Just when I was needing a kick in the pants to raise my dancing to a higher level, along comes the Endless Summer Swing Camp. Six of the top West Coast Swing dancers in the world have put together a workshop series and brought it to Houston this past weekend. It was a three day package for $195 that offered eleven one-hour sessions. All classes were separated into three levels based on your World Swing Dance Council points and experience. This was not designed for the beginner dancer. The format was fashioned after the European programs that offer Level One for advancing beginners, Level Two for Intermediate dancers and Level Three for dancers with Advanced and All-Stars points as well as teachers. You could audition to move up to a higher level if you didn’t have the points but honestly, each level provided plenty of challenging instruction. This was not your average swing dance camp. I came away with so much to work on that I’m sure it’ll take me a month or two to digest it all.
Whenever I’ve gone to business training seminars, there’s always a course critique. There’s almost always one block of instruction that sucks or one of the instructor was an idiot who tries to wing it, discrediting a good deal of the course. That was not the case here. It exceeded expectations and yes, I would definitely recommend it to a friend.
One of the first things I observed is just how ‘business’ professional all of the Pro instructors are. While we are all excited about our hobby, smiling and hugging and visiting with friends from out of town, these guys are quietly, professionally running their business. Jordan and Tatiana, Kyle and Sarah, Parker and Jessica – all of them were focused, relaxed and organized. They didn’t pass off registration to volunteers. They did it themselves. They didn’t come straggling into class late. They had a posted schedule and they stuck to it as best they could. If for some reason a class did start a few minutes late, they didn’t short change the session. They made sure they gave a full hour of instruction. While I took my 15 minute break between sessions, they were busy answering questions, selling DVDs, or preparing for their next class. All six of the pro’s were kind, patient and engaged in their business. They all worked toward making this a successful project. I never saw anybody slacking off or letting someone else carry all the weight. Good business practice is definitely a turn-on for me. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can’t run a good business, it will fail. This group is successful because they have focused on all the details.
Take Southwest Airlines for example. The airline succeeds because everyone in that organization is working to make the company successful. They excel in customer service and doing good business. And they make it fun. High morale comes from excellence at all levels – management, employees, fairness, quality and pride. This Endless Summer Swing Camp does the same thing. It’s a business; it offers a quality product; it’s fun!
Every guy in the world wants some of what Jordan, Kyle and Parker have in their dance. Every gal in the universe wants what Tatiana, Jessica and Sarah have. They all gave us so much of themselves in styling tips, in thought processes and in swing fundamentals.
Whenever I’m around Jordan, I study his feet and legs constantly. I watch how he shapes his torso and how he directs his head. Tatiana has the most amazing balance and body movement. She taught the ladies head rolls, arched-back-booty-swipes. She helped correct hand-holds for compression, even coming over to me to help me feel how Jordan does it. Never once during theirs or any of the other sessions did I feel like they were watching the clock to finally end this hour. In fact, they often crammed even more into the last few minutes because they didn’t want to give up until we got what they were teaching. I loved that!
On top of that, I have always felt a kindness and personal connection from both Jordan and Tatiana. Both of them remember my name, always ask about what I’m up to and take the time to visit. It means so much when shooting stars are able to keep their feet on the ground and make heart to heart connections. I love and admire them both. Their work ethic, their business sense, their ability to party hearty and their approachability – all make them so attractive and appealing. Love them!
Parker and Jessica – well – can two people be any more attractive? Parker, a little slower in verbalizing his intentions, was a master at making you wait until you saw that twinkle in his eye and a smile would break across his face – and then he’d hit you with the teaching gem that he wanted you to understand. While explaining a particularly intricate twisted up arm over and elbow up to miss hitting the lady in the face kind of move, Parker used that same slow method of breaking the move down so we got it. Then he nailed it at full speed, showing how exciting the move is when we just take our time to do it right.
