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All About That Dance Life

I think that any long time reader will be aware that I’m quite into dancing. Whether it’s in the kitchen, at a festival or in classes, I am all over that. Dance is fun, there’s no set rules and you can do it alone or with your besties or with a whole load of strangers enjoying the same music.

So this year, when I decided that I needed a weekly fix of dancing, imagine my delight when I discovered DanceXchange. Based in Birmingham (at the Hippodrome, no less), DanceXchange are a charity dedicated to promoting and creating great dance. Which manifests in several ways including professional performances, the International Dance Festival Birmingham, and, most relevant to me right now, dance classes.

From Flamenco to Ballet to Urban Fusion, DanceXchange offer a wide, wide variety of classes for all abilites. They even have a professional class, so dance professionals can expand their knowledge base. And it’s so cool! Open to everyone, most of them are after 6 so that you can go after work and not only are the classes not especially expensive, but you can get a discount if you pay in advance for a string of classes.

I was meant to go to Street Dance, and I tried really hard, but just got there too late. It’s a popular class, and so they were all booked up when I turned up. So, determined to do some kind of dance, I asked if there were other classes starting at the same time. Reader, there were. Lo and behold, Swing Dance beginners was about to start and would I be interested in joining that class?

Yes, yes I would. I love swing dance and am pretty evangelical about how great it is. So yes,   I was gonna go learn how to lead in a beginners class. And it was so good. Big class, lovely instructor and fantastic people in the class with me.

Thanks to DanceXchange, I can indulge my passion for dance easily and cheaply, and I am so excited to actually be able to keep up my swing ability. if you’re in the Brum area and looking for a new hobby, why not check out their classes? Bet you find something you like.

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Swingamajig – A swinging good time

Last time I said that there were many stories to be told, including my travels to Sweden and Liverpool. And this is true. Unfortunately, I’m blogging remotely today so I don’t have any photos from these places. However, I do have my photos from Swingamajig 2016 and so that’s what today’s post I all about.

Last weekend it was my birthday and as well as clubbing, I dragged Beth to Swingamajig with me. I went to Swingamajig by myself last year and had a fabulous time so I had high hopes for this year.

Held in the Rainbow Venues in Digbeth, we walked past some excellent graffiti on our way down, and were greeted by a big top. Turns out that was the main stage. I do love a good big top. First things first, we had a wander and my goodness, was it bigger than last year. With six stages, a swing dance room and a vintage market, Swingamajig really out did themselves this year.

After watching Jon Udry Punches Gravity in the Face, which was a spectacularly named, incredibly entertaining juggling act, we headed to the Arch Stage to see The Rin Tins. I saw them for the first time at Swingamajig last year and were a big part of the reason I wanted to com to Swingamajg this year.

And they were fantastic. The Rin Tins a) are a great band to see live, b) play what they call thrash jazz and c) get everyone dancing like a maniac. They’re so good – and they’re playing Glastonbury this year! If anyone’s lucky enough to be at Glastonbury, you should check them out.

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All of my other photos were blurry – I was dancing that much.

When we were danced out, me and Beth ended up watching a burlesque act that INCLUDED FIRE. Fire eating, fire breathing, fire running down her arms…. It was incredible. And also adds credence to the You Gotta Have A Gimmick song from the musical Gypsy.

We eventually found burritos and then wandered to The Night Owl which was the swing room, so I could ask strangers if they’d like to dance. Everyone was super lovely, I bumped into some friends from University and I even got some excellent dances. Despite my new years resolution, I really haven’t done all that much swing this year and it’s so lovely to go to a social dance and just have fun.

After a pint in the setting sun, we wandered back to the Big Top to find Electric Swing Circus beginning their set. ESC are the founders and organisers of Swingamajig and put on a great show. I’ve not really listened to them much, but I really enjoyed seeing them live.

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Electric Swing Circus in the Big Top. I love it when names comer together.

Eventually me and Beth wandered off, looking for seats. And instead we found Troy Savoy ft live Sax from Eugene the Cat. Regular readers might recognise the name Eugene the Cat as I saw them back in December when I was out in Stuttgart. So what we were faced with was a swing rave, formed of a DJ and a live saxophonist. It was so good. I’d go to that again in a heart beat.

