Sylvia Sykes on Judging and Competing

Sylvia Sykes began dancing in 1966, competing in 1970, and teaching in 1979. She has studied with many of the dance greats, including Frankie Manning, Dean Collins, Maxie Dorf, and Willie Desatoff. Her extensive studies and travels have made her an expert on regional dance styles and she is known for her expertise in, and the preservation of the older forms of Swing dance. In addition, she is credited with helping to preserve the Balboa by introducing the dance World Wide. 

In 1985 Sylvia and Jonathan Bixby co-founded the Santa Barbara Swing Dance Club, a twice-monthly live-music dance club that they continue to run. She is still teaching her weekly classes that she started teaching in 1979, plus she teaches out of town over forty weekends per year. She is the most sought-after head judge in the modern Lindy Hop & Balboa dance scenes and is now part owner and head judge of the International Lindy Hop Championships.  
Her dance troupe ran for fifteen years, performed with some of the great Swing bands, and nurtured other International teachers. She has been a member of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance since its inception, has taught at the University of California, and has appeared in many TV shows and in several documentaries on Swing dancing over the years.
Sylvia is actively judging and teaching various forms of Shag, Balboa, and Lindy Hop throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia.

Name: Sylvia Sykes
Homebase: Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Year you started judging: not sure, but approx. 1984
Approximately how many competitions have you judged: way too many
What other dance forms do you work in? Just pantheon of swing

What is your background or connection to the Lindy Hop Community?
Been doing it since 1965, though very poorly.

Team USA — with Mario Robau, Valerie LaFemina, Lance Shermoen, Lynn Vogen, Jonathan Bixby, Sylvia Sykes, Jackie McGee and Charlie Womble.

* Why do you judge?
Now because I sort of have to…originally to have a voice for where the dance was going – whoever wins will drive the dance – so I wanted to put my two cents worth in to keep the dance connected to the roots.
* What do you enjoy about judging?
Not much these days other than a bit of influence to keep the dance current and connected to roots.
* What are some of the challenges about judging?
Weighing innovation and great ideas, but not stellar execution against perfect execution but same old same old, as well as differentiating between several couples all performing about the same and having to include and exclude them from the “money.”
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
Musicality – seeing the music more clearly, connection, still lead & follow not just close by execution, humor (or pathos), some sort of emotion, a story, and hopefully something danced well, with some soul.
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
Great partnership, action-reaction, both listening and reacting to the music as well as their partner, modifying a movement midway in reaction to music or partner.
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Jack & Jill?
Great social partnering! Dancing to the level of the partner, listening, and modifying to find a common ground.
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about routines/Strictly’s/Jack & Jills?
Hmm…not sure… but a pet peeve is choreographed jam in a Strictly.
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) You have no control over whether you win or not, just how you dance. Your legacy will be the dance, not the placement.
     2) Use the process to better your skills.
     3) Have a reason to compete beyond “I want to win and be famous.”

Photo by David Holmes

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
It forces you to work on your dance skills and it brings people into the dance.
* Why did you compete?
I don’t.
(Note: I think what she meant to say was that she doesn’t currently, because we know she did. Just click here to check her out in 1995 at the US Open!!)
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
Probably the National Shag Dance Championships because it really was out of my comfort zone.
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
Anything with good dancing!
* Any recommendations on how to deal with getting nervous before a competition?
Pee and poop, beforehand.
* What would you like to see more of in competition?
Good dancing, not merely flashy moves
* What would you like to see less of in competition?
Soulless execution.
 If you want to hear more from Sylvia, check out interview on Ryan Swift’s podcast, The Track.

What Isn’t Consent

THIS. This so many times over! 7 Things You Might Think Are Consent That Aren’t is the most important read of your week. Take the time to read it as many of these things often go overlooked.

The concept of affirmative consent dictates that “yes means yes,” and that only an enthusiastic “yes” constitutes sexual consent. But what is not consent? A lot of the things we’ve been taught indicate sexual consent are actually not adequate ways of determining if your partner is into it or not. In order to make sure a sexual encounter is OK with both partners, consent needs to be vocal, enthusiastic, and continuous.

