English Transcript 007 - Ramona Staffeld

There have been a few requests for a transcript of my conversation with Ramona Staffeld.  Anna Engle was kind enough to provide a transcript of this episode, and I'm happy to provide it here:

Interviewer: Ryan Swift

Interviewee: Ramona Staffeld

Publication date: October 20, 2015

Publication link: http://www.thetrackpodcast.com/episodes/007

Show notes link: http://www.thetrackpodcast.com/show-notes?tag=Ramona%20Staffeld

Transcriber: Anna Engle

Transcription date: October 22, 2015


The Track 007 - Ramona Staffeld


Ryan: “Welcome to episode seven of The Track. This is your host, Ryan Swift. Each month I bring you extended interviews with the swing dancers and musicians, as we have candid conversations about dance, music, and the personal experiences that brought them to where they are today.”

“Before we get started, I’d like to take a moment to announce our brand new website, thetrackpodcast.com, where you can find all of our past episodes, our blog with clips and links, and extensive show notes for each episode that provide links to all of the performances, events, people, and topics that are discussed on each episode. Check it out, we keep it updated regularly.”

This month I am joined for a very important conversation with instructor and back-to-back ILHC Pro Classic champion, Ramona Staffeld. Believe it or not, Ramona has already been teaching for half of her young life, starting at age fourteen and spanning two decades. In that time, she’s taught alongside legends Frankie Manning and Chazz Young, and has brought crowds to their feet at international events while performing with Minnie’s Moochers, the Silver Shadows, and recent partners Todd Yannacone and Remy Kouakou Kouame.”

“In our conversation we talk about her experience starting at such a young age, how music and rhythm are her most important influences, the joy she brings to and receives from dance, and what it’s like putting together routines with different partners. About an hour fifteen into our conversation we get into a heavy topic that may be difficult to listen to. Ramona shares her experience of surviving sexual abuse as a young person and how she is coming to terms with that abuse today. This is an incredibly important discussion, and I’m grateful Ramona has come forward with her story. Here’s our conversation.”


Ryan: “So what are you doing after New York, are you going back to Australia?”

Ramona: “Yeah, I am, Wednesday. I’m looking forward to it.”

Ryan: “How long have you been gone?”

Ramona: “Three weeks, exactly.”

Ryan: “That’s hard.”

Ramona: “Three weeks and a day, yeah.”

Ryan: “How often do you do a long trip like that?”

Ramona: “It varies, usually I’m gone for about three to four weeks and then I’m home for a month. Or then I had this crazy tour, called the ‘crazy tour,’ which I was gone for six … I went from…”

Ryan: “Six weeks or months?”

Ramona: “Six weeks, which was plenty.”

Ryan: “Yeah, that’s a lot, that’s a long time.”

Ramona: “A lot. And I went from Perth, a gig in Perth, to Remy’s event in Montpellier, and then to Río, to Brazil, from Europe, and then back to Europe for the London Swing Fest. And I did the World Lindy Hop Day thing as well, in between.”

Ryan: “Where did you do that?”

Ramona: “In Rome.”

Ryan: “How was that?”

Ramona: “Oooooh…”

Ryan: “I went to Toronto, with Dawn Hampton, for World Lindy Hop Day. I had a good time.”

Ramona: “Right on. I was in Rome, and I think actually when I was down in Río, I considered looking at other options, like, well, a bunch of folks aren’t going, and there was a lot of, obviously as you well know, drama and business around that. But I’m like, you know what, again I really try to stick to my plans if I have flights that take me somewhere, I go there. And then spend my time if I need to, or just make the best of it.”

Ryan: “So were you committed to do something at the event? Or you were just going, as an attendee?”

Ramona: “No, as far as I could tell, from my exchanges with the organizer, which were limited, I was supposed to be teaching some classes. I still didn’t know who my partner was, so I kind of caught the drift pretty early on that things were not as they seemed, and I should be prepared for anything. Which I like to be, I like to be flexible and just roll, especially when it was around World Lindy Hop Day, I mean around Frankie. I will … I’ll be there.”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Ramona: “So, yeah, I got to Rome and it was… The event as a whole felt like events used to. Like when we started dancing, back in the day. It was just this excitement and commitment that each individual participant was invested in having a good time and feeling like they mattered. Like they weren’t just there to consume and be like, ‘Give me what I paid for.’ But showing up and because it had to be this grassroots effort, and this new edition of what everybody had in their head, it was fresh and it was passionate. And I had the best time.”

Ryan: “Really?”

Ramona: “It was so great! Yeah, I really was surprised. I walked away with the right spirit. I really felt like, ‘That’s how I wanted to celebrate Frankie.’ With folks from all over the world who wanted to rise above the sticky crappy gunk that really was surrounding the event. And thus we did.”

Ryan: “Who did you teach with?”

Ramona: “I did some jazz classes on my own on Saturday. And then Sing came in, Sing Lim. She’s so game, which was so great, and we taught together.”

Ryan: “Oh, wow.”

Ramona: “I was leading and it was the. shit. So great. Can I swear?”

Ryan: “Yeah, I’m nine for nine.”

Ramona: “All right, well there you go.”

Ryan: “You’re only the second one that’s asked me if it’s okay to swear, though.”

Ramona: [laughs]

Ryan: “The other one was Nina, believe it or not.”

Ramona: “Yeah, right?”

Ryan: “She was like, ‘Is it okay?’ And I was like, ‘Dawn’s dropping f-bombs all over the place.”

Ramona: “[unclear]”

Ryan: “[laughing]”

Ramona: “Yeah, so we taught a class, we did a little routine. We did trickeration. It was a mixed level.”

Ryan: “You did what?”

Ramona: “Trickeration. Shish-ka boom bah, shish-ka boom bah, boom boom bah-bah-bah. That little step, Frankie’s step. [laughs]”

Ryan: “I don’t think I’ver ever heard it called that. He did?”

Ramona: “Well, that’s what Sing called it.”

Ryan: “Huh. I don’t think I’ver ever heard it called that.”

Ramona: “Yeah, that’s what she called it.”

Ryan: “It just means that I don’t pay attention. Trickeration.”

Ramona: “I understand. Trickeration. And we just had a ball. We had a lot of laughs, it really had the right spirit. Like I said. And the fact that everybody was all in, real from the bottom to the top. All levels, thrown together. I appreciate that as well, because it reminds me of back in the day, and I would love… I appreciate when those opportunities arise, nowadays.“

Ryan: “How does it remind you of back in the day?”

Ramona: “Well, everybody came to Frankie’s class, you know? It didn’t matter if you were advanced or if you were a beginner. It was Frankie.”

Ryan: “Regardless of… Yeah, there were no advanced classes for Frankie or beginner classes for Frankie, it was just Frankie’s classes with Frankie.”

Ramona: “Yeah, it was a master class. I mean, master class in the true sense, like learning from a master and being ready to receive.”

Ryan: “Yeah. When did you first teach with Frankie?”

Ramona: “Ooooo I’m bad with dates. But I think it was like ’98? ’99, ’99 because we danced at Lincoln Center in ’99.”

Ryan: “Right down the street.”

Ramona: “Yeah, right up the street.“

Ryan: “Right up the street.”

Ramona: “And I know that because we won the ALHC team division with the Moochers in the fall of ’98 and then I think he would have come some time in the spring. Then I got the phone call, when he called our house and first asked my parents for permission.”

Ryan: “Frankie asked you?”

Ramona: “Yeah. Well he asked my parents, like, ’Is it okay if she comes down and dances with me at Lincoln Center? I would like to invite her.’”

Ryan: “Awww.”

Ramona: “And he… Of course he was so respectful and he wanted to make sure they were okay with it. And then they put me on the phone, and he asked me personally, and I’m like, ‘Uhhhhhhh yes?’ And it was something.”

Ryan: “Did you know him before that?”

Ramona: “Well, we taught this… He asked me to assist him in his workshop in Ithaca. And, like I said, I think I’ve got the order right. It was, he came to Ithaca, I got to teach with him. Or assist him, excuse me. And then he asked me to do Lincoln Center. And then I also did a workshop in Albany with him. And I think that was after Lincoln Center.”

Ryan: “How old were you?”

Ramona: “I was fif… fourt… fifteen.”

Ryan: “Fifteen?”

Ramona: “Was I fifteen? I must have been. I was fourteen in ’98.”

Ryan: “So you would have been fifteen in ’99.”

Ramona: “Yeah, something like that.”

Ryan: “How long had you been dancing by that point?”

Ramona: “Well, I started when I was eleven.”

Ryan: “How did you start?”

Ramona: “Well, I’m sure you all have heard about Skye’s mom, Sue Seely. She was and is a force in the world. So in Ithaca, let’s just paint this picture, where we had a lot of outdoor festivals. And there was this big one, Ithaca Festival, that had this troupe called the… it might come to me. But they did kind of like a … east coast swing type number.”

Ryan: “It was a swing dance group.”

Ramona: “A swing dance group, yeah. There you go. And we saw them one year, early nineties, they were definitely doing something that looked like swing. And that was exciting. And I think… I can’t remember all their names but Cindy Overstreet must have been involved at that time. And Bill Borgida, I think he must have been involved. So there was this general interest around town. Small town, so things get out, getting around. And so Skye’s mom was, to me, the star. I really looked up to her. And she was doing lindy hop, you know, like people started doing lindy hop.”

Ryan: “Did you know that was lindy hop when you first saw it? Or did you ask about it? Like how did you…?”

Ramona: “Good question. Because my parents took a basic swing class.”

Ryan: “So this was like 1997, ’96?”

Ramona: “No, this would have been ’94. I think I started in ’95?”

Ryan: “You had such a head start on me. Yeah.”

Ramona: “Yeah. Well then I was in fifth grade and Steven Mitchell came to town to teach a workshop. And he was teaching a hip hop… I mean, you guys have heard that the… I think Skye talked about it, but… To teach a workshop and he did a little hip hop class on the Friday. So Sue picked me and Ben and Skye up from elementary school and took us down to the community center, and we did this class. It was fun. And then she’s like, ‘You gotta come to this basic class. The basic class, you know, the swingout!’ Everybody’s like, ‘The swingout!’ So I ended up going and my parents went, and some of their friends. Again, small town. People knew each other. And I had a good time but I was figure skating pretty seriously. I had that dream of pursuing the Olympics. Oksana Baiul was that time, Nancy Kerrigan, all that.”

Ryan: “Yeah. Had you been skating your whole life?”

Ramona: “No, I started when I was eight. So I was pretty good. But I worked hard, I had a Ukrainian coach, Sasha. He was strict.”

Ryan: “Wow.”

Ramona: “I appreciate that actually, now looking back I’m really grateful for the discipline. And I was doing some ballet and doing some modern and tap and jazz and… all that.”

Ryan: “So it appealed to you?”

Ramona: “Lindy hop?”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Ramona: “Yeah… Well, I wasn’t too sure because I was like, I don’t know. My parents are doing it, my friends’ parents are doing it. It’s not that cool. I didn’t want to admit that I had a good time. And then I think in the… there was a winter block of classes that Bill was teaching. And I ended up just signing up, with my parents. And we went, and then we got the bug.“

Ryan: “Yeah. You and your parents?”

