Learning to tell stories through lindy hop

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If you’ve read some of my posts about Swing, Sister, Swing or my recent projects you’ll already know that I’m at a point in my dance career where I want to expand my skill set and present more work for theatre and non-lindy hop audiences. In particular, I’m really interested in immersive experiences and how lindy hop could be the primary movement language. It’s fundamentally inclusive, joyous and connective – what stories could I or others tell?!

In October I attended the Future of Storytelling Summit and it was clarifying. I wanted to try and develop and design a lindy hop experience that was ‘theme’ based rather than ‘class based’. Now what would that look like? And how on earth do I even start? In conversation with a friend and mentor, Alberto Denis I decided to apply to Canada Council for the Arts for a Professional Development grant and shockingly – I got it! This is the third time I’ve applied to Canada Council for a personal artistic project and I’ve been recommended but not awarded funding. A demonstration that persistence is key.

Thanks to their support, I’m spending time with Alberto this week in New York and planning to workshop and share something in May 2019 in London. The focus of our work together is around the themes, methodology and stories I could tell through narrative dance and feels like such a treasured and rare opportunity.

If you’re curious and want to keep tabs on what I’m experiencing and working on – watch my Instagram stories for an informal video journal (@nothingbuthitz). Thank you Canada Council for investing in me and my practice. I can’t wait to see what comes from this!!!

2018 in numbers

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It’s a bit late, but I always love putting the year into numbers.

Professionally – it was out of sight!! Personally – it was a challenging year with family deaths, a serious medical problem and some difficult questions about my life, my friendships and my well-being. I feel stronger for it and ready to see what awaits in 2019. Thank you for your friendship, love and support. I taught a few less workshops and a few less students this year, but when I consider the incredible things I got to do and make in 2018 – I am deeply grateful and humbled. Here’s to great times and success ahead.

2018 in numbers…
57 days spent with Mama and Papa Hitz – the most since I left Canada in 2013
5 International/UK Workshops with the wonderful Benjamin Robert Cook and Matthew Lane
3 Collaborative/Self-Produced Shows
Of those shows – all 6 performances were SOLD OUT!
850+ Audience members attended these performances
4,000+ Wonderful dance students from all walks of life
100+ Artists coached on income generation and budgeting

2018 firsts…
My first Step Change Studios and Sadler’s Wells Commission
My first time performing at Royal Albert Hall
My first national media feature in this month’s The Dance Current
My first Arts Council England grant towards my own creative project
My first year teaching with Matt Cochrane at Swing Patrol Old Street and making a new piece with him for the Balkan Lindy Hop Championships
My first 1:1 lessons with Ramona Staffeld in Melbourne which have been so influential throughout the year
My first year teaching the JazzMAD curriculum and teaching both lead and follow to some great students (and proving to myself that I can!)
My first full year of consulting and a 4-day work week and I had 3 fabulous clients
The first year I felt more in control of my finances and financial health thanks to good advice from Jo, Lexi and Cat.

More to come on the year ahead. What about you? What are you most proud of and what was the greatest lesson you learned in 2018?

So we’re making a show: Swing, Sister, Swing

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I dance and enjoy both roles, but I really love following. At many moments in my lindy hop career, I have felt small, invaluable and disposable. It’s taken a lot to get to a place where I care less what others think of me and my dancing and more about what I think. The thing that keeps me in the ballroom is my overwhelming love for the music, the people and the human connection I help to curate alongside hundreds (many thousands) of teachers and scene leaders.

It was reflecting on my own feelings of ‘enough-ness’ that drove me to seek opportunities to a story through lindy hop in a theatre setting. I am blessed to work with one of my favourite collaborators, Cat Foley, and together we wanted to tell a story about what it means to be a female follow and express the public and private face you feel on and off the dance floor. We wanted to explore who we are when we put our best foot forward on the floor, and who we are when we face ourselves in our bedroom or bathroom mirror. It’s with these things in mind that Cat and I embark on a new project entitled Swing, Sister, Swing. On 29 July, through a cabaret-inspired show, we’ll explore what it is to be in partnership, what is it to be alone and how you find self-acceptance. It’s the most ambitious project we’ve ever undertaken and self-producing is wildly scary. We are surrounded by some amazing talent and we are proud to be making a show for all people and curated and choreographed by women. If you’re curious and want to learn more or buy a ticket to the show click here. I think it’s going to be a very special night.

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.