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.

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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.

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.

Update: Partner for ILHC

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Many people read and shared my post about my search for a partner for the International Lindy Hop Championships. I was slightly overwhelmed by the response.

I had dozens of followers email me to say that would never have the courage to ask publicly for a dance partner. I received the most thoughtful emails and Facebook messages from male and female leaders wanting to push their dancing and declaring their willingness to train and put some art out there in August. Some sounded like job applications (which was surprising) and some caused me to tear up from their thoughtfulness and kindness.

And where did I get too…
1. I had several offers from some leads I LOVE dancing with and some good conversations about working together.
2. I thought about pursuing a Pro-Am because it would challenge me to work on my own dancing and get expert input.
3. I thought really long and hard about what I want to offer the lindy hop community and what my strengths are in the short to medium term and beyond.

But it looks like I may not going to go to ILHC this year and even if I did, I’d probably only do the Jack and Jill and Strictly.

The money, the time and the resources I would have put into ILHC this year went into securing my future in a country and city I love.

When you want to live somewhere and don’t have the legal grounds to stay beyond are a certain time in that place you feel constantly ill at ease. Unsettled. In flux. I spent many hours trying for a goal that seemed wild and somewhat unrealistic. I spent more money then I expected, more time then I expected and missed a flight or two in the process (talk about #lindyhoplife).

I earned an Exceptional Talent (Promise, really) visa and it was for lindy hop. It gives me 5 years here in England and counts towards residency, if I want that. It gives me options and choices. It also solidified how much I love this community and the sense of ownership I feel to challenge my personal dance practice, to build my skills as a dancer and teacher and to create a pathway that suits me.

If I make it to ILHC this year, it will be a year of reflection and celebration. If I don’t, you better believe I’ll be there with bells on next year with a posse of my best friends and most inspiring colleagues from London. I just thought an update was in order especially since I felt so very supported. Thank you friends for supporting dreams I didn’t even dream for myself. I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing. I hope you are too.

How to be a good ‘contest’ audience member

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Competition season has kicked off with the newest kid to the block, the Savoy Cup. I wanted to cover a couple of ideas around what it means (to me) to be a good competitor and audience member.

People enter competitions for all sorts of reasons. It might be a personal goal to focus on improving their dancing, it might be that they love to perform and we don’t have enough opportunities to do that in lindy hop, or it might be that it scares them and they want to push through that fear.

Whatever the reason they are competing, be supportive.

As an audience member – for the love of all that is holy – CLAP! CHEER! GIVE THEM ENERGY! Whether or not you know them. Whether or not it’s perfect. It’s part of the audience/performer contract. If people are nervous, having the crowd behind them can be so uplifting.
Be aware that sometimes we are so moved by a performance, or so distracted by watching that it’s hard to clap along, but do your best.
Smile at the performers, if feels so much nicer to perform for people who are interested and supportive.
Acknowledge them after the performance and congratulate them, or ask how it felt. When you see them in the hallway, at the nearby restaurant or on the dance floor. Competitions bring up all sorts of emotions – a kind word goes a long way.

If you’ve never competed before, try it sometime (it is often fun) and decide what success means for you going in. Often, ‘winning’ is just having the courage to share something you love with a group of people who also love that thing. It can be such a thrill. Best of luck to those competing at events across Europe this summer and to those hitting up ILHC and Camp Hollywood last this summer.

 

Wow: what a response!?

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I’m sitting in a record shop turned coffee shop and the new James Hunter album is playing in the background. Sipping m’cuppa joe and finishing my prep and music for the Oxford Swing Festival classes this aft and I just wanted to say a heart felt thank you.

I have had so many shares, views, notes and offers since I posted my ‘Dance Partner for ILHC’ post. It’s been unexpected and greatly appreciated. I’ve been particularly moved by the followers leaders who have messaged me to say that they have often felt the same anxiety about finding/asking a potential dance partner. Why is it so difficult to find someone to hold hands with (in the dance way, not the romantic way)? Why does it feel so personal and not ‘professional’ or ‘constructive’? There are some great people who have messaged me and I’ll be sorting things out in the coming weeks – but I just wanted to say thank you all those that shared my post. I’m still open to emails/FB messages and have been touched by the kind words and support shown by my London dance partners, instructor friends and dance peers worldwide.

