I finally got back home after all the flight delays and cancellations, thanks to Iceland's friendly volcano. Balboa on the Promenade was a nice event, the floors spoiled me, as i had forgotten momentarily how easy dancing is on nice floors.
I was quickly reminded of how horrible the floors can be here, throw that in with the harsh conditions and lack of etiquette and we have a completely opposite world of dancing. The obvious difference is, between entering into a bar where the majority of people are tourist, or entering a dance, where the majority (i think it's safe to guess 100%) is there to dance with partners.
The nice thing about going out within the swing scene, be it, Lindy, Balboa, Blues or Swing dances is the floors are always nice, normally there is room to do whatever dance it is your at, and of course you get whatever music the owner of dance chooses, (this can be good but it's most often bad in my opinion), and lastly, you can meet like minded people at these "dances" where dance is the focus.
As i was hanging outside the Spotted Cat, while one of the bands went into a barn burner i quickly grabbed a girl and squeezed into the front of the band stand. It was a hot humid night, the Tourist were loud, drunk and screaming as the band went from chorus to chorus, I couldn't help but think of all those years hanging out at the Derby in Hollywood.
The Derby had 2 places to dance, the front room which was a tiny floor like the Spotted Cat (at least the Derby had a good wood floor!) and then there was a back room as well which fit a few hundred , but that would be standing room only as well.
This was at a time in my life when dancing was all about showing off, and i needed space to do all my tricks and stretch out my dancing like the old time Jitterbugs did. Coming, up so to say in this atmosphere is something i look back to as being the most awesome learning process a person can have. It didn't take long for me and my friends, to work the crowd, knowing how to make space, dance small, and because it was live music we also knew how to dance a long time.
This was nothing like going to a dance sponsored or put on by a dancer, this was different, this was, well...the "Real world", as opposed to the "Dance world"of everything made perfect with nice floors, nice music, nice mirrors, nice lockers, nice people, nice dancing, nice nice...
I guess it's fine and dandy for some people to have this sporting type environment, but one thing is for sure, i would have never of been interested in the first place , let alone learned how to dance in that atmosphere....however, the Spotted Cat or DBA , now those are places to learn! Cramped, all tempo's, mixed rhythms, obnoxious people in the way...yeah! Now we talking!
Like my earlier days, we didn't take lessons, instead we would show up nightly and stake out our little corner of the floor, and that's it...mess around all night. Night after night, tourist pack the clubs coming to see New Orleans Jazz, and in the 90's for us, it was Swing Music, a disgusting comparison to say the least, But the parallel for someone going out to dance in a overly cramped bar in a sea of drunk tourist is undeniable.
What Challenged the dancers in the 90's was the amazing tempo's some of these bands could play, although we had no idea how to dance properly, hell if we didn't try! more often then not in those days i was just running as fast as i can around my partner, or holding her close and frantically kicking.
The styles of music changed through out the week, from Jump Blues, 1920's bands, New Swing, Be Bop and various Rockabilly styles of bands, something we were lucky to have and embrace, allowing us the chance to learn various historical dances and actually use them while out having fun.
As i travel around the world, i rarely see anything that resembles that environment and if there is some type of place it's not often, and certainly not 7 nights a week, and then add another club...and another...Those Hollywood years of dancing among tourist is long gone...
A night on Frenchmen street, here in New Orleans brings those years all back, especially after arriving home from a Balboa Festival.
The bands in New Orleans don't need tempo's to challenge a dancer, their rhythms alone can be a roller coaster of call and responses and breaks, blues, and latin's...the crowds tend to be drunker then the tourist in Hollywood but they can just as easily be corralled, and the floors...well, even if you get a small section of wood at DBA, expect beer all over it.
Lastly, and the most important is knowing how to dance, it's really not so much an ability, as it is an etiquette or knowledge. We see great dancers show up all the time and simply fall into the category of reckless, and while everyone enjoys a good time, it's that "everyone" part, that some forget, starting with the person they are dancing with and ending with those around you.
One of the responsibilities of a knowledgeable dancer is controlling the floor to protect the musicians, from drunk dancers, and wild dancers showing off. Most commonly protecting the trombone player, and at places like the Spotted Cat the Piano player as well.
While this can be the ultimate atmosphere to learn how to dance, it's certainly not ideal for "Lindy Hoppers", who tend to need more space to dance, and have troubles knowing where their feet are.
Remember a Tourist is just that, someone coming through for some entertainment, normally they get drunk, often extremely drunk, and it's not surprising when they do something stupid, it's almost expected...but dancers are different, regardless if they are coming through town, local or otherwise, for the simple fact they already have a respect for the music and those that play it.
well, i'd expect they would...however, not all dancers feel like this, and those that don't fall into the "tourist" category, while other dancers fall into "musicians" category, being they are there for the music, they dance to the music as one of the musicians and are aware of the surroundings.
Musicians see they have someone on the floor looking out for them and can feel more relaxed, instead of being scared and jumping every second someone does something flashy in fear of slamming into their instrument and splitting their lip.
Unfortunately, things happen, bottles break, people fall, it's all in fun...and then someone kicks the tip jar...not cool. Tourist, ok, whatever...expected, but, but a dancer? There is no excuse for dancer, to kick the Tip Bucket, and aside from scrambling to collect the money, the first thing you should do is buy everyone in the band a drink.
This happened at Preservation Hall, and the dancers where blind to the fact they even did it. The situation was discussed, and while the Band decided to continue to allow dancing, it was clear what type of dancer was to blame and the type of dancing. Thanks to who ever that was, we were reminded on why there would ever be signs that say "No Lindy Hopping".
If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that's good for you, but don't be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentaly kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio's and festivals but in the real world all bets are off....
Lucky enough, this atmosphere is the best to learn, and while teachers can show you what they do, it's best to let the music tell you or guide you, and the more time you spend on the floor the better, that's the real teacher. With the music here, and the amount of dancing you can do, anyone can get great at dancing in no time...... if they have the will to do so.
The most valuable lesson on being respected in the real world has nothing to do with skill, it's purely etiquette...
In the real world, nobody cares if your a beginner dancer, expert, fireman or doctor, republican or Hippie, everyone is just in the Bar celebrating Jazz Music....and the only thing nobody likes are people kicking over the Tip bucket.
Need i not remind you New Orleans is probably the most famous place on planet earth for drunk, barfing, stumbling Tourist...all it takes is one, well....you know.
The smokey Bars, tiny amounts of space, the concrete floors.....ah, yes, obstacles....all kinds, i love em all...and i haven't even mentioned the music yet..... that is what makes this place the greatest place on earth.
I mentioned earlier, "The real world" , as opposed to the "dance world" (dance studio, events and festivals, where everyone can get together and do the same standardized dance) and the truth is, very few people on the planet get to dance in the real world, and i don't mean just visit, I'm talking on a daily basis...and that is what makes this place so Amazing. Damn, it's great to be back....!!!!
I'll end this ramble with a joke:
Q: "whats the difference between a Lindy Hopper and a drunk tourist dancing?"
A: "Drunk Tourist dancing don't kick over the tip Bucket!"