EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BEN AND SHERI OF THIRD SATURDAY SWING!

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After being away from L.A. for over three years, I’ve been re-discovering some of our great local swing venues. One of those is Ben and Sheri’s Third Saturday Swing in Pasadena, which I attended on Saturday, June 15th, 2013. I remembered this place as a venue as a friendly, fun venue for both beginners and super advanced dancers alike. I am happy to report that that is still very much the case!

If you are a beginner, Third Saturday Swing is a great non-intimidating place to practice and dance with other beginner and intermediate dancers. There were a lot of 20-somethings in the crowd (and some younger). But, there are also some of the best veteran dancers in L.A. there as well! Ben and Sheri have created an amazing event where everyone seems to get along and have a great time.

I think this is a direct reflection of the personalities of Ben and Sheri themselves, who, despite being award-winning dance instructors and some of the best social dancers around, always show great humility and friendliness towards all dancers, regardless of skill level.

Located at the Fred Astaire Dance Center on Lake Avenue, the venue is spacious and has a nicer ambiance than most dance studios, with wrought-iron chandeliers and ample decorations. The floor is large and good for dancing. It can get hot, so dress appropriately.

There are also great snacks.. We’re not talking just chips here. There were several pizzas plus lots of fruit, veggies, and chocolate!

At $8, this event is a bargain! Third Saturday Swing is held once a month (you can guess which Saturday). The next event is July 20th. There is a lesson from 8PM to 8:40PM with dancing after that till 1AM (most of the advanced dancers arrive around 10PM or later). If you haven’t been to Ben and Sheri’s Third Saturday Swing, I highly recommend checking it out!

I asked Ben and Sheri about their personal dance experiences, Third Saturday Swing, and about Swing dancing in general. Read my exclusive interview below! – Brian

LALH: How do you maintain an inclusive, friendly atmosphere for dancers of all skill levels?

Ben and Sheri: It’s good to hear that you think our dance is inclusive and friendly! We do our best to create a welcome atmosphere and we’re happy to hear you feel that!

As far as “How” we do it? Well, who knows if this is the real reason it works but here it is: Our motivation behind each and every TSS is that this dance is our home, and you dancers who come are our guests. As such, we want our home to be as welcoming and inviting as possible so everyone has a really good time.

And we are very fortunate to have staff and volunteers who are like-minded. Especially with the kids now, TSS would not be running as it is without the help from many good-hearted supportive folks like our staff: Sam Chan and Tao Kwan, and all the volunteers and DJs that help us out every month.

From there, the details for the most part take care of themselves. Everything we do with TSS we want to make sure is aligned with the goal of TSS playing host. As our guests, we are grateful that you want to spend time at our home, and we need to hold up our end and make sure you have a lot of fun when you come to our dance.

LALH: Any new things planned for Third Saturday Swing, or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

Ben and Sheri: For the most part our schedule has been the same. We have our regular dances, and four times out of the year we have “special” dances: the two “Ramp Up To Camp Hollywood” dances, our Funky Turkey Dance, and our Holiday Bash. Each of the four special dances we also hold competitions and do our best to go all out with some pretty awesome prizes:

July 20: Jumpin Jehosophat! It’s our Jack and Jill
August 17: Pre-Camp Hollywood Party
November 16: Funky Turkey Dance
December 17: Holiday Bash

Back to your question: so we are not doing a lot of “new things”. That being said, there is constant “tweaking” of ideas and procedure – a lot of little changes that are ongoing. We may notice something might not be working as well as we had hoped so we will try to think of a better way to do it. Also we’ll proactively just try different things just to keep things fun and interesting with the goal to keep TSS fun and interesting to everyone who comes through our door.

LALH: What is it like running a Swing dance venue with kids?

Ben and Sheri and FamilyBen and Sheri: That’s an interesting question. We sometimes don’t know how we do it. After giving it thought, we both think this is more a parenting question than a “run a swing dance venue” question.

Parenting and kids definitely change lives. It changed our lives. Priorities needed to be rearranged in our lives once Kayla and Emmitt came.

For us, we have to choose what is a priority and what isn’t, then have faith that things will get figured out.

In this case, continuing to run our dance was and is a priority. TSS is very special to us. And it helps when we get feedback that it is special to many other people, which makes it even more special to us.

From there, we just have to “know” the little things will work itself out. Somehow we will find the time to do the necessary shopping, promotion, marketing, planning, etc because we have to if we want to keep running our dance. And we definitely want to keep running our dance!

And as we mentioned, it definitely helps to have a very solid and like-minded support staff as mentioned before. Especially with the kids these days, having valuable support is what gets TSS running each month. Sam and Tao are invaluable to us, and then the volunteers and DJs that help us out each month are the ones who really help us get this thing going every time.

LALH: How did you meet each other?

Ben and Sheri: We met swing dancing at The Derby in Los Angeles!

Ben started dancing in 1998 and was a pure social dancer, hitting dance venues in LA/OC. Sheri started with Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association, going to their dances and taking their lessons and going to Camp Catalina. She then started going to other dance venues and workshop events as well.

We met in 1999 at the Derby and instantly felt the kindred spirit between us. We started practicing aerials for fun, later figuring we should start competing if we are going to practice. From there, dancing continued to grow as a “hobby”, and our friendship continued to grow into a relationship. And here we are today!

LALH: How did you learn how to Swing dance?

