MNP History

by Mike Jonas, January 20, 2008

For years now some of my fellow dancing alums have wanted me to dig up the history of Monday Night Practice session. As luck would have it, when I started at BBN Technologies in February of 1995 and then part time at Tufts that fall, I started to keep every email that was ever sent to me or that I sent out…except junk mail of course. So I have a historic record to search from and it had been sitting in a CD in my file cabinet. One weekend I was clearing some stuff out and found it. There are almost 2,000 emails alone about dancing just from 1998 to 2001 so I started sifting through them and here is a brief history of how Monday Night Practice session came to be so read on. Important dates are:

  • first Monday Night Practice was February 22, 1999
  • precursor, Wednesday Night Practice was Dec 2, 1998 to Feb 3, 1999

So in early 1998 my coworker and friend, Jason, and I started taking swing classes at the Dance Complex from Ken Kreshtool. Jason owns a house now in Arlington and I’m his roommate…we just can’t seem to part ways. Ken was great and he made dancing a lot of fun and both Jason and I quickly befriended him. He got us to go out to Ken’s place (different Ken) which was this swing dance in Central Square every Tuesday with a live band…basically band practice that swing dancers attended for a $5 donation. Sometimes the music was good, sometimes not so good, but the crowd was fantastic. By the fall of 1998, we had taken a variety of Ken’s swing classes and now had moved up to taking his salsa and ballroom, but I was definitely hooked on swing, especially lindy hop which I didn’t know well at that time. At Tuesday nights, Ken and I would marvel at some of the lindy hoppers. I recall watching Dorry and Andrea dance and Ken and I thinking that we wanted to learn some of that stuff.

In the fall Ken and I along with our friends Janice Tsai (she ran the precursor to the ItsAllSwing Forum called the SpeakEasy) and Elizabeth Heller (she doesn’t dance anymore) would all carpool in a car Ken borrowed and head to Newton for some HopToTheBeat lindy hop classes. I think we took two sessions and it was towards the end of the second session, driving home, that we all talked about how hard this stuff was and that we still did east coast out on the dance floor. So we talked about needing to practice this stuff and Ken suggested doing so on his free night, which was Wednesday. From there, the idea grew and we invited as many folks as we knew and eventually Ken sent out an email for the first Wednesday night practice to be held on December 2nd, 1998 entitled:

    “Lindy Hop Practice Hour (and a quarter), anyone? Wed at 10 pm”

In the email he specified that the plan was to use the space from December 2nd until February 3rd, after which he needed the space for his classes and perhaps we could find a new location. The intent, though, was that this was not to be a dance but a place to practice so we could go out dancing. The practices were great and we eventually got the good lindy hoppers to show up. I remember one practice Dorry and Andrea were there and we got to sit and watch them dance…it was loads of fun. Ken would eat the cost of most of the rental and asked us to only contribute a buck or two, so it was a pretty cheap night for all of us. As the practice wound down, I had already become addicted, plus my rock step was still the size of Texas, so on the last day I took down everyone’s email address and with Ken’s blessing looked to find a replacement hall.

I asked some of my other dance instructors and they pointed me to various places in Cambridge but it was hard to find an open space cheap for Wednesday nights. I knew about First Church because in the first half of the 1990’s I had attended the church occasionally for a few years. I had also attended a wedding in its sister church, the First Congregational Church of Hanover, MA, when I lived on the south shore and the minister, the Reverend W. Roscoe Riley, a very wise man, knowing I wasn’t much of a church goer convinced me that perhaps I should attend services at their sister church in Cambridge, so I gave it a try. He knew that I’d get hooked for a while because the minister in Cambridge was young and very political and his sermons focused on troubles in the Persian Gulf at the time. After Sunday services everyone would congregate at the Margaret Jewett Hall for some refreshments and mingling. So I knew the hall existed but thought it was way too big, plus, I associated it with Sunday services. Still, I lived right nearby on Mass Ave. (1654 Mass Ave, the building with Marathon Sports) at the time so that seemed convenient.

