Nalla Kim has traveled the world as an instructor, competitor, and judge and is a mainstay in the booming swing dance scene of Seoul, South Korea. In 2008, Nalla met his partner and wife, Jessica Yoon and have been teaching together ever since. Nalla & Jessica have taken home several International and National Championship titles including ILHC, Boston Tea Party, Korea Swing Championships, Busan Summer Swing Festival, Korea Balboa Classic, Asia Balboa Classic and Korea Open. He runs the swing teams Sweet Heart & Lindy Blossom and brings international instructors and musicians to the thousands of Lindy Hoppers in Seoul through events like Authentic Jazz Weekend, Lindy Blossom Weekend, and SEOUL Lindyfest. Nalla made his first appearance at ILHC in 2011 with team Sweet Heart and now he’s become a regular on ILHC judging panels. He’s known around the world for his enthusiasm and passion for Lindy Hop.
Name: Nalla Kim
Home base: Seoul, Korea
Year you started judging: 2012
Year you started competing: 2007, at a local competition. My first international competition was in 2008 at Rhythmic Arts Festival J&J.
Approx how many competitions have you judged: 100 (local and ILHC)
Approx how many competitions have you competed in: 50
**Nalla wanted me to remind the readers that English is not his native language. **
* Why do you judge?
When I go and teach at an event, I’ll go and judge the competition. I like watching the dance and getting to judge gives me the best view of the competition. I try to push myself beyond passively watching the show. Also, it’s an honor to be a judge, particularly at ILHC.
* What do you enjoy about judging?
I can enjoy the best view of the competition. I get to see people’s art, which is really fun!
* What do you dislike about judging?
Sometimes I feel an internal conflict about judging, which makes it harder to truly be fair. Sometimes it’s because my friends are competing, or because how hard the competitors worked to prepare for the competition. Sometimes political things come into play. I try to disregard the personal issues, but there is always an internal struggle when I judge. This can be really hard. Also, sometimes it’s really difficult to decide who not to put through. There have been times at ILHC where all of my favorite Followers were in a heat, and I wanted to put all of them to finals. It’s also hard to say who is the best artist because everyone’s art is so different — it’s so personal.
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
This is the art piece. I want to see more unique style. I want to see the reason why you do this. If it’s the similar to the others, like someone else has done it, I am not as interested. The value is what is unique about their personal voice.
* As a judge, what are you looking for, or value, in a Strictly?
Whether its improvised or planned, I want to see something natural and energetic. I don’t want to know it’s a routine. There needs to be a clarity within the partnership and a connection to the music.
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a J&J?
I focus on the partnership dynamics: what and how do they communicate? How do they connect? How do they make something together? I’m not just interested in musicality. I don’t want to see an imbalanced partnership. I don’t like it when the Leader over-leads or the Follower just follows — maybe the Leader initiates movements and the Follower completes them. I like to see Leaders react to their Followers so we can enjoy their connection.
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about Routines/Strictly’s/J&Js?
When the competitors focus only on the audience, they miss the mark. Connect to your Partner first, then the music, and THEN the audience. Prioritize. Maybe they are too nervous or too focused on the judges, but that really should be an afterthought.
For me, improvisation is preferred! I really feel that the dancers should care about the music, so if they are going to do choreography, then I think it should be flexible.
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Don’t worry about your placement. It’s not a big deal — It’s just an opinion of one moment. When I watch routines again, I sometimes change my mind.
2) Be professional on stage, but not *too* professional. During a J&J or Strictly, please focus on the social dancing and less on the flash or being overly expressive.
3) Trust yourself when you practice. That’s better than the result. The most important thing is the process.
* Why do you think competition is valuable/important?
I think competition is valuable because it allows you to set a target and reach something. In order to do that, you must have clear goals, clear motivation, and you must create something new. Without that motivation, it’s much harder to push yourself.
* What’s your personal philosophy on J&J?
I try not to think about just me, but us as a couple. I try to my best to be the same dancer I am while on the social dance floor. I don’t focus on the fact that there are judges there, but envision that this is another “normal” social night. This puts me at east, and I hope that my lead communicates that. I definitely want to to put my follow at ease.
* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
For sure — I still do. I’m not good at showmanship and I still get nervous. That’s why I like J&Js, but when I get spotlights or routines, I get very nervous.
* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
I don’t want the audience to be uncomfortable so I try my best to hide my nerves. A few years ago we took a private with Nathan Bugh, and he helped us deal with nerves. His advice was to use one’s imagination: imagine being in a comfortable place, imagine that everyone in the audience is a close friend. I try not thinking about it as though I’m competing against anyone else, but that I’m sharing the stage with these people, as though it’s a jam circle. It’s better that way. It reminds me that this one competition is not my last chance to showcase my skills.
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
For personal reasons, my ILHC 2012 Showcase with Jessica. We did a Dean & Jewel Tribute performance to honor Jean Veloz. When I did the showcase, I didn’t think of it as a competition. I didn’t think about placement. But Jean Veloz was apparently impressed enough by the performance that she asked me to dance afterwards. We danced a song backstage and it felt great. Many people recognized what we did that night. At that time many dancers were doing Whitey Style, except the SoCAL dancers, so we were a rarity.
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
ILHC 2011. I was there as a competitor for the Classic Division and at that time many international dancers were in the there – Skye & Frida, Kevin & Jo, etc.– and I just wanted to get through my routine so I could get to watch the rest of the show. I was 3rd or 4th and after that I got to watch all the other routines. It was an honor to compete in the same division as my teachers.
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors? 1) Many competitors come to me and ask me for advice after their performance. I talk to them, but I am not the master. I am just another dancer, not a champ. So my advice is: just trust yourself.
2) So many dancers make it as high as the All-Star division and then they disappear. I understand that for many of them this is just their hobby, or that they leave the scene because they start a family….but I feel sorry every time one of them disappears. So please, dancers/friends, keep dancing and come back to the stage. I miss you! Come back and keep dancing.
3) I don’t like the scoring system since it sometimes works against the dancers. Maybe we need to think more about how we are scoring the dancers. So don’t take it personally.
We need balance in the scene. If not enough people compete, its hard to keep pushing the dance. We need to keep the high quality. Competition helps keep us going and it’s really good for the community. It is good advertising and helps spread the joy of Lindy Hop to others, which in turn helps motivate them. Nowadays, people say they are too tired to compete, or that it is not important, but I hope people will continue to compete. Maybe we’ll find a way to take some of the stress out of the competition.
Daaaaaaaaaaaaaang! What beauuuuuuuuuutiful music this is. Not only does Andrea Motis, the lovely miss in front, have a gorgeous voice, but she is a very good saxophonist. And let’s not forget about the trumpet player! Ricard Gili’s playing is warm and vibrant and his voice reminds me of a dirty martini (can’t explain that one….just go with it). Uuuuhhh, he’s amazing!
Here is an old standard being revitalized by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. “The Lady Is A Tramp” is featured on Bennett’s new album “Duets II”.
It’s not the most impressive music video out there, but I enjoy the song. Mostly, it reminds me of my lindy hopping days 10 years ago. Ahh….music choices….how the change 😀
Here’s a quick ditty about the song I pulled off of PopCrush:
The 1937 standard ‘The Lady Is a Tramp’ has been recorded hundreds of times over the years, but Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga manage to keep it fresh on their version from Bennett’s new ‘Duets II’ album.
The duet kicks off with lively horns that announce the song’s jazzy, big band style. The singers fully embrace the song’s theatrical quality and display terrific chemistry despite their 60-year age difference. After Bennett delivers the well-known opening line, “She gets too hungry for dinner at eight,” Gaga responds with a pained, “I’m starving!”
They modernize the lyrics to name-drop a certain shortstop during one spoken verse: “Sometimes I go to Coney Island / Oh, the beach is divine / And I love the Yankees / And Jeter’s just fine / I follow Rodgers & Hart / She sings every line / That’s why the lady is a tramp.”
