The Barbell Perspective

I noticed something very cool at the end of the video for the All Star Invitational Jack and Jill at this year’s Lone Star ChampionshipsPeter Strom and Karen Turman shared a memory in the form of one of the first aerials they learned together when they started over 10 years ago.

Few other people in that room got that reference.  Among them, were the two people who went up to hug them at the end of that jam—Mike Faltesek and Amy Johnson—because  they were arpund the first time it happened back in Minnesota where they’re all from originally.

(check out the 2nd place couple starting at 2:28)

It struck me that enough time has passed that a lot of people aren’t aware of these kinds of connections.

Coincidentally, during one of the late nights at the last Lindy Focus, the head DJ- Rob Moreland-made the observation that the event felt different because of a noticeable divide in demographics of the dance floor.

He noticed that there were are a large number of veteran dancers who were at the event just to dance, so there were a lot more people closing out the late nights.  Newer dancers did the opposite: go to the camp meetings, dance through the main dance, and then turn in early to have enough energy to get through the classes during the day.

Over at the blog “The Rantings of a Lindy Hopper,” Alice made the following observation about the Southern California scene not too long ago.

Another peculiar quirk about our scene is that even though we have so many amazing dancers that are very accessible to everyone weekly, there is a large gap between the ‘pros’ and the other dancers.

Pro may not be the term I’d use, but I’ve noticed the same sort of gap in DC with the added observation that there seems to be an inordinately fewer amount of people who have been dancing four to seven years.

Lots of newbies and lots of veterans.  But fewer in-betweens, relatively speaking.

From talking with people and personal observations I think this imbalance is an indication of the way people have come into the dance over the years.  During the so called “Gap Revival” of the late 90’s, people took up Lindy Hop in huge numbers. Although the number of newcomers has remained steady over the years, we haven’t seen a comparable wave since then.  So if attrition hits each yearly “generation” equally, then there’s still a larger number active dancers from the neo-swing era than from any other period.

However, I think attrition might actually be worse for the post neo-swing dancers since those people have fewer peers to keep them in the scene.  It is a social dance after all, even for the veterans.  Aside from the actual dancing, it seems that people come back more to hang out with friends than to meet new people; at least as time goes on.  People with fewer peers and contacts in the scene have less incentive to dance as much as they did when they first started.

Meanwhile the business paradigm for most dance promoters is to usually focus on attracting and cultivating newer dancers.  Most of the money out there to be made is from classes; whether they are offered in weekly formats or weekend workshops.  In fact, I know of at least one promoter that considers holding dances as marketing expense rather than as a significant or dependable revenue stream.

So there’s this growing constituency of experienced dancers.  Many of them are very good, and aren’t necessarily interested in traveling to learn.  Probably because they have shifted dancing down the priority list and partly because the cost/benefit of taking classes doesn’t make it worthwhile financially.  However they can and will show up to quality events.

It’s interesting to note that a good number of dancers in this demographic were notable instructors and competitors not too long ago themselves, but have dropped out of the national scene for whatever reason.

A lot of this occurred to me while I was hanging out at Lindy Focus during the days not taking classes.  It was nice to relax in a hotel, but there were times where we wandered the hotel with no purpose other than to find into other people in the same boat.

Is it worth trying to cater to this crowd?  And if so, how do you do it?  Speaking for myself, I’m pretty fickle when it comes to dance events and honestly I’m paying to dance and hang out with friends.  While it might have been nice to have a non-dance activity or two to participate in during Lindy Focus, I’m not sure what could be programmed that would be worthwhile and cost effective for the organizers and the attendees.  I have a couple ideas that we might test drive at ILHC this year.  We’ll see how it goes.

Although I will say that much fun was had showing that 2nd clip up there to people that week.    Part of it was from seeing Mikey in that awesome sweater, but I think there is a genuine sense of nostalgia of those days which doesn’t necessarily have to be about bad dancing.  Check out Peter Strom, Mike Faltesek,  Amy Johnson in this clip from 2001.

