Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reflections on Camp Jitterbug 2011

Camp Jitterbug is one of the biggest Lindy Hop events on the West Coast and is a real great time! It's a great opportunity to meet and dance with Lindy Hoppers from all over. With three days of workshops and four nights of social dancing, Camp Jitterbug is an unforgettable experience.

This year was my second Camp Jitterbug. My weekend started early Thursday afternoon since I came up with another follow for the Pre-Camp Jitterbug dance at the Russian Center with live music by Glenn Crytzer and the Syncopaters. We arrived in Seattle at 2pm and since neither of us had seen any of Seattle other than the dance venues wandered over to the Pike Place Market. The highlight of the afternoon was finding a street band playing Jazz music and swinging out on the sidewalk. (Tip: Trying to swing out while wearing a purse works very poorly, two purses just makes it silly!)

The Pre-Camp Jitterbug dance was a nice way to start the weekend. The Russian Center was a neat venue and was a great size for the number of dancers that were there. The band was great and it was fun to catch up with other Lindy Hoppers as they came into town. The social dancing was nice and relaxed since everyone knew that they had the entire weekend ahead of them to dance together.

Camp Jitterbug is kicked off by a spectacular showcase of talent in the Jump Session Show at Benaroya Hall. This year's Jump Session Show was truly amazing! The theme was a tour of swing dancing through the ages with performances that showcased the influential dances and the development of Lindy Hop as we know it. The show culminated in the introduction of surprise guest Norma Millers and a recreation of Hellzapoppin'.

I recommend starting at 2:00.

The Jump Session show was super amazing and left everyone energized and excited to dance.

The Friday night dance was also at Benaroya Hall on the stage and on a dance floor set-up on the foyer. It was a nice set-up for the Jack and Jill Prelims since there was seating to watch the competition and they kept music playing in the foyer for social dancing. It was a less pleasant venue for social dancing since the dance floors were in separate rooms and the dance floor in the foyer was both sticky and set-up on concrete.

Saturday morning started bright and early with track auditions for Masters, Advanced Plus and Advanced. Since this year was my first time auditioning, I played it safe and went for the Advanced track. Auditions were pretty simple: for Masters and Advanced Plus- social dance until you are given a wristband for your track, for advanced- keep dancing and if you are still on the floor when the judges are done pulling out dancers who belong in a lower level, congratulations!

Thoughts on Workshops and Instructors:
Kevin St Laurent and Jo Hoffberg - Advanced Lindy Basics
I thought that their teaching style was fun and easy to follow and had some valuable technique points about balance and distinct weight changes but it was basically an hour of walking. I admire them as dancers but this was not the best kick off of classes.

Max Pitruzzella and Annie Trudeau - Adding Contrast
I really admire Max and Annie as dancers but teaching is not their strong point. The content of the class was excellent and a reasonable challenge but they could have broken down the steps more. As an instructor, Max is unfocused and was just as likely to show off a complicated footwork variation as the actual steps he was supposed to be teaching. There's a time and a place to showoff and in place of demonstrating a specific move is not it.

Peter Strom and Naomi Uyama- His and Hers Styling
Peter and Naomi had a strong and clear teaching style. I appreciated that they took the time to breakdown the move carefully and followed that up with techniques of leading and following that made the styling options work even better.

Skye Humphries and Frida Segerdahl- Fast and Loose
This was an excellent class for me because fast dancing is something that I've been working on in my dancing. The classwork itself was pretty basic but it made up for it in speed. It was pretty interesting how Skye and Frida used basic solo Charleston moves to get us to use the techniques on our own before trying to dance with a partner. I wasn't thrilled with the scheduling that put a fast lindy class at the end of the day when everyone was tired but we all survived the experience.

Juan Villafane and Sharon Davis- Challenging Routine
I was really impressed by Juan and Sharon's teaching. They were able to breakdown the solo moves needed for the routine they were teaching clearly and were full of positive energy. There were some really neat swing out variations including the "Killer Diller Swingout".

Pontus Persson and Frida Borg- Charleston Variations
I was really excited for this class since a large percentage of the music in Portland right now has a strong Charleston beat and all that is being taught is the Charleston basics. I wasn't disappointed at all. I already knew some of what they taught but there was enough other material to add to my repertoire. Pontus and Frida are really approachable as instructors and are really good about giving individual feedback.

