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Summary of the First Retreat


The following is an article I wrote about the very first retreat in 2005 when the retreat was called "The Get-Together".  The retreats have evolved over time but this was our beginning.


The Get-Together :.


Some of you already know that I held a very small but powerful and somewhat controversial dance event at my house a few months ago and I have been promising a review of the event so here it is. To sum it up in one idea, basically, there are those people who are along for the ride and then there are those people who make the ride happen. Both are important to improving the dance, but The Get-Together is designed for those who want to make the ride happen. (I am really sorry if I didn't invite you and you feel you would have contributed well. If you were one of these people, check out Chapter 8, How To Be Part Of The Next One, and please send me an email and I will be sure to include you on next year's list).

Chapters:

1: The Get-Together Summary
2: The Background
3: The Event Starts
4: Problems
5: Highlights
6: The Classes: A Short Description
7: Doing It Somewhere Else
8: How To Be Part Of The Next One
9: Quotes From This Year's Participants


1: The Get-Together Summary

Fourteen friends from as far as Barcelona, Scotland, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, and California gathered at my house to help create an amazing weekend of learning, fun, and bonding all through the medium of dance. From exercises on learning how to communicate, to dealing with breakdowns and crisis'; from discussions on how to become a better teacher, to 14 different well thought out classes for advanced dancers; this was a learning experience in many, MANY different ways. If you want to read more about the highlights and controversies of this Micro Dance Camp (as some people have named it), read below for my experience or go to Chapter 9 to hear about some of the other participants' experiences.


2: The Background

In the past 2 - 3 years, I have been traveling non-stop to teach dance across the world. Although I enjoy this immensely, there are still some things that I miss doing from back in the old days. I miss hanging out with people and getting to know them as people with interesting lives and not just as dancers. I miss taking classes that both challenge me and give me new opportunities to learn. I miss having friends over to my house to study old video clips. I miss Sushi Mark's cooking, etc... etc... So after 2 or 3 years, I figured I would stop complaining about all of this and do something to fix it, so I did. The Get-Together accomplished all of these things and much much more.

I had been thinking about doing this weekend get-together for several years but it wasn't until after the Landmark Forum that I finally had the guts to go thru with it. Once I decided I was going to do it, then the next question was, "Who do I invite?" I have space for 14 people in my home, I have well over 1500 email addresses of dancers across the globe and I do not want to send out an email and get back 1500 replies, so I had to narrow it down. I did not want to spend hours working on this so I did a quick glance over and narrowed it down to 250 people that I absolutely knew would contribute greatly to this type of weekend (I am really sorry if I didn't invite you and you feel you would have contributed well. If you were one of these people, check out chapter 8 on "How to be a part of the next one" and please send me an email and I will be sure to include you on next year's list).. Within 2 days after sending out the first email, I received about 25 yes responses but about 18 of them were from follows (next year I will coordinate this event with a follow that travels and has as many leaders emails as I have follows emails). But no matter, we still had pretty much filled up the whole group within the first 2 days. In the next week or two, a few people dropped out and some new people were added and now it was time to have everyone introduce themselves to the group. Mihai set up a Forum online where we could talk and I asked everyone to introduce themselves, tell us what they would like to teach for their 1 hour class, and answer several other very tough questions. This was a very exciting experience, the event was still about 1 month away but yet it had already began.


3: The Event Starts

The event started Friday at 9am and went until Monday at midnight but many people started arriving early and most of us met up on Thursday for "920 special", one of the more popular dance spots in San Francisco. After short introductions and a night of great dancing it was time to go home and get some rest as we had a long day ahead of us. Our first chore upon arriving to the house was to go over the plan for the weekend and to schedule in shower times for everyone. With only 1 shower for 14 people, this was a VERY important part of the weekend. We were all very committed to having everyone enjoy every part of this weekend together and we didn't want someone to miss out on something because they had to take a shower, etc. Our schedule for each day was something like this:
9:00 am   We were all awoken by the smell of sausages and waffles cooking
10:00 am   Classes started
1:00 pm   Lunch
2:00 - 5:00 pm   Dancing to live bands at the Jazz Festival
5:00 - 7:00 pm   More classes
7:00 - 10:00 pm   Dinner and get ready for the dance
10:00 pm - ??   Dance party, house party, or Jazz Festival depending on the night
Friday mornings classes started with some communcation and team building exercises, which was a very important part of a weekend which had such a diverse group of people with such strong passions about dance. In these exercises we really learned the importance of working together and being a team and this teamwork showed up many more times throughout the weekend to save us from having problems and to smooth over problems we had already created.


