Today we talk to Frankie Jaffey from Birmingham who discusses dancing in two cities; Birmingham and Bristol. We will hear about how her Lindy Hop journey began and developed, how cancer has affected her dancing and the support she has had from the scene. She also offers a few insights to what inspires her to continue dancing and some excellent tips for dancers wanting to improve.
KB: hello Frankie.
KB: And welcome to the 1st podcast. Could you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do that’s not dance related?
FJ: Oh, wow! So,I’m Frankie, born and bred in Brum and I do, although at the moment my life is a little bit tricksy because I have a partner living in Bristol and I’m living in Birmingham and I’m having cancer treatment in Birmingham and doing dancing in Bristol. So there’s kind of lot’s of things going on that are here and there. I’m a bit nomadic at the moment.
KB: A bit nomadic?
KB: And rumour has it that you’re also in a choir?
FJ: Yes,yes I’m in the City of Birmingham Choir as well. We meet once a week and we do lovely shows at the Symphony Hall.
KB: So you’ve performed at the Symphony Hall?
KB: That’s fantastic
FJ: Amazing. Really amazing. It’s lovely too, because I’ve been to concerts at the Symphony Hall and watched people in the choir and thought in the past that would be amazing to be part of that and then within a year of thinking that I was part of that. Which was really nice.
KB: So you saw an idea and went for it?
KB: Is that how you got into Lindy Hop?
FJ: Well, actually I got into Lindy Hop I used to, this is really convoluted but I used have really, lots of weird food allergies and I used to go to the Friends of the Earth Cafe to get all my favourite food and have the chef there, Molly cooked me lots of dinners and one day, we got quite close because I would always ask what was in the food she was making me and so we developed a bit of a friendship there. One day I saw her walking down the road near where I lived, handing out flyers and I said ‘ Oh you’re molly from the Warehouse Cafe’ and she said ‘ Oh hello, you’re Frankie who comes into the Warehouse Cafe, would you like to come and learn to dance?’ and I said ‘What kind of dancing is it?’ So she told me all about it and then I went along to my first class that night and loved it.
KB: And how long ago was that?
FJ: That was in, 2000
KB: So you’ve been dancing quite a while then?
FJ: I’ve been dancing a long long time but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m great, ‘cos I did get to a bit of a … I think when you start dancing you get pretty good, pretty quickly. You get to, like you have quite a steep, steep getting better curve and the you can sometimes plateau and my plateau seems to have lasted about 10years [laughs] Which is fine, and that is actually fine because I’m..
KB: You’re happy where you are?
FJ: I’m happy where I am
KB: And for a while you taught in Birmingham as well?
FJ: Yeah, so..
KB: How did you get in to teaching?
FJ: So the people who were teaching me were travelling up from Stroud every week to teach. They came to me and said would you like to have a go at teaching and I said err
KB: That’s a big step
FJ: I think so. SO to start with I did erm I was just assisting really. James and Bridget were the teachers initially and I would assist James and then gradually, gradually it got to the point where he was saying ‘I think you could take on a class yourself now’
KB: So you did it without James for a while?
FJ: So I did it without James, and then over the years then, so I taught for about ten, well no, how long did I, yeah I taught for about ten years I think
KB: I know you taught for a long while because it’s how I got into dancing
KB: I joined your class and became one of those assistants
FJ: Yes. So it’s been lovely actually, so I went though loads of different people, taught with different partners, taught different things. Initially was teaching Jazz Jive stuff.
FJ: And a bit more modern Jive and things like that and then just got into Lindy Hop and once I started doing Lindy Hop I didn’t really look back because it was so much better than anything else.
KB: In your opinion of course
FJ: In my humble opinion
KB: You enjoyed Lindy Hop much more than the others.
FJ: Absolutely and I really enjoyed teaching it and there seemed to be a lot to get to grips with and I just found that I, it was easy just instructing with people and making them smile and…
KB: There’s a lot of enjoyment from teaching and seeing people smile
FJ: Yes, you know you just feel you’ve really accomplished something when you can teach everyone a move and they all leave happy and chatting and practising the move together at the end of the night.
