Life Lessons Learned From Being “Footloose” !!

Life lessons learned: sometimes you see the lesson coming, sometimes not. And sometimes you think you see it coming, but in reality it is not until later you start to grasp the far-reaching impact it has had and will have on your life: how you think, how you do, and hopefully changing you for the better.

And sometimes these lessons come from… CHOREOGRAPHING ROUTINES! YEAH!

Wait… choreographing routines?

Well, yes. More to the point: Expressing. Creating. Dancing.

One of these lessons came 10 years ago, the immediate result being one of our most well known choreographed routines. It’s interesting to think now how close Sheri and I were to an alternative reality of us *not* going through with choreographing this routine. (Because maybe one cliche-but-catchy-80s-pop-tune choreography is enough for a lifetime… *haha* (a reference to our first routine “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (ahhh nested parentheses!)))

Sufficed to say, while the performance still remains memorable, it is the pivotal lesson that is what still influences my life and Sheri’s life. It’s a lesson still remembered, still giving us something to strive for, and still something we continue to pass on to dance students, team members …well, really anybody who wants to hear it.

I know I’ll really enjoy sharing this one, I hope you enjoy reading about it!

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Beginning With The End In Mind

The routine itself as some of you have already guessed was our “Footloose” routine back in the summer of 2005. At the time, competing at a Lindy Hop showcase with a non-Lindy song like this, yeah it was a bit off the beaten path. Of this era, most routines: all swing music. If people did use a non-Lindy song, it was usually utilized more as an appetizer to set up the main course of the swing performance to come. And we were in this same mindset: in fact, we never originally intended to put out this non-swing-music routine.

And wow… as I typed that, that really just hit me. We never originally intended to put out this non-swing-music routine.

But yes, in the end, it happened. And I’m thankful and hopefully by the end of this blog post you’ll see exactly why.

So to start us off on this blog journey, here is our “Footloose” routine as performed at Camp Hollywood’s National Jitterbug Championships 2005

Blaming Brian

Backing up a bit, I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time. I mean …A LONG TIME. And I’m guessing similar to many bloggers, it can be challenging to find time to write. So I’m happy to finally get this blog post out. However, I want to give credit where credit is due (and this may even be a surprise to him!). Thanks to Brian Shim (of the fabulous SwingDance.LA website)

brian-shim

Blogging about “Footloose” has always been a goal for me. There are a lot of things that came out of this experience, all good blog topics. However, Sheri and I noticed that each year we still get some common questions, specifically about song choice:

  • Why did we choose that song?
  • Did we know it would go over?
  • That was a risky choice wasn’t it?
    (and so on..)

It is an interesting question.

And if you look at the comments on our youtube video you’ll see some debate of whether we’re actually doing “Lindy Hop” or not, and you’ll even see some negative comments that there is no way this can be called Lindy Hop or Jitterbug.

I can understand that point of view and am not surprised by it . I understand it and responding to that is part of what formed this blog post in my head over the years.

Eventually, it was Brian Shim who “pushed me off the cliff” so to speak, with a few articles of his on his website.

Blog post #1: back in 2013 by Brian was an interview with Sheri and me and one question in the interview: how did we end up picking Footloose?

Brian: One of my favorite contest performances of all time is your “Footloose” routine at Camp Hollywood 2005. That brought down the house. Whose idea was that and why did you choose that music?

I could only laugh at that question. And I explained to Brian, after all these years of buildup in my head of a blog post responding to these questions, well, I was no longer capable of a short answer for this question. He laughed. He told me he supported our “non-answer” and looked forward to reading my blog post when I wrote it.

Obviously I took too long because Brian then struck again when a few months back (March 2015) he came out with a tribute article to our footloose routine: “A LOOK BACK AT BEN AND SHERI’S EPIC “FOOTLOOSE” PERFORMANCE FROM NJC 2005″. And as the article made its rounds on social media, it really hit me that this year was the 10th anniversary of Footloose. And by golly gosh gosh if there was to be a time to write this, it’d be now!

And so here we are!! Thanks Brian for keeping this on the front burner! (And woot! here it is!)

The Setting

10 years ago. Spring of 2005.

Well, let’s start a bit before that.

11 years ago. Fall 2004.