Just teaching people, especially young people, what is and isn’t consent can have a huge impact on their behavior. For example, in a survey published in Violence and Gender, 32 percent of college men said that if “nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences,” they would have “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse.” (Terrifying, I know.) But fewer — 13.6 percent — said they would have “any intentions to rape a woman.” (Yes, still terrifying.) Just calling it rape deters people from doing it, so the better people can recognize assault, the fewer sexual assaults are likely to occur.

You’re not looking for a “no.” A “maybe” isn’t going to cut it. You’re looking for a resounding “yes.”

Please read the rest of the article on Bustle and start having a conversation with your close friends about what “consent” really sounds like.


Interested in learning more? Here’s a great video that draws a super charming parallel between consent and making someone a cup of tea.


Sexual Assault in the Scene – General Notes

***** traduction en français ci-dessous. N’hésitez pas à lire et à partager *****
***** 많이 읽어주시고 공유해서 퍼트려주세요 *******
***** Russian Below*****

Dear Facebook Dance Friends.

I’m stunned and distraught by the number of stories that are coming forward about women being sexually assaulted. What’s even more distressing is the fact that what we’re hearing is but the tip of the iceberg. Most women who are assaulted will never utter a public word about it. So if you want a clearer picture of the epidemic of sexual violence against women, take all the stories you are hearing on Facebook or in the media and multiply by ten.

Our dance scene is no exception. I’ve seen firsthand how many people question the veracity or reliability of the women who go public with their stories — especially when the assaulter is a prominent instructor. I’ve seen firsthand how many people will make excuses for the instructor’s conduct. That’s one of the reasons it took 9 women (one being the highly decorated Ramona Staffeld) coming forward before the entire lindy hop community was willing to ban Steven Mitchell.

One of the most insidious excuses is that the accused has not been convicted in a court of law. But there is a reason women do not go to the authorities. As a fellow lindy hopper, Alex Gaw, so eloquently said, “If someone comes forward, it’s probably after a great deal of agonizing doubt and reflection, in part because they know exactly what they’ll face if they do. Until we live in a world where survivors of sexual assault feel empowered to report their attackers, where police are likely to make arrests based on reports of sexual assault, where prosecutors are more likely to pursue cases of sexual assault, and where juries are more likely to convict the offenders, there is no place in a community discussion for cries of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”

We know that Steven is a rapist and a predator. The fact that he was not convicted — either because of statute of limitations issues or because people did not want to relive their most traumatic moment in an impersonal courtroom — does not change that, nor does it change the obligations we have as a community to provide a safe environment for our fellow dancers, instructors, and students. So when a teacher/student/dancer says, “I’ve been raped,” the appropriate response it to create a safe space for her and NOT ask her what she was wearing, why did she lead that person on, gaslight her, or trivialize her experience in any way. If you would like to better know how to support survivors, check this out:

And, for god’s sake, we need to stop conflating skilled dancing with good character. Yes, I totally get that it can be hard to believe that someone you know, you admire, that you’ve watched on youtube, or taken classes from could be capable of such a thing. It’s natural to be shocked by what a woman/women have revealed about a particular individual, but it’s really important to remember that people don’t cry rape just for “funsies.” When someone like Tatiana Udry spoke out about abuse and assault within the Swing Community, I was thrilled to see how many people share her post and voiced support. I hope that when the name(s) are revealed, that the support continues to be there, regardless of how well those individual(s) swing out.

Chers Amis danseurs de Facebook

Je suis consternée et inquiète par le nombre de témoignages de femmes qui admettent avoir été abusées sexuellement.
Le plus effrayant est le fait que les histoires mises en avant ne sont que la partie émergée de l’iceberg. La plupart des femmes qui ont été agressées ne le diront jamais en public. Pour avoir une idée de la réalité de la violence sexuelle subie par les femmes, prenez toutes les histoires que vous entendez sur Facebook ou dans les médias et multipliez le tout par dix.

Notre scène de danse ne fait pas exception à la règle. J’ai pu attester en premier lieu du nombre de gens qui questionnent la véracité ou la crédibilité des femmes qui choisissent de s’exprimer publiquement.– surtout lorsque l’agresseur en question est un professeur reconnu. J’ai pu voir moi-même comment les gens trouvent des excuses au comportement de l’enseignant en question. C’est une des raisons qui explique pourquoi il a fallut que 9 femmes s’expriment publiquement avant que la communauté ne soit prête à bannir Steven Mitchell.

