Swing Discussion Boards > The Skippy Blair System?

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by waltzgirl, Feb 20, 2007.

  1. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl Active Member

    I was talking to someone tonight about possibly becoming dance partners and, as we talked about the various dances we do and who we might want to take lessons from, he insisted that he would only do wcs swing with a particular instructor because she was trained in what he called the Skippy Blair system.

    I'm a beginner at wcs, not part of the scene at all, and though I've certainly heard of Skippy Blair, I had no idea what I'd be getting myself into if I agreed to take lessons in this "system."

    Can anyone enlighten me?
  2. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Start here:


    I've taken a three day "intensive" with Skippy, four or five years ago. I recommend it once, if you have the opportunity (she's been with us a long time now, so remember that there's a limit to the number of opportunities left). She's also been kind enough to answer a few emails I've sent to her since.

    Lots of good stuff (particularly different ways of thinking about dance), some magic feathers (as in: I don't think that it's really true, but if it gets results there's no reason to complain), and a number of things I dismiss as kool-aid.

    It's a system, which by itself is going to beat the pants off of being taught by an instructor who is making things up as they go along.

    It's a system, and has had a lot of input from many very good dancers and instructors.

    It's a system, and the pieces taken as a whole are well integrated. You are going to make progress, and you are going to be able to dance well with a lot of good dancers (especially if you are based in California).

    But, it isn't the only system out there, nor is it the system that I personally prefer for teaching or learning WCS. If that means I'm not really dancing West Coast Swing, but instead some other dance that just shares a lot of vocabulary... I'm comfortable with that.

    Yet given a choice between learning from one of Skippy's disciples, some westie instructor chosen at random, or not learning the dance at all, I'd recommend the first without reservations.

    If you've got more specific questions, I'll help as I can (but my notes are packed in a box in a far away place, so I may end up pleading amnesia).
  3. CGInTheSand

    CGInTheSand New Member

    questions for Dancelf...


    What are some of the other systems? And which system do you prefer? Just curious!


  4. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    A system could be any method that one has developed. I would imagine that there are quite a few out there given that we have so many teachers. I know that the WCS teacher in my area teaches differently from the Skippy Blair method, and the one in Syracuse...
  5. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    funny synchronicity... never heard of skippy blair before reading this thread before work... then came in and had a morning dance chat with my wcs-dancing colleague, and he casually made a reference to skippy when he was comparing how different instructors prefer (and thus teach) different ways of leading.

    turns out he's danced & studied with skippy and she prefers a strong lead on certain counts that my friends spent a lot of time & money getting OUT of his lead with another instructor, and this made skippy furious when she danced with him. <grin> the point of the conversation was how different teachers like wcs leads differently: "always a pull here" for some, "always a push here" for others, "strong lead here", "no lead here"... blah blah blah.

    i'm sure that's at the heart of the different "systems" out there, CGITS... not that i know much about wcs specifically. ;)
  6. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    FWIW... my friend summed up his experience with these different approaches but saying that, in the end, he figured out that the whole point of leading is simply to find a way to convey to his follow how to get where he wants her, end of story. whether that entails push, pull, or nothin', he's willing to find out what she likes to get the job done.

    i like that attitude. ;)
  7. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    Me too. :)
  8. CGInTheSand

    CGInTheSand New Member

    OK... to clarify, "codified" systems...

    I realize that different instructors have different ways of teaching wcs. As a matter of fact, to address the example you were talking about, I have taken workshops with a couple that teach the "light lead" method - lead on count one, but then back off as soon as the follower knows what move it is - the follower should know what to do from there. I have also taken a weekend "intensive" with an instructor who specifically stated that he does NOT agree with that.

    So, yes, everyone teaches what they teach, and it's all different, and a lot of it is (or can seem to be) contradictory.