Since I couldn’t find anything else and they were available for Monday nights, I fired off the email to Ken (posted at the end here, along with the first announcement). Aside from Ken and Janice, a few other people were very positive on me finding a new space and were good sounding boards, included Ellen Shapiro, Ravitte Gal (now Elizabeth Miller) and Dorry Segev…there were several emails going back on forth regarding advice. At that point I felt confident that it wouldn’t just be me practicing on my own. For the first practice I also had Mike Smith offering to bring a CD player and along with my sleek black, front loading Magnavox CD boombox we were assured of having something to play music on. I think we ended up using his as he brought an entire stereo system (which wasn’t all that portable if I remember correctly). For the first few months we basically continued Ken’s tradition of practicing lindy hop with everyone contributing music by bringing their favorite CD. The place cost $38 to rent and I started collecting between $2 and $3 a person to cover the cost. I had a decent paying job at the time, and this was temporary, so I figured if I came up short $10 to $15 a night that wasn’t a bad deal.

One thing to note is that this predates FiveGuysNamedMike, and in fact, it wasn’t until later that summer that we started joking about the idea and yes the whole 5 Mikes thing has always been sort of an inside joke. I didn’t know any of the Mikes all that well by that time, although I would see them around town at dances, classes and workshops. From my email history, Mike Smith and I were emailing each other already and I got to know Mike Hibarger through Ellen as they were good friends. He and I didn’t exchange email addresses until late spring of that year. Mike Puschak wasn’t introduced to us until later as he was Mike Smith’s high school friend, and Mike Muno didn’t come out and dance all that much…of course he’s since been replaced with Mike Richters and I don’t know when I first met him.

By the summer, Mike Smith had invested in a nice expensive boom box and we started to use that during practice session. He was also growing his music collection and, although we still encouraged people to bring their favorite CD’s, he spent more and more time playing music for us. As summer wound down, he first approached me in mid August about teaming up. I was a bit apprehensive at the time as I still was losing money on the dance weekly. There were times I would break even but mostly I’d be short $5 to $10. We spent the fall discussing it further and coming up with a good working arrangement and by the time I signed a new contract with the church in December of 1999 for the new millennium, we had officially partnered up and the dance in its current form was born. We initially ran our dance from 9:30pm to 11:00pm and were pretty informal as people just showed up walked in and danced and at the end of the night we’d collect $3, then $4 and eventually $5 a person to cover the cost of the room. It was very casual and it worked

Eventually we added an extra hour and started at 8:30pm. Then at the start of 2005, because of concerns by the church regarding the floor, we changed our format to collecting money at the beginning of the night and were required to start checking shoes. At the start of 2007 we added the one hour lesson starting at 7:30pm. Some have asked me over the years why we don’t have a better name than “Monday Night Practice” which seems a bit bland. Initially it was called “Lindy Practice” and at times we referred to it as “Monday Night Lindy Hop Practice” which seemed a bit long. It finally settled on “Monday Night Practice” as everyone knew it was lindy hop. Mostly we kept the idea of it being a practice so people knew to come here and casually work on their dancing. Also, back when we started out, many dance venues were actually clubs, owned and run by people that didn’t even dance and the thought of us calling ourselves a dance in a church with a boom box seemed silly. Of course now we have become a full featured dance, but we still try to keep the feeling of a friendly place to dance lindy hop.

One thing I find interesting is how the initial intent of Wednesday/Monday was to use it as a place to practice so we could go to a dance and actually lindy hop. In September of 2003 I started a second venue in Arlington on Thursday nights called the Stomp. The idea was to start a second dance and cater to not only different DJ’s but different genres of lindy hop…we tried Balboa for a few months. The irony here is, that as Monday started out as a practice and became a dance, Thursday started out as a dance and in essence, because of lack of interest, turned into a practice. After its apparent failure, Mike and I agreed to support the venue by partially funding it with Monday proceeds and now we run an inexpensive monthly workshop out of the Stomp the first Thursday of the month and the other Thursday’s we have practice for our team, Step Step Triple Step. We’d already been providing the Monday Night equipment for Copley, but this was the first time we started investing proceeds from Monday Night Practice to other parts of the scene because we wanted to encourage more participation and growth. I think what I learned personally from that is that whatever plans you may have, they probably won’t turn out the way you expect.

