The Track with Ryan Swift

The Track with Ryan Swift

United States

Each month on The Track, join host Ryan Swift as he sits down for an in-depth & candid conversation with swing dancers, musicians, DJs, competitors, and instructors from the world of Lindy Hop.


The Track - E025 - Cynthia Millman  

This month is the 10th anniversary of the publication of the autobiography Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop, and I am thrilled to be joined by its co-author, Cynthia Millman. A long-time Lindy Hopper in her own right, Cynthia first met Frankie Manning in 1986.  She performed with the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers for five years under his artistic direction, and later studied, taught, and partnered with Frankie.  She is a librarian at The Town School in Manhattan, has contributed articles to Dance Magazine and The International Encyclopedia of Dance, and has served on the board of directors of the Frankie Manning Foundation since its inception.

I joined Cynthia at her home in New York City to talk about her own discovery of Lindy Hop, the NYC swing dance scene of the 1980s & 1990s, and how the modern Lindy Hop world compares to that period, commonly referred to as the “swing revival."

We also discussed what it was like writing the book with Frankie, some of her favorite stories that did and didn’t make it into the book, and reflected on Frankie’s legacy, including the work done by the Frankie Manning Foundation.

The Track - E024 - Gordon Webster  

This month, I am joined by pianist and bandleader Gordon Webster.  A piano player since age four, Gordon had his first gig playing for swing dancers in 2001 and he caught the Lindy Hop bug soon after.  His passion, diversity, and musicianship have made him one of the most sought-after musicians in the Lindy hop world, becoming a fixture at events like The Snowball, Lindy Shock, Swing Camp Oz, and Beantown Dance Camp.  His seventh album, entitled “This.” was released this month, and he is currently wrapping up an ambitious Indiegogo campaign supporting that album and an upcoming digital single-of-the-month club.

Gordon and I sat down at his home in New Jersey to talk about his development as a musician, the moment at Swing Out New Hampshire when he realized playing for dancers is what he was meant to do, and how his approach to band leading is different than some other swing bands today.

We also discussed what goes into recording an album (be it live or in the studio), how Mona’s Tuesday night jam session has become the go-to late night destination for early jazz musicians in NYC, and why he finds the ever-changing tastes of the Lindy Hop scene the greatest inspiration for him as an artist today.

Gordon also speaks candidly about Steven Mitchell, the allegations against him, and how that news impacted him personally and professionally.

The Track - E023 - Todd Yannacone  

This month, I am joined by international instructor and award-winning swing dancer, Todd Yannacone.  Todd has been a traveling instructor since the age of 16 and has won numerous titles at major national and international events. Todd is a member of the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame and has taught, performed, or judged in 30 countries around the world.  When at home in New Orleans, Todd can be found performing on guitar or piano with a number of different bands, including his own, Hot Toddy & His Fully Dressed Po' Boys.

Todd and I sat down at Lindyfest 2017 to talk about being dragged to swing dance classes as a teen by his mom, how Hop the Millenium completely changed his perspective on swing dance, finding inspiration in drastically different dancers (and dances), and why he still considers himself a social dancer above all else.

We also discussed what drew him to New Orleans, his custom guitar and clothing, and even though it sometimes gets lost among all of the posture, counterbalance, and footwork, at the end of the day it's the simple act of holding hands and connecting with a partner that really matters when dancing.

The Track - E022 - LaTasha Barnes  

This month, I am thrilled to be joined by Juste Debout World House Dance champion, and relative newcomer to swing and solo jazz dance, LaTasha Barnes.   

Tasha and I sat down at Lindy Focus XV to talk about the many twists and turns of her life’s journey - from growing up as a young African-American in the capital of the Confederacy, to 10-year Army veteran, powerlifiting champion & fitness competitor, and an artistic director & educator with Urban Artistry dance company.

We discussed her experience working at the White House under both the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations, recovering from two debilitating injuries through dance therapy, performing at the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, how a chance encounter led to her introduction to Lindy Hop, and the complex topic of representation and appropriation in the largely-monochromatic modern swing dance community.

The Track - E021 - Josh Collazo  

This month, I am joined by one of the top swing drummers in the world, and bonafide rock star, Josh Collazo.

