1. Breaking Down Is Hard To Do

    September 15, 2016 by Joo-Lee

    djam-2015-209 copyDo you find that some dance lessons can be a bit confusing? This move, that move, do this, do that…….? Before you’ve grasped one thing, the lesson has moved on and now you’re expected to combine all the moves. You can’t even remember which foot to use never mind how to coordinate your arms too. What a nightmare!

    The teachers look great. The demo is impressive. The experienced dancers are having a good time and everyone seem friendly enough. So, what’s wrong? If you’re a brand new newbie, you might be thinking, “Is anyone going to break down the moves or am I expected to ‘just do it’?

    This is probably happening because you’ve joined a class that assumes some previous knowledge. Ask yourself, are you in a beginners’ class that’s tailored to adult beginners? If you’re in a class that’s ‘suitable for all levels’, then this may be pitched at a higher level than you’d like.  The moves may not be broken down as the majority of the class don’t need this.

    I must admit, when I was a less experienced teacher, I did at times leave some of my students feeling lost. I hadn’t realised that different people have different ways of learning and it was up to me to find lots of different ways to explain things. Fast forward 30 years, I’ve used my research from teaching thousands of music students to come up with ideas and techniques that can make learning music, dance or most practical skills, a lot easier. Teaching Lindy Hop to beginners over the last 10 years has also taught me so much about the things beginners struggle with. Everyone who has taken that first step to try a dance class is looking for some assurance that they too, can enjoy dancing, but all too often they come away with the feeling that dancing is too complicated. This is not because they can’t learn to dance but  because the lesson material hasn’t been broken down into logical step-by-step instructions.

    To give our beginners some extra help in between lessons, I’ve been putting together hundreds of short videos on the Lindy Jazz YouTube channel. Breaking down the moves into bite-sized, digestible chunks is something I love doing as I can see how much it helps everyone to understand and to enjoy dancing more. These video lessons were originally shared with just our regular Lindy Jazz beginners so they can practise in between classes. As more private students have also asked for these videos, I decided to create an online course so that dancers who want to be clear about their basics, will be able to practise from the comfort of their own home.

    I am super, super excited to announce that registration for the ‘Swing Dance Beginner’ online course is open! If you’re new to swing dancing and have no dance experience at all, check out my easy-to-follow, step-by-step course that will give you the confidence with the essential basics before joining a class.


  2. Share With A Beginner

    August 24, 2016 by Joo-Lee

    The Expert In AnythingI’ve been working on something new and I can’t wait to tell you about it!

    It’s mainly for beginners but if you’re not a beginner, it’d be fantastic if you can help by sharing this with your friends who are new to dancing. So, what’s going on…..?

    Well, it’s been a busy summer with quite a few of you coming for one-to-one private lessons. Beginners want to have a sense of control so they don’t feel embarrassed when they attend their first class, whilst experienced dancers usually ask for a check up and tune up, where they can get feedback and make better progress. So, it’s great to teach so many private lessons. However, as my schedule is getting a bit crazy (in a busy & exciting way), I have decided to create Swing Dance Beginner, an online course so more dancers get the chance to build some brilliant basics.

    This course is perfect for beginners who may be concerned about feeling embarrassed when learning to dance ‘in public for the first time’. By learning online in the comfort of your own home, you can learn how to do the basic steps  and build your confidence before you join a class.

    If you are no longer a beginner but you want to build strong foundations in your swing dancing, or perhaps you’ve missed a few classes and need to catch up, this course will not only show you what the moves are but will teach you how to do them step by step.  You can also use the video lessons on this course to practise in between lessons and if you do this,  you will soon become a more confident swing dancer.

    Registrations will be opening on 12 September so check it out here and be among the first dancers to join this new course!

    Plus…….. If you Invite Your Friends to join the Swing Dance Beginner online course, you will receive £10 off any one of the Lindy Jazz courses.

     

    Happy dancing!


  3. Five Mistakes Beginners Make And What To Do About Them

    August 7, 2016 by Joo-Lee

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    Beginning to learn to dance can be a scary and worrisome time and I often try to think about how beginners feel when they’re just starting out, and try to see things from their viewpoint to help make things less daunting.

