In episode #13 of Ballroom Chat, we talk with competitor and instructor Anthony Chen about his preferred dance style: Lindy Hop. We discuss the history of Lindy Hop, how the competitive experience of Lindy differs from typical ballroom dance events, his work with the non-profit organization Salt City Swing, and his thoughts on the future of the lindy hop dance style.
Anthony Chen is known for being playful, musical, creative, and clear on the dance floor and holds first place titles from events such as Lindyfest, Montreal Swing Riot, Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, and the International Lindy Hop Championships. He strives to build a healthy and positive swing dance community, and he founded the non-profit organization "Salt City Swing" in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he teaches not only the dance of Lindy Hop, but also the history of the dance and its ties to American Swing-era music.
SAMANTHA: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat. I'm your host, Samantha. My guest today is an accomplished dancer, holding many first place titles in Lindy Hop. He is a competitor, instructor, and the founder of a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve and celebrate American swing-era music through dance.
Please help me welcome to the podcast, Anthony Chen. Well, thank you, Anthony. for agreeing to be a guest today. I am so excited to talk about Lindy Hop. So I like to start, first and foremost by asking all of our guests, how did you get into the dance world? What brought you into the dance industry?
ANTHONY: yeah, thanks for having me Samantha. So I had kind of a circuitous way of getting into the dance world. I started dancing when I was about eight, doing more traditional Chinese dances. Like it was something that my mom really wanted me to do. And so I just did some of those performances for my elementary school. I don't know if that's really the thing that got me into dancing, per se, that gave me the bug.
When I was in middle school in eighth grade, I started break dancing, and I would say that's more of my gateway drug into dancing in general. And then when I, I guess two years later, from, it's kind of a strange, maybe a little bit of a nerdy story, but, when I was working at a laboratory, a lot of the other high school interns wanted to go check out this community center where they were doing East Coast Swing and Jitterbug. And so we can go into that a little bit more, but I started doing that in about 10th grade and then didn't really start doing Lindy Hop until college, when I think my girlfriend and I really wanted to learn more about that. And then I kind of made that transition into Lindy Hop, and then started getting more serious about that.
So I guess I could say started swing dancing in general in 2003. That's when I was in 10th grade. So you can do the math and that's how old I am now.
SAMANTHA: Awesome. At what point did it go from, this is a fun kind of hobby that I have to, well, maybe I could potentially teach and become a professional dancer and become a international coach.
ANTHONY: Yeah. I feel like it just kind of naturally transitions to that. When I was in high school and going with my friends, I'd always want to bring my friends to go swing dancing with me, because it was just the most fun, most addictive thing that I've ever done. And so I'd always just be teaching friends.
It was just a whole bunch of teenagers, really. If you can imagine, this huge wooden floor. 200 teenagers in one room, and then like some teenagers in the corner trying to like teach each other, how to throw people around, And then when I was in college, I still really liked teaching. And so I helped to kind of, keep the, we had a group called Jitterbugs Anonymous and this is at the University of New Mexico. And, essentially all of the people who were addicted to swing dancing and I taught for our university club while I was there. Pretty much the whole time, helped run it, helped to kind of keep it going and pass it on to the rest of the crowd that, were also really into swing dancing back then.
And then around that time, I started traveling a little bit more nationally. There's a lot of conventions. We call them Lindy hop exchanges or workshops or events. And I'd start traveling to that, to take classes, to compete. And then just at one of these events, I think the very first one where I started teaching, nationally, someone just approached me after I had been dancing with them and asked if I wanted to do a workshop, in Washington in Spokane.
After that, I just started getting asked to do more and more workshops and that's kind of how that snowball just started going. So it was just a lot of competitions, throughout the States, eventually started teaching internationally. so it wasn't anything that I had as strived to do.
I hate to say that it fell in my lap. I know I have been working like, I think a lot of it's just been from passion, trying to get better at it. A lot of it's just because I really enjoyed it. And I don't think I've ever really gone two weeks without dancing since 2003. except maybe now in this pandemic.
SAMANTHA: That's amazing. That's so cool. I feel like, when you're talking about, you know, "I was just passionate about it," and started getting all of these offers, I think that's something that happens in the art industry, the dance industry, the theater industry, the music industry that wouldn't happen anywhere else I think. Where it's just like, "Hey, this kid really likes this Lindy swing. Maybe we should like have him do a lecture or something." And then the next group is like, Hey, didn't he do a lecture for this other event? Maybe we should hire him too. And it just, it snowballs out of nowhere.
ANTHONY: Absolutely. I think it's a lot of word of mouth, just, you know, people that maybe had taken over class that we had originally where I taught one time, they decided that they wanted to bring me there. I think that's also the case, like what you're saying with, many other instructors and this as well. I'm actually not quite sure I think with, and this is where my ignorance is going to show with ballroom the entire audience that's going to be listening here. That ballroom instructors tend to have a lot of credentials, and have to have a lot of competition wins or that sort of thing in order to start teaching, to be a credentialed instructor, there isn't really anything like that. You just kind of have to show yourself and be heard of as a good dancer or a good instructor to be continually hired.
SAMANTHA: Yeah. The ballroom dance industry is a little bit weird. There are a couple of different paths that you can go. for me personally, I am not a nationally ranked anything. My experience is all just teaching and coaching and getting instruction from other teachers and coaches. but yeah, I feel like with the social dances, and I use the broad term social dance, even though, like you said, there are competitions and there are performances and it's just as much a competitive, sport as ballroom dance is.
But I feel like with the social avenues, it's much more like word of mouth and then you see the same faces over and over again. And it's like, alright, well, we'll, we'll follow you wherever you're going to go. Which is awesome.
