Your Bio Sucks

I don’t think that many people read this blog.  At least not many Lindy Hop instructors do. If they did, then they would know better than to put up all of the craptacular instructor bio’s I’ve been looking at lately.

One of my first posts on this blog was about dancer bios.  I’m in the middle of a little project that has me checking out a ton of Lindy event and dancer websites.  I’ll reveal the reason for that in the near future.  But as I’m going through all these sites, it’s becoming apparent that people don’t seem to understand the reason for a bio.

If you don’t want people to know basic information about you, then why bother writing one at all?  For some reason, many instructors seem to treat the bio as an opportunity to tell inside jokes that only their friends would get—the very people who are least likely read such a thing.

Here’s one of the worst examples out there:

Lindy Hopper. Belly dancer. Hair-removal Laser Technician. The mysterious figure that is known only as “Nina” (and sometimes “Naomi”) has many titles from prestigious dance competitions. But that’s only a small part of her accomplishments. For instance, she can swivel in midair. She can simultaneously create vintage-style dresses and then destroy them while dancing. She can make 12-minute biscuits in 10 minutes. She writes upbeat musical theatre involving funeral homes. And last, but not least, she is a part of the award-winning Lindy Hop team the Silver Shadows, which sounds like it’s a group of super heroes. And that’s what she is. A Super Hero–one whose main super power is doing swivels in midair. And one day, they might save the world. Until then, she lives in Washington D.C. and falls down a lot.

This is a terrible example of a bio if your name isn’t Nina Gilkenson. Even for her, its barely acceptable.  She can get away with it because she’s one of the most recognizable dancers in the Lindy Hop scene.  Even if she stopped dancing tomorrow to have octuplets, (and I’m not saying that’s about to happen, but I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility) she’d still be one of the most famous dancers of this generation.

I’m sure everyone has read it because it seems like many instructor bio’s try to sound just like it.  People trying to copy everything that Nina does is nothing new.  But like her movements, people miss the point and do all the obvious stuff badly while ignoring why it’s done that way.

It’s Nina’s case, it’s satire about perceptions.  In your case, I guarantee you that no one knows who you are, so no one has a perception of you, which means you have nothing to satirize.

When I, as someone who doesn’t know who you are, read a bio, I need to know a few very basic pieces of information.  Yes, you are essentially helping potential creeps me harmless strangers stalk you.  You might have some privacy issues, but if you’ve put yourself in a position where you want me to pay you money to learn to dance, then you’re just going to have to get over it.

Here’s a few tips that can also apply to anyone writing a short professional summary.  I just happen to be making fun of helping Lindy Hop teachers.  At the bare minimum, once I’m done reading a bio, I should know the following:

Your FULL name: You can’t imagine the amount of detective work I sometimes  to do just to figure out the full names of some of you people.  How hard is it to put your first AND last name in your bio?  Remember that you don’t know what context your bio will be re-posted online.  If you don’t include your full name and the event promoter does something cute (re: stupid) like refer to all the instructors by only their first names, then no one will know who the hell you are.  There are very few people that are known just with their first names.  You are not one of them.

When you started dancing/teaching or whatever you are doing for whatever event you are hired:   Structure this by indicating what year instead of saying X number of years ago because you know you won’t bother updating it, or if you return to an event, they may re-use it without asking for an updated one from you.

Good Example:  I started dancing in 2000

Bad example:  I started dancing 10 years ago

Where are you from and where you live currently:    The reason is simple:  Future potential business.  Maybe I’m from there or will be passing through on business.  I can look you up for a private lesson while I’m in town or may refer a friend who lives close to you.   Also, combined with when you started, this will tell a grizzled veteran like me a lot more about your dance education than anything you can ever write.

A SHORT summary of your dance related accomplishments:   I don’t need to see a full list.  This isn’t a CV or resume.  Sommer & Dorry altering an an algorithm to match up kidney donors faster would be a really cool exception, but even they don’t list that on their dance bio.