Ramona: “Me and my parents. [laughs] We were crazy. I mean, Bill used to make these tapes. They were color-coded. He was selling them, but we would buy them. And play them non-stop in the car, at home…”

Ryan: “Audiotapes?”

Ramona: “Audiotapes.”

Ryan: “Like, audio cassettes.”

Ramona: “Mixes, yeah.”

Ryan: “Of swing songs?”

Ramona: “Yeah, all the hits, though. If you look back at those now it was ‘Shout, Sister Shout,’ ‘Lavender Coffin,’ ‘Rose Room,’ just all these great melodies. Slim and Slam, really good music actually. Which usually people start with not so great stuff.”

Ryan: “Not so great music. I think we’ve gotten past that now, but it’s not what I started dancing to.”

Ramona: “Yeah, I actually don’t think I owned a Cherry Poppin’ Daddies CD.“

Ryan: “Yeah, I did. I did.”

Ramona: “Just saying. But then Louis Prima was my man. And Maxine Sullivan. She’s still… mmm.”

Ryan: “Yeah?”

Ramona: “Yes.”

Ryan: “That… Maxine Sullivan, I think, defines that place in time, for me. ‘Massachusetts,’ every time I hear it, it’s still just like, ‘Oh, this puts me back in a church basement in Western New York.’ [laughs]”

Ramona: “[laughing] Yup.”

Ryan: “Does it do that for you? I mean, we don’t hear it very often anymore, but…”

Ramona: “Well, I like to play it. Yeah, for sure.”

Ryan: “Yeah, so you got the bug?”

Ramona: “I got the bug.”

Ryan: “And you were… thirteen?”

Ramona: “I was twelve.”

Ryan: “You were twelve. You got the bug.”

Ramona: “I got the bug.”

Ryan: “And then what does that mean? How does it translate to life? You stopped figure skating?”

Ramona: “Yeah, and I was having some growing pains in my knees. And it just got to be too much. So it was kind of this easy… It just seemed effortless, actually. The transition. It wasn’t a struggle. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, no. What should I do?’ It was like, ‘Well, this is what I’m doing. Of course. I love this.’”

Ryan: “Do you think having a figure skating background has influenced your dancing at all? Do you think it influenced your approach or the way you think about it?”

Ramona: “I don’t know, I haven’t thought of that. Maybe the length, the stretch, the expansiveness, the speed, the rush? Maybe there’s something about that that I experience or that I carry through. Certainly the strength, the leg strength.”

Ryan: “Yeah. It’s funny, there’ve been a few people that I’ve talked to that were young athletes. That translated, and they’re not athletics that I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s weird.’ But there’s figure skating, or diving, or gymnastics. I’m like, ‘Oh, those are all totally applicable skills that you’re learning as an eight year old that you can just translate.’ That I did not have as a twelve-year-old golfer.”

Ramona: “Yeah, right, yeah. Because there’s music involved. [laughs] Wait, that thing, music, yeah. I remember, there was always music on. Even when we were practicing, it wasn’t like a quiet rink. There would have been top 40, I mean they funneled the radio through, up at Cornell, at Lynah rink. Yeah, so music has always been a big part of my life, actually. From the beginning.”

Ryan: “So how long from when you first got the bug did you take classes before you started teaching classes? Because you are probably the youngest instructor that I’ve met so far. You were really young.”

Ramona: “Yeah. Yeah, I guess from the beginning I remember receiving a lot of attention. Obviously for the fact that I was young. So, so, young. And interested in this thing. But also attention for, I guess, talent and enthusiasm and energy and maybe something that we can’t always describe with words. It’s hard to put your finger on it. Bill, from early on maybe, pegged me as someone he would want to have in front of a class or someone that was a good example of what he wanted to teach. And I certainly got a lot of attention from any of my idols, people I looked up to. Ryan and Jenny, who were coming into town. Or Marten and Anita, who were old school Rhythm Hot Shots. And… oh god, we had everybody… Lennart and Katrine. So, yeah, I guess I felt a confidence that came from that interest. People were interested in me and excited about me and what I could do. Maybe the potential there. And that maybe gave me the confidence to stand in front of a class. Because, yeah, I might have taken that one series, and I kept going, but I do know that the summer… There was that Swing Kids class that Skye was in…”

Ryan: “He said you were his first teacher.”

Ramona: “Yeah. Exactly.”

Ryan: “[laughing] Which I find the most adorable thing.”

Ramona: “Well, I don’t know, what was I teaching? I was standing there… I’m sure I remember saying things, I wasn’t mute, but… I think it was great to begin as soon as possible and get comfortable with being in front of a class. I would be worried if I looked back at what I was saying and doing. But I did my best, considering.”

Ryan: “Do you feel that you had an aptitude for the dance? Did it come easily to you?”

Ramona: “Yeah, I do. And I remember Bill saying, ‘Hey, you know, you’re a teacher,’ or ‘As a teacher, if you’re going to pursue this, you gotta put yourself in the shoes of your students because this thing has come so easily that you’ve gotta be able to relate. And you want to be able to break this down.’ And that has stuck with me my whole life. So I must have had something where I just was getting it. And I needed to step back and understand what it was that I was doing, and not just do it.”

Ryan: “Had you done any dancing before that, outside of the figure skating thing?”

Ramona: “Yeah, I did some ballet and tap, modern dance.”

Ryan: “But not partner dancing?”

Ramona: “Oh, not partner dancing. No.”

Ryan: “No?”

Ramona: “Not really. I mean we used to go to Dances of Universal Peace, with my parents, and do like…”

Ryan: “You have to explain that for people, because most people aren’t going to know what that is.”

Ramona: “It was like the Sufi order… There’s a movement of Sufis in North America, and it was at Cornell, and we used to go. It was drawing from all the great spiritual traditions of the world. We would go, and I just enjoyed it because it was music and it was interacting with people and opening your heart. I mean, I had a good time. But maybe we did some movements in a circle… you were partnering but in obviously different ways.”

Ryan: “It wasn’t like even the twist? It was… I don’t know what… I’m having a hard time imagining what that looks like.”

Ramona: “There were songs and you would stand with a person and then maybe walk around or face them and circle. There was shape and form to the dances and the music, but there would be someone with a harmonium in the middle…”

Ryan: “[laughing] It sounds amazing.”

Ramona: “It is! And I’m so grateful that my parents exposed me to so many things.”

Ryan: “I’m laughing because that is so foreign to the experience that I had growing up. That’s amazing!”

Ramona: “[laughing] It is, actually. I would learn to be open, and just to be present with people, at a very young age. Or at least I had the opportunity to learn that because that was so fundamental to the movement, and to the community of this movement.”

Ryan: “Do you feel that that was something you learned then, or was something that was innate in you? Because that’s a quality that many people notice in you. Of being present and being open and connecting with people.”

Ramona: “I wonder that myself. I think it has to be innate, I really do.”

Ryan: “Do you have to try to do that? Or does it… Because for me, that does not come naturally. It’s a struggle for me to sit down and really just connect with someone. Or be open, or approachable, or whatever. That is not in my nature.”

Ramona: “I guess it’s in my nature, then. I know the difference between when I am present and when I’m not and I know the way that I want to be. I can’t always be there, but that’s what feels good and that is what comes easily. And it’s a bit of a mystery.”

Ryan: “You get by not having to do small talk because you jump right past small talk.”

Ramona: “[laughing] Okay, you’re right. I do…”

Ryan: “Whenever I talk to you or I see you talking to other people, it’s never just like, ‘Oh hey, how’s it going?’ You’re immediately like, ‘Hey, I am all in on this conversation.’”

Ramona: “I know, I want to apologize for that quality, but…”

Ryan: “It’s fantastic.”

Ramona: “People are like, ‘How are you?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, you want to know?’ Yeah, I want to get down to what’s really important. And for you and for me.”

Ryan: “Do you think people find that off-putting sometimes?”

Ramona: “Maybe.”

Ryan: “Do you think it makes people uncomfortable? Because I know for a lot of people, they just want to tell you, ‘I’m fine’ when you ask how.”

Ramona: “Yeah. I think they’re just maybe not ready for, or prepared, or mentally they’re on to something else. Maybe some exchanges are just short and sweet and we need to carry on. There’s other things to do. Yeah, I really like quality time. I want to sit down with you, even on the phone. I was never someone who was going to call you up all the time and chat. I want to sit down. Or I want to dance with you.”

Ryan: “Yeah. Do you have a hard time with some of the… it’s almost non-personal when you’re in a group class setting? Do you struggle with that, because you can’t connect to thirty people at one time in that same way?”

Ramona: “Very interesting. I am not afraid to look someone in the eye. Or when I’m talking to the class, giving a comment, giving feedback, giving instructions. I might make eye contact with one person, and speak to them. And then I might turn and I might speak to someone else. And I’m happy I might turn and face my partner that I’m teaching with and make sure they’re included in what I’m saying. So I do find a way. And again, I think that is innate. And it’s just part of how I present myself and how I want to engage with everybody. And then of course to come over and give individual feedback. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid to get up in someone’s face. [laughs]”

Ryan: “You’re so mean about it.”

Ramona: “Oh yeah. Well, I think I’m learning to be more… strict. You know, bringing discipline somehow into the classroom, but in a loving way. And that can be done, and it’s important. And holding people to a standard. And really giving them the best that they can get, which is not just being like, ‘Yeah, good job. Next!’ If it’s not a good enough job, let’s raise the bar. You need to raise the bar for yourself, not just me as your teacher. Or just give them something to think about, a little bit of a reality check.”

Ryan: “Did you have that early on as a student?”

Ramona: “[laughs] Well, going to ACS, the Alternative Community School, we had a lot of freedom. The boundaries were pretty far from the limit, the edges of our world. It was massive and we could really go in so many different directions. It’s not that we didn’t have discipline, but it was unconventional.”

Ryan: “What about in your dance classes?”

Ramona: “Well, I think I’ve always loved ballet because of the form and because of the structure and knowing what you’re doing and where you stand. You are at the bar. Your teacher’s over there.”

Ryan: “And it’s right or wrong.”

Ramona: “Yes.”

Ryan: “Fifth position is either fifth position or it’s not fifth position.”

Ramona: “Yeah, right.”

Ryan: “But in swing classes, that doesn’t really apply so much.”

Ramona: “Not so much, especially my look upon the dance.“

Ryan: “What’s your look upon the dance?”

Ramona: “Well, I feel the music. That’s why I feel Frankie with me all the time, in that sense of him following the music, loving the music, celebrating the music. Having that passion and bringing it back to the musicality. I’m kind of a vessel. I’m this thing that the spirit moves through. And the music moves through me. And I have learned ways that I can express myself by practice. I’ve worked hard in the studio. This is the ideal, that I work hard over here. And I separate out this time, this is practice time. And I learn a structure, I learn a rhythm, I learn a movement. And then I go and dance. And I make sure that when I’m dancing, that I’m not doing a step, I’m dancing the step. Or I’m dancing, I leave the step behind in a way. Or the step is in me, so I don’t need to worry about it. It’s there. So what is my look upon the dance? Rhythm. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.”

Ryan: “Yeah?”