L’une des excuses les plus insidieuses étant que l’accusé n’a pas été reconnu coupable devant la loi. Mais il y a une raison pour laquelle les femmes ne se présentent pas aux autorités de loi. Comme un camarade lindy hopper Alex Gaw l’a justement exprimé ” Si quelqu’un se décide enfin à parler , c’est probablement après une période douloureuse de doute et de réflexion ,en partie parce que la personne sait exactement ce à quoi elle devra faire face le cas échéant. Tant qu’on vivra dans un monde où les survivants d’agressions sexuelles ne sont pas soutenus lorsqu’ils dénoncent leurs agresseurs, tant que la police ne procèdera pas à des arrestations suite à des dépôts de plainte pour agressions sexuelles, tant qu’il y aura peu de chances que les procureurs donnent suite aux cas d’agressions sexuelles, et tant que les jury ne condamneront pas plus systématiquement les délinquants, Il ne devrait pas y avoir de place au sein des discussions de notre communauté pour ce genre de discours ‘innocent jusqu’à preuve du contraire.’”

Nous savons que Steven est un violeur et un prédateur sexuel. Le fait qu’il n’ait pas été inculpé –soit par délai de prescription ou parce que les victimes ne voulaient pas revivre leur traumatisme devant une salle d’audience impersonnelle — ne change rien aux faits, et cela ne change en rien les obligations que nous avons en tant que communauté de fournir un environnement sans dangers pour nos camarades danseurs, nos enseignants, et nos étudiants. Lorsqu’un professeur/étudiant/danseur dit, “J’ai été violé,” la réponse appropriée est de créer un environnement sain et sans risques pour lui/elle et NON de lui demander ce qu’il/elle portait, pourquoi il/elle a laissé(e) cette personne aller jusque là, d’attiser la situation ,ou de banaliser son experience de quelque façon qu’il soit. Si vous désirez savoir comment mieux soutenir les victimes, jetez un oeil à ce lien :

Et bon sang, arrêtons de confondre talent de danseur et bons traits de caractère . Oui, je comprends complètement qu’il peut vous sembler difficile de croire que quelqu’un que vous connaissez, que vous admirez, que vous avez regardé sur youtube, de qui vous avez appris en cours soit capable de choses pareilles. C’est tout à fait naturel d’être choqué par ce qu’une ou plusieurs femmes révèlent sur un individu , mais il est important de rappeler que les gens ne dénoncent pas un viol pour se marrer ou pour tuer le temps.” Lorsque que quelqu’un comme Tatiana a parlé publiquement d’abus et d’agressions sexuelles au sein de la communauté swing, j’été heureuse de voir combien de personnes ont partagé son histoire et combien lui ont témoigné leur soutien. J’espère que lorsque le(s) nom(s) seront révélé(s), votre soutien sera toujours là en dépit de la capacité qu’ont ces individus à faire des swing out.


사랑하는 페이스북 댄서 친구들께

저는 성폭력을 당했다고 고백해주시는 여성들의 이야기에 놀라고 좌절하고있습니다. 더욱 걱정 되는 것은 이러한 이여기들은 빙산의 일각일 뿐이라는 것입니다. 대부분의 피해자 여성들은 공개적으로 피해 사실을 얘기하지 않고 있는 실정입니다. 이러한 정황상 여성을 대상으로 하는 성폭력의 실상을 더 명료하게 알고싶다면, 페이스북이나 다른 미디어에서 들리는 이야기들을 열배로 곱해주시길 바랍니다.

우리의 댄스씬도 예외는 될 수 없습니다. 저는 제 눈으로 특히나 가해자가 유명한 강사일수록, 공개적으로 피해사실을 이야기한 여성의 진실성과 보증성을 질문하는 많은 사람들을 보았습니다. 얼마나 많은 사람들이 강사를 대변하는 변명을 하는지 저는 직접 보았습니다. 그렇기 때문에 9명의 여성이 공개적 고백을 하고나서야 린디합 커뮤니티가 스티븐 미첼을 추방시킬 마음이 생긴 이유도 그중 하나입니다.