I just want to know what you’ve done to assure me that you have some idea that you know what you’re doing.  You might want to list a couple significant contest wins, but I really don’t need to know that you made the Jill & Jack finals at OLHC (Obscure Lindy Hop Competition).   I think any kind of teaching experience, even if its not dance related, is more useful for prospective students to know than the number of times you lost a contest registration fee.  My favorite phrase from a bio for not even placing in a competition: “You may have seen me in competitions such as [name drop here].”

Journalism 101 students have probably noticed that we’ve covered four out of six of the basic questions anyone should ask to understand something or someone.  Why & How are questions that are best addressed outside of a bio for an event.  The main mistake that people make is taking the “bio” part too literally.   Just because someone asks for your bio doesn’t really mean that they want to know your life story.

Generally your typical bio should be one paragraph.  If you’re feeling particularly loquacious, then leave a longer one for your website.  In fact, put your website in your bio.  If someone really wants to know everything about you, then they’ll go to your site.  As I’m scanning info about an event and the 10 other instructors, I don’t want to spend a lot of time reading your novella.

Whatever you write, assume that whoever is reading won’t know who you are.  Because if they know already, then they won’t be reading it anyway.

No No’s

Saracsm and irony are bad ideas.  True story: an unnamed dancer *cough*michael*cough*seguin*cough wrote in his bio that he was on the run from the law for killing a man.  Let’s just say that even though some people can speak the same language, humor doesn’t always translate.  There will be time for jokes a plenty after students have given you their money and you’re all in a locked classroom where it would be rude of them to run away or point out that your grammar sucks.

Monologuing.  A bio is not the place to discuss the meaning of the dance because I’m already asleep by the end of the first paragraph.  Save that for your blog. Don’t have one?  Well if you’re so inspired to write so  much about yourself and what you think about everything, then maybe you should consider getting one.

Name dropping.  This could be a problem especially if said person ends up in jail.  This has happened more than a few times.  Your bio is about you.  Don’t make it about somebody else.

Semantic Gymnastics.   You did not “study under Frankie Manning.”  Dropping in halfway through his Shim Sham class does not qualify you as his apprentice.

Bonus Pro Tip:  Read your bio where ever it gets posted to make sure it doesn’t start out with something that will distract from everything else you wrote like “From the vibrate Lindy movement in . . .” This was actually posted somewhere.  I’d quote the rest, but you won’t remember anything else other than those first few words.

Just remember this is not a creative writing exercise.  I don’t want to read haiku’s and I don’t want to wade through so much noise that I have to look up the WRRC website to find out where you’re from.

Here’s a good example of what a bio should look like:

Nina Gilkenson and Andy Reid hail from Washington DC. They are competitors, performers and teachers of Lindy Hop. Between them, Nina and Andy can lay claim to more than 25 national Lindy Hop titles from some of the most prestigious swing dancing competitions in the world, including the North Atlantic Dance Championships, the American Lindy Hop Championships, Hellzapoppin’, and the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown. Performance credits include television appearances on PBS; Apollo Theatre; Lincoln Center and concert performances with the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Aretha Franklin. Their classes focus on authentic Lindy Hop technique, musical interpretation and the history of the dance.

Nina and Andy are two of the founding members of Silver Shadows, a recently formed troupe who performed in Harlem, NY at a tribute event for the surviving members of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, as well as tap legends Jimmy Slyde and Fayard Nicholas.

When Andy and Nina are not dancing together, you can often see her drop kicking him. In fact, sometimes she dropkicks him while dancing in front of hundreds of people who paid a lot of money to watch. Life is funny sometimes.

Notice that it’s structured so I can cut off one or both of the last two paragraphs if I need space or seriousness.  In fact you get everything you need to know in that first one.  Also, that last paragraph is funny because it’s true; not some made up BS for BS’s sake.

Lesson for today:  If you can’t be both honest and creative, at least lean towards honest.