After sitting at the Vintage Roof Terrace for a good hour, looking up at the stars and listening to the strains of upbeat swing and jazz, we decided to head home. Swingamajig was excellent last year and it was excellent this year. It was bigger and better and I’m so glad that I got to go. Would highly recommend for next year. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Shiny, happy people.

 

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Nottingjam 2: Rise of the Toast

Last year I went to Nottingjam and it was the first swing dance weekend I’d ever been to. It was so much fun and I learnt so much and you can read all about it here. There’s something magical about swing weekends, and I am so grateful that from the 4th to the 7th March I got to be at Nottingjam 2016.

I was so excited by the prospect of Nottingjam that I booked both the Friday and the Monday off work so I could spend as much time as possible dancing. As it turns out, my trains were delayed and when I turned up to my hotel, the fire alarm was going off. Not the most auspicious start. But any reservations that were starting to form melted away when I headed to the first social of the weekend.

Held at the Belgrave Rooms in Nottingham city centre, the opening social was a chance for a) people to arrive in Nottingham, b) people to ease into dancing and c) old friends to catch up. Since graduating and moving to Birmingham, I’ve seen less of my swing friends than I’d like and I spent a lot of the Friday social catching up. There was some dancing too – despite my new year’s resolution I’ve only been to two swing lessons this year, and it was good to start the weekend nice and gently.

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There was both toast and jam.

Saturday classes started at 10am which meant plenty of time to wake up and wander down to The Canal House, where the Level 2 lindy stream classes were taking place. Nottingjam had 3 lindy streams and 2 solo jazz streams. I signed up as a level 2 follow, and it was great.

Simon Robyn at the European Swing Dance Championships 2015

Our first class was with Simon Bressanelli and Robyn Larsen. To begin with they talked about communication during dance, which included an exercise where you had to look your partner in the eyes the entire time you were dancing. As someone who is very guilty of not making eye contact with partners, it was really useful to be reminded of the need to check in while dancing. The second half of the lesson they taught us how to learn steps from Youtube by simulating a Youtube video. I’m not gonna lie to you, I thought it would be really difficult to figure out a move just from watching it, but it turns out that with a willing partner, it’s really fun to experiment and even if you don’t quite get the move you were aiming for, there’ll be some cool moves you hit on accidentally along the way.

Scott Cupit and Jenny Thomas at Hullzapoppin’ 2015

Second lesson was with Scott Cupit and Jenny Thomas, the latter of whom choreographs swing routines for Strictly Come Dancing. So you know, no pressure there. With Scott and Jenny we focused on swing outs, particular ones where follows are sent out facing front. They’re really good for performances because it means the follows are facing the audience, and there was no better demonstration for that than the all skate in the Open Jack and Jill competition that night. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We also learnt some footwork variations for front facing swing outs, which I could do by myself but then could *not * get the hang of when dancing with a partner. I’ll work on it. And by the end we’d covered a few different types of swing out, two of which I’d never done before.

Our final lesson of the day was with Lisa Bradley and Bob Grasse. We covered different ways to build lateral and rotational momentum, including a version of lindy circle where we covered so much ground so quickly, I’m pretty sure that with one lead, my feet didn’t touch the ground.

Finally it was time for the Saturday social. Held at the Britannia Hotel, the theme was blue and everyone looked fantastic. With two live bands (House of the Black Gardenia and Swing Gitan) it was a truly swinging evening. As I mentioned earlier, there were some competitions. A beginners Jack and Jill, an open Jack and Jill and an open Solo Jazz. Last year I explained what a Jack and Jill is, but in case you’re new or you’ve forgotten since the first Nottingjam, I’ll go over it again.

“In between sets there was a Jack and Jill competition, which was great to watch. So a Jack and Jill competition is where the partners are randomly assigned. So you could be dancing with a stranger or your best friend – it’s just luck of the draw.” – Taken from my blog post about Late Night Lindy. And if you want to watch the finals from Nottingjam, there’s a Youtube playlist here.

