The following is the fourth and final part of a questionnaire that Skye Humphries filled out for an article entitled “The Party’s Just Begun” that appeared in August 31, 2008. It only used a few sentences out of the 12 page response that Skye sent back. It’s a print magazine, so it’s not available online. Skye sent this to me last summer just to read. I thought it was too interesting not to share so I asked him permission to post it here. Since it’s pretty long, I’m chopping it up into four parts. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here and part 3 here.
Let’s talk about the places where you can Lindy Hop – If I wanted to start, how could I do that?
Most major cities have a Lindy Hop scene. The best place to start is the internet- finding the local dance and going out. Of course lessons are a helpful way to get a handle on the basics, but the most important thing is to go out and start moving to the music.
People have been teaching themselves to Lindy Hop for years and years. All it takes is a little practice, and with Lindy Hop, practicing and doing are the same thing.
There are some great camps, and most organizations put on a few workshops every year. These can also be a great way to start to work on one’s dancing.
The dance can be a little intimidating and a little overwhelming at first but the important thing is not to be frustrated. It is a very friendly scene, and people are usually more than happy to dance with someone new.
International competitions: Could you tell me why the competitions are important? What is going to one of those like? Which competitions are the most important on the circuit?
ULHS, Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, is the most important competition right now. it happens in Minneapolis in October. [ed. note: ULHS has since moved to New Orleans, LA] Showdown is mostly a big party for dancing with periodic contests during the course of the dance.
Showdown is the most successful because it has made the biggest effort to move away from a model of competition based on Ballroom Dance rules and conventions, and [tries] to develop formats that reflect the unique nature of the Lindy Hop.
The spirit of the event reflects what many people feel are some of the core attributes of Lindy Hop:
- Innovation not conservation
- An emphasis on personal expression over perfection of patterns.
Competition helps push the dance and the dancers to new places. I’ve always liked the forum it allows for dancers to really watch each other and push themselves to do new stuff. Because Lindy Hop is a social dance, there is actually very few forums in which we can show each other what we are doing and get new ideas.
Of course Lindy Hop is also a very exciting dance and it is always great to see great dancers dancing their hardest.
Under pressure something new almost always comes out.
We’re a teaching magazine, so I wanted to speak about your work as a teacher of dance for a bit. First, what goes in to being a good teach[er]
For me the feeling comes first, so I think a good teacher is someone who inspires people to dance, helps people find the joy of dancing, [and] lets the technique be a means to an end; not the end in itself.
From my experiences as a student and a dancer I have always appreciated the individuality of Lindy Hop, so a good teacher for me is someone who helps people find their own ways of moving- helps people find ways of expressing themselves rather than giving them static patterns to adapt to.
When people start dancing for the first time they have a tendency to throw away all the knowledge about movement they have accumulated from walking around. I think a good teacher helps people use the knowledge they already have to dance- encourages people to find their own ways of dancing based on the shape of their bodies and their natural movement patterns.
Who have you taught and who have you learned from?
My most important teacher was Steven Mitchell, his classes also inspired me as a student, as a social dancer, and later as a teacher myself.
As a dancer, do you have heroes? If so, who?
- Steven certainly first and foremost.
- A man named Frankie Manning who is one of the original dancers from the Savoy Ballroom, an amazing dancer, and a real gentleman.
- Dawn Hampton
- The group of people I started with, Minnie’s Moochers,
- and now the Silver Shadows.
- My dance partner Frida Segerdahl
- Charlie Chaplin
- Bob Dylan
What are you thinking about while you’re dancing? Are you counting? Are you thinking about what you’re going to do next, etc. etc.?
What I love about Lindy Hop is that it doesn’t need to try to be anything else. In Lindy Hop, styling is practical. Nothing stands for anything else. The movement fills out the music. Form and content are one and the same.
It’s a very practical, pragmatic dance, and it is that simplicity and directness that I find so meaningful and complex.
At the end of the day it is about two people holding each other to music, and that is very beautiful.
The partners and the music are there in the moment with movements that have been done for 80 years, and they are simply trying to make them true in that moment- do them in some way that allows them to make sense then and there.
I am always trying to reach that place where thinking stops- or I should say [where] thoughts are simply replaced by motion.
“The way I like to write is for it to come out the way I walk or talk. Not that I even walk or talk yet like I’d like to. I don’t carry myself yet the way Woody, Big Joe Williams, and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves.”
– Robert Zimmerman, A.K.A. Bob Dylan (interview with Nat Hentoff- The New Yorker, October 24, 1964)
To me this quote says it all. The connection between history, dancing, and self-expression. I am just trying to dance the way I walk. The challenge is walking as great dancers before me have- not copying their motions but instead carrying myself as they have.