ANTHONY: I never really advertised myself. Which I think is bad for business, but I also just kind of let it go wherever it goes in terms of my, my dancing career. I'm professional in a sense that I, I teach a lot of places, but I don't, I don't depend on it, for my income, which is also nice in this particular crisis that we're in.
SAMANTHA: Yes. I'm sure that you have had a much less stressful couple of months than other instructors that are full time.
ANTHONY: Yeah. Yeah, I am so sorry.
SAMANTHA: We all get through it, and we all learn and adapt. But I want to kind of circle back because I feel like we jumped over a huge portion which is for the ballroom audience that is listening. I will throw myself under the bus on this one. We tend to think of Lindy hop as like this thing that we kind of do, but we mix it in with jive and we refer to it as Lindy swing and it's like high kicks and throws over the back. And it's very performance, but it's not competitive in our world.
So, coming from the community itself, what is Lindy hop? Where does it come from? What's the history behind it?
ANTHONY: Yeah. so Lindy hop and also, I feel like maybe your knowledge of, of Lindy hop is probably somewhat similar to similar to my knowledge of Lindy Swing in the ballroom community. so put together our brains here and we can kind of figure out what it all is. But the Lindy hop is a dance, that I know is what inspired triple swing, single swing, Lindy swing, that's done in dance studios, ballroom dance studios, started in the late 1920s, like 27, 28. There isn't really a good, solid story as far as how it started.
I think a lot of it is just passed down orally. One of the more popular legends of how it got its name was that, there was a dancer, who was interviewed by a newspaper who saw him dance, "Shorty" George Snowden. and. They asked him what the dance was, what he was doing. it's just like a lot of quick movement with the feet. A lot of just having the girl fly out several times, and he had seen a recent news article about Charles Lindbergh hopping the Atlantic. And so he just called it the Lindy hop. And that's the name that stuck whether or not that's true. I don't know, but it's a story that lot folks have been throwing around for a long time.
That's kind of what I think has stuck just because it has a lot of zing to it as it were. It is a devilishly difficult dance to learn and a lot of what you would learn in one workshop in one region might actually be very different than what you would learn in a different region. The structure of it is going to be the same.
A lot of the use of momentum and energy is going to be the same, but the aesthetic isn't going to be codified like you might see in ballroom dances. So there might be a specific way that's, and this is where I could be wrong, but in ballroom they might teach a very specific thing that you're supposed to do or like sets of moves.
And then you have to do those specific sets of moves to be able to move on to the next level level, something like that.
ANTHONY: Okay, cool. so there isn't anything like that, in, in Lindy hop and I, when I teach my classes, the curriculum that I have is something that I've put together. that I've also, I didn't make it up per se, but it's just from taking other classes from other instructors.
I'm inspired by a lot of other, really well known dancers that I've worked with. Like Peter Strom, Naomi Uyama. they're dancers from Minneapolis that teach internationally as well. They have a really great curriculum. And so I'm inspired by a lot of these other instructors with their curriculum, and then I can kind of change it as needed just to kind of teach the things that I feel like are important for beginner Lindy hoppers to have in their belt. But something that I teach here could be completely different from the path that Lindy hoppers would, would have for some of the curriculum that they would have over in Minneapolis.
So, in that sense, some people might call it like a street dance, a street swing dance, because it's not codified in that manner. I know that it became. that there was an offshoot of Lindy hop that became East coast swing or Eastern swing back in the 1940s, early 1940s,
SAMANTHA: Forties, fifties, somewhere around there.
ANTHONY: Yeah. Arthur Murray kind of decided that, Hey, this is actually becoming a really big deal. I want to be able to like, put these steps to numbers and sell it, be able to get other instructors to teach this and have people compete with this kind of dance. And I think that's where Lindy swing or East coast swing, that kind of dance had evolved.
I've also heard that it evolved because it was that Lindy hop was too devilishly difficult and it wasn't really something that the masses could, could learn very quickly. and that actors just as couldn't learn it very quickly. So it just, wasn't great for film. Unless you were actually a Lindy hopper, and you had grown up doing that.
So I think there are a lot of reasons why that offshoot for, for ballroom came about. and I feel like that's kind of, the dance that I had started out with, east coast swing or jitterbug, some people might call it too in 2003. And that's what I had done for a few years before I even knew what Lindy hop was. so to kind of give everyone a general idea, it took me about five years before I felt more comfortable with the actual basic of Lindy hop, which is called the swing out. you can learn the swing out in about, yeah I know right?
SAMANTHA: That makes me feel so much better about my experience, my limited experience with Lindy.
ANTHONY: Yeah. so hopefully I won't scare everyone away. and we can talk about that these days. I think it's a lot easier to learn. cause I started, I think YouTube was 2005 and I probably didn't even get into it until probably, after that, but, it's just kinda like trying to look at what people are doing and then trying to figure it out for yourself. And then, the fact that everyone's got slightly different ways that they do the swing out, the Lindy hop basic that you kind of have to pick and choose for like your body type, what feels the best with every partner that you're dancing with. So being able to adapt to the different social situations, I think, so it took quite a long time for me to figure out what I, what felt good to me for the swing out and even my dance partner Irina Azmashvili she has a different, kind of teaching method or structure that she thinks about with the swing out than I do, which I think is great. Just because again, there's just so many different ways to, to think of the theory and to teach it.
SAMANTHA: That's awesome.
ANTHONY: Maybe that answers your question.
SAMANTHA: That definitely does. I'd also say again, coming from kind of a ballroom mindset, do you have a separate umbrella term for kind of the group of dances that come out of that same era? Or is it just broadly Lindy hop and then also Charleston and Balboa kind of get like put in the same grouping, but there's not an overarching term for it?