KB: It is a fantastic feeling yes.
FJ: Really nice
KB: To see people dance what they’ve been shown in classes. Talking about classes, workshops have you done may workshops? I’ve seen pictures of you with in various places with some very famous people from the dance world of Lindy Hop. There is a particular picture of you with Frankie Manning at one point.
FJ: Err yeah, yeah so I have, I’ve never every taught with Frankie Manning, but he actually taught me my very first Lindy turn so…..
KB: From the best.
FJ: From the best, best, best. He was the person that taught me my very, very, very first Lindy turn so I always think ok, well if I can just keep doing it like that, [giggles] then I’m doing something right. Yeah you know, I’ve met, I have met people over the years who have sort of, were in fashion and were out of fashion and then came back into fashion or stayed out of fashion for one reason or another. But at the end of the day people are just people and it’s nice to meet the teachers and do stuff with them.
KB: Everyone does it for the same reason, they enjoy dancing.
KB: Yes, along that path of going to workshops and teaching other people, has there been a stand out, light bulb moment for you? That changed the way you dance or influenced in a very particular way?
FJ: Probably not one light bulb moment, but when ever I’ve been to workshops there are definitely certain people that inspire me in certain ways. My biggest inspiration currently and will probably remain so for a long time is Tatiana (Udry). Who I first had classes from in, I can’t even remember what event it was, but it was a good few years ago and I remember just thinking, “She moves so effortlessly and explained it so effortlessly”, and I though I just need to try and emulate that in some way and then got home and thought I don’t look anything like that. I’m not emulating that in any way, but hey, it’s something to strive for.
KB: She, she does teach in a very, very particular way which is, I find completely enjoyable. She’s mesmerising.
KB: Dancing and just her personality.
FJ: She’s very tangible, you can get to grips with what’s she’s teaching and she doesn’t really have much of a… wall. I find that quite inspiring in terms of teaching as well and I remember when I did do a lot more teaching I remember trying to make sure that everybody knew that I was just a person. Just a normal person not a dance teacher and it’s good in some ways to be a ‘dance teacher’ because you do get respect and you know people listen to what you are saying and because you you know what you are talking about, but in a lot of ways I like to just be, like, oh look this something we’re all kind of learning together and even though I was blatantly teaching people. I think it’s nice for people to think we’re discovering something, all together as sort of a cohesive thing. Rather than I tell you what to do and you do it
KB: The joy of Lindy hop is that it’s completely unscripted when you dance it so, everybody does something different.
FJ: Yeah, yeah exactly, it’s just a variation
KB: It’s a variation, everyones variations, everyone has a variation. You mentioned earlier that you have been dealing with illness, how has that affected you dancing and especially working, or dancing across two scenes, in Birmingham and in Bristol?
FJ: Well, so I was dancing in Bristol, just going down to the Bristol swing festival for a few years before I met my current partner and then when I met him I suddenly started doing a lot more dancing in Bristol and then about a year after that I was diagnosed with cancer. Which, which did actually halt quite a lot of dancing quite suddenly. Which was hard because it was , I was very much identified myself as a Lindy Hopper and the when I couldn’t do the Lindy Hopping it was quite hard to still identify as a Lindy Hopper and being out of the scene was difficult, really difficult and I was really poorly a couple of years ago and it was really hard to not actually be able to do the dancing or if I ever could to have to dance with people who I knew and trusted, that knew my situation.
KB: To take care, to look after yourself.
KB: To enjoy being in the dance scene and a social knowing that there were limitations to what you could do
FJ: Exactly… you know, and it was important to be able to say to people stay close to the edge we might need to stop at any moment, please don’t take offence this is just where I am and for the most part people, people are great. People in the Lindy scene were fantastic and it really was like a big family really, in Bristol they were all just there with open arms waiting for me to come back down and do some more dancing.
KB: Do some more dancing and for your energy levels to pick back up and be just part of the bigger scene.
FJ: Exactly and you know most of my, you know social media feed is, is people that I’ve danced with and have met through the dance scene either in Birmingham or Bristol, so there’s a lot of Lindy Hop on my social media and that’s nice. When I’m not doing it I’m still involved in it and what’s going on and you know..