Ramona: “That’s first and foremost. I think that through the rhythm we can find, we do find shape, we do find form. As opposed to approaching it in a different way of like, ‘I’m going to put my body in this position,’ I want to say, ‘I want to do this rhythm.’ And then the body has to adapt. It has to respond to speed, to rate of movement. If I’m moving fast, I’m going to be more toward the front of my foot. If I’m moving slow, I can use my heel, I have time. So, I don’t have a lot of right and wrongs…”

Ryan: “When you say ‘rhythm…’ A lot of people say ‘rhythm.’ I think that a lot of people don’t know what that means.”

Ramona: “Okay, good.”

Ryan: “What do you mean by ‘rhythm?’”

Ramona: “Good question. I mean you know where you are in time. You know where the one is, you know where the eight is. You understand the phrase, or if you’re counting it in fours. Actually, a good sense of rhythm is about the placement in time and in the meter and the context.”

Ryan: “So you don’t mean a rhythmic pattern?”

Ramona: “Both. If you’re going to do a rhythmic pattern, or you’re going to do a little shoop-bop de boop de bop dop be-do you gotta know that rhythm and then you gotta place it appropriately or in the right spot. And be aware of where you are. And I came across that recently with folks who just don’t count. You know that’s funny, because we think, ‘Yeah, man, I don’t need to count. I just scat.’ Or these old-timers, too, maybe they didn’t count. I would beg to differ that they could if they wanted to. And if you’re going to be a musician, if you’re going to be a tap dancer, if you’re going to be a lindy hopper, you should also understand this thing about time. And the structure that allows us to create harmony. Without that agreement, it would be chaos and it would be really unpleasant to listen to. So I’m a proponent of that. Please, learn to count music. Learn to know where you are. And then, leave it behind. Right? So there we are, we’ve returned to this idea. If you practice, you practice, you practice. You count, you work with a metronome, you go for something specific. And then you just let it go and dance.”

Ryan: “So you work with a metronome?”

Ramona: “Yeah, when I’m tap dancing.”

Ryan: “When you’re tapping?”

Ramona: “Mm-hmm.”

Ryan: “What about with your lindy hop?”

Ramona: “Ahh, not so much.”

Ryan: “I think one of the things that’s interesting… You were coming at it from a very high level of dance. And it makes a lot of sense to me for someone that’s won as many things as you have, and done as many amazing things as you have, to see that doing it with a metronome, where you spending hours and hours in the studio is a way to do that. Or a part of that puzzle. But most of these people that are taking classes aren’t going to have that kind of commitment.”

Ramona: “[sadly] I know.”

Ryan: “Or that goal.”

Ramona: “Or that time. It’s a luxury. I’m so, so fortunate to have the time. Still, at 31. When I was in New York studying modern dance for a year with the José Limón Institute. I just look back at those six days a week I was taking class. That’s what I had to do! Being in any program is like that. How wonderful. What a privilege, that’s what you do with your time. And then we all move on to the next stage in life, or something else. And there’s family or there’s our job. And we have to make choices what we do with our free time. And I understand a lot of folks are hobbyists, or it’s something they just want to enjoy. As teachers we stand there and we say, ‘You will enjoy this more if you put in just a little… just any little bit of extra practice. You will reap the benefits of that.’”

Ryan: “Is that hard for you?”

Ramona: “To say that to people?”

Ryan: “No, to know that people don’t have the same level of commitment? Not that it’s right or wrong, but it’s just different. I don’t have that commitment.”

Ramona: “Is it hard?”

Ryan: “Like when you’re in class, and you’re saying, ‘If you were to practice this a couple hours a week, you would get so much more enjoyment out of it.’ Knowing that ninety percent of the people in that class are not going to do that. Is that frustrating? Do you think about it? Or are you now going to do nothing but think about that? [laughing]”

Ramona: “[laughing] No, no.”

Ryan: “Sorry I just ruined teaching for you.”

Ramona: “I know, I’m listening to you like, ‘God!’ No, because I’m an optimist. I believe in people. I also believe that I can’t do the work for them and that I can only control and influence myself. So I stand there and I say it and I believe it and I try to teach what I feel in my heart. And then I let it go. What can I do? I can’t do the work for them. So hopefully, inspire them as a teacher. And hopefully you can see that, I think the way I’m speaking to you now is the picture of the way that I move. I don’t go out on the dance floor and have such a… I’m not thinking when I’m dancing, do you know what I’m saying?”

Ryan: “Mmm-hmm.”

Ramona: “And I leave that for the other time. I think about Skye, and his philosophy, and Skye and Frida… I just love that he has so much clarity about what he’s doing and what he’s going for. I guess somehow I can’t deny myself all of my experiences. So I stay open to these possibilities and ways of moving. Not that he’s rigid, but… You just watch him dance. You know what I’m saying?”

Ryan: “I watch him dance.”

Ramona: “You want to know about how people think? About their dancing? Watch them dance. That’s what it is. If I watch you dancing, and I see that it’s rigid and it’s set and the way you move is repetitive, or that you’re doing the same thing the same way every time, that tells me something about your thought process. It’s all there. We can’t hide. We do what we know. And that’s it. So, maybe my thinking and my speaking can be hard for people because it’s all over the place, but that’s how I work. And then when I dance, that stream of consciousness just activates, and I…”

Ryan: “But you’re not all over the place when you dance.”

Ramona: “No, because I practice things. [laughing] I’m so grateful for when we started out dancing, we were straight up trying to be the Rhythm Hot Shots, and thank goodness… And through Frankie…”

Ryan: “As the Moochers, you mean? You were…”

Ramona: “Yeah, we looked up to them…”

Ryan: “As the Moochers, you were trying to be the Rhythm Hot Shots?”

Ramona: “No, okay, no. But in the beginning when we started dancing in Ithaca, we really had these great role models that had this work ethic, that were training. You know, the Swedish school of training, training the dance. And of course, Frankie. But just be pulsing, for a long time.”

Ryan: “You had that drive?”

Ramona: “Yeah. Well, we had that training. We really did train these basic elements that you see missing in a lot of young dancers today. People get good really fast, and you watch them and something is… it’s the shell of the thing. The music isn’t there, in themselves. And it’s coming from the outside of creating these shapes, or… It’s very visual. And I want to see that you’re having an experience of yourself, in the present moment. So we got to practice clear steps. We learned the form, we learned the basics. And we got to repeat them a lot. And then I guess maybe through those basics we were inspired to innovate. I’m hesitant to use that word. With the Moochers, you know. We were just taking it. We were really open and willing, and…”

Ryan: “But you guys definitely innovated. I mean, you realize that?”

Ramona: “Yeah, yeah, I do.”

Ryan: “Okay. Did it feel like it at the time or was it just experiencing going where you wanted to go? I mean, you weren’t consciously thinking, ‘We need to innovate.’ Or were you?”

Ramona: “I don’t know. Looking back… It was a long time ago, Ryan.”

Ryan: “But when you were doing the ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ routine, was that a conscious decision to… It’s been almost fifteen years.”

Ramona: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “And people still know that routine.”

Ramona: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “And if they don’t, people tell them they should know it. But at the time, did you guys say, ‘We want to do something different’? Or did you just think, ‘This is what’s speaking to us right now’ as a group of teenagers?”

Ramona: “I think… You know when you were talking about DJing and how DJs would come in with an agenda?”

Ryan: “Uh huh.”

Ramona: “I think that this thing would not have been created if we were out to prove something or if it was egoic or from a place of, ‘I’mna teach these folks’ or ‘We’re gonna do something new.’ It was really about what we were interested in, our experiences. It was an amalgamation, or a culmination somehow of what we were living. So when I dance, now, I am dancing all the things that I have lived, or that’s what I hope, right? And at that time we were really influenced by, and experiencing, the shag dancers, Carolina shag. We looked up to that whole national shag dance team, and their formations, and their clarity. And of course, Kate, Kate Engle…”

Ryan: “And their flowy, flowy pants.”

Ramona: “[laughing] Totally! And I’m thinking about [unintelligible]. Great lines! International male.”

Ryan: “[laughing] Yeah.”

Ramona: “Oh, thank god. So good. Kate Engle, I’m going to just say, really really genius for choreography. And meticulous, and patient, and creating something so beautiful. And I do think we worked well together as a group. And we all kind of were able to still be individuals.“

Ryan: “How much do you chalk up to being from Ithaca as contributing to that? Because I don’t see many other communities that encourage creativity or the arts or anything else as much as that town does, and particularly your school. I don’t see your school existing in a lot of places in the world. Do you think some of it just was micro-cultural, in that that’s where you guys came from, and all of those parents and all of those people were… Like you said, you’re bringing us to do these movement classes at Cornell. These movement group… movement things. I did not have that in my hometown.”

Ramona: “Spirituality in movement?”

Ryan: “Yeah, I did not have either of those things in my hometown.”

Ramona: “Yeah… The answer is yes. That had a huge impact on who we are today. I know for a fact there are other versions of these kind of micro-cultures around the world. And the more I travel, the more I see that. I see that there are certain… People find each other. And if you’re like-minded people, they come together and want to create something that is their truth, that is true to them and what they need to do. I guess Ithaca is unique, and thank you for helping me to see that, how special as a city, as a community, with all its subgroups…“

Ryan: “It’s a weird town, man. [laughing]”

Ramona: “It’s totally a weird town. You’re right. And for me it’s so normal!”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Ramona: “You see, this is the interesting thing, is I’m like, ‘Well, yeah, that’s just my life.’ You get used to it. I guess I could search the world over, and I would never find… It’s something about its size… I’m living in Melbourne, Australia, and there are so many people who are searching beyond, and asking questions and being critical and really creating their own reality, for sure. But it’s a big place. And I think the geography of the city and the fact that it was so small and we were all there. I mean, you were right there. That really helped build these kinds of bonds, I guess.”

Ryan: “What did you do after high school? Did you stay in Ithaca?”

Ramona: “No, through high school I was dancing with the Vanaver Caravan, which will always be one of the most important and influential times in my life, when I was able to dance with the company. So I moved from Ithaca to Rosendale, and I lived with Bill and Livia Vanaver, the directors of the dance and music company. And through them I was exposed to so much. Again, not so much of a tunnel vision. I never really followed that path of going to go totally geeking out on this one thing. I did the opposite and said, ‘I want to have as many experiences as I can, and I want to learn this dance from this culture or I want to go see these films.’ It was the kind of art in general and I really saw the whole world as my college, my teacher, my opportunities to learn. So, I danced with them. We did a show, a tribute to Woody Guthrie in dance and music.”

Ryan: “The famous dancer, Woody Guthrie? [laughing]”

Ramona: “The famous folk song writer. He wrote ‘This Land is Your Land.’”

Ryan: “Yes he did.”

Ramona: “And a lot of other songs. He was an activist. He would read an article in the newspaper and then it was his process, I guess, to write about it, and to put it into words and then sing for people. He was singing for migrant workers and singing for anybody that would listen and really using his voice and his words to connect. I really love him. So I did that, I was working with that company. And I did clogging with them, and modern dance, and so much exposure.”

Ryan: “So was it clear to you you wanted to be a dancer? That was your calling?”