ANTHONY: Yeah, no, that's a great question. So, there have been a lot of terms that are kind of thrown around and I think a lot of those terms are being put under the microscope in this day and age, I think with the Black Lives Matter movement. I mean, we all know that swing dancing and Lindy hop comes from African American culture, African American history. It's a uniquely African American dance and we want to be able to respect that and pay homage to the fact that it comes from a very difficult time, the 1920s, for African-Americans. So there are certain terms that are kind of. I think the Lindy hop community as a whole are trying to stop using or start using.
one thing that's kind of in conversations right now is calling it vernacular jazz. I think a lot of folks are trying to move away from the term vernacular jazz. So I think right now folks are just calling it jazz dancing, or swing dancing, which I know is a very, very big umbrella term.
So Lindy hop, I think if you're referring, if you were just to say Lindy hop, that probably will refer to Lindy hop and Charleston. Lindy hop is based on Charleston. Charleston is a much older dance that also might even have roots from Africa. And then there's a lot of other kind of predecessors to Lindy hop, that kind of meshed together. So it's just basically a lot of people back in the 1920s, seeing bits and pieces of, of social dancing and put them, putting them all together. I guess the history of that becomes very unclear because it's all very oral. the Balboa and other types of swing dances. I mean, we, again can just call that as part of under the, swing dance umbrella. but you'll see dance events that are just specifically for Balboa. For example, California Balboa Classic is one of the biggest ones.That's in Pasadena or Southern California, and that was a dance that's I don't believe actually came from Lindy.
It was derived from a different dance, but I think they have a kind of intertwined history. I won't go too much into that because I'm not really an expert in Balboa, nor its history. But, there, there are events that combine both Lindy Hop and Balboa. and then there's also events. If you just call it like a Lindy hop event, people will still sometimes do Balboa there, but Charleston will also be included. There's no such thing as like a Charleston event. I think a lot of folks just kind of incorporate Charleston into their Lindy hop dancing.
So, if you were to say Lindy hop, then I think that already kind of includes Charleston in there, then there's a bunch of other lesser known swing dances, a lot of different types of Shag.
SAMANTHA: I was going to say Shag was another one that was coming to my mind is like, I wonder where this fits into the whole puzzle.
ANTHONY: Yeah. and there's a lot of different types of shag too. So, collegiate shag is another dance that. Kind of is, doesn't really fit into either of those umbrellas, like Balboa and Lindy hop. cause there's, there's like collegiate shag events, but it's a small enough kind of dance. It's not as well known that sometimes they might combine it with Lindy hop or Balboa events. That's a dance. If you just look up collegiate shag on YouTube, I feel like it's probably the best way for you to figure out what it is. It's a very, it's a more high energy dance. That is a little bit more bouncy, a little more upright then Lindy hop. Balboa, I think is a lot of folks might describe it as, smoother or elegant.
There's also a Carolina Shag, which is much different than collegiate shag. I think maybe it's a little bit closer, more closely related to West coast swing, in that a lot of West coast swing dancers do it.
SAMANTHA: I may be completely off base in this, and if I am please, by all means, correct me. The only thing that I have ever been told about Carolina shag is it was created so that you could hold a cocktail in one hand and still dance with your partner.
ANTHONY: Huh? I don't know if I've specifically heard that. Natalia who is back there would probably be able to tell you way more about Carolina shag than me. She does that. I know very little about it, but that sounds like it could be correct. It's very, very little upper body movement and a lot of lower body movement. And essentially it's a dance to showcase the lead, typically the male, the lead's footwork. So it's just kind of like the lead peacocking.
I think that's really one of the main things that you'll see if you were to watch a Carolina shag dance or routine. so it's a lot of really fast finesse type, smooth leg movement. and, I would imagine that you could hold a cocktail in your hand while doing it too. Whether or not it was invented for that purpose. I wouldn't be able to confirm or deny.
SAMANTHA: Fair enough.
SAMANTHA: Fair enough.
ANTHONY: Lastly, West coast swing. So West coast swing was another offshoot of Lindy hop. that is also, that's a dance that I'm a little bit more familiar with, but I'm less familiar with the history of it. I believe it started more around the 1950s, and I think it used to be called the Western swing. That's why a lot of folks, well, sometimes if I say that I swing dance, there'll be like, Oh, do you do West West coast swing or East coast swing? And I'm like, yeah. And then I'd have to launch into this 30 minute thing that I just talked to you about. No, I'm just kidding. but the West coast swing is a dance that, and a lot of West coast, I think dancers are probably going to disagree with me here, but it's not typically danced to West swing music in the sense that it's syncopated. It's got that. sings swing rhythm, but it's actually danced to a variety of very big genre of music.
You can do blues, country, Justin Timberlake, as if that's a genre. But just to give you a general idea,
SAMANTHA: I feel like Justin Timberlake's his own genre at this point.
ANTHONY: Yeah, pretty much. And then it can have syncopated rhythms, but the basic itself has more flat, like step-step-walk-walk-walk, as opposed to a step-step-triple-step syncopated rhythm. so that is also a little bit more upright. It's smoother. It's danced to slower music than Lindy hop typically. So that's also kind of its own umbrella too. You typically don't see events that do both Lindy hop and West coast swing, but I'd say those are two of the more popular swing dances you'll see, big events
SAMANTHA: If folks that are listening want to learn more about West coast swing, they can go back a couple of episodes to when I talk with Molly King or James Cook. I had them both on previously to talk all about the West coast community.
SAMANTHA: We got into some competition stuff there with them.
Actually I want to kind of talk about how a Lindy hop competition actually is structured and works. So, you said that it's not codified, there's not a established curriculum or syllabus. Are there levels? For instance, in both ballroom, and talking with James in the West coast competitions, there are like novice beginner, intermediate or bronze, silver gold levels.
