I think my dance friends on the West Coast will be a bit stupefied at me. My Texas dance people will probably not pay a lot of attention to what I’m talking about because it will require changing how we do things here. And I’m not sure what the East Coast friends will think at all. And then again, maybe everybody but me has been through all this, and I’m just now getting the flick.
Whatever the case may be, I had a life-changing experience a couple of weeks ago when I had the privilege of attending a Skippy Blair Mini Intensive workshop for dancers, mainly West Coast Swing dancers. Not the kind of life-changing experiences that turn you into a Christian, or like when you fall in love, or when you experience the miracle of life during childbirth. Not that kind of experience. More like the kind of thing that a person feels when they see the Grand Canyon for the first time. Or they successfully arrive at the right answer for a 2 page calculus calculation. Or, when the light bulb finally goes on and the whole universe of knowledge just opened up for you.
That’s how I felt with this seminar. Lots of light bulbs went on for me. And all the pieces of the puzzle all came together.
Not that I came away as a ‘star pupil’ because let me tell you, the last words I remember hearing Skippy say to me were, “Wayne, you’ve got the moves and the body, but there’s something going on here, I just can’t put my finger on it.” And when Skippy is evaluating your dancing, she takes in the whole picture, top to bottom.
That’s not really what I had hoped to hear. But it was those last words that made me take all of Skippy’s instruction, her notes, her DVD, and her hand-outs and figure out what that ‘thing’ was. I may not know if I’ve fixed what she saw until I go back for another workshop and she takes a look at me, but I think I found several things that immediately improved what I am doing.
The first, is the ‘Step – Replace’ pattern for West Coast Swing, which greatly varies from the way that I was taught to do WCS. That’s number 1. Number 2 is understanding the Center Point of Balance and how I use that when I do an ‘anchor step’. The Center Point of Balance should be behind the heel of the forward foot for an anchor. I’m sure that I was leaning forward and not getting my center behind my heel. And, I’m sure the triple step of my anchor was affected because of that.
Last week, I went out and danced at Melody Club, working all night long on those two areas. By the feedback and surprised smiles I got, I think I’ve found a key to better dancing for me.
Skippy is 87 years old! She started dancing WCS way back in the 1950’s. She’s been teaching for a LONG time. From the very start of the class I took, I was impressed with how alert and how sharp her mind was. She knew names and dates, and didn’t fumble around trying to remember something. Nor did she stray off topic and lose her train of thought. At age 87, she is as sharp as a tack!
Skippy also demonstrated something that I know has been missing from lots of dance teachers. Organization, professionalism, and structure in her seminars. I have been a teacher all my life, teaching management seminars, training air traffic controllers on-the-job, counseling and evaluating performance and coaching/mentoring individuals for many different disciplines. In the dance world, I’ve come across many well-structured workshops, but Skippy has it all together. She has professional visual aids and material. She arrives early to set up her room. She has an assistant to handle administration, present throughout the day, not just in-and-out (Sarah, you are wonderful!). And she has a clear progression to her instruction in that each class is necessary to advance to the next class. If you come in during the third hour, you probably won’t have the building blocks to understand what she’s trying to communicate. Along with that, I knew that she was an expert in her field, with Jordan and Tatiana, Mary Ann Nunez and Sharlot Bott at the top of her list of dancers that she’s worked with. What better advertisement could a teacher have than them?
With all that in place, I can tell you, she had my full and undivided attention. I wanted to learn from the top in the field. I had wanted to attend one of her seminars for a long time, but could never justify travel and hotel expenses to get it done. This series of intensive workshops were combined with the Jack and Jill O’Rama competition held in the Anaheim area, near Los Angeles. And it was very well priced at $150 for two and a half days. I jumped on it!
I came home dying to share what I’d learned with Patty and my dance partner Karen and everybody else who might listen to me. My enthusiasm was hard to contain. Thankfully, I didn’t bore anybody, and by sharing what I’d learned, I solidified the material in my mind as well. What I didn’t remember, I went back and reviewed in my notes. I watched the DVD another time. I practiced with Patty and with the folks I danced with at Melody. And I know that I’ve just kicked my dance level up another notch.
It’s exhilarating. It’s some of the best quality dance instruction I’ve ever been presented with, and I can say that having taken lessons and workshops with many of the very best in this business. That’s why even at age 87, Skippy is still on top of the hill. The best in the game. She is one amazing woman. You should see her move when she dances and demonstrates what she’s talking about. She’s quick! She’s flexible.
Skippy is an inspiration to me. First and foremost is her mental alertness and ability to analyze a person’s dance. Second, is her quality of instruction and her professional classroom structure. And last, because she is a fun, happy person who smiles, and laughs and loves her life. And while she says she’s going to curtail her traveling after January, I don’t get the impression she has any plans of slowing down at all. She’s continuing to teach at her home studio where she can keep working on two books she has due for publication in August!
My life has been made richer by the honor of meeting and being coached by Skippy Blair.
(Check out Skippy’s webpage. It’s full of articles, info and upcoming workshops. http://www.swingworld.com/)