Posts Tagged ‘dancing’
Okay, so awhile back I mentioned how I decided that whenever I was dancing with someone who made me feel intimidated, instead of trying my hardest to dance perfectly, I was going to try to dance badly. Remember that? The idea being that at least I wouldn’t be all tense and stressed out and overthinking, and maybe, just maybe, I’d relax enough to actually dance okay.
This has turned out to be the best idea I ever had for my dancing. I swear, since I decided this, I have not had a bad dance. Seriously!
So what’s going on here?
Well, first of all, it should go without saying that my A-number-one rule is that I don’t dance badly in a way that might physically hurt the other person. So no dragging or pulling or throwing myself around.
But see, that wasn’t the stuff that was stressing me out before. No, I was stressed out about things like this: Did I do that turn fast enough? Am I doing my swivels correctly? Isn’t there cuter styling I should be doing? Oh no, he was trying to lead a move, did I follow it right? It was this kind of thing that made me sort of hate dancing with “good” dancers.
What I finally had to realize was this: There are always going to be better dancers than me. And no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to dance better than the best dancers. I’m never going to impress a really great dancer with my amazing dance skills, because I haven’t got any. And besides, to a really accomplished dancer, everybody dances worse than them anyway, so they’re used to it.
I figure my dancing is just another aspect of my personality, like my laugh. Chances are, most people don’t find my laugh too annoying, but I imagine there are some people who do. Do I work really hard to make my laugh like the perfect tolling of bells on a distant hillside when I’m in the presence of someone important? Of course not, I just laugh how I laugh. If someone hates my laugh, they can avoid telling me a joke or simply avoid me altogether, and that’s just how it goes.
Same thing for my dancing. Most people think my dancing is totally fine; I know this because they keep asking me to dance, and they don’t run away when I ask them. And I’m sure there are people who can’t stand the way I dance, and that’s great. Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion.
Obviously this doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on trying to learn to dance better. Of course I want to dance as well as possible, and I work on it obsessively. All it means is that when I’m out on the social floor, dancing with people, I no longer worry about whether I’m dancing “right” or not. I just dance and have a good time, and give myself a break. Workshops and lessons and practice time are where I do my worrying and trying and stressing, but when I’m out dancing I just say to hell with it and dance. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, everything else is just what it is. And that’s the best decision I ever made for my dancing.
So I’m in DC for the Lindy Exchange, and perversely, this post isn’t going to be about the exchange at all. Isn’t that just like me?
See, my sister is a local resident, and since I’m staying with her, I figured it was only right I let her talk me into checking out her preferred form of dancing while I was in town. My sister is addicted to salsa dancing, so on Thursday night we dropped in on salsa night at Dance King Studio in Leesburg.
Now, I’ve done a little bit of salsa, just like I’ve done a little bit of practically every other dance that’s going these days. I’ve even had a little zydeco led on me. Never tried contra, but whatever. I figure if you can follow at all, you can pretty much follow anything.
And that’s generally true. Following is following. You may not follow pretty or look like you know what you’re doing, but at least you won’t get your arm broke off or do anything really embarrassing.
Which pretty much sums up what was happening for me Thursday night. I was managing to get through most of the turns and make it from point A to point B in one piece.
But you know what completely eluded me? The aesthetics of the thing.
First of all, as a lindy hopper, dressing up to go out dancing means something different to me than it does to a salsa dancer. I wore the only heels I had with me, a pair of black Aris Allens that are vintagy-funky-cool at a swing dance, but at a salsa dance they could not have appeared dorkier. Girls dressed up for salsa wear tall, tall spindly spiky things on their feet. Salsa dancers cover the stylistic range between elegant and slutty, but they all appear to be aiming for sexy. This is in no way the aesthetic for swing dancing. And even though I wore the closest equivalent outfit I could throw together, I’m sure people were wondering why I was dressed like someone’s grandma. I felt like a total doofus.
Secondly, there’s the music. Oh, the music. I think that in order to be able to dance convincingly, you need to be moved by the music. And salsa music does not move me, unless it’s out the door. It sounds like circus music to me, and it was way too loud. But my sister, and here’s the important point, my sister listens to that stuff IN HER CAR. Enough said?
Finally, though, salsa dancers just seem to have a different idea of what dancing is actually FOR. As an outsider, it appears to me that they’re really hung up on the whole gender-role difference thing. The men are really manly, and the girls are over-the-top girly. And when a lead approaches me with that Magnificent Beast look on his face, well, it just makes me want to laugh.
Which I actually did, periodically throughout the night. I laughed. Swing dancing makes me laugh a lot, which is why I do it. But salsa dancers don’t seem to like that so much. As a matter of fact, the highlight of my evening was when one of these magnificent beasts led a turn on me, and accidentally smacked me right in the forehead. I about died laughing. I had to stop and have a short fit of hysterics. And the man just stood there, wearing that Mask of Zorro look, not even cracking a grin. Just stood there waiting until I had recovered and could proceed with the serious business at hand. If you don’t think that made me feel like the Special Child, think again.
