Ben Morris (Kirkland, Washington) is one of the most popular and influential West Coast Swing dancers on the scene today. His performances are fun, and infectious and he brings a fun vibe to his classes.
He began dancing at a young age after his family moved to Denver, Colorado, and first learned WCS is 2002.
He began teaching shorty thereafter in 2003.
He has won multiple awards and dancing championships including; the World Swing Dance championship, U.S. Open Swing Dance championship, Spirit of Lindy Hop award at the National Jitterbug Championships, and is in the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame. He currently lives in Southern California. Dance Planet Daily caught up with Ben at the WCS swing event,Wild Wild Westie, in Dallas, Texas, and we talked about his career, life as a dance instructor, and performing on stage with Leann Rimes.
Why did you choose to pursue teaching West Coast Swing as a career?
It wasn’t on purpose. I was doing both Lindy Hop and West Coast. It was never really my intention and I didn’t like one (style) more than the other. For a while it was almost exactly 50/50 until I stopped working with my Lindy partner. Things alternated between West Coast and Lindy, but started to tip towards West Coast simply because I had a partner, and we started to compete (in West Coast competitions).
I started to get so busy with West Coast stuff that I didn’t have time to pursue Lindy. That was on the road…back home I started to do more West Coast because I felt I was needed more in that community. There weren’t as many good classes or dancers bringing in new people in Southern California, and there weren’t as many good dances in the area at the time. I felt like I could contribute more. The Lindy community already had many successful events and I would’ve been struggling to compete against them and not contributing to the community in a positive way.
Do you have any favorite cities that you enjoy dancing West Coast?
Yeah, when I dance at home! I have a regular event that I do (in Orange, Calfironia) and when I put on a special event I always have a blast. Elsewhere in the USA? The people in Texas are really enthusiastic and I love the energy here. I feel like the people in the northwest have great energy. I love going to Oregon and Seattle. So-Cal is probably my favorite, although I admit that I’m biased.
I love the people in San Diego, although I don’t get down there as much. They come up to my events a lot, and they have a great vibe too. There’ s a bunch of different places, but those are a few.
Whats your favorite thing about being a travelling dance instructor?
It’s fun! It’s great to do something that’s fun for a living. It’s exhausting sometimes, but for the most part it’s something that’s fun to do.
What challenges are there with the job?
Sometimes you get stuck in a hotel where there is nothing to eat, and nothing is close by. And the only place to order food is from the bar (laughs). I’m not the most versatile eater, so sometimes I’ll bring a Balance Bar with me if I don’t have time to eat what I want. Very often I find that I’m eating one real meal a day, and the rest is snacks that I squeeze in. Some of the events have hospitality suites where they have home cooked meals. That’s really awesome. The challenges can be a pain in the butt, but its not really too bad.
What do you want your students to take away from your classes?
It depends specifically on the class. Some things are a little more theoretical. What I try and do is give them some concrete material that they can take away, but within the material I want to convey some new element. On occasions where I just teach patterns I try to teach it in pieces so they get a really intuitive understanding.
Not just the final result, but all the pieces so they can take the final result and simplify it, or complicate it how they want. I want them to take away something they can use…but also extra elements beyond that.
Do you remember your first class you ever taught?
I can’t remember the first class I ever taught. I do remember the first workshop I ever taught at a big event. It was Boogie By The Bay, and was a really big, crowded class. It went fine and was fairly entertaining…I think I conveyed the material ok, but I wasn’t very efficient. I think I got my point across, but I hadn’t learned how to teach very efficiently yet.
Do you have any dancers that you like to watch?
I love watching most of my peers in the West Coast world. But, I really love watching Benji (Schwimmer). He’s so good at all the things I feel like are my biggest weaknesses. I love watching how every part of his body is involved with the dance. I feel like no corner is unpolished in his routines.
In 2010 you had the opportunity to work with Leann Rimes and perform onstage with her at the Country Music Awards (CMA’s) as well has dance in the video for her single, “Swingin”…what was that experience like?
That was so fun! That was setup through Benji…he was the choreographer for the video and got a bunch of us to do it. Originally I was just going to be in the video and perform. I had never had the chance to do a video, and it was a completely different experience. It was a total blast! It was exhausting and a lot of work, but really, really fun. They then decided to have us come perform, and that was an out of this world experience. Being in front of…I don’t even know how many people were in the stadium. Maybe twenty or thirty thousand? I walked out onstage and I was like, ‘Holy crap! This is a lot more than I’m used too!’ I don’t normally get stage fright, but that was intimidating. She did a cartwheel type maneuver over our legs and we had to hold her going down the stage and into the audience…and I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh man, I’d better not let her fall!’ (laughs). I could just imagine Leann Rimes falling off stage or tumbling over me in front of thirty thousand people. That was nerve racking experience, but really cool. She is super nice to work with. Really friendly and nice.
What future goals do you have in regards to West Coast Swing?
I’m pretty happy with where things are. I want to get better and keep putting out better routines, and cut out things people don’t really want to watch. I want to keep improving. That’s a constant goal. I’m enjoying the travel. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep going full throttle…maybe 5-10 more years. I’m not sure. But I’m really happy with what I’m doing right now!
For more information on Ben visit Benmorrisdance.com!