kick-tucks, triples and steps – their skill progression is so different then what I’m used too. When it clicks in their minds and their feet in week 6/7, it’s like magic and everyone knows how to do both sides. I don’t think it’s better or worse than a drop in class, it’s just a different method and appeals to a different kind of student.

I have to tell you – my leading has improved ten-fold from teaching this course as well as my overall dancing. It’s been terrifying at times – worrying about how to lead, demonstrate and break down a break on 6 (when I’ve never ‘learned’ it or lead it). And ending a course having taught my students the component pieces of the California Routine that they can happily lead and follow well with their peers. It feels liberating. When Sharon Davis, the school Director and a world champ dancer, asked me teach this curriculum, she told me she designed it with hard-working local organisers and instructors in mind. A course taught by one instructor that allows participants the opportunity to understand and empathize with both roles – from the beginning. So cool…especially when we can get stuck in a vision of the dance with a male leader and female follower – which is helpful particularly for men who have never danced before, but isn’t always the easiest to organise in small scenes.

I often like to think when I teach I get to model the kind of world I want to live in and I’m so pleased to get to grow my teaching practice like this. I leave class feeling empowered and proud of myself. I highly recommend going out of your comfort zone and elevating both your dance roles. I’ve noticed such a different.

If you’re in a place where you want to go back to basics or know someone who’d love a different lindy hop journey – seriously, check it out. If you want equally delicious classes but of a drop-in and role-specific flavour, I’m always found at Old Street on Monday nights with the fab Matt Cochrane.

Inclusive Dance

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Almost a year ago, I decided that I wanted to shift my mixed economy to make more room for my dance practice.

It’s crazy to think about how quickly building blocks have fallen into place. I often think about myself as a ‘place maker’ a person who makes room for others to take risks and explore. It’s been a welcome to change to be at the artistic heart of that work as a speaker, facilitator, dancer, choreographer and instructor.

I had an opportunity to work with Step Change Studios December 2017 – my first experience leading a fully inclusive dance workshop for participants with a variety of needs and a variety of mobility. It was eye opening. I was so scared of offending people, or not being adaptable to the setting. Rashmi Becker, the Founder of Step Change Studios, was so supportive through the process and the result was a really powerful two day workshop and short ‘audition’ for a culminating event in Cardiff in April 2018. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I did in 2017.

In May I’ll be taking it one step further. On 9 May, I’ll be presenting a new commission (and performing in it)  at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells. The showcase is entitled ‘Fusion’.

This performance marks my first inclusive commission and my first time presenting and performing work at Sadler’s Wells. Talk about unbelievable! I’m really looking forward to the process and working with my dancers and am so grateful for the opportunity. Want to come? Tickets are on sale now! Click here for more info. 

About Fusion from the Sadler’s website: “Fusion is the UK’s first inclusive Latin and Ballroom dance-inspired showcase, presented by Step Change Studios. Fusion brings together talented professional artists from a wide range of dance backgrounds to push the boundaries of ballroom with beautiful, powerful, performances that redefine the genre. Fusion is an experiment and creative exploration between disabled and non-disabled artists from backgrounds that include Charleston, Swing, Contemporary and Street to develop original pieces inspired by Latin and Ballroom dance.”

Come see the experiment!

Follow Me: A Celebration of Women and Jazz Dance

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6 months ago I asked Cat Foley and Sharon Davis if they wanted to put on a ‘lindy hop scratch night’ – a night to showcase and test new work with a live audience. Cabaret has a tradition of scratch nights, but in the swing-world we often present works very polished or close to their intended version. I worry sometimes that we forget beloved and beautiful pieces of choreography that would suit us better several performances in.

In an effort to make work and to explore and test putting on a show, Cat, Sharon and I presented what can only be described as a polished scratch night, or a smooth draft show. The pieces we wanted to present worked remarkably well and highlighted how different we all are but worked so seamlessly together. Upon reflection, the title ‘Follow Me’ feels more like a movement – where we highlight the creative agency of the follower in a dance and community that has traditionally been heavily leader-biased. Where we explore and test what we have to say.