So basically, salsa dancing, blech.
But I will say that salsa dancers do seem to be enjoying themselves every bit as much as I do when I’m at a swing dance. So I’m not disrespecting the dance itself. It may very well be that I am just way too awkward and unwieldy for this much more adult-seeming form of dancing.
In fact, I’m just perverse enough that I might for the hell of it buy myself a pair of those spiky things and give it a try again next year.
(P.S. Had the honor of meeting fellow dance-blogger Jason from “Dancing Past the Godzilla Threshold” at the lindy exchange last night, and if he’s reading this, he better get ready because I intend to ask him for a lotta more dances tonight!)
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
It’s Wednesday, and I’m almost recovered from the Portland Lindy Exchange this past weekend. And like every year, I have to ask: why do we do this to ourselves?
An exchange is a ton of work. Not just for the organizers, promoters, volunteers, hosts, venue operators, musicians, sound technicians, caterers and cleanup people. I mean just to attend one is a big deal. You travel by car, boat, bus or plane from wherever you come from to stay with strange people and live out of a suitcase for three days, risking no sleep, sketchy food options, and unfamiliar mass transit while you trust google maps to get you to random, out-of-the-way dance venues, often in the scariest parts of town. And all this for the privilege of paying a hundred bucks to dance with strangers for twelve hours a day.
Normal people would look at that list and say, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”
But we never claimed to be normal, did we? We swing dancers look at that list and say, “Aw, hell yeah!”
There’s always that one Christmas moment during every exchange that reminds you why you started this crazy dancing lifestyle in the first place. Mine usually happens at the Sunday afternoon dance, and it happened that way this year.
See, I’m normally kind of a middle-aged sort. On my non-dancing nights I’m usually in bed by ten. Pulling all-nighters is something I do only infrequently, reluctantly, and under extreme duress. Like if someone is in the hospital, or if there’s a lindy exchange going on.
So this past Saturday night, I’m eating something that seems like dinner at around twelve-thirty a.m. And I’m half-loopy from exhaustion. Between dancing outside all afternoon and then subsisting on a quick snack and a nap in the car, my resources are severely depleted. And I’m looking down from the second floor balcony, watching the dancers below on the dance floor, and the music is getting louder and faster, while the dancers seem to be dancing in slow-motion, and there are tracers of light following them all around, and all the colors are running together, and I’m thinking, people pay their drug dealers good money for this sort of thing.
And then a few hours later, after a couple more rounds of dancing, getting a second wind, hitting the wall, collapsing and dying, and then dancing some more, I’m amazed to notice that I’m vacuuming. The dance is over, and the band is dismantling their equipment, and it’s daylight out. And I’m so crazy tired that my brain taps into some weird college-era neural pathway and I find myself craving Egg McMuffins.
After a long drive home, we finally fall in bed and sleep for a blessed couple of hours. Literally, just a couple hours, just enough to not die, before we have to get up, shower, and drive back to the dance again.
It’s the Sunday afternoon dance, and despite my crazy exhaustion, I know it’s going to be incredible.
I approach the venue, and I hear that distant music and the shuffling, stomping, creaking noises of dancing feet and the murmur of people trying to talk over the band, and it’s like coming home. I walk up the stairs, and there’s all my people. Some are sitting in the lobby with sweaty faces, fanning themselves. Some are dolling themselves up in the bathroom. Some are standing around guzzling water. And lots of them are dancing. I push my way through the clumps of lollygaggers up to where the band is playing, and someone waggles his eyebrows at me, and we’re dancing, and it’s so crazy hot in the room it’s like dancing on the sun.
The Sunday afternoon band this year was the Two Man Gentleman Band, and they were amazing. So funny and so danceable. I’m with all my old and new friends in this crowded, sweaty room, dancing Balboa the way it was meant to be danced, because there’s no room to dance any other way, in a swirl of faces and arms and legs and vintage dresses and sweat-soaked t-shirts and sloshing drinks, trying not to kick over chairs and tables and speaker stands, like it’s some crazy acid trip, only instead of Jimi Hendrix there’s old-timey dance music playing, and no actual drugs are involved. It’s desperately confusing and sort of nauseating, and I haven’t had this much fun since… the last lindy exchange!
And it suddenly hits me. THIS MOMENT, this crazy moment when I feel like I’m dancing better than I ever thought I could, with people who are healthier and nicer and better-looking and more talented than any other people I know, to this crazy band like no other, this one crazy moment is why we go to all that trouble. And it’s totally worth it.
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!
Let’s be realistic; nothing in this life is perfect. No matter how great something seems, there’s always a catch. Even dancing has its downside. Only one, mind you, and it isn’t even all that bad. Still, in order to offer a balanced viewpoint, I feel compelled to point out this one unfortunate thing about dancing:
It ruins you for almost every form of what other people generally think of as “fun.”