Ramona: “Yeah. And I guess I’m lucky that I knew that. Actually some friends and people would come up to me in high school like, ‘You’re so lucky, you know what you want to do!’”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Ramona: “They were so like, ‘I don’t know, I guess I’ll go to a liberal arts, I’ll just go to college.’ And that’s fine.”

Ryan: “I still don’t know.”

Ramona: “[laughs] Yeah, fair enough. I still know that I want to dance. So that drive, that desire, clarity is there, a hundred percent.”

Ryan: “How long were you with that troupe?”

Ramona: “I danced with them for almost eight years.”

Ryan: “You lived in Rosendale for eight years?”

Ramona: “Oh no, I lived in Rosendale for a year. Then I moved down to New York. It was kind of like a stepping stone, which worked out really well. Because when I lived there, I could take the bus to the city. And then I did the program at the Limón Institute. And then I stayed on and I just kept taking classes. Again, looking back, I was so fortunate.”

Ryan: “How long were you here in New York City?”

Ramona: “Six years, at least?”

Ryan: “Did you like living in New York?”

Ramona: “I did. I do. When I’m here, I feel like it’s a kind of home. Yeah, I love New York. I love the energy. I love the pursuit, and the general craziness. I kind of embrace that.“

Ryan: “Yeah. Were you teaching during that time? Lindy hop? Or were you on hiatus?”

Ramona: “No, I taught at Hop Swing and a Jump, for Yuval and Natalie, when they were down on Crosby Street. And that was a fun time, there was a lot of energy, lots of people coming through the studio.”

Ryan: “Were you traveling to teach?”

Ramona: “No, I didn’t start traveling to teach… I guess I did a few gigs here and there. I did a few with Skye, with Andy. And then I didn’t teach again until 2007. Was it with Peter? Maybe it was 2006. But he called me. You guys may have heard this story. Right after ballet class, I get this message on my phone. He was like, ‘Hey, Mona. I need a partner for some gigs. Give me a call back if you’re interested.’ And I had just put it out to the universe that I want to teach again, I’m ready. And so it was all just right.”

Ryan: “So was Peter your first traveling dance partner?”

Ramona: “Yeah, where we kind of tried to make it a thing…”

Ryan: “Make it like a team.”

Ramona: “Yeah, yeah sure. Skye and I did gigs, but that was 2002, 2003. Because he was working with Sarah Spence.”

Ryan: “Yeah. I miss Sarah.”

Ramona: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “Was that around the time that you guys were doing Silver Shadows, too?”

Ramona: “Yeah, it must have been. Yeah, because Caitlin did the Savoy 80th, was it? At the Alhambra?”

Ryan: “Yup, that was right before.”

Ramona: “That’s right. I remember seeing Frida there, and I remember watching them perform. Then it was like, when I started working with Peter, I was in the group.”

Ryan: “Yeah. I mean, you had known Frankie for so long by that point. When you guys… I talked about this with every single one of you Silver Shadows, but I don’t care. I mean, that performance, for me, at Frankie 95, was a huge thing, just emotionally… Was it hard for you?”

Ramona: “[pause] Yeah. I remember getting out there, and feeling like… It was like a howl, like my whole body was crying, moaning, howling, howling. The experience was so emotional while I was dancing. Before and after, of course, but when I got out there it was… I just remember it being really on an edge. On an edge, but an edge of joy and sadness at the same time. But also just crying a cry, a loud loud cry that lasted three minutes. If that makes sense.”

Ryan: “You said that you don’t think when you’re dancing. Were you thinking then when you were dancing?”

Ramona: “I must have been. It depends on how… See when I’m performing a routine… No, I don’t. I think right before I go out. I’m like, ‘I don’t remember the steps.’ Like with Remy, I’m like ‘Remy, I don’t remember that step. What is that step?’ And he’s like, ‘Relax.’ And then you go out, you literally think you’ve forgotten everything. And then you go out, and the music comes on, and you dance! It is the miracle, every single… for me, every time. I’m like, ‘How did I even do that?’ right? What was I thinking during that performance? I remember with the Shadows, when I started, I had to do some adjustment into lindy hop movement again, somehow. There was some thinking involved and I even remember performing at ILHC and stuffing something up and really being let down.”

Ryan: “Was that because you were doing a lot of non-swing dancing at that point?”

Ramona: “Maybe? Yeah, probably. I was speaking other languages and I was feeling rusty, quote unquote. Yeah, Frankie 95… I enjoyed it. I did, though. I remember being out there. The circles, the power of the circle. The swing… The music. I mean, ‘Jumpin’ at the Woodside’?”

Ryan: “‘Shiny Stockings.’”

Ramona: “‘Shiny Stockings.’ It was so great.”

Ryan: “What’s it like putting together a piece, for you? You’ve done it on your own and with partners and with teams. Is there a common thing, even just between the groups that you’ve been dancing with? Is there a common thing, is there a common approach? Is it different every time?”

Ramona: “Well… It’s different every time. It’s different on the part, based on who I’m working with. Whether it’s a group, whether it’s an individual, whether it’s myself. Putting together a piece is just as much about the experience I’m having of the process as it is about the product. Todd and I, we just enjoy each other’s company. We make each other laugh. We just have a ball. It’s so much more than just this choreography we’re creating.”

Ryan: “Did you have a strong friendship before you guys started dancing together, you and Todd?”

Ramona: “I mean, within the group, I would say since I was working with Peter more, I spent more time with him. No, and he was also from the west coast… Uh oh dun dun dunnnn. You know, we didn’t grow up… It was that west coast – east coast thing a little bit.”

Ryan: “Oh, it’s San Francisco though, so it’s not like he was from L.A.…”

Ramona: “That’s true, that’s true. Yeah, I remember when I think I met Todd at NADC for the first time. But yeah, now he’s so dear to me.”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Ramona: “He’s so, so dear.”

Ryan: “What was the first routine that you guys did together on your own?”

Ramona: “We did the elephant routine.”

Ryan: “That one?”

Ramona: “The purple routine.”

Ryan: “That was the first routine you did together?”

Ramona: “Yeah. It’s like that first album with a band, right?”

Ryan: “I wanted to ask… And you’ve been trying to live up to it ever since?”

Ramona: “[laughs] Well, no, see, we just could keep going down in tempo. We’re just like, well, each time it’s getting slower and slower.”

Ryan: “Talk me through putting that routine together. What is that like? That was ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm,’ right?”

Ramona: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “Yeah. You picked the song first?”

Ramona: “Yeah, we pick the song, we narrow it down. We spend a lot of time listening to music. And trying to be describing, pros and cons. One that’s got this part, or this too much banjo, or we don’t like that. We don’t like words, because words are giving people something to think about or attach to.”

Ryan: “Some people want to just do literal translation of the lyrics.”

Ramona: “Yeah, right. But not me. [laughs]”

Ryan: “[laughs]”

Ramona: “Not I. No, no. I don’t want it to be that easy. And I want it to be more… I want the viewer, the audience, to have more freedom in how they interpret it, in their interpretation.”

Ryan: “So what was it about ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’ that made you…? Because that’s a greatest hit.”

Ramona: “That’s right. We would play it and just go… buck-wild. Toes tappin’, head banging, I mean it’s just right, the energy, that recording.”

Ryan: “That song is rockin’ in rhythm. Like it is the most literal title in the history of music, I think.”

Ramona: “It is disgustingly good. It is so good. So, it was like we kept trying to listen to other things, give someone else a chance. And then we’re like, ‘Nope, nope.’”

Ryan: “Did you think, ‘This is too obvious’? Because everyone knows the song?”

Ramona: “Yeah, I guess a classic. But we didn’t care. No, we’re not contrarians, but we just have always been able to say, ‘We’re doing this for us.’”

Ryan: “This is the right song.”

Ramona: “And if we love it, we love it. That’s it.”

Ryan: “So, ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’ seemed the obvious choice to you? And you didn’t shoot it down for being too obvious?”

Ramona: “No, no. It was just too good. And then we listened to it a lot and then we danced to it. We just put the music on and danced.”

Ryan: “Like social dance?”

Ramona: “Yeah, like social dance. Or we listen to it, and I start doing some jazz and Todd’s like, ‘Oh my god, I like that. What’d you do? Do that again!’ Or I find something, ‘I like this!’ Or we kind of collect ideas but we don’t organize them… We create a lot of videos and we keep a log of what we’re doing that way. But I wouldn’t say it’s that organized.”

Ryan: “So it seems pretty organic.”

Ramona: “Yeah. Yeah, exactly. If Todd’s like, ‘What if we do this?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ Or he’ll go, ‘What if we do this?’ And I’m like, ‘Eh, I’m not sure.’ And then he does it again and I’m like, ‘Okay.’ He has a way of winning me over. For sure. [laughs] And the elephant, or whatever. He’s like, ‘Is this too weird?’ ‘Too weird for me?’ I mean, I’m making a face, but…”

Ryan: “[laughs]”

Ramona: “There you go again. My idea of what’s possible in lindy hop is pretty broad and pretty wide. As long as you’re honoring the music. Far too often… Sometimes you see choreography where the performance and the choreography itself is overstepping or overshadowing the music, can you understand? So on one side of things you can have the performer that’s trying to make it, it’s really about them. They’re not working with the music, they’re not in harmony. They’re taking over. And the other side is a performance that obviously can’t hang. And even maybe the choreography is lacking, it’s not worthy of the music. And then somewhere in the middle you have the content and the performance that is elevating the music and it is celebrating the music but doesn’t detract from it. Because for me the music is so important. The music is the beginning.”

Ryan: “You want to enhance the song.”

Ramona: “I want to enhance the song. I don’t want to fight it or to make it tricky or complicated. The song is enough. The song tells me what to do. And if I’m honoring the music and I do a little something weird, or just a weird look, or anything… As long as it’s honoring the music, that’s okay with me. That’s lindy… that’s the dance.”

Ryan: “That’s the dance, to you?”

Ramona: “That’s the dance. So, again, I know my answer to that other question about what my philosophy is, but… yeah. Music, music. Is the boss.”

Ryan: “Did you guys know that was going to be a hit?”

Ramona: “No. I think I remember being surprised when the whole room jumped up and it wasn’t even like a tentative standing ovation. It was like, ‘Raaaaaahhh…!’”

Ryan: “You guys had the crowd roaring from the first twenty seconds of that song. Did you feel that when you were doing it? Or were you kind of in your own thing?”

Ramona: “I feel the crowd.”

Ryan: “Yeah?”

Ramona: “Yeah! Because, they’re fifty percent, if not… They’re a big component of the experience. My experience. The dance and the steps, they come to life. There’s such a difference between doing it in the studio with you and your partner and then… It’s almost like, who knows? We’ll see what happens when we get in front of this crowd. ILHC, for me, is the best audience in the world. Because they know what they’re looking at and… Ah, it’s just a privilege to be there. And it felt so joyful. When they’re responding, they’re dancing with you.”

Ryan: “That’s funny you saying that it was joyful, because you were dancing with a ton of joy. If someone asked me to describe that routine in one word, that’s probably what I would have used. Did that one feel particularly joyous to you? Or was it just you have that joy all the time and that let you put it forward?”

