Archive for March 2012
Here’s what I spent all morning working on when I should’ve been cleaning house:
Put on your favorite swingable CD or playlist. Bust out your normal old lindy hop footwork, but on 1,2 substitute a 360 pivot turn. On the 1,2 of the first eight counts, turn to the right, and on the 1,2 of the second eight counts, turn to the left. Do that for one whole song.
On the next song, do the same thing, but on 2,3. Alternate 360 turns to the right and to the left.
On the next song, do a triple-step turn on 3&4, alternating right and left as before. Continue in the pattern, substituting turns for 5,6 on the next song, for 6, 7 on the next, for 7&8 on the next, and finally, for 8,1 on the last song. Eight songs equal an amazing turning workout!
The main thing to watch out for is to not ever let your feet go pigeon-toed. You have to be able to do all these turns with your feet and knees in a slight turnout. Keep your knees aligned over your toes, and make sure your shoes and floor are slippery enough.
Now, for extra credit and ultimate nerdy awesomeness, do the whole thing again and this time, use opposite-role footwork. Yay!!
Did anyone try my challenge from last week? I asked you all to thank everyone you danced with by name.
I did this. Turned out it helped me remember to actually introduce myself when dancing with someone new. As opposed to just grabbing them like they were a video game controller or something. Always good to keep in mind these are people we’re dancing with! I just couldn’t bring myself to do it with people I know, though. Sounded too weird and formal. What did you all think?
This week’s challenge: We all know we’re not supposed to let our free arm just hang there like a wet towel, but what to do? Try this – whenever you have a free arm, think about what your hand is doing. Try to make it express something. We’ll check in about it next Friday!
It’s not even Friday yet, but it’s been a long week, I’m grumpy, so I’m going to talk about a peeve. Actually I’m going to rant.
I can’t stand that we teach beginners a six-count basic.
You know, I can always tell when a beginner I’m dancing with is a musician. The six-count thing totally messes with his mind. It doesn’t match with the music that’s DJed, and it drives him crazy and makes him think he’s a bad dancer. Then we have a lot of leads going around saying how they wish their dancing was more “musical,” and it isn’t even their fault. Sad!
It would be different if we danced to a lot of ‘Fifties music. A six-count basic seems to not be so offensive when it’s danced to Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’m not sure why that is.*
But it’s ridiculous to teach a six-count basic to beginners and then expect them to somehow make that work with Charleston music. I think the only people that really does work for are the ones who aren’t listening to the music anyway.
Why does the dance community think this is an “easier” version of swing dancing?
The justification I hear most often is that beginners just want to learn a lot of flashy moves and don’t care about whether the dance fits the music or not. That may be true, but should we be encouraging this sort of thinking? Can’t we teach them “moves” in the context of eight-count footwork instead?
I actually think the only reason we stick with this so-called East Coast Swing is habit. We all learned that way, and then had to find out for ourselves that there was this other thing called “Lindy Hop” that was supposed to be the Holy Grail of Swing dancing. If a six-count basic and the Pretzel were good enough for us, then dammit, they’re good enough for the next generation. Let them suffer like we suffered, right?
For the few instructors out there who teach an eight-count basic in your drop-ins, thank you.
For beginners who only know six-count moves and want to make your dancing more “musical,” here’s what you do:
Most Swing songs are constructed in groups of four eight-count phrases. At the beginning of the verse, start out doing whatever six-count things you want. Do four of them. Then do something else for eight beats. That will make your dancing line up with the end of that section of music, most of the time.
The something you do for eight beats can be really simple. A messaround, or just step in place, or do some crazy footwork thing if you must. Look around the room for some ideas.
Making your dancing come out right at the “break” will make all the difference in the world to your follow, and she’ll be so happy she won’t even notice you didn’t do the Pretzel.
*Actually, I do know why that is. East Coast Swing works better with ‘Fifties music because of song structure. Songs that aren’t made up of four groups of eight-count phrases are made up of six groups of eight-count phrases (like 12-bar blues structure). That was a lot more prevalent in ‘Fifties music than in the dance music of the ‘Twenties through ‘Forties. If you’re dancing to a song that’s contructed this way, you can do the whole thing in six-count moves. Just be aware that you’ll have to do six-count basics and moves a total of eight times to make it line up at the end of the verse.
Whenever I tell non-dancers about my dancing fixation, I get the same response as when I tell people I like brussels sprouts. “Well,” they say doubtfully, “I guess it’s good for your health.”