    However, one thing about Skippy's method is that it is very codified. By that I mean you can actually state what the rules to "doing it her way" are. For example, she believes you should dance to a rolling count when you are dancing to swing music. I am by no means an expert on Skippy, by the way - I'm just using this as an example. If you go to her website (which Dancelf posted previously), you can see that she has posted a few articles that describe some of her teachings. (I'm sure this is only a very small portion of them...)

    Also, she has many followers/disciples/believers, who themselves are champion dancers, that have been trained in and teach her style.

    So my question to Dancelf really was this - Are there any other systems that you can name, that maybe I could read up on on the Internet, for example? Systems that have been formalized or codified?

    I suspect that you may be right, Sagitta and samina, though - that Dancelf was just stating that there are many different systems since each teacher teaches differently...
  9. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    I usually hear the term "One beat lead" used to describe this.

    I spy with my little eye someone who begins with M?

    No, not really. The closest alternative that I can offer is the material that Mario presents in his Intensives (Mario's basics start way way way down the other end of the street from Skippy's, and he's aiming for a completely different target that happens to have the same name). But he's some forty plus years behind Skippy in terms of working out a program, training other instructors, and so on.

    Though I'm sure you could take the position that Arthur Murray Studios have a formalized/codified system - after all, they are taking roughly the same dance in their usual vocabulary and idiom. I don't know that it is published anywhere. I know that they had a revised syllabus in '94 that some of their consultants were showing off, and Haile's original syllabus was done for AM.

    From what I can tell, though, of the street dancers, only California had a dense enough concentration of coming instructors that shared a mentor. For comparison, at one point NYC had Figeroa, Lindo, Royston, Festa, Colacino... some of them worked together, or shared studio space, etc.... but I don't think they tried to homogenize their teaching styles; they dance differently, they teach differently; as they weren't very alike to start with, I suppose it didn't make sense for them to blend.
  10. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    sorry, CGITS... i meant to address my post to waltzgirl for her initial question. you were asking about specific wcs systems, about which i am surely clueless...
  11. chandra

    chandra New Member

    I wouldnt worry about it waltz girl, there are enough different amazing instructors that teach skippy style, youll find one to suit you, even if you guys do have that limitation. PERSONALLY, I like learning, atleast for now about what, and why everyone teaches the way they do. I have taken both Skippy and Mario things, and like some of what they both say, as well as loads from other teachers!
  12. d nice

    d nice New Member

    A codified system is good for people who really need things in exacting detail. Skippy comes from a ballroom background and tends toward the idea that 'technicque is king'.

    Some people need a more free form conceptually driven approach.

    I've found that more people tend to grow faster and are oriented more on fun if taught in a conceptual stand point allowing them to develop their own style within the basic framework of the dance.
  13. SPratt74

    SPratt74 New Member

    Just to warn you in advance... apparently I like detail lol! He said that I'm one of the few that know what questions to ask. But I think that I drive him crazy for I tend to ask where exactly should this and this be lol. And he'll tell me too you know things like if you beyond this point (while getting on the ground and showing me) then you've gone to far. But I'm one of those people that are very conservative and very much a perfectionist even though I'm open minded when it comes to dancing (meaning I can let him lead me into anything as long as I know what to do if that makes sense lol). So, do you find that some people can fall under both categories?
  14. d nice

    d nice New Member

    No. One or the other. Some people just can't be satisfied with the answer "it doesn't matter" or there is no one right way, but there are several wrong ways.

    If I say in a pass the most important thing is to keep your rhythm and moving down the slot, and you start asking about where you are suppossed to step, or when you are suppossed to turn, or how do you tell if it is a six, or eight, then chances are Skippy's system is going to be for you.

    If you accept the concept that it is the leader's job to make the move happen, to show you exactly, what, where, and when, and that as long as you keep your frame, maintain your momentum, and keep your rhythm you can follow any move, and any variation that any leader will lead... then conceptual learning is better for you.

    They both end up with dancers reaching the same point (assuming they keep progressing), which is to say able to dance with any good leader/follower of any style, and being comfortable. Intellectualized systems like Skippy's create a well defined box with very specific rules. They will produce very technical dancers early on... but it won't be for a couple of years that you can put the technique aside and dance from the heart. more intuitive conceptual methodology will produce very innovative and improvisational dancers early on, but it will be a couples of years before all your techniques are "perfect".