    Before you attend your very first dance class, you’re probably asking yourself:

    • Will everyone else be super advanced?
    • Will I fit in with the rest of the class?
    • Will I be able to keep up?

     

    These are all extremely valid questions, and when it comes down to it, we all feel the same the very first time we try something new. You don’t want to feel like you’re floundering, or make yourself look like a fool in front of the whole class, but it helps to know that lots of people feel this way no matter how confident they look!

    Did you know that overthinking things and worrying excessively can stress you out and can actually impact on your dancing abilities? The following are just a few traps that beginners fall into when they first come to a class:

    1. Creating tension
    2. Trying to prevent mistakes
    3. Looking at what others are doing
    4. Trying to assess your own progress
    5. Trying to memorise the moves

     

    These are all common mistakes, and ones that are easily fixed, so here’s some advice on how to cope when you find yourself falling into one of these traps:

    1. When you worry or overthink what you’re doing you create tension and your brain can freeze up, causing your muscles to get stiff. This is not ideal when you’re trying to dance, and will make your ability to learn a lot more challenging. So try relaxing, just go with the flow and you will find yourself catching on in no time!

    2.  Take it from me; it’s absolutely impossible to prevent mistakes so why even try? Mistakes are a normal part of learning any new skill, so you shouldn’t worry if you miss a step or two. It’s not like you’re training to be a heart surgeon, dancing should be a fun and entertaining experience, so don’t take it too seriously.

    3. It may be tempting to look at what everyone else is doing during the class, but your instructor is probably the only one who is doing it right! If you are busy looking at everyone else, you can find yourself not really knowing what version of the dance is correct, so simply focus on the teacher and you will find it a lot easier to learn.

    4. Not everything in life is about grades and exams, and trying to assess your own progress while dancing can be extremely distracting. You don’t get tested in social dancing classes as it’s all about having fun, so just go for it! If you do want to know how you’re doing, you can ask your teacher for an update.

    5. It’s simple; you don’t need to memorise the moves. If you try and concentrate too hard on remembering what comes next, your brain will be working too hard and you’ll seize up. Instead of over thinking, try to feel the moves and let it flow naturally.

    As with any new class, everything will seem unfamiliar and confusing at first, but the more classes you attend, the more familiar you’ll get with how everything works. When you see experienced dancers out there enjoying themselves effortlessly at a social, you might be asking yourself what’s their secret? Here are the secrets! Experienced dancers attend regular classes, dance as much as possible outside of their weekly classes and they focus on what they are doing whilst staying as relaxed as possible. Most of all, they love dancing and find it a joyful experience.

    I really hope that you found this article helpful, and that you’ll feel encouraged to try a dance class. In fact, attending a free class is a great way to find out if you’d like to learn more so look out for free classes that will give you a chance to try a taster.  If you’d like to get to grips with the basics of swing dancing, then check out these beginner-friendly events in Sunderland and Gateshead.


  4. A Newbies’ Guide To DJam . . . and maybe some other swing camps too

    July 28, 2016 by Joo-Lee

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    If you’re new to the world of dancing, you may have heard other dancers talk excitedly about dance camps, workshops and exchanges. But what exactly is a dance camp? Are there tents and campfires, and most importantly, do the dancers actually go camping?

    If you love camping then I am afraid you won’t find log cabins and singsongs (well, not at most dance camps anyway); a dance camp is usually just a weekend of learning through structured classes, with social dancing in the evening to enjoy your new-found skills. A workshop however, is a one or two-day long weekend of classes. Or for those of you who just want to get together and have a dance, an exchange is a programme of daytime social activities, with live music at night to dance to.

    Now that we’ve got that cleared up, it’s time to talk about DJam! Four days and nights of dancing, learning, meeting new people and having fun, DJam is a swing dance camp held in the stunning Beamish Hall Hotel in Durham each year.

