Edinbop Beginners Balboa Weekend

23 11 2015

This weekend I went along to a beginners balboa weekend in Edinburgh, organised by Edinbop. It’s been just over a year since I started learning lindy hop at Full Swing in Wellington, New Zealand, which I continue to enjoy very much through classes, exchanges, social dancing and workshops here in Edinburgh.

I’ve seen people dance balboa on the social dance floor and thought that it looked nice, shuffley, sort of dainty and neat and contained in way and a bit wiggly, busy legs in other ways. It is a very close hold dance with the partners bodies touching, I think one of the teachers described it as having a hug and dancing! If you have issues around personal space, then this may not be the style of dance for you. However, all the usual partner dance etiquette applies in terms of where you put your hands, how you treat your partner (with respect) etc.
I thought I’d like to give it a try. I like learning new stuff, particularly in a dance and movement capacity.

Before I go on, I will say that this post aims to describe the things we learnt over the weekend, I may therefore not be explaining things in the best way possible. What I’m saying is, you probably won’t be able to teach yourself balboa from this post, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of what it involves :-)

Saturday – Learning Balboa Day 1

Our teachers for the weekend Toni and Jason explained that today we were going to focus on learning the basics of ‘pure balboa’ or ‘pure-bal’ this involved:

Things that you should just do when dancing balboa:

  • Pulse – like lindy hop, like lots of dances, keeping a pulse is important to keep time and to keep the dancing together as a couple
  • Tidy feet – making sure you keep your feet underneath you rather than doing your shuffle steps out wide or behind or in front
  • Gather – Particularly relevant to when you’re dancing an up hold, more about that to follow.

Basic Rhythms 

  • Shuffles – which are surprising energetic and somewhat tiring for such small steps!
  • Single time basic – this is a shuffle step or a pony step (depending on the slipperiness of your shoes) on every beat of the music
  • Half time basic – this is a shuffle step or a pony step on every other beat of the music

Basic Patterns

  • Down hold basic – this consists of the following rhythms: single, single, half . Single, single, half. Single, single, half etc. You hold on the 4th and 8th beat. eg. single (1), single (2), half (3-hold 4) single (5), single (6), half (7-hold 8)
  • Up hold basic – this consists of the following rhythms: step (1), step (2), hold (3), step (4), step (5), step (6) hold(7). Step, step, hold, step, step, step, hold. .
    You hold on the 3rd and the 7th beat. eg.
    On the hold make sure to gather the foot in the air to the one on the floor.


  • Side scoots – based on the down hold footwork, this consists of single, single, half, scoot, scoot, scoot, basically as many scoots as the leader wants to do! Scoots you can do in either direction and can be good for getting into a space on the dance floor, or getting out the way of other dancers. They can also be in an arc or in a rotation.
  • Come around – this is a combo of the down hold basic followed by the up hold basic in a turning motion.
  • Lolly kicks – these come out of a come around and involve a swooshy kick followed by a step tap. These can be lead in a circle. There’s an element of compression and stretch to get this move right. Toni demonstrated that the follow can do all sorts of fancy things with our legs during this time, but for now, we stick to the basics! The all important exit from the lolly kicks comes with a step across from the lead.

Summary from the experts

Sorry, this is a bit dark and wobbly at times!


Illingworth’s experience of day 1 of learning balboa

It was a jam packed day, which whooshed by quickly, as things do when you’re enjoying them! On the whole I feel like I grasped the basics, but I had difficulty at times identifying when an up hold or a down hold was being led. I reckon this will get easier with practice, but for the time being I  am just shuffling until I get what the lead wants me to do! This is where having and maintaining a pulse is important, because even if I can’t make out the up hold or the down hold, I can still move.

Another thing I found helpful with the basic foot work is closing my eyes. It really helps me tune out of everything else that’s going on around me and to focus on what my lead is telling me.

While dancing balboa as a beginner there’s a lot to think about as a follow, but the thing I was most aware of, to the point that at times I totally lost my basic patterns, was having tidy feet! It’s easy to slip into rock step lindy mode, so I was trying really hard not to let that happen, with mixed success!

