Archive for the ‘dance practice’ Category
Real quick, here’s a fun exercise you can try…
Stick on your music, and then proceed to make the following into an eight-count footwork pattern for yourself:
- One rock step
- One triple step
- One kick ball change
- One kick step
But here’s the thing: you mix up the order. So for example, you might do a kick ball change, triple step, rock step, kick step. Or then again, you might do a rock step, kick ball change, kick step, triple step.
Anyway, mix those four things up in any order you choose. Every combination will work out to be an eight-count pattern that lands you on the opposite foot, ready to start over from the top. Theoretically, you could use any of these patterns as a lindy basic.
Try one combination, and as soon as that’s easy, mix them up again and dance out the new combination.
I strongly suggest doing this with both lead and follow-style footwork, i.e. practice starting with both the left foot and with the right foot.
Kick it up a notch by adding an “and” anywhere in there, and you’ll have a pattern that alternates the starting foot. Know what I mean? Just go kick ball change, triple step, rock step AND kick step. Move that “and” around and you have like a million more combinations to play with.
Have fun, and stay hydrated!
Hey, it has been a loooong time since I blathered on about footwork variations. Far too long. As my loyal readers know, I’m a huge fan of footwork, not just for its showoffyness, but for what practicing it does for your brain, coordination, musicality, conditioning and a whole bunch of other good stuff. Plus, it’s just fun to do.
Now sometimes when I say footwork variations, I’m talking about sticking jazz steps into your basic. This isn’t one of those times. Today I’m purely talking numbers. I’m talking about how we can take our normal eight counts and divide them up in a bunch of different ways.
What I’m referring to are the “ands.” You know, “one, two, three AND four.” That’s step, step, triple step, right? Well, we can take that “and” and move it anywhere in those four counts. We can take it out from between three and four, and stick it, for example, between one and two. Now we have “one AND two, three four.” This translates to triple step, step, step. Perfectly legal.
For any given four counts, there are four different places you can put the “and.” And every eight count pattern consists, obviously, of two of those possible four-count variations. According to my calculations, that makes sixteen different eight-count patterns, just from moving the “ands.”
When you move the triples to different spots like this, suddenly you have new syncopation patterns. This opens up whole new realms of awesomeness. And this is the sort of thing the pros do all the time in their dancing. But for us normal dancers, it takes a bit of working out for the information to get from our brains to our feet. It’s definitely worth the effort to get it all figured out.
Now just because I’m so nice, I’ll save you the trouble. Here’s the sixteen patterns I came up with:
1 2 3 & 4 5 6 7 & 8
1 2 3 & 4 5 & 6 7 8
1 2 3 & 4 5 6 & 7 8
1 2 3 & 4 5 6 7 8 &
1 & 2 3 4 5 6 7 & 8
1 & 2 3 4 5 & 6 7 8
1 & 2 3 4 5 6 & 7 8
1 & 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 &
1 2 & 3 4 5 6 7 & 8
1 2 & 3 4 5 & 6 7 8
1 2 & 3 4 5 6 & 7 8
1 2 & 3 4 5 6 7 8 &
1 2 3 4 & 5 6 7 & 8
1 2 3 4 & 5 & 6 7 8
1 2 3 4 & 5 6 & 7 8
1 2 3 4 & 5 6 7 8 &
Like I said, the pros do these sorts of footwork variations constantly. Just watch any competition clip on You Tube. But you have to actually look at their feet to see it. If you’re not looking at their feet, you might miss it, because their footwork doesn’t throw off the rest of their dancing, and it doesn’t disturb their connection. That’s what we’re after. And that’s why it’s so important to drill this stuff.
I suggest taking each of these patterns and practicing it in the following ways:
First, simply practice it in place, just to get the syncopation in your feet. As always, practice to music. Once your brain and your feet are communicating, the next thing is to practice dancing the pattern as smoothly as possible. Don’t let your head bob up and down. This will help make sure your footwork doesn’t screw up your partner.
Then practice it the opposite way: try to get level changes in there. Does the pattern suggest any jazz steps or crazy stuff to you? Make it as big as possible. This is so you can use the variation at any point in your dancing where you’re not connected to your partner and you want to show off.
