Skippy Blair's DANCE BLOG

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

Judging specific STYLES of Swing

Skippy Blair  © 12-9-97  Updated 3-99, 2- 03,  12-04

NOTE: This was written in 1997 – Updated through ’04 – and still stands today.  Skippy Blair
Judging ”Swing technique” includes a wide variety of elements, based on the STYLE of Swing being judged.  In addition to the standard elements that cover EVERY form:  Timing - Teamwork - Technique - Variety & Contrast - Entertainment Value - Footwork - Showmanship,  there are additional, “specific” elements when judging different styles of Swing.
WEST COAST SWING:  Look for "Anchors" at the conclusion of many step patterns. Expect a degree of leverage & compression in the appropriate places.  In upper level competitions, expect a variety of syncopations and a large amount of innovative musical interpretation  (for which the dance is noted).  Part of the "science" of the dance is the "elastic response" that moves in and out of specific moves.  Look for both partners to be traveling in the same direction at the start of most patterns.   Because of the variety of tempos, it is important to note that some dancers have difficulty with slower tempo ranges.  "Body Flight" is created by the action/reaction of two partners, along with solid centering that exudes a confidence, characteristic of this dance.
EAST COAST SWING & LINDY: Look for the "spring" action of the "Rock Step".  Look for some degree of Body flight and circular or oval travel with a great degree of centrifugal force and leverage.  Watch for synchronization in the partnership.  Both partners should still be in time, even to the rapid tempos of the music.  Measured movement allows partners to land from a jump - in time to the music.
CAROLINA SHAG: Look for the smoothness of the lilt that allows the upper body to stay still while the legs literally float from one rhythm to the next.  Mirror-steps” are popular  where one partner mimics the other. 
HAND DANCING: Has been included in many recent competitions - particularly down south.  This form includes a solid foundation gleaned from East Coast Swing in the form of “Rock Steps” - but recently includes a wide variety of musical interpretation, gleaned from West Coast Swing. Like most emerging forms of swing, Hand Dancing has a rich and solid history that is rapidly absorbing the best of both East and West Coast Swing, along with a bit of Shag influence.  Keep your eyes on this one.  The rules are there but they are still developing.
STEPPIN’: 2013 NOTE – Steppin’ has recently been added to our dance community.  Quite a few Steppin’ instructors attended a special GSDTA Steppin’ Intensive, designed to discover real musical count – and Rhythm Units for this historic dance.  Rules for Judging are still in the stage of development and will be included in this list when complete. 
An OPEN SWING Competition:  Unfortunately, many of our swing competitions are not “style” specific. Contestants can mix all kinds of Swing.  The "Dance Elements" will be the same.  We are still able to judge "technique" because we do not judge the style of the dance when it is an OPEN competition.  Even if you have a preference for one style over another, a judge's responsibility is to judge each performance by the elements presented, according to the rules.           
There are MANY forms of Swing - and that should not be surprising.  We recognize several kinds of Cha-Cha -several kinds of Waltz – and there are many varieties of most social dances..  Still, in each different dance style, we should be able to identify the ROOT BASE of that particular dance.  Otherwise, the "essence" of the dance has disappeared.  In order to become a good judge of all kinds of dance, a judge needs to be able to IDENTIFY the various forms of each dance.  
Analogy for thought:  Let's assume that several ladies wear the same basic black dress.  One adds pearls  - Another wears a lace collar - Another puts rhinestones around the edges, and still another sews polka dots from top to bottom.  Looking at each one, we can still identify the basic black dress.  If we put the lace collar, pearls, polka dots, rhinestones and whatever else we can find, all on the same black dress, we could NO LONGER identify the basic BLACK DRESS.  It has become something else.                                                                                                                                                                                           
If we take a SWING presentation - and we add 4 beat rhythm breaks in one place - spins in another - stops and poses in another - and maybe even a lift to open and close the routine, we have still created a Swing routine.  However, if we compose a routine entirely of "4-Beat" Rhythm Breaks, Spins, Slides and Stops, then the SWING itself has disappeared.  It has become yet another dance performance, but NOT a Swing dance performance.                             
For those who are involved in the Judging Program:   I think you will be amazed at the confidence you feel, once you are able to identify the Root Base of the different kinds of Swing - as well as the foundation of other Social Dances.   You certainly don't have to be proficient in every dance, but you should be able to identify all types and styles of both the  MUSIC, and the DANCE  that accomodates that particular music. 
If you are only familiar with Swing Dancing  - you will have a tendency to hear all music as Swing music.  A good Swing dancer can dance Swing to any kind of music that plays.  That does NOT make the music “Swing Music.”  All social dance music, with the exception of Waltz, has the same number of beats per measure.  It is the OTHER properties in the music that define the dance.   Those subtle DIFFERENCES allow us to identify the dance that should accompany specific music.  If we do not know about a particular dance, that dance does not exist for us.  Our computer (brain) will fit whatever music it hears, to the closest form that fits our personal frame of reference.  Our frame of reference is only as good as our education. Educational observations of various dance forms, gives us the confidence that comes with any form of education.
MUSIC is crucial.  A really good dancer will adapt to whatever music is being played.  However, if the music being played is NOT the music of the dance being danced, the dance will take on the character of the music being played.  To some degree the dance will LOSE some of the “essence” and characteristics of the dance being presented.
Starting in the late 1990s, newer swing dancers seemed to assume that all music being played at a swing event - was Swing music.  Anyone who has been around for a while knows that swing dancers will dance swing to any 4/4 time music that is played. 
There are several DJs who have suggested that they would like to announce the kind of music being played - particularly when the music is NOT swing.   Others claim that everything is swing if you can swing to it.  GSDTA and the WSDC agree that the kind of music being played either HELPS or INHIBITS the development of West Coast Swing dancers coming up.  They agree that the kind of music should be announced.  That would be particularly beneficial for those who are not familiar with all of the various forms of social  dance music.  Announcing the music would be educational for all - and at least give the dancers a CHOICE.  They could still dance swing to a Samba, Rumba, Hustle or Cha-Cha if they so desired, (particularly if that’s the only dance they know)  - OR, as their expertise advances, they could dance the dance that belongs to the music being played.
Please Note:
This article was included in the Judges Training program, approved by WSDC,
because several trainees  had read the material and  told us that it was helpful for them
personally - and they thought it should be included.  Several articles have been
included for some of the same reasons. Do let us know your thoughts as you review
the material being presented.   Thank You.