And, like I mentioned earlier, when the all skate in the Open Jack and Jill happened, it was magical. Everyone did a front facing swingout perfectly on time and it was glorious.

Open Jack and Jill final – Nottingjam 201 6

After many hours of dancing, the night turned into the after party at a nearby club. Fantastic evening culminating in getting to bed at 5am. Just in time for the fire alarm to go off at 7am. Thankfully it stopped and I got to go back to bed straight away.

Sunday brought taster session, none of which I went to because I was asleep. Then we had some more classes. Lisa and Bob taught us how to incorporate Savoy Kicks into swing outs, which took a lot of energy that I didn’t really have. Simon and Robyn taught us to twenties Charleston, which was so much fun. So much. And finally Nancy Hitzig and Scott taught us a small routine that had lots of spins and swing outs, which was a really great way to end the weekend.

Though it wasn’t over yet. There was one final social, a tea dance. It was lovely and I had so many great dances. I really was sad to leave and to say bye to everyone I’d hung out with over the weekend.

Nottingjam 2 was an amazing weekend and I’m so glad that I got to be a part of it. The only thing I would change is where I stayed, and that is all on me. So if next year Nottingjam 3 gets mentioned to you, you should go. Because it’s a great weekend in a great city.

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Nottingjam: Sugar, we’re going down swinging

I wasn’t going to put an addendum in the title, because there’s already a pun in Nottingjam, but then I couldn’t resist. I’ve written Nottingjam on my phone so often, it now offers that instead of Nottingham in predicative text. But what is Nottingjam, I hear you cry. Well, dear friends, first and foremost Nottingjam was awesome. But in a more helpful answer, Nottingjam was the University of Nottingham’s first swing weekend.

I may have written about swing once or twice before but prepare yourselves, because this post is going to contain three days’ worth of swing. That’s right – three whole days. From 13th Feb to the 15th life turned entirely dance related. From the welcome dance to final drinks, the weekend became a case of dance eat sleep repeat. An exhausting but enjoyable combination.

Beginning on Friday 13th February, Nottingjam took over Late Night Lindy (which I wrote about before Christmas in this post) for the welcome dance. Starting at 8pm and ending at midnight, the welcome dance was a chance to pick up wristbands (blue for follows, red for leads, yellow for social passes) and begin the weekend right with a social dance. A chance to meet people in town for the weekend, a chance for solo jazz routines if the right song comes on, and a chance to, well, social dance. Late Night Lindy’s always fun and Friday evening was no exception. Even though dancing with strangers is always a bit terrifying, because kicking someone the first time you meet them is never a good impression. Thankfully, I kept my limbs to myself and everyone was lovely.

10626289_10155371417645438_8075961379687861699_o(Photo Credit: Opaluwah Photography)
Swinging the night away.

Bright and early (at 10am) on Saturday, registration opened for those who hadn’t arrived the night before, and then at half past lessons began. I was in the middle stream making me Knee Slapper, rather than an Apple Jack or a Strutter, so I can only talk about the lessons I went to. I mean, you could probably have figured that out for yourself, but I thought I’d make it clear.

The first class was taught by Matthew Lane and Jenny Clapp, and with a warm up to Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, it was an energetic start to the day. Which was great, seeing as it actually woke me up. And then they focused on fluidity. We started by looking at the shapes made by swing moves, by not doing any moves and just moving with our partner and making shapes. Which was far more difficult than you would have thought. Apparently rock step triple step is deeply ingrained in us. Then we got on to swing outs and lindy circles and turns, but the point of the lesson was to do not do one move. Then another. Then another. It was about how to keep movement flowing and to see a dance as one continuous thing rather than as a series of moves. Difficult but useful.

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(Photo credit: Opaluwah Photography)
Matt and Jenny

Second class was with Alex Sainsbury and Leanna Fitzpatrick, and we focused on Charleston. My Charleston is not great, I can’t lie to you. I can manage it in classes, but when it comes to social dancing, I’d far rather do Lindy at an inhuman speed than switch to Charleston. However, after the hour we had with Alex and Leanne, I can at least say I improved. I mean, still not in any hurry to take to the social dance floor with Charleston, but I am far less paranoid that I’ll misjudge the speed and ask someone to dance to a Charleston paced song.

