My Lindy Hop Legacy – How I fell in love with Lindy Hop, learned my first swing dance steps, started teaching and founded my own dance school.
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It’s hard to believe that it’s been eleven years. Eleven years to the day since I taught my first Lindy Hop class; actually it was Big Apple lesson. When I started dancing, I certainly wasn’t a natural and wouldn’t have expected to become an instructor, but on the other hand I had always been a natural teacher and it was something I was passionate about. It only made sense that the subject matter that I would end up teaching would be something that captured my heart so entirely.
When I first heard about swing dancing, I didn’t really know what it was. I expected it to be something more like what I’d seen in Grease, and that much of it was solo and that the music was a little bit more Rock n’ Roll.
My sister, Zoey Gould, heard about some lessons that took place on Thursdays at The Hooch, a charming little space upstairs from a restaurant called The Gypsy Co-op that used to be located on Queen St. West near Trinity Bellwoods,
It was the very first Thursday of January ’98. The lesson we’d heard about was to take place right before a band would go on. Well we had the wrong time so when we arrived we’d missed the lesson. Instead, we walked in on the action, and it was the most nostalgic, memorable and inspiring scene that I’ve ever experienced.
It felt like I’d walked into the Hot Club of France in the late 1920s. The Hooch was dark, cozy, ambient. Situated in the corner was a low rising for the band, and there was playing a Django Reinhardt band made up of some older gentleman and they were swinging the gypsy jazz like nothing I’d ever heard before.
The little tables surrounding the dance floor were mostly empty with only a sparse scattering of people in attendance. All eyes were on the small dance floor, and on that dance floor there was LINDY HOP. One couple. Dancing. And to my virgin eyes they looked like perfection. The only thing that could have made the scene more enthralling would have been if they’d been dressed up in vintage clothing. As it was, they were dressed very casually, but they were just fantastic! I’d never seen anything like it. Not only was the dancing and the whole picture just so seductively cool but they were YOUNG people! I was 3 months away from my 20th birthday, and I had never ever seen young people dance in a partnership let alone doing something as cool as that!
That couple, by the way, was Jane (Jana) Jedlovsky and Martin Nantel.
Well, that was the moment that I fell in love with the dance and I became determined from that moment on that I would struggle my way through and try to learn some semblance of something that looked like Lindy Hop. I had no idea that with hard work and perseverance, I might ever become any good at it.
I certainly had a hard start. The first 3 months of lessons were a real struggle. My early lessons were… challenging. Though I do think that my instructor meant well, I felt discouraged and frustrated and cried after (or during) many lessons. Many people who started to dance at that time didn’t last very long because they found the classes too frustrating. I think that it was because of that hard start that I became so dedicated to continued improvement of teaching and instruction methods.
In those first couple of months of ’98, the swing craze hadn’t quite hit but we were on the cusp of something big. I was taking my first steps at a time when very few people in Canada knew anything about swing dancing, but bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and the Squirrel Nut Zippers were on the rise and when in April of that year The Gap commercial launching the Khakis Swing campaign came on to television, everything changed over night.
A guy who wrote for Eye Magazine came to take dance lessons with us in order to write an article. Read the Eye Magazine article entitled Hop ‘Til You Drop. This became the cover story for the and the magazine happens to come out on Thursdays; the same night as our dances at The Hooch. By this time, my sister and I had gained some confidence and though we weren’t actually any good by today’s standards, we were faking it reasonably well. Our group of dancers had also started to pick up vintage clothing and to dress the part.
We hopped on the Queen streetcar headed for the dance at The Hooch and around Broadview a fellow dancer got on the same streetcar and we started to chat. Someone sitting a few seats in front of us happened to be reading the Eye article. They turned to us pointing at the paper and exclaimed, “Hey, you’re the dancers from this article. You two must be the sisters!” We’d been *recognized*! Pretty cool.