제일 말도 안되는 변명중 하나는 그들이 법정에서 유죄판정을 받지 않았다는 이유였습니다. 하지만 피해여성들이 사법기관에 가지 않는 이유가 있습니다. 같은 린디하퍼인 Alex Gaw가 “만일 누군가가 피해사실을 공개하기로 결정했다면, 그들은 자신이 이를 공개하므로써 어떤일을 앞으로 겪을지 이미 잘 알고있고 그렇기 때문에 깊은 고심과 걱정을 했을 것이다” 라고 잘 표현했습니다. 우리가 피해자들이 가해자를 신고하기에 자유롭게 느낄 수 있고, 경찰들은 성폭력 신고에 따라 가해자를 체포할 수 있으며, 검사들이 더욱 적극적으로 성폭력 사건을 다루고, 마지막으로 판결자들이 더욱 가해자를 위법자로 인정하는 사회가 되지 않는 이상, “판결 전까지는 무죄” 라는 커뮤니티 속 주장은 설 자리가 없다고 생각합니다.
우리는 스티븐이 성폭력 목적의 가해자이며 강간범 이러는 것을 압니다. 법적 사실은 그는 사법처리 되지 않았다는 것 입니다-공소시효 말소나 피해자들이 가장 힘들었던 순간을 비인간적인 법정에서 다시 회고하고 싶지 않았기 때문입니다-. 하지만 이러한 사실은 우리가 커뮤니티로써 우리 댄서,강사,학생들에게 안전한 환경을 만들 의무를 바꾸진 않습니다.
그러기 때문에 강사/학생/댄서가 “성폭력을 당했다” 라고 말을 한다면, 합당한 대처는 그녀를 위해 안전한 공간을 마련해주는 것이지, 절대로 그녀가 뭘 입고있었는지, 왜 그사람과 그런식으로 얘기했는지, 그녀를 추궁하거나 그녀거 당한 피해사실을 작은 것으로 간과하지 말아야 합니다. 성폭력 피해자에 대한 대처법의 이해 통해 그들을 도와주고 싶다면 링크를 참조해주세요:

그리고 제발 잘추는 댄서가 좋은 인성을 가졌다고 생각하는 것을 멈춰야합니다. 물론 당신이 알고, 우상시하는, 자신이 유투브에서 보고 강습을 들은 대상이 그런일을 저지를 것이라고 믿기 어려운것은 이해가능합니다. 일정 대상을 향한 피해사실 고백은 당신을 놀라게 할 수있지만, 중요한 한가지 사실을 기억해주세요, 그들은 장난으로 강간을 외치지 않습니다. 타티아나와같은 인물이 성폭력과 이용당한 상황을 스윙댄스 커뮤니티에서 이야기 했을때, 전 그녀의 글을 공유하고 지지하는 많은 사람들의 반응에 무척 기뻣습니다. 저는 가해자(들)의 이름이 공개된 이후에도 그 (들)의 춤의 실력과 상관없이 피해자들에 대한 지지가 계속 되면 좋겠습니다.


Дорогие друзья!

Я поражена и обескуражена количеством историй о женщинах, подвергающихся сексуальному насилию. Самое горькое, что истории, которые доходят до нас — это лишь верхушка айсберга. Большинство жертв публично никогда не скажут об этом ни слова, так что если вы хотите получить представление о реальных масштабах эпидемии сексуального насилия над женщинами — умножайте количество признаний, появляющихся в фейсбуке и СМИ, на десять.

Наше танцевальное сообщество — не исключение. Я лично не раз сталкивалась с тем, что истинность и достоверность историй, рассказанных жертвами сексуального насилия, ставится под сомнение, особенно в тех случаях, когда насильником является известный преподаватель: многие в подобной ситуации стремятся найти его поведению оправдание. В частности из-за этого потребовалось целых 9 публичных признаний, чтобы исключить Стивена Митчелла из линди-сообщества.