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(Photo credit: Opaluwah Photography)
Alex and Leanne.

After lunch us Knee Slappers had a two hour class with Cam Mitchell and Cat Foley. First hour was on technique. To be honest the thing I remember most was how little you need to actually hold hands. As in, yes, have the connection with the lead’s right arm and the follow’s left arm, but the opposite hands? They can be left alone for a lot of moves. And even in moves where they’re necessary, they’re not needed for that long. As a follow, it meant I had to pay more attention – absolutely no zoning out allowed. Not that would I ever zone out while dancing… The second hour was full of spins. There were Texas Tommies (How does one pluralise Tommy? Is it Tommys? Tommies?), which were then followed by another spin, and then was a spin with directional rotation to get back into hold and…Guys there were a lot of spins, okay?

And then to end the day, we had Nigel and Debbie Wale teaching us a Lindy Hop routine. There were a few new moves that took a decent amount of brain power to master, but it was fairly chilled, which was great because after five hours of classes my feet were mutinying.

I then walked home because I am a smart bean, and proceeded to eat, sleep and shower in about two hours, before heading out again to the social dance. Taking place in the Great Hall at the university, it was amazing. With Me and Mr Jones as a live band, everyone dressed up, and a Jack and Jill competition it was such a great night. It started at 8pm and went on until 2.30am, during which time I discovered that there is such a thing as Too Much Dancing. Symptoms include feet mutinying, a desire but lack of ability to continue dancing and a desperate need to sit down. Too Much Dancing brought on by Lindy Hop is the epitome of going down swinging. Thankfully this can be cured by sitting down for about four songs. Then you can go ask an instructor to dance and embarrass yourself by messing up a lot dance again.

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(Photo credit: Opaluwah Photograpy)
Me and Mr Jones making the night go with a swing.

Getting up on Sunday was way too difficult, so I did not make to any of the taster lessons. But I hear tell that they were all good, especially Belly Dance. The three available were Indian Dancing, Belly Dancing and Balboa. And as much fun as they sounded, asking me to be on campus by midday was just asking too much. So I turned up at 3pm for the Tea Dance.

With the bunting and cake and dancing it felt very British. As someone said, with it being in the atrium which is all glass and plants, it almost felt like we were in a posh hotel from the 1920s. There was even live music again, with Rosie, one of swing soc’s members, singing. Lasting for four whole hours, it was a really great way to wind down the weekend. Chilled dancing will always be one of my favourite ways to spend a Sunday. Especially when there’s a funky shim sham thrown in too.

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Do love bunting.

After much dancing, we headed to the SU bar for farewell drinks, and then, again because I am a smart bean, I walked home. I would not recommend it. Walking after that much dancing was less than fun. And that was the end of Nottingjam. It was University of Nottingham’s first swing weekend and my first swing weekend and it was awesome. A ridiculous amount of fun was had, even if it took my feet three days to recover. Roll on Robin Hood Hop. And Nottingjam 2, of course.

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(Photo credit: Opaluwah Photography)
The lovely people of the first ever Nottingjam.

[Note: Where credited, photos were taken by Opaluwah Photography, who you can find here or on Facebook here)

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Late Night Lindy: Christmas Edition

As I may or may not have mentioned, I do swing dance. I love it, it’s amazing, you should try it. *ahem* So swing dance, for those of you who didn’t read this post, swing dance is the name for various dance styles that sprang up alongside the swing form of jazz. Uni of Notts has a swing soc, which is, shockingly, where I got into it. I actually started in Second Year. Did it for a semester and then went to Germany, where there was no swing dance anywhere near me. :sadface: But now that I’m back in Notts, I get to relearn how to Lindy Hop and Charleston, which is super cool.

Social dancing is a big, very fun part of swing dance, and is essentially what you would expect  social dancing to be. There’s music, no set routine – you do whatever. It’s pretty chill and lots of fun, though it is terrifying the first time you try it. Suddenly there’s no-one calling out moves like in classes, which means a) Leads have to decide for themselves what moves they’re going to do and b) Follows have to be able to, well, follow.