We were coming off a 2004 season with a fresh and inventive “Moses Supposes” routine. We had actually “retired” two years earlier and had decided to “unretire” with this routine as our re-introduction to the competition scene. It wasn’t your normal piece of music you would choose, a bit “off the beaten path” with not your normal choreography, especially for this era of competition.

In all honesty, we were quite nervous about doing “Moses Supposes”

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

However, “Moses Supposes” was and is one of my favorite numbers from one of my favorite movies ever. It had always been a huge inspiration to me (it still is!) and I had a feeling we could make it into something unique and special.

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
Ben: “Yes I’m sure! We can make it work!”
Sheri: “Okay then. Let’s do it”

(a fairly typical conversation between us in those days) (and come to think of it, these days too!)

And so we did it:

And sure enough, it was unique and special. We received a lot of accolades. We also ended up winning … 2nd place. 2nd place at the two major national Lindy competitions of that time (ALHC and NJC/Camp Hollywood).

We were a strange combination of excited and disappointed. Glad we could have put it out there, wondering what we could have done to win 1st. I’ve realized now I think it really was simply being determined. Determined to continue to do better.

We went to go seek out the judges to get their feedback: what would we have had to done differently for them to place us higher? We thought it would be some straightforward answers, but it wasn’t to happen. The responses we got were quite polarizing.

We did get very nice compliments on the creativity of the routine, and yet we were stuck with no real workable suggestions on how to improve it to make it a 1st place routine.

The best example of what I mean came from talking to Ryan Francois. He said it was one of his favorite routines that he’d seen in quite some time. (YAY!!!) And yet when asked how we should change it to make it a first place winner, he had no answer (Awwww mannnnn!!)

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Ben and Sheri: “What should we have done differently to have you place us in 1st?”
Ryan: *silent in thought * “Well, that’s the thing, I wouldn’t want you to change any of it.”

(puzzling, right?!)

Ben and Sheri: “But it’s a routine you likely wouldn’t put in first place?”
Ryan: “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
Ben and Sheri: “But yet you wouldn’t want us to change it?”
Ryan: “Yeah. I love it how it is and I wouldn’t want you to change it.”

(soooo puzzling, right?!)

Another person we talked with, Tise Chao, got us a bit closer to figuring it out. Sort of.

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Tise: “What’s missing is I think you’ve got to ‘own it’”
Ben and Sheri: “Okay. But how do we ‘own it’?”
Tise:: “Well… you just do it. You own it.”

(yup ..still puzzling, right?)

Tise:: “You know you should look at Nick and Shannon’s routine for example. They owned it.”

(I love this routine by the way)

Sure enough, you could see the difference between their routine and ours. Seeing an example and then doing it, well.. that is two different things. Different people, different personalities. So while I could see the difference with my own eyes now, I wasn’t sure how to do it.

How could we .. “own it” … with our less-showy personality? (Well, really that means *MY* less showy personality. Sheri was plenty good at smiling and being showy). For me, I wasn’t sure how to pass that off. There’s a fine line between “owning it” and “arrogance” or even “showing off”, and that definitely wasn’t inherent in me as it was in Nick and Shannon, and even Sheri. It was puzzling for sure.

Eventually we had to start prepping for the 2005 “competition season”. So we filed all this info away as we moved forward, hoping that along the way we’d figure it out.

Beginning With The Beginning In Mind

And onto 2005 … starting with one of the most important parts: Song Choice.

I could write an entire blog post about song choice and choreography, so I’ll just keep it short here.

Song choice is important because it ultimately will give you a canvas for what to express: what theme you can have, overall feel of the choreography, type of choreography, costumes, settings, EVERYTHING.

The pressure then became: well, we had to ABSOLUTELY top our previous year with an even better song choice and even better routine. Somehow we had to top it. And honestly, it became a really stressful pursuit. We really struggled.

I took to listening to music every hour I could. Song after song after song. Often, it would lead to audio overdose which is when everything started sounding weird, kind of like when you say the same word over and over and over again until it doesn’t sound like a word anymore (don’t you hate that?).

And let’s just say, I hit audio overdose a lot. Which meant frequent breaks from swing music … just listening to pretty much anything BUT swing.

Inspiration Hits!!

There was a new radio station called Jack FM “We play what we want!” that I liked listening to, always unexpected stuff, always stuff I liked. And lo and behold it was only a few minutes in to listening one day and a very familiar song started. A familiar drum intro. A familiar guitar riff.