Andy Reid and Nina Gilkenson- Tension and Release
This class was conceptually one of the more challenging ones for me this weekend. I found it to be very helpful and a neat way to add more excitement to the dance even leading "just a swing out". I really enjoyed learning from Andy and Nina and I will probably never forget Nina's cookie thief analogy.

Chester Whitmore and Sing Lim
This class consisted of a routine based on using jazz steps in partnered dancing. It was a fun class but the focus was on the choreography instead of making the moves something that could be lead and followed.

Juan and Sharon - Improvisation
This class was so much about ways to improvise as it was about the phrasing in the music and how and when to get the most impact out of the improvisation. They strongly emphasized learning jazz steps as a way to improve dancing in general and improvisation specifically and finding what works for you and developing your own style.

Andrew Thigpen and Karen Turman- Lindy Hop Fun
I watched most of this class since the variations they were teaching had lots of jumping involved and I wanted to protect my ankle. However, it was a totally awesome class to watch. Who doesn't like air swivels? The final thing they taught was a move that required more than just one couple. The result was essentially a swing out that catapulted across the floor. Way fun but not necessarily very useful on the social dance floor, though there are certainly possibilities related to steal dances for the general technique.

Other Thoughts:
  • I still dislike the main dance venue, the Temple de Hirsch: Sticky Floor, no air movement and very warm.
  • The new late night venue wasn't as good as the Washington Dance Club was last year.
  • The Couples Lindy Finals were mind-blowingly awesome!
  • This was the second time in a row that I missed the Solo Charleston Competition due to being too tired/sick. (I'm going to be really mad if I miss it again next year!)
  • Having eight Lindy Hoppers in a hotel room is way cheaper and a great way to get to know dancers from your local scene
  • Hanging out in the hot tub is a great way to get to know the instructors.
  • Punk Rockers do not make good pool/hot tub buddies.
  • If you can, stay for the soul party and the after party Karaoke at Rickshaw's. Nothing is as fun as 40-50 drinking Lindy Hoppers singing at the top of their lungs (whether they know the song or not).
  • Spell Check gets really cranky if you don't capitalize Lindy Hoppers.
  • I should not try to write coherent blog posts before I catch up on sleep after a weekend of intense Lindy Hop.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Portland Lindy Hop Events May 25-June 1

The Week of May 25-June 1

Wednesday May 25

6:30-7:30 Intermediate Swing Dance Class with Stefan Durham and Bethany Powell
Duende Studio (1847 E Burnside, Portland)

7:30-8:30 Tranky Doo Class with Coyle Parker and Rachel Ries
Duende Studio (1847 E Burnside, Portland)

Thursday May 26

7:30-11pm Boy and Bean Live at Thursday Swing
PPAA (618 SE Alder, Portland)
7:30 Beginning Swing Drop-in Lesson
8:30 Live Music by Boy and Bean

9-12:30am Pre-Camp Jitterbug Dance with Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators
Russian Center and Hall (704 19th Ave E, Seattle, WA)
9:00 Live Music by Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators

Friday May 27

Camp Jitterbug and Jump Session Show (Seattle, WA)

Saturday May 28

Camp Jitterbug! (Seattle, WA)

Sunday May 29

Camp Jitterbug! (Seattle, WA)

7-11pm Sunday Swing
Scottish Rite (1507 SE Morrison, Portland)
7:00 Beginning Swing Drop-in Lesson
8-11pm DJ'd Music

Monday May 30

6-8:30pm Beginning to Beyond Beginning Swing with Josh and Emily McLaughlin
Wimbledon Square (2837 SE Colt, Portland)
6:00 Drop-in Lesson
7-8:30 Dance Practice

9-11pm Kung Pao Chickens
Drinking Age Only, 21+
Laurelthirst Public House (2958 NE Glisan, Portland)

7-9pm Pete Krebs Trio
Drinking Age Only, 21+
Morrison Street Hotel Bar (719 SE Morrison St, Portland)

Tuesday May 31

7:30-12:30 Tuesday Blues
Lenora's Room (615 SE Alder, Portland)
7:30 Intermediate Blues Lesson
8:30 Beginning Blues Lesson
9-12:30 Dj'd Music

Wednesday June 1

6:30-7:30 Intermediate Swing Dance Class with Stefan Durham and Bethany Powell
Venue Unknown

7:30-8:30 Big Apple Class with Coyle Parker and Rachel Ries
Venue Unknown

Upcoming Events!

