If an episode of Dancing with the Stars leaves you lamenting your two left feet, you’re not alone. But fret not! There’s help out there and it comes in the form of Got2Lindy Dance Studios, owned by dance instructors Linda and Chester Freeman. With a cult following and three Hudson Valley locations, the pair offer classes in ballroom and swing, their passion. If you don’t have rhythm, these two have plenty to spare!
Linda was kind enough to speak to us via email about Got2Lindy and how they started. The interview left us feeling inspired and eager to step out of our comfort zone. We think you’ll feel the same.
The Mighty Mite: Tell us about how the two of you met? What was life like before you caught the Jiggerbug (sorry, couldn’t help that one)?
Linda Freeman: LOL!! Chester and I met in graduate school. We both have MFA’s in writing from Bennington College. I also have an MBA. I am probably one of the most over-degreed dance teachers out there! I was a corporate executive before moving from the desk to the dance floor. My last title was Executive Director of Global Learning & Communications. I was supporting our household while Chester was working on a novel, so when I left the corporate world we abandoned our only form of steady income. It was quite a leap of faith! When I told my colleagues my new career plans they were rather alarmed and told me I couldn’t make a living teaching swing dance. That was ten years ago!
TMM: How did your dance life start? It all began as a hobby, right?
LF: Right. Chester and I didn’t actually start dancing (aside from independent flailing about) until after we were married. That was sixteen years ago. We were just looking for a fun hobby…and stumbled upon Lindy Hop. We discovered that we loved it and –Chester especially—had an incredible talent for it. It turned out that when he was growing up in Louisiana in the ’70s he had seen a movie featuring Lindy Hoppers and was blown away. But he was a white kid in the south and these were African American dancers from the ’40s. He had no idea how to connect with such a thing. So when we showed up in a school gym in the late ’90s to take Lindy Hop lessons and he made the connection it was like a light turned on in his soul. Since then we had the great fortune to have met and studied with some of those original Lindy Hoppers, including Frankie Manning. I am a real dance history geek and I had the great fortune to edit Frankie’s memoir, The Ambassador of Lindy Hop as well as to teach with him when we brought him to the Hudson Valley for a day of workshops and to share videos and hear his incredible stories of working with bands like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. May 26 would have been his 101st birthday and the dance world celebrates it as World Lindy Hop Day. One of the things that is so exciting about Lindy Hop is that it has such a rich history and worldwide following. Chester and I taught for three months on a Holland America cruise in 2013 and traveled through Asia and the South Pacific. We stayed with Lindy Hoppers we didn’t even know in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong and spontaneously taught some Lindy steps to school kids in Malaysia and New Guinea! Here’s some footage of Chester teaching the kids in New Guinea!
TMM: We’ve all heard the old saying, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” When did swing dancing go from a fun activity to a full-blown business?
LF: I had a pretty cushy job. I was telecommuting so I didn’t even have to leave my house except for meetings. I had a staff and free reign on my creativity. I had a lot of perks. And it was very exciting and satisfying for a long time. But then the company got sold and resold. We went through about two years of downsizing and about five CEOs. My job — which centered heavily on internal communications —became all about managing all those changes and writing speeches for all the new CEO’s about the bright new vision of the company, which wasn’t really very bright at all, and writing scripts for managers who had to dismiss their employees. Everything was getting bogged down in jargon and directed from Human Resources and the Legal department. No one was allowed to have an authentic conversation. One day I was on a conference call and a manager asked what she should tell a pregnant employee who was about to buy a house and had asked about the security of her job. The manager knew the employee was “on the list.” She was instructed to say nothing. This lack of integrity tipped the plate for me. All the stresses and time and work was already getting in the way of my dancing and people had been watching us dance for years and told us that if we ever started teaching they would take lessons from us. Chester had already joined a dance troupe in NYC and was teaching a bit on his own there. So I decided to invest my time, talent and interest into something that I believed in and loved, something that could actually change people’s lives and bring them joy. I got off the phone and wrote about five pages of what my life could be like if I imagined it differently. I created a vision for our future. Thus, Got2Lindy Dance Studios was born. That was 2004. I update that vision every year. And every year whatever I envision comes true even when I have no idea how it is going to happen during the writing of it.
Now we have taught all over the world but our home base is the Hudson Valley, where we teach in three locations as well as anywhere that people bring us for special events and workshops. We offer group classes in Kingston, Highland and Newburgh, as well as private lessons out of our home in Marlboro. No experience or partner is necessary to participate. Everyone dances with everyone, so the social aspect of the experience is as exciting as the learning aspect. I love that people arrive in our classroom as strangers who can’t dance and leave as friends who can!
TMM: And swing works for all ages? All fitness levels?
LF: Oh yes! We once had a nine-year-old and an 89-year-old in the same class! And the 9-year-old was the leader! With swing dance age doesn’t matter. In fact, because this dance has a history, there is a great respect for the dance elders in the communities who did the dance growing up. Most dance camps and weekend workshops around the world will include some of these original dancers as their guests and it is a great honor to dance with them. Here’s a link to one with the famous Jean Velez at her 90th birthday.
Here’s one of one of our performance class, ages range from 17 to 65 years old.