Monday, September 03, 2012


Hi Everyone,

It's been awhile.  The past two years have been legendary.  I am looking forward now to projects and experiences that will continue to make dance history.  In the meantime, I just wanted everyone to know that the Blog is back in operation and will be changed at least once a month. 

For one thing, I WILL be doing the one-day Mini-Intensive at the Halloween SwingThing featuring Jordan & Tatiana.  This is going to be another great Halloween event.  Don't forget - People who register early get the printed materials prior to the event.  Register NOW and get a good start on your printed materials. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Website crash

My website,, not only crashed but when the server brought it back up, it is outdated. Until we get updated, please bear with us. Need Kona in May--or any other specific Intensive listed (there are all listed, just not current), call us at 562.869.8949 and we’ll send you an attachment of the current information. Thanks for your patience. God bless everyone—and have a good day.

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Dancing with the Stars -- 1

Dancing with the Stars is a frequent discussion of mine —covering the wonderful things that happen—along with the ridiculous. It is obvious that Kate Gosselin is no real dancer. However, as a student, it is also obvious that certain basic training skills have not been taught. Not her teacher nor any of the judges has mentioned brushing one knee past the other when she moves through space. Nor has anyone mentioned a “sending foot.” These are two basic skills that Golden State Dance Teachers Association teaches in Lesson One.

I have also been frequently bewildered by some of the music chosen for competition. Sometimes there are pieces of music that are fantastic—music that aids the dancers, entertains and thrills the audience. There are other times when it seems that the music is trying to confuse the dancers. I remember comments from the judges about a Paso Doble that had no fire. The music was Phantom of the Opera, which sounds more like funeral music.