If dancing were horrible for your health I would still do it. I can’t help myself. I’d be a helpless dancing addict sleeping in a doorway. My friends would have an intervention for me and I’d be dragged off to the dancing detox where they make you sit around every evening watching television. I’d probably run away.
But as much as I hate to admit it, I think dancing actually IS good for your health. Yeah, exercise, blah blah. But I mean I think it helps your immunity.
I used to get colds all the time. Every year I’d have one really bad cold that lasted forever. Plus about every other year I’d get something like an ear infection or bronchitis. You know what? Since I started dancing in 2004, I’ve had maybe two little colds that lasted about four days apiece, and that’s it.
Obviously, I’m not a scientist, thank God. But my theory is that dancing toughens up your immunity. Think about what you do when you go dancing: In the middle of the night you leave your nice cozy home to go out in the (usually, here in Oregon) freezing cold and damp weather, to go to some public place where you put yourself into close personal contact with a lot of germy people you never even met before. You run and jump around for about three or four hours, getting all hot and perspiry, and then go out in the cold again. You may or may not stop off for some beer and greasy food before going home and to bed about three hours before you have to get up again and go to work. How could that not be great for your health?
Here are a couple of articles. This is an article that says kids who are exposed to a lot of germs have better immune systems. If it’s good for kids, surely it’s good for grownups, right?
This article says that endorphins, which you get from dancing, are good for immunity. See item #1 but kindly ignore #3.
And item #2 says vegetables are good for you too. So eat your brussels sprouts.
I posted last week about how everyone needs to dance with newbies. But there’s a flip side to that. This week, I want to talk about dancing with rock stars. You know, those dancers who are so good they’re scary?
First of all, this is a pretty subjective thing. The guy with all the crazy moves who’s throwing girls all over the place – he might look like a rock star to someone who’s just starting out. So take my advice here with a little caution. “Good” is a bit of a moving target.
But in general, we all need to get brave and dance with partners who are better dancers than we are. Follows, you need to learn what it feels like to be led without being ordered around, to find yourself doing moves no one ever showed you before, just because they’re being led properly. Leads, you need the experience of leading someone who not only follows you, but makes what you led turn out cooler than you thought it would.
But it’s so difficult to ask these people to dance! They can be nervewracking, especially if they’re an instructor, and even more especially if they’re YOUR instructor. You can’t help feeling like you’re going to be graded on your efforts. The terror of it can make you forget everything you ever knew about dancing, and you end up feeling like a hippo who’s recovering from a knee replacement.
Another thing: some of the better dancers seem like they’re always performing, never just dancing. So if you dance with them, suddenly you feel like everyone is watching you. That can be terrifying, and a sure route to hippo-dom.
And then, of course, sometimes you’ll ask someone to dance who LOOKS like a great dancer, only to find out that they’re rough or really bouncy or heavy in a way you didn’t expect.
So here’s my theory: we should dance with beginners as if they were experts, and dance with experts as if they were beginners.
Just think about it:
When we dance with experts, we usually pay very close attention to them, we try to dance as well as we possibly can, and we assume that anything that went wrong was our fault. This is exactly how we should dance with beginners.
When we dance with newbies, we usually assume the dance will be a little strange, we don’t focus too much on technical things, and we just try to be friendly and have fun. This is exactly how we should dance with rock stars.
I don’t know, it’s just a theory. What do you think?
Here’s a weird topic that might be of interest to other dancers. You know, as much as I love dancing, and no one loves it more than I do, there is this one little downside. I basically hate the effect dancing has on my sleep schedule. I’m sure a lot of dancers with “real jobs” can identify with this.
I never get home from a dance until at least midnight, if not three or four in the morning. And then when I get home, I can never just fall straight into bed and sleep; I’m too wired and I usually have to putter around for about an hour to unwind. So on dancing nights I’m getting to bed at anywhere from one to five a.m.
But I’m also one of those people who finds it impossible to sleep in. Even without an alarm clock, even with all the shades drawn and the house quiet, I just cannot sleep past about eight a.m. at the very latest. And sleeping in that late makes me feel like a slacker and more or less ruins my day anyway.
Lately, I’ve also gotten into this deal where even on the nights I don’t go out dancing, my sleep is messed up. Either I make myself get into bed early, and then lay there not sleeping – probably wishing I was out dancing – or I fall asleep straight away but wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep again. Then I just lay there worrying that I’m going to turn psychotic from sleep deprivation, and that if I do turn psychotic, people won’t want to dance with me anymore.
