Then and Now: Skye Humphries

Staying home most of last week due to the two biggest snowstorms in recent history here in DC, you would think I would have gotten more writing done than I did.  Instead I ended up passing the time by ripping a bunch of VHS tapes to digital videos.  Last count, I had about 200 clips ripped, but my internet connection isn’t that fast, so it’ll take me some time before I get them all online.

It’s been fun going down memory lane with these videos though.  Over on the last post for “Artistry in Rhythm,” I’ve gotten a couple of comments from Julius whose been talking about the element of joy that seems to be missing in many dancers coming up these days.  It’s hard to talk about something like that, but fortunately I’ve dug up some clips that I think illustrate his point.

Here’s Joanna Jackson & Skye Humphries in the Junior division at the American Lindy Hop Championships in October, 2000.  They’re dancing to “Stormy Monday” by Barbara Morrison.

For a bit of comparison here’s Skye dancing with Naomi Uyama at SeaJam on Feb 22, 2009.  The song is “Sweet Lorraine” by Teddy Wilson.

Part of the fun in watching Skye dance back then was that his performances alone were events unto themselves.  You couldn’t take your eyes off of him because you couldn’t predict what was going to happen next.  The reason for that was because not even Skye knew he was doing.  Seriously, I’ve watched these videos with Skye years later and to this day he can’t tell you what he was thinking.

I think part of it was because he was a 17 year old kid with lots of skills and ideas and not a lot of focus or discipline.  But he was just completely in the moment with no agenda other than to dance the sh!t out of whatever song was playing.

Years later he’s a lot more deliberate in his movements and choices.  You can see in the 2009 clip that he’s much more “partner oriented” whereas in the previous clip he and Jojo are not dancing anywhere close to with each other.  How she follows half the things he does is still a mystery to me to this day.

Check out the section starting at 1:27 of the ALHC clip.  I don’t even have a name for that sh!t, and I doubt he learned it in a workshop anywhere.  But it’s an inspired movement fueled by a burst of energy that drives the crowd crazy.

The SeaJam clip is a much more partnered dance.  1:08-1:20 is a nice contrast to the previous sequence.  He’s doing things with Naomi instead of abandoning her to do something completely separate.

I don’t want to imply that an emphasis on partnership means a sacrifice of enjoyment.  (Now there’s a terrible piece of relationship advice)   Skye is just a different dancer today than he was back then.

However, I’ve come to realize that the circumstances these days don’t foster that kind of reckless abandon.  Skye and the other members of Minnie’s Moochers were mostly high school kids dancing for their own amusement with not very much guidance from more experienced dancers until much later in their development.  Competitions were so new that no one thought there would be a long term point to them.

It seems like we almost have too many precedents now.  We have such an embarrassment of riches in terms of teachers and different techniques that it’s easier for people to skip over that awkward experimental phase much more quickly than dancers did back then.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it is limiting in some sense.  It would be great of we can remember the value of letting go.

Check out this clip from the North Atlantic Dance Championships Champions’ Lindy Hop Jack & Jill with Skye drawing fellow Moocher Simnia Singer-Sayada.

Towards the end, well . . . I don’t know either.  But he went through a stage where he kept doing it for about a year.  Check it out in the Champions Jack & Jill at ALHC 2002 where he dances with Caitlin Wellman.

It seemed like it was just a weird phase never to be seen again until I saw this in a performance during the Jump Session Show in 2008.

That extended, inexplicable phase got busted out and floored the crowd in a mere 8 counts.  A moment at least six years in the making.

Part of what makes Skye such a strong dancer is that he draws from a canvas of physical movements that is very broad compared to what people think they can get away with now.   It makes his more conventional dancing these days that much more nuanced even compared to other super advanced dancers.

This is the Invitational Jack & Jill at the International Lindy Hop Championships from 2009 where Skye dances wuth Marie Nanfelt Mattsson.

It’s light years from the 2000 performance in the sense that he’s not kicking and flailing around like a mofo every other beat.  Instead he adds  more subtle movements to basic patterns.  Check out the hop steps during his  charleston at 0:31 and his stop on a dime hesitation at 0:49.

A lot of people tend to write off what Skye does as random.  These days it doesn’t seem like a lot in comparison to the past stuff, but those little movements come from a deep well of previous experimentation and risk.

So think about taking some more time to let it all hang out to find your own sense of movement.


  1. Ann said,

    February 16, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Oh man, that ending from NADC 2002 is probably my favorite Skye moment of all time. Of all time! Pure embodiment of jazz right there.

  2. March 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    […] Skye’s dancing so much is that he fully embraces the freedom offered to him by this dance. Watching him in his earlier career, it is easy to see the sheer creative force driving his actions. Coming to the dance as a much more […]

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