Helen is one of the North’s most treasured, local dancers. She has contributed so much to the Northern scenes, with her dance ability, event organization and general dance wisdom.
Had you ever danced before you started Swing Dancing?
When I was very young, I took a variety of dance classes, from ballet, to disco to modern dance. Whilst a lot of my friends gave up their childhood dance classes as they got older, I kept going until I was 18 and had to leave my regular classes when I went to University. Although I did replace my dance tuition with women’s rugby through University- I’ve since done the odd ballet and contemporary class and it really makes me appreciate the strength, flexibility and balance that ballet and contemporary dance training can give you – never underestimate the strength of a ballet dancer!
What was your first dancing experience?
The first time I saw Lindy Hop, I had no clue what it was. I just saw a load of people having a great time doing some performances in a shopping center in Leeds one Christmas. It turned out to be the regular a charity event, ‘Lindy at the Light’, which I have since choreographed a number of routines for. It looked like so much fun that I actually got the details of the group at that time, but promptly forgot about it entirely until just over a year later when I wanted to take some photographs of dancers for an art project I was doing. I got in touch with Jo Casey at Lindy Fridays who kindly let me take some photos of the social dancing in between the classes. I also took the classes that evening and that was it – I was hooked!
Have there been any moments that you feel have really defined you as a dancer?
One of the biggest moments in learning to let go and stop worrying about being perfect and just enjoy myself. There was a particular dance I had with Rob Shield -I was a serial apologizer; whenever something went wrong I would always say sorry, whether it was something I felt I had done wrong or not. So during this dance I had perhaps said ‘sorry’ a few too many times and Rob simply said ‘what for’? It was when I paused to think and had no idea about what I was sorry for that I learned to embrace the mistakes and enjoy dances so much more.
What makes the Swing Dance community so special to you?
For me, the swing community is special because for the most part, it is inclusive – of course it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely going in the right direction. The swing community has given me so many opportunities, I mainly have Rob Shield – again – to thank for this. With the support of this community, I’ve gone from someone who once skipped seminars at Uni for fear of actually having to speak in front of other people to someone who will happily stand up in front of other people and not only speak, but will happily act like a fool for the entertainment of the class! Even though I am still often very shy at socials – and yes, I still struggle to ask people to dance – I have the swing community to thank for helping me on such a personal level.
What’s are your favourite social dancing moments?
I love a good ridiculous dance – the ones where you laugh throughout. It’s those dances with standout moments of silliness that you remember and talk about afterwards. I danced with Andy Barber to ‘Jump through the window’, we both spectacularly failed to high-five each other! The best moment came when we finally managed the high five in time with ‘that bit’ in the music and celebrated so hard we forgot to keep dancing!
Any any advice for new dancers:
Don’t give up! We’re all at different stages on this random journey to being better swing dancers and we all progress in different ways. It’s ok to not get something the first time – keep trying. Own your mistakes and try not to compare yourself to others – I should take this piece of advice more often myself!
Dance with as many people as you can, even though it might be hard to ask, we all remember what it was like to be a beginner. You’re never too good to stop working on the basics – they’ll help you do the fancy stuff. And listen to swing music – it helps.
But most of all, enjoy yourself – dancing is fun!
Who are the women in swing that inspire you?
Frida Segerdahl – obviously! I think her dancing will always be my main inspiration. I also love her teaching style – clear, honest and charming. Trisha Sewell for her straightforward, no nonsense teaching style and especially as someone who often takes the main teaching role as a follower. I also owe massive thanks to Trisha for giving me a good talking to in the ladies after I was distraught following a performance that went horribly wrong!
I am also inspired by so many of the top women in swing dancing (the ones we see on YouTube) for many different reasons, but to give a shout out to the local (to the UK) ones in particular:
Tina Shield – was the first person I looked up to and said to myself that I wanted to dance as well as her. Helena Avery-Clarke – kicks serious organisational butt – I’m humbled that she gave me her baby – Leeds Swing Exchange – to look after!
Judith Rosenberg – I’m proud to say that I was one of her first teachers and I’m even prouder that she’s gone on to be such a kick ass dancer and teacher! Vivien Pizzini – only started swing dancing in October, but she and the other LUU Swing Soc students are inspiring me to be a better dancer and teacher. She’s already won a newbie competition and is clearly destined for great things – I love her enthusiasm!
I should also add that although not a swing dancer, my ballet teacher, Karen Russon, was and continues to be a great inspiration. She inspired my love of dance from an early age!
Thank you Helen!