Josh is known to most swing dancers through his work behind the drum kit with bands such as Jonathan Stout’s Orchestra and Campus Five, Dave Stuckey & his Hot House Gang, or perhaps his first band, The Feetwarmers.  But Josh may be better known to more mainstream music fans as the drummer for the Grammy-winning and platinum-selling band, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.

Josh and I sat down after Lindy Focus XV and talked about how he balances those two musical worlds, how his passion for swing dancing in the late 90s influenced his development as a drummer, and what it’s like to fill the shoes of drum legends like Gene Krupa and Chick Webb at the Lindy Focus tribute nights.

We also discussed his early experiences as a bandleader, the technique and music theory of what provides an authentic swing era sound, and how he has gained enough confidence as a swing musician to take the torch and start creating original swing music with his new group, the Candy Jacket Jazz Band.

The Track - E020 - Nathan Bugh  
This month, I am joined by instructor, performer, and fellow New Yorker, Nathan Bugh.

Most dancers I’ve talked to on the show are professional Lindy Hoppers in the sense that they make their living traveling from city to city as dance instructors.  While that description definitely applies to Nathan - he has taught with partners Evita Arce and Gaby Cook around the world - he’s also a professional Lindy Hopper of a different type: one who is regularly hired to perform at corporate and commercial events.

We sat down in New York City at the end of 2016 and talked about his experience performing at those commercial gigs, how his education in music composition at Juilliard does (or doesn’t) influence his approach to Lindy Hop, and weighed the relevance of vintage jazz dance in modern popular culture.

Nathan also explained why his unconventional approach to class structure may not necessarily be the best business model, what he means when he refers to the "academic Lindy Hop community,” and how the hot trend of “Gastby” entertainment at commercial dance gigs is in some ways more “real” than what’s found in the dedicated Lindy Hop community.
The Track - E019 - Remy Kouakou Kouame  

I am joined this month by Remy Kouakou Kouame - Remy began dancing Boogie Woogie at age 6 in his hometown of Montpellier, France, and by 2006 he and his partner Sarrah Montalban became World Boogie Woogie Champions.  Since then, he has become an acclaimed international Lindy Hop and solo jazz instructor who has also earned several titles at the International Lindy Hop Championships.

Remy joined me after ILHC 2016, where he described the competitive world of Boogie Woogie, challenging his own personal fears and insecurities as a competitive swing dancer, his initial impression of Lindy Hop as a dance for losers, and how dancers Ryan Francois and Skye Humphries helped change his mind and discover the “Spirit of Lindy Hop.”

We also discussed the music video “Two Cousins,” which put him on the radar of many Lindy Hoppers, what it’s like working with partners Ramona Staffeld and Alice Mei, why he thinks it’s important to “master the dance before mastering the art of selling yourself,” and why he feels dancers should focus on finding their own groove instead of recreating the past.

The Track - E018 - Nalla Kim  

This month I’m joined by Nalla Kim.  Nalla has traveled the world as a dancer, instructor, and competitor, and is a mainstay in the booming swing dance scene of Seoul, South Korea.  He runs the swing teams Sweet Heart & Lindy Blossom and brings international instructors and musicians to the thousands of Lindy Hoppers in Seoul though events like Authentic Jazz Weekend, Lindy Blossom Weekend and SEOUL Lindyfest. Nalla made his first appearance at ILHC in 2011 with team Sweet Heart and now he's become one of the regular ILHC judges. He's known around the world for his enthusiasm and passion for Lindy Hop

Nalla sat down with me at ILHC 2016 to share how he discovered Lindy Hop, describe the incredible Seoul dance scene, and educate me on some of the history of Lindy Hop in South Korea.

We also discussed his early dance inspirations and his difficulties moving past copying other dancers to develop his own style, his wife Jessica’s professional yodeling, the cultural differences between dancers of South Korea and the United States, and how the global scene may improve discourse when it comes to sensitive or controversial topics.

Nalla asked that I remind listeners that English is not his first language, which I am, of course, happy to do.

The Track - Remembering Dawn Hampton  

Like many of us, I am still reeling from the news that one of the guiding lights of swing passed away this weekend.  Dawn Hampton left us too soon at 88 years young - and I had the distinct privilege to call her my mentor and my friend.  She had the sharpest wit, the wisest soul, the warmest heart, and was also the biggest ham, of anyone I have ever known.