My packing this weekend’s teaching (can you tell I’m gluten and dairy free):

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I’m going to go and teach some awesome people my thoughts on how to move on our own now. I feel  inspired by this community to do my best work, bring the best out of others and to challenge our preconceived notions of what we think we’re capable of. Again, you awesome person there on the side of this screen – THANK YOU. I’ll keep you posted on the journey.

Wanted: Dance partner for ILHC

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I have waffled about whether or not to post this. Partially, because it just isn’t done in the lindy hop community (at least from my perspective) – where a follower is actively and openly seeking a dance partner for a project and partially, because it feels like high school asking if anyone will take me to prom.

Who am I and what’s the brief?
I teach many weekly classes and have taught a variety of weekend partnered and solo workshops in Canada and the UK. I work with some amazing leaders in London. I currently have plans to go to ILHC, but don’t currently have a partner to compete with (because the people I’d normally work with are not able to go). Ideally, I’d like to compete in the Open Strictly and Open Classic and would be open to a Team Showcase if someone was already invested/subscribed in a project.

Ways this could work (open to suggestion):
1. In London, you either live here or are willing to come visit and crash on my sofa bed for a week or two and we focus on training and putting together a choreography.
2. You live somewhere in Europe that is cheaply and easily accessible and/or a major and easy to get to US city. You put me up for a week or two to come and train with you perhaps the weeks leading up to ILHC.
3. We each cover our own costs at ILHC and split our contest costs.
4. I am willing to invest additional time by coming to Herrang the same week you may be going and/or attending a camp or two in the lead up (depending on cost, but I’m flexible).

You may be the right person if:
1. You are a person who invests in your dancing and is focused on improving your personal dancing.
2. You have a cannon of performance work or at least a couple of performance routines under your belt.
3. You give valued and measured critical feedback and you are open to getting respectful critical feedback.
4. You want to put in 10-15 hours minimum on a performance routine and partnered dancing prep. For me, it’s about polish – but polish can also keep true to the spirit of lindy hop.
5. Your definition of success is creating and producing something original, distinctive, imaginative and truly ‘us’ as opposed to looking like other people.
6. You are self-aware and want to be the best dancer you can be.
7. Optional: You teach in your local scene and are comfortable watching, explaining and breaking down movement.
8. Optional: You are inspired by and have experience in other dance forms.
9. Optional: You have aerials experience and would like to work on this skill set with me.
10. Required: You have a high degree of partner empathy. You respect both dance roles equally and value the conversational quality and individuality of dance. Perhaps you occasionally like to follow, since I do also quite like leading.

If you think you’d be interested in working together and producing a routine that is professional, high quality and daring for us AND love social dancing and would like to train towards a strictly together please send me an email – nancyhitzig[at]gmail[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you.
If you think you may not be ready (either your new or don’t have a lot of dance experience of this kind), but would love to train and see if it’s a good fit – that’s valuable too.
If you are working with someone and want some help making a plan to do some work like this – awesome, email me! Happy to take you through how I approach stuff like this.

And lastly, if you are a person who has a network of dancers where someone may be interested in an opportunity like this, please, I ask you to forward it on, post it, instagram it – whatever.

As a follower without a regular partner, sometimes I feel like my ambitions and vision are impossible with out a regular partner. If it turns out that there aren’t any available or interested leaders, then I can decide if I want to push my leading and compete with another follower who has the same aims and goals. But I definitely wanted to ask you, my friends and peers for your opinions and recommendations first.

I think that brings my ILHC partner job pack to a close. If you share this or respond to it, please accept my sincere thanks. Both roles have their challenges and the desire to make great art always feels scary, but I wanted to be brave and to ask. Hope to see you on the dance floor soon.