Wednesday 25th April 2018
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Laminu History

Laminu is a swing dance that is related to Balboa but sufficiently different to merit its own name.

This page is written by Dan Guest in the general style of an FAQ. This mimics the sort of questions that I typically get asked whenever I've done talks/lectures on this subject. The objective being to document the knowledge that I've acquired of this dance over the years and pass it onto others.

It will become obvious when you read this page further that the source of much of this information is one of the original Laminu dancers, Ray Cunningham. You will find out more about Ray if you continue reading - so here goes...

Where did Laminu originate?

The Majestic Ballroom located in Long Beach Pike area (1935)
The Lido Ballroom located in Long Beach Pike area (1950s)
Laminu originated in Long Beach California. Long Beach is on the northern coastal border of Orange county, the principal region where Balboa was danced. The basic and style of Balboa varied greatly between the different cities of Orange county. Balboa was danced in Long Beach and even has a particular type of basic step pattern named after it, the 'Long Beach Break'.

Over time a preference evolved amongst some of the Long Beach dancers for dancing to slow music. Their dancing changed to adapt to the slower tempos to such an extent that the dance became sufficiently different that it acquired its own name. And thus, the dance known as Laminu was born!

There were many ballrooms in Long Beach in common with all cities at that time. These included the Cinderella, Silver Spray, and Majestic (latterly the Lido) Ballrooms. The two photos to the right show the Majestic Ballroom in 1935 and then again later in the 1950s after it had been renamed the Lido.

The Majestic/Lido and several other Ballrooms were located in the Pike area which was a large amusement area next to the pier and waterside. This was the entertainment centre of Long Beach where people came to have a good time bathing, riding the coasters, playing the stalls, going to shows, and dancing.

In common with Balboa, Laminu was very much a college dance - insofar as it was primarily danced by young college students. However, Ray Cunningham, an original Laminu dancer, often danced at the Lido and other Ballrooms as well as at his college social venue 'the Hutch'. For more about the Hutch see the 'Tell me more about Ray Cunningham?' section below.

Unfortunately, the Pike area fell into decline and was demolished in 1979 as part to of a major remodelling of the shoreline. Very little remains of this area which was once the entertainment focal point of Long Beach.

When did Laminu originate?

The original dancers say that Laminu was widely danced in Long Beach during the 1950s. By that time Balboa had already been around for 20+ years. It therefore seems likely that Laminu perhaps started to develop from the Balboa in the early 40s, becoming a dance in its own right by the late 40s. Certainly, Ray Cunningham (an original Laminu dancer) says he started doing the Laminu in his teens whilst at high school - that would have been in the late 40s. Another of the original Laminu dancers, Joe Iantorno, said he started dancing the Laminu whilst at Jordon College in 1946.

The evidence therefore points to Laminu existing by at least 1946 and being subsequently danced widely in Long Beach though to the end of the 1950s.

What's with the name Laminu!

A common question is where did the name come from and how is it spelled? In truth we really don't know for sure but there are some interesting hypotheses.

Ray Cunningham, an original Laminu dancer, tells a story of the dance acquiring it's name from one of the college fraternities where the dance was popular. This particular Fraternity was apparently named after the Greek letters 'Lambda' and 'Nu' from which the name 'Laminu' was derived. Whilst this is a good story we have yet to find any historical evidence to actually support this. If we could find a record of a Long Beach college fraternity with this name, then that would make this story very plausible. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to substantiate this so it's entirely possible that this could be an urban myth.

Regarding the correct spelling of the name. This was always passed on orally and doesn't seem to have been recorded anywhere in writing (at least yet to be found). The spelling that I choose is Laminu, only because that is Ray Cunningham's best guess at how it should be spelled. This spelling is also consistent with the possibility that the name was derived from the college fraternity name. Other people in the modern swing community have suggested it might be spelled Laminoo or even Lamineaux. Who knows they might be right! However, until such time as we find out for certain then I'm going to stick with Ray's spelling Laminu.

What is the Laminu dance actually like?

Laminu shares some similarities with Balboa. Certainly, the inwardly connected closed hold is essentially the same as in Balboa. Furthermore, you can argue that some of the footwork shares some commonality with Balboa too. Notably one of the original Balboa dancers Dean Raftery did a form of slow Balboa that has some similarities, although this is very different in many other ways.

