Welcome Back to Atomic Peter!
The fact that I don’t place all of my sense of enjoyment around constantly improving or practicing means that I get to just keep enjoying what I do, regardless of the inevitable plateaus that come with any hobby.
Well, I am so excited to (re)introduce Peter Flahiff to the Atomic Ballroom community. When I began dancing in 1998, I saw a performance by the Hollywood Jitterbugs at Disneyland and I was hooked! Little did I know that Peter was jumpin’ and jivin’ his way into my heart already.
When I moved to Orange County for college, I was desperate to release as much school-stress as possible and swing dancing was my outlet. Peter had become the house DJ at Atomic Ballroom (conveniently 5 minutes away), so I would gather my quarters and run out for the best 2 hour study breaks ever! And after hours of teaching, Peter would pop out from behind the DJ booth and swing me around with a smile.
He has been back for a few months now and it is my honor to welcome back Peter to Atomic Ballroom! For those of you who haven’t had a chance to meet this incredible tap, swing and balboa dancer, here’s your chance to get to know him a bit more. And if you see Peter at Atomic, be sure to say ‘HI’…he’s one of the nicest dancers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing!
Meet Peter Flahiff
When did you start dancing?
I started dancing at age 18, back around 1993 or so. I started with awful yank-n-crank pre-swing (think arm drapes and pretzels GALORE!) before finally swallowing my pride and actually learning from people who knew how to teach.
But why swing dancing?
I got into swing dancing because I had always liked old-timey stuff (old movies, old clothes, old cars, old music, old radio shows…) so this gave me a lifestyle and a community that was able to draw all those things together!
What has kept you going all these years?
I really just love the act of taking a partner into my arms and moving around to good old music. It fulfills an idealized image in my mind of what life used to be like “back in the day”. The fact that I don’t place all of my sense of enjoyment around constantly improving or practicing means that I get to just keep enjoying what I do, regardless of the inevitable plateaus that come with any hobby.
Do you have a favorite style or type of swing dance (ie Lindy Hop, Tap, Balboa, etc)?
I love any of the dances from the swing era (which in my mind runs from about 1935 to about 1950), so Lindy Hop, Collegiate Shag, Balboa, Tap… if it swings, I want to know how to do it! I love all of them for different reasons, but I enjoy Lindy and Balboa largely because they’re the ones most other dancers know, so I get more opportunity to do them.
Who is been your biggest inspiration in dance?
Fred Astaire, mainly. I’m directly influenced by the greats: Frankie Manning, Al & Leon, Dean Collins, Hal Takier, Maxie Dorf, Willie Desatoff… But when it comes to what I use to help me create my OWN style and movement, it generally stems from the question, “If Fred Astaire had been a great lindy hopper, what would that have looked like and how would he have done it?” I also get tremendous inspiration from many of the great dancer/entertainers from the 30s and 40s; their work ethic and methods are very rewarding and underappreciated.
Not only are you a talented dancer and performer, but you’re a teacher too – what do you enjoy about teaching students?
The teaching questions… Well, I had originally wanted to be an English teacher, growing up. When I got sidetracked by swing dancing, it was an interesting thing to me that I gravitated to the teaching side of things.
So what do I love? I absolutely LIVE for the “AHA!” moments that students get when an idea or move suddenly clicks, or when I’m able to help them crack a problem they’ve struggled with. It’s an unbelievably satisfying feeling that I was able to help them.
Do you have a special method or idea you want to convey to your students?
If I could convey one idea to students it would probably be this: there are as many ways of approaching and connecting to swing dancing as there are people who do it. So don’t let any one teacher or person tell you that YOU need to do it “this way” or “that way” when it comes to style or anything like that. There are, of course, good techniques and bad techniques, but I find that oftentimes, teachers will teach a STYLE and don’t tell the students that there are other ways to do it – so the students get a dogmatic view of things. I find that disheartening. Learn from many instructors and form your own ideas. Use your critical thinking skills, everyone!
For New students & dancers: ENJOY THE PROCESS! Part of why I stuck with it and got to any level of skill came from the fact that I always just flat-out loved dancing AT ALL. It didn’t matter when I was awful. I still had fun. If you can enjoy every part of the road (group classes, individual practice time, social dancing) then you’ve got it made. It’s just a matter of time!
You also seem to love to social dancing – can you tell us more about what that process is like and what you love about it?
I ADORE SOCIAL DANCING. It’s actually where all my attention and interest lies. I think its interesting how involved the art of social dancing actually is; there are things you can absolutely focus on and work on to make yourself a better social dancer. I think that most people get wrapped up in the parts of dancing that don’t relate to those skills; If you’re only working on solo movement, you are not working on your lead or follow. I think it’s terribly important.
Any advice for those who are new to social dancing?
For those who are new to social dancing, please remember that everyone was new themselves once, and it probably wasn’t very long ago! So ask anyone and everyone to dance. We are all thrilled to dance with everyone, including (and in my case, ESPECIALLY) with new dancers!
What are you working on these days?
At the moment, I’m in the midst of an ongoing process of self-evaluation of my dancing and teaching skills, trying to keep myself up-to-date with everything I can. The dance world has trends and fashions; I find the trick for me is to be educated on as much of it as possible, but remember that some (or most) of these things will turn out to be fads and to try to identify good new techniques so as to incorporate them…
Do you think there is anything missing in the swing world…something you’d like to see more of?
I think that the level of dancing is better now than ever; each generation is taking the progress of their forebears and making it better all the time. If there is one thing that I wish there were more of, it would be placing more value on good social dancing. I feel that there is quite a bit of focus on competitions and competition-style dancing which has really changed the feeling of social dancing.
Don’t get me wrong, I think competitions are wonderful: they show people dancing at a very high level, gives the competitors deadlines and goals as well as valuable feedback from judges. However, competition dancing is, by definition, different from social dancing. (It would have to be. I certainly wouldn’t want to see a competition of people just doing normal social dancing; a competition is the place to show off!) So overall, I would love for people to spend a bit more time and focus on making their dancing FEEL better for all their partners, of all skill levels.
Aside from being a teacher and super-fun social dancers, you are also a renowned DJ. Does your knowledge of music and managing the mood of a dance floor effect your teaching philosophy or social dance skills?
DJing for me is an extension of my social dancing; in a sense, I get to dance with the whole room, all night! I try to play whatever feels appropriate to the venue or event that I’m DJing for. I’m not terribly snobby about music. I certainly have my preferences (30s & 40s big band swing, which goes back to my original love for all things old-timey), but I also enjoy playing modern bands if I feel that they are playing in a way that honors their roots.
I happily DJ some music that other DJs would consider “neo-swing” (Indigo Swing, Mighty Blue Kings, etc.) because some of those bands were very diligent in trying to recreate a vintage sound with new songs, and those bands were a vital part of the revival that we are all still benefiting from (and I think it’s unkind to turn one’s back on old friends…). Of course there were LOADS of awful neo-swing bands, but I just don’t play them. Simple. As for managing a floor, I try to really pay attention to energy levels of the dancers and the overall flow of energy and tempos in the songs I’m playing.
Well, I’m so excited to have you back in SoCal! Any final thoughts before we all mob you on the Atomic dance floor?
I’m thrilled to death to be back in Southern California again, in a scene that I feel very connected to. And I’m excited to continue to be able to work on my own dancing, my teaching skills, and bringing the love of social dancing and social Swing dancing particularly, to more friends every week.