Одно из наиболее удобных оправданий заключается в том, что преступник не был признан виновным в суде. Но есть причина, по которой женщины не обращаются в суд. Как точно подметил мой хороший знакомый Алекс Гоу (Alex Gaw), «если человек решается рассказать свою историю публично, то это скорее всего происходит после мучительных сомнений и раздумий — отчасти из-за того, что он прекрасно понимает, с чем ему придется столкнуться после публичного признания. Пока жертвы сексуального насилия не почувствуют себя вправе подавать в суд на насильников, пока полиция не будет готова производить аресты по заявлениям о сексуальном домогательстве, пока судебные органы не начнут с готовностью браться за расследование дел о сексуальном домогательстве, и пока присяжные не станут регулярно признавать таких преступников виновными, в публичном обсуждении проблемы не может быть места репликам “невиновен, пока не доказано обратное”».

Мы знаем, что Стивен Митчелл — маньяк и насильник. Тот факт, что он не был привлечен к уголовной ответственности (в связи с законом об исковой давности или потому, что его жертвы не были готовы обсуждать полученную травму, имеющую столь интимный характер, в обезличивающем зале суда), не отменяет правдивости этого утверждения. Это также не освобождает членов нашего сообщества от обязанности поддерживать безопасную и комфортную атмосферу для всех танцоров, в том числе преподавателей и учеников. И если преподаватель/ученик/танцор говорит «меня изнасиловали», адекватной реакцией будет именно создание безопасной для жертвы атмосферы, а НЕ психологическое давление, снижение значимости пережитого опыта или допрос с пристрастием о том, что было надето на жертве и подавала ли она насильнику неоднозначные сигналы. Если вы хотите больше узнать о том, как именно следует оказывать поддержку жертвам сексуального насилия, почитайте эту статью:

И, ради бога, давайте перестанем делать выводы о порядочности человека исходя из его танцевальных навыков. Да, я понимаю, сложно поверить, что кто-то хорошо вам знакомый, кто-то, кем вы восхищаетесь, чьи выступления вы смотрите на youtube и у кого вы берете уроки, может быть способен на такой поступок. Шок — это естественная реакция на подобные признания, однако очень важно помнить, что человек, подвергшийся изнасилованию, не станет впустую разбрасываться словами. Когда Татьяна (Tatiana Udry) открыто сообщила о сексуальном домогательстве и насилии в нашем танцевальном сообществе, я была невероятно рада тому, что очень многие поделились ее постом и выразили поддержку. И я надеюсь, что когда будет раскрыто имя насильника (или их имена), эта поддержка не ослабеет, независимо от того, насколько авторитетным танцором окажется этот человек.

When women talk about harassment and violence

So you want to be an ally to women? Or, you’re already an ally to women and want to check in and see how to up your game? Or you’ve never thought about harassment and violence against women until now and you’re ready to make some small changes that will have a large impact?

Let’s talk about Rape Anxiety. It’s a thing. Even I have dealt with this when I am walking alone at night or when I’m near large groups of men (regardless of the time of day). When I’m out walking/jogging, I am regularly scanning to see if someone might be following me. Yeah, that might sound crazy, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. So please, regardless of your personal experiences, if someone speaks to you about sexual harassment or gendered violence, please take it seriously.

“But even well-intentioned guys may be unaware of how their position of power creates intimidating situations.”

Please read this article – originally posted on Up Worthy – and share it broadly.

1. I need you to listen to me.

Resist your impulse to “not-all-men” your way out of the conversation. If I’m talking to you about this issue, it’s because I trust you and I think it’s an important discussion to have.

Please understand that my experiences may change your worldview a little bit — and that yours might change mine. If both of us approach the conversation with the assumption that we have something to learn, chances are we will.

2. I need you to be aware of how your behavior could unintentionally make the women (and femme and queer people) around you uncomfortable.

Maybe you’re trying to chat up a woman at the bar who doesn’t seem interested and you’re just not taking a hint. Maybe a step in the right direction is realizing that the woman who’s glancing back at you while you walk down the street is trying to assess if you’re a threat.

When you’re more in tune with the harassment that women experience every day simply by existing in the world, the next step is to notice if and how you play a role in those situations. Lots of times your threat is harmless, of course. But it never hurts to think critically about how you treat women, especially those you don’t know, in public.

3. I need you to use your privilege as a shield.

Guys, it’s exhausting to have to do all of this work ourselves. We really want your help.

The perpetrators of gendered microaggressions, sexual harassment, and sexual violence aren’t strangers — they’re the men in your classes, your workplace, your gym. So if you see something, please say something.

