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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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Four Months Later.

Its four months since I graduated and according to my student friends, I’m now a proper adult. Which I disagree with, but seeing as I do pay council tax now, I suppose to an outsider I do look like a proper adult.

It means university can feel like a very long time ago, even though less than six months ago I was still frantically writing my dissertation, hoping that my supervisor was a fan of Harry Potter. Everyone told me I would miss university, and that if I didn’t miss it as soon as I left, I would miss it come October when my Facebook newsfeed was once more full of people moaning about lectures.

As it turns out, I don’t really miss university. I’m surprised as much as you are, seeing how much I did enjoy university. But I can’t express how happy I am to not be in lectures anymore. Don’t get me wrong, learning about cool and interesting things is awesome. But I never have to write an essay about Hitler again and I am so thankful. While starting work was a learning curve, it had practical applications to my life aka being able to do my job and getting paid. I enjoyed so much of what I learnt about at university but unless I was planning to go into academia, it didn’t have any real uses. Except for being boss at German history trivial pursuit.

I do miss having my friends so close, but it appears as if Birmingham’s emitting a siren call and some of my best friends have now moved here. Which works out excellently for me. Though I should probably stop being so busy at weekends to take full advantage of this fact.

I miss how easy it was to go to dancing several times a week, because if it was exhausting, I didn’t have to be up the next day. The whole you must be at work every day thing can be a real drag sometimes. And getting to and from places can be difficult. I’ve not made it to any swing dance classes or socials in Birmingham yet because of, well, various reasons, but not being able to walk from my house is one of the big ones.

So yes, university was great, and there were some perks to it that you just can’t get when you’re not at uni. But being a proper adult is shaping up to be pretty great too.

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Here’s what you missed on Glee

Okay, so Glee is over and we all like to pretend we never ever watched it. But their “here’s what you missed on last week’s episode” was always succinct and upbeat. So I thought I’d steal it for this post. Mwhahahaha. (Please no-one sue me.)

Since my last post I’ve gained the internet, which has seriously improved my life because the internet is a great invention and is how I can actually post this post. My last blog post was on 3G. I do hope you weren’t too bored without me filling up the web with my witterings. Though I’ve gained twitter followers in this time, so I’m guessing some people like my witterings.

Anyway, back to the point. I have internet but life has been happening. And so I’m going to catch you all up on what I’ve been up to.

1. The UCA MA Showcase

As I have mentioned once or twice, my friend Maddie has been doing a fashion MA which culminated in a showcase of her work and other MA fashion/design/photography students at UCA.

This meant I went down to London, straight to Shoreditch, and went to what is possibly the coolest/most hipster party I have ever been to. It was a fashion exhibit in a crumbling warehouse full of very cool, very fashion knowledgeable people. And there was me, in what I’d worn to work.

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“Where is May Morris?” – Maddie’s awesome collection

The exhibition was great. My Dad actually came down the next day to see it in the daytime and Maddie walked us through what everyone had done. Particular highlights (aside from Maddie’s collection obvs) included Martin Garwood’s photography which you can see on this website and Louise Shoulder’s jewellery, which as far as I’m aware is not on a website. But if she ever creates one, I will let you know. Once I’ve bought all of it.

2. Glasgow wedding

The weekend after the fashion show, I was seeing Maddie again, as we travelled far north for the wedding of the year. Our friends Nat and Burly Chris (those are their official names and I will not hear a word otherwise) were tying the knot in Chris’ home town, which meant kilts, bagpipes and a gorgeous church.

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Look how pretty.

The reception was in two parts, with the meal happening in a German brewery and the dancing in the Winter Gardens. It was an amazing day and a beautiful wedding. The best way I can sum it up is that I cried five times. That’s how good a wedding it was. Like I said, Best Wedding of the Year.

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LOOK HOW PRETTY.

3. Morris men in Birmingham

The weekend after that I was at home, pottering about as you do when life has been a bit hectic for the past month. And during this, I went into Birmingham with Beth to explore Grand Central, because the new New Street has opened and it is incredible. But that’s a post for a different time.

After thoroughly exploring, we ended up at Brewdog for a quiet drink, when suddenly a hoard of Morris men appeared. It was the most surreal and most English thing to happen in my life in a good long while.

As it turned out, they were the Morris 18130 who have the aim of encouraging young people to join Morris dancing clubs. They were very lovely and explained stuff to us and even let Beth have a go. If you want to know more about them, they have a decent website here, but in my couple of hours experience of them, all you need to know is that they were great, enthusiastic and seriously very lovely.

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They stole a Beth.

4. Nottingham

The weekend just gone when I should have been writing a blog post, I dashed off to Nottingham for some swing and Quidditch. Aside from a dance with a friend at the Best Wedding of the Year, I haven’t done any swing dance in three months, and it was so good to be back in the (pardon the pun) swing of things.

What was even better than the dancing, which means it was pretty darn amazing, was seeing the friends I haven’t seen in three months. Both swing people and Quidditch people made me feel very loved, and very told off for having booked a hotel room rather than stealing a sofa from one of them.

5. Shrek the Musical

As well as less than 24 hour visit to Nottingham, I also went to see Shrek the Musical at the Wolverhampton Grand. It was hysterical and I would highly recommend it. You know how the first Shrek film is surprisingly good when you rewatch it? The musical was surprisingly good considering I already knew all the punchlines. Fiona and Shrek were both developed slightly further as characters, the Dragon was a very accurate puppet, the songs were super catchy and the guy playing Lord Farquad… Gerard Carey, you were fantastic. Superb. Phenomenal.

Shrek the Musical is basically a pantomime but without the audience participation. And audience participation is my least favourite part of pantomimes. It’s so good. So good. I’d say go see it at the Grand but its run is now over.