    Perfect for both beginners and those who are more experienced, the workshops will offer different styles of swing dance with a few taster classes to let you try out some other dances too. Because there are so many ballrooms in our amazing venue, I’ve challenged our team to put together a schedule that will allow dancers to focus on their preferred style of dance, whilst still being able to dip their toe into a few other styles as well when they choose. These taster classes are open to anyone, and most of the time you can just drop in without booking, making them the perfect way to try something new!

    So what are these different styles and how do you know which ones to focus on?

    New for 2017, we are introducing Swing Dance for Beginners, which offers newbies 8 hours of tuition with friendly, helpful teachers who have a lot of experience teaching beginners in their local classes. With two-hour blocks of classic dance styles like Lindy Hop, Charleston, Blues and Balboa, you will be taught the basic techniques so you can feel comfortable dancing at the socials, and have an idea of which styles you’d like to continue learning.

    What started as a weekend workshop for 40 local dancers in 2007 is now an international festival with over 400 dancers attending from all over the world. Whether you choose to take it easy by attending just a few classes, or dance non-stop off from 10am – 4am, we promise that you’ll have the most amazing time having fun, learning new techniques, making new friends and experiencing exceptional kindness enthusiasm, encouragement and support for your dancing at DJam each year.

    If you’re new to swing dancing then this  ’Beginners’ Swing Dance’ track may be what you’re looking for. Places for beginners is limited to small group each year so look out for registrations opening from 31 July.


  5. Sitting Out Is Not Missing Out

    June 14, 2016 by Joo-Lee

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    Is injury causing you to miss out on the fun, friendship and learning that you enjoy? Injury can be so frustrating!

    However, it is really important that after an injury, you prioritise your recovery and allow yourself to get better.  This may be weeks or even months before you can dive back into dancing. However, there is no need to sit out and miss out.

    You may be feeling down about not being able to dance but there is no need to stay away and miss out totally. Sitting out during a class can be so frustrating!

    This is not uncommon and has happened to other dancers. Not to worry! We have a plan to keep you learning and enjoying the fun and friendship that you enjoy every week.

    Is sitting out better than staying away?

    This all depends on how much you want to want to learn. If you have an injury (or even if you are OK), sitting out to observe a class can still give you lots of information. But what should you be looking for?  To help you we will give you some written guidance with useful bullet points to get you started. Observation skills are a key learning tool and, after a while these will develop and you will gain more and more from watching other people dance.

    Try to focus on one thing at a time. Start by watching one body part. For example, what are the dancers doing with their arms? Are they relaxed and connected? Next, watch their feet. How far apart are they during triple steps? Then watch their shoulders. What are the signs of tension and what is the result of tension? How about their bounce? What happens when someone does not bounce at all?

    Learning to dance covers so many aspects, from learning about the music, to watching videos, to watching a class in action. So watching a class in a focused way is a great way to learn and I would encourage everybody to do it at some point even if they aren’t injured.  It’s easy to be so busy dancing that you rarely get to just sit and watch.

    What Will You Learn By Watching People Dance?

    This is a good question!  Peter, whilst recovering from an injury (I hasten to add this is due to more adventurous outdoor pursuits!) instead of staying away he came to classes regularly and observed the dancing. Here are his comments on the experience.

    Yes, it sucks being injured! But I felt I got a tonne of information by watching people. It was interesting to see just how different people lead and follow. And I’m not just talking about how different levels dance. I’m talking about how all dancers of all levels dance so differently. Although I think I’ve also realised this by starting to follow (trying to anyway!). You could blindfold me and I could tell exactly who I’m dancing with, as they are all so different. One of the most important things I learned though was, as obvious as it sounds, was if ya gonna lead, lead! Don’t half lead. Lead with confidence, even if you lead with confidence and something doesn’t quite work it’s better than not really leading in the first place.”

    As keen Lindy Hop dancers we all love watching YouTube clips of impressive dancers from all over the world.  Let’s take some time in the coming weeks to watch a class or watch some social dancing. I am sure we will discover many things that we are not aware of when we are busy dancing.

