Posts Tagged ‘feet’
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!
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!
This is just so weird, I gotta tell you.
First of all, the part of the story that doesn’t have to do with dancing.
My whole life, I’ve had what they call “stereoblindness.” I don’t see in stereo. Everything looks flat, like a painting, and the concept of a 3D movie doesn’t even make sense to me. I can’t parallel park or catch a frisbee, but other than that, it’s never been much of a big deal.
Until this last spring. That’s when I started reading up on this stuff, and what I learned kinda started to bug me. See, both my eyes work fine individually, they just don’t work together. They can’t focus at the same spot. So what happens is that when your eyes don’t point the same direction, in order to avoid seeing a double image all the time, your brain actually has to suppress half the information it’s getting from your eyes.
Well, that bothered me. I just didn’t like the idea that my brain was working against itself that way. You know, using energy working to suppress information from itself. That just sounded like such a waste.
So I got this book, called Fixing My Gaze, and it’s by this lady who had stereoblindness and fixed it by going to a vision therapist. After reading her descriptions of what it’s like to see in stereo, I got kind of obsessed. I just had to experience it for myself. So I tracked down a vision therapist. And last week I went to my first session.
Okay, so what does this have to do with dancing? Well, let me tell you.
See, I’ve been having this problem with my dancing. Whenever I try to have perfect posture and alignment and do all the things my dance teacher is always nagging, er, teaching me about, I get this weird pain in my lower back. But only on the right side. And then I get a lot of popping and snapping in the front of my left hip. Only the left.
Doesn’t take a genius to figure out there’s an imbalance somewhere.
So I’ve been working on this for a while, trying to figure it out, and just recently I started noticing that when I’m not paying attention, my right foot turns out slightly while I’m walking, while my left foot points straight ahead. It’s the weirdest thing.
Well, when I went to my first vision therapy session, the therapist noticed right away that my left eye doesn’t move around as much as my right eye does.
Now, the muscles around your eyes are really tiny muscles. And one of the ways they train your eye muscles is by working on the bigger muscles. In your legs, of all things. Get this? In some weird way, your eyes are connected to your legs.
So she had me do a couple of exercises.
In one, you have to touch the inside edge of each of your feet, alternately, to the same spot on a wall. And guess what? My right foot did it just fine. My left foot couldn’t do it.
Then she had me stand on a wobble board and then tip it to one side and then the other. When I tipped it to the right, no problem. When I tipped to the left, I stumbled every time.
Turns out my eyes and my legs have the same problem!
So my vision therapist is going to fix my eyes by fixing my legs.
And maybe, who knows? Maybe fixing my vision is going to fix my dancing.
Is that not just the weirdest thing?
So did you try my solo exercise the other day? The description is here if you haven’t read it. After I wrote it, it ended up sounding so complicated that I thought I’d try to make a video of it too, in case anybody got desperately confused.
For a first attempt at making a video, it didn’t come out too bad. I messed up a couple of times toward the end, but I think you’ll get the idea.
Does that resemble anything that you were picturing?
Please keep in mind that I am neither a persuasive performer nor a top-notch teacher, merely an avid amateur. If you try to follow the video, you’ll notice that around 4:45 I have a major malfunction, do some totally irrelevant stuff, and then finally get back on track at around 5:20. So just ignore that section. I would have taken it out, only I’m also not a very good video editor
Anyway, like I said, all the variations keep getting more and more complicated. But drills like this help you learn to make quick weight changes and direction changes. You have to keep everything small and efficient to not get tangled up in your own feet, and it takes a bit of concentration as well. So it’s good for you.
Dance nerd that I am, I also happen to think it’s a lot of fun. What do you think?
Here’s a fun solo exercise that will help you learn to make quick weight-and-direction changes. It starts out mindlessly easy, but gradually gets more and more impossible. You might try it without music a few times until you figure it out.
What you’re doing is a four-count pattern starting on alternating feet. So for each of the following patterns, do four counts starting with one foot, then four counts starting with the other, and continue that pattern until it’s easy before going on to the next one on the list.
The series goes like this:
A. Rock step, step. (Count: 1 2  or quick, quick, slow.)
B. Rock step, kick step. (Count: 1 2 3 4.)
C. Rock step, triple step. (Count: 1 2 3+4.)
D. Rock step, kick ball-change, step. (Count: 1 2 3+4+.)
That’s the pattern. Throughout the exercise we repeat that same pattern, but we add variations to make it progressively more difficult.
1. First, do it the normal way, as above.
Now we’re going to tinker with that rock step:
2. Instead of doing an ordinary rock step to the back, make it a rock step out to the side, and do the whole series that way.
3. Make the rock step a rock step to the front, and repeat the series.
4. Instead of a rock step, make it a “kick-and” or “kick-hold.” So A goes “kick, hold, step.” On B, you’ll end up doing a double kick. Get it?
5. Replace the rock step with a kick ball-change. By the time you get to D, you should feel like you’re losing your mind. Do you? Excellent!
Now we’ll go back to normal rock steps for a bit, and instead we’ll tinker with the second half of the pattern:
6. After the rock step to the back, do the second half crossing in front. So A will be “rock step, cross,” and B will be “rock step, kick, cross.”
7. Now, as before, replace the rock step with a side step, and do the second half of the pattern crossing in front.
8. Keep that side rock step, but do the second half of the pattern crossing in back instead.
9. Do your forward rock step, then do the second half crossing in back.
Using this pattern, I’m sure you can keep coming up with variations, but I think this is plenty for now.
I hope you all are having nice weather, but here in the greater Portland metro area it’s raining and nasty out. Think I might stay home today and try to make a video of this exercise. If it works out, I’ll post it this weekend. See ya!