Later, Gaga draws a laugh from Bennett when her voice drops suddenly as she sings, “And I love to rowboat with you and your wife in Central Park lake.” She even does a bit of scatting during a playful mid-song breakdown.
So often I hear people say “we’ve got to support live music.” Dance instructors often tell their students to support live music by coming out to venues when there’s a band playing, organizers worry about people coming out to “support the band”.
Every effort is appreciated of course, but I think where this phrase misses the mark is that people want to go dancing to enjoy themselves, not to support a something. Telling people to support live music by showing up sends the message “go out dancing to a DJ to have fun, come hear a band to support the scene.” Of course no one MEANS it that way, but it somehow comes across to people as such.
So what CAN you actively do to support live music and share their passion for dancing to a live band with other people? Here are some talking points that you might find helpful:
1. Tell people why you like to dance to live music better than recorded music. The majority of experienced dancers prefer dancing to a live band over dancing to recordings. These are also folks who have a tremendous passion for dancing. Share your passion for this with others. Your students, friends, new dancers, etc. Tell them honestly why it matters to you and why you like it better. People’s authentic passion is a better motivator than anything else.
2. Talk to people about the correlation between improvisation in dancing and improvisation in jazz.
3. Talk about how the band feeds off the dancers energy and the dancers feed off the band. There’s not any interplay like this with a recording.
4. Talk about dancing as the whole experience of dancing, music, fashion and vintage culture rolled together. There’s a reason you own vintage clothes!!
5. Some people are history buffs. Talk about the historical accuracy of dancing to live music.
6. Some people are kinesthetic. Talk about how it FEELS different to dance to real instruments vibrating than it does to a speaker.
7. Tell your audiophile friends that no matter how good a recording is, it’s not the real thing.
8. Tell people that live music nights are THE nights to be out. They’re not just dance practice, they’re social events where you can expect everyone to be out!
9. Tell people it’s what all the cool kids are doing.
In addition to sharing your ideas about why you love to dance to live music, there’s some other great ways to be a supporter.
1. Start a thread or a message about dressing up when there’s a band. People looking sharp means it’s more special when a band plays.
2. Introduce people to the musicians. People are more involved if they know the folks making the music.
3.Be there. Stay home one DJ’d night that week and spend that extra $5 to see a band!
4. Suggest bands’ facebook groups to friends or post a link to a bands’ page as your status every now and then. Facebook lets you send a page suggestion to anyone you want. If you know some dancers not on a fan page of a band you like, suggest it to them. A couple kids at the Century this week were SHOCKED to learn that my band was on facebook. The more folks on our pages the more people who will know about our shows.
5. Side by side with number 4 is inviting more people to a band’s show. Facebook lets you invite people on your friend list to events you’re attending. Spread the word.
6. Read this blog (and others like it!) and learn about music. Re-post stuff you find interesting for others to see too!
Remember, supporting live music is about telling people how much it kicks ass, not about telling them to support it.
I ran into Glenn a few months ago while hanging out in Seattle and he’s a super interesting guy. He knows his music backwards, forwards, and upside down and he speaks passionately and eloquently about it.
When I first started dancing, I could dance long enough or hard enough. I would dance to anything just so I could keep moving and practice this new “thing” I found and needed. It was like I was starving constantly and it didn’t matter what nourished me. Now years later, I have been well feed and have developed a better palate for music. I’ve become more of a music snob and will no longer dance lindy hop to just anything. In fact, I really only want to lindy hop to swing music, not rock & roll, boogie woogie, soul, r&b, bluegrass, hip hop, etc. I will dance other forms of movement to them, but I won’t lindy hop to them.
When I wanted to progress past being an intermediate level dancer, I realized that the next step in dancing was to understand the music, and through this process I started to discover why it was that the really good dancers didn’t dance to certain songs or go out to hear certain bands. There’s a certain feeling in swing music that doesn’t exist in bop or jump blues or 50’s Basie or groovy jazz. It’s really hard to describe in a sentence, but when you discover it, you’ve got it forever and it’s one of the most exciting revelations that life has to offer (IMHO anyway).