June 4 Swingtime Speakeasy, Secret Society, (116 NE Russell Street, Portland)
June 11 Vancouver Swing Dance with Jenny Finn Orchestra, Pop Culture (1929 Main Street, Vancouver, WA)
June 12 DecaVita's Swing/Lindy Workshop, Scottish Rite (1507 SW Morrison St, Portland)
June 23-26 Olympia Jazz Festival, St Martin's University Campus (5300 Pacific Avenue SE, Lacey, WA)
July 1-4 Portland Blues Experience, Waterfront Park (Portland)
August 12-14 Seattle Lindy Exchange (Seattle, WA)
September 2-5 Camp Balboa Seattle (Seattle, WA)
October 12-16 Sun Valley Jazz Festival (Sun Valley, ID)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sourdough Starter

My new little project is a Sourdough Starter. I'm hoping to keep the starter going strong and bake fresh bread once a week. This particular starter is looking to be much better than my last attempt at a bread starter. I mixed up the starter on Saturday and it's been cheerfully doubling each day. Tomorrow will be my first attempt at baking bread with this starter. I'm looking forward to giving it a try!

Sourdough Starter Recipe

1 cup Flour
1 cup Warm Water

Combine the water and flour in a non-metal container with 2-3x more volume than the flour-water mixture to allow room for the starter to double. I've been using a rubbermaid plastic container and leaving the lid loose to allow the starter to breathe.

Twice a day throw away half the starter and feed it with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Live Free or Die by John Ringo

Live Free or Die by John Ringo
Baen Books, February 2010
Genre: Science Fiction
Unabridged Audiobook Narrated by Mark Boyett

Official Description:
First Contact Was Friendly

When aliens trundled a gate to other worlds into the Solar System, the world reacted with awe, hope and fear. When the first aliens to come through, the Glatun, turned out to be peaceful traders, the world breathed a sigh of relief.

Who Controls the Orbitals, Controls the World

When the Horvath came through, they announced their ownership of us by dropping rocks on three cities and gutting them. Since then, they've held Terra as their own personal fiefdom. With their control of the orbitals, there's no way to win and Earth's governments have accepted the status quo.

Live Free or Die

To free the world from the grip of the Horvath is going to take an unlikely hero. A hero unwilling to back down to alien or human governments, unwilling to live in slavery and with enough hubris, if not stature, to think he can win.

Fortunately, there's Tyler Vernon. And he has bigger plans than just getting rid of the Horvath.

My Thoughts:

Live Free or Die is an excellent example near-future science fiction. Ringo imagines both how aliens react to Earth and how Earth reacts to aliens with a believable flair. The main character, Tyler Vernon, is a hero written to appeal to a target audience: science fiction fans. Vernon is a web comic writer and general techie who due to changing circumstances ends up in a small town working odd jobs. He's easy for the target audience to relate to because he's one of them. Tyler Vernon is a geek well-placed and with the ingenuity and courage to step out of the crowd to discover a resource that Earth has to offer the aliens in orbit.

In a comical turn of events maple syrup turns out to be an intoxicant for one of the visiting species. I will never think of maple syrup the same way again! This turn of events allows Ringo to focus on the economic effects of an alien invasion on Earth and what lengths governments will go to try and have some control.

I also appreciated the more traditional science fiction aspects of the alien world and technology that help move along the plot and Earth's rebellion and technological revolution (led by Tyler Vernon).

The all-encompassing planning of Tyler Vernon doesn't ring as completely realistic but I was kept pretty well distracted from that by his dry sense of humor and good natured charm. I think that the reactions of the characters around him rang very true. I found Live Free or Die to be a fun and witty science fiction novel though it has the appropriate dark undertones for a captive Earth at the mercy of Aliens. I would certainly recommend this book and look forward to the sequel!

I listened to this as an audiobook which was definitely enjoyable. I thought the narrator did an excellent job of making the voices distinct. However, I was glad as a listener that there weren't too many female characters for him to voice since his attempts at feminine voices were pretty bad (I was less thrilled as a reader but it didn't detract from my enjoyment). This was a fun book to listen to and I think it transfered pretty well to the medium but someday I'll probably track down a paper copy and see how the experience differs.