Is there a similar, stratification at competitions and how is it judged if there's not an established syllabus?
ANTHONY: Yeah. that's a great question. So this is going to be the most unstructured dance that I think most people are going to hear about. there are levels, but it's a very loose sense. So, in West coast, swing and ballroom, Oh, I don't know about ballroom. You earn points in West coast swing. and then you get a certain number of points and then you go to the next level, right? So if you have a newcomer novice, intermediate, there isn't anything like that in Lindy hop. there was a time I believe when they tried to incorporate points, but it never really stuck. So there are a few folks out there that have Lindy hop points, but they are completely meaningless.
If you traveled to Lindy hop events, there typically will be different levels depending on how big the event is. And there can be completely different names for those levels. So in advanced competition in one, events could be an all star competition and another event, or it could be called open and yet another event. and so this might be super confusing to everyone who's listening, but, I think when you go to these types of events, you'll just kind of see who's dancing there, the general level. If it's a larger event or an international events, they're events like camp Hollywood or international Lindy hop championships, then you'll generally get a pretty good idea for what level you should enter. So there, most of the time there isn't, like a, a baseline for you to be able to enter a specific competition, they might have guidelines, like just a description of where you think you would put yourself. so like the international Lindy hop championships or ILHC, they might say, if you want to compete at the advanced level, then you most likely are teaching at your, at your local dances, you most likely have placed in the top three at these certain events. Or you you're likely traveling and going to a workshop every other week or something like that. so there isn't any one way to really say what level you're at. I think more so it's like if you were to be in the level that you're not supposed to be in, like you just get a lot of flack from the other dancers.
SAMANTHA: Gotcha. Either either you're way out classed or you're way above the level.
ANTHONY: Or you're sandbagging. Yeah.
SAMANTHA: Okay. So, is it a situation where you have, multiple couples on the floor that are all performing at the same time and it's just whoever catches a judge's eye is likely to be either called back or placed higher, or is it more of a solo performance, type situation?
ANTHONY: Yeah, there's a few different ways to do it. So I think, in general, there will be prelims for most of these types of competitions. So the social dancing, part of the competitions, those are called, like a strictly, strictly Lindy. that's where you sign up with a partner and you don't know what that song is going to be.
You'll usually get a few songs in a prelim and that's when a bunch of couples are on the floor. You've got numbers on your back. And you've got a lot of judges that are kind of walking around, looking at people who want to, who they want to dance in the finals. so depending on how big the event is, you might have two judges, you might have 11. And then out of all of the sea of couples that are dancing on the floor, typically you'll have anywhere from four to 15 finalists. and then for those finalists, they'll have a, what's called spotlights. And so each couple will go out into the middle. Just one at a time, sometimes two at a time, if it's depending on how fast they want the couples to go through, and then they'll dance, usually a chorus or half chorus. So like 16 eights or 32 eights, and then so they dance on and they kind of dance for 32 eights and then the dance off. And while they're dancing off, the next couple comes on. the cool thing about this that I think is a pretty different than really any other dance competition is that 90% of the time, this will all be done to live music, to a live band.
SAMANTHA: Oh, wow.
ANTHONY: So you'll have these events, they'll hire a complete big band or like a five, six piece, set where there'll be playing this music. So if you've got 10 couples that are dancing in the final, then you'll have like a chorus and then maybe, eight or nine solos. From the bands that are going to be a kind of essentially mirroring.
If they're a really good band, they could mirror some of the movements that you're doing, which is amazing. It's such a great feeling. And then after everyone's done with their, their spotlight, they might go through twice. Then everyone's going to be dancing at the same time. So everyone, and this is where all of the crazy energy comes and people start screaming is when everyone at the same time, all the couples start doing the basic, the swing out towards the audience. so it's just a bunch of people completely going nuts at the audience as the music roars in the background with the chorus of, of whatever band is playing there. and it's. I think, I think it's actually hilarious that it's the basic, but the basic in, in Lindy hop, the swing out is one of the highest energy things, that everyone loves.
So, that's I think one of the highlights of really any dance competition is just that very end when you see a lot of the best dancers at that event, doing the swing out all in time, to, to the crescendo of the, the, the band there.
SAMANTHA: That has to be a crazy experience.
SAMANTHA: I'm thinking of the couple of times that I've had the opportunity to perform, to live music and just having, having the energy of a live band when you're performing or you're dancing. It just cranks everything up just a little bit more. And if it, like you said, if everyone's in a line and they're all doing the same pattern and you know, like you have to do this basic the best that you could possibly do because. The judges are going to see if, if you're out just a little bit like that.
SAMANTHA: That has to be such an adrenaline rush on both the part of the performer and the competitor. And just for the audience, seeing that, that has to be a crazy experience.
ANTHONY: Absolutely. And it's not even anything that you have to do, every once in a while, there's going to be a couple that doesn't do it. it's no one ever tells you to do it, but it's just something that is known in the Lindy hop community that, in the All Skate, which is the very end of that finals section of the competition, all the, all the couples, just do the swing out for maybe eight eights. because that's what just gets the crowd wild. and the judges at that point usually have already decided who they feel like should be in first through eighth or whatnot. and so the judges are also just going nuts too. as, as all of this is happening. Yeah. It's just really a good time.
SAMANTHA: That's awesome.
ANTHONY: If there's maybe any tiebreakers then the judges still might be paying close attention to like the couples that they want to, or splitting hairs between, but. In most cases at this point, I think a lot of their decisions have already been made.
SAMANTHA: That's cool. That's really cool.