Ben started out by going social dancing, almost exclusively, for about a year and a half. He took the free lessons at The Derby and was most influenced by the resident teacher there Miss Molly Tobbitt (now Molly Shock). He also took part in some group lessons with Audrey Wilson which he really enjoyed. And from there, over the years, it’s been a combination of weekend workshops, private lessons, one-on-one consultations, and the like.

Sheri started out by taking lessons at Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association. She continued to go social dancing every chance she could get while continuing to take a lot of classes. Much of her motivation came from her love of travel, and when she found out about the huge Lindy weekend workshops, those were her big driving factors with PBDA’s Camp Catalina holding a special place in her heart. From there, similar to Ben, over the years it’s been a combination of weekend workshops, private lessons, one-on-one consultations, and the like.

LALH: What are some of your best memories of Swing dancing or teaching?

Ben and Sheri: We have some very fond memories, most of them competition and teaching related. All our “firsts” hold very special places in hearts: our first competition, our first national competition, our first international competition, our first workshop, our first international workshop, etc.

That being said, there are three memories that stand out in our mind

The first was the very first time we ever taught at Camp Hollywood. That was a huge goal for us, because Camp Hollywood has been “THE” event for us for a long time. So when we finally got to teach there, that gave us a lot of validation and felt like a big reward for our efforts.

Another best memory: our 2005 National Jitterbug Championships Showcase routine to Footloose. Many people continue to tell us today how much they love it and are inspired by it. The fact that it won us the Golden Budgie cements it as a top memory because the Golden Budgie is our favorite award we’ve ever won. It is awarded one time annually to those who best exhibit the spirit of Jitterbug, and to us that is the most important part of Lindy Hop and it was fantastic to get this recognition.

Lastly: this is really a collection of best memories, not really just one memory. And that is our dance team the One2Swing Jitterbugs a.k.a. The California Rolls. Our goal personally always has been to inspire, educate, and energize others through Lindy Hop, and we have always this in mind whenever we traveled, danced, taught, competed, basically in everything we did. With the dance team, getting a group of people together, getting them on board with our philosophy, and then having them do this with us: just mind-blowing and amazing. Something we will never forget.

We were always a bit off the beaten path, never knowing if what we were doing would be the “right way” or the “acceptable way”, but it’s something we needed to do to show it as one of the ways things can be done: hard work, teamwork, commitment, and love can go a long way towards accomplishing something that would otherwise seem out-of-reach. The fact that we were well accepted and accomplished so much gave us a lot of validation. And the opportunity to work with so many amazing, dedicated, sincere people cements this as some of the very best times in our lives.

Birthday dance at Third Saturday Swing; Ben dancing with daughter in hand!
Birthday dance at Third Saturday Swing; Ben dancing with daughter in hand!

LALH: Besides Third Saturday Swing, what are some of your favorite venues to dance at?

Ben and Sheri: LindyGroove is our favorite: a small part of it is proximity, the larger part is we find kindred spirits in Lance and Vicky who run LindyGroove. They do an amazing job in creating a venue that is inviting and welcoming, and in fact they are an inspiration for us and TSS.

Outside of LindyGroove, there is not a venue we don’t like. We’re really lucky in LA/OC to have so many choices. Each venue we’ve been to we enjoy including Atomic, Strutter’s, Swingpit, Rusty’s, Joe’s Bar, Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association, etc.

LALH: What kinds of trends do you see in Swing dancing in the L.A./O.C. area?

Ben and Sheri: We’re not sure if it’s trends so much as pendulum swings. Music tastes, moves, stylings, attitudes towards competitions, etc seem to cycle as people continue to evolve their dancing. It’s really fun to watch. And then sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. A lot of dancers eventually return back to fundamental study as well.

A few trends we like seeing: more people from LA/OC traveling to other areas for big events. That’s always really good and healthy. Getting first-hand exposure to what’s going on outside of So.Cal and bringing it back is important for growing a scene.

We also like seeing quality big events continue in So.Cal, events that bring LA/OC dancers into contact with dancers from other areas: Inspiration Weekend, Santa Swing, California Balboa Classic, and Camp Hollywood.

The more exposure, the more ideas, and the better growth and evolution of Lindy Hop!

LALH: What teaching events are coming up in your schedule?

Ben and Sheri: For regular teaching events, we are really enjoying Lindy Academy @ LindyGroove for many reasons. Besides having the opportunity to teach and influence Lindy Hoppers in LA, we really love being able to go out dancing again on a regular basis.

For the big events, since having the kids, we definitely have had to prioritize and one thing that has unfortunately fallen out of priority is travel for teaching, and just travel for Lindy Hop in general. Lindy events have given way to family trips and family time.

As such, we do not have too many plans for Lindy related events on our schedule. There is of course two big events we plan to be a part of right in our back yard: Camp Hollywood and Santa Swing. Other than that, family is taking a priority right now.

We definitely appreciate those who continue to think of us and hope one day to be able to get back to traveling. And we do miss all the opportunities to travel and experience dance in other regions (as we mentioned in the previous question).

In the meantime, we’re grateful to those who support us and accommodate us when we do travel for Lindy Hop!

LALH: Anything else you want to tell our readers?

Ben and Sheri: For us, swing dancing ended up being the hobby that we never quit. Instead, it became a lifestyle. That’s what happens when you come upon something that is both fun and enriching.

Lindy Hop offers so many opportunities for growth, being active, social interaction, and fellowship. In fact, many of our best friends we have met through Lindy Hop.

So as you are out there dancing, improving, studying, etc., remember to step back and just enjoy dancing. Continue to share this gift of Lindy Hop with others and have fun so you too can make it the hobby you never quit!