The opening blog starts with a chat with Simon Furze from Birmingham, a regular dancer at classes and an event organiser. see what he had to say.
KB: – Karl
SF: – Simon Furze
Recorded Thursday 17th August 2017
KB: Hello Simon, welcome to the very first in a new series of introducing dancers blog.
SF: Hello Karl, very exciting.
KB: Simon, many of the local dancers have met you but for our new readers, could give us a brief description of what you do outside of dancing.
SF: I work for Birmingham City Council, I work in Corporate Comms for my sins, it’s a job that I really really enjoy ‘cause part of that also means that I get to sit and talk to citizens and listen to their ideas about how we can make better communications with them.
KB: Fantastic, outside of dancing do you have any other interests?
SF: Yeah, erm, I am very motivated around politics, I am somebody that cares very passionately around politics and anti-racism work, anti-capitalism, that sort of thing and the music I like to dance to is something that I’ve always, always liked. I would say music is very important to me and also I’ve always enjoyed for want of a better word, fashion and clothing and understanding clothing and the politics in and around clothing.
KB: That’s a very interesting take on clothing.
KB: So, can you let the readers know how you started your Lindy Hop journey.
SF: I can, it really starts with my sister in law Selma, who started dancing about a year or two before me. Which I was very jealous of. I’ve always loved the kind of Jazz much more around the Be-bop but my grandparents were swing kids so I listened to a lot of that when I small child. Obviously when I was a teenager I found my own music but always kept coming back to it (Jazz). I was invited down to London to a Swing Patrol event in Camden Hall where about 2000 people were crammed into this hall and they started doing Lindy Hop and Blues and lots of other sorts of dancing was going on. They had a massive live band and I was instantly hooked. I didn’t dance at all, I was absolutely terrified. I hid behind the table, and anyone who made eye contact with me I ran away. It was very intimidating but also very friendly and I really liked. So, when I came back to Birmingham I thought right I’m going to seek out who teaches in Birmingham and from there found JazzJiveSwing and I got in touch with them. James got back to me and said there’s a class at the Corks Club and I think probably about three years ago I walked in. There was this bloke called Karl and somebody called Frankie or the ba-da-do-boom lady as I like to call her, I just went and was made to feel really welcome from the moment I walked in, and I’ve never looked back since. It’s been a fantastic journey over the last three years and, obsessed is probably not strong enough a word.
SF: Addicted, That’s a very good word, yes. I’m definitely somebody who talks about it at work. I have some work friends who have been along and when new classes come along, there’s five or six now who are definitely coming. It’s a big part of my life and it’s reflected in that I will annoy my children and my partner by continuously playing swing and 50’s early jump jive stuff all the time.
KB: All the time, that’s a lot of music. It’s not the only thing you listen to is it?
SF: No, I would put on other kind of genres that I do like, I used to be a proper full on grunge. You know Pearl Jam, Nirvana, though every now and again I will put my grunge hat on and be miserable and think about the world but, it’s brilliant! But also I have quite a, erm, things like White Stripes, etc, but I really like the crooners and always have done, People like Sinatra. I’ve always been in to dance music and dancing and what I think has been the bigger experience has been dancing with somebody. Until I started Lindy Hop I’d never danced with another person and that’s what’s been the most wonderful experience.
My other great, great passion in music is the Stone Roses I absolutely love the Sone Roses, erm, they’re brilliant I won’t have a bad word said against them.
KB: On you journey in Lindy Hop what has been your biggest dance challenge?
SF: Oh my goodness me. (pause) My biggest, there’s been several down the time. First of all getting used to that I have two feet I can dance with, and they can move. Which having been really, kind of into a lot of rock music you don’t really move much apart from your head when dancing. I think the biggest barrier to start with really was, making contact, physical contact with another person. The awkwardness around that to start with took, quite a while. You know holding someone else’s hand, touching them, just being in that close proximity was quite awkward to start with. Once I got over that it was really down to, my biggest problem is overthinking the moves. When I don’t think about the moves when I’m dancing outside of a class I tend to do more. When I’m in the class I’m over thinking the moves and as, Karl you know ‘arghh’ I have a real crisis and not always get it right. A really simple move that I overthink is the Texas, no not the Texas the American turn, where you flip them.
KB: Turn them on the spot?
SF: Yeah, and, theres still only a few people I’m confident enough to do that with. (chuckles) I don’t know why ‘cause it’s simple and I can do it. It’s just the build up to it. That’s a kind of really simple move that I just overthink too much.
KB: Building on that, what would be you’re advice for new dancers? Apart from not overthinking it.
SF: I think my biggest jump forward was in a conversation where we (you and I) were out at a social and we were talking about actually, and I think Frankie was there and we were talking about not necessarily to overthink it but just how minimalist and doing those minimal moves well is what a follow likes. Actually the compliment around having good musicality and being able to hear the music. I think that’s very important but most of all I think it’s about enjoying it. I began to enjoy it more when I actually began to listen in class. Strangley I began to learn more, I think there’s an awkwardness when you first start. There’s much more of a socialise thing in society where men are supposed to men and we kind of don’t do these kind of things. Dancing Whoaaa. We’ve broken down a lot of those barriers around , where we have strictly come dancing and all the other dance type sort of shows. This still when I tell people I ’do’ dancing, they first of all give you a sideways look. When you say you dress in suits and it’s 1930’s dancing they look at you even more. But, when they actually see it, they say ‘that’s incredible’. So I think, my biggest advice is listen to the music, listen as much and often as you can. Which is what I do, because if you don’t know the music, yes you can pick up bits and pieces, I think the more you know the more you get in the rhythm and what you begin to do then is, is you begin to see patterns in your head. I used to sit on the bus in the morning and be dancing in my head.
