Dance bug bites, and young man turns it to a business
Peter Strom, 24, is a self-described Lindy Hop addict.The '95 Southwest High grad said he took six years to graduate from the University of Minnesota in part because he was dancing so much -- proudly recalling that in the spring
of 1999 he danced 30 nights in a row.
He did finally finish with an English major, "a default degree," he said, but is now charting a course as a dance entrepreneur.
In the last 12 months, he danced and taught Lindy Hop ("the original swing dance," he said) in San Diego, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and Singapore. He made dance-only treks to San Francisco, New York, Houston, Sacramento and Sweden.
Those who walk Lake Harriet may have seen Strom and a group of friends near the bandshell on summer Sunday afternoons, dancing to swing tunes coming from their boom box.
The group -- a collection of young, dedicated dancers from around the city -- became more formalized last fall, calling itself The Lindy Movement, a teaching and performance collective. In November, the collective began teaching classes out of Jawahir Dance Studio, 1940 Hennepin Ave. (They took over from the Land O' Loons Lindy Hoppers, who used to teach there, Strom said.)
The Lindy Movement now offers four classes, beginning to advanced, on Sunday nights. On Thursday evenings, the same group of friends meets at Painter Park to practice a dance number of their own, which Strom and group member Mike Faltesek choreographed. Still untitled, the troupe will debut it April 26 at a New Jersey competition.
Tall and athletic, full of self-confidence, Strom took control of a recent Painter Park rehearsal. Others chatted and joked while Strom set up his Gemini Professional CD Player, which has a variable speed control and allows him to slow the tempo when the group is learning new steps.
"Less mayhem, less mayhem," he said over the din -- "four girls in a line!"
The music started, first the slower tune "Exactly Like You," then the more energetic "Muddy Waters."
Four couples swung, tossed, kicked their feet up, pounded their hands on the floor, and, after 20 minutes, took their first break, gasping for air.
The roots of passion Strom never took formal Lindy Hop lessons, other than the brief instruction sessions sometimes offered prior to a dance, he said. He never took any classes in choreography.
"I wanted to do my own thing," he said over a cup of chai at Java Jacks. "I didn't know what I was doing. When I figured it out, I was doing my own thing."
The Lindy Hop is not like ballroom dance, he said, "where there are more rules and conventions to go by. It is the first real American folk dance. It has this spirit and joy about it. It's all about creativity."
He started dancing in the winter of 1997-98, he said, but not seriously. That summer, he danced at The Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul, and won an aerials competition. "We weren't that good, but we were better than the other people," he said.
That fall, he broke up with his then-girlfriend, but was still dancing. "I met some new people because I had to find someone else to dance with. That is when it got hard core,"
"That's when school took two more years than it was supposed to."Almost every Wednesday night for two years, Strom said his friends would go to Famous Dave's Barbeque in Calhoun Square and dance to the Senders, he said.
The summer of 1999, he traveled to Atlanta, his first out-of-town dancing trip, Strom said. Later that year, a friend got a videotape of the American Lindy Hop Championships and told him, "We're going to be in it next year."
Strom's immediate response was "Whatever." But the group did go, and Strom and his partner Amy Johnson won the Classics Division, and did well in other divisions, he said.
On the business end, Strom said he would try to get the Lindy Movement non-profit status. The group recently started its second six-week class schedule. (The cost is $60 per session, $48 for students.)
Terry Joyce and Roland Trenary, two members of the Land O' Loons Lindy Hoppers, had high praise for the young dancers that were taking on the teaching they and Sue Mascioli started in the mid-1990s.
"They are wonderful dancers," Joyce said. "They are nice people and very concerned about maintaining the dance."
"I have been dancing 20 to 30 years. I think Peter (Strom) is one of the maybe two people that have that much native dance ability. He is a world-class dancer and he is in our city."
Strom moved out of his parents' Lynnhurst home in November, and he is working to develop consulting work.
"It's hard to make a good living teaching once a week," he said, noting he travels a lot for dancing and would like to hold workshops around the country.
He will get $1,000 plus expenses to fly to San Diego in February and teach a group of dancers a piece he choreographed for them, Strom said.
He might fall on his face, he said, "But what better time to try than when you're young?"