Posts Tagged ‘dancing’
Last night I didn’t feel like going dancing, but I made myself go anyway.
I’d been depressed all day, you see. It was one of those days where I just couldn’t get started at doing anything. Nothing sounded fun or important enough to bother with; consequently, I wasted most of the day lying around fiddling with a Rubik’s cube and eating leftover Halloween candy.
So I felt like a slug. Way too much of a slug to go dancing. Plus my back hurt and I had a weird pain in my foot. All I wanted to do was stay home and watch old Sanford and Son episodes. But I figured staying home would just make me feel worse.
Besides, I was supposed to meet someone there, and I just didn’t feel like yet again, like always, failing to follow through on my commitments. You understand the kind of day I was having?
So I dragged myself to the dance. And I had a terrible night.
Not like the music wasn’t perfect, it totally was. And bunches of my friends were there. It should have been great. And I did have a couple of very pleasant dances with folks.
But I just wasn’t feeling it. Physically, I felt exhausted and huge, like I was this big awkward object lurching around. Mentally, I felt like I was back in middle school, watching the popular kids have fun while I ate my lunch at the dork table.
There was this girl there that I’d been wanting to dance with, a really good follow who I don’t really know, but have been dying to try and lead. The perfect song came on, so I ran to find her. She was talking to a guy, but I had already tapped her on the shoulder before I processed that she was busy. Not like I could just go “oh, never mind.” I’d already interrupted their conversation, I had to follow through, so I asked her to dance, and she agreed.
I was pretty sure she’d said yes just to be polite, so I really wanted to dance well to make up for my having asked her to dance in the first place. You know, make it worth her while. So naturally, I danced terrible.
Then, to make it worse, I apologized for my bad dancing.
Then, to make it even more worse, I tried to explain, and then suddenly I found I couldn’t stop explaining. I kept talking on and on, and she was staring at me like I was a crazy person. Which I basically was.
For the rest of the night I found I had this apologizing complex. I couldn’t stop apologizing, and then apologizing FOR apologizing. Leading, following, didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop telling people how bad a dancer I was. It was like my body had been taken over by some weird apologizing demon, and all I could do was helplessly listen to myself, unable to stop.
I don’t even know if there’s a moral to this story. Sometimes, when you’re having a bad day and don’t feel like going out, the healthiest thing is to make yourself go out anyway, because it will usually make you feel better. But last night I really should have stayed home and watched Sanford and Son. So I guess the moral is that sometimes, if you don’t feel like going out, it’s better to stay home.
Have you ever had a dance like this?
Last night I was dancing with this kid who also leads and follows. We were switching off roles, experimenting with cutesy ways of getting into and out of a lead or follow role. Turns out there are a million ways to do this as long as nobody gets thrown on the floor.
So at one point during the song, he looks at me and goes, “Wait, am I leading?”
Both of us crack up, and I’m like, “I have no idea!”
What was so great about it is that we didn’t even stop dancing for a second. We just kept going along, totally connected, totally feeling the music, and neither of us had any idea, or really cared, at that point, who was leading and who was following.
We were just dancing! What a concept, right?
To me, this is the ultimate point of learning to dance the opposite role. You finally get to where it doesn’t really make much difference who’s leading and who’s following. You’re just connected with your partner and the music in one big cooperative project.
I think you only get this kind of situation when you’ve got a lead who’s so open to listening to his (her) follow that he (she) can switch instantly into response mode when the follow initiates something. And you have to have a follow who’s willing to not only feel and act on her (his) own musical impulses but actually take responsibility for communicating them clearly to her (his) partner.
In other words, a lead who knows how to follow, and a follow who knows how to lead. Or, of course, two of one or the other.
And I think there’s just something so symbolically right, so evolved, about all of this.
So what do you all think? Am I wrong?
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!
Last night I finally got up the nerve to ask one of our hippest and most accomplished young follows, a girl I don’t even know, to dance one with me. We had a acceptably fun dance, and she thanked me graciously not only at the end of the song, but later as she was leaving. That was awesome.