I enjoyed the moves we learnt and again feel like I got them on a basic level. I know they weren’t danced to perfection, but they were there :-)

Let’s move on to Sunday’s learning…

Sunday – Learning Balboa Day 2

Today was balboa swing time which involved learning the following:


  • Out and In – this follows the same rhythm as the down hold foot work we learnt yesterday and goes something like; out, out, in, hold, out, out, in, hold. On the hold you do that gather with the foot in the air to the foot on the floor. There’s the concept of stretch and compression in this move too. Make sure to bring the feet together on the out steps, otherwise there’s a real possibility it can become a rock step and that is not what we’re looking to do here, at all.
  • Crossovers – this is really a lead thing, as the follow does not crossover their feet. This move can come from the out and in as it follows the same foot work. The lead foot work goes something like: out, together, cross, out, together, cross. There’s some direction work involved in this move as the leader moves the follow in an L or a V shape, using the out, together, cross footwork, with a little pivot for direction. Follows continue with the standard out and in foot work, with the pivot for direction, as per the lead. To exit the crossover a come around can be led back into basic foot work of up hold or down hold.
  •  Throw out – this move is a bit of a combo of the come around, to a lolly kick position and then to bring the follow back round to basic foot work. That, is as far as I’ll go in explaining that one! Well, the only other thing I want to mention, is the element of stretch to allow the follow to wind up to create the moment for the collection and that totally makes sense when you actually dance the move! Honest! Oh and you can do continuous throw outs if you like too, obviously as a follow, that depends on the lead :-)

Tea dance – putting what we learnt into a social dance

Following the teaching on day 2 there was a tea dance so that we could put what we learnt into a social dance setting. Ordinarily that would have freaked me out a bit, but because it was people we’d been learning with, it actually felt really nice and it helped that Toni and Jason were there to ask for a dance or for help or both.

Summary from the experts 

This one is a bit brighter, but probably still a bit wobbly!

Illingworth’s experience of day 2 of learning balboa

I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the basic up hold and down hold seemed to have stayed in my muscle memory from yesterday. However, that didn’t last and as the day went on I seemed to be unravelling a bit on all the moves! I think I only had a couple of giggle outbursts and only one time that I just totally stopped. That sort of thing used to happen loads when I was starting to learn lindy! After congratulating myself on the feeling ok about the basics, I had totally forgotten the come around, but somehow still managed to come around with some strong leads :-) Blimey, poor leads!
I also had some odd moments with the throw out in that I felt like I was getting my feet muddled on the collection to go back to the basic foot work. However, turns out I wasn’t winding up enough before even getting to muddled feet on the collection! What a sausage!
There were also a couple of times that I wanted to go into 6 count lindy, I think that was once I was collected from the throw out.

Oh and the question on everybody’s lips, well, my sister Sam’s and brother in law Ben’s is, did I perfect my balboa face? Well, with my limited balboa experience, I’ve decided that there are two versions of the balboa face, neither of which I can do! The serious, I’m really good and I take it really seriously and I love it and I look ace balboa face and the serene, I’m really good and it’s really effortless and I love it and I look really cool balboa face. I think there may also be a third balboa face, which is a I’m dancing balboa, but I’m not quite sure what I’m doing, but it’s ok because I’m still having some fun face and if in doubt I just shuffle and I think that’s the one I was mostly rocking this weekend, when my face wasn’t practically in the leads armpit! Being a short follow that happens sometimes…

On the whole though, I think I’ve done some good learning over this weekend, thanks to good teaching and a bit of a practice both during the teaching and the tea dance.

More balboa?

Will I continue with the balboa? I think I would like to. A beginners weekend is brilliant and while we covered a lot, well, to me it felt like a lot, there’s not really the opportunity to consolidate the learning. I think that’s where attending a block of classes will help for sure, so that might be the way I’ll go next on the balboa dancing journey. I’ll also continue with the lindy hop, as I’ve loads more learning to do with that and it’s really fun.

So, there. Now, go and do some dancing!

Stuff I experienced at the CILIPS Autumn Gathering #CILIPSAG15

22 11 2015

On Thursday 19th November I participated in the CILIPS Autumn Gathering at the Beardmore Hotel and Conference Centre in Dalmuir. This post aims to summarise what I learnt from the sessions I attended, as well as post gathering action time. The programme for the day gives an overview.


Approaching the venue I thought I’d come to wrong place as the Beardmore Hotel and Conference Centre is adjacent to the Golden Jubilee Hospital and as you approach it all looks to be the same place! However, once inside, I registered, had a cuppa and two tiny pastries by which time it was Keynote o’clock.