If a coworker makes an inappropriate comment to you about another coworker’s body, please tell them it’s not OK.

If you see a dude harassing a female friend at a party or a bar, please tactfully interject yourself into the situation to give her an out.

And, for the love of all that is holy, PLEASE teach your sons, brothers, and friends to do the same.

It may be uncomfortable to start talking about sexual violence and harassment, but it’s so, so necessary for all of us.

Those conversations could make a real difference in whether people like me feel safe and comfortable in the world.

That matters.

Czech Fashion Magazine

Kevin and I made it into a Czech Men’s Fashion Magazine. Needless to say, I’m pretty thrilled!

For Men

Czech photoshoot

Oh my, who are these lovely lindy hoppers? Katja Završnik and Peter Winqvist Loggins

Katja Završnik and Peter Winqvist Loggins

Pamela Gaizutyte and Juan Ignacio Villafane
Pamela Gaizutyte and Juan Ignacio Villafane


“Top swing dance teachers from around the world showing their best pieces from swing era. For Men Magazine May 2015. The magazine text says: swing, sexy, cool as shit and so on…”

Photographer: Matej Tresnak Photography

Top Moments from 2013

A quick review of how EPIC 2013 was for me. In chronological order, I present to you:

1. Attending my first Viennese Ball at the Philharmonic in Vienna, Austria.


I wore a vintage 1930s gown, my Remix shoes, and a feather fascinator from Etsy. What a gorgeous facility! Kevin and I waltzed a few times and stayed awake until the wee hours of the morning. De.lightful!!

2. The best birthday party EVER!!

birthday 2013
The theme: Thrift Store. Instead of getting presents, I asked everyone to bring $29, come down to the thrift store with me and the gang, and buy clothes for someone else. After that, it was fashion show time. And beer. 😀

3. My younger brother got married


4. Dancing on the Great Wall of China

Great Wall


5. Outrageously good time at The Mooche in Cork, Ireland. Thanks Daragh!!

The Mooche

Kevin and I stayed in a fabulous B&B, ate a proper “British Breakfast”, hung out with some fabulous misfits, taught some super fun classes, and hung out with One Horse Pony – some fabulous local musicians.

6. Choreographing for Swing X with Dax Hock & Sarah Breck.

Traveling in Style

Traveling in Style


“You see Dax, I want you to feeeeel like you’re in love. Take her like ‘dis…hold her like ‘dis…..”

Swing x

Talking through the next set of shots

Not only did Kevin and I get to choreograph and advise on our first full-length film, but we also got to visit Middle America. Whoa.

7. Attending the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island and getting into the Fashion section of the NY Times

Jazz party


I’ll see if I can find a bigger picture of it, but I’m on the far left, second row up from the bottom. Kevin and I also took 1st & 2nd place in the Charleston Contest.

8. Taking Second Place with Mikey Pedroza at ILHC in the Slow Division.

ilhc slow


9. Being inducted to the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame – as a Rising Star and as a Couple (thanks Kev!!)

Photo by Steve Hwan

Photo by Steve Hwan

Rising Star – The Rising Star is a Champion that has been around from ten to twenty years. It strives to make its place in the Swing Dance Heavens through its ongoing participation within the Milky Way of Competition.

Couples – Couples stands out with special brilliance among other swing partnerships.

10. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – samba, Copacabana, Ipanema, and amazing people

F - brazil 2


11. Dancing my ass off at Lindy Shock in Budapest, Hungary.

lindy shock

Countless nights I was up until 5am dancing. Mostly I’d go home because I had work in the morning and my feet were on fire. Some of my most memorable dances from the weekend were with Dax Hock. Thanks man!

12. Performing the Jungle Book number with my new team at Lindy Focus: ‘Monkey’ Mikey, ‘Lioness’ Gaby, and ‘White Tiger’ Kevin.

How to Learn Choreo off of Video

Originally posted on Jo & Kevin!

It’s that time of year again, when many of the instructors at Lindy Focus are working on choreography either for an evening performance or the grand New Years Eve show. Since I, too, am working on learning choreography, I figured I’d share my process with you.