And a lot of other awesome stuff happened last night as well:
I also had a fun dance with a young man where we seamlessly switched roles for each of the verses of the song we were dancing to. It was great, you’da thought we’d choreographed it ahead of time.
I saw one young man who was doing more following than leading. I think he got around to dancing with mostly all of the top-end leads who were out last night. Lots of times I saw him switching off roles with his partner during a song.
I saw a girl leading her male dance partner during several songs.
I saw both men and women freely jumping into the jam circle to dance with same-sex partners, like it wasn’t even any big deal.
I think the funniest thing was when two excellent leads realized they were approaching the same girl to ask her to dance. To be goofy, they started dancing with each other instead. They went on to finish out the song together and it was an amazing dance to watch.
Need I say that all this role-switching warmed my heart? And on just a regular old DJed night at a regular old weekly venue too. I’m proud of Portland for generating all this crazy dance energy. And if the beautiful city of my birth were to end up known as the most ambidancetrous scene in the world, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit!
So let me tell you about the fabulous weekend I just had! What happened is, I took the Bolt Bus up to Seattle for a dance workshop weekend with instructor Nathan Bugh. And it totally fixed my dance depression!
By the way, have you seen this Bolt Bus? Apparently, it’s a fixture on the east coast, and last year they brought it out here. It’s an express bus that only stops in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver B.C. Their thing is that they’re super cheap; their slogan is “Bolt for a Buck,” and it seems that every trip includes at least one fare that’s only a dollar. But it’s not just cheap, it’s really nice and convenient, the buses are new and really clean, with wi-fi and electric outlets everywhere, and it doesn’t stop in the seedy part of town like Greyhound does. I took the bus from smack dab in the middle of downtown Portland, and it dropped me off right outside Uwajimaya in Seattle barely three hours later. I highly recommend this mode of travel to and from dance events!
I gotta say, the dancers in Seattle are awesome. I finally got to meet and hang out with dance blogger extraordinaire Rebecca Brightly, and she’s every bit as cool in person as she seems in her blog. And Jenna Applegarth, who organized the event, was extremely hospitable and super chill about getting me rides back and forth to things. Everyone was just really nice, and by the end of the weekend I felt like a kid at the end of summer camp, sad to say goodbye to my new friends.
So Nathan Bugh is a fairly frighteningly good dancer. I’d never met him before, and whenever I first meet instructors I’ve seen on YouTube, I always feel super awkward until we get bonded a little bit. Well, Nathan is kind of New Yorky, whereas I’m pretty much a middle-aged housewife from the sticks, so I didn’t actually bond with him. But he stopped terrifying me after awhile, and I learned a lot from the workshop.
And I’m proud of myself, because I took the whole workshop as a lead! That was a new thing for me. Usually I’m extremely reticent about leading in a workshop, especially if there are already extra leads. I never want to be that bad lead that holds everyone else up. Which is ridiculous, because there’s always way worse leads in the class than me anyway. But I guess it’s because I’m a girl, I feel like I’m usurping someone else’s place. You know what I mean? But this time, I really wanted to lead.
So I asked Nathan if it was okay with him if I took the workshop as a lead. “I mean, is it going to be super difficult?” I said. And he looks me up and down, all New Yorky-like, and goes, “I dunno, can you lead?” “Well, kinda,” I said, feeling like a middle-aged housewife from the sticks. So he says, “Uh, do you lead often?” Totally not thinking I know what I’m talking about at all. So I led him in a couple of swingouts and he conceded that I could probably manage.
And it was great! I learned some stuff and got a lot of practice at leading, lots of good feedback from the follows, and took tons of notes. Of course, a lot of the instruction went right over my head too, it always does. But I’ve learned to just take what I can from a workshop, and not feel bad about the stuff I don’t understand. I figure it will always be there when I’m ready to hear it.
Finished the weekend by taking the bus back to Portland and going directly to Mindy’s dance at the Scottish Rite. It was the eighth anniversary of Stumptown Dance, and she hired the Bridgetown Sextet, best dance band ever. The energy in the room was incredible, and I had the greatest time – the perfect end to a perfect dance weekend!