When we arrived at The Hooch, that place that had been so empty only a couple of months before and that we’d been attending loyally every week suddenly had a lineup out the door and spilling on to the street right to the corner! Awe struck, we skipped the line and went straight up to the chaos that had become our little dance spot. We were suddenly sky rocketed from beginner students who were just starting to get the hang of it to experts that everyone was watching!
So suddenly swing was a thing. A fad. Known. Popular. In demand! What had been totally obscure was mainstream. All the newspapers and news stations came to interview us and people all over Toronto wanted to learn to dance. Or, they wanted to come, dress up, drink martinis and watch us cut a rug.
Please click here to watch a wonderful documentary, Hop To Toronto, about the early days of the Toronto Lindy Hop community.
When we started, there were only 2 opportunities to learn to swing dance in Toronto. There were the Wednesday lessons at the Tranzac (connected to the lessons at The Hooch) and the Monday lessons at Dancing on King which I would learn about later on. My sister and I had started at the Tranzac but when the Swing Craze exploded and more swing nights started to pop up around the city, we started to meet some of the students from Dancing on King.
Our core group of dancers got a real push from the sudden popularity of Swing. We were constantly in the spotlight. Being watched, interviews, television appearances, even an audition for a Molson commercial. And then we started to be asked to do some demonstrations. It was at that time that we came up with the name Bees Knees – we weren’t sure what to do with the apostrophe back then.
Those first dancers that I had seen, Jane and Martin, started up a third dance school called Aristocats Dance Productions. A handful of us started to take an advanced class with them. But there still seemed to be a demand for more classes.
A year and a half after we started to dance, my sister and I attended the Herrang Dance Camp. That was the summer of ’99 and when we got back, there was interest from people in having us teach what we’d learned when we were away. That started to snowball and eventually turned into a class that I held with an old dance partner on Friday evenings at the Arabesque studios which used to be on Yonge St. near Wellesley. Charlie Foster, an active member of the Toronto Lindy Hop dance community, was in my very first set of classes. Since the group that had been practicing as the Bees Knees wasn’t really attached to the name and I had originally suggested it, my partner and I appropriated it for our own student group.
And so it began. The timeline of that early period is a bit hazy. First it was an occasional lesson at an event, teaching something like the Big Apple, then my class on Fridays for dancers with some experience, and then some Beginner Lindy Hop classes at a studio in Kensington Market and later at the Bloor JCC.
It was definitely just a hobby in the beginning, but these things to tend to run away with themselves. I was infatuated. All I wanted to do was dance. “I-love-Lindy-Hop, step-step-tri-ple-step” was my mantra. I attended out of town workshops as often as I could manage, and dreamed all year long of my next visit to Herrang.
Early on it was The Bees Knees Dance Study, much later we shortened that to Bees Knees Dance and eventually the lack of an apostrophe started to really bother me. I had been advised in the early days of the internet not to include an apostrophe because it would confuse people in intertube land, but the grammatical error grated on me. And to make it “bee’s knees” with the knees only being one set of knees belonging to only one bee just didn’t seem right to me. It was just a couple of years ago that we decided that our school is much more representative of many bees with many knees, and I’ve been very happy with the new apostrophe placement.
In the winter of 2000, I was invited to teach my first out of town workshop in Vancouver. The event was called Swinging In The Rain. I taught workshops on the Saturday and Bill Borgida taught on the Sunday. At those workshops I met a young fellow with a huge amount of potential, Kevin Jamieson who I fondly named Kevin J, and I took him under my wing while I was out there and did some private training with him.
As it turned out, a couple of months later a Swiss dancer who had been visiting the West Coast and really enjoyed dancing with Kevin J. invited him to come to Zurich to teach workshops as part of the very first Swing City event there. Kevin J. being a teen ager, rather shy and inexperienced, suggested that they also bring me out there to teach with him. And so I had my second dance break. Off we went to Switzerland to teach for a month, participate in Swing City, ride the Swing Bus across Europe with the Rhythm Hot Shots and end up at the Herrang Dance Camp. I was 23 years old, and that was the best summer of my life.
