Chandler, how did you first discover Swing and Lindy Hop?
I first saw Lindy Hop when I went to hear the Bill Elliott Swing
Orchestra for the very first time at Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City
in 1994. I saw Erin and Tami Stevens, Scott Price, Tracey Blue, and
Joanne LeMay dancing Lindy, and I couldn't believe my eyes. THAT
was what I had always wanted to do, but looking at it, I couldn't figure out where the step was. It looked like they were making it up on the spot. I was hooked!
When and where did you learn how to dance?
I first learned an easy, 4-count dance that we called "The Bop" from my sister and her friends when I was 13 in Fort Worth, Texas, my hometown. Later that year, my aunt from Albany, New York, came to visit, and she taught us what she called "Jitterbug" but which we now call "East Coast Swing." I taught my friends, and we had a pretty good thing going. It sure made dances and parties more fun, and girls were always wanting to dance with me, probably not because I was any good, but more likely because I was at least competent, which was more than most guys, and we always had fun. I danced the Bop and East Coast Swing through high school, college, and years after that before I discovered my favorite -- Lindy Hop. I learned Lindy Hop at Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association during about four years of classes, which were a blast! Erin Stevens teaches both the lead and the follow so clearly that I attribute to her my ability today to break the dance down for my students.
I understand you have a dance business, what exactly is Retroglide?
My business partner, Jerry Jordan, and I own and operate a dance studio called Retroglide Dance Society, primarily in Santa Clarita (near Six Flags Magic Mountain). We teach Swing, Salsa, Ballroom, and Wedding Dance classes and private lessons. We also teach some classes out of a studio in North Hollywood. As the name implies, our students are a community of people who enjoy going out and dancing together and spending time together even away from dance activities. We are all about social dancing, which means we want our students to be able to go anywhere in the world and dance with anyone at any occasion. That's where Jerry and I have both found dancing to be such a thrill. When I went to London and danced Lindy Hop successfully with women I had never even met before, that was a feeling I wanted to help other people experience.
Why did you choose to organize classes and events in Santa Clarita?
We opened Retroglide in Santa Clarita because it was an untapped market, it's not a bad drive from where we each live, it's growing like crazy, and it has a strong community feeling. We have found the people there to be SO helpful and friendly! We have benefitted from the help of many Santa Clarita locals. We could not have built Retroglide without them, and we often wonder if we could have done it anywhere else.
Tell me about your top 3 dance highlights?
That's a tough one. Hmmm. I guess first, teaching in Melbourne and Perth, Australia, two years ago was definitely a highlight. The people were very warm and kind to my then teaching partner, Kim Fitzgerald, and me, and that experience helped me realize how much I enjoy teaching. Second, at one of the workshops I took with Frankie Manning at Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association, he was up on stage looking down at the crowd, and he watched what I was doing with my partner as I danced the routine. He came down and said, "Let me see something," and had me lead him. After I led him through the routine, he said, "Okay," and went back up and resumed teaching. So, I can say I actually danced with Frankie Manning, and he didn't say he hated it! Third, the first time I danced with Jean Veloz about four years ago and saw this swing legend at the end of my arm with her hand thrown skyward, looking down her cheekbones at me with a big smile on her face, I melted into the floor. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world that night.
What's the most rewarding thing about initiating new dancers?
I love to see their desire to learn, and all the work is worth it when they finally get it. It's important for people to understand how long it takes to make dancing, especially Lindy Hop, look effortless and spontaneous. It doesn't happen overnight. Celebrate the small victories, and it keeps you going. More than that, though, I can't express the feeling I get when people tell me that I've changed their lives. How many people have an occupation where they will ever hear anyone say that to them? That's the best. I am so lucky to be in that position.
What are some other jobs you've had that didn't involve dancing?
Oh, my gosh! I'm a professional actor, having done some work in virtually every medium. I also worked at Drexel Burnham Lambert, on the same trading floor as junk bond king Michael Milken, during that firm's glory days. I was a trainer at the Federal Reserve Bank downtown, I worked at HBO for about five years, I tutored high school juniors and seniors to help them prepare for their verbal and math SATs, and I represented software for IBM and Lotus. Life has been anything but dull!
Which other activities do you enjoy when you're not dancing?
I am an old car freak. I spend time going to car shows and events. I'm Western Regional Director of the Airflow Club of America (the Airflow being a car made by Chrysler in the mid '30s), so I've been spending time coordinating some activities for them. I'm also the charter president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Texas Christian University Alumni Association. But I enjoy attending Wurlitzer theatre organ concerts as a member of
the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society, and good, old movies are fun for me. I love to sail, too, but I did more of that in Texas than I have in California, if you can believe it.
There are many great dancers in L.A. and sometimes when beginners go to the dances they feel intimidated ..... what's your advice for them?
Look at all those people you admire on the dance floor. Know that there's not one of them who came out of the womb knowing how to dance. Everyone had to learn it. Also, people aren't really judging you the way you think they are when you dance. They are just trying to figure out what your ability is to determine the best way to have fun with you. Having a good time is everyone's goal.
What are the three attributes that make a great dancer?
Clear communication, forgiveness, and musicality. Notice I didn't say steps, fancy footwork, or aerials.
How did dancing change your life?
It gave me a way to communicate nonverbally with someone using much give-and-take, using what the other person brings to the dance, where good music is the glue that binds us together. It also gave me more enjoyment than I can ever express, and I am gratified to be able to pass that on to other people as a teacher. In another vein, it made me healthy -- it made my bad cholesterol go down and my good cholesterol go up, it made uric acid in my blood disappear, and it made me more aerobically fit, all the while being fun, social, and mentally challenging. That's better than jogging!
What do you hope to be doing with your life in ten years?
I hope by then I will have restored my 1935 Airflow, so maybe I'll be driving it around to dances in 2012. I hope by then that Retroglide will be a huge success, meaning that it will have helped tens of thousands of people experience the joy of dancing as I have.
Tell me something revealing and personal, that most people don't know about you.
I'm a published author and member of Phi Beta Kappa. I lived in Nice, France, for a year and in Trento, Italy, for a summer, and I am fluent in both languages. Most meaningful to me, though, is that I got some nice parting gifts as a contestant on "The $25,000 Pyramid."