If I am being completely honest, the potential of talking with Dawn was one of the very reasons I started this podcast.  So instead of my normally scheduled episode this month, I am re-releasing my conversation with Dawn, when we sat down in April 2015 not far from her East Village apartment in New York City.

As I said on the original episode, it is no exaggeration to recognize Dawn as a National Treasure. Her amazing life began traveling from town to town of the American South in a carnival, singing and playing saxophone with the Hampton Family Band, followed by stints at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, and the Savoy Ballroom in New York City.  Dawn became a legend of the Greenwich Village Cabaret in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, coaching the likes of Bette Midler and singing alongside Barry Manilow at the infamous Continental Baths.  Only decades later did Dawn become a legend of another kind to swing dancers the world over, sharing her story and wisdom from Sweden to South Korea.

I am struggling to find the words to describe the incredible woman who was my friend, but I think this excerpt from the New York Times review of her 1982 cabaret show perfectly captures what made Dawn, ‘The Lady’ -

“In superficial terms, she is a singer.

“But her voice, a strong but seemingly uncertain instrument full of quavers, growls, husky descents and high, shimmering airiness, is simply one element in a projection that is built even more on emotional intensity, high good humor, dramatics taken to almost corny extremes, zest and exuberance, all kept in such sensitive balance that one aspect adds flavor to another as she builds her songs into brilliant vignettes.

“A key factor in the way Miss Hampton does things is a marvelously mobile, warmly expressive face that projects her lines even more than her voice does. Her huge, vital eyes and an unusually agile mouth can suddenly change, underline or add unexpected shading that cuts into the mood of a song to change the emphasis briefly, to lighten what threatens to be overly heavy dramatics.

“Miss Hampton has a deep well of emotional energy and spends it recklessly and joyously.”

That was the Dawn Hampton I know. She was a singer, a dancer, and a diva, but was also so much more and the world is a better place for having had her in it.

A memorial fund is being organized to support Dawn's last wishes, and I'll update the show's website with that information as it comes out.

I am grateful that I once again have the opportunity to share our conversation. As Dawn would say, The Light is On.

The Track - E017 - Mike Thibault  

I am joined this month by my long-time friend, Mike Thibault. Mike is a driving force in the swing dance scene of Rochester, NY, where he is a founding member of the teaching group Groove Juice Swing and helps organize events like Stompology & Slow Dance Soirée. Mike has been running Swing Out New Hampshire since 2014, and is also a sought-after DJ, serving as Head DJ for Frankie 100 and spinning at events such as ILHC, Lindy Focus, and numerous lindy exchanges. We sat down after Stompology 2016 to reminisce about our time as students at Rochester Institute of Technology, as we discovered swing music and learned dance steps from VHS copies of Swing Kids. Mike clarifies my memories of our early dance adventures, offers some advice for new DJs, and talks about how his passion for history has led him to collaborate with Andrew Nemr and the Tap Legacy Foundation on an archive of American vernacular jazz dance. We also discuss taking over Swing Out New Hampshire, what it requires to foster a welcoming swing dance community, his joy in hosting late night after-parties at the mythical Lindy Compound, and realizing that his contributions to the Lindy Hop community, and not his day job, are his true life’s work.

The Track - E016 - Laura Glaess  

This month, I am joined by instructor & choreographer Laura Glaess. Laura was introduced to Lindy Hop in her small Texan hometown and helped grow the scene in San Antonio before making her way to Austin, TX, where she is now a vital part of the local scene. Her boundless energy & dedication have led her to become a highly-regarded international teacher and competitor.  Laura is the co-owner of The Lindy Project in Austin and is well-known for her work choreographing performances like the Lindy Focus New Year’s Eve Show and her work with the ILHC-winning team, Lindy Hopper’s Dozen.   We sat down at Lindyfest 2016 to talk about learning to dance at a restrictive Catholic school, what’s it’s like when your personal & professional identities are wrapped up in a romantic relationship, and what it's like when that ends.  We also discuss learning an instrument later in life, the challenges & rewards of running a team, and making plans for a career after dancing.

The Track - E015 - Michael Gamble  

This month, I am joined by DJ, Lindy Focus co-organizer, and Rhythm Serenaders bandleader, Michael Gamble. Michael has been swing dancing for more than 15 years and in that time his projects have become some of the most esteemed in the swing dance community.