Now go back to dancing smoothly. The next thing is to try taking the variation and turning with it. Use the footwork pattern while you turn in place, both clockwise and counterclockwise. This is because sometimes we have to turn while we’re dancing
And because sometimes we have to move in a straight line while we’re dancing, the next thing you want to do is practice your pattern moving forward, moving backward, and moving from right to left and from left to right.
Finally, take your pattern and move all around the floor with it, randomly. This is sometimes referred to as “dancing.” Dance all around with your pattern and enjoy your music and the fact that you’re getting more awesome every day!
Practice a different pattern every day and reap the healthful dance benefits
As promised, here are the notes from the workshop Mindy and I taught on Sunday:
First, we discussed the difference between a weight change and an axis change. A weight change can be limited to just the foot itself, while an axis change shifts your center of balance completely from one side of your body to the other.
Normal Lindy footwork is a pattern of rock steps (which involve a weight change but no axis change) and triple steps (which change your axis). One way to explore footwork variations is to substitute other non-axis-changing steps for the rock steps, and other axis-changing steps for the triple steps.
Here are the steps we came up with to substitute for rock steps: Kick ball-change, pulse pulse, leg sweep, kick-and, double kick, swivel swivel, swoop (a knee-up kick), boogie back, shorty, suzy, cross cross, and a fast hallelujah (rock rock).
For triple steps, we tried substituting a single step, step hop, kick ball-change step, triple swivel, step scoot, tap step, kick step, knee slap step, sweep replace, cross step step, step heel step cross (half a scissors), kick hop/replace, and a grapevine (either front-then-back or back-then-front).
We discussed other steps that could stand in for either, depending on which foot you choose to exit with: v-slide, lock turn, jump, a quick messaround, cross twist, shuffle-shuffle, crazy legs, shimmy, knees in-out, and a slip-slop.
We reviewed swingouts, and explored bringing the follow in on beat one or beat two, using a kick ball-change to substitute for the first rock step. We discussed the idea of letting the follow finish whatever tricky footwork she might decide to throw in before yanking her into a swingout, and then we discussed the importance of the follow being able to move her footwork variation in any direction in order not to break the connection.
To practice that connection, we explored the “shopping cart” exercise, with each partner getting a chance to both lead and follow. We did this first with plain walking, then with plain lindy footwork, and then with individual footwork variations.
Then we went back to the swingout and had each partner take turns using their own customized footwork variations on seven-and-eight, with the emphasis on musicality and on maintaining a smooth connection.
Thanks to everyone who showed up and participated! Mindy and I had so much fun with this that we will most likely offer the same material in an upcoming workshop, so if you’re in the Portland area keep a lookout for it at http://www.stumptowndance.com!
Okay, so the holidays totally threw off my schedule. I’ve gotten nothing done that wasn’t Christmas-related for what seems like weeks. It’s fine, it happens, I’ve made peace with it and forgiven myself. If this has been your problem, I suggest you do the same.
Now it’s time to get back to work!
Here is what work looks like for me. Firstly, I’ve been taking my business cards and flyers around to places and making new contacts for workshops and events. Nothing too crazy, just something like one new contact every couple of days or so. Cold-calling is like my worst fear, so I figure a little is a lot better than none.
Secondly, and much more importantly, I’m getting back into a routine of working on my dancing. Here’s a new scheme that’s kind of fun, and maybe you’ll want to try it:
I may have mentioned before how when I take workshops or lessons, I’m compulsive about taking notes. Actual written notes in a journal, not video. Reason being that if you take the time to write it down, your brain has to actually process what you’ve learned, whereas just taking a video, especially one that you’ll probably never look at again, does nothing much for you mentally.
People are always telling me that they don’t bother taking notes because they can never figure out what their notes mean once they get them home. And I can understand that. When I first started it took me awhile to figure out what kind of code I needed to use in order for the notes to make sense later, and sometimes they still don’t. But note-taking helps even if you never go back and look at the notes again, just because of what the act of writing it down does for your brain.