There were many successes to this test:
1. We broke even (hell yeah)
2. We sold out both shows (thank you!)
3. We led by example (go kick ass women)
4. We demonstrated that you can put work out there that isn’t finished and it will feel like more of a beginning…
5. We assembled a great team who were professional and rock solid for future plans

It was such a fine experiment and it reminded me how good I am at enabling others and how rarely I do it for myself and my professional dreams. I seem to have built a career on enabling mens’ artistic vision. I’m done with that.

I will put on more shows, I will make more work for myself and others, I guess it’s a reminder to believe in my skills and my talent. I believe in making room for others to thrive and enjoy the magic of swing dance, whether they choose to be a participant, an audience member, a fellow performer or a community leader. I truly believe that we must role model the kind of society we want to live in and it can start in asking another human being to dance. This is my truth. I make space for others, but I also need to hold my own space. It’s exhausting because nothing comes easily, but I know that I have something to say and it’s where I belong.

So – Follow Me is a first. Follow us as we reshape what lindy hop and jazz dance performance can be. We will surprise you, I know it. Follow me.

Kickstart your dance goals for 2018

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What are your goals for the coming year? Do you have specific dance goals for 2018? Would you like some coaching or help? I’d love to work with you. I would be delighted to offer advice and coaching on video or to take on a few days of practice and in person coaching in the New Year. If you wanted to support my creative endeavours and give a private lesson to a friend for Christmas I can make homemade gift certificates. Your support in a local class, a workshop, a video coaching or a private lesson setting, directly enables me to financially and artistically invest in my own dancing in the coming year. How do you start setting goals? I’ve included a few of my own below so you can see how I’ve approached it.

My mid-term (12 months) goals for dance, by December 2018:
-I invest dedicated time to my partnered and solo dancing technique each and every week (I have a schedule to match this).
-I build robust training and performance partnerships where I practice my partnered lindy hop each and every week (also on the schedule).
-I perform quarterly (4x per year) either solo, in a partnership and/or in choreographed teams to build my performance and precision skills.
-I have the confidence to ask for strategic teaching opportunities that either build my teaching skills – working with more established pro teachers, build the skills of the partner I’m working with whether they are a regional local and/or they are unique workshops and formats that others are not offering and deserve to be explored and tested.
-I have one partnered lindy hop or solo jazz workshop booked per month in the 2018 calendar year and three of these gigs are in international (be it regional or further afield).
-I am asked to participate in cool or interesting projects by friends, peers and those I admire.

Since moving to England, I have taught over 15,000 people. I have had many kind and generous messages from students about the impact lindy hop has had on their life. I am abundantly supported by exceptional dancers and teachers in and outside of London. I wish to do more and to get more people dancing. If you’d like to work on your dancing in 2018 and to book me and/or one of my teaching partners. I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch and let’s make a plan. I can be reached at nancyhitzig[@]gmail.com.

Competition with yourself

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I am rarely in competition with others, I am always in competition with myself. I try to stand to the height of my character, to create and produce work I’m proud of, to act with integrity and kindness and to admit when I’m wrong. It can be exhausting. I can be deeply unkind to myself. I have quiet and tough thoughts about my abilities and limitations.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about all the disappointment and hurt I need to let go of. Moments where I have felt let down in my artistic practice by myself or others. It’s important to let go of these feelings because they don’t serve me anymore. I am in different place. I am an artist. I am supported by a coterie circle of dancers and friends who see my light and want to help me shine brighter.

This is a new moment – a place of generosity and where I need to ease up on my expectations of myself. I can only do my best. And whatever that is, it’s enough, because I’m enough. I hope that where ever you are and how ever you’re pursuing your highest ambitions you’re being kind to yourself too. See you on the dance floor friends – grown and change are here.