KB: You’re never very far away from it.
FJ: Absolutely not, and that’s good to know for the future. You know wherever I am there’s always a Lindy Hop scene, wherever you are.
KB: There’s one not very far away from everybody
FJ: To a greater or lesser extent as well so as much or as little I need to, I can do.
KB: And are there any similarities or big differences between the scene that you saw in Birmingham and your current scene in Bristol?
FJ: Well the scene that I saw in Birmingham was really just when I was teaching and at that time, there weren’t may other teachers teaching. So it was quite small when I was teaching in Birmingham and what I did see was that it was a lot bigger in Bristol at that time and now, it’s…
KB: The scene in Birmingham has exploded.
FJ: For a long time the scene in Bristol was all quite cohesive, there was one, you know. There were a couple of different organisations but there was like a main one that everyone was sort of part of. I think naturally that, that sometimes doesn’t always work for a long long time and people want to do different things.
KB: It is difficult to maintain that kind of cohesive scene in a business environment
FJ: It is, it is and once people start wanting to do different things then it become the element of friendly competition and you know, you everyone tries to big up everyone else but it can get a bit tricky… at some points.
KB: It can get a bit tricky
FJ: But when it is cohesive and everybody is in doing the same thing you just know that when someone says there’s a band playing here lets go and dance. It doesn’t matter who is going from where, it’s just lovely. It’s really, really special.
KB: There is a nice sense of community within the Birmingham scene where I currently am, that if we are going to dance there’s always a car full, there’s always an offer of a lift, and not necessarily to local events. People are prepared to drive quite a long way to socials.
FJ: Definitely, especially I mean when I started teaching in Birmingham there weren’t any socials in Birmingham so if you wanted to go anywhere to social dance you had to travel down the M5, and go to any of the stops along the way. Worcester, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Staverton, Bristol. So yeah.
KB: Yes we are very fortunate that we live in the middle and we can go in any direction and find a dance that’s only half an hour, forty minutes away.
So for people in the dance scene and particularly people who are new to the scene what would be your top tip, best bit of advice once they have joined this little community? Apart from practice, practice, practice?
FJ: Yeah, practice, practice, practice but also if you can get out and about and experience different teachers and different styles then do, because everyone teaches differently and I remember when I was first learning. I really just learnt with one set of teachers and then I was really surprised later when people taught things in a different way and I felt a little bit disloyal learning things in a different way and then I realised, ‘oh, everyone in the world teaches a little bit differently and puts their own spin on spins and things’. I think it’s important, as important as it is to dance with lots of different people. I think it’s important to be taught by lots of different people and find the style of teacher that is right for you. Because everybody teaches…
KB: Everyone teaches slightly differently, and having seen lots of different scenes there are lots of different styles. The style in one city is different to another and especially across borders and continents there are very, very different styles and find the one that suits you best.
FJ: Absolutely and don’t be, don’t feel like you have to do things in a certain way. You can do things and sort of put your own slant on it. It’s still dancing
KB: Become an individual with the little scene.
FJ: Become an individual!
KB: Become an individual, that’s a very good tip. As a dancer and a person in this community what would you see as the biggest waste of time? To becoming either a better dancer or a part of this community. What wouldn’t you focus on? That’s a very difficult question.
FJ: A difficult question. What’s the biggest waste of time?
Well I think it’s completely individual choice, but for me, you know I’ve never been one for particularly dressing up in vintage style.
KB: I was just thinking the fashion and the vintage scene…
FJ: For me it’s a total waste of time, although I see it it and see it done really well and I see girls looking beautiful and boys looking amazingly dapper. It’s just never been, it’s never been a priority for me I just want to be comfy and to dance well.
KB: The style of the 30’s and 40’s isn’t necessarily the thing that makes you want to dance. Dancing makes you want to dance.
FJ: Absolutely, exactly that Karl
KB: Exactly that. Well thank you for all those little insights into your journey and the difference between the two scenes. Thank you for your time and interesting conversation.
FJ: It’s been lovely, thank you very much.I want to take part