Archive for July 2012
There’s this thing beginner leads in my scene do that absolutely drives me crazy.
Maybe they do this everywhere, or maybe it’s just a Portland thing, I don’t know. But what they do is, after sending you out into a swingout, instead of letting you continue the momentum they’ve set up, for some reason out of nowhere they suddenly yank you forward on that last triple.
It always ends up as a yank. Because everyone knows that last triple is where you settle back. It’s the “out” part of the swingout, and it’s the only place the follow can really do styling or whatever. As a million instructors have told us, that last triple is where the follow gets to shine. And then out of nowhere, this professional arm-wrestler is yanking you forward. Ouch!
I was discussing this with a friend of mine not too long ago, and she said she thinks it’s because they’re trying to “body lead.” They’ve been told they’re not supposed to jerk you around with their arms, but instead somehow use their bodies to move you. But they still carry their body weight too high, so what it translates to is that they lean back with their shoulders in an effort to get you to move without using their arms. Of course, they always do give a little extra value at the end of the maneuver by bending their arms anyway.
As I used to tell my kids when they were little, that may be an explanation, but it’s no excuse.
I remember this one time when I was taking a workshop from Naomi Uyama. I was complaining to her about leads who yank on your arm, and asking her what to do about it. She invited me to show her what I meant. So I led her in some swingouts, and tried to imitate the kind of arm yanking that I so often feel on the dance floor.
And you know what? I couldn’t yank that girl no matter how hard I tried. Every time I jerked and tugged on her arm, she just floated. I was getting worn out, but her lovely smile never left her face for a minute; you’d a thought I was Fred Astaire or something.
It actually made me kind of mad. “How do you DO that?” I spluttered.
“Well,” she said patiently, “you just follow.”
So I was thinking about this whole thing with leads who yank you forward on seven-and-eight. And I realized what I should have seen long ago: the problem really isn’t them. It’s me.
The only reason I get my arm yanked in these situations is because I believe, mentally, that I’m supposed to “triple away” on those last two counts. It’s my right and privilege as a follow. After all, that’s where I get to do my styling.
And you know what? That ain’t following.
I know for a fact that if Naomi, or any other brilliant follower, was getting led forward on that last seven-and-eight, she would simply triple forward. She wouldn’t get into a wrestling match with the guy by insisting on tripling away. If I get my arm yanked, it’s because I was tripling away without being led there.
It’s called “actually following.”
I’m gonna have to try that sometime!
I got so disgusted with my leading last night. See, here’s the problem…
Normally, I’m a follow. So when I try to lead things, if the person following me doesn’t follow me just perfectly, I tend to revert right back to my normal role. Then I start following my follow and doing whatever she was inadvertently backleading.
I know I need to just press manfully on with what I was trying to lead and give the follow a chance to pick up on it. But in order to do that I have to overcome a whole bunch of training. See, followers are trained to be responsive, and that’s not such a helpful skill when you’re trying to lead something.
I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing, in reverse, with leads who try to follow. As soon as their leader gives them any sort of opening, I’m sure it’s very easy for them to just jump in and start leading things without waiting to be led. Am I right?
Now, it just doesn’t make sense that as a leader, the only people I can lead are the ultra-accomplished, super-responsive followers. I should be able to lead normal followers or even beginners. I really want to be able to do this. But beginners who try to follow me just end up getting confused.
Yet I don’t want to overcompensate and turn into some kind of roughhousing armbreaker. Just as, I’m sure, leaders learning to follow don’t want to turn into passive noodle-armers.
Anyone else having this problem? Does anyone out there have any good advice?
How’s your solo Charleston coming along? Awesome, I hope! But once in a while this problem comes up, and maybe you can identify:
You’ve taken a million workshops, watched a million clips on YouTube. You’ve learned a million different steps and variations. You’ve written them down neatly in a little notebook and you’ve practiced them with all due diligence.
Yet when you get out on the social floor, you keep finding yourself doing the same few boring moves over and over. Arg!
What you need is a way to get all those millions of variations out of your mental storage vault, out to where you can access them quickly, whenever they’re needed. So here’s a way of practicing your solo Charleston and jazz steps, and it should help with that problem.
The one great secret of practicing is that there’s amazing power in doing one little thing, day after day. This technique taps into that. Every individual session need not, and should not, be extensive; what’s most important is that you do this every day.
First, dig out your list of jazz steps and variations. Or compile one from all the little notes you’ve jotted down over the weeks and months. Get yourself a nice neat list that makes sense to you. You should plan on adding to this master list whenever you learn something new.
Now every day, what you’re going to do this: randomly select up to eight of these variations, and write them on a sticky note. You can pick fewer than eight if you want, but no more than eight, okay?
The way I randomly select things is this: Start at the beginning of your list, and count down the list as many places as the number of today’s date. Today is the 20th, so count down 20 places on the list. Whatever step that is, jot it down on a sticky note. Keep going, starting back at the top of the list when you reach the bottom, until you’ve got eight items written on your sticky note. The next day, you’ll start with the next item on the list and use the next day’s date. Get it?
This system works well most days. If it keeps landing you on the same item all eight times, then just use your birthday or something. Improvising, remember?
So when you’ve got your mini list, randomly selected from your master list, these are the variations you’re going to work on today. Stick the note up where you can see it, put on your music, and then dance out these moves in any order and combination you like. The trick is that you’re limited to only this short list of moves, and no others.