ANTHONY: So that's the main kind of setup I think for the competitions. I mentioned strictly Lindy. The other one where it also happens to be like, in a similar, structure is called a -- and this is difficult too because there isn't really a specific name that we have now for it. A lot of events call it a mix and match it. It's formerly known as a Jack and Jill, and I know in West coast swing, they still call it a Jack and Jill. And essentially it's where you sign up by yourself and you don't have a partner, and you get, you rotate through a lot of the other people that have signed up as a leader or follow, and the reason why in Lindy Hop more specifically, we've stopped calling it a Jack and Jill. And I think this is really over the last maybe three or four years that it's changed, is because it's very heteronormative, it means that there's always gonna be a guy that's leading it. There's always going to be a girl that's following, which is not always the case. I love following, my partner loves leading, we switch a lot, and there's a lot of, there's a lot of women who are primarily leaders and there's a lot of men who are primarily followers.
Yeah. And so it's, has kind of. Set them out on the, on the fringes by just calling it a Jack and Jill. So to be a little bit more inclusive, a lot of events have started calling it to mix and match, but you might hear other names like the social competition or luck of the draw. So depending on the event that you're at, there might be a few different names for that too.
SAMANTHA: Interesting. I, I really appreciate that move and I feel like hopefully over the next couple of years, over the next, you know, five, 10 years. That all dance styles will start taking a critical look at how we refer to leads and follows. The fact that we refer to them as lead leads and follows now more frequently than ladies and gentlemen, or as you say, Jack and Jill, you mentioned earlier when we were talking kind of the history of the dance, taking a look at where dances come from and are we really honoring the culture and the history that created these wonderful styles that we're now, you know, adapting and changing and doing, whatever it is that we're doing to them.
ANTHONY: I really do like how the Lindy hop community has been very progressive in that sense. And I think, because of those kinds of changes, I know the West coast swing community is also slowly getting there. They have, I think a committee that really oversees a lot of the official competitions and the naming and the judging criteria and everything like that.
So that's a lot more codified than what's happening in the Lindy hop community. So I think change is harder, in that sense for West coast swing. But I know recently, for example, they've started allowing same sex couples, to compete and win. So, and that's, I think it really in the last two years or so, and that was a huge win, I feel like in that community too.
So it's, it's happening just very slowly.
SAMANTHA: Yes. Yeah. We, you guys are ahead of us ballroom just this, well end of 2019 said, Oh yeah, maybe we should allow non-gendered partnerships. Maybe that's the thing that we should start doing. Yeah. But we're all getting there. So kind of thinking about that, like what the future of the different dance styles. I wanna first start with just getting your opinion. Should there be an established curriculum or syllabus for Lindy? Do you think that's something that the sport would benefit from or is there something unique about the fact that it's not written down on paper yet?
ANTHONY: Yeah. I personally really love the fact that there isn't anything that's codified in Lindy Hop. Very much like with the English language, there's a lot of different ways that you can a lot of different dialects as it were, but you can still understand, you know, someone from Texas as you can, someone from New Jersey, it's just different in the way that they talk. And I think that really adds a lot of flavor to the dance. So I can still swing out with someone from Montreal, as I can from someone in LA, and someone in New York. So, or even in, in South Korea, Lindy hop is huge. there's thousands and thousands of swing dancers. There's like 15, maybe 20 dance studios and there's dancing every single night specifically for Lindy hop. And there isn't a specific way that you have to learn it.
Whenever I teach the dance, I typically will say that, or start off in my classes, that the way that I'm teaching is the way that I found to be most comfortable for me and most helpful for me. I've learned a lot of different ways of doing it. So when you learn something from me, I want you to take the things that feel the most comfortable for you. And then if you learn something else from another instructor, you can incorporate that into your dance as well. and so I think because there's a lot of different. shapes and sizes of dancers, there should be a lot of different shapes and sizes of the dance itself. really whatever it is that you feel comfortable doing.
SAMANTHA: Yeah, absolutely. I really appreciate that. That's something that, for me personally, I like the structure of ballroom dance. I like the fact that there's very clear set of rules and a clear set of syllabus steps for bronze and silver and gold. I think the, the heart of what you're saying and the essence of what you're saying is something that I wish students of ballroom dance would learn earlier, which is learn from a bunch of different people and then figure out what feels good for you and what works for your body.
I feel like in my industry, in the ballroom dance field, it's not until you have several years of instruction under your belt or lessons under your belt that you go, Oh, this doesn't really work for me. I need to find my own path or I need to feel like I can make bold choices that work and speak to my experience.
ANTHONY: Yeah. I think that's really helpful. I think because sometimes I'll even get students that will take a class from me and they'll be like, this is not how I learned it at all. Like I learned I was supposed to do this and I'll be like, Oh cool. Like, that's totally fine. If you want to do it that way. These are the reasons why I don't do it that way. and in some cases, if they were taught or if they kind of were, under the impression that there one specific way to do it, I think it's a lot harder for them to be able to branch out and figure out that there are other ways that could potentially be more comfortable for them.
I feel like a lot of social dances can benefit from that. especially social dances, really, because you're going to be dancing with a lot of other people that all have different nuanced ways for their dance. And so you want to be able to adjust your technique to the person that you're dancing with. Right? Because if you're just dancing like Samantha every single time with no matter who you're dancing with, I think that you're not going to be as enjoyable a partner as if you're able to really adapt to whomever it is that you're dancing with every three minutes. So I think having that background to be able to, to adjust and adapt to the dancing to your partner makes you a better dancer too.
SAMANTHA: Definitely. Dance at its heart, whether it's social, competitive, performance, it's a conversation between two people, right? And if you go into every single conversation with the same tone of voice, the same agenda, the same talking points, then you're not actually listening to the person that you're conversing with.