So, isn't Laminu the same as Slow Balboa? Unfortunately, this would be an over simplification as Laminu has some characteristics that aren't generally found in Balboa. Notably it has much greater body movement, larger steps, and covers more ground. Furthermore, the directionality of the characteristic Laminu 'step, ball change' also doesn't really have a precedent in Balboa. Laminu is ostensibly a closed hold dance although Ray Cunningham (an original Laminu dancer) does briefly open up in particular contexts.

The fact that the Laminu acquired its own name also reinforces the fact that it's a dance in its own right. The dancers in Long Beach at the time also did Balboa so why would they call it Laminu if it were the same as Balboa!

Dean Raftery, an original Balboa dancer known amongst other things, for his slow Balboa, always said that Laminu was a different dance. It was Dean that originally told me about Laminu in the first place. When I asked him to show me it, he told me that he only does Balboa and doesn't know the Laminu. He referred me to Ray Cunningham as the example of someone who can show me how Laminu is done.

To conclude, Laminu is sufficiently different to Slow Balboa to warrant it being considered as a separate dance in its own right.

Did the Laminu die out or did people keep dancing it?

The heyday of the Laminu was undoubtedly the 1950s. After that time, it's probably true to say that for all intents and purposes it was no longer danced as regularly. Nevertheless, a small number of the original dancers kept on dancing right through to the early 2000s. We are therefore fortunate that the dance didn't die out altogether. Dancers like Ray Cunningham and Darleene Lind who knew the Laminu kept dancing at venues like the Long Beach Petroleum Club, and at Bobby McGees together with the other remaining Balboa old timers.

How was Laminu rediscovered?

To first give some context, in the early 2000s I talked to as many of the original Balboa dancers as I could. At that time Balboa wasn't widely known. The first weekend workshop dedicated to Balboa was the 'All Balboa Weekend' in Cleveland. The first ABW was in 2001 and remained the only Balboa event in the world for a year or so. A couple of other Balboa workshops then started in 2002 in Toulouse France and London England ('Pink City Balboa Festival' and the London workshop latterly became known as 'London Balboa Festival' in 2003).

These events were followed by an event called 'Balboa Rendezvous' in San Diego, the first one being in 2004. This event used the original Balboa Pavilion at Newport Beach for its venue for Sunday. The organiser Joel Plys knew many of the surviving local original Balboa dancers and invited them all along to a Q&A session on the Sunday afternoon.

Myself and others like Marcus Koch had been talking to Ray Cunningham about Laminu in the run up to this session. Up until this point I'd not managed to get Ray to show me Laminu properly as he was reluctant to demo it when he didn't have a partner with him who knew the dance. We'd therefore spoken to Joel beforehand to try and get Ray to do a demo of Laminu during the Q&A session to show the dance to everyone. Joel didn't need much encouragement and when the time came duly put Ray on the spot during the QA session in the Balboa Pavilion.

This was very much an impromptu demo. The band were setting up in the background in readiness for the evening dance. Joel asked if they could play something for the demo with Ray asking if they knew 'Deep Purple' which they duly started playing. Joel had primed Darleene Lind beforehand that we were going to try and make this happen. The result being that Ray and Darleene demonstrated the Laminu and danced wonderfully well considering the impromptu nature of the demo.

To conclude, this was the first time that Laminu was seen by the wider community of the Balboa Revival. Here is the clip of this demonstration:

Notes to the above clip:

1. This clip is published with kind thanks to Joel Plys of Retro Rhythm. Joel was, and still is, one of the prime movers and shakers in the revival of Balboa. His knowledge and respect for many of the original LA area swing dancers was what allowed this demonstration to happen. Thank you, Joel.

2. When Ray breaks out into a swingout Darleene audibly says, "Ah you're cheating". Needless to say, the swingout isn't a Laminu step. However, this was an impromptu demo to an expectant audience and Ray falls back on a swingout or two without thinking! Darleene's comment indicates that these bits aren't actually Laminu.

3. The couple that joins in near the end are John and Ann Mills. They were renowned Balboa dancers and aren't doing Laminu. John just couldn't resist joining in!

4. It should be taken into consideration that Ray was 72 years old at the time of this clip. He is therefore perhaps not as mobile or flexible as he would have been when he originally danced in the 1950s. Certainly whenever I work with Ray on my own dancing, he generally gets me to sway/flex far more that he does himself in this clip.