Michael has been head DJ for Beantown, Lindy Focus and the European Swing Dance Championships, and a featured DJ at Herrang Dance Camp, ILHC, and the Lone Star Championships, among others.  His band, the Rhythm Serenaders, has performed at events including DCLX, Lindy on the Rocks, and the Nevermore Jazz Ball, and have just announced their first album, which comes out later this summer. Lindy Focus has become one of the largest and most popular swing dance events in the country, drawing more than one thousand attendees each year to his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.

We sat down at LindyFest 2016 to talk about how his start in the world of electronic music, a bachelor’s degree in music and a father in the music industry all shaped his direction as a performer of authentic swing dance and music.  We dive deep into what it takes to run one of the nation's premiere swing events, how DJs carry the responsibility for furthering jazz literacy in an era focused on live music, and the the challenges of transcribing a classic swing song.

The Track - E014 - Laura Windley  

This month, I am joined by vocalist, swing DJ, and Lindy Shopper - Laura Windley.  Laura began DJing in her native North Carolina in 2001, spinning at major events across the country and her blog, Lindy Shopper, provides swing dancers with invaluable vintage fashion and shopping resources for finding dance clothing new and old.

Laura got her start singing with the Atomic Rhythm All-Stars, and has since performed with bands such as the Jonathan Stout Orchestra and Michael Gamble's Rhythm Serenaders. In 2012, she and her husband, trombonist Lucien Cobb, founded the Mint Julep Jazz Band, which quickly became a mainstay in the Lindy Hop and Balboa scene, and will be making its New York City debut at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing festival this June.

We sat down at Lindy Focus 2015 to talk about getting started both as a vocalist and swing DJ, trading her childhood dream of dermatology for a career in Law, and her stint as a bassist in an all-girl law school rock band.  We also discuss what goes into blogging for Lindy Shopper, getting the call for the Mint Julep Jazz Band to perform at Lincoln Center, and how she managed her stage fright to become one of the most popular vocalists in the swing dance scene today.

The Track - E013 - Jerry Almonte  

This month, I am joined by one of the most prolific and respected Lindy Hop bloggers in the world, Jerry Almonte. Jerry is a fixture behind the scenes of the swing community — he is one of the founders of DCLX, the Washington, DC Lindy Exchange (which just celebrated its fifteenth year), and DJs regularly at The Jam Cellar in Washington, DC.  He has also served as Event Manager for landmark events including Frankie 95, the Big Big Event, and every year of ILHC since its inception.

However, Jerry may be best known for Wandering and Pondering — a Facebook page in its current incarnation — where he shares videos, news, photography and observations from the world of swing dance and beyond. Through the highly curated content he shares daily, he’s become the de facto archivist for Lindy Hoppers worldwide.

We sat down at Lindy Focus 2015 to talk about the impact that early internet discussion boards had on him and the burgeoning swing dance subculture, the origins of DCLX & Jam Cellar, and what it takes to put on an event like ILHC.  We also examine his process for finding and sharing content for his blog, how his experience as the son of immigrants influences his affinity for behind the scenes roles, and when he realized what really matters to him as the growing swing dance scene continues to evolve.

The Track - E012 - Sylvia Sykes  

In this episode I am joined by one of the most widely recognized and respected swing dance instructors in the world, Sylvia Sykes. Sylvia began dancing in 1966, competing in 1970, and teaching in 1979, and she studied with many of the dance greats, including Frankie Manning, Dean Collins, Maxie Dorf, and Willie Desatoff.  She is a six-time US Open Finalist, a member of the National Swing Dance Hall of Fame, and co-founder of the International Lindy Hop Championships. Sylvia’s unparalleled expertise and passion for preserving regional dances have made her the most sought-after head judge for Lindy Hop and Balboa competitions, and a celebrated international instructor.

We sat down at ILHC 2015 to talk about her obsession with the ‘Ellington at Newport’ record as a 6-year-old, dancing on American Bandstand with her original partner Jonathan Bixby, and her experience learning from swing dance masters Dean Collins and Maxie Dorf.  We also discuss the virtues of live music for swing dancing, what she looks for when she is judging Jack & Jill, Strictly, and choreographed contests, and the common thread she sees between legends Maxie Dorf and Dawn Hampton.