Well, I’ve been feeling like I need an actual system for making use of my dance notes. After all, considering the time and money I’ve spent taking workshops and lessons over the years, that beat-up little brown plastic notebook is the most expensive item in my house. I really should be making use of it!
So here’s what I’ve come up with. Starting at the beginning of the notebook, which dates back about five years, I’m going through each day and writing down the next ten items from the book: moves, sequences, exercises, anything I can actually practice. And I’ve picked out a short list of songs I like to dance to. What I’m doing is compiling a list of ideas that work well with each particular song, by going through and dancing out each of the ten items on my list to each song.
My idea is to work out actual choreographed solo routines, with each routine including stuff that I’ve learned in workshops but never gotten around to practicing. This gives me a built-in way to review stuff, practice choreography, and work on memorizing sequences while I work out new material for Charleston jams, demos and performances.
In the process, I’m also compiling a list of stuff I learned but can’t remember how to do, so I can ask my dance guru about it next time I see her!
So, my fellow dance nerds, if this gives you an idea you can use, New Year’s resolution-wise, you’re welcome to it. See you next year!
So yesterday I took a private lesson as a follow. As always, I wanted to work on swingouts. And among other advice given me by my esteemed instructor (the lovely and talented Ben White from Seattle), he particularly emphasized that I should “play” more. You know, throw in stuff. Goof around. Don’t follow so robotically perfect all the time.
Thinking about that later, it struck me as odd. Because a year ago I was proudly stomping all over the dance floor, tearing things up with my crazy solo moves and hijacking all over the place. To the point where I began to annoy myself. What’s happened to me?
Add this to the fact that last week I became suddenly and helplessly paralyzed in a Charleston jam. Deer-in-the-headlights bit. Me!
And I realized, you know what? I’ve been working way too hard on leading and following. I’ve been neglecting my solo dancing.
So it’s back to that again.
Here’s my new scheme. Maybe you’ll want to try this too.
You know that bit of choreography called “Mama’s Stew”? (If you don’t, don’t bother trying to YouTube it, you’ll get nothing but goulash recipes.) Anyway, it’s a sort of line dance someone came up with, and the structure goes like this:
J/K, J/K, J/K, L
Each line above stands for four eight-count movements. Each letter, of course, stands for a different jazz step; one individual letter means eight counts of that step. For example, in HIHI, H stands for boogie backs, and I stands for boogie forwards, and in this instance you do eight counts of boogie backs, eight counts of boogie forwards, and then repeat. Get it? In that last line, J/K means four counts of one jazz step combined with four counts of another to make a sort of composite jazz step; in this case you start to do fall-off-the-log but throw in some hallelujahs halfway through.
What you can do is use this structure to generate your own routine. As you can see, you’ll need twelve different jazz steps, A through L. You can pick these at random from your handy-dandy master list. (At last count, my list has ninety different steps I’m working on! How many do you have?)
I would suggest being totally random with picking these steps. Close your eyes and point, roll dice, or say “eeny-meenie-mynie-mo.” Because remember, the challenge is to combine things in weird new ways and to incorporate the familiar with the strange. Then plug them all into the above structure for a completely new, never-before-seen-on-television line dance routine of your very own.
I’m going to try having a new routine ready to play with when I go out to my favorite venue later this week. I suggest you try and do the same.
So what are you doing sitting here reading blog posts? Get going!
Okay, kids. It should be clear by now that I’m a firm believer in practicing things. And in my opinion, the most important thing to practice is improvising.
It’s also the hardest thing to practice. After all, isn’t improvisation just “winging it”? Don’t you practice improvising by just making yourself improvise something?
Not in my experience. Not unless you’re a born genius. To me, “just winging it” is the surest way to get discouraged. What happens is, most of the time you just come up with a lot of incoherent junk that makes you feel incompetent. What you need is some sort of plan.
Here is the big secret to improvisation: it’s nothing more than composition. Designing or inventing things. Only difference is, it’s faster.
So to practice improvising, you practice composing. And you keep composing until you can compose quickly, on the fly. And then everyone thinks you’re just winging it.