I returned to teaching in Toronto, now with more experience under my belt, and continued to build up the dance school. I was very involved in the community, helped to found Toronto Lindy Hop as a non-profit organization, ran the first exchange (The Big T.O.E) etc, etc. I loved Toronto and our dance scene and was very devoted to it, but at one point I decided that it was time to spread my wings and get out into the Lindy Hop world. I had considered opening a formal dance studio and had even been looking at leasing studio space, but my dad’s hippy girlfriend had done my numerology and told me that the world was my oyster… well something about the timing of her telling me that was just right.
I decided it was time to Lindy bum it while the opportunity presented itself. I passed on the running of The Bees Knees Dance Study to Arthur Lulu and Jacqui Oakley and I headed back out to teach Vancouver, Seattle, then fly to Herrang for the summer. I got very involved with the dance camp, creating the position of DJ Coordinator for the camp because I was teaching and also DJing a huge amount at that time. I was also the DJ for the World Lindy Hop Championships in 2002. They flew me down to L.A. a couple of times to DJ at Lindy Groove there and I was really lucky with a series of opportunities to experience different types of Lindy Hop communities.
Then through a series of complicated events, I ended up DJing at the St. Petersburg Lindy Hop Camp in Russia. That turned into a couple of years teaching both Lindy Hop and English in Russia, then 6 months living in Stockholm and helping to run the Herrang Dance Camp in 2004. Somewhere in there I also started to work with first the Rhythm Hot Shots and then their newer incarnation as the Harlem Hot Shots from Sweden. I organized two North American tours for them, first a West Coast tour and then a North Eastern tour, and later on I organized the 2nd Swing Bus that ran again through Europe. These were all unbelievable learning experiences for me, and I’m very fortunate to have had those opportunities.
Finally, in September of 2004 I was tired and I came home to Canada to set up shop again. I returned to The Bees Knees Dance Study very thankful to the wonderful job that Arthur and Jacqui had done taking care of it in my absence. Jacqui moved to Hamilton and started the Hammer Hoppers scene there, and Arthur continued on with Lulu Hop and then merged back with Bees Knees a little while later.
I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to assist Frankie Manning at 3 different major workshops. First in 2002, then 2006 and finally in 2008. Frankie Manning was a tremendous inspiration to me from the moment that I heard about him and then saw him for the first time in the celebration of his 85th birthday in New York. I also had the privilege of meeting him annually at the Herrang Dance Camp (which I attended for 8 years, many of that in some sort of organizational role). When Frankie passed away on April 27th, 2009, it affected me greatly. I was already committed to this dance, but with his passing I felt even more responsibility to share and perpetuate this dance that I’ve been so blessed with. As someone who was also fortunate enough to get to work with Frankie so intimately, I feel especially dedicated to spreading the love of this beautiful dance.
I’ve also been lucky enough to get to see the world through Lindy Hop. This dance has taken me on tours across Canada, the United States, Europe, Russia, Asia. Yes, I’ve worked hard to get to all of these places, but I never cease to feel appreciative of the luck that I’ve had.
Bees’ Knees Dance had continued on as my passion but something that I did on the side until just after Frankie’s passing. In the summer of 2009 I left my day job and re-launched Bees’ Knees Dance full time in September of that year. We’ve been very lucky to team up and use such a wonderful space at Yonge & Bloor in Toronto, to launch other types of dance classes like Rock n’ Roll, Musical Theatre, and other types of dance and skills that I’ve accumulated over the years. And I feel SO fortunate that my efforts have grown into something bigger that’s enabled me to build up a team of such talented people around me. We have a wonderful crew of dancers and I’m so appreciative of being able to share all this with them.
In March of 2010, Bees’ Knees Dance launched in St. Catharines! Rolling the school out in a second city has been very exciting for me, and we’re still a very new scene over there but I’m so pleased with the people who I’ve met so far there and they’ve become as important to me as the long time Toronto community.
So here I am! Much blabbing later, many years older, and still as in love with Lindy Hop as I was when I first laid eyes on it in 1998.
Mandi is Director & Head Dance Instructor for Bees’ Knees Dance in Toronto and St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.