Whenever I dance to or listen to a live band, I judge it with a critical ear – I pick apart what I’m hearing and judge what each player’s style is doing to add to or take away from the swing of the band. Over the next several days, I’m going to write about some of the things that I listen for in dance music. If you’re just learning to dance or are looking to step up to the next level, I hope this will help you in your quest as you search for the holy grail of “swing;” if you’re reading this and you’ve already discovered swing, I hope this will help you understand more about what you’re hearing so that when you do or don’t like a band, you’ll have a better idea of why.
#1 Rhythm of the Train
It’s really hard to find good rhythm players and I’ve been blessed to play with guys who really get the style. The goal of the rhythm section should be to form a really tight unit that, in a way, emulates the rhythm of a train. Here are a couple great examples. The first is Duke Ellington’s Orchestra from 1930 playing Old Man Blues:
Now THAT sounds like a train! Here’s a another example, this time from Count Basie’s Orchestra in 1938. Listen to how the Rhythm Section creates the drive and energy of a locomotive, even though they are less expressly trying to copy the exact sound of a train in this one.
Now let’s listen to Count Basie from 1959 to hear how the music changed away from being dance music.
The drums in this tune focus on the back beats like one TWO three FOUR, instead of that nice even chug-chug-chug-chug from the 1930’s, and the extended drum solo at the end just doesn’t swing at all, and there are many other places where the whole band syncopates together, breaking the steady 4 rhythm. The focuses of this tune are the crazy ensemble riffs and Lockjaw Davis’s solo. The ensemble riffs now float overtop of the rhythm instead of being a PART of the rhythm like in the last Basie tune.
Now let’s try some more Ellington and we’ll hear that even the infamous “Take the A-Train” didn’t sound much like a train anymore by the 1960’s.
You can hear that the 1930’s music has that chugga chugga sound like a train, while the later music is more about the horns. This is, in my opinion, due to the fact that American culture changed from a railroad driven culture in the 1930’s to an automobile driven culture after WW2.
Let’s listen to a couple modern examples.
First, something that doesn’t swing!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling it bad music – I think Diana Krall and her musicians are fantastic players. I am however calling it indisputably NOT swing music.
Let’s close out with something that DOES swing. Here’s my buddy Jonathan Stout’s big band from LA. Note how Jon on guitar and Josh on drums create that locomotive rhythm. (check out Jonathan’s blog here: HERE)
I hope this gets you started thinking about what makes music swing!!
A few years back Meschiya Lake was best known for singing on New Orleans streets with various bands, including The Loose Marbles. Now, she’s in high demand at all the local clubs featuring “trad jazz.”
At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this year, Lake brought her Little Big Horns to the Lagniappe Stage. The music seemed the perfect fit for the sunny kick-off day of the festival’s first weekend. Lake and the band drew smiles on everyone listening and, at one point, in the middle of a song, she frantically waved at a friend to get up on the stage with her and lindy-hop. And dance they did!
After the performance, my co-producer Mike Elliot and I walked with her to grab a bite to eat and then worked our way back to the track’s enclosed grandstand to chat.
I am so unbelievably inspired by the show last night!!
The ACT Theatre was lovely. It has a very impressive light rig and ventilation system that hides a gorgeous ceiling, and is perfect for hanging trapeze and silks from. The performers did a great job performing to the audience on all sides instead of picking a “front” and then focusing there. Bonus points to the ladies who removed articles of clothing; as they set up their “reveal” for one part of the audience, the audience on the other side of the stage got a great preview of “the goods” ahead of time. Good on em’!