Keynote 1: CILIP Strategic Plan 2016-2020 – Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP

As you may already know CILIP is consulting members just now, until 16th December, on the strategic plan for 2016-2020 with CILIP CEO Nick Poole going to a lot of places around the United Kingdom for various conference and consultation events.

The Keynote was structured around the following words to describe the profession: pride, resilience and solidarity. Included were some great examples, such as Walk ON at Fife Libraries, of how integral libraries, in this instance, public libraries, are to the fabric of their communities. Certainly in Scotland you’ll find public libraries alongside leisure centres, shopping malls, schools, in villages, forming networks across suburbs and cities. Yet, as across the rest of the UK, budgets are being cut and so therefore are services. Nick acknowledged that we, as a profession though, continue to demonstrate our resilience,  to work creatively and for the benefit of our communities, taking pride in the services we deliver.

Nick described how he wants CILIP to advocate for the profession, for the members and ultimately for library users in order to protect and develop these services, he also encouraged, us to do this. It was suggested that in order for us to be successful we needed solidarity across the profession, which could potentially be a challenge.

Information Literacy and the importance of equality of access to information were also highlighted as key areas of the strategic plan. When I worked at the University of Brighton, developing students information literacy was our bread and butter, so I know there is an enormous amount of good practice that exists across the profession, that can be transferred and shared across sectors. Digital literacy in this instance I understood to be included in the term information literacy.

I came away from Nick’s keynote feeling pretty positive, but realistically so. By that I mean, I recognise that being an librarian, information or knowledge professional at this time has its challenges, particularly, as one member of the audience highlighted in his question to Nick, there is a real shortage of professional job opportunities and generally speaking, as roles disappear those remaining have to take on and deliver more and more. Given that, it can be difficult to remain creative and resilient.
Yet, I feel we are on the right lines with the strategic priorities identified in the consultation document.

I think when I am having a ‘what is the point of all this’ day,  I will visit Ned Potter’s post Visiting libraries is the most popular activity in the UK, which illustrates perfectly that libraries, librarians, information, knowledge people are indeed relevant in this digital age. We just need to continue to demonstrate that, to anyone and everyone!

You can find out more about Shape the Future: the strategic plan for 2016-2020read the consultation document and how you can be involved, so do.

Session 1: The iRights Framework – Young Scot

The first of the parallel sessions I attended was an introduction to the iRights Framework (which I think is brilliant) and their partnership with Young Scot to implement the framework across Scotland. This session was really informative, clearly and concisely delivered and in my opinion has been a long time coming. Again, when I worked at the University of Brighton, the Information  Manager of Student Services was keen to help students understand the digital world, the implications and potential consequences of their online interactions. It’s great to see that iRights is now gaining momentum to make the digital world a more transparent and empowering place for children and young people.

If you are a young person (aged 14-21) in Scotland, or know any young people in Scotland that would like to be involved in championing the iRights cause in Scotland, then you can join the #iRights Youth Commission via Young Scot.

Session 2: ‘Our History’: A Growing Online Story of Edinburgh University and its People – Dr. Paul Barnaby, Archives Team, Edinburgh University Library

Dr Barnaby took us on a condensed historical tour of the University of Edinburgh by means of a wiki ‘Our History’ . This showcase of people, buildings and events demonstrates the rich history of the University of Edinburgh to both members of the University and members of the public.

For the librarians reading this, the library at the University of Edinburgh was actually founded before the University! Imagine that! You can also learn about the Librarians.

In addition to exploring the history of the University of Edinburgh you can find out more about the project itself.

Session 3: Dementia: Awareness, Information and Libraries
a) One man’s mission to raise awareness of dementia – Tommy Whitelaw, Alliance Scotland
b) Dundee Libraries Dementia Information Service – Tanya Duthie, Senior Library and Information Officer, Leisure and Culture Dundee

I did some classic Illingworth dithering about what to go to for the third session. In the main auditorium the CILIP crew were doing a session Advocacy and Political Influence, which my head was telling me would be super useful and interesting, but my heart won. I was keen to hear about the positive, real life difference Dundee Libraries are making to those in their community with dementia and their carers.