But recently I’ve been reading about something called biphasic sleep. Basically, it’s where your eight hours of sleep are divided into two four-hour chunks that are just as healthy. In one version, which you can read about here, you go to sleep at a normal time, wake up naturally in the middle of the night, stay up for an hour or so, and then go back to sleep until morning. Apparently that’s a very traditional way of sleeping – who knew?
The other way is described here, and in this version, you do part of your sleeping in the daytime and part of it at night, and according to some people, it’s still all good. If this is true, I could theoretically take a nice long nap on the days when I’m going out dancing that night, then sleep from, say, only two to seven a.m., and manage not to turn psychotic!
Anyway, I think the approach I’m going to try is a) I’m going to not stress out about it and b) I’m going to do as much napping as I can. And if anyone has advice for me about how to make dancing fit in with a normal schedule, I’d love to hear it!
Every once in a while someone will come up to me on the dance floor and say something like, “I just love your footwork!” or “How do you do that crazy footwork?” It always startles me because I don’t really think about my feet when I’m dancing. Usually, I’m obsessing about relaxing my arm, having good posture, or remembering to breathe. Of course, after they say that, then all I can think about is my feet, and the next few dances end up being a little strange.
But if anyone is interested in this particular aspect of their dancing, here is something to try. I do this at home as sort of a brain teaser for myself, and I think it’s just generally a good way to work on coordination and moving around.
What you do is take some sort of jazz step – say, shorty george, a half-break, or some apple jacks – and stick four beats of that within a normal eight-count lindy pattern. This is fairly simple to do if you add it in on 5-8; the jazz step just takes the place of the last step-step-triple step.
Also pretty simple to do on 1-4. The only trick is figuring out how to get back on the appropriate foot for the next beat. You’ll also find that you may need to practice doing the jazz step on the opposite side from the way you normally do it, which is a really good thing to practice anyway.
It gets trickier if you try to add it in on 3, and a lot trickier if you add it on 2 or 4. And if you add it on 6, 7, or 8, it overlaps onto the beginning of the next eight counts, and that can really mess with your mind.
Finally, do the whole thing again, only switch your footwork, lead/follow wise. That means you’re going to do the whole thing again on the other side.
Most of this stuff will turn out to be just for practice, nothing you’d really be able to use on the social floor. But it certainly can’t hurt your dancing, and it’s something to do while you’re on hold or waiting for the microwave to ding. Plus, this sort of thing is what really bumps you up to true dance-nerd status!
Came across this massive essay on the Swungover website. It’s about the supposed difference between “Savoy” and “Hollywood” -style Lindy Hop. If you have any time off from dancing this weekend, I’d suggest poring over it. It’s packed with nerdy goodness; you’ll need at least a couple of hours to get through the whole thing, but even just dipping in and watching a few of the clips will surely give you something to think about.
I think we all go through a phase where we just can’t stand to dance with new dancers.
It’s not that we’re mean people; a lot of this is simple self-preservation. Overenthusiastic newbies can hurt you. Leads will rip your arm off and beat you over the head with it; follows dip themselves when you least expect it, forcing you to break your own neck to save theirs.
Actually, the newbies aren’t even the worst. After all, some of them are so reticent it’s like trying to dance with overcooked spinach. The worst ones are the overconfident middle-of-the-roaders who just got done watching some clips on YouTube.
In any case, refusing to dance with “bad” dancers is a phase we all go through, whether it’s because we don’t want to get hurt, or because we just think it isn’t any fun to dance with newbies. But I believe that as our own dancing improves, it’s a phase we eventually need to get past.
Dancing with less-experienced dancers can teach you a lot. Remember, it’s easy to dance well with a really good partner. They make it easy for you. But dancing with someone who needs help can really show you where your own dancing is lacking. If it seems like every guy I dance with is trying to break my arm, that probably means I’m not doing enough to keep my own alignment under control. If none of the follows can follow my nifty moves, it’s a cinch I’m not leading them as clearly as I should.
Think about this, too: eventually, you might get to be a really, really good dancer. You might get to be the best dancer in your whole community. Then everyone else is going to dance worse than you. What are you going to do then, not dance with anybody? Personally, I’d rather be dancing with somebody than nobody.
The other thing is that for beginner dancers, the best way to improve quickly is to dance with the best dancers available. This is a scary thought for most beginners, but it’s true. How are beginners ever going to get any better if experienced dancers won’t dance with them?
Snobby dancers hurt the community. If you refuse to dance with the newbies, I guarantee they won’t show up at your event. Experienced dancers need to be willing to cheerfully dance with everyone, because every rock star was once a first-timer. That awkward kid from the drop-in lesson might turn out to be the Next Big Thing. You just never know.