Ramona: “Well, it’s the music. The music brings it out of me. Or the music’s joyful. Again, I always go, ‘Oh, no. What are we going to do?’ In the Strictly, I’m standing there going, ‘What are we going to do?’ And then, the music’s playing and we go and we dance! The music supports me and picks me up and I feel like it’s my guide. So, I think that song in particular has got so much energy. As long as I can do the music right, and do right by my partner, do right by the music, do right by anybody that happens to be watching me. Then I think I’ve succeeded. But I have a lot of joy. Maybe that’s why lindy hop was such a… I just felt like tuning forks… [makes high-pitched sound] On the same note, on the same page…”

Ryan: “You and the dance?”

Ramona: “Me and the dance, me and the music, yeah. It really was an outlet for that expression.”

Ryan: “Did you worry about following that up, the next year? Because you guys destroyed with that routine.”

Ramona: “Yeah, sure. I’m human. My ego likes to have lots of words. The little voice is always going off. And sure, I was like, ‘Well how do we follow that?’ But it was nice to get a feedback or be rewarded by the response. For our natural silliness, and that idea of play. I think play is a huge part of jazz and the way that we communicate and interact in the form. And in jazz dance you can see in the steps, in our basics. That back and forth. So that playfulness… We’re like, ‘Cool, so we’re going to keep up with some animals or…?’ We also were like, ‘Well we don’t want to give the people what they expect.’ [laughs] We want to not be too direct. We don’t want to be directed too much, we just want to see what comes out.”

Ryan: “Do you think that there isn’t enough dancing with joy? Do you think that’s not a priority for people when they’re competing?”

Ramona: “Well, competition is hard because it’s such a different environment, experience, than just going to a social dance. When you’re competing, there’s something at stake or we’re like, ‘We could win!’ I’m not going to lie, part of me wants to win. I’m aware of it and I’m kind of wary of it, like, ‘Oooh, really? Okay, I guess. There you are. You want to win.’ Accept it and so when you enter, it gets hard not to want to win, because you’re competing.”

Ryan: “But what about, I’m thinking more of like a playfulness to the dance? I think you and Todd and, this year, you and Remy, bring more of that than I think I see for most other people competing today, or performing today. Do you think that you’re unusual in that regard? You see all the other routines that are going on.”

Ramona: “Yeah. I think not just on the competition floor but on the dance floor, people are not always brave or they don’t… It’s like somehow they’re not allowing themselves to… I don’t know. I would like to see more joy. I would like to see people returning to the simplicity of enjoying music with another person. Again, Frankie and what he was really ultimately teaching us, through his steps. And that, speaking of people being afraid… fear, and judgement, and ego, when we make it about them… You can see it. If you watch somebody and they’re making it all about them. You can tell. The audience knows. That’s why, their response… They know, they know. They’re not fooled. Hopefully. Maybe some people are.”

Ryan: “Yeah. I think for a long time there were those buzzwords… ‘Raw’ was the buzzword and it seemed like an angry kind of thing to me. Did you have that…? You were around when that was going on. Did you see that going on? Do you think this is a course correction a little bit from that?”

Ramona: “I think…”

Ryan: “Did you see that the same way I did?”

Ramona: “I did… I was in that bog for like a minute. I did the Danvers one, not the ALHC one. I think there’s something about… There’s a maturity in simplicity. We were young. It’s that kind of rage or rawness is a necessary part of development or growing up, so I think that’s great. That needed to happen, and it’s part of our history but now when someone can just stand there and do something simple and enjoy it and that’s enough. I think maybe that’s just the result of the scene growing up, maybe some of us growing up.”

Ryan: “Is that what you got from Frankie? Is that what you think Frankie gave to this community?”

Ramona: “Yeah. I think it’s partly my nature. But he paved the way. He was this example, like giving us permission, almost. It’s okay to be simple and to just enjoy yourself. I don’t know, pleasure. There was a lot of pleasure and laughter. Yeah, I would say yes to that.”

Ryan: “What was your relationship like with him?”

Ramona: “Well, I was really young and he was really old, older. I mean, when you’re young everyone else is really old. Thirty’s really old. Do you know what I’m saying?”

Ryan: “Well he was this old guy.”

Ramona: “So there was that. I was definitely aware and, not nervous, but when you’re around someone you look up to and respect… I was also young and not as aware. I was doing it and going for things and being there and maybe not taking advantage of my time and asking him questions that I would ask now. I wish I had gone out to his apartment more, called him up more and been like, ‘Hey.’ More proactive in trying to know him. But he would send me Christmas cards and I’d call him on some holidays. I remember calling him about looking for dance programs in New York and I did feel like he was available to me as a resource and as a support and kind of a guide, for sure. He’s always been my guide and always will be. I always felt like he was there and of course my mom would say to me, ‘He’s not going to be around forever.’ People would say… But I was young. I wish I was who I am now back then. I was so focused, and distracted. Distracted by trying to figure out who the heck I was and how to be in the world. I’m so grateful for the time that I did spend. That’s a treasure.”

Ryan: “Do you consciously think about the legacy that he left? Do you take that into your day-to-day, your approach of teaching or traveling or whatever? Or is it higher-level than that?”

Ramona: “I think about the way he used fun and humor in the class. To get people… put them at ease. There are certain things where I feel like he had this real brilliance in simplicity. Simple things done well. Having repetition. I look at the way he structured his class. I think he really learned how to teach, too. In the beginning he wasn’t a teacher. And he learned and really was able to come up with his way. And I do look at the way he structured his class and the way he warmed people up and the way he… You just do it. And through the doing and the repetition you learn it instead of thinking about it or getting too technical, so to speak. But again, the enjoyment, the pleasure of holding someone’s hand. Bowing to the queen. He had his little things that he would say, and jokes. And working with Chazz is so great, because it reminds me. When I teach with Chazz at Herräng. I’ve done it two years in a row. How powerful it is to just do something over and over and over and over. And there’s that practice again. [laughs]”

Ryan: “How did you start teaching with Chazz?”

Ramona: “They asked me. Well, he came out to Melbourne. We had a celebration for Frankie’s birthday that we called the Shiny Stockings Ball and he came out and I did a class with him there as well. A couple classes. And then Herräng asked me to assist him. I’m like, ‘Yes! Yes, please.’ And they asked me again, ‘Do you want to?’ and I’m like, ‘Of course. Sign me up.’”

Ryan: “What’s that like?”

Ramona: “It’s awesome because I kind of shut the hell up. I really feel like it’s so great to be humble, be in a different place… I respect him. He’s the master. So it’s really nice to almost lead by being. I feel like, again, Frankie taught me so much just by who he was, and being around him. And it wasn’t like we sat down and I’m like, ‘So…’ It was just being there. And I feel like I show the students my respect through my behavior and my attitude in class. I’m also helpful and I do a lot of demonstrating. But I feel like he’s my teacher too. It’s really neat. It’s good. Not to feel small, in that way, but just to feel like… I bow, I bow down. That’s a nice feeling.”

Ryan: “Yeah. Do you do a lot of prep with him?”

Ramona: “Yeah? He would show me some steps. He’s great, because also these old-timers have really taught me about punctuality and allowing enough time to do what you need to do. It was so great. I was so proud of myself, getting there early and meeting Chazz and going through our material. And feeling good about that. That it wasn’t rushed and it was professional and good work. Taken seriously. Serious fun. And we did a little lindy routine that he taught to his students for their end-of-year performance. So he just taught me the routine. I think it’s good that I have been trained to pick things up quickly. That’s a useful skill. So he can show me his step, and I’d be like, ‘Okay, cool.’ I might need to do it a couple times and he’ll be like, ‘No, that’s not it. Do it again.’ Like, ’Sweet.’ I just love that.”

Ryan: “You love not getting it right?”

Ramona: “I love that, again, there’s someone who’s bossing me… saying, ‘Yeah, do it again.’ That discipline, again. Yeah, I like that. I want to get it right.”

Ryan: “How is it different teaching with Chazz than it is with Todd, or Remy, or whoever else you might be teaching with? Is it different?”

Ramona: “Yeah. He’s a man of few words. When he’s teaching, he’s not rambling on. He says what needs to be said. And he’s strict and firm, but it yields results. The students focus. They want to grab onto everything. And there’s a lot of demonstrating, too. And that has affected my teaching. I’m so grateful. This thing of like, I will show the step and you will focus and you will take what you… I’m going to do it. And you better step it up. I’m not going to walk you through it, take your hand… I think that’s doing people a disservice, actually, when we over-explain. When I was in India and I was learning some Rajasthani folk dancing, which is from these gypsies, which is one of the roots of flamenco… Anyway, we took a class with these masters, and they hardly said a word. Aside from the fact that there was a language barrier, but we would just repeat steps. And I was blown away of how important that is for me as a learner to have to engage and step up and take what I need. And either you get on the train or you don’t. There’s no one there to be like, ‘Okay, wait a minute.’ You just do it. I think that’s a little bit old school and I love that. And tap class, same thing. You go to tap class, the teacher shows you the step, and you try to do the step. And you keep trying. And of course, if anybody has questions you can ask questions. But I like that discipline, I like that clarity of how it’s going to go. And if you can’t do it, he goes, ‘Let me see you do it.’ And you do it in front of the class. And I like that it doesn’t give you time to think, ‘Oh no, is this going to be scary? What’s this going to be like? I’m in front of everybody.’ You just do it. It’s just more matter of fact. It’s not about judgement, it’s just, ‘Here’s the step. You’re going to get the step. Everybody’s going to get the step.’ I like that too, when Chazz is teaching. He’s getting everybody on board.”

Ryan: “I do not like getting called out. [laughing] At some point. Because I’m like, ‘Listen. Let’s both recognize than I’m not going to get it. We’ll move on.’”

Ramona: “[laughing] Yeah.”

Ryan: “There’s no need to make sure everyone knows that I’m not going to get it. I know I’m not going to get it. You know I’m not going to get it.”

Ramona: “Awww.”

Ryan: “No, I’m not a fan. [laughs]”

Ramona: “Yeah, I think everybody should take a Chazz class if you get a chance. It’s so informative and, again, it’s more of like what he does than what he says. He has great feedback and he can explain things. Sure, you can get what you need out of the class if you need it. Like if you need something specific. But it’s that experience. It’s from the horse’s mouth. It’s old school. And I mean that in a really good way.”

Ryan: “Do you learn a lot of other dances, still?”

Ramona: “Yeah, tap is my thing. If I’m going to put some time toward something, it’s going to be tap dance. And I know how to practice on my own now.”

Ryan: “How long have you been doing tap?”

Ramona: “More seriously? For like five years. But I would take a class here and there and I was doing clogging and percussive dance with the Vanavers and that was like I was wearing tap shoes. And I could make rhythm and interpret music and be melodic. But to work on technique and go to class and feel horrible and really have to be new again. That’s been great. But I go to ballet class. I still love modern, contemporary dance. It’s such an adjustment, it’s like another world. It’s really fun to be there because it gives me perspective. It’s kind of a breather. but I love the movement.”

Ryan: “Do you think it influences your lindy hop?”

Ramona: “Sure, absolutely. I think everything that I do has an influence on myself. And African dance, when I can. That, if I have more time. More time, I would put that up there in the priority… higher on the list.”