     

     

     

     

     

     


  6. One Habit That May Stop You From Becoming Awesome

    May 11, 2016 by Joo-Lee

    When I invite a teacher to lead a workshop at Lindy Jazz or DJam, I like to ask them lots of questions! It’s my way of getting to know what they think and it’s also because I hear these questions quite often.  Questions about levels, auditions, competitions, dancing with teachers and the secret of being awesome! Here, Natalia Eristavi, a beautiful dancer, international teacher and competitor answers my inquisitive questions and I am really excited to share her guest blog with you.

    I am so honored to have been asked to write a guest blog for Joo-Lee!

    Firstly let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Natalia Eristavi and I have been Swing dancing for about 5 years starting in Orange County California when I was 17 years old. Since then, I have picked up Lindy Hop, Shag and Balboa and have had the pleasure of teaching it both locally and internationally as well as competing at multiple events around the world.

    When it comes to watching videos of myself, I tend to be quite self critical and rarely enjoy the experience however I am quite proud of this Classic routine my partner Alex Parker and I choreographed and performed at ILHC in 2015. We spent quite some time refining this routine and I am certainly proud of it.

    Having been to many international dance camps and having competed in most of them I have often been asked about taking that next step into high level competition.

    If you’re going to venture into bigger waters yourself you’ll be faced with the sometimes intimidating world of level auditions for camp classes as well as prelims for competitions.

    Looking back at when I was a newer dancer, I remember how nerve-wracking a first experience at competing can be. I remember my first dance camp, Camp Hollywood in Los Angeles California; It was exciting and scary at the same time! The energy was incredible and there were so many people from around the world that I had never met before. In my first competition, I didn’t make finals and to be honest, it upset me. But the reality was that I was nowhere near the level of the dancers I was competing against, and I knew that in time I would begin to make finals and eventually place or win at those competitions. I decided to start to enjoy the journey of improvement more than the destination.

    So where to start …

    What do I feel teachers are looking for in level auditions?

    For me personally, I look for a good and solid understanding of basics and a good quality of movement. In my opinion, these elements take priority over styling and musicality.

    What do I regard as an Improver, Intermediate or Advanced level?

    I see the difference between these levels as summed up in three general elements; the quality of footwork, movement, and connection. The higher the level, the cleaner these elements.

    For example; moving from Intermediate to Advance I’d be looking to see -

    •    Is your footwork under your body (are you balanced)?

    •    Are you using the floor to move efficiently through rhythm?

    •    Are your rhythms clean?

    •    Are you moving from your core?

    •    Does your body maintain a seated position?

    •    Are you using your fingers and back muscles to connect to your partner?

    •    Are you stretching and compressing through connection? And does this connection match that of your partners?

    Most of us are familiar with watching high level dancers and being both secretly jealous and definitely inspired by them. But what is it that keeps us from achieving this level of dancing ourselves?

    One habit that may stop you from achieving your goals is an unwillingness to criticize yourself and/or take criticism from others. It is important to trust your partners with feedback; they may offer you something you may not have thought of before!

    Why do some competitors never get beyond the prelims?

    Sometimes you can be the best follow/leader in the room, but you may not stand out enough aesthetically. The judges cannot feel how you feel because they’re watching you, not dancing with you. In order to stand out to the judges, you need to work on your quality of movement and shapes.

    A big advantage of attending dance camps is being able to experience dancing with the weekend instructors and other high level dancers. Experiencing the connection, flow and rhythm of a professional dancer can give you a hands on understanding of what to aim for in your own dancing. However it can sometimes be intimidating to approach these individuals. From my experiences from starting out as a beginner dancer to growing to become an instructor myself, I can say quite confidently that instructors are happy to dance with you! Just walk up to them and politely ask as you would with any other dancer on the floor. If they promised the song to someone already, wait until the next one!

    Then when you get that dance, relax and enjoy the dance; look into their faces instead of your feet, practice breathing in and out if you get nervous, and most importantly; smile!

    We are often held up on trying to impress a high level dancer but what has always impressed me even more than fancy moves is just having a positive attitude. Smiling is underrated! If you connect with me visually and smile, the experience becomes a lot more enjoyable for the both of us!

    Dancing like a pro doesn’t just happen over night but there are a few things to keep in mind on the journey – determination and patience.