You’ll find that some of the variations will work well as a “basic” – you can do them over and over again without stopping – while others only really work as a “break.” Some variations will easily work in combination, while others may require a little tinkering to get a smooth transition. Work out all these issues to your heart’s content, but only, I repeat, only using this limited selection of moves.
When you get bored or tired, stop. Throw away the sticky note, and put the whole thing out of your mind.
Next day, repeat the exercise, using eight different moves.
Repeat this every day for the rest of your life.
I hope you don’t mind if I get a little maudlin all up in this blog, but I just gotta send out a big weepy hug to everyone who commented on my last post. Swing dancers are the sweetest people.
A terribly wise and spiritual-minded type person once told me that if your family of origin doesn’t quite do it for you, when you grow up you gotta go out and find your own tribe.
Part of the reason I never stray long from swing dancing is that for better or worse, you people are my tribe.
So I’ve been going through this phase where I sorta hate dancing. Do you ever feel this way?
I’m not sure what it is.
Part of it is just me. I’ve been feeling old, fat and ugly, and not sure I care one way or another. It seems like a pointless task to try and make myself presentable enough to go out.
Another thing is my dancing. I feel like I take lessons after lessons, but I still dance just as bad as ever. It’s been a long time since I had a really spectacular dance with anyone, and I know it isn’t their fault, it’s mine. Dancing with me must be roughly equivalent to trying to move a grand piano with one broken wheel.
Then when I look around the room, all I see is these kids. Cute young guys dancing with cute young girls, all probably looking to get romantic with someone, and here’s me, this random old married lady. What’s wrong with this picture?
Plus, everybody dances bad. The leads either yank me around all over the place like I’m some kind of sports equipment, or they’re diffident and wimpy, and none of them has any imagination. Then when I try to lead the girls, they’re either as immobile as a tombstone, or they’re leaping around everywhere without waiting for me.
Of course, the DJs are awful. Why can’t they, just once, just for a lark, play a song that actually makes me feel like dancing? It’s always just the same old stuff, over and over.
In other words, I’m depressed.
Well, it happens once in a while. I’ve hated dancing before, and I’ll hate it again. But it never lasts long.
Anybody got any great advice for getting out of dance depression?
So I’m out the other day at a place where a lot of people are dancing who normally don’t. I mean that the event wasn’t specifically a dance event, just one where there was music, and people were drinking, and some of them got a little carried away and started dancing.
Now, I don’t drink, or I’d have an excuse for what happened. Maybe it was just my natural exuberance.
Anyway, this older gentleman came up to me and asked me if I wanted to dance with him.
I mean, he gave me fair warning. He said, “I used to swing dance, but I haven’t done it in years.” I’ve heard this before, and what it always means is that the person went out dancing a few times in the nineties and learned the Pretzel. I know people like this are the absolute worst arm-breakers there are. But I guess I was just being overly-exuberant, and I agreed to dance with him.
Then he proceeded to clamp both my hands in a vice-like grip with his big old thumbs, and started jerking my arms up and down like he was shaking the dust out of an area rug.
Of course, the first thing I did was say “Ow.”
So he goes, “What?”
“Ouch,” I said. “You’re squeezing my hands.”
He smiled broadly. “They’re one of my favorite bands too!”
What could I do? I smiled back. Well, maybe it was more of a grimace. I don’t know.
Then I sorta flexed my hands, to get him to readjust his grip. He did, and then clamped down harder than ever, giving my arms an extra shake in the process.
Okay, well, maybe this was one of those situations where what the follow needs to do is match the lead’s arm strength. I mean, there are still some instructors who tell you to do this. Maybe it would help. I squeezed back with my hands and tightened up my arms.
A sudden jolt of pain through the base of my skull told me this was the wrong tactic.
So then I let my arms go all floppy, and tried to concentrate on breathing through the pain in my fingers.
Feeling the sudden lack of “connection,” the gentleman augmented the area-rug shake with a forward-and-back pumping motion of his arms.
I survived the remainder of the song by mentally repeating “breathe, breathe, breathe” to myself, over and over.
So I’m asking you. What would you have done?
A few months ago I posed the question: What is Swing Dancing? In that post, I offered my definition. To me, swing dancing only deserves to be called that if it includes rhythmic variety, humor, and improvisation, and is danced to music that swings.
I have since become aware that while most of us can recognize the first three elements pretty objectively, there’s a difference of opinion on that fourth element. Simply put, not everyone defines “swing music” the same way.
For example, the non-profit dance organization I belong to defines swing music according to its chronology: swing music is popular dance music from the 1920s through the 1950s. But I know some people for whom Big Band Swing is the only “real” swing music. For others, only Trad Jazz is authentic swing. Lots of people only enjoy doing swing dancing to rock-n-roll, which for me is no kind of swing music at all. And then there’s the dreaded Neo-Swing.
We throw around that term “swing” a lot, without being completely clear on what we mean. We may think we can recognize it when we hear it, but can we really define it? Have you ever thought about it?
What defines swing music for you? Is it instrumentation? Does swing music have to include an upright bass, a snare drum played with brushes, a horn section, a washboard, three sisters named Maxene, LaVerne and Patty? Or is it repertoire? Does swing music have to be tin-pan-alley pop songs? Is it instrumentation: Does it have to be a big band, or an acoustic trio? Does it have to be old? What are your requirements for “real” swing music?
Now, because this is my blog, I get to tell you what my definition is. And I trust you, my dear and loyal readers, to find a million exceptions to my rule, but I’m going to post it anyway.
I say that any song where there’s a clear “8, 1″ emphasis, and where the triplets are swung, can be considered swing.
What do you say?