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  Get That Swing: THE BASICS
By Fritz Hahn
Washingtonpost.com Staff
Updated Wednesday, June 30, 1999


    Chris 'Duke' Davis steps over Nina Gilkenson Chris "Duke" Davis steps over Nina Gilkenson. (By Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com)
Before you sign up for a class that calls itself swing, make sure to ask the instructor what kind of swing you'll be learning, since several different forms are taught locally. (There are other variations of swing dance in other parts of the country – and the world, for that matter – but that's another story.)

If you want to learn fancy kicks, make sure it's a Lindy Hop class. If you want something less acrobatic and more social, the other forms of East Coast Swing should be fine. Most of the instructors featured below require you to register for classes that run from four to eight weeks and can cost anywhere from $54 to $96. Some, particularly the hand-dancing classes, are done primarily on a drop-in basis.

Jitterbug/East Coast Swing
Although the jitterbug is the first style people learn at those free lessons before dances, it's not really a swing-era dance. (You know the dance we're talking about – it goes: "One-and-two, three-and-four, rock-step.") The New Harvard Musical Dictionary points out that until the '50s, all swing steps were done primarily with an eight-count rhythm (counting to eight, with each beat equal to one step). With the evolution of the 12-bar blues, however, the jitterbug lost two counts and became the dance of early rock-and-roll. So why do they teach it as a swing dance? It's much easier to grasp than the Lindy. The version that's taught most often is done to fast big-band or rockabilly music and is also called East Coast Swing.

Who teaches it? See the list of Lindy Hop teachers below.

    Frankie Manning Frankie Manning (right) invented many of the acrobatic Lindy Hop steps. (By Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com)
   
Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop is the acrobatic dance that you've seen performed in the Gap commercials and in clubs. The Lindy got its start in Harlem in the late 1920s, and features plenty of high-kicking Charleston steps, hopping and high-flying lifts and air steps, which were developed by dance legend Frankie Manning in the 1930s. It is danced with an eight-count basic, meaning that patterns occur in series of eight steps, although six-count patterns crop up. A popular form is the Smooth Lindy, which is basically a Lindy with no Charleston or kicking patterns.

Who teaches it?
Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg (703/527-6734). These two are considered the godparents of the Washington scene. For proof of their success, look at the recent Virginia State Open Swing Championship: Most of the finalists in the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug categories were Tom and Debra's students. The duo can be found all over the area, teaching at America in Tysons Corner on Sundays, Tuesdays and before dances on Fridays and the Chevy Chase Ballroom (5207 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202/363-8344) on Mondays. Tom does a lesson with his wife Carolyn on Wednesdays at Lulu's.

Leslie Coombs and Rick Becker (410/377-0832). Leslie, who currently teaches at Avalon Dance Studios (624 Frederick Rd., Catonsville, Md.; 410/869-9771) and at various venues around the Baltimore area, has been teaching the Lindy since the '80s. And she used to teach with Frankie Manning. That says it all.

Ken Haltenhoff and Donna Barker (703/978-0375). This duo has 15 years of experience teaching Jitterbug and East Coast Swing. Ken and Donna's regularly scheduled lessons are on Monday nights at Lyon Park community center in Arlington, Wednesday nights at the Vienna Grill, and Thursday nights at Glen Echo. Those who don't want to commit to weeks of lessons can visit drop-in sessions each Sunday at the Fort Meyer Community Center (Building 405, McNair St., Fort Meyer, VA; 703/696-3470).

Marc Shepanek and Ellen Engle (301/299-8728). This duo leads classes in Lindy, aerials and more Mondays at Glen Echo, and stick around for the open dance after class (9:00-11:30 p.m.) to offer advice. Marc and Ellen have also brought world-famous dance instructors to the area, such as the Swedish World Lindy Hop champions.

John "Psychoboy" McCalla (410/875-9147). The flamboyant king of jam sessions everywhere has expanded his teaching schedule. Psychoboy teaches at Xhale Night Club in Frederick on Wednesdays, in Bethesda at the Maryland Youth Ballet Studio on Fridays, and at the Walkersville Town Hall in Walkersville on Sundays. All of his classes include a two-hour practice session afterwards with a DJ or live band, and John is available to take your questions about defying gravity.

Craig Hutchinson (703/698-9811). "Hutch," the president of the Potomac Swing Dance Club, is considered by many listed here to be the "teacher's teacher." He teaches two lessons each Tuesday at the Vienna Grill.

West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing is a six- or eight-count dance where the man moves the woman in a straight line ("the slot") while he steps out of the way, instead of the circular patterns of the Lindy Hop. (In other words, West Coast looks like a bullfight, while the Lindy looks like two sumo wrestlers facing off.) The dance is also done to much slower music than East Coast – primarily R&B or oldies – which allows more time for intricate steps and synchronized movements between the partners.

Who teaches it?
Dan and Leslie Darlington (410/366-3326). Dan got his start teaching swing in San Francisco – how much more West Coast can you get? He's also one of the few people teaching St. Louis Shag Dancing in this area, currently at the Avalon studio in Catonsville.

Craig Hutchinson (703/698-9811). "Hutch," the president of the Potomac Swing Dance Club, is considered by many listed here to be the "teacher's teacher." He teaches at the Fort Meyer Saturday Night dance series and Sundays at the Vienna Grill.

Ken and Donna Roesel (301/438-3354). Besides teaching West Coast every Thursday at the Galaxy Club in Falls Church, the Roesels host dance events at the Cherry Hill RV Park (9800 Cherry Hill Rd., College Park).

    hand dancing Lawrence Bradford (right) hand dances with B.J. Jones. (By Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com)
Hand Dancing
D.C. hand hancing is a cousin of the jitterbug that developed in Washington's African American community in the 1950s and is still primarily danced by African Americans. It is actually closer to West Coast Swing than Lindy, as hand dancing's movements and turns are more elegant looking than its fast-paced relatives. Most patterns, including turns, are done while holding hands – hence the name.

Who teaches it?
Lawrence Bradford (202/526-3533). The founder of the Smooth & EZ Hand Dance Institute, Lawrence has been hand dancing for more than 40 years. Regular classes are taught on Mondays and Wednesdays, with a drop-in workshop on Saturday mornings.

Ron Fisher and Arvonzey Elam (301/894-7660). This pair won the Showcase D.C. Hand Dancing division at this year's Virginia State Open and finished second in the Class Hand Dancing at both slow and medium tempos. They teach classes on Tuesday nights as well as a Saturday afternoon drop-in session.

The Hustle
Although this one may not seem to have much to do with swing – and many see it as simply a Travolta-era joke – the hustle is what kept kept partner dancing alive during the lean '70s and early '80s. For that, it deserves credit. For those tacky polyester shirts, it does not. If you want to combine flashy moves with pumping disco, look no further.

Who teaches it?
Craig Hutchinson (703/698-9811).

Joyce Szili (301/598-2215). Szili is well known in this area as the instructor at the Vienna Grill's Monday Hustle nights and on Saturdays at Fort Meyer.

Joanne Houlahan (410/516-4117-day; 410/847-9174-evening). A former instructor with Baltimore's Friday Night Swing Dance Club, Houlahan teaches West Coast and hustle for Charm City Dance on Thursday nights in Baltimore.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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