    If you want to push your dancing to the next level, I recommend attending as many camps as you can and taking as many private lessons as you can. However, the work doesn’t stop there; it is important to take everything you have learned and practise it consistently either with a partner, on the social dance floor or both. Video yourself dancing and compare it to a video of a leader/follower that inspires you. Individuality is a great thing and I encourage it but mimicking dancers for a short period of time is a great way to improve. Ask for feedback! Ask anyone and everyone! Your partners, your teachers… everyone! And when you get your feedback, work even more to improve! And lastly, enjoy the journey! Nothing makes me sadder than to see a discouraged and impatient Lindy Hopper. This is a fun dance! Every step is a joyful one!

    I will be moving back to the US in the Summer but before I do, I have the wonderful privilege of teaching a workshop in Durham, home of DJam (which happens to be one of my favorite events!). I hope to see you all in person on the fourth of June.


  7. Learning The California Routine

    April 18, 2016 by Joo-Lee

    This classic routine was originally choreographed by Frankie Manning for the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. There is a great deal of discussion about its origins as today’s version bears no resemblance to the original showing in Hellzapoppin’.  I’ve been reading a blog post on its origins on Swungover and if you’d like to know more I’d suggest you read it too.  I also came across this video which also shows how the dance has evolved over the decades a bit grainy, but still fun to watch.

    For most dancers it is the social dancing that attracts us, so why do we bother to learn the routine? It is a great way of improving on the basics and also gives you some great combinations of moves for the social dance floor.  As a high-energy and dynamic dance it will also bring confidence to your social dancing. Then, as you get more confident it is also a great opportunity to take part in performances and show off your skills.

    Our California Workshop on the 8th of May is a good way to either start learning or tweak your technique. We have structured it so that all levels of dancers can gain something from the day. Simply choose the classes that you best suit you. Although do bear in mind that this workshop is not for complete beginners. However, if you’ve been attending classes for about 12 weeks then you’ll be fine as in the improver-intermediate workshop we will be breaking everything down for you.

    For those of you who may need a little more confidence in dancing the routine or maybe aren’t sure if you can remember all the steps in the right order, then why not come for all the sessions? Just think, by the end you can polish off those moves with the advanced dancers.

    Hopefully those of you who consider yourselves as advanced dancers have been practicing the routine regularly and will be ready to put the icing on the cake for each of those moves as well as the jam circle.

    The California routine traditionally includes aerials, but we’ve replaced these with alternatives and will leave these to another day. Have a look at this video for a version without the ‘proper’ aerials.

    For some inspiration, here’s our final example with aerials!

    Ready to tackle this iconic dance and wanting to book your slot? Or want more detail on how the workshops will be run? Just ask us during class or head over to the website.


  8. Social Dancing – What’s It All About?

    February 16, 2016 by Joo-Lee

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    If you are new to Lindy Jazz or brand new to swing dancing, you may wonder why we ‘rotate’ partners in class and why we dance with different people. You will also notice that although some people come with a partner, many of our members come on their own or with a group of friends.

    If you’d imagined that partner-dancing involves dancing with one partner all evening then it may come as a surprise to you that you don’t need to bring a partner to join our class and that we ‘rotate’ partners after every few minutes during the lessons.

    Of course, visitors who are new to social dancing and would feel more comfortable staying with their own partner all evening are allowed to, but we find that within a week or two they soon relax and enjoy meeting and dancing with other members.

    At Lindy Jazz and most swing events all over the world, social dancing is about dancing with a partner in a ‘freestyle’ fashion to music you would hear at most social events. The term ‘freestyle’, commonly used by Modern Jive dancers, means to dance freely as you wish without having to memorise a choreographed routine. In the swing dance community we often use the word ‘improvise’ when we don’t memorise a routine. Usually the term, ‘social dancing’ is used to refer to dancing with different partners and meeting new people through dancing in a sociable way.

    So what is the difference between dance performers and social dancers? Typically, dance performers dance to entertain and they would learn and then perform the same routine to a song, with a partner they have chosen in advance. Social dancers would focus on learning skills and moves so they can dance  ‘freestyle’ to music they hear at the social events they attend. For example, when they hear the band play a song that they like they will ask someone for a dance. They also dance with a variety of partners as this provides an excellent way of socialising and meeting new people.