The Track - E011 - Jo Hoffberg  

This month, I am joined by international instructor and award-winning Lindy Hopper, Jo Hoffberg.  Jo has been a traveling instructor since 2007 and has won titles at ALHC, the Canadian Swing Championships, ILHC, the European Swing Dance Championships, the National Jitterbug Championships, Lindy Showdown, and the U.S. Open. Jo has taught and performed in 25 countries across 5 continents and in 2012 was inducted into the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame.

We sat down at ILHC 2015 to talk about her growing up as a competitive diver, the value she placed on winning, and how her drive to compete has evolved over the years. We also touch upon the wonder that is her hair & how that has become a defining part of her brand, her first time traveling with long-time partner Kevin St Laurent, and the practical & financial challenges of living as an international swing dance instructor.

The Track - E010 - Rob Moreland  

This month, I am joined by the Head DJ of Lindy Focus, Rob Moreland.  Now based in St. Louis, ‘Raleigh’ Rob has been DJing for swing dancers since 2003, when he started a four-year stretch of DJing every week at a local dance in Raleigh, NC.  Rob has since DJed countless international dance events, including the Basie Centennial Ball, Frankie100, and Lindy Showdown, and has been the featured DJ at Stompology, Swing Out New Hampshire, and the Nevermore Jazz Ball.

In our conversation, we talk about how he found swing dancing after playing second fiddle in a cajun band, compare some of our worst DJ mistake horror stories, and explore the differences between DJing at large national events and local regular gigs.  We also commiserate on our mutual weakness for remembering song titles, compare notes on preparing for gigs & contest music, and Rob shares some advice he'd give to new and aspiring DJs.

The Track - E009 - Caitlin Wellman  

This month, I am joined by an amazing dancer, singer, and instructor from Toronto, Caitlin Wellman.  A native of Ithaca, NY, Caitlin made a splash with the rest of Minnie’s Moochers in 1998. Starting as a teen, Caitlin was a traveling instructor for the better part of a decade, partnering with Dan Amores & Peter Strom, before she stepped away from the scene in 2006.  She has since returned, teaching on her own in Toronto and at dance events in Canada & the USA.

In our conversation, we talk about regional dance “accents,” why her height had her turn to Leon James for inspiration, and the struggle with the chronic illness that led her to step away from dancing at the top of her game. We also discuss what it’s like managing that illness, gender roles in partner dance, and challenging the glass ceiling as a female headlining instructor.

The Track - E008 - Jonathan Stout  

This month I am joined by one of the top bandleaders for swing dancers today, Jonathan Stout.  Jonathan began dancing as a teenager in 1995, and started his first band, the Campus Five, in 2002.  Since that inception, his bands have played regularly throughout his native Los Angeles, and he has grown into a giant of the swing world. He has released 3 albums with the Campus Five, and led bands at the National Jitterbug Championships at Camp Hollywood, the Frankie 95 festival, the International Lindy Hop Championships and repeat engagements at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing.   In our conversation, we dissect what makes a good song for swing dancing, discuss whether DJs are a valuable asset to swing dancers, and his relentless pursuit of ‘the real deal’ - an obsession with the authentic and how that translates to his role as a swing dancer and bandleader.   We also talk about starting on guitar as a bedroom metalhead, discuss the differences between the Mount Rushmore of band leaders he paid tribute to at the last Lindy Focus: Basie, Shaw, Goodman & Ellington, and uncover what it took for him to get past the cliche and rediscover the joy in Benny Goodman’s "Sing, Sing, Sing."

The Track - E007 - Ramona Staffeld  

This month I am joined for a very important conversation with instructor & back-to-back ILHC Pro Classic champion, Ramona Staffeld.  Believe it or not, Ramona has already been teaching for half of her young life, starting at age 14 and spanning two decades.  In that time she’s taught alongside legends Frankie Manning and Chazz Young and has brought crowds to their feet at international events while performing with Minnie’s Moochers, the Silver Shadows, and  recent partners Todd Yannacone and Remy Kouakou Kouame.

In our conversation, we talk about her experience starting at such a young age, how music and rhythm are her most important influences, the joy she brings to and receives from dance, and what it’s like putting together routines with different partners.

About an hour-fifteen into our conversation, we get into a heavy topic that may be difficult to listen to.  Ramona shares her experience of surviving sexual abuse as a young person and how she is coming to terms with that abuse today.  This is an incredibly important discussion and I am grateful Ramona has come forward with her story.

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