    I personally think that conceptual teaching is best early on (say for the first six monoths). This gets people in the mind set to have fun, mistakes are okay, and that dancing to the music is more important than doing something "right". This by the way is almost always the way the creators of any given style of dance hold. Once people are out there having fun, getting the "spirit" of the dance, then the teaching should switch, focusing more on technique drilling the various elements that will give someone mastery over their own body and the form. This is what produces those who become innovators in the dance.
  15. SPratt74

    SPratt74 New Member

    Lol... that's me! I have to know. I'm not one for surprises. ;)

    This is me too! :D

    This isn't me. I'm getting better at this now though. ;)

    This is what we are working on now. And you know, I don't feel comfortable with instructors that want to show me the moves but not where my feet are supposed to go etc. Again, I think that it takes a few years of experience for an instructor to achieve this. I don't think that a beginning instructor would work for me in this case. In fact, they haven't. I get frustrated to easily with beginning instructors. I like knowing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing at all times. I also know though that once I get there, then I will feel better about letting go of my fear of dancing with the heart (even though yes I want to now).

    I think that this is ok for the most part. You have to decide what you want to do though if you want to compete etc. I started with just social dancing and went on from that. Now, I'm into competitive dancing, and I have to relearn steps. But so far he's gotten me to the Bronze level (in a few of the dances... not all), which I think is amazing considering how many times I take lessons. But I think that he's trying to get me to dance past the Bronze level for he says I'm a quick learner, and that I pay attention to detail lol. But I just don't feel good if I don't ask questions though. However, I seem to remember what he says if I do ask the questions. (He says that sometimes people will forget in between lessons.) If I just go off what I feel (right now I mean) then, I feel as though I'm not accomplishing anything. I wouldn't even want to compete if that is the case.
  16. d nice

    d nice New Member

    The thing is there really is no "right place" to put your feet in swing dancing. Your leaders step and movement is going to define that for you, and if you get used to the idea that all steps with your teacher are 2.5 M then when you dance with someone taller or shorter in a competition (like a J&J) you are going to find your steps to big or small and in the wrong place.

    Your teacher will get you there... it may be frustrating at times, but trust him until he gives you a reason to doubt.
  17. SPratt74

    SPratt74 New Member

    Man... there is that word trust again lol. I somehow have to engrave that word in my head lol. ;)

    Oh and I love reading your posts by the way. They are very informative!
  18. wcsjon

    wcsjon New Member

    I say take from as many people as often as possible. I have not gone through Skippy's system, although I would love that to my bank of knowledge.
    Whatever you do, as a beginning competitor, don't limit yourself, there is plenty of knowledge out there, don't fashion your dancing just like one particular dancer, that dancer already exists, try to be your own dancer, that, for a lot of people, is the hardest part.
  19. 4theloveofit

    4theloveofit New Member

    I agree with WCSJON
  20. westcoaster

    westcoaster New Member

    Really excellent comments here!

    Skippy's is definitely the most codified and widely-dispersed method of teaching swing, and there's a lot of really excellent stuff in there.

    For me, though, I found her method too dogmatic, and I really connected with Robert Royston's concept-driven, body mechanics approach.

    I agree with wcsjon that it's great to take from many different instructors from different schools of thought, but I would add it's also really important to have at least one regular wcs teacher you trust who can help you evaluate conflicting opinions, listen to new viewpoints, and determine what will work best for you, because there are some important points about which the gurus disagree (for instance, the location of the center where an anchor is established and a lead initiated. Skippy's center is slightly higher than Royston's). That teacher might not be a national champion dancer, but I think they should be able to test out different options and determine which will help you be a more successful dancer.

    In the end, all good west coast swing teachers are aiming to get you to the same summit, but there are different paths up that mountain.

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