    In your Lindy Jazz classes you will be learning some exciting moves and fantastic skills that will lead to some incredible dance experiences. Just ask any dancer who has been dancing for a while and who has attended weekend workshops and amazing swing dance festivals such as DJam you will soon find out why everyone who loves social dancing always look so happy and full of life!

    These moves and skills that you learn are like learning a new language. You are not learning just a few set phrases from a phrase book in preparation for a weekend break. You are learning a wonderful new language, starting with the basics so you can build strong foundations and be able to truly understand how to feel the music, connect with your partner and communicate your personality through this incredible medium of dance. If you learn a set of moves in order to memorise a routine to dance with your own partner, that is fine of course, but you are performing, not social dancing.

    If your aim is to learn to social dance and be open to the possibilities of meeting new people, coming up with new moves and dancing to music you have not chosen in advance then be patient and focus on enjoying the classes and practice afterwards.

    If you are new to social dancing, don’t worry about perfecting your moves with one partner. You may find that although your dancing works with that one partner, they may not work with others unless you practise with other people too. The more people you dance with and the more often you dance, the faster your progress will be and more confident you will feel about social dancing.

    It goes without saying, the more people you can dance with the more fun you will have!

    If you are excited and want to learn more, why not book a private lesson with a teacher you enjoy working with or schedule a 10-minute call to find out more about private lessons.


  9. Should I Stay or Should I Go? 4 simple steps to finding your ideal dance class

    December 30, 2015 by Joo-Lee

     

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    How do you feel when you decide to do something new, like learning to dance? Do you feel excited; maybe nervous? Hopefully, not panicky!

    Do you find that as soon as you get to a new class, you have these thoughts going through your mind:

    -       Do I like it?

    -       What’s going on?

    -       I want to leave!

    -       Hallelujah! It’s not too bad!

    -       Shall I give it another go?

    A new experience can be uncomfortable. This is quite understandable as there is so much that is unknown and you’re probably out of your Comfort Zone!

    Over the Christmas break I enjoyed being very comfortable. Getting up late, watching DVDs, eating tasty food, staying under the duvet for a whole morning, doing what I wanted when I felt like it . . . . that was very comfortable indeed! The Comfort Zone is where things are familiar, where we feel comfortable, where we don’t have to take any risks. So why come out of our Comfort Zone?

    When we want to learn something new or get to know the unknown, we have to leave our Comfort Zone and in doing so we discover the Learning Zone, which lies just outside of our secure environment. In other words, the Comfort Zone is where things are familiar so that is a very comfortable place to be. The Learning Zone is where things are new and unfamiliar so this can feel quite uncomfortable. We need to come out of our Comfort Zone a little in order to grow and learn.

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    Some people are accustomed to feeling uncomfortable and have learnt to be comfortable about being uncomfortable. Some people are less used to this and can feel anxious and even panic when they venture into the Learning Zone.

    Being in the Learning Zone will bring new experiences, with so much that is unknown. You may have several questions such as . . . . will I keep up, will I look foolish, what will everyone be wearing, what do I need to be able to do before joining in . . .. the list goes on.

    One of the best ways to feel comfortable about something you don’t know about is to get some information. Make a list of questions that can stop you from trying a new dance class and contact the organiser for information. We get new members joining us at Lindy Jazz every week and I love answering their questions. So instead of imagining or speculating about something you as yet, have no experience of, just look up the contact details of a dance class or dance teacher and ask questions.

    Well, here’s the other bit of good news. After trying a new class for the first time, you’re no longer new. The next time you come along to the same class, it’s no longer your first time and you will find that you will be so much more relaxed as things would now be more familiar.

    As I am writing this in the lovely quiet period between Christmas and New Year and thinking of a couple of new things I want to check out, I want to share with you a few easy steps to trying a new class.

    - Step 1: Shop around – Pay a one-off visit to a couple of classes.

    - Step 2: Stay for a while – Find a class that suits you and stay the course; whether it’s a drop in class or a 6-week course, decide how long you want to commit and stay the course.