This session came in two parts, first with Tommy Whitelaw giving a personal and heartfelt account of his experience of caring for his mum Joan, who had vascular dementia. Dementia Carer Voices is one of the many projects Tommy is involved with as part of his work for the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland. This powerful and engaging start to the session was followed by Tanya Duthie with a pretty wonderful case study of how they set up a dementia library, which is now a core service of Dundee Central Library. I particularly valued the ‘how to’ section of Tanya’s presentation as it summarised the practicalities of getting the project off the ground and turning it into a service.This showed just how achievable a project like this is. Staff training was a key part in making the collection accessible and Tanya mentioned how, in addition to the training she received, she also became a Dementia Friend.

I’m pleased I decided to go along to this session, because for me, it demonstrated not only the value of libraries to their communities, but also was an example of good practice that can be learnt from and replicated for other services. I was also inspired to become a Dementia Friend and I am going to see if I can volunteer for Alzheimer Scotland or another, local organisation that works to support people with dementia and their carers.

Session 4: All Together Now! Scran: sharing digital heritage to enhance community engagement – Helen Foster, Education Officer, SCRAN

The final parallel session of the day I attended gave a really good overview of SCRAN and its community engagement work. SCRAN provides a subscription service to access images, films and sounds that represent material culture and history.

In addition to hosting large collections, you can also upload a small, personal collection to SCRAN via Contribute. Community generated content is all part and parcel of SCRAN as you can add comments, suggest corrections and add additional information to an item.

Three key themes for SCRAN are places, people and stories.

Like, the University of Edinburgh ‘Our History’ session, I found this session interesting and informative, but I didn’t come away with any particular actions from it.

Keynote 2: –Mindfulness: Survive and Thrive – Martin Stepek, Director of Culture and Communications: Wright Johnston & Mackenzie LLP and mindfulness teacher 

The day came to an end with this session on mindfulness, which I found challenging. I know the basics of mindfulness, what it’s about and what it’s said to be good for, but I have never participated in a guided mindfulness session. It freaked me out a bit, a lot. I got a bit anxious when Martin was speaking about how often we are not focussed on what we want to be focussing on.

During the guided practical part of the session, I found it really hard to concentrate on Martin’s words because I couldn’t quite relax in the auditorium surrounded by lots of other people. Also, being a short person I couldn’t quite find the correct, yet comfortable position to sit in, as the length of the seat of the chair meant that if I sat back my feet wouldn’t touch the floor, but if I sat with my feet on the floor I didn’t have any support for my back. It’s a common problem for me, but normally I’m not doing mindfulness practice, so I can shuffle about to get comfortable.

There were some parts, particularly when bringing our concentration to our eyeballs, that actually made me feel physically odd.

That all sounds very negative, I don’t mean to, it’s just how it was for me. All of that said I still learnt a lot from the session and intend to find out more, especially as some Twitter chat led to this suggestion/recommendation from @LibGoddess Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance.

Exhibition and Networking

There were a number of exhibitors at the gathering and plenty of opportunities for networking factored into the day. I was rubbish at both talking to exhibitors and networking, like almost total fail on both, until after some virtual encouragement from @joeyanne I managed to speak to a couple of people from NHS 24 and they were lovely, of course. I also had a nice time at lunch with Kirsten Urquhart proving to myself that I can eat and talk, but not at the same time because that would be rude! There were a couple of familiar faces there, from the Introduction to Mentoring workshop I participated in a couple of weeks ago and I had a brief catch up with them. So, it wasn’t a total fail, but it could have been so much more!
Actions for next conference/gathering, talk to more people!


An Introduction to CILIP Mentoring – workshop and information session

11 11 2015

Reasons for attending the workshop
I thought this workshop and information session would be a useful refresher to what is involved in being a good mentor. Also, I’m thinking of becoming a mentor for certification and chartership candidates. The workshop was held at the impressive Mitchell Library in Glasgow, so I got to visit another Scottish city too, which was a bonus.

Format of the day
The format of the day was an overview of mentoring in the morning and then a look at the CILIP Mentoring for Professional Registration stuff in the afternoon. It was apparent that both facilitators, Val Walker and Alison Turriff, have a vast amount of experience and knowledge in this area and so were ideally placed to take us through the day.
I was pleased that activities were included to reinforce what we were learning, but also so that we could work with other participants. We were a small group with experience from different sectors and stages of career, and over the day it felt like we developed a good working dynamic, which always helps when faced with tasks to discuss and complete.