It filled the car with energy. It filled me with energy. The kind that ends up with lots of pounding and drumming on the wheel and belting out of lyrics that you don’t really know but are close enough on and that’s all that matters:

“Been working…so hard! I’m parked in .. my car!”
“The air… farwar! Oh tell me what aguyyyyyyy!
 

(I did look up the lyrics just now, not too bad, but not too close on that second line)

Lyrics aside, it was an experience. After forcing so much swing music down my ears, it was an amazing trip just letting the song “Footloose” fill up the car.

At the end of the song I practically wanted to jump out of my car just like in the music video where Kevin Bacon’s stunt dance double jumps out of the barn doorway into a freeze frame at the end of the video :

footloose-freeze-frame

Not surprisingly, it hit me pretty quickly soon after. Just a few seconds after.

“Wow…”

“WOW!”

I had just totally fully got on board with that song, I mean how could you not? All the way through to the end.

Energizing.

Exhilirating.

THIS!

This was the song we should do for our choreography! My body was still resonating with reaction. Which only told me that this song would surely resonate an entire ballroom with energy.

What a perfect start to the routine!!

(I am chuckling as I type that last sentence.. seems so funny in hindsight but yes, that was my thought… what a perfect *start* to our new routine)

Oh yes.. it would be awesome. Open with Footloose, get the room jumping. Cut over to the swing song which would of course match PERFECTLY and pick up right where Footloose left off. Ride the energy. Take the crowd home.

It would be … AWESOME!

I excitedly told Sheri and after some explaining of the visual in my head, she was pretty much on board. We just needed to make sure to find the right song to close the deal.

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
Ben: “Yes yes! We can make it work!”
Sheri: “Okay then. Let’s do it”

Ay… There’s The Rub!

Well, as it turned out, “we just needed to make sure to find the right song to close the deal” was much more challenging than expected. We went through many a song, many well known songs with high energy like Sing Sing Sing, Shout and Feel It, and more.

Unfortunately, none of the songs fit. THEY DIDN’T FIT. There was always a really noticeable and disruptive drop in energy when the swing song cut in. We even tried to play with where to cut Footloose and do the switchover, but no matter where we cut it in, it never fit.

Which led to what I can only call disheartenment (hopefully that’s a word!). Because while we were so in to having Footloose kick us off and bring the energy up in the room, we had come to the realization it wasn’t meant to be. No swing song could answer properly. Which meant it was back to the drawing board, and at this point in the “season” time was becoming a factor in preparations.

The Mentor Gives The Lesson

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And it was during this time we happened to be taking a private lesson with one of our mentors, Sylvia Sykes. She’s always been a great influence for us when it came to questions about promoting, teaching, competing, pretty much anything and everything dancing related.

We were just chatting when the conversation turned to a possible showcase routine. We told her we were stressing a bit because we still didn’t have a song picked out. Eventually we half-jokingly said “Well, we did think of doing Footloose. Got a swing song we can use with that?”

And this is when *the* conversation took place;

Sylvia: “Footloose?”
Ben and Sheri: “Well, yeah. It was an early choice. It has tons of energy and quick recognition. But we had too many problems figuring a swing song to go with it.”
Sylvia: “So what happened?”
Ben and Sheri: “We just couldn’t get the transition down right. No matter what song we put in where, it dropped energy.”
Sylvia: “I can see that.”
Ben and Sheri: “Which is too bad, we really liked the idea of opening with Footloose.”
Sylvia: “Well, why not just do Footloose and forget the swing song?”
Ben and Sheri: “….Well, because it’s a swing competition.”
Sylvia: “Ok. You could still do Footloose the entire time?”
Ben and Sheri: “And no swing song?” (not yet getting the point)
Sylvia: “Why not?”
Ben and Sheri: “Can we do that?”
Sylvia: “Why not?”
Ben and Sheri: “Won’t the judges dock us for doing that?”
Sylva: “It’s possible.”
Ben and Sheri: “And the crowd, they might not like a non-swing song routine.”
Sylvia: “That’s possible too.”
Ben and Sheri: ………
Sylvia: “But if you love Footloose, and it has all the elements of energy you want..”
Ben and Sheri: “You mean ..just do Footloose?”
Sylvia: “Sure, why not? You already said you can’t even figure out a good place to cut it. So don’t cut it and just use the song to the end.”
Ben and Sheri: “Can we do that? Won’t we get docked for that?” (still not yet getting the point)

Sylvia: “This is what you guys have to know: it’s okay to not put a swing song in it. There’s nothing wrong with making a choice if it’s what you really want to do. But yes, realize that sometimes your choice means you are putting yourself 10 feet behind the starting line with the judges or the audience, but that’s okay. So what?