Truth be told, I’d much prefer to learn choreography in person, however, most often that is not an option. I’ve had the priveledge of working with other talented, international travelers such as: Nikki and Shesha MarvinMikey PedrozaLaura KeatNick WilliamsSharon DavisAlice MeiThomas Blacharz, and Sarah Breck – to name a few – and more often than not, someone sends a video across the WWW and hopes the person on the receiving end can learn the choreography in full. In my last performance with Alice, I sent her my notes (I will give an example later), a few breakdown videos, and a link to me performing the routine.

Check us out! Alice was a freaking champ at learning all of the details! We probably got 4-5 hours of rehearsal time in together before our performance, but that is rather unusual. Honestly, if you can get a full hour with your partner before performance time, it’s a blessing!

So moving along. The wonderful, marvelous, and effervescent Evita Arce sent me a piece of choreography to learn and it’s a really fun number. The song is New Orleans Bump by Wynton Marsalis and the dancers in the video are trained, New-York-dancers. What this means is that I have my work cut out for me!

To be specific, I have been sent a rehearsal video that is done to music; I didn’t get any prior notes or counts or explanations or anything of the sort. The reason this might be on interest is that I’m going to learn exactly what’s on the video, including any mistakes the dancers made in the video. Since I don’t have confirmation on the movement, I sometimes have to find the common denominator between the dancers when their timing isn’t together. Fun times!

I’m going to give a rundown of my process learning choreography. This isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s how I am best able to learn/visualize the choreo on a number of different levels.

  1. Download the video so I can watch it forwards and backwards. This helps me break down transitions, tricky timing, or something much-too-fancy to see at realtime. I’m on a mac and I prefer using Quicktime over a different player because I can comb through the video second by second. Suuuuuuuuuper important!
  2. Get a hold of the song. Check Spotify, buy it on Itunes, check your personal music library, or get it from the choreographer.
  3. Breakdown the song. I first break it down into eight-counts so I can see how long it is. I go through it again and put in time codes. I go through it one more time and put in musical cues that can help me identify what is where. Here’s a screenshot of what that might look like.

    So what are we looking at?
    I have my downloaded Quicktime video (upper left), I’m playing the song off of Spotify (lower left), and I’m writing my choreo down in Evernote (righthand side).
  4. Now here comes the (potentially) difficult part: breaking down the movement 8-count by 8-count. What is helpful for me to know is what foot my weight is on (if you’ve taken classes from me you know how important this is), what my arms are doing, and what count something happens on. I don’t need all of that information on every 8ct, but I need at least one of those three things.
  5. After I annotate a few phrases, I’ll go back through the video and do the choreography with my body. I go through the sections slowly. First I need to know where my body is going, and then I need to learn to string it together with the movement on either side of it.
  6. Once I have a decent idea of where my body is going, I then put the video on and try to dance that section with the music at full tempo.
  7. Next, I break down a few more phrases, dance it, and put it to music. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but something that looks similar to the video :D
  8. Once I make it to the end of the choreography, I then try to run the routine while watching the video. I’m not worried if it’s a disaster. Again, I just want to be able to get through it.
  9. DAY TWO: Yup, this takes me more than one day if I’m really going to perform it. I put the video on and try dancing it again. This shows me what solidified and what didn’t.
  10. Go back to the sections that I can’t remember or suck at. I go through them slowly to build the muscle memory I am lacking. When I do this, I take my time.
  11. Once I can do it all the way through (again, it doesn’t need to be perfect), I turn off the video and do it just to music. When I find the next set of glitches I work through those (I’m always surprised how many visual cues I’m taking). This is helpful in order to attach the movement to the music. Again, I rework the sections I can’t remember or suck at.
  12. Almost there! Now I need to try it facing the other way! What?? Yes-sir-ree! I have found I can learn choreography faster when I keep myself positioned in one direction in a room. I know at certain points in the music I should be facing a certain direction. If you can get through your piece of choreo while doing the routine facing a different direction, you should be fiiiiiiine.
  13. Last step!! Dancing it in costume!! Perhaps that seems silly, but it makes a HUGE different. Every – do you hear me? – everyprofessional knows they should run their routines in the costume before taking the stage. If you learn the routine in flats but have to perform in heels, you’ll probably be surprised with where you balance is. If you’ve been practicing in one skirt but performing in another, you might not know how slippery the material is (that’s terrifying while doing aerials). That fun thing you’re planning on wearing in your hair? Yeah, that might get knocked off, stab you in the eye, or stab your partner in the eye. The thing is, you’ll never know unless you’ve had at least one run. So do it. Full costume. Underwear and hair pieces. Do it.

