Secrets of a Hustle Dance Instructor
By Philip Seyer
NOTE: For group or private dance lessons in San
Roseville, Sacramento area,
call Philip Seyer, 916-772-755
This is one in a series of articles on music and dance by Phil Seyer,
you may want to see his "LoveMusicLoveDance"
home page and Argentine-tango.com
Note: this article has several hypertext links to make it easier to explore
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See also: hustle books, All
NOTE: Steve Rebello, the teacher featured in this article has created
several instructional hustle videos (beginning, Intermediate and advanced.
If you are interested in finding out more about these instructional
videos, please contact Phil Seyer.
The Return of Hustle
"Ballroom dancing is becoming popular again," that's what I
often tell my friends who don't seem to know what they are missing. But
others reply , "Oh? I didn't know that it ever went out of style."
That may be true of traditional ballroom dancing, but hustle is a different
matter. For me it seemed to die very quickly in the early 1980's. But
recently it's been resurrected--at least in certain dancing communities
in my area!
Hustle at The Avenue. For example, in 1995 I held weekly Sunday night
dance parties at the Avenue Ballroom in San Francisco; I often featured
short introductory hustle dance lessons. After 15 years, the Avenue Ballroom
is now closed, but hustle lives on!
Hustle Club. A group called "The Hustle Dance Club" has formed
a years ago and has proclaimed itself the first such club in the Bay Area.
This club features weekly hustle dance parties as well as special hustle
workshops with discount prices to members.
A popular ballroom in San Francisco even featured a "Hustle Night"
once a month. The evening included a beginner as well as intermediate
hustle dance lesson followed by a dance party that also includes cha-cha,
nightclub twostep, and swing.
Elegance Ballroom. At the Elegance Ballroom in San Francisco, until recently, you could
find a group of (mostly) Chinese people eagerly learning to bump hips,
twist, and do multiple underarm turns in a hustle routine designed to
work well with music from Madonna's Immaculate Collection. That ballroom is now closed, but you can find many of them at the Allegro Ballroom in Emeryville
Hustling in a Stadium?
One of the most interesting places I've found to do hustle in the Bay
Area is at the Cubberly Pavilion in Palo Alto. When you walk in you're
not impressed--it looks like five huge basketball courts in one big stadium--complete
with lines painted on the hardwood floor. But when the lights are turned
down, and the colored lights come on and the music starts playing, its
great! More than two hundred people attend every weekend and there are
two and sometimes three classes going on simultaneously at beginning ,
intermediate and advanced levels.
Steve Rebello and Stephanie Au
Steve Rebello assisted by Stephanie Au have often taught intermediate
and advanced hustle at the Pavilion.
The photo, here, shows Steve leading Stephanie at the Pavilion in an
advanced step in which he swings her "around the world" in lay-back
position. I interviewed Steve for Dancing USA magazine. Here's text
of that article.
Seyer: Steve, I really enjoy your hustle classes. Hustle is becoming
more and more and more popular in our area. To some people it seems like
a new a dance, yet I learned it in the 1907's. What can you say about
the history of hustle?
Rebello: It became popular about 1978 when the movie Saturday Night Fever
came out. Around 1976 a song by Van McCoy called "The Hustle"
was popular and a line dance was invented to go with the song. I don't
think the hustle we know started then, but this is the first time I heard
the name hustle applied to a dance.
Different Kinds of Hustle
In the 70's there were many kinds of hustle. The first hustle I learned
then was called "New York Hustle, Latin Style" -- it had 6 counts
and a kind of a cha-cha in it. Later I learned a 4 count style called
"Rope Hustle" that was much easier and seemed to make more sense
since it fit the music in four-four time.
Rebello: Yes, in 1978 a variety of Hustles were popular. I was teaching
New York Hustle, Latin Hustle, American Hustle, and Tango Hustle!
Seyer: Today, in the Bay Area most people are doing just one style--a
three count hustle. We used to call that style "New York Street Hustle."