Key content
The most relevant content for me came in the morning session when we looked at learning styles and powerful questioning. Getting an opportunity to ask powerful questions was as entertaining as much as it was a good learning experience! It’s funny how different situations can bring out a different approach to sort of the same thing. When working on the Help Desk in a university library for example, or meeting with a student starting out on their dissertation, knowing what questions to ask and how to ask them in order to get them thinking about how they might approach their literature searching seemed second nature. In this situation however, I really had to think about the way I put questions to the person in the mentee role, that made them meaningful and helped them to explore their situation/scenario in more detail.

Similarly giving some thought to feedback was also useful, particularly on how to give constructive feedback. I feel in some circumstances I can be a little too blunt with my words and in others I worry about upsetting or offending people, so I perhaps can lean to the positive side of things a little too much rather than be totally realistic and honest, which ultimately isn’t helpful to anyone. Balance I think is key here and learning ways in which to give feedback is certainly helpful.  I can also see how this is relevant not only in a mentor/mentee situation, but also in the workplace with colleagues too.

Discussion on what makes a good mentor was beneficial. We all had a lot to contribute on this as we each thought about a time when we’d had a good experience being mentored ourselves. Here are some of the qualities we identified as making a good mentor:

  • Non-judgemental
  • Approachable
  • Empathetic
  • A good listener
  • Reliable
  • Objective

All common sense really, but putting all of these qualities into practice I think takes patience and commitment, again, not only in a mentor/mentee situation, but in other life stuff too.

We had a look at The Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB) and discussed how we might use this ourselves as well as with our candidates. Again, this was a useful refresher for me and I intend to look at that in more detail.

The content and activity of the morning session was more relevant to me. The information given in the afternoon session, while it was useful to be guided through,  is easily accessible on the CILIP VLE.

A recurring thought throughout the day, a concern really, is that I don’t have enough career experience to become a mentor. After a brief conversation with one of the Mentor Support Officers and further reflection over the weekend; what I feel I could contribute outweighs my concern of not knowing enough or having enough professional experience.

Becoming a mentor
After thinking on it over the weekend, I have sent in my application to be a mentor for certification and chartership candidates so we’ll see what happens from there. If you are a certification or chartership candidate looking for a mentor, then get in touch via the blog or via Twitter.

Further information
If this is something you are wanting to find out more about then have a read of the Becoming a Mentor information on the CILIP website.



A visit to the Supreme Courts of Scotland Library

11 11 2015

A week or so ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Library which serves the Supreme Courts of Scotland. This was the first professional library visit I have been on since arriving back into the UK in May. My host, Librarian to the Supreme Courts, Jennie, was very welcoming, even though I’d turned up a week early! What a sausage I am!

The visit consisted of a tour of the building, including the library. As the site is of such historical significance Jennie shared some key points about the architecture and how the buildings have changed and developed over the years, and in turn how cases were heard and sentences delivered. It was a new experience to see advocates pacing up and down the Grand Hall. I tried to imagine going back in time to hear the Macer announcing the next case from the tiny window high up in the wall of the Grand Hall. On the afternoon I visited there were coal fires glowing in the two enormous grates which made the Grand Hall feel almost cosy on an autumnal afternoon.

From the Grand Hall we weaved our way along corridors, through doors, up and down stairs, which was all rather disorientating for me! We had a little peep in the Advocates Library, but didn’t go in there so as not to disturb their working environment. It was in this part of the building though that this happened…

Lying in a coffin

Having a rest… in a coffin

It’s ok. I didn’t get murdered, thankfully. This is one of the items that has been in the building for many years and there are several stories that go with it, which I’m not going to share, just in case you ever go on visit here yourself! Can you see the pick axe to the top right of the picture? A bit of olden days evidence. Imagine that!

We went from here through to some of the old cells, one of particular interest to me just now was that of a murderer by the name of William Burke. This is because I am reading Mary Paterson, or, The Fatal Error, which charts the gruesome way in which Burke and his partner in crime, Hare, earn their living by supplying bodies to the anatomists of Edinburgh, not by grave robbing, no, no, but by murder. I’m just getting to the bit about the trial of Burke and so to stand in the cell that he was held in was rather chilling.

A lot of the other old cells are now used for storage of records or case notes, one way to make use of the space.

Jennie gave a really good overview of the library service and how it supports the work of the Supreme Courts. As the majority of my librarianing experience has been in Higher Education, it was refreshing to get an insight into another sector. As Jennie is nearly a year into this role it was useful to hear how she has approached the role, the collections and the library itself, to date.