4: Problems

Problems? What kind of problems could you possibly have with a weekend like this? Well, I think the biggest problem with this event was learning how to integrate the event with people who lived in the area but were not attending the classes. One of my goals with this weekend was to bring a bunch of amazing dancers from around the world to Sacramento so that people could enjoy dancing with them. This was accomplished but maybe not in the best way possible. We would all show up at the Jazz Jubilee (an all day dance event) for 2 or 3 hours and then we would all leave to go back to our classes. Unfortunately, I think some people felt that we were more exclusive than inclusive because they did not really understand why we would all leave after only 2 or 3 hours of dancing. I think the main reason people felt this way was because I failed to communicate with the local dancers ahead of time. I did not tell them why these dancers were in town. I think that if I had explained to people several weeks in advance, why all these amazing dancers were coming to town, there probably would have been a lot less problems.


5: Highlights

Other than that, the Jazz Jubilee was great! But I am sure you have all been to a Jazz Festival before, so I will not go into details about that.

Some of the highlights of this weekend included:

An awesome House party at my place with upwards of 100 people (I live in a warehouse so we can fit a lot of people in it). A 2 hour discussion on how to be a great teacher. Amazing breakfasts, lunches, and dinners cooked by our own personal chef, Mark Verdugo. Many, many Aha moments - times in which someone finally understands something and now sees everything in a whole new way And 14 awesome classes described below.


6: The Classes: A Short Description

  Kermit :   Giving and Receiving Feedback: One of the main goals for this weekend was for everyone to find their good and bad "monkeys", or things that they didn't know about their dancing (or about their personality, etc). This class helped us to learn how to find our own monkeys and how to help others find theirs.
       
  Solomon:   Solomon's Favorite Swingout Technique: This class went over the opposition of frame and hips involved in the swingout which created a great style and feel in the dance.
       
  Andrew:   Arm Leads Are Not Inherently Evil: This class went over the difference between an arm lead and a body lead and the difference between an arm follow and a body follow, and shows how both arm and body leads can feel great as long as the partners match each other.
       
  Marta:   Improving Body Awareness: The aim of this class was to introduce touch, temperature and muscle work to improve our body awareness and apply it to connection. There were some great ways for getting people to feel the difference between moving from your center and not moving from your center as well as many other great things.
       
  Fiona:   Exercises: Frame, balance, and posture exercises and experimenting with varying amounts of tension/weight.
       
  Dan:   Teaching Beginners To Dance: Held a physical discussion forum on what are some good techniques to teach a beginner how to dance. Some brilliant exercises were brought out during this, including having the follows hold their right wrist with their left hand to help keep their frame (try it, it works great!).
       
  Harley:   Hip Hop Lindy Hop: A great morning class that inspired an awesome jam circle to liven up the day.
       
  Clint:   Tai Chi For Lindy Hoppers: An exercise in awareness of your partner and working with them and the music to create something that is truly a team structured dance and not just an individuals dance (and we learned a cool dip at the end of class too).
       
  Jeremy:   Borrowing Tango Concepts: In this class, we looked at some basic concepts from Tango and thought about how they applied to our lindy hop.
       
  Angelica:   Copycat Class: The objective was to explore the diversity in dance styles/methods within the group, specifically by looking at how our swingouts differ.
       
  Amanda:   Nuetral Connection: This class was focused on the moments in the dance where the connection is so shared or so nuetral that either partner can gain control either for a moment of creativity or for a permanant (or semi-permenant) shift in the lead.
       
  Mihai:   Attitude Makes A Difference: This class showed how confidence can make a huge difference in your dancing - this was followed by an exercise on giving positive compliments which I am sure has improved all of our confidence levels more than we could have ever imagined! Very impactful!
       
  Tamar:   Massage Circle and Balance/Connection Exercise: The aim was to teach the following: 1: You can never fully give or receive if you are trying to do both at the same time (apply to lead follow). 2: Balance and Connection improve when both partners are able to meet in the middle (excellent counterbalance/placement of body weight and support). She also did a Latin Styling class.
       
  Michelle:   Stretching, Massaging and Contact Improv: Michelle led the stretching and also an interesting massage class as well as the crazy contact improv class that closed off the weekend. By then we were all so close... well, lets just say the class would have been totally different if it had been done on the first day.



7: Doing It Somewhere Else


So this was what the first Get-Together was like for me. I had a great time and I hope to be able to do it every year (and maybe twice a year if I find a good place in Europe to do it). For those of you who think you know of a great place to do it or want to help look for a place, this is what I would be looking for:

A house that can easily fit 14 people A dance room in the house or very close by that fits 14 people comfortably A place that has a Jazz Festival close to it OR a place where we (or others) can hold at least 2 night dances and 2 day dances close by A place that is easy to travel to Good weather is preferred All of this should be either free or really really cheap Of course, I know it is very hard to find all of this but this is what I have at my house and I am looking for the closest thing I can find to this.