KB: Dancing in your head. (chuckles)
SF: and that was when I began to think right, and I began to stop overly thinking it and I began to dance in my head more. It became more problematic that actually in class one of my biggest problems is that I’ll forget the ‘moves’ we’re doing because I enjoy dancing and I’ll throw in a different move in, and although it’s ok with some people newer people find it quite difficult so I’m quite disciplined.
KB: Separating the social dancing from class material.
SF: I also think, practice, come home listen to the music. Once you nail your kind of six count hold steps, triple steps and eight count, you get that timing. You get the rhythm. You begin to marry the two up in the music you are listening to. Actually I now find it difficult not to do six count and eight count to, you know the Stone Roses. Suddenly you can hear a beat where I could do steps. So I absolutely believe you can do Lindy Hop to almost absolutely everything. I think at different points you and I have done, even to The Clash.
KB: Yes, even to The Clash!
KB: You mentioned earlier about your politics and one of things you are involved with is Swingamatism. Could you give us a brief idea about the philosophy behind Swingamatism and how you think it influences the local scene here in Birmingham.
SF: For me Swingamatism was a replacement for an earlier project called Red Star Swing, which was really about, Swingamatism, is about putting dancers, not the classes, not the teachers, putting dancers first. When I first started dancing was, what felt for me a lack of space to practice, where’s a safe environment. Now that wasn’t because any of the teachers in the city weren’t creating safe environments. Lack of confidence for myself, etc, that was problematic but I think the scene did grow when Red Star Swing came because it showed that people were willing to come out. That people were willing to come along and take part in something that was, kind of self organised. It’s almost like the old punk days of do it yourself. That’s what we were trying to do. Swingamatism, is something that I had thought about for a very long while. Part of the Lindy scene and part of when I talked to my grand parents and others is they used to talk about the kind of side where they’s work and raise money for charities and the poor and different ventures that were going on. Now some of that was the war years and that’s a totally different thing, but even later on there was still that aspect of, social dances in the working mens clubs were for a reason. I began to think about how we as swing dancers can actually begin to attract non-dancers but also how we can support each other and support wider issues. We do have people in the scene who have serious illnesses, We have also unfortunately in the scene across the UK lost people to cancer and for me, Cancer Research UK was something that was quite important because of local people and within my family and I decided what I wanted to do was aim at trying to raise money, and awareness of cancer research. Show that through having this great time you could bring in, not necessarily politics but a social side, a social awareness and what’s been really great is the uptake of people coming and really accepting that in a way I really didn’t expect at first. The other part of it was about saying, the philosophy of it was saying if it swings dance to it, which is really important. We don’t have to be rigid in what we believe our music should be.
KB: So, dance to anything that swings?
SF: Exactly, and I think thats really important. For instance at the last Swingamatism, What was really important was the we had an all female DJ set. All three DJ’s were female because we wanted to promote that actually, the problem is that of lot of it is seen as very male led and there are some incredible female DJ’s and teachers in this city so we decided that that’s what we wanted to do. Then the other musical genres kind of cross over, so the next one will be very interesting. We have DJ Andy Cave or Dr Cave coming who will play more of that classic type of swing and then for me, which I’m very excited about is we have Gary Jones who runs Kalagazam who will play bluesy jive stuff. Myself in the guise of Mr Five by Five will finish the night off and mix it all up. I think that’s what’s really good, people have shown that they really enjoy the kind of music that varies. It’s about the feeling you get, that’s the key, what do you feel. You feel the urge that you cannot sit down.
KB: Briefly on Swingamatism, it’s a not for profit organisation?
SF: Sorry, yes it’s not for profit organisation and to date we have raised £800 for Cancer Research UK. I believe it has the potential to be something that can bring the scene together across Birmingham, we get all the ‘schools’, the teachers, the students all come. Not always at the same time but we have two different sets of people run a taster. It’s really about, how can we come together, stronger, as a dance community and support each other when we are rather than the kind of factionalised, I’m this group, and this my group and nobody just…
KB: It’s a scene rather than…
SF: Yes. It’s a scene rather than a… I think that’s what was missing in Birmingham when I first started, that bought people together other than the festivals. Just aimed at dancers, to have a great time in a safe, friendly environment and at the same time it’s not for profit. It’s about making a change to peoples lives, because that approach also changes the people who feel that they’re doing something beneficial as well of people. In the future one of the things I’d like to do is around supporting homeless charities, asylum seekers, things like this. I’ve got lots of different ideas about support different causes.
KB: Excellent. For people that don’t dance what would you say to them to introduce them to the Swing dance scene.
SF: Oh, that’s difficult.
KB: Just one sentence, maybe two.
SF: For me, I think it’s a life changing experience. You will have fun beyond anything you have had before, when it comes to something that’s energetic, gives you confidence. If you really get into it, the whole scene is quite exciting because of the fashion, the look that comes along with it. It’s your choice to do what you want with it. So I think it’s the most friendly, open scene I have ever been part of. There’s no real clique. Come along, get involved, it will change your life.
KB: It will. Thank you for your time Simon.
SF: My pleasure
End of Episode 1
What an enjoyable half an hour, I was treated to tea and cake with Simon and his family and we managed to get through the chat without any interruptions from his lovely children.
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