Hard to say how this dynamic is going to affect our scene in the future, but I doubt that it is going to change any time soon.

Anyone else have any thoughts about how this will affect the scene or personal views on interacting with dancers a different stage of dance addiction than you?

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17 Comments

  1. Sandy said,

    January 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    This is actually something I’ve given a bit of thought but not put into words, so excuse any bad writing. In longer-established scenes, it’s really difficult for intermediate dancers to really break through their skill plateau short of being a ridiculous pest to experienced dancers. And if the experienced dancers in your scene are thinking of moving away, or have moved dancing slightly lower on their priority list (and are not attending dances), it makes it even tougher for the intermediate dancers. There are so few intermediates, tons of beginners, and a bunch of the blind leading the blind.

    With level-inflation in workshops and fear of injury, the intermediate dancers are kind of between a rock and a hard place, often eschewing group classes for more costly private lessons. These private lessons are infinitely valuable, but if it’s rare that you can really practice/put the advice to proper testing. (I’m defining proper testing as being able to dance with someone who can give you constructive feedback, which generally tends to be people who are at a higher skill level) That makes the value of the private lesson really only stretch a few months as you twitchily try to recall everything your instructor said to you during each dance, and kinda break your brain and maybe even make a funny grimace as you swivel or s-turn.

    Intermediate dancers, though, are the ones who tend to bring in the beginner dancers and nurture them to become better, which helps attrition. Beginner dancers just want to share their new-found joy and fun, but lots of people without internal motivation won’t stay in a hobby they aren’t getting better at. No offense beginners, but you’re not all that qualified to make other beginners better. Experienced dancers socialize a lot and it’s more difficult for a friend brought under that context to a.) not get intimidated and b.) not just fall into socializing instead of dancing. I find that intermediate dancers are that happy medium. It’s much less scary to ask your friend to help you out than an instructor you’ve never met before. But with intermediate numbers dwindling as they get discouraged in the previously described circumstances, the attrition rate goes down, both because they might leave the scene and because they’re not available to help mentor beginner/new dancers/each other.

    As for keeping the veterans engaged in an event/scene, I still have yet to come up with methods other than: have a really smooth venue (preferably with a real bartender and/or awesome floor that’s not a gym or a hotel near other awesome nightlife), a really casual feel, and intensely awesome jazz.

    • Katie said,

      January 30, 2010 at 10:35 am

      When you say “the veterans,” (keeping them engaged), do you mean the intermediate ones, the advanced ones, or both?

      • Jerry said,

        January 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm

        I meant the advanced ones, but its a rolling definition so it would include anyone who sticks around for a long time.

  2. January 27, 2010 at 12:48 am

    I taught the hand clap turn in a class this weekend in Vancouver.

    • Jerry said,

      January 27, 2010 at 9:07 am

      That should be the next generation mini-dip.

    • Apache said,

      January 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm

      Now I am very curious to see what this “hand clap turn” looks like.

      More related to the topic though, as a swing dancer of only two years I agree with Sandy’s sentiment of how intermediate dancers feel. At several of the workshops I have been on the West and East Coast, level inflation has been a problem to the point that at one large workshop in California a bunch of people took the partner-only “masters” track to avoid having to deal with other dancers.

      As a college student, private lessons are very costly, so short of as Sandy put “being a ridiculous pest to experienced dancers” I have to rely on using the various avenues of self-evaluation, information from workshops I attend and the opinion of an occasional willing peer to make progress.

    • Katie said,

      January 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

      Mike, is the “hand clap turn” what Hal from Minneapolis does on about “5” every time he lets a follow go into a free-spin?

      (He ingrained that into my brain so early on I still do it involuntarily w/ other dancers, and it really makes them laugh.)

      • Jerry said,

        January 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm

        We’re talking about the move in the second clip in this post at 2:44.