8: How To Be Part Of The Next One

For those of you who would like to join a weekend like this in the future, here is the type of criteria I am looking for in the participants. Those who participate should be either teachers/organizers (or dancers aspiring to be teachers/organizers) or people who are striving to really make a difference in the world of dance, creating new opportunities for people to dance in some way or another. If you were not on the last email list and you are interested in joining this weekend the next time I do it, send me an email describing some of the ways you feel you have these characteristics and I will be happy to add you to the invite. If you are not sure if you have the characteristics I am looking for, here are some physical examples of some of the things you might do to show these characteristics.

One of the people I invited is not a teacher but he has been dancing for at least 4 or 5 years and among other things, he has consistently been organizing small group trips to different cities for dancing. Everytime I talk to him he is organizing a driving trip to somewhere 8 or more hours away for a weekend (or even just 1 night) of dancing. He also organizes group practice sessions at his house to improve the quality of dance in his scene. These are not the only thing he does, this is just an example of the way he lives a part of his life, dedicated to spreading the love of dance.

Another one of the people on this list has created their own dance scene from scratch. They moved to an area with absolutely no dancing and they started teaching people to dance. Several years later, there is a strong Lindy Hop scene thriving in this town.

Another one of the people invited, travels on a consistent basis teaching small workshops all over, giving small scenes a chance to take new and different classes when they probably couldn't afford big workshop instructors.

Many of the people invited teach at many Dance camps, improving the quality of dancers on a regular basis. But again, this is not the only thing they do, this is just one example of the way they live a part of their lives, dedicated to spreading the love of dance.

Most likely you will have been dancing for at least 5 years, although this is not a rule.

To sum it up in one idea, basically, there are those people who are along for the ride and then there are those people who make the ride happen. Both are important to improving the dance, but The Get-Together is designed for those who want to make the ride happen.

If you are one of these people or you know someone else who fits this description, please let me know.

Keep on Swingin',

Andrew Sutton


9: Quotes From This Year's Participants

Usually at my first dance after a camp I struggle not to be miserable because this, that and the other lead isn't there any more. On Tuesday, that actually didn't happen. Well, apart from still missing the group - but on the dancefloor I almost didn't have time to wish my leads were someone else (sigh), because I was thinking, ooh, let's try X's swingout styling, let's play around with this, wonder what would happen if I did this etc. I even made two partners if not go 'mm', but 'ooh', which is as good a sound as any to start off with! Have never come away from an event and really worked on stuff, or had so many new ideas.

.: Fiona Skilling, Edinburgh, Scotland



Since the Get-Together, I have become more conscious of how I dance, why I do it that way and what are my goals for my evolution as a dancer. I am also more open-minded, not just to technique and dancing approaches: I'm enjoying more than I did dancing with people of all levels, since now I have more tools to see what we can do together... I'm still feeling the effects of Andrew's event more than a month afterwards. I don't feel discouraged anymore because I have plenty of things to work on. I'm having more fun than I was having before. I can feel my dancing has improved, and the others feel it too. Local dancers have told me. Local teachers have told me. And last weekend an international teacher came for a small technique workshop and picked me to be his assistant. I just can't wait to be invited to join another of these Andrew's events!

.: Marta Laurent Veciana, Barcelona, Spain



The classes were wonderful, and even better was the experience of coalescing into a real team, where people were concerned for each other, and pulling with eachother to achieve common goals... hopefully we'll be putting more stuff out for public consumption soon, but whether or not we do, I think this weekend has put a mark on us all, and we will find ways to spread it.

.: Jeremy Stell-Smith, World traveler (currently in Seattle, Washington)



I just taught my first class since coming back from Sacramento. It was without doubt the most well prepared, varied and fun class I've ever led. Plus I managed to time it exactly to the time I had! Apart from a few things like the moves themselves, I don't think I could separate out any part of that class that wasn't influenced by the micro-camp in some way. Can't wait to revamp the rest of my old 'concept' classes, and create new ones, using this new approach.

.: Fiona Skilling, Edinburgh, Scotland



After a camp or exchange, I've often found it hard to keep that energy going, but this weekend transformed how I approach my dancing and teaching. It's over a month on and I'm still talking about it. With the emphasis being on working as a team towards common goals, and each of us being there because we really wanted to work on our dancing, it's not surprising that we achieved so much, but it exceeded all my expectations. We shared our ideas and received feedback on our dancing and teaching, so it was challenging but rewarding, and though I don't know how we could have fitted it in, I wish there'd been more time! As great an experience as the weekend was though, it's really what you choose to do after it that can be exciting.

.: Fiona Skilling, Edinburgh, Scotland