The library is a plush and comfortable space, welcoming for extended study or for a quick consultation of a text. The collection is, as you would expect, subject specific in order to support the work of the Supreme Courts. As well as the core collection there are some significant historical texts on Scottish law that would require a translator if you did not have some knowledge of old, olden days Scots language! I do not, but Jennie was able to read a couple of passages to me. It was inspiring to hear her plans for the future of the library, such as reviewing the cataloguing and classification systems in place with the view of making materials easier to find. Like any library, the community using it is the focus.

On the afternoon I visited the library was ready for Halloween! Spooookkky!

Supreme Courts Library

Supreme Courts Library

Supreme Courts Library

Halloweeny at the Supreme Courts Library

Supreme Courts Library

Is Eating People Wrong? Halloween at the Supreme Courts Library

My next library adventure was to an Introduction to CILIP Mentoring and so a short post about that will follow.

Lindy hopping in Edinburgh

27 07 2015

I’m pausing with finishing my USA posts, it’s been a couple of months anyway, so a bit more time isn’t going to hurt! I’ve not even started on my South America ones yet and I’ve still got NZ ones from last year in draft format. So what does that tell me? I’m shit at finishing blog posts.

This one though is getting done right now. I am in Edinburgh. I’ve been here for just over a month and I finally got to some lindy; a class last week and a workshop along with a social at weekend. I’ve been having a difficult time in my brain since I got back to the UK and settling into Edinburgh has proved challenging, more so than getting to grips with being in Wellington. Still, I’m here and I’m slowly making progress, putting into practice the advice of my lovely friend Wallo of taking one day at a time.

Last week was a very good week. I joined a Sing in the City choir and went to a lindy hop class and workshop. Going to, and participating in those activities reminded me how enjoyable and joyous and fun being an alive human person can be. The goosebumps I felt when singing with a group of people. The exhilaration of whirling round a dance floor, music carrying the movement. Sharing these experiences with other people. It felt pretty good.

Having started to learn to lindy hop from the wonderful Full Swing crew when I was in Wellington, New Zealand, it’s something that I knew I wanted to continue wherever I ended up in the world. I managed a couple of socials in Santiago, Chile and one in Chicago, USA and then nothing more until now. The workshop I went along to on Saturday was super. Rob and Diane Van Haaren are great teachers and I like their view of lindy hop being about a fun, shared experience for lead and follow, as well as a way to communicate and share ideas with incorporating jazz steps and including variations for both dancers.

I learnt a lot; the two lead point explanation so as a follow you know when a 6 count was changing to an 8 count was a penny drop moment. Although somewhat anxiety inducing for me, it was also somewhat liberating doing a bit of freestyling to incorporate some jazz moves into a dance. Yet as a follow I still find it really hard to not follow the lead on this! I guess I will get more confident and imaginative on the freestyling to more I practice adding something in just here and there. That I know will come once I feel more accomplished with the basics. I really need to stop looking at the floor though, that is a bad habit I need to conquer!

One thing I am improving though is just continuing to move. If I lose the pulse or the lead, I know I can just find my 6 count or charleston or 8 count back to the lead to find that connection again. That’s heaps better than when I just used to stop still! Ha! Poor leads!
I still can’t stop the giggles though, which some leads handle better than others!

Aside from it being a good dance learning day, it was also a good social day. I was worried about that beforehand, but as I’ve experienced from my limited lindy adventures; people are welcoming and friendly and inclusive. I needn’t have been worried. I wish I hadn’t been, it’s exhausting and I needed all my energy for dancing, not being a bag of nerves and anxiousness!

Reflecting on the day there’s no way I would have been brave enough to go along had it not been for my fantastic starting point at Full Swing. I’ve a lot to thank them for, more than in a dance way, but in a being brave way. I used to get frustrated when Michael would be all; ‘this is your safe dance space’ in class because I did not feel safe, I felt like a totally uncoordinated, useless idiot!  Yet, he was totally right! No one was there to tell me I’m shit and shouldn’t bother coming back. It was the complete opposite; people were encouraging and helpful and constructive. I’m hopeful that’s how things are going to pan out here too. I miss the Full Swing crowd and I’m thankful for the (dance) journey I am on. It started with them.