Learning the dance and creating wider awareness...

Ray and Darleene's demo at Balboa Rendezvous 2004 inspired me to learn the Laminu and help to create wider awareness of it within the Balboa community. As part of this mission I learnt as much as I could from Ray and brought him over to Europe a couple of times to showcase the dance. The first time was for London Balboa Festival in 2005 where I had Ray teach a couple of 'taster' classes in Laminu.

The video clip that follows below is from the first of these Laminu Taster classes. This would have been the first time in the revival community that Laminu was taught in a class environment at any event. Sylvia Sykes had kindly agreed to help by partnering Ray for these classes.

The context for the clip is that Ray is a great teacher but was a little apprehensive teaching this first class. He hadn't really taught such a large group class before and also hadn't taught or danced Laminu with Sylvia before. The result being that he was initially a little reticent to demonstrate the dance to the students with Sylvia. He instead began demonstrating it on his own with an imaginary partner - with Sylvia watching on from the side in slight bemusement!

Nevertheless, this is a very pertinent clip for a number of reasons:

Firstly, Ray's dialogue at the beginning reveals his passionate view that Laminu is a very personal dance. It is for you and your partner, not for the audience.

Secondly, I think his solo demonstration successfully gets across the feeling of the dance. He includes and shows some of the fundamental steps/movements/techniques of Laminu whilst very much improvising overall.

Finally, the last section shows how Ray teaches the basic Laminu step pattern. This clip is faithful to the way in which he generally always teaches Laminu. Namely he does a box shaped pattern while practicing continuous 'ball changes' to left and right, focusing on the quality of movement and feeling.

Here is the clip:

Tell me more about Ray Cunningham?

Without Ray Cunningham our knowledge of Laminu would be practically zero. We would know that a slow dance existed called the Laminu and that it came from Long Beach. That would be about it. We therefore owe Ray a huge debt of gratitude for being willing and enthusiastic about passing on his knowledge of the dance Laminu.

Baby Ray

Ray Cunningham was born on 22nd February 1932 in New York before moving, at age 4, to Chicago where his grandfather worked for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. He then moved to Long Beach at the age of 9 and continues to live there to this day.

He was educated at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, which has a renowned record in both academics and athletics, continuing his studies at Long Beach City College. Ray himself was a very good athlete (intermural athlete of the year) and high-flying student becoming president of his fraternity whilst at LBCC. He then went on to complete his education at UCLA.

Ray recalls starting dancing at around the age of 14 to 15. The typical age that high school kids started dancing was probably 16 to 17 so Ray was an early starter. The Poly had an off-campus recreational building called 'The Hutch' where many extramural activities took place after school. This is where regular dances were held and where Ray first started dancing. He recalls that "At the Hutch everyone could do the Laminu".

While at City College Ray attended some dance lessons at the Long Beach branch of Arthur Murray's dance school. He subsequently got a job for Arthur Murray and worked for them for some time becoming Assistant to the Chairman of the Board. After that he went on to have a very successful career in journalism as Bureau Chief at the Long Beach Press-Telegram newspaper. In 1963 Ray married his childhood sweetheart Margo whom he'd first met when he first moved to Long Beach aged 9. Margo was a wonderful dancer and they remained together until Margo sadly passed away in 2012.

Ray Cunningham with Dan Guest and Axel Schwarz (2016)

In 2006 Ray was inducted into the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame in recognition of his contribution to Swing dancing and in particular the Laminu. He continues to live in Long Beach and remains well connected in the local swing dance scene.

Here are some quotes from Ray regarding the Laminu:

The secret of Laminu is the aura about it. You're dancing with a partner and you're enjoying dancing with that partner.

The object of the Laminu is to be with the person you're dancing with. Kindness & Love. Take a positive approach with your partner.

Slow Bal is different to Laminu - The tempo is the same, but the steps are different.

What do we know of other people who danced the Laminu?

Aside from Ray there were of course many other people that danced the Laminu. Darleene Lind who dances in the Laminu demo clip above had known and danced with Ray since the 50s. As well as dancing the Laminu, Darleene was also a great swing dancer known for her aerials (she won the World Swing Dance Championship in 1973 with her partner Pat Egger).