Rebello: Yes, I've heard the 3-count hustle referred to as the Street
Hustle. I've also heard it referred to as Hustle, LA. Style.
The 3-count hustle dominates the Bay Area so much that if I ask a lady
to dance, I often have a lot of explaining to do if I try a style other
than "New York Street Hustle." Why do you think that 3-count
style is so popular, now?
Rebello: I think the 3 count version of hustle has caught on because
of the speed at which it moves.
Seyer: That's right. You have to put 4 foot movements into 3 beats of
Rebello: Four count hustle has all the same patterns as 3-count hustle--with
all of the same ladies turns and arm movements. It's slower so it's easier
to learn and it fits music well since the music has 4 beats per measure.
But 3-count hustle is flashier and more exciting.
Seyer: At first it drove me crazy to count 1-2-3 when I kept hearing
the music going 1-2-3-4.! But a while, I began to enjoy the contra-metrical
effect produced by 3 counts against 4 beats of music. It's reminds me
of music by Charles Ives where half the orchestra is playing 3/4 time
and the other half is playing in 4/4. time.
Rebello:: It's not so hard to do 3-count hustle if you don't think about
it too much. But it's probably harder for musicians to adjust to the 3-count
Seyer: There are three counts, but I notice that you start dancing on
the AND: of beat 3.
Rebello: Yes, I prefer starting that way. But many of the instructors
in the LA. area have recently changed they way they start. Instead of
starting with "AND 1-2-3," they start with 1- 2- AND 3..
They start from a one-hand position and then move into close dance position.
Seyer: A very good teacher I know in San Francisco (Gene Russo) likes
to start with count ONE. But then he counts: "ONE., TWO AND THREE,"
not "ONE, TWO, THREE, AND ONE." I'm very sensitive to these
counts since I'm a music educator as well as a dance teacher.
Rebello: I'm not familiar with that style of counting, but apparently
several variations of the three-count hustle have evolved.
Steve's Early Years
Seyer: Yes, I find that I'm evolving my own hustle style that differs
quite a bit from what a lot of people are doing. I learned hustle in 1978,
but I just I started teaching it formerly last year. When did you start
Rebello: I started teaching dance in 1977, 16 months after I started
dancing. I was assisting an instructor a a junior college semester class.
I started dancing hustle in '78 or '79 and it has been one of my favorites
every since. I think the only reason hustle was popular in the late '70's
was because of the movie. Shortly after, the excitement died down. I noticed
the interest level increasing in about '87 or '88. The attendance in my
hustle classes started picking up and has been full ever since.
Your style has been called "ballroom hustle." How do you respond
I don't know where the term "Ballroom Hustle" started. The
way I teach and dance hustle is like most people. The only different I've
noticed is that some don't use a slot like I do.
Seyer: Well, you teach people definite steps and foot patterns for both
the leader and the follower. Those that learned hustle on their own in
nightclubs without lessons (street dancers) tend to make up their own
steps and do a lot of "touch, step, hold" footwork while they
concentrate on a lot of fancy arm work.
Rebello: Yes, that right, but it's mainly the leaders who are improvising
their steps. The followers are pretty much doing standard "AND ONE,
TWO, THREE" footwork.
Hustle Instructional Videos
In some parts of the country, people are not so lucky to have so many
good hustle instructors. You have quite an extensive series of video instructional
tapes on hustle covering beginning, intermediate, and advanced patterns.
I was amazed at how easy it was for me to learn some new steps just by
watching your videos. I like the way you break everything down and explain
the steps in such great detail. What was it like making the tapes?
It's a lot different than teaching students in a class situation where
you get feedback from students.! The camera just "stands there"
with no reactions at all. Having to talk constantly on camera is a bit
straining, but I think my partner Stephanie had the more difficult part,
starting sand stopping the middle of turns on the balls of her feet, with
her arms in the air.
Seyer: And she did just a great job. Where did you meet her?