A good bit of the show was done to live music and the band was freaking hot! The Zebra Kings are an eight piece big band featuring John Olafs on guitar, Damien Aitken on Sax, Jim Knodle on trumpet, and Tige DeCoster on bass. * They played Jazz/R&B during the breaks, and everything from Offenbach to bump-and-grind for the performers. Unfortunately I can’t find much more information on them other than what I’ve put up, so if you know something, leave a comment!! 😀
Kevin Joyce and Blanche DeBris (clever name if I do say so myself) were the hosts of the show and they awkward, engaging, charming, and brazen. Throughout the show, Kevin and Blanche take time to “discover” their true selves and we get to see them blossom as performers throughout the show. I thought they were fantastic. Kevin used a Spain-Spanish accent throughout the show that was charming and lovable. Blanche had a darling, Betty-Boop-of-a-voice that she used throughout the show and a naive, sexy charm about her. I thought she killed the last number with her rendition of Rubber Ducky! Damn, Ernie will never look at his Ducky the same way again.
My favorite burlesque performers of the evening were Miss Indigo Blue, Shanghai Pearl, and Trixie Little & the Evil Hate Monkey.
“Sexy, funny, irreverent and ingeniously clever, Miss Indigo Blue flirts with the edgy, exotic and erotic fringes of burlesque. More than just a great practitioner of the ol’ bump and grind, she enlivens her performances with a heady blend of brainy and bawdy that makes audience’s mouths water, as their minds whirl. Miss Indigo has performed across the globe and is a three-time award-winner at the annual Miss Exotic World competition, and also currently holds the First Runner Up title from the Jenny Lee Tassel Twirling. Miss Indigo founded BurlyQ Queer Cabaret in 2002, which now has outcroppings in New York and London and is the founder and Headmistress of the Academy of Burlesque in Seattle which was featured in the documentary film, A Wink and a Smile (directed by Deirdre Timmons, Golden Echo Films). We look forward to what she has in store for the festival! For more about Miss Indigo check out her website.”
“The Shanghai Pearl is The Tantalizing Temptress from Taipei and Princess of Pulchritude! She infuses traditional bump and grind with her signature Shanghai sweetness. Her range is broad; spanning the burlesque gamut from tantalizing tongue in cheek tease to irreverent vaudevillian vignettes. Always entertaining and full of sizzling striptease, her moxie and bravado is not to be missed! Catch her on the Libertease stage and allow her to Shanghai your heart! Website.”
Miss Indigo did a GOR-geous feather fan number and I have to say, it one of the most musical burlesque numbers I’ve seen! Thank you for restoring my faith in quality of musical movement within the Burlesque scene!!!! Shanghai had on a jaw-droppingly beautiful, hot pink, feather boa, and if I find a picture of it, I’ll post it! She has a raw, classy sex appeal about her that admire; if I were in the burlesque scene more, I think this is a persona that I’d like to take on. Speaking of which – what would be your burlesque persona?
All of the acrobatic numbers in the show were great. My favorite was Nich Galzin on his German Wheel. Here’s a video of his number. Not only was it a beautiful number, but it was perfectly spaced in the show. Extra points for doing the number on a much smaller stage than the one in that video! Ladies, it’s totally worth a look, he’s a hottie with a body. * grin
Most of the numbers in the show were really well done, but the one that made my heart smile and freakin’ touched my Performance Soul was a number by Lady Rizo. What can I say; I think she’s the bee’s knees. Frack, it was soooooo awesome. Ok ok ok….first and foremost, she had the most RI-DIC-ulous dress on. It was a black, tiered dress with fading sparkles on the tiers. Buggar, I know I’m doing a crappy job explaining what this stunning dress looked like, so mark my words when I say I’ll find it and post a picture on it. I love it so much that I am going to save up and buy one for myself and wear it to Lindy Focus for New Years. OMG, I’m sure it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg; hahah, I’ll probably choke once I figure out how expensive it was. Gaaahhhh…
Ok, so STUNNING dress and an equally marvelous voice. But it wasn’t just her voice that impressed me, it was her attitude behind it. Man, she’s sassy, and frankly, I’d love to sass people up and down the way she did! On top of that, I felt like she connected with the audience and lured us in. Her number brought the house down. It was….one of the all time great singing performances I’ve seen. In fact, I now want to learn to sing after seeing this number. GAD, it was so goood (no, that’s not a typo).
I know! Right?
Ok, last video. Here are highlights from Week 2 of the Moisture Festival:
My parents saw the guy doing the shaving cream act and thought it was hilarious!