I will continue to whirl around the dance floor, to enjoy the shared experience of each dance, to get a little more creative with the freestyling, to be a little braver with the variations and most of all have fun times, because they are not only good for overcoming my difficult brain times, they are good for my soul :-)

Lindy hopping in Chicago

26 07 2015

I do this all the time, start a post and then either never finish it or take an age to finish it. This falls into the latter. Anyway, Chicago was a very interesting city, fun to visit and easy to navigate. To follow is descriptive and that is all. Enjoy.

I arrive to the hostel in Chicago and what’s the first thing I do once I’m checked in? A load of washing! Mrs Illingworth would be proud :-)


Holiday Jones Hostel

Clean clothes sorted I venture out for provisions, a Jewel Osco supermarket is close by the hostel. Chores done and now fun times can begin. I found a swing dance night a 20 minute bus ride away from the hostel at a place called Fizz. I asked on FB if there would  be lindy hop because I know there are USA variations on swing – lindy, East coast, west coast… Lindy hop confirmed and I’m donning my wonderfully swingy cat dress and getting on the bus.
I arrived at Fizz around 9.30 and the place was dancing! For a Monday night it was busy. I sat and watched for a bit to see what different styles were going on, then I got asked to dance, which I somewhat nervously did. Immediately I went back to my bad habit of looking at the floor and one partner kept correcting me about that! My first dance went pretty smoothly, with a good, strong, but not aggressive lead. After that the dances kept coming and in no time I’d found my pulse again.

I only had one really off dance when I could not follow my lead, at all. It was a pretty quick pace and he was doing

Dancing at Fizz

Dancing at Fizz

stuff that I was not familiar with in lindy. It was more a coast swing I think. I tried my best to keep up with him, but he just kept saying that I could do a basic step which was essentially a side to side thing and he could just freestyle. To be honest, that didn’t make for a very interesting time for me! I think it must’ve been clear that I was struggling to follow yet he kept doing more and more extravagant moves!

It’s interesting to me the way people approach dance. I had a couple of dances with an older chap with the most sparkly, dark eyes I’ve ever seen and the kindest face. Perhaps not surprisingly he was a gentle, but clear lead. I enjoyed dancing with him. We even managed a conversation while dancing, which says a lot for me in terms of concentration. In fact, I think I it helped.The movements felt natural and flowing, not quite effortless, but it felt like, well, good. It was enjoyable.

Another dance was with a very enthusiastic and jolly chap, very theatrical in his moves and loved his freestyling. His freestyling though was much more fun than the busy legs chap I mentioned before. He was more inclusive and encouraging which made me feel a little less self-conscious about my terrible attempts at freestyling! I had a fun time dancing with him.

Following on from that was a dance with a guy who seemed really quite bendy in his limbs if that makes sense, almost snakelike. He was a man of few words and some fancy moves, but he was a patient and steady lead bringing me back to something familiar if I got a little lost. A pleasure to dance with.

Hmmmm…. Who else, oh, a chap that looked very like middle sister Illingworth’s fiancée, Ben and that made me smile throughout the dance. He was another steady lead, but fun with it, again, some good variations on the go.

For me lindy hop is about sharing something, creating movement together and most importantly fun! I do sometimes take it too seriously and feel bad that I’m rubbish, but for the most part, I do think it’s a lot of fun.  That’s what it was like with most of the dances I had tonight, with just that one guy who was dancing for himself I think, which is totally fine, but not very inspiring or confidence building for an out of practice beginner like me!

It was good to dance with new people again, like in Chile, it was really good learning for me. Still, can’t beat a whirl around the dance floor with my bestest lead though :-) Helps that he doesn’t mind when I crack up laughing if I lose the pulse or stand on him or something! He has the patience of a saint, as do many of the leads I’ve danced with. I’m keen to pick up lessons again once I’m settled somewhere as back at Full Swing in Wellington, I think we were going to get on to the roles of the lead and follow changing so that they can both lead in dances. That would be cool. I was also just starting to get the musicality a little more, so, knowing how to hear the music for dance. That helps a lot with the freestyling and variations. Ultimately though I need to practice more!

I would have liked to have stayed longer at the dancing night it got busier and busier, with a real nice atmos, but I was worried I would miss the last bus as I didn’t know what the timetable was and they don’t have it in the bus stops like in the UK. So, after an hour and a half or so I made my exit, feeling that nice dancing glow.
After that though I discovered that particular bus route runs all night! Ha!