So here is the email I initially sent to Ken:

  Date: Wed, 10 Feb 99 13:16:09 -0500 (EST)
  From: Michael Jonas
  To: Ken Kreshtool
  Subject: Lindy Hop Practice

  Hi Ken,

  Well, I kind of found a church. It's the First Church on 11 Garden
  Street. They only have slots open for Monday's from 10 to 11pm. Maybe
  even from 9 to 11pm. I figure we could hold court there until March and
  then try and switch back to Wednesdays [place] once they're done

  Could you send out an email asking people what they think of a Monday
  time slot from 10 to 11pm for Lindy Practice. I'd like to know by the
  end of the week if I should go ahead and rent it, since I have to pay
  for a month. The rental is $25 and hour which is actually the cheapest
  I've seen outside the one you're teaching your classes at.

  Also, they'll be closed next Monday, so the schedule right now looks
  like this:

          3/1        (maybe)

  The maybe is because on the first Monday of the month they have a
  healing service that starts at 8:00 and is supposed to finish at 9:00
  but sometimes runs late. I figure we could still rent it for that day
  and see when it lets out.

  BTW, since it's Monday, could you make it to the practices?


And the first announcement…I kept the TO list but edited out the domain names to make the emails unusable…this gives you and idea of the first few people at Monday Night Practice. The “we” in this email refers not only to the premise that my plan was for this to be temporary and that Ken would take it back in March, but that I also figured, since I was so new to the scene and not that good at dancing, to make it sound like a group effort would lend it more credibility. BTW, I was not good at spelling was I?!?

  Date: Sat, 13 Feb 1999 12:16:44 -0500 (EST)
  From: Michael Jonas
  To: jennifer_roderick, rmarvel,
          yael_harlap, alicat23, angruh,
          cmuth, cschroed, dbonsal,
          dorry, ecuoco, ejheller,
          christoph_kaufmann, janice,
          jwaterma, kkreshtool, mcheung,
          michael.smith, pkurtzman,
          rgall, rlundin, sfajkows,
  Subject: Monday Night Lindy Hop Practice

  It's back....

  For all of us that enjoyed the Wednesday night practice sessions...we've
  now moved practice to Monday nights from 9:30pm to 11:00pm. First
  practice starts on Monday February 22nd. We've relocated to the First
  Church in Cambridge on 11 Garden Street. It's the church right across
  from the Cambridge Common (the park, not the pub) and right next to
  the Sheraton Commander hotel. Parking, well, it's Cambridge, so good
  luck. Cost will be however many people show up, divided into $38 (though
  it'll be capped at something like $4 if we only get a handful...we'll
  leave it up to the people that show up in that case)

  For those new to the Lindy Hop practice sessions, the format is that
  you bring your own music (we'll supply the cd player) and we dj
  ourselves, though hopefully people will bring enough slow stuff to
  practice to. Don't need to bring a partner, although some do and
  practice some fun partern stuff. Sometimes we even get lucky and
  someone shows us something new they've learned. And if we're really
  good, one of the local instructors shows up and you can practice with
  them...but there's no formal structure or anything. Just come to dance
  Lindy and improve your lead and follow.

  Please pass this along to anyone else that might be interested. The new
  place is slightly bigger than the Wednesday night practice, though I
  think it's smaller than Ken's place on Tuesday nights. Nice wooden
  floors though!!!

  See you there...oh, feel free to email me if you have any questions. And
  please bring lots of music or you'll end up dancing to my somewhat
  lacking collection of CD's.