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8 Comments

  1. Kenny said,

    April 8, 2010 at 12:47 am

    thanks for this information. this force me to reread recent material and send new material out.

  2. Bryn said,

    April 8, 2010 at 4:30 am

    Writing dance bios is hard, largely because the information people want to see is subjective. Personally, I don’t give a crap how long someone’s been dancing. That information is pretty much useless. I want to get a sense of their focus when it comes to dancing and teaching and I want to be able to find decent video of their dancing. And I want to get a sense for their personality. If that means there’s a joke or two in their bio, great. At least that tells me something about them in a way that the year they started dancing never could.

    • Jerry said,

      April 8, 2010 at 10:39 am

      Bryn, I have to agree and disagree with your first statement mostly because people make it harder by talking about all kinds of stuff that not everyone wants to read. You’re right, different people may be looking for different things, but at least everyone should be able to get some bare minimum facts about you. Regardless of what else you want to say about yourself, it shouldn’t be that hard to throw in a sentence like “Jerry Almonte is from Washington, DC and has been teaching Lindy Hop since 2001” It’s clunky and inelegant but you’re not being judged for the Pulitzer Prize. It also leaves you all kinds of room to talk about your core values or your teaching manifesto about tuck turns.

  3. Freddie said,

    April 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I do agree that, as a teacher, of course you should assume that people don’t know you already and give the relevant information firstly. I also agree with Bryn that an insight into their personalities gives much.

    Mostly though, I’m just fed up with the standard clichés. You really could write a ‘standard’ bio for swing dance teacher where they just would have to change a few words here and there along the lines of;

    Has been dancing since xx when he fell in love with swing music and lindy hop. Has since then gone on to win numerous awards at competitions such as yadayada. Started teaching in xx and has taught in countries such as blablabla. Is a leader of his own scene in some way.

    Has studied under the original masters and is widely recognized for his amazing something something.
    His super unique approach to teaching involes creating a positive atmosphere where connection, technique and moves are explained in a fun way. Something about musicality and being authentic and tr00. Most of all though loves social dancing though you won’t see me out on the dancefloor during the dancenights at all. (ops. have to scratch that last part)

    Loves to share knowledge and helping you become the bestest dancer you can be!
    (Have to fit in ‘passionate’ somewhere to)

    • Kevin said,

      April 10, 2010 at 4:53 pm

      This is true, but it’s directly related to the giant contradiction of the Lindy Hop world that is emerging; The “Lindy market”. The Lindy hop world is one of self expression and individuality, where comparing dancers ought to be akin to comparing apples to oranges. Problem is, alot of dancers are falling in love with Lindy Hop; and when I say dancers, I don’t just mean Lindy Hoppers. Alot of studio dancers are drawn to the freedom, self expression, individualism, and partnership that solo dances don’t often have. Not to mention the harsh world of Modern, Ballet, Contemporary, etc. Comparatively, our (the lindy hop community’s) competitiveness and hostility, which definitely exists, is basically nothing. The amount of people being exposed to Lindy hop has grown a great deal, and more importantly, the amount of people who make dance their life
      has grown as well. Lindy hop seems to have only recently taken an interest and shine within the studio dance world. Even six years ago, Lindy hop looked too uncontrolled and wild to appeal to a studio dance crowd. But the dance has matured a great deal, and in my scene alone, I know at least five dancers who were trained in studio dances like modern, like ballet, performance tap, pointe, etc., who have also fallen in love with lindy hop and want to take that passion and love somewhere. Here’s the problem; the way a typical classically trained dancer makes a living off of dance is to get really good, and then start teaching. Local scenes aren’t usually enough to support someone teaching lindy hop, and the minute people learn that the best method to improve one’s dancing is to differentiate, it becomes difficult to keep a constant source of income.