    - Step 3: Review – Tried this for a few weeks, stayed for a course and found that it’s not for you? Then try a different class and start exploring again.  Love it? Then stick with it.

    - Step 4: Persevere – I believe that the secret of success is ‘stickability’. Once you’ve identified your favourite class, persevere with it. Don’t let one single experience among the natural ups and downs of your feelings from week to week dictate your decision to stay or go. If you want to learn a fantastic skill, go for it!

    If you are new to Lindy Jazz and want to learn to dance, give it a go with a First Free Visit and download the Welcome Pack so you can check out the information you need.

    Happy New Year! And Happy Dancing!


  10. The Art Of Dance: It’s incredible how things can change

    November 5, 2015 by Joo-Lee

    Ailsa Victoria Miller, a talented artist and Lindy Jazz dancer, captures the vivid colours of nature beautifully in her work. I’ve been incredibly moved by her dance story and am really excited to share her guest blog with you.

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    I feel so lucky to have turned my life around and have more reasons than most to Keep Dancing!

    I discovered Lindy Jazz when I joined Whey Aye WI, a group aimed at younger women. I went to make new friends and found a new passion, swing dancing! Joo-Lee came to show us the Charleston and I was instantly hooked! A friend agreed to go with me to the Gosforth class and offered to drive. After the first lesson she said it was wasn’t for her and I realised I would have to go on my own. This meant I’d have to overcome some major challenges.

    I’d suffered with stress and anxiety for many years and was unable to do normal everyday tasks like driving and going out on my own. I had been living in a stressful environment with my parents and sister who is bedridden (and has been for many years) with a severe case of M.E. There were other contributing factors too as I’d found out I had arthritis when I was in my twenties. This was an ongoing problem, which meant I had to be on strong medication. To get back into a working environment I volunteered in a Marie Curie charity shop where I dressed the window. This increased my confidence and reawakened my creative side.

    After counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I was able to do most things again. Driving in busy areas like Gosforth was still something I avoided. I’d found something I really wanted to do and was determined not to let anything stop me, the end result was far too valuable, to be able to swing dance and make some lovely new friends.

    Dancing has completely transformed my life, I’m amazed that now I go out on my own and dance for hours! When I started the class I didn’t know if I’d physically be able to do it. Being on strong medication and needing to be regularly monitored at the hospital. On top of this I often needed to have my knee drained and regular steroid injections. When it was bad I could hardly walk and struggled to get around the house.

    I gained the confidence to use both legs equally (pretty essential in dancing!) and got stronger and stronger. I realised I’d been fine since I started dancing and had not needed any steroid injections etc. I told this to my specialist last October, he said I could try coming off the medication and see how I was. He said I should definitely continue dancing as it could be controlling my arthritis. I’ve now been off all medication for a year and am so happy! I cannot believe the dancing I love to do has actually made me better.

    My confidence has grown massively and I’ve now started my own business as an artist with the encouragement and support of my amazing husband. I’ve always loved colour and it’s therapeutic effect. I’m so uplifted by the vibrant colours of nature and this has been my inspiration. I photograph whatever inspires me and then create pastel drawings capturing the vivid colour and feeling of the subject. My background is in art and design and as I recovered I began drawing again and the glowing colours made me feel better.

    Other people kept commenting on how my artwork had a positive emotional effect on them. This was a revelation and I was amazed that I could make people feel better through my colourful artwork. This encouraged me to want to share my artwork, which is effective both visually and emotionally. I now regularly attend art markets through LoveArtNorthEast who have been very supportive and are an absolute pleasure to work with. I’ve even been part of a Festive Fair at The Biscuit Factory which was a charity event for Children North East. I really enjoy these events and am meeting lots of lovely people all the time. I’ve had some fantastic opportunities and have just been featured in an art journal Sachet Mixte Edition 7.

    It’s incredible how things can change and I appreciate everything! I feel so lucky to have turned my life around and have more reasons than most to Keep Dancing!

    Check out Ailsa’s beautiful art work on her website or Facebook page. The art journal she has been featured in is now available on Amazon – how cool is that!