So here is an activity to try if you want to practice composing things. In this case, a bit of choreography.
First, as always, pick out a piece of music. Keep it around three minutes or less.
Now sit down with a pen and a piece of paper, and your song playing. Set it to repeat.
First thing you’re going to do is map out your song with numbers or symbols or whatever makes sense to you; map out the entire song. We’ve done this before, check out some of the other posts in the “dance practice” category if you can’t remember what I’m talking about.
As you listen to your song, on a separate page start jotting down a list of dance moves that sound like they would fit with this piece of music. Make one list for basic moves and another list for breaks. This is just to get your brain working. Also, having this list handy will help you if your brain should suddenly stop working!
Now, go back to your map. What you want to do now is just close your eyes and listen to the music. As you listen, imagine an amazing dancer dancing to your song. Like a little YouTube video of your favorite dancer playing in your head. Watch your video and see if you can catch what this awesome dancer is doing. Anytime your imaginary dancer does something brilliant and you see it clearly, write it down. Try to write it down on the appropriate spot on your map so you remember where in the song that awesome piece of dancing fits. Keep filling in the blanks as ideas occur to you.
If your ideas suddenly dry up or your imaginary dancer runs off to take a water break, then take a peek at your list of dance moves and see where you can work some of them in.
Keep doing this until you’ve got your song mostly filled in. Don’t obsess about it – it doesn’t have to be perfect. This should maybe take you a half hour.
Now dance it out. You’ll find that some of the stuff was easier for your imaginary dancer than it is for you. Fix anything that’s awkward; fill in any gaps.
Ta-da! There’s your composition. Congratulations! The best part is, this definitely gets easier the more times you do it.
For extra credit, learn the thing. It shouldn’t be hard to memorize, because you’ve already practiced it a million times in your head. Now, next time you go out dancing, ask the DJ to play your song. Then, all cool like, go off to the side of the dance floor and dance out your choreography like it’s no big deal.
And everyone will be amazed at your powers of improvisation!
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.
Here’s another way to think about footwork variations:
The basic lindy footwork (rock-step, triple step, step step, triple step) consists of eight beats divided into four sets of two beats.
On the first two beats, there is no axis change. What that means is that if you’re on your left foot when you do a rock step, you’ll still be on your left foot when you’re done. No axis change means you end up on the same foot you started with.
On the second two beats, there IS an axis change. If you’re on your left foot, after you do that triple you’ll end up on your right foot. Axis change means you change feet.
On the third two beats, no axis change. On the fourth, axis change.
So the whole lindy footwork pattern is two beats with no axis change, two beats with, then two more without and two more with. Got it?
Now what you can do is draw up a chart for yourself like this: Make two columns, and mark the first “no change” and the second “change.”
In the first column, list everything you can think of to do for two beats, and end up on the same foot. The first thing on the list should be, of course, rock step. What else? Try kick ball change, kick hold, double kick, hangman, swivel swivel, tap tap, leg sweep, and whatever else your brain comes up with once you get the idea.
In the second column, put triple step, and then anything else that takes two beats to get you onto the other foot. How about kick step, step hold, tap replace, sweep replace, kick ball change and, etc., etc.?
Then when you’ve got your chart finished, hang it up where you do your dance practice. Stick on your music, then without thinking about it too much, just pick one thing from column one and one thing from column two, and dance them together in a pattern. So your pattern might be kick hold, tap replace, kick hold, tap replace. Work it out, and when you’ve conquered it, pick another two and keep going.
If you really want to get crazy, use one set of moves for the first half of the pattern, and then pick another two moves for the second half. That might look something like kick hold, tap replace, rock step, step hold. Pretty awesome.
You don’t need to memorize these combinations. Just keep your chart where you can see it, and keep coming up with new combinations. Add more moves to the chart as you think of them. Once your body gets the idea, it will sort of take over, until you won’t have to think about combinations at all, you’ll just be able to screw around with steps and somehow end up on the right foot.
And guess what? That’s called improvisation!