In amongst my praise for the show, I also have to say that the security guard at the Grand went above and beyond when he let me stay in the theatre long after everyone else had gone, because it was a Saturday night and he was worried about me waiting for my lift outside.

And that my friends is what you missed in my life. I hope it was worth the wait and that you feel successfully caught up. Any other questions, you know where the comment box is.

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Swingamajig (ft. various Whatstheirnames)

Swingamajig. How do I describe Swingamajig? Bowties galore. Music from every corner. Longer queues for face painting than alcohol. Probably sums it up well enough. Cool, blog post done. I’m kidding. You know I’m about to launch into a long post about a really excellent day.

Swingamajig is an electroswing festival that, this year, happened on 3rd May at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. And due to the alluring combination of Birmingham and electroswing I went.  Do love me some electroswing.

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THEY HAD A DRAGON.

Starting at 2pm and going on until 6am with 6 different areas, Swingamajig knows how to party. I, however, having recently reached the grand old age of 22 cannot party that hard, and arrived at 3pm ish with plans to leave at 10.30pm. It also meant I could actually get home rather than trying to get a taxi for many miles for much money. So, there I was, on a beautiful May day, all on my lonesome at a festival I was very excited for. First thing I do? End up at a cabaret show at the Mockingbird Theatre. Where I bumped into people I knew. The world is small.

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Fun fact: 20% of pictures on this blog are of a ceiling strung with fairy lights and bunting esque things

The cabaret was pretty great. Started with hula hooping and ribbon dancing, moved on to a strong men act from Johnny Foreigner and Joe Public, to a swing dance performance by The Mudflappers, to a magic act by Those Two Magicians, to a burlesque performance by the Vixens, all emceed by the Reverend Michael Alabama Jackson and Sister Mary Lou from The Church (it’s a play type thing.)

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And people say Birmingham’s ugly.

After the cabaret was done, I went on a wander round the site and found the Arch stage, which was outside and quickly became my favourite stage. I caught the end of Voodoo Jukebox‘s set, who you can listen to here. Then a friend from uni turned up and I went to find them before dragging them back to the Arch stage to listen to Maniere des Bohemiens, who you can listen to here. They were great – we ended up sticking around for the entirety of their hour long set.

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Some excellent graffiti 

We wandered into the Main Stage area just in time for Elle and the Pocket Belles to start their set. The best way I can describe them is as the embodiment of Candyman by Christina Aguilera. It was great. They did originals and covers and there was even a Disney medley in there. You can listen to them here. They had a very electro remix of one of their songs and the crowd went ridiculously wild, as if everyone suddenly went ‘this sounds like club music. We can dance to club music.’

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So impressive.

On our way out, there was a performance of hoop work. I don’t know what the proper term for it is. There was a hula hoop suspended from the ceiling and two girls took it turns to do very impressive things that I’m pretty sure are magic.

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Okay, so maybe 25% of pictures on here are of ceilings strung with cool stuff.

We ended up in the swing room in The Attic, because, well, it was us, but a lesson was starting so I left my friend and went on a wander round to The Ragtime Records Warehouse. Had a bit of a bop to some very electro electroswing before I ended back up back outside at the Arch Stage. And there I was introduced to the music of the fabulous Rin Tins. They were awesome. One of their guitarists had the most expressive face ever and they were very into audience participation. Seriously, it was one of the best hours I’ve ever spent listening to live music. They’re so good. Go and listen to them here.

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Clarinet in a band = big yes.

After The Rin Tins sadly finished, we headed back up to The Attic because a friend of ours was djing and well, you know, swing dancing. After half an hour of social dancing and buying The Rin Tins’ CD, I had to go, if I wanted to get home.

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They had a fire person. Have I mentioned how cool Swingamajig was?

Swingamajig was amazing. I had a really great time and I’ve already talked about it enough to persuade two friends to come with me next year if it’s on. The venues were awesome, the people were great and I found a ton of new music to listen to. I have nothing bad to say about it.

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All in a Week’s Work

Last week was a whirlwind. I had an essay due in, a translation exam, two days work experience in London* and then a swing weekend. But rather than do this like a diary I’m going to tell you 6 things I learnt over the week**.

1. I’m a massive nerd

Somewhere between getting excited over words and getting far too excited over ‘Shake Your Tailfeather’, I remembered that I’m a huge huge nerd. I guess my blog post about punctuation should have given that away.

2. Professionals do it differently

Our translation exam had an extract from a German book which we had to, shockingly enough, we translate. Cue after the exam a professional translation of the book circulating round the year group. It is super different. I mean, if we had translated some parts of it the way the professional has, we’d fail the exam.

3. People are great

I spent a lot of last week meeting new people and I’m coming to the conclusion that people are generally great. They’re interesting and funny and get stuff done. Course, there are those that are the exception to the rule, but they weren’t the people I met last week. And networking’s an awful lot easier when you assume people are great.

4. If in doubt, pun

Not only will puns help you make friends, but they’ll also make an entire company groan/laugh. At work experience we had to create five pieces of writing for a made up business. So me and my group went for a fake moustache company and let me tell you, the results were fan-tashtic.

5. The last song is never the last song

Whether it was going to the pub with my fellow work experiences or my fellow swingateers, when the last hour or song is called, people do everything they can to stretch the experience out. Unless they hate the experience like the translation exam. Then no-one can get out of there fast enough.

6. Somehow I’m old and young all at once.

I met people who are proper adults and I felt really young. And I met people who are 18 years old and I felt really old. To misquote Perks of Being a Wallflower, I am both old and young at the same time, and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

* I was on Word Experience for The Writer, to be specific.

** I promise my next blog post won’t be in list form.