Back at the hostel I had a little think about what I would like to do the following day…

Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon

26 07 2015

Flagstaff is ace. It’s a very cute and friendly little town, with the visitor centre at the railway station. Convenient! It was somewhat busier than usual for the time of year as it was graduation ceremony time for North Arizona University students. Flagstaff itself is a very easy town to navigate.

Dreaming Cow - Dark Cherry ChaiThere are plenty of places to eat and they are big into their craft beer. It’s a great base for exploring the surrounding wonders of places like the Grand Canyon and Sedona. I enjoyed a self guided walking tour of the most haunted spots in Flagstaff and considering its size, there are many! They also have a really nice organic nice foods supermarket, walking distance from the main area of town, which was great for some supplies for the next few days. I found the most delicious yoghurt there called Dreaming Cow, the best flavour; dark cherry chai. Yum.

Anyway, yoghurt aside, I enjoyed a moochy time in Flagstaff. I also paid a visit to their library, it would have been rude not to :-)
Oh and I guess I should mention the hostel. It was ok. Staff I spoke with were super and helpful and friendly and they were able to accommodate my early morning arrival which was ace. It’s extremely conveniently located. Possibly a 5 minute walk from the train station with a big bag.  Breakfast was good and plentiful. My room though, smelt of old cooking because it was situated next to one of the kitchens and it was sooooooo cold! Now, I’m not one for feeling the cold, in fact I’m mostly warm, so this was a new experience for me! It was in fact possibly colder in that room than camping along the way when we walked the Inca Trail in Peru! I did find a little heater under the sink though and that worked wonders :-) The plumbing in the bathrooms was questionable. I nearly had an overflowing toilet experience after a post poo flush that my friend Iain will relate to :-) Needless to say I had a second of a little panic thinking I’d have to go and tell whoever was on reception that I’d done a poo and broken the toilet! Thankfully that didn’t happen. Phew! Similarly while having a shower the water wasn’t draining to the point where I had to stop as the tray was going to overflow! Hot water was in plentiful supply though and that’s always so welcome when feeling travel grimey. The hostel building is pretty old, but for all its quirks it was fine for a couple of nights.

The next day I went on guided trip to the Grand Canyon, which was super. It is possible to take a shuttle from Flagstaff, just from the train station and navigate your own way round the park, but given I only had one day I wanted to make the most of it rather than fannying about not really knowing where I was going or what I was doing!

Grand Canyon
I had signed up to do a tour with the hostel, but they cancelled last minute because of the weather, it did snow, but not massively. So, at short notice I managed to get on a beginners hike and South rim tour with All Star Tours. That was so lucky because it’s their quieter time of year and so weren’t going to do this particular tour on the day I could do. However, a family booked on and I joined them :-) They were super lovely and friendly and the kids an absolute delight. Our guide, Molly, a Geology graduate was engaging, energetic and enthusiastic, clearly knowledgeable not only about the Grand Canyon, but also the surrounding area; the flora, fauna and history.

The changing weather actually made it all the more dramatic as there were times when it was snowing or raining or just really low cloudy fog making it tricky to see any of the canyon, yet the sun would break through and light up a section, giving us a glimpse of the vast, expanse of rock and river and vegetation. Amazing. The afternoon really cleared up and we enjoyed blue skies and sunshine as we did a short walk on the Kaibab trail, actually getting below the rim and into the canyon. It was fabulous, we stopped for lunch on the trail too.

Ordinarily I would have preferred to do a longer trek tramp hike, but given my lack of time I opted to do a tour with some sightseeing from different parts of the canyon. I totally understand why Molly prefers the longer hikes and backpacking excursions. She’s absolutely right that it’s better to see the Grand Canyon from below the rim and get right in it. Still, I’m happy with the choice I made. If I ever come back here though I’m going to do a longer adventure, similar to those we did in Peru, with the Colca Canyon and the Inca Trail. Just typing those words bring back wonderful memories :-)

My limited experience  of tours in the USA have so far been very positive. The level of customer service has been Sweets

exceptional. In fact that pretty much goes for the train too, with the exception of the first overnighter I did.

So, let’s move on to Chicago. Oh hang on, before I do, I also found a nice, but overpriced sweet shop in Flagstaff. I got two dark choco covered pretzels and a stick with 2 marshmallows on it covered in choco and with a gummy worm stuck on.

Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon in pictures


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