Karma Haltom also did the Laminu and is referred to by Ray as being "the best girl dancer at the time". Margo Cunningham of course knew the Laminu and was also a West Coast Swing dancer. Other leaders that danced the Laminu were Nick Sidoti, Joe Iantorno, Joel Childress, and Bob Anderson. Ray recalls that "Bob's been doing the Laminu since 1940 - no matter what the music!". Nick Sidoti was said to be one of the finest Laminu dancers with a very smooth style.

All the above dancers were from Long Beach. Another well-known dancer from Long Beach was George Christopherson. George and his partner Freda Angela Wyckoff were famous for their swing dancing, but coming from Long Beach George was also said to have known the Laminu.

What sort of music is suitable for the Laminu?

Laminu is a dance suited to slow swing music. Slow swing music is unfortunately rarely played within the Balboa community as the vast majority of people don't know how to dance this slowly. This is a bit of 'catch 22' situation. On the one hand, people aren't likely to ever learn if music of an appropriate tempo is never played for them to practice on. On the other hand, if DJs did play appropriately slow music then at the moment very few people would try dancing to it.

Hopefully in time this situation will improve as more people gain an appreciation slow swing music via thier interest in Laminu and/or slow Balboa. For the nerds amongst you, the tempo range that's generally considered appropriate for Laminu is between about 70 and 95 bpm (beats per minute). Here's a link to a list of music that I often use for Laminu: music_for_laminu.pdf

Note: This is a pretty old list which I will endeavour to update shortly with a wider selection of tunes. e.g. As well as swing music, Ray enjoys dancing on some Doo-wop music that was very popular in the 1950s.

What is your ambition for the Laminu?

I sometimes get asked about where I see the future for the Laminu. Will we get to a point where there will be dedicated Laminu workshops and social dances, etc..? To a limited extent that has already happened. Certainly, I have taught dedicated Laminu workshops and weekends on several occasions in various different countries (England, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Austria).

However, I personally don't see the end-goal as necessarily being workshops and socials entirely dedicated to Laminu. In my view it would be far nicer and healthier if simply more people learned and appreciated slow swing dancing like the Laminu, such that regular Balboa events were able to play a much wider variety of tempos of swing music during their social dances.

It is a bit of a bug-bear of mine that the modern Balboa community often perceives Balboa to be principally a dance for fast music. I see this as a misconception as the original Balboa dancers that I've had the fortune to talk to don't generally see it that way. They talk about dancing Balboa on all tempos including the slow ones. I personally find dancing on a limited range of tempos is ultimately less fulfilling than being able to appreciate and dance to swing music of all tempos.

My ambition is therefore to help encourage and inspire more people in the Balboa community to discover the joys of dancing Balboa on a wide range of tempos. I hope that Laminu will perhaps play a part in this holistic vision for the Bal community. The Laminu is such a beautiful dance that we have much to learn from - if we only open our minds to allow it to find its way into our hearts!

When the day arrives that the typical Bal social dance plays a range of swing music suitable for both Balboa and the occasional Laminu, then I will rest very happily! ;)

Where can I learn the Laminu?

Thus far there are very few people in the world that know how to dance the Laminu. Hopefully going forward this number will grow. For the time being these are the primary people that have developed an interest in Laminu and spent time learning the dance directly from Ray:

  • Dan and Gemma Guest - Great Britain (this site www.lindycircle.com)
    Instrumental in promoting awareness of Laminu throughout the world. Teach Laminu workshops and taster classes both in the UK and around the world.
     
  • Axel Schwarz and Sandra Hartbach - Austria (balboa-baby.at)
    Teach Laminu in Vienna and help promote the dance via their own annual event the Vienna Balboa & Laminu Experience
     
  • Mickey Fortanasce and Kelly Arsenault - USA (www.kellyandmickey.com)
    Have been instrumental in the resurgence of interest in Slow Balboa. Now also teaching/promoting awareness of Laminu too.

If you are interested in learning Laminu then I suggest you contact any of the above people in the first instance...

Have I got to the end yet?

Thanks for reading and well done if you've made it this far! I hope you have found this page informative. Please feel free to share this page via social media. However, I'd appreciate if you can avoid copying/plagiarising this information and republishing elsewhere. Linking back to this source from other pages would of course be appreciated.

 

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