  3. Alex Dupler said,

    January 27, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    It would seem to me that what these comments are basically saying is its hard to become a really really good dancer. Now, I wasn’t around back then, but all these so called “pro” or “old school” dancers, what resources did they have 10 years ago that we don’t have now [besides Frankie :'(]?
    As for level inflation, at the last workshop i was at, Naomi (funny how it always comes back to stuff she said) made a point that at workshops what you get out relates rather directly to the attitude you take. As an extension of that, I think, you get different things out of different kinds of classes (‘easy’ classes where you are above the average level, and ‘hard’ classes where you struggle to do the moves). It seems to me that its important to take both kinds of classes, and to have both kinds of people in every class!

    However, I think the point jerry is trying to make, is that these ‘old school’ dancers look for very different things in events, and maybe this is something that event organizers need to be increasingly aware of. On top of that, it is certainly true that the longer you dance the less likely you are to give it up, and that there WAS a dance boom at ‘the turn of the century’. And by the way, it seems to me there might be another one going on now (or maybe thats just Seattle being awesome ;).

  4. Kevin said,

    January 28, 2010 at 3:46 am

    Easy way to keep beginning and intermediate dancers, as well as “old school” dancers.

    Crack

    How will it affect our scene?
    WAY more exciting, and a lot more STD’s.

    • February 3, 2010 at 6:39 am

      BAM! You said it. That’s actually how I don’t have to sleep at events, I do the late nights and get up a 8:00 for the master track auditions. WIN-WIN, ‘cept for those black outs…

      Also, Jerry, I’m jealous over the amount of comments you get! Our world domination plan is well on it’s way! Muahahaha! But seriously, I need to write more quality stuff… HA! YEAH RIGHT, like that’s ever going to happen! And we definitely need to keep blogging about each others blogs, It really helps the world domination and all… It’s all working better than I ever dreamed…

      And Alex, Naomi should just have a t-shirt that says “touche” and wear it everywhere. However, I think it’s because she is such an amazing teacher that she is able to teach an all-levels class and spew golden nuggets of lindy-wisdom to everyone in the room. Every class at Killer Diller blew my mind, without exception. Yet most teachers, probably because they are lazy or just don’t think about it enough, will just teach a stupid move that the students will never ever use on the dance floor. God knows how many intermediate classes I have walked out of because of this. So I don’t blame the students at all, I blame the system of teaching beginners bad technique and then trying to fix it for the next 2 years while trying to keep them interested. ZING!

  5. shawn said,

    January 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    The 4th gal in that Lindy Movement clip from Chicago is Niki Amundson, also from Minneapolis, but she’s not [locally] so much anymore.

    Jerry – Fantastic piece, yet again.

  6. Katie said,

    January 30, 2010 at 10:29 am

    So there’s this growing constituency of experienced dancers. Many of them are very good, and aren’t necessarily interested in traveling to learn. Probably because they have shifted dancing down the priority list and partly because the cost/benefit of taking classes doesn’t make it worthwhile financially. However they can and will show up to quality events.

    It’s interesting to note that a good number of dancers in this demographic were notable instructors and competitors not too long ago themselves, but have dropped out of the national scene for whatever reason.

    I’ll admit, I’m having trouble figuring out who these started-dancing-post-swing-revival-but-became-notable-instructors-and-no-longer-are people you’re referring to are. :-\

  7. March 13, 2010 at 9:41 am

    […] post stemmed from a comment I made on Jerry’s post a while back. Ah, If I had a dollar every time I said […]

  8. March 29, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    […] post called “The Barbell Perspective” got a lot of thoughtful responses.  That surprised me because I wasn’t very satisfied with it […]

  9. January 14, 2011 at 7:56 am

    […] I wrote a bit about this situation last year, and have been wondering how the community will deal with this dynamic in general and how an event like Lindy Focus can deal with it specifically. […]


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