This happens. You spot an unfamiliar dancer across the dance floor, and they just look amazing. Smiling and confident, with the grace of a gazelle and all the flashy moves you’ve seen on YouTube. Finally, someone around here who looks like they know what they’re doing! Must be from out of town.
So you get in line and somehow wangle a dance out of this person. And ouch! He rips your arm off. Or she bounces around like a fish on a line. And they looked so great! What went wrong?
Then on the other hand, every once in a while you’ll decide to throw a bone to some poor, pathetic soul who’s hovering around the dance floor, looking lonely and mediocre, and it turns out to be the best dance of your life. Ever had that happen?
I think dancers tend to fall into two categories, those who instinctively concentrate on how they look to spectators, and the others who’d rather focus on how they feel to their partners.
I tend to fall into the second category. I’m always trying to figure out ways to be more light, more leadable, more squishy. I usually avoid performances if I can help it, rarely participate in jams, and don’t really like to see pictures of myself dancing. And with good reason, since I usually look pretty awkward.
Usually when I get asked to dance by a stranger, he’ll start out by leading all this simple stuff because he thinks I’m a beginner. And then partway through the dance he realizes I kinda know what I’m doing, and he gets this surprised look on his face, and it ends up being a really good dance. And I get a lot of compliments about my connection.
But it kinda sucks! Because I always think if my dancing looked spectacular, more strangers might ask me to dance. And it would be fun to have some awesome pictures to post on Facebook. And honestly? I think dancers SHOULD look good to spectators. That’s a big part of what draws new people into the scene.
I really don’t like it when I’m dancing with someone and he’s so focused on everyone around us that he forgets I’m there. After all, it’s nice when your dance partner actually looks at you once in a while. And it’s annoying when your partner leads a lot of flashy stuff without realizing that you’re not keeping up. Sometimes you just don’t feel like working so hard. You ever notice that these performance-oriented guys sit out half the time? One dance and they’re exhausted, it’s like they take a nice little social pastime and turn it into an endurance sport.
Yet as a community we really depend on our show-offy dancers. I well remember that when I started dancing, I was watching those performers. They were the ones who inspired me to want to dance, even if later I realized some of them were all style and no substance.
Of course, the very best dancers do both. Once dancers reach a certain level of proficiency, the stuff they do that makes them feel so nice to dance with also makes them look amazing. There’s no difference between the two. It’s all about efficient movement combined with transparent self-expression.
But what about the rest of us? Most of us are either one way or the other, we either feel nice to dance with but look boring, or we beat people up and win contests. So what do you think? While we’re learning, if we’ve got to be one or the other, is it better to look good, or to feel good?
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!
So my sister dragged me and some other folks out to salsa last night. I was sitting there with a non-dancer friend of mine, watching the dancers, and he asked me a question.
“This dancing thing,” he said. “What’s the point?”
Of course, I laughed.”There has to be a point?”
“No, really,” he said. “I mean, other than romance or whatever. What’s fun about it?” He seriously wanted to know.
Spotting a potential dance convert, I immediately switched into proselytizing mode. After I blathered on for a few minutes, I started organizing my thoughts. And here’s what I came up with.
“I think for the leads,” I said, “the fun part is dreaming up stuff that matches with the music, and then seeing if you can transmit that to your follow and get her to do what you dreamed up. And for the follow, the fun is in seeing if you can stay totally open and responsive to the lead while keeping in control of your own balance and movement.”
“Oh,” my friend said sagely, “connection.” Well, he hangs out with a lot of dancers.
“Yeah,” I said, with that give-your-life-to-Jesus tremor in my voice. “Connection.”
“Sounds sort of like a game,” he said.
“Exactly!” I said.
And I guess that’s definitely a huge part of the “point” of dancing for me. It’s that game of follow-the-leader. I think I approach every new dance, and every new dance partner, like a game of skill.
Oddly enough, that seemed to make sense to my friend. “That makes sense,” he said.
Well, I don’t know if I actually made a convert, but I didn’t do too bad.
So now I ask you. How would you answer my friend’s question? What do you tell non-dancers about why you love to dance?
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?