Since June this year, there’s been a regular swing social dance night in Nottingham: Late Night Lindy. Held on the 2nd and 4th Friday of every month at Bunkers Hill in Nottingham City Centre, 8pm till late and it’s £5 entry or £4 for concessions. All abilities are welcome, and it’s really fun. I’ve been twice now and both time it’s been a really great evening. And last night was the Christmas Party. Yaaaaaaaay.

20141212_233121 (1)Anywhere that has bunting and fairy lights is automatically great.

So you lucky people are about to get a (not quite) blow by blow account of last night. To start with there was general dancing and socialising, which is always good. And then the band arrived. The Fabulous Tea Bag Boys lived up to their name, when after playing super fast songs in their first set, they slowed it down so we could actually dance to it, without wanting to die.

In between sets there was a Jack and Jill competition, which was great to watch. So a Jack and Jill competition is where the partners are randomly assigned. So you could be dancing with a stranger or your best friend – it’s just luck of the draw. The competition at Late Night Lindy was being judged on Christmas spirit, which lead to Santa hat and tinsel stealing. Eventually it came down to a clap vote from the audience, which was so close they had to redo it.

Post Jack and Jill competition, there was also a snowball dance which is where a circle is formed, and a couple start dancing in the middle. When ‘snowball’ is called, they each take a new partner from the circle and this goes on and on until everyone is dancing. It makes for hectic social dancing, and is ridiculous and also hella fun.

And then even later, because it was someone’s birthday (Happy Birthday Ramsey!), there was a birthday jam. I was unaware of how these work, but it turns out the birthday person picks a partner, starts dancing and then other people steal the birthday person to dance with them instead. You know how I found out how this worked? I got pushed into the circle to steal the lead away first. (If you’re reading this, thanks George :p ) After a few seconds of ‘wait, what?’ It was great. And once I’d been replaced, it was really fun to watch.

With lots of dancing, Late Night Lindy went on till 2 am and was ridiculously fun. It was a fantastic way to end the term, even if this morning I’m not sure my feet will ever forgive me. And yes. So much dancing, so much fun, so much yes.

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A Weekend Full of Gerunds: Swinging and Quidditching

I was meant to bloggerate about Budapest. That was the plan, and I had it all worked out. Do my work, hand in essays, then sit down and write about one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in.

However, the weekend happened. On Friday I went to my first ever social swing dance, which was so much fun. Swing dance is the name for various dance styles that sprang up alongside the swing form of jazz. I got into it via the Swing Soc at university and it’s super fun. The two styles we learn are Lindy Hop and Charleston. Not going to lie, I prefer Lindy Hop; not sure why, just do. I’ll most likely bloggerate about swing more extensively at some point, but the point is, I was out on the town, spinning, triple stepping and trying not to kick anyone, and not writing about Budapest.

But Kat, I hear you cry, that’s only Friday night. What about the rest of the weekend? Well, dear readers, there was an IQA Quidditch tournament in Nottingham. Now, I don’t play IQA for a variety of reasons, but I am a member of the Quidditch and Harry Potter Society and my housemates play (to the point where one of them is the Captain of the Nottingham Nightmares), so I went along to offer support. After getting more uni work done, of course.

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Much mud is involved in quidditch.

(Click to enlarge and see all the pretty faces)

I’m not about to explain IQA in this post, because that’s a post for another time, but the long and short of it is, I spent my weekend watching Quidditch, cheering on the Nightmares and generally not doing much else. So I apologise for the lack of Budapest, tune in next week for more. For now go watch Nottingham Nightmares at British Quidditch Cup last year in this video:

I have been super converted to IQA (watching, not playing) but shhh, don’t tell my housemates. They’ll be way too proud of themselves. Though seeing as Nightmares came second* in the tournament, they’re pretty proud of themselves already. And rightly so. #Ibelieveinnightmares

*Nightmarish Tournament result: 1st – Oxford Quidlings, 2nd – Nottingham Nightmares, 3rd – Leeds Griffins, 4th – Leicester Thestrals