Ryan: “What is it about African dance that appeals to you?”

Ramona: “The drums, the rhythm, the energy. The energy that I feel when I’m in class with the live drums and doing the steps is so much the energy I feel when I’m swinging out fast. And I can really feel that connection.”

Ryan: “What do you think that brings back to your swing dancing? Does it? Is there something specific, or is it more of an experiential thing?”

Ramona: “I feel more rhythmical. If I practice a step a lot. [laughs] Then I might even do it in some way, or find a way to put it in as a variation. But I have to have practiced it. So often I go to class, and I’m like, ‘Man, this is so cool.’ And I do it immediately after, but then three days later I’m like, ‘What was it?’ But if I practice it enough then it’s a little bit more mine. It’s mine forever. Or at least, it’s easier to jog my physical memory. Yeah, I love it. I feel more grounded and I feel really physically present.”

Ryan: “This year at ILHC you danced with Todd again, but you also danced with Remy. I think the dance with Remy is the one that struck the chord with the audience this year. You guys got People’s Choice on the live stream.”

Ramona: “That was so cool! That was the best. We really have all the awards. That one, we’re really happy about that one. That feels good.”

Ryan: “Is it hard, going from one partner to a different partner? What drives you to maybe dance with a different partner? In a choreographed routine.”

Ramona: “Well, it’s only hard in my mind. And I could say that about life. At first I’m like, ‘I can’t do two routines.’ It was all in my head. All this preconception of how it would be and how hard it would be. And then I ended up doing three routines because I did that Pro-Am with Mertcan and that was so much fun. I am so grateful that I have two partners like that that bring different things out of me. I’m so glad I can stretch and be moving in such different ways and share that with people. Because I got out there and I’m like, ‘Here I am moving with this vibe.’ And that song, we just love. ‘All the Things You Are,’ Dizzy Gillespie. We love it. [laughs] Maybe you guys never heard it, but that was our jam. That’s what we had narrowed it down to. And then with Remy, we knew we had wanted to make a routine because we had done that one for Taipei. We made that in two hours. And we were still pretty happy with it. The Naomi song, ‘I Know How to Do It.’ So we’re like, ‘What could we do in more than two hours? This would be great.’ We just knew we wanted to do a routine for ILHC the following year. And then since Todd and I have been making one every year, we were like, ‘Let’s make another.’ So as soon as I got past the mental block, it’s all systems go.”

Ryan: “What does dancing with each of those bring out in you? Each of those guys? That’s different?”

Ramona: “Remy is so energetic. He is a performer. He loves the spotlight like I do. He loves the attention, he comes to life, he responds. He likes being out there. Todd has said that, performing, he could take it or leave it. Which is interesting. And that’s so different from where I’m standing and coming from. Which is great. He does get out there. I’m so glad he’s sharing that with us. They move differently, but they prioritize very much the same thing, which is being true and being with your partner. So I know that they move so differently and the way it comes out is so different, but actually the philosophy behind the dance is very much on the same page. Of naturalness in the movement in the body, the importance of your partner being present, and that those things being ingredients for a good dance… And then if your partner’s not with you, not present, and they’re somewhere else thinking about whatever they’re thinking about, it’s just not going to go so well. So that’s why teaching with them as well was an adjustment, for sure. But at least there’s this commonality that we all share. Watch the videos, you can see. Todd’s influence is… He has a martial arts background, a little bit.”

Ryan: “Hmm, I didn’t know that.”

Ramona: “And he’s obviously done a lot of Carolina shag lately, and some west coast swing. His musical taste is different from Remy. That’s going to, obviously, dictate a lot of what we do.”

Ryan: “What is it about being in the spotlight that you love?”

Ramona: “Well, this is interesting, because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. My desire for attention, and I think it’s in all of us. But maybe more, that I want to be special. Which is hard to say, because it’s kind of something I have to admit or look at in myself. That I do like to do something in front of an audience. But for me it’s about an exchange. You know, love, giving love, getting love. It’s cyclical. You earn whatever you get from the audience. They’re not going to just give it out for free. You’ve gotta do something. But what is it about the spotlight? I feel like I become something more. Again, I can’t say what is going to happen. It’s a risk and it’s terrifying.”

Ryan: “Still?”

Ramona: “Sure, yeah. I totally get nervous. And I get worried if I don’t get nervous. It’s just a way to communicate with people and a way to challenge myself.”

Ryan: “Do you really feel that it’s a need to be in the spotlight? Because you don’t seem to me like a person that’s an attention whore. It doesn’t seem to me that you’re always… There are plenty of people that I’m in a room full of, even alpha people, and then there are people that need to be the center of attention. But I don’t think you put out that vibe. Do you feel that? In a room full of people, do you have that tendency?”

Ramona: “No, I guess not. [sighs] No. I guess I’m doing a lot of soul searching lately because of something that’s come to light. And I was just chatting with my mom today about it. About this thing about me needing attention or needing to be special. Because it was partly that need… the attention I was getting as a young person in the scene really turned into something ugly. And as hopefully all of you know, the actions and a whole other side of one of our gods, lindy hop gods… And as you can see there’s a problem with that. That we’ve put him up on this pedestal. Steven Mitchell, as you all know, has absolutely done atrocious things and sexually abused and raped a lot of young, and of all ages, women, that have been really violated. And I would like to say now that I am included in that list. Unfortunately my story begins pretty young. It’s hard, the dates are still foggy. I need to employ a team of people to help me figure this out. I was about fifteen. I was definitely maybe fourteen or fifteen when he set up an email address for me, invited me to his hotel room on a Sunday night after the workshops. And that in itself is like, flags go off. That’s not cool. My parents let me go, and that’s fine. I don’t blame them at all. But that was the beginning. I remember feeling uncomfortable with that. Just that alone, being in a room alone with him. And then him setting up this email. Obviously it was to build this thing and get what he wanted and have control and manipulate. [sighs] That was the beginning. And then it turned into something that I was led to believe that he had my best interest in mind and that he was a mentor. That this is kind of what I had to do, or the price that I had to pay, somehow… I mean that sounds horrible, but I definitely was aware of the benefit or the attention I was getting, the exposure. I guess there had to be something good in it that I saw, but what ended up happening was… And this is still hard for me to say. He definitely raped me. It turned into something that happened for a few years and is still like a bad dream. And it’s something that I just recently, over the past, say, since January, I’m learning and finding a way to see the truth, face the truth. Like the truth will set you free but I’m suffering. In that process… It’s not easy. The freedom comes along as you go. So this is part of what I need to do now. And I need to speak. Speak out, tell my story. Talk to people, keep people talking. And that attention that I got, which any young person… I can’t blame myself for…”

Ryan: “He went out of his way to make you feel special?”

Ramona: “Yeah, for sure. He seemed to be really interested in my life and where I would go. But now it just all seems like a sham. And maybe he was, because he was a mentor to quite a few of us. He really did, he got in our heads. And I want to say that because it was very psychological. It had to be, if I was going to be protecting this secret. I really thought I’d take this to my grave. I really did. I never in a million years would have imagined I’d be saying this. To you or to anybody. That in itself is so powerful. That the impossible becomes possible somehow. How is it? How can you reconcile that? Really. It’s amazing. That’s amazing. That, to me, somehow, is a positive. That things change, things will always be changing. I’m so grateful that Sarah paved the way.”

Ryan: “You had a common experience with her?”

Ramona: “Absolutely. And it’s terrifying. When I was reading, I was shaking because I’m like, ‘This is exactly what he said. This was the M.O.’ I am hesitant to even try to recover the emails, because we didn’t have internet at my house. I had to go to the library after school. [sighs] And chat with him on AOL. We’d do emails. I guess I could look back. I don’t know if you can do those kind of things. I’m sure someone knows how to go back. I haven’t used my Hotmail account in a really long time. But that is terrifying for me too. And I don’t know if I will ever do that, and that’s okay. Because that would be… But that will also give me some dates and put some timeline on the thing.”

Ryan: “So, did he set up this Hotmail account for you with the explicit… Like he wanted this to be a secret thing from people and he wanted to have inappropriate conversations with you? Is that what happened?”

Ramona: “Totally. I’m just going to say yeah, obviously. His track record, based on Sarah and everybody else. It’s not normal. His behavior is not normal. To be interacting… Maybe you send a few emails back and forth about logistics or just a little bit of encouragement or say, ‘Nice dancing this weekend.’ He definitely had that intent. And then the more it continued, the more I was invested in preserving this secret and defending it. Defending it to myself, like this was okay somehow. Slowly, slowly, I can start to rewrite my own history and see things in a different way. And I’m standing here now and I’m looking at it and it’s not something I’ll ever be done with. You know, we’re never really done with ourselves. And that’s the damage, that we’re all having to… We don’t get to just wake up one morning and forget it. And it’s not something we get cured of and we’re like, ‘Oh I’m done with that.’ It’s part of the cycle of my life and it will be part of how I grow. Hopefully moving forward. [sighs]”

Ryan: “Do you want to talk about what physically happened?”

Ramona: “Yes, because it’s actually helping me to know that it happened, see that it is real, it’s not just this bad thing that I’ve tried to bury. Under loads and loads of my life. I lost my virginity. I was so tiny. I was a girl.”

Ryan: “How old were you?”

Ramona: “I’m not sure now. Like I said, I think I was fifteen or sixteen.”

Ryan: “You were a child.”

Ramona: “I was a child. For sure. It was like shock. Because it wasn’t violent so much because I couldn’t… I didn’t fight back. So he didn’t have to be… It’s not like he had to hold me down… I was so terrified and probably at the same time so like, you don’t even know what’s happening almost. Until after. And the physical pain. So it’s not the kind of thing you hear about in the movies. So often this person is close to the family. And that’s what’s so disturbing for all of us because we’re like, ‘Oh, well it makes us question everything.’ And it’s not so black and white. Did I like the attention? Yes. And do I have to meet that girl that liked the attention that he was giving me and sit with it and meet her and accept her? Yes. [sighs] It’s complicated. It’s simple, because what he did was…”

Ryan: “It’s not so complicated.”

Ramona: “It’s not so complicated. But I think I can learn a lot, actually, if I go back. I can learn about myself, and yeah. That’s rough. When you feel like the need for attention… That’s scary. The attention led to all of that. It’s definitely his, he’s at fault.”

Ryan: “People that do that kind of thing, single out children that want attention, they count on that.”

Ramona: “Yeah, Yup.”

Ryan: “And it sounds like he played to that insecurity and that desire.”

Ramona: “For sure. And he did make me feel special. It’s not that other people didn’t give me that. There’s a difference between being supportive or making someone feel… giving them the right feedback to help them gain confidence in the world as a young person. But he didn’t treat me the way… He treated me like… I went from being a child to an adult and I had no time to grow up. I really was robbed of that. Of my childhood. And of any kind of natural progression of exploration. It was something that… Yeah, I really feel that loss. I really mourn that. [pained laugh]”

Ryan: “It was taken from you.”