      The only other ways dancers know to make a living in dance is to join a performance company, or create one on their own, and do traveling shows. Even for the best of the best Lindy hoppers out there, this is still a long way off from being viable. So the choice becomes this; make this dance a hobby and learn a different trade, or get good enough to teach and travel, good enough and acclaimed enough that enough people want what you have that you can keep a steady flow of teaching gigs to support yourself.

      The way the lindy hop market is set up, you have to sell out, at least some, because the only real way to make a steady income WHILE doing what you love is to teach and travel. However, Organizers won’t hire a dancer or dance pair without accolades from some “authoritative” source. Winning a competition is the most sure fire way to do that, but every class on competitions I’ve ever taken or heard about from others starts off, “It all really depends on the judges, and it’s really subjective.” The only thing they all agree on is “Be Unique, be interesting, and grab the judges attention.” One instructor even suggested walking around all the performers in order to keep the judges attention. So competitions change from being a creative collaboration to becoming a vie for the judge’s approval, and the judge’s approval is the key to that first step to being able to do what you love for a living.

      Which leads to the biggest inherent contradiction of the Lindy hop community en masse; You must be yourself to be respected, and because competitions are one of the most visible elements of the dance, if you fake it out there, EVERYONE will know, and everyone judges you. Because being “real” is the key to connecting with the community you belong to, you can’t risk selling out and dancing to the judges. I know I’ve definitely chosen to avoid hiring certain instructors because of the way they compete. But if you want to make this dance your career, winning, not placing, in major competitions is one of the only ways to gain the respect and trust of the community that you want to make your life.

      So the problem is that you’re catering to a market that values individualism and creativity, but only when coupled with independent evaluation on a completely subjective measurement, and this doesn’t even touch the subject of what competitions mean what and to whom. So how do you not include your accolades along with your individualism in a package that’s easy to consume without being too personal and emphasizing the fact that you value teaching the class as well as the students, in addition to assuring potential students that you won’t bore them or that you know what the hell you’re doing? How do you be yourself while still proving that you adhere to some standard while still assuring everyone that they’ll enjoy the class while still being “real”?

      The Lindy hop world is a small place, both by age and by the nature of the dance, and the passion of dancers who find a love for dancing lindy hop as well as teaching it and want to take that somewhere are just as valid as the instructors who were “chosen by the scene” and didn’t need to really deal with these issues.

      But everybody knows everybody, and unless you’re already so amazing a dancer that you can basically do what you want, you live off the reputation you make. I live in a pretty small scene and even I get recognized by people I don’t know when I travel (not full name basis and competition history, but still).
      I would love to teach Lindy hop as a living, meager though it may be, and I would love to dance all my life. Honestly, it IS the only thing I’m artistically passionate about, as I’m sure it is with a great number of “younger” dancers. But unless you’re already a standard for this dance, making strides into it isn’t easy to do.

  4. April 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    I agree with Jerry, keep it short and simple. If you want to exert some creative juices, write a blog.

    Kevin, I also tend to agree with you to some extent on the nature, er…the contradiction of Lindy Hop. There is a major political card to be played in the dance world, much of which is judged subjectively. However, I do think all of that depends on how well you own your own individuality. Some of the most unique dancers that maybe don’t “look” like everyone else in their style win and place in major competitions because they own that unique style. But that’s a completely different topic to discuss. =)

  5. Michael Seguin said,

    December 14, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Dearest Jerry,
    Yours truly always satirizes himself in bios, because I recognize that I have no business whatsoever teaching at fancy events. When people are silly enough to seek me out (I do not promote my shit; I have no website; I have no ambition) I get in touch with my silly side.
    You should add a new category of dancer to your taxonomy, even if I am the only member: “Dancers who will sell out enough to teach at your event, but will not be proud of it.”
    Love,
    Michael

  6. May 23, 2011 at 1:33 am

    […] 8-12 people who for the most part have no dance experience whatsoever. Jerry Almonte’s post Your Bio Sucks though is something to take in account, last thing I need is something that looks ridiculous when […]


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