I remember going to rock concerts in my younger days. I’d save up my pennies so I could drop a huge bundle on the price of a ticket. I’d get all dressed up, then spend hours standing in line at some crowded stadium getting trompled on by a bunch of drunken fools, just for the privilege of sitting there watching somebody else get paid to sing and dance around. Or I’d spend less money, get all dressed up and go to some seedy dive, just to stand in a crowd of drunken fools and watch someone less talented sing and dance around. I used to think of this as “fun.”
Nowadays, if there’s music playing, I have to be dancing, or there’s no point. To watch someone else having fun is no fun.
I used to go to parties. When I was in college, a party meant a lot of people crammed into a small house, each in some stage of intoxication. At least half the group would be watching something on a large screen. The other half would be trying to negotiate their way into each other’s pants. There was usually music in the background, but no one would be doing much about it. Any dancing would consist of either a drunken sort of jumping up and down, or pants negotiations, or both. I used to find this “fun.”
Later on, after I had kids, parties meant a bunch of wives perched on folding chairs in someone’s living room, eating cake off paper plates and discussing pediatricians, while the husbands were standing around a barbecue grill in the backyard, drinking beer and discussing sports. Usually the only music came from the room where the kids were watching the Disney Channel. And to be fair, I doubt anyone has ever really considered this “fun.”
Nowadays, to call something a “party” that doesn’t include dancing, proper dancing, seems like a cruel joke.
There are outdoor-type activities that people consider “fun.” Camping, boating, skiing, fishing and what-have-you. Now, I’m not immune to the beauty of nature and the salubrious effects of fresh air and wholesome recreation. And I guess you could say I enjoy the outdoors as much as I ever did (interpret that how you will). But nowadays I find that wherever I am, whenever I have a relaxed moment, my mind is soon replaying the latest YouTube video from my favorite dance instructor, or planning my outfit for Thursday night’s dance.
So in other words, I guess the downside of dancing for me is that nowadays, no matter what it is I’m doing, with few exceptions, I’d almost always rather be dancing.
Dante shows up at my house last night. Oh, great. I’d spent the day sitting around doing nothing, being depressed. Totally forgot we were supposed to go out dancing. I’m in my gross jeans and some random t-shirt, not even close to being ready to go out.
But he doesn’t look all that ready either. Says he’s tired. Been working a whole lotta hours lately. I mean, he’s as cute and fashionable as ever, but he’s got this sorta wilted look about him, like he could really use a nap.
Dancing had sounded so great the day before, when we’d dreamed up this plan. The Rigamarole is Portland’s newest, up-and-coming swing dance, and it was about time we checked it out. But here it was six o’clock, totally pitch black outside and blustery cold, and we’re looking at an hour-and-a-half drive to get there. We’d be lucky to make it home by one a.m.
“Probably I should just get some sleep tonight,” he says.
“Yeah, and I’ve got laundry and stuff I should do.”
We sit there looking at each other, all glum and discouraged.
“But you know,” he says, “All I’m really gonna do is go home, get in an argument, and then play video games and eat.”
I pictured myself flopped in the recliner, watching the Sanford and Son Collection and wishing I had a life. “All right,” I said. “Give me twenty minutes.”
Nineteen minutes later, and we were out the door.
And it was the awesomest night ever! We show up at the venue, and for one thing, there’s all my people there. I kept spotting folks across the room that I was so happy to see. The ultimate was when who should come rolling in but Chris Harm, who I hadn’t danced with in forever. People just kept showing up, and it felt like a party.
The music was fantastic, my shoes were functioning properly, and my outfit was unproblematic. It seemed like every dance was more fun than the one before it. I hadn’t been there but a half-hour or so, and already my face was sore from smiling so much. And just the two dances I had with Chris more than compensated for that ridiculous drive!
Turned out there was gonna be a Jack and Jills contest. I hadn’t planned to participate, but at the last minute I looked at the list and there was one follow spot left open. So what the hell.
And that was seriously the most fun I’ve ever had in a contest. I had already decided I was just gonna enjoy myself and not worry about my dancing; there were so many good dancers in the contest that it was anyone’s guess who the judges were even going to notice. So I just appreciated the extra dancing space, and danced how I dance.
Anyway, me and Dante both made the finals, which was totally cool. The five couples who jammed it out at the end were so top-notch, it was a great thing to witness, and I seriously did not envy the judges for having to pick out winners from that amazing crew.
Of course, Chris won first place; it would have been odd if he hadn’t, especially dancing with a follow like Noelle. And then I was lucky enough to land David as a partner, which is how I ended up coming in second. He and I each won a copy of Glen Crytzer’s new CD, which was super cool because I hadn’t had the cash with me to buy it on Sunday when he played at Mindy’s dance. So that added a whole ‘nother layer of coolness to what was already an amazing night!
With the prospect of another hour-and-a-half drive home, Dante and I didn’t stay long after the contest winners were announced. But we spent the whole drive home thanking each other for talking each other into not staying home, and swearing never again to blow off dancing in favor of sleep or laundry!