Ramona: “It was taken from me. I know, I don’t want to sounds apologetic. I’m not wanting to defend him or apologize. I don’t see the purpose of holding resentment or anger in my body, in my mind, in my soul. It doesn’t serve me. So I can get angry. It’s almost like I got more angry about Sarah’s story or other people’s stories. Which is messed up. I should be angry and I do go through waves of emotion, which is totally normal. But it feels right, to not have to go there. I don’t have to live… I can actually forgive somehow, because that’s what feels the best. [sighs] And I have to live my life. I have to move forward. And move back. In order to move forward.”

Ryan: “It sounds like it’s been a really difficult year.”

Ramona: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “Do you feel like you’ve been reliving some of these things for the first time in fifteen years?”

Ramona: “[sighs] Yes. And, like I said, I’m getting the opportunity to practice saying things. I had a chance to talk about my experiences to some folks that I trust. And now I can say I am reliving them because I’m going there. And talking about it. There was so many things that were inappropriate. It’s not even about it being inappropriate or not. He was totally controlling me and I really was imprisoned by this secret. [sighs] And there was a lot of abandonment and being in hotel rooms. Lies out the wazoo. I had to lie all the time. It was all lies.”

Ryan: “Like how?”

Ramona: “Well, he’d pick me up from school.”

Ryan: “In Ithaca.”

Ramona: “Yeah, he’d fly in early. No one would know he was there. And then he would pick me up. From ACS. And then we’d go to like the Super 8 motel.”

Ryan: “Like a weekend he was scheduled to be in Ithaca?”

Ramona: “I think so. He either came in special, he may have done that. It’s like the wheels were turning, like I was on this thing that I couldn’t get off. And I also couldn’t control. I was not driving it. And I was terrified and I was ashamed. And I still am dealing with that shame. It was very alienating and isolating. I felt like I was alone. I was so alone.”

Ryan: “Well he encouraged that.”

Ramona: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “He came to Ithaca, and asked you not to tell anyone that he was in town?”

Ramona: “Yeah. At that point, too, I think I didn’t want to tell anybody.”

Ryan: “But you knew the drill.”

Ramona: “Yeah, I knew the drill. Of course. I wish I wasn’t going along with it.”

Ryan: “But there was clear intent. Into why you were going to the motel.”

Ramona: “Yeah. He totally manipulated my parents. He would come to our house for dinner. It’s disgusting. It’s so, so, so wrong. He found a way to get them to trust him and play to their weaknesses and insecurities. He charmed them.”

Ryan: “And I’m sure they were proud of you for traveling and being a teacher at that age and accomplishing all of those things. I’m sure that was…”

Ramona: “Yeah, and they were blinded by the sparkles too. He was so large and so powerful. So, I’m seeing now that he was assaulting me and violating me, but he was telling me it was like we had this thing. It was special. I was special and we were in love. It is just… That control. I had to find a way to make it okay, otherwise I wouldn’t survive, then everything would just crumble. I had to rewrite every experience, every story, and make it okay.”

Ryan: “And this happened for a long time?”

Ramona: “Yeah, this happened, I guess, three years. I mean, all through high school I didn’t date. Like I said, I didn’t have the normal ‘go to the movies and drink a milkshake’ or whatever you do… I thought I was in this relationship. I thought I was this chosen one. Or, again, that it was the price that I had to pay, or that ‘I’m an artist’… I can’t believe that… [sighs] I was scared and I had to protect… I was constantly in shock and disbelief. And then also I had to find a way to be okay, to cope, I guess.”

Ryan: “Well, you were a kid.”

Ramona: “I was a kid. I know, I keep wanting to find a way to blame myself, still. I’m like, ‘But I enjoyed it’ and ‘I went along with it’ and ‘We went out to dinner and did things that normal people did.’ What? It takes some time, I guess. And maybe that will always be part of that voice in my head, that’s going to say, ‘Well you did this’ and ‘You went along with it’ and ‘You responded…’ I’m still aware of what happens when a guy looks at me. Like when you’re young and you realize that power you have of attraction. Or of that energy between people. I am starting to really notice how it’s scary, that force. And how do we learn to deal with it? He obviously took advantage. But I remember being young, and you don’t know how to navigate that. How do you navigate that, especially as a young woman? Where you are already on this uneven playing field and society where men are… It’s just the way it is. And how do you deal with that attention that you get? [sighs]”

Ryan: “It sounds like you’ve spent fifteen years trying to justify something just so you can live day to day without falling apart. It sounds like you put together a lot of mental blocks.”

Ramona: “Yeah, I really thought it was… While it was happening I think I convinced myself that it was okay. I did convince myself that it was okay. It became normal. It’s really scary what you can get used to. Do you know what I’m saying? People get used to things. The worst things. And I remember every ounce of my being… It’s so damaging to have to do something that every part of you, your conscience, your true self, knows is wrong. To do that repeatedly? It is so hurtful. And to have to do that, to learn about that, so young. I was so unprepared. To respond, to listen. First of all, to learn to ignore my conscience, my inner voice. My will was being broken, time after time. Someone was… That is terrifying. I don’t want that for anybody. And that’s why I have to be an advocate. I want to be an advocate. I don’t have to do anything. I want to be part of this conversation now. And I’ve really not participated on Facebook purposefully because I don’t want to react to that. And I don’t want to come from a place of… Maybe be blinded or the lens of anger. I want to be respectful and listen to other people while at the same time continue to put the pieces together of my new story. And take back my… Be empowered by that. And try to take that part of my life back and give it back to myself. Because it was taken. So…”

Ryan: “It sounds like you’ve already got a lot of support. Have you connected with some of the other women that have come forward about their story? Have you connected with them about that at all?”

Ramona: “No, just Sarah. Maybe I’m afraid that talking with other women and getting more involved in these discussions is going to make it more real, and kind of reliving things.”

Ryan: “But you talked with Sarah about it?”

Ramona: “Yeah, yeah. Well, she’s been a friend of mine. She was at our wedding. I love her. She’s been a sister. It’s weird, because I remember her talking to me. She was like, ‘Oh, so you and Steven were close?’ We both had this very similar experience, but we almost told each other, kind of. I remember there were times where I’d almost tell. And I remember telling the Moocher girls, later. We were in our early twenties, at some sleepover, and I remember… But I would be like, ‘Oh yeah, okay, I slept with Steven.’ That’s so sick that that’s how I had interpreted it, or how I had to understand it. As casually. And my husband. I had told him, just casually. You know, whatever. But he of course assumed I was much older. I didn’t let on to anyone. And my parents, I lied to them. Over and over again. I’m such a sharer. As you said at the beginning of our conversation. I don’t like small talk. I’m happy, you want to know what’s up? I will tell you. We can talk about… We can get down to business. But this one thing was so guarded.”

Ryan: “That must have been so hard for you, to have that, and live with that. Because, like you said, it sounds like it goes against every fiber of your being otherwise. To not lie and not hide.”

Ramona: “[sighs] Yeah, yup.”

Ryan: “Do you feel a sense of relief, talking about it with people now?”

Ramona: “I do. I do, I feel like I can take it in doses. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Okay, I have to leave it,’ because it’s exhausting. Emotionally.”

Ryan: “I can only imagine.”

Ramona: “But it is so relieving and it’s almost like it is a new life for me. There’s then, there’s before and after. And I’m terrified. I know what we’re doing and I know that folks are going to listen to this and I want them to. But of course I’m terrified and I’m really wanting to explore other ways of telling my story and getting it out there. I know that details are helpful for folks. To know the extent of things, for better understanding. And if that is the case, then maybe it’s helpful for me to say that, how did I even end up in these circumstances or situations, boggle my mind. But I was staying at a hotel in New York with Virginie and Steven. We were checking in. I remember checking in, I remember him renting a second room but not telling Virginie. And I guess we were all meant to be staying in the same room. Which in itself is inappropriate. But I guess her and Steven would share a room. I’ve shared rooms with Todd. As long as we have our separate beds or whatever. And that’s not uncommon, as far as I know, among my peers, with the traveling. But anyway, that’s inappropriate. I was a child. Probably like sixteen, maybe seventeen, I’m not sure. But I woke up in the middle of the night with his hands in my vagina. Virginie’s sleeping next to me. And I was terrified. So I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t… My mom said, ‘Well why couldn’t you tell, why didn’t you tell us?’ Or ‘Why didn’t you… What, we didn’t provide you with the teaching or the… You weren’t taught to be brave?’ I don’t know. Everybody goes, ‘Well, why?’ But I couldn’t. It was impossible. It was not possible. And I don’t care what you’ve learned through your upbringing or who your influences were, and what you’ve been taught, whether it was at school or from your parents or from your grandparents or your greater community. There’s nothing that can prepare you for that. And then, I went along… We went up to this other hotel room, this room in the same hotel. And again, this image, this experience, was like this thing, a horror. A horror, horrifying memory, and it’s coming back. Things are coming back. Like that. And he took me to Hawaii. And this was a secret. I mean, my parents knew, but it’s almost unbelievable.”

Ryan: “So just a vacation to Hawaii?”

Ramona: “Well, this was when he was looking for his camp. Which is of course like Camp Oz. He was going to do a camp somewhere. Which is now Camp Oz in Australia. But he was apparently going to scout out places for this camp, possibly in Hawaii. I think he wanted it somewhere exotic or a vacation spot. And then of course my parents understood that we were going to be teaching a workshop. And I had to lie and say, ‘Oh yeah, it was a weekend workshop with lots of classes.’ It was like, I don’t know, one class or two classes. It was a very small scene. My mom actually said that they… I didn’t remember this but apparently he didn’t want me flying home with them. He was definitely doing things to cover his tracks. Last minute he made me take a separate route, and I ended up coming in to a different city. There was a lot of this, again, abandonment and things changing, flipping…”

Ryan: “Manipulation.”

Ramona: “Manipulation. So I’m so grateful. I want to help in bringing back these memories because it’s really foggy, that whole part. I feel a sadness for that time in my life because there was so much of it I didn’t want to remember. And I think it’s kind of dragging with it a lot of the good stuff as well. Yeah, Hawaii was just sickening.”

Ryan: “What happened in Hawaii?”

Ramona: “Well, we were staying on the beach and we hung out. And I didn’t want to be involved… It’s basically like I never wanted to do anything sexual with him. But I kind of had to. I had to.”

Ryan: “You were made to feel like you had to.”

Ramona: “I was made to feel like I had to. And these things happened. And I felt horrible. I felt like a bad person. I felt like a bad person.”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Ramona: “So much of that time in my life. I was bad. I was bad. I was inherently sick. I was kind of like the role reversal. I was putting on myself what he should have been putting onto him. What? And the worse I felt, the more I was like, ‘No way, I wouldn’t tell anybody.’ I was embarrassed. I was terrified. [sighs] I don’t even remember when I had the… I think I remember a couple times when I was like, at a certain point, I was just like, ‘No.’ But I feel like when I moved to Rosendale it wasn’t on, because I remember seeing some other people. I mean, that’s fine, seeing a few other people. And I really don’t think it was… I think by the time, I mean it was like when I was in high school. That’s horrible. I think once high school was done, somehow I was able to say no. Or maybe he moved on to someone else. And again, I have no idea what he was doing. He was very sketchy. He is sketchy.”

Ryan: “Did he give you alcohol?”