Written as Part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge

Other May Reviews from the Speculative Fiction Challenge

Portland Lindy Hop Events - May 20-25

The Week of May 20-25

Friday May 20

6-12pm May Swing Dance
Pop Culture (1929 Main Street, Vancouver, WA)
6:00 Shim Sham Lesson with Amber Dannals
7:00 Beginning Swing Drop-in Lesson with Amber Dannals and Guest Instructor Ben White
8-10:00 Live Music by the Jenny Finn Orchestra
10-12pm DJ'd Music

Saturday May 21

1-4pm Open Levels Workshop with Ben White
Familiarity with the swing out recommended
Paradise Dance Studio (826 SE Belmont, Portland)

9-11pm Live Swing: Bridgetown Sextet
Drinking Age Only 21+
Secret Society Ballroom (116 NE Russell Street, Portland)

Sunday May 22

7-11pm Midnight Serenaders Live at Sunday Swing
Scottish Rite (1507 SE Morrison, Portland)
7:00 Beginning Swing Drop-in Lesson
8-11pm Live Music by the Midnight Serenaders
Band Breaks DJ'd by Ronda Wallace

7-10pm Swing Night in the Knife Shop
Drinking Age Only, 21+
Kelly's Olympian (426 SW Washington, Portland)
7:00 DJ'd Music
8-10pm Live Music by Boy and Bean

Monday May 23

6-8:30pm Beginning to Beyond Beginning Swing with Josh and Emily McLaughlin
Wimbledon Square (2837 SE Colt, Portland)
6:00 Drop-in Lesson
7-8:30 Dance Practice

7:15-10pm 30+ Swing Dance
Lower Melody Ballroom (615 SE Alder, Portland)
7:15 Beginner Drop-in Lesson
8-10 Dance to DJ'd Music

9-11pm Kung Pao Chickens
Drinking Age Only, 21+
Laurelthirst Public House (2958 NE Glisan, Portland)

7-9pm Pete Krebs Trio
Drinking Age Only, 21+
Morrison Street Hotel Bar (719 SE Morrison St, Portland)

Tuesday May 24

7:30-12:30 Tuesday Blues
Lenora's Room (615 SE Alder, Portland)
7:30 Intermediate Blues Lesson
8:30 Beginning Blues Lesson
9-12:30 Dj'd Music

Wednesday May 25

6:30-7:30 Intermediate Swing Dance Class with Stefan Durham and Bethany Powell
Duende Studio (1847 E Burnside, Portland)

7:30-8:30 Tranky Doo Class with Coyle Parker and Rachel Ries
Duende Studio (1847 E Burnside, Portland)

Upcoming Events!

May 26- Live Music at Thursday Swing, PPAA (618 SE Alder, Portland)
May 27-30 Camp Jitterbug, Various Venues (Seattle)
June 4 - Swingtime Speakeasy, Secret Society, (116 NE Russell Street, Portland)
July 1-4 Portland Blues Experience, Waterfront Park (Portland)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Fort: The Finale

I almost forgot to sum up the third and final book fort! This one didn't look nearly as impressive as the other two but it was a good combination of every technique that we came up with. That of course made it far more difficult. But it was still plenty of fun.

The humble beginning!
Growing ever so slowly!

Developing levels!

It keeps growing!

Front view of the final result!

A Nice View of the Towers!

We had a lot of fun putting together each of the book forts. It was a huge surprise to see how many books were in my house. Now the "fun" part comes. Organizing, cataloging and returning the books to the shelf!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Foglio

Agatha H. and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Foglio
Nightshade Books, January 2011
Genre: Steampunk, Alternate History, Gaslamp Fantasy

Official Description:
The Industrial Revolution has escalated into all-out warfare. It has been sixteen years since the Heterodyne Boys, benevolent adventurers and inventors, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Today, Europe is ruled by the Sparks, dynasties of mad scientists ruling over - and terrorizing - the hapless population with their bizarre inventions and unchecked power, while the downtrodden dream of the Hetrodynes' return. At Transylvania Polygnostic University, a pretty, young student named Agatha Clay seems to have nothing but bad luck. Incapable of building anything that actually works, but dedicated to her studies, Agatha seems destined for a lackluster career as a minor lab assistant. But when the University is overthrown by the ruthless tyrant Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, Agatha finds herself a prisoner aboard his massive airship Castle Wulfenbach - and it begins to look like she might carry a spark of Mad Science after all.