Here’s another way for you dance nerds to fritter away an afternoon obsessing about your solo dancing. Try this:
Set up a video camera on a tripod, put on your favorite tune, and then video yourself dancing to the song.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop right there! That’s way too scary.
No, it isn’t! You can do this. Just get over yourself, and do it.
If you absolutely can’t track down a video camera, don’t worry – in a minute, I’ll tell you how to modify this idea for the technologically-challenged.
So if you can, I want you to record yourself dancing to the song a whole bunch of times. Like a dozen. I’m serious!
Remember, this video is just for practice purposes. You can totally erase it as soon as you’ve done a couple more things with it – nobody but you ever has to see it, so don’t freak out.
Now I want you to watch the video, of course. And after you get over the shock of how great or how terrible you think you look, or probably a little bit of both, what I want you to do is this:
I want you to analyze your own dancing the way many of us try to analyze the rock stars on You Tube. Pretend you’re one of those rock stars, and try to figure out what it is you’re doing.
I’ll bet you a nickel that you’ll discover patterns. You’ll find that there are certain moves that always lead into other moves, or signature moves that you do over and over again. There are probably at least one or two things you do that look really, really awesome. Try to write down the moves you see yourself doing, as if it were a piece of choreography you were trying to transcribe.
Don’t be weirded out if you see yourself doing stuff that isn’t really anything. The spots where you kind of stop and wiggle around or just do something totally lame? Don’t worry about that, it happens, it’s kind of like stuttering. Just ignore it. What you’re looking for are the highlights, the parts that look like you know what you’re doing.
Try to generate a nice little list of moves. These are the ones that work great for you today, at the level your dancing is at right now. See if you can organize these moves into a little choreographed routine for yourself.
Now, if you’re technologically inept, you can still do this. Just dance to the song a bunch of times, and try to notice patterns as you find yourself doing them. Say you’re dancing along and you notice some awesome combination that you just did. Stop right there, and write it down. Then start dancing again, and keep going until you have a list to work with. When you’re done, arrange the moves into a little choreographed sequence.
This bit of choreography you just invented is like a catalog of all your best stuff. It’s your greatest hits. These are all the moves that are totally comfortable on you, and they probably look great on you as well.
Now you have a chance to make it better.
Memorize your routine, work on it in front of the mirror, make it look as great as you can, practice it to a few different songs, and then take it out to the social floor and intimidate people with it.
Do this, and I promise your dancing will be so awesome that people will absolutely hate you!
Do you ever get totally bored with your solo dancing? I do. Seems like I’m always trotting out the same old tired jazz steps in every Charleston jam. You know what I mean? Blah, blah, blah. Same old stuff.
So let’s mix it up a little. If you want to try spicing up your solo movements, here’s a thing you can try:
First, what are your go-to jazz steps? Since they’re your favorites, they probably already look pretty good on you. I don’t want you to stop doing them, I just want you to take them to the next level.
For each step, look at the way you normally perform it. What does your body seem to be saying?
Maybe it’s saying “Look at me! Look at me!” Or maybe it’s something more like “Go away, you bother me.” Or maybe ” Get over here!” Or “Whatever! Who cares?” See if you can come up with a little bit of dialogue to go with each of your favorite steps.
What is your body doing to send that message? Can you tell? Chances are it has something to do with your arms. Are your arms up and out, or hanging down? Are they moving side to side, or forward and back? Are they doing something symmetrical, or is each arm doing something different? Are your elbows bent or straight? Are your hands open or closed? Are your palms up or down?
Now, for each step, try to say something completely different. If the step normally says “Yay! I’m having fun!” see if you can make it say instead, “I could care less.” If it normally says “Hit the road, Jack,” try and make it say, “Pick me! Pick me!” Try to use the same step to send a bunch of different messages.
Besides the ones already mentioned, here are a few more to try:
- “Eek! A mouse!”
- “I could crush you with my bare hands.”
- “How dare you speak to me that way!”
- “I’m exhausted.”
- “Pretty please?”
- “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.”
See if you can come up with a new favorite way of doing your old favorite steps.
Of course, if your steps don’t seem to be saying anything at all, maybe that’s your problem right there! But doing this exercise should fix that