Ramona: “Yeah, yup. My mom was like, ‘Were you ever sick to your stomach, sick like you had been drugged or something?’ I remember feeling sick and on edge and anxious all the time.”

Ryan: “Yeah, that’s different.”

Ramona: “I remember being so… I could never really relax. While, at the same time, he was charming, I have to say. It’s due to his charm and his ability to put words in my head or make me believe… He would tell me who I was. He created my self-image, almost. Like, ‘You like this,’ or ‘You like that,’ or ‘You’re gonna do this,’ or ‘Your personality’s like this.’ That’s scary. That’s really scary. I feel like I was being this person that he was creating. Do you know what I mean?”

Ryan: “He was manipulating you.”

Ramona: “[Laughs] Yes. I’m trying to…”

Ryan: “I mean, I can’t understand, but…”

Ramona: “And if I didn’t go along with what he wanted, then he would flip. [Snaps fingers] And Sarah talked about that, this flip.”

Ryan: “… Angry?”

Ramona: “Terrifying. And then it was all this… His voice would change and it was scary. Really scary.”

Ryan: “So you wanted to avoid that.”

Ramona: “I really wanted to avoid that.”

Ryan: “So there was intimidation.”

Ramona: “Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I would say so. It’s textbook. It’s textbook, as far as I can tell.”

Ryan: “He got you drunk?”

Ramona: “He got me drunk, oh yeah. And in a way, I hate to say this, but it was like I needed the alcohol… Or I felt like…”

Ryan: “Well, yeah.”

Ramona: “Does that make sense? The drinks were like, ‘Okay, great, give me some drinks,’ because if I’m going to go through with this…”

Ryan: “You knew this was going to happen and you wanted to find a way to survive it.”

Ramona: “Yeah, pretty much. Make it more tolerable. Or at least bearable. [sighs] And I really believe that he’s a serial rapist. A serial. All this stuff was going on and I’m sure he was doing many other things at that time as well. [sighs]”

Ryan: “I am so sorry that this happened to you.”

Ramona: “Thank you. [sighs] I’m sorry too, but that doesn’t help me too much either. I have to be compassionate toward myself. And sorriness and sympathy, that’s natural. And I’m going to be… That’s fine. I want people to be sorry. I want him to be sorry.”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Ramona: “But I have to learn to make peace with that girl. And I can’t control what other people think, as I said before. I really don’t think people are going to not believe me. I think that would be insane. But wherever you fall and whatever you think, I can’t control. So I can’t get too wrapped up in it. If you know what I mean. But I feel like this is an opportunity. That I do have a cause. And there is cause for my involvement in this, and for my voice. There’s a reason that my words can hopefully help other women. The more I talk about it, the more I talk to other women. And hopefully other men too. It’s not a woman-man thing, it’s not a gender thing. It’s a human thing. It’s a power thing. More and more, we need to talk about the things that we don’t talk about. [laughs] From the beginning, my mom was like, ‘Well why didn’t you tell me?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, we never had that sex talk. You didn’t reach out to me in that way. And therefore how could I reach back?’ So it’s a cultural thing. Every family’s different, but it’s so shamed in our culture. Our sexuality, that drive that’s in all of us. It can really turn into… It can go… This is a question of whether we’re born with these illnesses, or whether it’s something we learn. Anyway, I would really hope that, whatever happens, people can start to at least find some safer spaces. Every little thing counts. So right now, this counts.”

Ryan: “I hope so. I hope this is helpful. Is there a way for people to support you that you’ve found is helpful? I think a lot of people don’t talk about it because… I mean, I don’t know how to help you. I don’t know that people know how to help you. I don’t know if people know the right thing to say or are afraid to say the wrong thing. And also I think people are in denial about this person that they looked up to. I believe you. I hope everyone believes you. I believe you. And I want help you, help you through this.”

Ramona: “I wish that I had answers. The whole thing is such a process. And it’s being revealed as we go along. I just want people to be honest. I want us to be brave and listen to our gut. That’s one of the ingredients to this whole mess. My mom, my parents, they had their reservations. They were parents. They were concerned. And it crossed their mind. My mom even talked to Virginie. And Virginie said ‘Oh, no.’ She assured them. ‘Absolutely not. He would never. He’s always going to be respectful.’ That’s infuriating and that’s really scary. My parents trusted her. I really feel like he must have been manipulating her too. Or how could she not see? I want people to first recognize that there is a voice. There is a conscience. There is something that, in most of us… That’s a discussion of its own, but… If you have a feeling, an inkling, don’t just ignore it. If possible. It’s hard, it’s so hard. And we’ll do our best.”

Ryan: “I think you’re being very courageous and very brave. Talking about it is very admirable.”

Ramona: “Thank you. [laughs] Now I just feel like such an imposter.”

Ryan: “Why?”

Ramona: “Being in the right place at the right time. Getting what I got out of that relationship… What relationship? You know what I mean, what I was in with, with him.”

Ryan: “You feel like an imposter in the swing scene?”

Ramona: “No, I guess I’m still ashamed and I’m still scared of what people will think. That I got what other people didn’t get because of this abuse. Because of what I was willing to withstand.”

Ryan: “You feel like you benefited from this thing?”

Ramona: “Maybe, yeah.”

Ryan: “It doesn’t seem to me like that’s the case. And in the fifteen years since then, it seems very apparent to me that you are where you are today in spite of what you’ve overcome. And because of all of the things we talked about in the first hour. And the love, and the joy, and the music, and your partnerships. And your other contributions, which are probably much more than, I would say, the vast majority of other people in this scene have given to this dance and this community. I know it’s hard. And I know you’re struggling with a lot of things. But it’s very clear to me that, if anything, you are where you are today in spite of that horrible thing that you’ve had to have been dealing with for this long. And not because of it. And I think most people will rightly recognize that.”

Ramona: “[sighs] Thank you for saying that. That’s a new thing that’s just come up now, this feeling of letting people down because I allowed… This is like a flaw in my character or something. But, I see. I see. I am not perfect…”

Ryan: “Ramona, you were a child.”

Ramona: “Yeah, I was.”

Ryan: “You might have been doing adult things, by traveling around the world or teaching adults, or whatever else it is that you were doing. But you were a child.”

Ramona: “Yup. That I was.”

Ryan: “And that’s an unfair burden for a child to have to live with. And an adult to have to overcome.”

Ramona: “[sighs] Yeah, well. Here I am.”

Ryan: “Here you are.”

Ramona: “Here I am. [sniffs]”

Ryan: “So, you want to end on a happy note?”

Ramona: “Sure, love to!”

Ryan: “Yeah?”

Ramona: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “So tell me about all these wonderful people that are being supportive right now.”

Ramona: “Awwww. Well, I’m thinking about my husband. And how amazing he is.”

Ryan: “Yeah, all the way in Australia.”

Ramona: “All the way in Australia. [sighs] How excited I am about our future together and again about what hard work brings.”

Ryan: “Is he a dancer?”

Ramona: “Oh, he’s a great dancer. He is ridiculous. He’s so talented. He’s so musical. He can sing, he can act, he can dance. He’s one of the most talented people I know. He’s got an amazing eye for detail and for esthetic, fashion. He’s an engineer, but he could… He’s amazing.”

Ryan: “I love that you say he’s an engineer, like it’s personality flaw.”

Ramona: “[laughing]”

Ryan: “Do not be ashamed of being an engineer. Or the wife of an engineer.”

Ramona: “I mean the engineering is just another skill. Like his math. Like math mind, mathematician. But yeah, he’s a great dancer. But he doesn’t dance… He’s into cricket. He’s mad for sports. And he has other interests, which is great. He’s doing a lot of DJing and mixing seventies…”

Ryan: “Real DJing, not like the crappy DJing I do.”

Ramona: “Yeah, mixing the beats on disco. Which is hard, because it’s human beings playing it. So it changes a little bit. Anyway. So he’s wonderful. And I am so grateful to have him by my side. Really, wherever I am. And he believes in me. We’re all clumsy and this thing hasn’t been easy, but he’s there. And his unconditional love is pretty amazing.”

Ryan: “You’re gone for half the year, I can’t imagine that’s easy.”

Ramona: “I choose him. He’s so great. But my friends and my family. The love is… It’s just flowing. So I really couldn’t ask for more.”

Ryan: “And the dance brings you joy?”

Ramona: “And the dance brings me joy. And the dance has really saved me, for sure. And the swing scene. I have faith. I know a lot of us are feeling disillusioned or angry or, how can this happen in our lindy hop scene. It is something we need to look hard at and be patient. I need the patience to do this right and spend time with it. But I have total faith that we can do this and get through it and be better for it. And that the swing scene is pretty much the best thing ever.”

Ryan: “It is? Despite all its flaws?”

Ramona: “Despite all its flaws.”

Ryan: “What do you feel like you get from the scene? The community?”

Ramona: “I guess I get an opportunity to connect with other people. To share, to give. Giving is receiving. I like to say that. Really, the more I give, the more I get. [sighs] I get challenged. It’s a cycle, it’s a circle. I get nervous and I get excited. There’s the aftermath of the weekend. You’re like, new place, new environment, you’re on edge. You know, I still get nervous before I step in front of a class? And I don’t want to lose that. That’s real. And then, the weekend. You get to know the students, and they start to feel comfortable by the second day, and then it’s ending. And then it’s over and then you do it again. I really am so grateful for my opportunity, or my position as a specialist, or being brought in. I have taught weekly classes, and I know what that’s like. And that’s hard. That’s hard work. It’s good work, it’s necessary work. My job wouldn’t exist. I really try to stay grounded. When I step back and see all the pieces and all the organizers and all the people who are working to make this thing tick. And make it work. I just feel really grateful. I listened to the end of Naomi’s podcast today, and she was so great. It made me cry at the end. She’s like, ‘I’ve got everything good in my life from this scene.’ And I would have to parrot that. I wish I could be more original, but… I mean, my husband. I met him through the scene. My job. My creative expression.”

Ryan: “Well, I think I can speak for the scene when I say that we’re all grateful that you are part of it.”

Ramona: “I love you guys! [laughing]”

Ryan: “Thank you, Ramona.”

Ramona: “Thanks, Ryan.”


Ryan: “I’d like to thank Ramona for sitting down and sharing her story with me this month. There are many resources out there for anyone looking for support in the subjects we discussed. RAINN.org is an anti-sexual-assault organization in the US. And there is a Facebook group called ‘Lindy Hoppers Against Rape Culture’ where many in our community are discussing how this larger issue is impacting our scene. You can find these links and other resources in this episode’s show notes. Once again, I’d like to remind everyone of our new website. Find those show notes, an archive of all of our episodes, and more, by visiting thetrackpodcast.com. As always, you can keep up to date with the show’s goings-on by following @thetrackpodcast on Twitter, TheTrackPodcast on Tumblr, or liking us on Facebook at facebook.com/thetrackpodcast. You can see what I’ve personally got going on, including upcoming DJ gigs, recent dance photography, and more, by visiting ryanswift.com or following me @ryanswift on Twitter. If you’ve got any feedback for the show, please drop me a line by emailing our new address contact@thetrackpodcast.com or you can leave a review on iTunes, which is always helpful. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you all next time on The Track.”