My Thoughts:
I knew pretty much what to expect when I picked up this book since it is the novelization of the webcomic Girl Genius (If you haven't read it, you should!). I think that the Foglios made a very successful transition from comic form to prose. The novel can easily stand on its own with the world and character building. I was a bit disappointed by the novel because I had hoped that the transition to prose would come with some more expansion on the world and characters. I would have liked to see the Foglios explore the depth that prose enables in comparison to the comic as far as fleshing out the characters and adventure. As it was written it is pretty much an exact rendition of the comic. It was a fun read but all in all, it didn't add anything new to the experience.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey

Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey
DAW October 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Unabridged Audiobook Narrated by Nick Podehl

Official Description:
Mags was an orphan and slave of 'bad blood' who toiled in a gem mine all his young life. He would have died before adulthood, had he not been Chosen and taken to Haven to be trained in the new Herald Collegium.

Now, Mags was never hungry and never cold. He slept in a real bed in his own room and, most importantly, he had Dallen, who was like another part of himself. And yet, aside from Lena and Bear, both loners like he was, he couldn't relate to most of the Herald, Healer, or Bard trainees. He was the only trainee who came from what - to the others - was unimaginable poverty.

There was another factor that contributed to Mag's isolation. Foreign assassins, masquerading at court as envoys, were discovered. As they fled from the Guard, one of them seemed to "recognize" Mags. Now, Mags was an object of suspicion.

He had always been curious about his parents, but after the incident it became urgent for Mags to discover exactly who his parents were. And at Haven, he had access to the extensive Archives. Poring through the Archives, he got only incomplete information: his parents, found dead in a bandit camp, had been two of a number of hostages, some of whom had survived. The survivors had told the Guard that Mags' parents spoke a language that no one understood or recognized.

This information did not help, for the ForeSeers had been having visions of the king's assassination by "one of the foreign blood". Some had even Seen Mags with blood on his hands. How could Mags defend himself against a crime that hadn't yet been committed?

My Thoughts:

Intrigues was a stronger book than the first novel of this trio but that doesn't make it one of her better works. Mercedes Lackey is at a dangerous point in her writing where she has written so much and created so many characters from different walks of life in the world of Valdemar that some of the character aspects and plot devices start to feel recycled. We've already seen: the orphaned boy who thinks mostly of food, the despised/out of place trainee/herald, the sport as training for war, the trainee/herald that alienated his or her friends before finding themselves out of contact and in danger, and the trainee hiding as a member of a highborn household and as a beggar. Despite the reuse of certain plot devices, Lackey still manages to bring out a fresh story and add to the Lore of Valdemar. I did enjoy getting to see the transition from the Herald Mentor method of training to the Collegium classroom style of training.

I really enjoyed the time I spent listening to the audiobook of Intrigues. The narrator did an excellent job making the characters distinguishable though I didn't always agree with his vocal interpretation of the characters. The opening sequence of the novel was a bit difficult with transition to audiobook since it opens as a very long stream of consciousness about food and how Mags reacts to the relative privilege of the Collegium versus how the other herald trainees adjust. It works effectively as a way to drop the reader into Mags' head and identify the character but it feels like ten minutes of discussion about food. It might work better on paper but as an audiobook it feels like a heavy-handed introduction. One aspect that made the audiobook an interesting experience was the differentiation because vocalization and mindspeech.

Intrigues (and the first book in the series) showed me how much I've changed as a reader since the years when the Valdemar Series was my favorite selection of books. Mercedes Lackey knows how to tell an interesting story but technically her writing isn't as good as many of the writers that I've found as an adult. Valdemar will always have a special place in my heart, but I do prefer more depth in my fantasy now. I did enjoy Intrigues and will certainly read the final book in the trilogy but I will do so as a break between heavier novels, and possibly as an audiobook too. (Intrigues made a great break from re-reading George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice books!)

Written as Part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge

Other May Reviews from the Speculative Fiction Challenge

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Spring Project!

Spring has brought with it the opportunity for a fun new project: growing my own vegetables!

There are many reasons that prompt me to start my own little garden:
  • Fresh vegetables make up the majority of our grocery bill (Don't get me started on the grim reality that ingredients for healthy food are way more expensive than processed junk!)
  • Convenience
  • The excitement of watching the little plants grow
I started my first batch of seeds in the kitchen window.

The Second Batch was started outside a few weeks later. I really expected to have to replant the seeds due to a late frost, and heavy rains flooding the seed pots.

So imagine my surprise when I checked on the pots and found a few little seedlings coming up!

I love Spring! More about my little vegetable garden in the months to come!