ANTHONY: Yeah. And that's also what I love about the Lindy hop community. And the fact it's such a wide, widely traveled dance is that when you go to a different, country to go dance, you don't even have to speak their same language. And you might feel that the connection could be a little bit different. but in some cases it is, it is still very much similar enough that it feels like home no matter where you're dancing.
SAMANTHA: That's awesome. That's that's what you hope for right? From a dance community is that you can go anywhere and that it still feels just like your own backyard. speaking of your own backyard, let's talk about Salt City Swing.
So it's an organization, not a business. It's an organization, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. You offer classes, you've got to, well, hopefully at some point in the future, you'll have classes and events, but what is it? where did it come out? Where did it come from and why the choice to make it an organization rather than a for profit business?
ANTHONY: Yeah. so I started Salt City Swing, and we had a different name back in 2017. but this is something that has always been a passion of mine, and I really want it to be something that's community led. so we have a whole board and we have, we were able to kind of talk about what we feel like is best for the community.
We are able to organize workshops that way. so it is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. And, we do teach classes out of Ballroom Utah. every, we did teach classes and hopefully will again soon. And the, the mission of, of Salt City Swing is to be able to, preserve and also educate, people in salt city, salt Lake city, but also in Utah in general, about the history of swing dancing of Lindy hop and the other, dances that fall under the swing umbrella. So to be able to help keep that going in salt Lake city.
So it's just kind of a passion project of mine that I am really excited, that there's a lot of other people who also love the dance as well. So it's definitely a group thing, that is slowly growing. we've every week, we have several different levels. We've got like our, level one, level two, level three. So people just straight off the street, who've never had any dance experience can, can learn. You don't need any dance partners. We rotate, very much in like mix and match competitions. so you gotta be able to practice with lots of folks that you've never met before. We also have dancers that are taking classes that have been dancing for years. so it's a really great community. We have, used to have, weekly dances, and we also work with Excellence in the Community, which is the Galivan center. They have live music there, typically in the summers, and a lot of folks go there to go swing dancing as well.
So sometimes I'll be teaching a lot of the swing dances out there every once in a while too. So, it's a really fun thriving community and I'm excited to be a part of here in salt Lake.
SAMANTHA: Yeah, it's really cool. It's so weird. So since we moved to salt Lake, I, with Ballroom Utah, have assisted in teaching at the Excellence in the Community events every single summer and not being there this summer, it's felt
ANTHONY: so weird.
ANTHONY: Yeah, I know. I feel like summer hasn't started yet. And it's already July,
SAMANTHA: it's already July and it's 98 degrees outside today, but it doesn't feel like summer yet. Yeah. so, with that, because the majority of the classes that you were teaching, hopefully will in the future teach, are group classes, because you made the point of saying you don't need a partner, we rotate partners. Have you started having those conversations about if and when it's safe and prudent to start teaching again, how you're going to change things or are you putting off specifically coming back because you want to kind of keep the same essence that you had before all of this hit?
ANTHONY: Yeah, that's a great question. so I think it is definitely prudent to change things with the times. it is definitely not a good idea to have folks come in and touch hands and breathe on each other. Breathe, breathe on other folks that you don't know. so. When we do come back and social dancing is likely to be the last thing of everything to come back, just because of the fact that you are going to be dancing with strangers, but when we do come back, there are going to be a lot of, safety measures in place to really help reduce the chances of spreading Covid. They're have been a lot of conversations. I don't know what we'll do specifically. I don't know if we have a really good answer right now. I think we're just constantly learning about what we can do that's going to be helpful. Masks will definitely be helpful. It sounds like. And then also it may be helpful to come with a partner or your own, your social bubble as it were. so that way we minimize, intermingling of different groups, which essentially could turn into a super spreader event. so figuring out if there are people that, that can show up with a partner or a small group that, that will just stick together and not rotate, and will likely be something that we'll have to do.
There's also solo jazz dancing too. So that's another option. Where you don't dance with a partner, you can dance to you're by yourself to the exact same type of music that you would typically dance lindy hop to. It's called solo jazz, or solo Charleston, and, it's I think actually a pretty good thing to have under your belt. When, even if you're more of a partner dancing person, if you don't ever really expect to be doing solo dancing, I think it's just because it helps you with body awareness. It helps you with rhythm and moving your body in a way that is consistent with the aesthetic of, of Lindy hop. So that also is something that we'll likely have a focus on to.
These days there've been a ton of online solo jazz classes coming from the Lindy hop community. As a way for folks to stay in touch with the dance, but then also for instructors to be able to help support themselves and to make money when they can't teach in, in person. So that's also another option that we're looking at too.
SAMANTHA: Yeah. I feel like, again, coming from the ballroom mindset, that's a conversation that I've been having with a lot of fellow instructors, which is okay. So we've been teaching online classes for the last four months now, that have all been in the solo space. So how do you as an individual work on your specific technique and your body awareness and what drills can we make you do for 45 minutes that you would absolutely refuse to do if you were in the studio because you want to be dancing with another human being? So the fact that there already existed a solo dance style for the Lindy community, I think is just a step ahead of where we are right now.
ANTHONY: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I can feel for that. It's not something that everyone does. And it is in some cases kind of like pulling teeth, trying to convince, Lindy hoppers who are only social dancing or the partner dancing that, that solo dancing is important. so maybe we're just like a small step ahead, but it is, it is an actual, like there are solo jazz competitions, so it is a very real and big thing. there's a social there's solo jazz events, even too. That's not as common, but it's there, there are a few out there.
SAMANTHA: Very cool. I will have to check that out after, after this. the last thing that I wanted to kind of circle back to, and then, just in general, if you had anything else that you wanted to talk about, today for the, for the episode, I wanted to talk about a music video that you were in, As all of this craziness started, Lizzie and the Triggermen put out a music video, The Dance Song, parentheses the end of the world, as we know it, on April 1st and you and your lovely partner, appeared for like two frames
ANTHONY: pretty much.