Anyhow enough people have been interested in my discussions that they suggested that I critique different performances from each competition. I am going to try to do that, as time permits. I am both thrilled and dismayed with Dancing with the Stars. The thrilling part is having the world exposed to the beauty and joy of the dance. The dismay “and heartbreak” is over the serious blunders that mislead the public in certain dances—either by omitting any recognizable pattern in the dance(either cha cha or particularly West Coast Swing)—or having music that actually fights the movement of the dance….more to follow…

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Contra-Body Movement in West Coast Swing

Getting lots of questions about “West Coast 101”. Contra-Body movement seems to be one element that teachers have difficulty teaching. Our special Intensive (only 12 were allowed), demonstrated clearly that working from a pulled hip made a perfect Contra-Body, resulting in a great looking “Right Torque Turn”. Success percentage? 12 out of 12 looked great! Looking forward to working on that in Kona in May.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Matching Resistance in Closed Ballroom Position (video: 3 min., 23 sec.)

To create a “connection” with your partner in the closed ballroom position, it’s important for the lower part of the follower’s left shoulder blade to “match the resistance” into the leader’s right hand. The follower can accomplish this by pulling her left shoulder back and down, pressing into the leader’s hand. If the follower does not match the resistance, the leader finds it much more difficult to lead.

“Matching the resistance”, is also known as The Law of Opposition. It tells us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A push meets with a push. A pull meets with a pull. In dance, the resistance is NOT actually pushing or pulling. It is a matching "reaction" to the "action" of the lead. The natural tendency to "yield" to a "lead" rather than to match the natural resistance is a real problem for many dancers.

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Elbows down (video: 1 min., 4 sec.)

Pressing the elbows down helps to straighten the spine by pulling the shoulders back and down. It also lightens the look, as well as the feeling in your hands.

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Move Your Center First (video: 1 min., 28 sec.)

Your “center,” short for “Center Point of Balance,” is your Core, located in your solar plexus. All dance movement should project from your center.

There’s an old saying in dance, “Foot follows Frame.” “Centering” also refers to the center of your frame. Move your center first—not shoulders, hip or foot.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007


Just got back from Kona and what a fabulous Intensive. Our first day was held in the open air Night Club where the Kona Swing Dancers gather every Tuesday night. We had the ocean as a backdrop and brightly colored little wild birds visited us during class. What an experience. Every day started at 10am and most finished about 10pm, with time out for lunch and dinner. On Monday - 5pm was departure time and we all had tears. Once again, we had all become "Family" and it felt like we were leaving home.

Jordan and Tatiana are frequently "guest" teachers for an hour or two at an Intensive, but this was the first time we shared the entire Intensive. What an exciting experience. Over and over I heard how powerful it was for people to hear everyone using the same language, terms, and observations. I can guarantee you - "It was MAGIC!" We also had a couple of great classes from Jessica Cox, and Sarah Grusmark was on hand to demonstrate and also help during the classes. (Lots of wonderful comments from participants about how Tatiana, Jessica, Sarah, and Michelle, did such a great job as Leaders in some of the classes). Last but not least, none of this could have taken place without
our multi-talented Guy, Warren d'Aquin.

I've only been home one day and already the emails are coming in. It is obvious that everyone had a great time. The most frequent comment is, "I can FEEL the difference in my dancing." People who attend Intensives KNOW they are going to learn valuable information, but they seldom realize that they will actually FEEL the difference in such a short time. We had Critiques almost every day and every person who wanted one, got their critique. This is the process that has become the catalyst for instant improvement. We are all looking forward to May 2008, in Kona. Make your vacation plans EARLY. We close the registration at 70 - and that was our total attendance this year.

The Schedule for 2008 will be available in January 2008. If YOU have a request, let us know early. We always try to accommodate.
God Bless and have a great day -

Friday, April 13, 2007

Counting "sets of 8" in the music (video: 1 min. 15 sec.)

In this clip we count the “sets of 8” in the music. A “set of 8” defines the beat of the music and the ability to count the “sets of 8” is the only way to confirm that you're on the beat. In particular, pay attention to the hand motion we use as we count as it's a good exercise to bring the beat into your body.

Music credit: "Alva's Baby Blues" by Ray Sharpe