It really is an equalizer. People come to class and later we find out they are lawyers, carpenters, engineers, doctors, veterinarians, artists, professors, farmers, models, film makers, and comedians. You name a profession and they’ve walked through the door and left dancing. We even taught private wedding dance lessons to Vera Farmiga and her husband (I have to admit I didn’t know who she was at the time, although she told me she was an actress).
TMM: Workout wise, dancers always seem to be in amazing shape? Can you explain why that is? Specifically, what is it about dancing that the body seems to respond so positively to?
LF: It’s fun and social so it doesn’t feel like exercise! Did you ever see anyone smile at a gym? Swing dance just puts a smile on your face even when you’re learning. In class the hour moves so fast people are surprised when it’s over and a lot of our students take two or even three classes a night because they enjoy it so much. And it doesn’t stop in the classroom. We are teaching social dance skills because we want people to get out there and dance. So we offer lots of opportunities to do so. We have a dance on the first Thursday of every month at The Newburgh Brewing Company (except in July when it is the 2nd Thursday) and the 1st Saturday of every month at Mac Fitness in Kingston (except in July when it is the 3rd Saturday) and the 3rd Thursday of every month at the Bread and Bottle in Red Hook. The Newburgh and the Red Hook dances are free and the Kingston dance is only $10 and includes a lesson!
TMM: There have been numerous studies about the benefits of dancing. As instructors, are there any specific memories or stories you want to share about seeing student’s health or confidence improve with lessons?
LF: Yes, there was just a big writeup in the Poughkeepsie Journal about this. A study on aging conducted over a twenty-five year period found that dancing reduced the risk for dementia by 76%, the highest of all activities. I think it has a lot to do with the physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits. You are making new connections on all levels.
Just about every student who comes through our door and sticks with it has a story to tell. It looks to me like my students grow younger with each year they dance. The transformation is amazing. My favorite story is Phyllis Hart who started dancing with us about five years ago. At the time she walked with a cane and was pretty much in constant pain. Dance—doing something she loved, with people she grew to become great friends with—enabled her to get off all her pain meds and antidepressants and throw away her cane. Now she comes with us to swing dance sleepaway camp in New Hampshire and dances for five days straight.
TMM: This type of dancing has found a way to make its way to the mainstream several times since its inception nearly eighty-five years ago. Why do you think swing attracts so many people?
LF: I think people are looking for connections with other people, as well as fun activities. Traditional ballroom dancing tends to be couple oriented, whereas swing is very all-inclusive. As our teacher, Frankie Manning used to say, it doesn’t matter if you are old or young, rich or poor, black or white, all that matters is that you can dance!
TMM: Dancing has opened some major doors for you both, from the radio show to teaching overseas. You’ve also worked with schools and organizations like the Grace Smith House. Can you tell us more about some of the highlights of what you do and even how you started bringing the joy of dance to people in the community?
LF: My you really have done your homework!! Yes, we’ve had some amazing experiences. I’ve already told you about teaching the kids in New Guinea. Here’s another favorite. Shortly after seeing the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, I decided we should work in the schools and added it to my vision list. The NEXT DAY one of our students who is an elementary school librarian asked me if we would come and work in her school (this is how it happened, I swear!). She said the school had a really high harassment rating among students and she thought learning partner dance would help them. She approached her principle who was so on board she wrote a grant for a 10-week mandatory program for every fourth and fifth grader. During the course of the program and for the five years we were in that school (until the principal was promoted out of it) the harassment numbers were zero. One girl wrote, “We got to dance with people we never even talked to.” The dance instills partnership and decision-making skills and looking each other in the eyes and taking care of your partner. One day we were teaching in the gym and a fifth grade boy from another class who had been absent during his session joined the group. As the kids rotated to a new partner he and one little girl really hit it off. They were dancing exceptionally well together so we let them stay together longer. We noticed teachers passing in the hall kept stopping and watching and we thought it was just because the kids danced so well together; indeed afterwards they became partners in our Swing Kids Performance Troupe. But after class we found out the real scoop. In 2nd grade he had put a jump rope around her neck and there was a restraining order still standing that they weren’t to be in the same room together. Dancing did something for these kids that nothing else ever could.
TMM: What are some of the challenges?
LF: There aren’t enough days in the week! People constantly ask us to teach in their communities. We have a strong following and I hate to let anyone down. We also don’t own a physical studio so we are limited to the available time slots of the venues where we teach. But the biggest frustration is that we don’t have a beautiful, affordable ballroom in the Hudson Valley where we could hold our monthly dances like they do in Albany or some of the other dance communities. If there are any arts benefactors out there, we’d love to hear from you!
TMM: Do you have any tips for someone who wants to try swing dancing but has no experience and is feeling a little intimidated?
LF: Chester had a musical background. I did not. He learns quickly. I do not. So we are really a perfect pair as teachers. I have a great love and empathy for the learning process. Sometimes I think our students regard us as a comedy team as well as their instructors. We believe learning to dance should be fun. I can’t tell you how many people come into class convinced they have two left feet and leave dancing. It’s so gratifying. We both learned as adults so we understand what that feels like. I also constantly remind people that the only difference between a beginner and an advanced dancer is time and experience. And we absolutely love what we do, and want all our students to as well!
For more information about Got2Lindy Dance Studios, please visit their website.