A personal reflection on ‘why we bother’ to create

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Dance is difficult. You are the work. I have had some moments in the past few years where I’ve thought – ‘ugh, why do I even bother, it would be simpler if I didn’t push, make and teach’. I wrote down some words reflecting on ‘why I bother’ yesterday and as others prepare for competitions and showcases in and outside lindy hop I wanted to share them.

For when I ask, ‘why I bother’

This is my most ambitious undertaking.
I have never had a core of dancers who were as gifted and inspiring to work with and choreograph for.
At the end of August, I get a video log of my canon of work. Also, I have a canon of work!
These pieces and ideas are collaborated on and co-crafted with other bright minds.
I have stared at my fear of failure and questions of self-worth and thought this simply isn’t true.
I have faced impossibility head on and moved like a river around it.
I have been my own buoy.
I accept I am artist. Because.
I love this process, and it is so uncomfortable and still there will be proof.
Proof that I will harness to give me more space to make.
To dream more vividly.
To put myself on home turf – where I belong.

Puzzling through diversity in the arts

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I am an immigrant. I live in a country where my frame of cultural reference is different. In my work life, I am constantly questioning how we reflect our society in community settings, on the concert or theatrical stage. There are some remarkable barriers that exist to prevent presenting genuinely diverse work that isn’t an example of tokenism. The arts ecosystem isn’t perfect. For a variety of reasons, there is still significant inequalities of opportunity/access for artists of diverse backgrounds. And I’m still puzzling it through.

I see this all the time in classical music. I work mostly in orchestral music and opera. We are still working on gender diversity in classical music – let alone inequality of access for other groups.

I’m reminded of the challenge the sector faces reading the news back home. Recently, the Director, a designer and a performer have stepped away from a production of South Pacific at Calgary Opera. This was over the proposed casting of a white artist in the role of a Polynesian woman.

Operas/musicals are a kind of historical document, sometimes quietly or overtly racist in plot and character portrayal, we should absolutely be aiming to present works with culturally-informed casting! But it has to be part of the artistic direction and process from the beginning – as well as reflecting Canadian artists versus hiring international artists. It must be ingrained in the process and conversation with our Chief Executives, Casting Directors, Production Teams, Arts Programme Education Teams, Theatre School Directors/Teachers/Enrollment Staff, High School Music Teachers, Primary School Music Teachers (if that even exists anymore) and in the minds of parents. Arts Council England outline in their ‘Creative Case for Diversity‘ that “the simple observation that diversity, in the widest sense, is an integral part of the artistic process. It is an important element in
the dynamic that drives art forward, that innovates it and brings it closer to a profound dialogue with contemporary society.”

I argue that we need more of a culture-shift in how we think about the relevance of the arts and specifically diversity – in Canada and England. On stage, we need to reflect our contemporary society with exceptional artistry – but if the side argument is that there isn’t a pool of artists to draw on, then let’s make more opportunities for young people to see a progression route to became an artist.

Let’s be creative and think about how we reflect the face of our community participants, our audience members and our society in our programming on and off the stage. Let’s choose female conductors, designers and directors because they are excellent – not just because they are women. And artists of colour, and Aboriginal artists and artists who live with disability. Let’s publicly talk about the relevance of art and show its relevance! With Canada still so dependent on immigration for labour growth and population growth, some immigrant groups don’t see the arts as a profession. It’s perceived as a hobby. Let’s change that perception.

Let’s make it possible for the next generation to make a living in the arts in Canada!

Canadian artists work incredibly hard, but there is very little infrastructure to support their career unless they are ’emerging’ or ‘established’. Grants are an important tool, but what about child care provision, pension, disability insurance if they get sick and can’t work? You want more artists, show the progression route, show that you can have a family and pursue an artistic career without some socio-economic leg up.

Let’s reflect our society on and off stage. Let’s keep questioning.