So there you have it!  What do you think? Ridiculous? Amazing? Unnecessary? Fun?



  • Send the song along with the videos (yes, plural)
  • Make a video with you performing the piece full out to music (don’t mark it, do it)
  • If you’re feeling extra generous, do it again but facing away from the camera so someone doesn’t have to transpose
  • Make a video with you walking through the movement with counts. Remember to say things like “the weight is on the right”, “left arm on 7″, “move downstage starting count 5″, etc.
  • I’ve you’ve broken down the song, send that as well
Is this overkill? Yeah, maybe, but it’s almost everything someone would need in order to learn somebody else’s choreography. I don’t often have the time to put this much together when I’ve sent videos in the past, but I’m also working with other professionals and can get by with less information. That being said, if I had more videos from the back (or even side view), it would help me out :D


Here is a short list of routines where I’ve had to do this:

Everybody’s Trucking – Choreographed by Sharon Davis
Evenin‘ – choreographed by Nathan Bugh
Blues – Choreographed by Sarah Breck
Shake that Thing – Choreographed by Hot Club Stomp
Honolulu – Originally performed by Eleanor Powell


‎”It turns out that the process of working toward a goal, participating in a valued and challenging activity, is as important to well-being as its attainment.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky

Paris in April

Back in April of this year, I went to visit one of my lovely American friends in Paris. Here are some of my pictures.

Karen Turman was gracious enough to share her place with me while I was in town. Just check out the view out of my living room window. Isn’t it gorgeous?! Within 10 minutes of getting to her place, we were off to grab a decadent bite to eat. Later that evening, we went out with one of Karen’s classmates, argued in French with the waiter, got drunk, and stumbled home. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better first day.

The following day, Karen and I headed off to go get our hair layered at Espace Coiffure Paris. Seriously, it was the best hair cut I’ve ever had. Just check out Karen and my sexy layers!!! After an extended afternoon at the hairdressers, we swung by a market, grabbed some veggies, and then headed back to Karen’s fabulous apartment for some home cooking! Alex Dryer whipped up something delish while Fancy Dougherty entertained us with stories. Again, another delightful day in Paris.

My last full Parisian day was quite the adventure. Alex, Fancy, and I went to the Champagne Region and toured 4 champagne-eries. Needless to say, I was drunk by 11am and loving life. 🙂

Here’s a fun little story for ya: In case you didn’t know, the French are very…. French. What does that mean? Let’s take “customer service” as an example. In the States, there is an attitude of “the customer is always right” and will be accommodated in some way, shape, or form. In France, however, that is not the case. We, the group we were on tour with, had our first tour of the Champagne Region all in French. That in it of itself isn’t bad, shocking, or in anyway noteworthy other than the fact that everyone on the tour spoke English, and maybe half spoke some French. Yes, the tour guide knew that. And yes, her boss who was overseeing the tour knew that. And yet….that still wasn’t enough reason to do the tour in English. “What was the reason for that?” you ask. It was because the Tour Guide lady was in training and the boss had to check and see her performance. Yeah…. *sigh* Just as a bonus: Alex and Fancy took turns translating for me, and if the “boss” could hear something was left out, she would explain the details in (perfect) English.

So. Fucking. French. *smile

The next morning, Karen took me on a bike riding adventure around the city just moments before leaving for the airport. It was slightly stressful getting a hold of the bikes, but it was soooooooo worth it. To top it off, it was one of the few moments it wasn’t raining; the sun never seemed so glorious as the day I rode around Paris on a grey, city bicycle. 🙂

In short, I had a delightful time and I can’t wait to go back. Sure, it was super rainy and Paris is full of French people, but those things only add to the charm of the city. If you’ve been debating about going – go! Watch Midnight in Paris before you go, bring someone you can cuddle with, and wander through the city with your umbrella in tow.

Note: This is mostly written as tongue in cheek.