Steve: Stephanie and I met dancing about a year and a half ago. She became
my assistant in August of ''94 and my business partner in October of the
Choreography Versus Leading and Following
Seyer: The steps you do with Stephanie seem quite leadable. In contrast,
I took a hustle workshop recently from some teachers from New York. It
seemed that many of the steps were not leadable, but choreographed: both
partner's just had to memorize a rather long series of patterns. For example,
in one pattern the leader just extends both hands out to his sides. The
follower must know to "slap the leader's chest" and then push
away and spin. Do you teach any choreographed patterns?
Rebello: I don't teach any unleadable choreographed moves. I field test
all of the patterns that I develop before teaching them in class or putting
them on my instructional video tapes. Granted, many are more difficult
to lead than others. That's what I call "advanced level." The
purpose of my videos and classes is to teach patterns and styling so the
dancer can go out and lead and follow and just have fun with anyone at
a similar level.
Staying Out of Trouble on the Dance Floor
Seyer: I glad you brought up the issue of skill level. I think that some
of us leaders (me included) get in trouble on the dance floor because
we don't take this into account. Recently I was trying to lead a follower
who I thought was pretty good in one of your advanced moves--one where
you lead the follower into a free turn and then catch her free arm and
lead her to do an additional turn. Since most followers were dropping
their free arms, I started reaching for a shoulders instead of a free
arm. In one case, the follower was rather tall and was turning quickly
--instead of the shoulder, I grabbed something soft! It was quiet embarrassing.
Rebello: You learned the hard way!
Seyer: Yes, but at least now I can help my students avoid the same mistake.
Can you give me any tips on how to handle situations like this?
Rebello: You have to be careful in trying more advanced patterns with
a follower you have never danced with. What I do is "test" the
follower with much simpler moves, first. When I take dance position, I
check to see if the follower has tone. If there is no tone, I know I have
to keep it very simple. If she has tone, I'll start out with some basic
patterns, release and close, turning basics. Then I'll try a follower's
left inside turn. That tests her left turn footwork. If that works out
well, I'll introduce some more advanced patterns. I won't jump into a
real advanced pattern, but I'll kind of work my way up the ladder with
her. I NEVER get on the floor with someone I am not familiar with and
start leading advanced patterns. I always "test" the follower
Seyer: Wow! what a great suggestion. I think you've just saved scores
of leaders and followers a lot of frustration and embarrassment! I'm sure
this approach will work in another dances as well as hustle.
Steve, speaking of advanced patterns, you've got a lot of interesting
ones that I've not seen elsewhere. How do you do it? Where do these patterns
Rebello: Many of the patterns I got initially from other instructors.
This was back in the late 70's and early 80's. Since then, beginning about
1983 I've been developing my own patterns. Some are variations on one
I learned from others, some are totally original with me.
How Steve Develops New Steps and Patterns
Seyer: When you're working out a new pattern, how do you go about it?
What's the process?
Rebello: I'll get on the floor with Stephanie and start going through
arm movements first, sometimes movements that remind me of something I've
done in another dance. I'll take a two hand position, a one hand position,
a right over left position, a left over right position--everything imaginable.
I'll just start going through different movements, just walking around
the floor, not using footwork. If it seems like it would be fun to do,
then I'll try putting in the footwork. Ninety-nine percent of the time
I can figure out the footwork and it comes out leadable and it looks pretty
Seyer: Very interesting. Thanks for sharing your secrets. I'll bet this
will inspire a lot of creativity on the dance floor!
Phil Seyer is a composer, computer programmer, author and dance teacher.
His books include Choosing Success (John Wiley and Sons, 1978) and What
Makes Music Work, a step by step guide to music theory for the adults
who decide later in life they want to learn about music. (John Wiley
and Sons, Seyer Associates, 1985, 1996)
You can call Phil at 916-772-7555.
Steve Rebello teaches in the San Francisco and South Bay Area. He has
developed an extensive series of instructional video tapes on Hustle,
West Coast Swing, and Nightclub Two Step.
For more information, please contact us about
his Hustle, West Coast Swing and Hustle vidoes.
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