Jessica gets her own paragraph! Not just because she’s about the sexiest thing alive (besides my Patty, of course) but because she’s superb at what she does. She smiles, she winks, she moves, she bends, she rotates, she develops, she styles, she struts, she…..well, whatever a gal can do to be HOT, she does it. And she is able to communicate it too. She taught arm movement and what makes a lady’s arms have reasons for moving like that. She cracked us all up with her descriptions of where and how to do arms. “Don’t touch areas of your body that you don’t want they guy to gawk at – he’s already having a tough time not looking there anyway”. And with that, she showed the ladies how to draw your arm across their collarbone or below their breasts across their tummy. In her words, “Shelf the Girls”. Cracked us all up!
She taught posture. She taught feet and leg movement. In effect, she taught everything that she does so well.
When it comes to dedication to her profession, Sarah Van Drake has to be the Spokesperson. She works so hard to encourage and explain and motivate. She constantly harped on us to dance up to and beyond our level. She watches the class and goes back to fix areas that we struggle with until we get it. She’d lovingly chew us out if we fudge on it. Petite as she may be, she’s a giant in the room. Her love for dance and for us dancers spills out of her. Always focused and always working to make her point, Sarah is one hard working mama!
I can never say that I like one of the pro dancers better than the other, but if I had to pick my top two or three, Kyle ALWAYS is in that elite top three. Funny, irreverent, smooth and exacting, I just can’t take my eyes off of him when he dances. His feet, his legs, his hips, his face, his hands……I want it all. So when Kyle suggests how the guys should hold their hands in a starter-step, I listen. When he reminds us to hold their hands like he said in their starter-step and I check myself in the mirror and correct it, I do it. When I look up at Kyle and he winks at me because I got it, I finally get it too. What Kyle does when he makes his dance look so smooth, and casual and fluid – takes HARD WORK! It takes attention to details. It takes corrections and improvements. It takes a consciousness that it isn’t just a fancy move, or a funny trick, it’s attention to your leg lines and making yourself fix a lazy arm, and learning to move a lady how Kyle moves her to the music. Kyle is fascinating to be around. He’s funny, laid back and a little more disheveled, but Kyle is keenly aware of how to do this with excellence.
The camp weekend also included separate lady’s and men’s styling class. Each was exclusive, so only ladies could be around for theirs and only men could be around for theirs. The privacy gave each group a chance to try things without snickers or smirks. Both classes were huge successes as well.
We had parties both Friday and Saturday nights. Friday was lighter attendance probably because everyone was worn out from working all week plus two hours of workshops that evening. Patty and I went home early too. But Saturday night, that was another story. The pro’s ran their choreographed routines, with Parker and Jessica even reviving thier Jimi Hendrix ‘Red House’ showcase routine too. The party was well attended and full of energy. I danced past 2:30 AM which is pretty unusual for a local night out in Houston. While we all tried some of our new concepts and moves, overall, it was just fun to get to dance with folks from the camp plus many of the other great Houston dancers. Saturday was a blast.
Finally, the D’Amico Dance studio couldn’t have been a better venue for this event. Enrollment for this camp was limited to 200 and that was perfect for the studio. Of course it holds more, but the studio can be partitioned by moving huge drapes in various room configurations. Each room has it’s own professional audio system. The studio has a bar area ( where the Juniors served cookies, soft drinks and lots of bakery items to help pay for their trip to Burbank, California to compete at the U.S. Open), a registration desk, planty of bathrooms and dressing areas and a GOOD AIR CONDITIONER too! In addition, there are several really good restaurants that share the same parking lot as well as a Whole Foods grocery store with lots of healthy food choices from their deli. A Comfort Suites hotel lies across the parking lot too with weekend room prices around $80 a night. You just can’t ask for a better studio set up.
High 5’s to Damon and Lisa D’Amico for all that they’ve done here in Houston for West Coast Swing. Their initiative brought this camp to us and although I got the feeling that the pro’s would prefer to keep this camp back in San Diego where it started, I think they can’t deny that Houston wants them back next year. They had a great time with us and we were proud to have them hang out with us for the weekend.
Endless Summer Swing Camp: I got some priceless time and instruction with six of the world’s top pro dancers – all for just $195. I think I got the better deal!