Friday, August 12, 2011

Lindy Hop Portugal Saga - Part 1

People fall into three categories this summer.

1. The people that didn't realize I was gone.
RI (Random Individual): "Hey Kenny, where have you been? I haven't seen you out much."
A: "Well, I was living in Portugal for three months."
RI: "Cool. Wait! You what?"

2. The people that thought I was in Paraguay, Spain, etc.
RI: "Hey Kenny, how was Spain?"
A: Bam! [swift kick for the Portuguese you just insulted.]

3. The people that knew I had left, where I went, and what I was doing.
RI: "Hey Kenny, how was teaching in Portugal?"
A: Read this blog post.

Why don't you quit your job and come live here for a few months?
....come on spend 3 months in Portugal. Not asking for much :)
If you want to get into something where you make a difference, Portugal is really on the edge. You'll feel like you're doing something that's affecting people's lives.

I was introduced to Abeth Farag, face of Lindy Hop Portugal, in September, 2009.
A good friend of mine, Lexi Keeton, knew I desired to visit another European country after a Galway, Ireland teaching gig, so she suggested I contact Abeth in Portugal. I did and found a place to stay, a Porto tour guide, a 2 hour class to teach, and a friend whom I stayed in contact.

From this continued communication came the above online Gmail Chat snippets. Wheels were set in motion for me to teach during an extended Portuguese stay. I was dissatisfied with Denver's dance scene and my job. What was a difficult decision became easier as I tolerated work and disappeared from the Mercury Cafe.

I gave work 3 weeks notice and started training my replacement. Heather Ballew and I were working hard getting our balboa team ready for Rocky Mountain Balboa Blowout. Ten couples, one darn piano, still turned in a satisfying performance.
The next weekend I taught at the Heartland Swing Festival. In this middle of these two events, I frantically packed. Clothes were donated, furniture thrown out, items given to friends for storage, a car overflowing with goods. I drove to Kansas City, offloaded my car to my parents, and then flew to Portugal 4 days after the Heartland Swing Festival.

I arrived in Portugal the second weekend of March to coincide with a beginner workshop Abeth taught with Johan Umefjord in Faro, Portugal. My departure was scheduled 89 days later after the first weekend of June.

Upon my arrival, I immediately caused confusion amongst Portugal's dancers. Lisbon dancers and at least one Porto follow drove down for the Saturday dance where Desbundixie played. We danced, stayed out late, listened to "Caliban" sing and play his guitar, and generally enjoyed ourselves. These dancers were describing the new instructor to their Porto counterparts, but there was mild disagreement about my hair length. I arrived to Faro with long hair, having not cut my hair in 10 months.
I taught my first Porto class the coming Monday after getting the shortest haircut in my remembered life. On Thursday, when I taught in Lisbon, the confusion was laid to rest now that both major Portugal lindy hop groups had seen me.

My transition to Portugal was easy. I moved into Abeth's former apartment with her two roommates. I remembered dancers from 2009
 and met new ones.
English speakers were prominent, so I eked by with few Portuguese words and phrases. Abeth gave me a phone, started me with a metro card, and picked me up for classes. Rent was cheap, food was cheap, Hulu was replaced by Cuevana and CH131, and walking around was easy. I cheered for FC Porto and mocked Benfica.
 I carried around 5 liter water jugs.
Most importantly, I was provided hand drawn Porto maps, a top cities list, and Portuguese phrase "survival kits". Examples below:

Portugal Map:
Top City List:
Phrase Survival Kit:
Futbol Survival Kit:
After reviewing these survival kits, being in good physical shape is necessary too, so you can either run, duck from slaps, or take a punch.

Lindy Hop Portugal has 5 class levels: 0 (complete newbies), 1 (beginner), 2 (intermediate), 3 (advanced intermediate), 4 (advanced). I saw Levels 1-4 every week and only Level 0 when they became the new Level 1 at May's end. Classes enjoy a 3 month cycle where dancers may move up a level after that period depending on their improvement, gender ratio, or if they're dating someone in their class. This means a new group of dancers cycles through every 3 months.

It's a fine gender balance since lindy hop isn't considered "macho" enough for mainstream Portuguese society. You'll often find classes have slightly more women attending, though the reverse did infrequently occur. The women have learned to sign up quickly for workshops or festivals since Abeth will often place them on waiting lists. The other tactic is to sign up with a partner or boyfriend to avoid the dreaded waitlist.

Kizomba ("macho", because grinding never gets old):
Lindy Hop Portugal (guys looking macho):

Now, a 3 month teaching cycle seems dreadfully long if you're me. However, I've had the benefit of weekly dances in accessible venues. These venues and their instructors have adapted faster teaching cycles, month long courses, and more frequent tentpole workshops. Porto, in contrast, has 1 monthly dance at Maus Hábitos and a weekly practica. The urgency to get people dancing moves isn't there, so more time is spent teaching slows, quicks, and triple steps inside very basic 8 count patterns. As a result, I slowed my teaching pace, and learned to really drill and refine their lindy hop technique especially in Level 1.

Important Teaching Tips:
1. Speakly slower and enunciate
2. Remove American idioms
3. Create solid visual examples
4. Listen well to their questions whether in Portuguese or English
5. Smile and be pleasant
6. Build rapport

Team Porto

Team Lisbon

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