SAMANTHA: So, so how did that happen? How did you get, involved in the project and what was that experience like?
ANTHONY: Yeah. So Lizzy and the Triggermen, they're a fantastic band. They had reached out to Nikki Marvin who owns, he was one of the co-owners of Atomic Ballroom over in SoCal, in Orange County, and Irina Azmashvili, again, my partner, she used to work over there. So she moved here to Salt Lake City from Orange County, and Nikki Marvin had reached out to us just to see if we wanted to be a part of this music video. Nikki was working with Lizzie and her band on putting this together.
So we were like, sure, and they basically just asked a bunch of dancers. They gave us the song beforehand, and asked us to dance to the song in a well lit rooms or like in the living room. So it was just a bunch of people dancing in their living rooms to the song. And so we just took the video, sent it back to them and they had just put together, I forgot exactly what the statistics were, but maybe like 15 countries, dozens of dancers and dance couples, that were featured in this music video.
So it was kind of fun to be able to just be a part of that.
SAMANTHA: That's awesome. Did they tell you what section of the song to choreograph too, or did you put together choreography for the whole piece and then they just decided which clip they wanted to take for it?
ANTHONY: Yeah. So we just all danced the whole thing. None of it's choreographed. There might've been some folks that choreographed their sections, but we just social danced it and, probably did it a few times just so that we could figure out what the music sounded like. but there weren't any real choreographed movements. Kind of a side note, a lot of times when there are folks that see Lindy hop, they ask, how did the partners know what the movements are going to be? And maybe this happens in ballroom too, but it's just a lot of connection, a lot of solid connection, to your partner and to the music. So a lot of times when you see something and you think it's choreographed it really isn't. That's also kind of the fun thing.
SAMANTHA: Yeah. That makes it so much more impressive. Along those lines, so ballroom very much lead and follow kind of the, you know, whoever's leading is going to create an opportunity for something to happen. And then the follow we react to it. West coast swing, when I was talking with James and Molly, much more of the yes and approach kind of taken to the extreme where the lead sets something up on one, two, and then the follow can create whatever they want, essentially, within those bounds on three through six.
Where does Lindy fall in kind of that, that spectrum?
ANTHONY: Yeah. it's definitely not as much of the "yes and" that West coast swing has, because a lot of the time, a West coast swing, you can dance to maybe 70 to 120 BPM or so I'd say is a pretty solid range. 120 is kind of on the fast end for West coast swing. 120 is on the slower end for Lindy hop. I'd say that's a very slow, comfortable rhythm for Lindy hop, and the syncopated triple step is actually what makes it easier to dance faster. So, medium tempo for Lindy hop would be something like 180 BPM and faster would be 220, 240, 260. That's something like mimics fast tempo
SAMANTHA: Jive or Quickstep tempo. I think maybe even a little bit faster than that.
ANTHONY: Yeah. We don't really dance that fast all the time. I don't want to scare everyone away by saying that we're always dancing at 240 BPM. I'd say that's more like competition type of tempo, or if you wanted to have the whole floor, just get into one jam circle because no one wants to dance. 240 beats per minute for four minutes. But because the dance can be done a lot faster, there is a lot of, the dance. It is completely lead follow, but the follow is, depending on a lot of the energy that you're providing in the dance. There's a lot of stretch. There's a lot of momentum. a lot of, kind of, making sure that the amount of rotation that you're leading is clear to the follow, And there is maybe some interpretation, I'd say there is definitely interpretation on the follows end.
So there is definitely a conversation, and there also is the idea that the lead will kind of open up a space. we'll kind of create an energy and the follow can interpret that energy, in a few different ways. And then the lead has to then react to that. Right. So very similar to ballroom in that sense. but I think it is maybe a little bit more imperative that the follow still maintain that trajectory, that the lead had created. If I create a big linear stretch, the follow, 99% of the time really should go through. and, and complete the energy of that stretch. because if the follow doesn't, then we, if you're going at 200 beats per minute, then that could potentially be catastrophic.
SAMANTHA: It feels like you're running into a brick wall, just coming to a complete stop.
ANTHONY: Yeah, So it's a lot of energy redirection, and it's very important to be able to utilize the connection of with your partner and the counterbalance or stretch with your partner to move into the next thing.
SAMANTHA: Awesome. couple of thoughts that I had, in there one, a lot of times watching, watching videos on YouTube, which we know is dangerous. I see, you know, the lifts and the tricks and the dips, and someone's swinging around somebody else. Again, obviously you would prep with your partner, okay. These are the tricks, and these are the lifts that we are capable of doing in our arsenal. Is there something where you're looking for a specific musical cue in order to do a particular pattern or is that one of those audibles where you're like, okay, after this, we're gonna, we're going to do the thing.
ANTHONY: Yeah. Okay. So you want to like get into how sausage is made in Lindy hop. So there are a few different ways that people can kind of cue aerials or air steps, typically in a competition.
When you're watching a YouTube video and people are doing their spotlights, I'd say the two most common are that there are going to be choreographed sections, so 16 eights of choreography. The thing with jazz music is that it's very structured. So even if you've never heard a song before most of the time there's going to be the beginning of the phrase and some sort of ending of that phrase, either in four eights or eight eights, if it's a blues structure, it might be six eights. And so you'll know that there's going to be some sort of a conclusion to that musical sentence after eight eights. So then you'll say, okay, well, we're going to choreograph this little section and we're going to put an aerial at the eighth eight, and that aerial is going to take eight counts. And then after the aerial, you move on to the next section.