That just means now you have to be so damn good you make up that distance and then pass everyone.

You go and be so damn good you force the crowd to have no choice but to love it and force the judges to have no choice but to give you first if that is what matters to you.”

And there it was …

Well, we were a bit taken aback. Flabbergasted at the thought. Just do Footloose only?

In the end though, Sylvia’s words resonated with us. And it is advice will continue to remember and strive to follow the best we can:

If it’s what you want to do, just do it. You may end up starting 10 feet behind everyone else. But that’s okay. It’s then up to you to be so damn good you make up that distance and then pass everyone. You do so damn good the crowd can only have the choice to love it.

Personally it gave me something I think I had needed to hear for quite some time: about learning to be comfortable in my own skin.

And that really brought back around everything that had been swirling in my mind.

If you think about it, judging a competition is the proverbial comparing apples to oranges, pretty much goes along with the saying: “You can’t please everybody”. Every judge will have a different filter and it could drive you bonkers to try and play that game. You cannot work on pleasing every judge because there are just so many subjective filters out there.

And while it’s fantastic to learn what judges think and to take that into account, it is so VERY important to use it to help you find a balance between how to improve yourself and STILL stay true to your own sense of dance and style and do what makes you happy!

And heck, if you get the right combination of judges, you might win.

Realize too, the same routine with a different set of judges, you might come in last.

But getting your expression out there? Being comfortable in your own skin and share that with the world? That’s priceless.

That was the big lesson that Sheri and I learned. And it made so much sense.

Bringing it back to the conversation with Ryan Francois and Moses Supposes:

What’s so wrong with what he said? What’s wrong with being a memorable routine that doesn’t win? What’s wrong just for liking something for what it is and saying “No, please, I wouldn’t want you to change it.”

It made sense.

Bringing it back to Tise’s words of wisdom:

Owning it? It doesn’t have to necessarily mean arrogance, or showing off (in the traditional sense). Maybe it just meant being comfortable in your own skin. Not being afraid of making the choices you want to make and then going out there and being damn good at it. Loving what you are doing so much and feeling the joy of getting to share it with the world. Some people might not like it, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Show enough heart and joy, and people might not agree with it, but still love and respect it and be inspired by it.

It made so much sense now.

Looking back on it now, on our 2004 and 2005 routines, it is an interesting contrast.

If you watch the two clips above again, the “Moses Supposes” routine vs the “Footloose” routine… I think you can see the marked difference of “owning it” factor. Both routines, a bit against the grain, off the beaten path. The difference? In 2005, we believed fully in ourselves and fully in our choices. And loved it.

The Aftermath …

If you have seen our other work, most notably our team routines with our One2Swing Jitterbugs teams, you’ll see we continued to do things a bit off the beaten path. Heck, as I mentioned, a normal conversation between me and Sheri often included the below question:

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

(I’ve actually started really liking when Sheri asks me this now … because it usually leads to something awesome! haha)

My favorite example of this: our One2Swing Jitterbugs (aka One2Swing’s The California ROlls) 2009 routine to Nina Simone’s “Love Me Or Leave Me”.

Now *THAT* was a difficult choice. If you know your Lindy revival history, you know what I mean. But let me break it down for you anyway.

For some time, I had wanted to do some performance to Nina Simone’s “Love Me Or Leave Me”, and that desire gained a lot of momentum circa 2008. But whenever the question arose, we immediately put the foot down because this song was untouchable. Because really, only a fool would dare do something because of the already very iconic routine from 1999 by “Minnie’s Moochers” which set the Lindy world on fire.

The best perspective I’ve ever read on this comes from the blog of Rikomatic aka Slick Rik aka Rik Panganiban.

rik

He wrote this blog post from the point of view of being in the crowd at ILHC 2009 where we competed our “Love Me Or Leave Me” routine, and I really like reading his post. Not just because of his compliments about our team (which by the way are very nice thank you Rik!) but also for his perspective of being an “old-schooler” in the audience. Watching a team getting ready to perform (that would be us), only to hear the familiar piano intro by Nina Simone.. if I were in that audience watching us I’d be thinking “No way, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really?”. Rik put it much more eloquently:

Rik: What makes it so poignant for me and many of the others who were there was how risky doing a routine to that song is. Because “Love Me or Leave Me” is not just another catchy, melodic jazz song. It’s a part of lindy hop history, a song that is inextricably linked to a team routine that changed lindy hop forever.

