Let's begin with a story. This past Friday, I was talking to my friend and student Christian Oudard outside a First Friday dance in Indianapolis, and somehow, we began talking about the number of hours we have spent dancing in our lives. After some thought, and with the help of an I-phone calculator, I believe that in the past 3 and half years, I have spent roughly 8,000-10.000 hours of my life with jazz vernacular dancing. While some might call this a destructive and consuming addiction, I can't help but think of those 10,000 hours as many of the happiest of my short life.
On Saturday, the day following the "Expert" discussion, I performed my very first completely solo routine, which was, in hindsight, completely unfinished and rushed, having been choreographed and performed in a 5 day span. But at the same time, it was a terribly rewarding experience. Front and Center in the audience for my "Stanky Doo" a routine inspired by the Tranky Doo, was Tommy Russo, a 94 year old dancer from St. Louis, who has been dancing since the 1930s, and performing ever since. I spoke to Tommy after receiving a very surprising standing ovation from the living legend, and he told me that I was a great dancer, and he enjoyed the routine alot. He then continued to show me his small portfolio of newspaper clippings from the 30's featuring him dancing with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and winning the St Louis "Big Apple Contest," which was in this case just a normal dance contest.
Tommy also performed that night, singing a chorus of "All of Me" before dancing with a few ladies to end the song. At 94 years old, this man never ceases to be a performer. It was truly a moving thing to see. (A very special thanks to Christian Frommelt and Jenny Shirar for putting on this event and allowing me to be a part of it) It was later that night that I began to think about the hours that Tommy Russo has spent dancing, and that it must be nearing almost 1,000,000 hours of dancing. I think he qualifies as an expert of Jazz Dance.
But really, it wasn't the hours that Tommy spent dancing that inspired me, or even that he is still performing and social dancing at his age. It was his love for his art that is what truly inspired me. It was incredible for me to see pictures of this living dance legend in the St Louis newspaper, as a fresh faced and clean shaven 21-year-old, winning the St Louis Big Apple Contest. However, as incredible as this experience was for me, i believe it was just as incredible for Tommy to see his dance still living in the 21-year-olds of today. To have his legacy celebrated 3 generations later, and see the same passion shared among young dancers today. That is Lindy Hop, and that is his legacy.
So am I an expert? Maybe by someone's definition, but certainly not by mine.
Here is what I do know:
-I have spent a lot of time working (emphasis on this word) on becoming a good dancer.
-I do everything I can think of to become a better dancer, and make myself noticed for my dancing in the community.
-I have been very fortunate in many ways. (Having a performance background, being a musician, and working with some of the best performers and dancers I can think of, especially the wonderful ladies I have taught, competed and performed with)
So as I try desperately to wrap up this novel of a post (I guess I had more to say than I thought), I want to take a little bit of time to thank the people that led me down my Sentimental Journey to Tommy Russo, potentially the most inspiring person I have had the chance to speak to. Caution: Sappy List ahead
Skye Humphries- My first "dance crush" who showed me that its ok to be incredibly talented and nice at the same time.
Mike Faltesek- Who is always speaking good words about dance, and who shows a passion to see everyone dance, good or bad.
Evita Arce- Who first opened up to me about being a dance professional, and has been a real supporter and guide of my journey, and taught me that teaching is really just another form or performance, and about the duality of being a professional artist.
Jen Ladner- Most people who read this probably don't know who Jen Ladner is, but Jen gave me the opportunity for my first 'professional" dancing gig with the Indianapolis Symphony, despite being grossly under qualified. That experience truly showed me what it meant to be a professional.
There are so many more who I should thank (just see some of the tagged people), but these are the four who popped in my head. Not to mention of course all of the classic Jazz dancers who paved the way for our dance today, and the Untouchable Tommy Russo.
From the Bottom of my heart, thank you to all these people, and the greater Lindy Hop community, for giving me a place where nerdiness is valued, and passion is rewarded.