So if you're dancing 16 eights, maybe you'll do an aerial on the eighth, eight, and then you'll continue dancing and then do another aerial on the 16th eight. That's one way to do it, and I think that's a little bit more common when you have that kind of spotlight thing and you know what the musical structure is going to be like so you can choreograph that beforehand. Not everyone does that. A lot of folks will be able to kind of have a movement before the aerial that feels maybe slightly different than the aerial itself. You might, they may potentially tell their partner or kind of give them a look to say that there is going to be this specific aerial coming up. And I think also there is going to be some sort of connection with the music because most folks are not going to just do an aerial kind of in the middle of a phrase where it doesn't really fit. It doesn't have that huge bang that's gonna match the aerial. So that's another way that some folks will kind of know that an aerial is coming up.
It's not a social thing. You won't see aerials on the social dance floor and it's actually looked down upon because that's how people get hurt.
SAMANTHA: let's go ahead and highlight that. Put it in bold, put a flashing neon lights around that. Do not do aerials on a social dance floor.
ANTHONY: Yeah. That's how it was described back in the nineties, twenties and thirties too.
Like aerial, Frankie Manning, we call him the ambassador of Lindy hop, he was the inventor of the airstrip and when it became more popular, even back then, that was something that was really just for performances or jam circles. So it wasn't ever really done as a social dance move.
SAMANTHA: Good to know. I have definitely, unfortunately, been part of this, and I know that it is prevalent within the ballroom community. If you are on a mixed social floor and there are Lindy dancers, most ballroom people kind of go, Ugh, because at least once in our history we've been kicked in the face or caught an elbow or something from presumably novice beginner dancers that did not know better. Folks that were like, yes, this is a swing song, let me see if I can toss my girl over her head. It's like, No, not here, not now.
ANTHONY: I apologize on behalf of the Lindy community for that ever happening to anyone. That's something that I feel like a lot of folks come in to swing dancing. Like that's their, their gateway drug. They're like, Oh, I want to be able to throw my partner in the air, so I'm going to learn swing dancing, but really that's like less than 1% of what swinging dancing is. You really don't do it ever unless you're in a performance team or if you've got a regular partner and you're doing a jam circle somewhere. So it's not, it's not a real thing and social dancing.
SAMANTHA: It's a good, it's a good thing to know. And it's a good thing for our listeners to be reassured that it is not reflective of the larger community if you've had that experience. So that's good. Awesome. anything else that you wanted to kind of talk about? Any other of those like, pieces of information or tidbits that folks should know if they're interested in getting into the Lindy community.
ANTHONY: Yeah. I probably should have mentioned this earlier. but a lot of folks think that you have to be a teenager with perfect joints in order to dance Lindy hop. but really you don't. So I know I had mentioned that you can, some of the dancing can go up to 240, 260 beats per minute, but when you're at a social dance, most DJs, depending on the region where you're in, but a lot of times they'll hover around like 120, 140 160, Which is a very, very comfortable tempo when you're dancing Lindy hop, and so you really don't need perfect joints. It's not a lot of bouncing and not a lot of jumping, contrary to the half of the name of Lindy hop. You're not hopping the entire time. It's, it can be very smooth, and it can be very low energy in the sense that that, you're not going to be winded after every single dance.
So when you go to some dance events, you might start dancing at nine and you might not get off the dance floor until five or six in the morning. And you're not going to do that by jogging the entire time. By sprinting the entire time. So there's, folks of all ages, Frankie Manning, the person that I'd mentioned before, he had danced all the way up until he passed away at the age of 94.
If you were to look him up, which I completely recommend, if you just look up Frankie. In fact, I have a book right here. This is a fantastic book, to learn more about the history of swing dancing. Frankie Manning is probably the reason why a lot of us are doing Lindy hop these days. And maybe even why there is, Lindy or triple swing in ballroom too, is because he and many other dancers back in the day had made a lot more popular, popular enough for dance studios to really notice Lindy hop. But if he can dance it at the age of 94, then I feel like that's pretty good evidence that really anyone at any age can do Lindy hop.
It's not necessarily an athletic dance. You can make it an athletic dance if you want it to be. But I actually very much prefer dancing, very lazily and conserving my energy. I think that's one of my tenants when I'm teaching it is that you want to be able to be as efficient as possible to be able to dance as fast as you need.
SAMANTHA: Well, you've certainly converted me. I will be honest. I have always kind of looked at Lindy and gone. Yeah, that's fun. But, I'm 5'10", and I'm long and gangly, and I just look awkward if I'm moving quickly. I think I've always seen it through that ballroom lense. So when all of this calms down, when we can, we can go back in the studio and be around each other without worrying about the plague, I will sign up for some lessons with you so I can experience Lindy hop in a, in a calmer, easier fashion.
ANTHONY: That'd be fantastic. I have some folks that you can look to, really tall follows that are very elegant, that look fantastic with their dancing and they may be tall and gangly, but I think it's there. It really is for any height, any length of arm, to be able to dance the Lindy Hop.
SAMANTHA: Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you, Anthony so much for being a guest today.
ANTHONY: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Samantha.
SAMANTHA: Thank you so much for watching or listening to this episode of Ballroom Chat. If you'd like to support Anthony and all that he's doing with his nonprofit, you can find out more information at saltcityswing.org, or you can follow him on instagram at salt.city.swing or on Facebook at slash SLC swing.
I've been your host Samantha with Love.Live.Dance. You can find this and all of our podcast episodes at lovelivedance.com/podcast, or at ballroom chat across all social media platforms. You may have seen that we recently launched a Patreon page at patreon.com/ballroomchat. If you become patron, we do appreciate it, and you'll unlock bonus content as well as some behind the scenes episodes.
Thank you so much for watching stay safe, stay positive. And as always, I hope to see you dancing.