This past weekend a horde of followers descended upon Rochester, NY for the first North East Girl Jam. Put on by Jojo Jackson and Groove Juice Swing it was the first event of its kind in the northeast.
Girl Jam‘s are events which focus solely on the followers in the dance to highlight the important (and often times under appreciated) role they play in the dance. Historically we have paid more tribute to the leaders in the dance. Even today it is more common for leaders to be booked for gigs and then have a partner brought along then the reverse. Girl Jam is an attempt to bring much needed awareness to these topics and provide a space for following technique and creativity be at the forefront.
Friday night began with the Boilermaker Jazz Band, with Naomi Uyama on vocals, playing in the Tango Cafe. The space is a beautiful hall with high ceilings, nice wood floors and great lighting. As always, the Boilermakers did an excellent job with their song selection. One of my favorite tunes of the evening was All God’s Chillun’ Got Rhythm which is a tune found in this clip from “A Day at the Races”.
Friday also included a solo charleston and jazz contest where the winner was determined by tap out. Rachel Woods of Rochester, NY won the competition. The crowd was enthusiastic and kept the energy going while the participants all had a friendly attitude in the competition.
As always in Rochester, once the band wrapped up the party headed over to the Lindy Compound for the late night where Mike Thibault DJed until 4am. Late nights at events in Rochester are some of my favorites as they aren’t held in a dance studio but rather someones house. There is space to relax, socialize, eat and dance which creates much more of a party with dancing atmosphere than a “just another dance” atmosphere.
Saturday I assisted Nina Gilkenson with the first class of the weekend, a lindy hop technique class. The ratio of leads to follows was about 2 to 3 and the room was packed with three rows of couples facing us on the stage. We started by getting people to rockstep on the 1 2 of the swingout and then Nina worked with the followers on making their swivels maintain that same type of connection while swiveling. We then worked on using energy build-up and release to propel the follower through the swingout. The class went well although an hour definitely feels short when you are up on stage teaching.
Unfortunately I cannot report very much on the rest of the workshops on Saturday as my day became caught up in teaching privates. In the four remaining hours of the workshop day I taught three privates. The range of levels in each private varied from a beginner, an intermediate dancer, and a much more advanced dancer. I have not given many privates to dancers who don’t need considerable tweaking to their basics and it was very enjoyable to be able to work on conceptual objects and breaking down rules rather than trying to enforce them to get a particular result.
Saturday night was the battle of the girl DJs Heather Flock versus Gina Helfrich. Although the battle wasn’t the highlight of the dance, they traded back and forth throughout the evening and created an enjoyable space to dance.
The second competition of the weekend was a Jack & Jill that I helped judge. It was a tap-out format which is always slightly awkward especially when the floor is really packed at the beginning. There was no rotation during the Jack & Jill so your first partner was your only partner which can be both an advantage or a disadvantage from a competitors perspective. The level of competitors was very spread out but overall it was a really great turnout with a very positive attitude. Rajeev Hotchandani and Nicole Zuckerman won the competition (pictured here) and the crowd closed in to let them jam for the remainder of the song.
Congratulations and trophies given, the DJ spun up a hopping tune and a jam kicked off.
Despite saturday’s late night rolling on till 4 or 5 in the morning, almost everyone showed up for the first workshops on Sunday. A special treat for the leads was the Following 101 class with Naomi and Nina where they went over the basics of following and by the end of the hour the leads looked pretty solid as follows. Inside, Giselle taught a Cotton Club routine to the ladies.
With so little sleep, I disappeared to Spot to pick up some coffees to go around and some sushi for lunch. When I returned they were setting up for the lunchtime showing of clips which highlighted female dancers from our dances history. Gina Helfrich organized the videos and headed up the presentation including clips of Eleanor Powell in Fascinating Rhythm, Josephine Baker, and many of the follows from Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and Shorty George’s partners Big Bea (Beatrice Gay) and Pauline Morse (thanks Gina).
I gave one more private in the afternoon and then taught a Spins and Turns class with Nina. The class was definitely smaller from the previous mornings class with enough space to form a circle and have us on the floor. We started off with some basic turning down the floor and then progressed to variations on the tuck turn and an inside turn from closed. The inside turn variation was one of my favorite ones that Nina does and it was really fun to teach that with her. We also taught a double outside turn where the leads needed more instruction to get the follower through it in the eight counts. I had to leave before the day was up and so missed Naomi’s solo jazz class which finished off the weekend.
With the workshops out of the way everyone who was still in town made their way back to the compound for the unofficial “Grill Jam” wrapup party. Chicken, veggies and beef were grilled happily on the porch while drinks and other goodies were consumed.
Girl Jam was one of the most social of events I’ve been to without feeling like it was forced or cliquish. Sadly I missed some of the classes I had really wanted to take.
If anyone went to Northeast Girl Jam and can say something to the various classes, please go ahead and leave a comment. Or even if you just went to the parties and dances, let me know what you thought of the event. Comment.