In 1999, a team of eight gangly teenagers from — of all places — Ithaca, New York, came to the American Lindy Hop Championships in Stamford, Connecticut. Most of us had no idea who these kids were or what business they had in this national dance competition.

These eight high schoolers proceeded to blow all of our minds.

(excerpt from: California Rolls “Love Me or Leave Me” routine at ILHC and why it rocked“)

Yes of course Sheri and I definitely knew the Moochers’ routine and knew it well. Heck, it was a big source of inspiration for us too! And that is why any talk of possibly doing a routine to this song was usually stamped out pretty quickly

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
Ben: “No no. You’re right. Can’t do it.”

Days later…

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
Ben: “No no. You’re right. Nothing good can come from us using this song.”

Weeks later …

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
Ben: “You’re right we can’t. We’ll get booed off the stage.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately) the song and visions of choreography continued to “haunt” me. For over two years in fact. Until one day I couldn’t deny my desire and I told Sheri we had to do it.

Sheri: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

Ben: “Yes. I’m sure”

Sheri: “You are SURE sure?”
Ben: “Yes. It’ll be different. It’ll be good.”

Sheri: “You’re sure?”
Ben: “Yes. We’ll make it work.”
Sheri: “Okay then. Let’s do it”

(although in this instance, I think her exact quote was “Ay Chi-Wa-wa….okay let’s do it”)

And so we did it.

Trust Your Gut. Make Those Choices. Be True To Yourself. Do Your Best

What a great lesson learned. Yes, still carried to this day and many things we do. Choreography. Dance Philosophy. Life.

Don’t get me wrong, Sheri and I are not perfect. We’re not always without doubt. The good news is that even still, we can always still do our best. And it is these words of advice from Sylvia that we still remember and are inspired by to help us strive to accomplish.

At the very least, these words of advice were what helped us put out into the world two of our most well known pieces: “Footloose” and “Love Me Or Leave Me”.

But really, it’s been so much more.

For me personally, it is an interesting exercise to think about what I was like before Footloose, and really what my life could have been. I’m not kidding. If you watch the 2004 Moses Supposes, you can get a good inclination. Creative, but unsure. Confident, but maybe only when convenient. Comfortable in my own skin, but not quite fully.

So the final process of putting “Footloose” out there? It was a major win, and I don’t mean in the accolade sense. I mean in the personal sense. Because besides everything above, there was even one more hurdle (after all that… right? right?)

Because even after the above conversation with Sylvia which convinced us to go fully into this routine, we actually almost dumped it again. We ended up competing it the month before Camp Hollywood at a regional competition (Beantown 2005). As expected, some of the judges weren’t crazy about it. Even though we expected it, when faced with the polarization, it definitely played with our minds and we almost did an emergency re-choreography to include a swing song (which of course meant trying to find one again).

Fortunately, Sylvia’s words continued to come back to us, this time in the form of HUGE amounts of encouragement from Hasse and Marie who stayed with us prior to Camp Hollywood. They continued to encourage us to follow through with our gut feelings and just commit to it, and that was the final bit of faith needed to put us firmly “over the hump.”

And in the end, we did finally give in to the fact that, yes – we were about to perform a routine to a non-Swing song at one of the camps most dedicated to swing music itself, Camp Hollywood – and that, hey… if you’re going to do it, you better dang well do it.

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And it was that performance to a super awesome and very receptive and supportive crowd at Camp Hollywood that ended up giving me and Sheri the amazing experience to help us, and by that I think I mean really help me, be comfortable and confident in our own skin, in our “off the beaten path” view of choreography and dance and life itself.

And sure, some people still may not like our stuff, but that’s quite alright.

Said best by Marianne Williamson in her famous “Our Deepest Fair” quote:

Marianne Williamson:Your playing small does not serve the world. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Hope you enjoyed this!! And I look forward to seeing the many contributions from you all at this weekend’s Camp Hollywood and many more Camp Hollywoods to come!

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I Love Lindy Hop!, Swing

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