I want to you take a look at something lovely – it’s this clip. Go ahead and watch it now, I’ll wait.
First of all, I really do need to get my passport in order – I simply must experience swing dancing in Korea at least once in my life. They tell me it’s the fastest-growing swing dance scene in the world. The world! Can you believe that?
But anyway – the reason I wanted you to see that clip is that for me, when I watched it, I realized I had never before processed the idea of Balboa as a performance.
To me, Balboa is something you perform primarily with and for your partner. It’s about connection. It’s about that feeling of exuberant joy barely kept in check by strict self-control and extreme consideration for your partner. The leader, a mighty oak of the forest, and the follower like a crazy twisted vine growing up the side. But it’s not for the audience.
Ever notice how when you dance Balboa in public, the people sitting around are just staring at your feet? To me that’s not much of a performance. I figure they’re probably just trying to learn how to Bal without taking lessons, and they think it has something to do with the steps. To the untrained eye, the footwork is the only thing interesting to watch.
A lot of Balboa performances seem to end up being about nothing more than tempo. Speed may be impressive, maybe, but I don’t think by itself it really makes for a persuasive performance.
Balboa just doesn’t have the flashiness of performance-style Lindy Hop. There’s no airsteps. It’s sedate; it lacks that broad, cartoony humor. Balboa dancers don’t act out crazy characters or put on funny costumes or break apart from each other and do silly jazz steps. We’re subtle, and subtle doesn’t really sell.
Like I say, that’s what I always thought.
But this clip has got me thinking in a new direction. I saw the audience responding to things in the clip that are inherent to Balboa, and have nothing to do with flashiness or broad humor – or feet. I saw three elements, in fact, three important characteristics of Bal that I now believe can be capitalized on to make an audience-friendly performance.
1. Precision. All those breaks where the couples just stop on a dime – that’s exciting to watch in the same way it’s exciting to watch an amazing gymnast or a precision drill team. It’s that sense of mighty forces under tight control. Remaining composed at all times, no matter how tricky the turns or how fast the tempo, is a great feature of Balboa dancing, and I think it sells to an audience. The girls in this clip were smart to choose those skirts; their motion helped emphasize the quick starts and stops. You can’t just dance on and on; a Balboa performance needs to have breaks, or the audience can’t visually process what’s going on.
2. Intricacy. To watch a couple doing crazy Balboa throwouts, spinning around each other, orbiting around like planets, and then just landing it like nothing happened, that has always been fun for me to watch. But this group kicked it up a notch with those interesting formation changes. That was a smart way to exaggerate an already-exciting part of Balboa and make it bigger for an audience.
3. Pulse. This group chose a piece of music that was not particularly fast; I think they were picking up on the fact that speed itself isn’t what’s interesting about Balboa. It’s more about the pulse. As I watched this clip, I found myself getting a little hypnotized by all that pulsing; it was just a little bit on the trippy side. Since pulse is so crucial to Balboa anyway, why not find a way to exaggerate that aspect for a performance? I think it works.
And now, as your reward for slogging through all of the above, here is a staggeringly beautiful Balboa performance that makes me totally take back everything nasty I said ever said about performing Balboa for an audience.
Anyway, now I’m dying to Bal, and everyone but me is gone this weekend for Camp Jitterbug. Sigh. Guess I’ll just have to make up for lost time on Monday – there’s some great Balboa dancing on Monday nights with the Kung Pao Chickens at the Laurelthirst Pub, it’s a must-see if you ever visit Portland. Which you really should.
I helped teach an open-level Balboa workshop this afternoon; the part I taught was on spins and turns. I thought I’d share the material here in case anybody else wants to practice this.
The whole idea of the class was about keeping your feet together and in a slight V-shape while turning. There are three reasons why this is important for Balboa: it helps you turn faster and more efficiently, it keeps you from stepping on your partner’s feet, and it looks way better than going all pigeon-toed.
First I led a warmup that included a series of pliés and relevés while keeping the heels together, the toes turned out slightly, with the legs opening through the hips and keeping the knees tracking over the toes.
Then I asked the class to recall the scene in the movie “Mary Poppins” where Dick Van Dyke jumps into the chalk pavement picture with Julie Andrews. Remember when he starts dancing with the penguins? His pantlegs become miraculously joined down to the ankles, and then he dances around with his feet stuck together. That’s the image you should hold in your head while practicing these exercises! (You’ll also need slippery shoes.)
- Walk forward with your feet held together in a V. You’ll find that in order to make this happen you really need to involve your whole torso in rotating the hips. It is an action very similar to the agitator in a top-loading washing machine.
- Now walk backwards the same way. This involves rotating the hips even further than for walking forward.
- Move in a line going sideways. You’ll be making a series of half-turns, facing front, then back. Make sure you can do this going both to the left and to the right. Keep your heels together!
- Now try to turn all the way around while staying in more-or-less the same spot. Make sure you’re transferring weight from foot to foot, not just pivoting around one foot. Experiment with how few weight shifts you can use to get all the way around.
- Finally, add in an eight-count, Balboa-like rhythm: “ball-step, step, turn around.” Quick quick slow, quick quick slow. This time you will be pivoting around a foot, the foot you stepped onto on beat 3. Practice this starting with either foot, and turning both forward and backwards.
Once you’ve gone through all these exercises, you should find that it is quite possible to move around the floor and spin without taking big, awkward steps all over the place. Your Balboa turns will be faster, more efficient and more comfortable, whether you’re leading or following.
Let me know how this works for you!
So last week’s challenge, about softening your gaze, was amazingly helpful to me! I found that when I was keeping my head up and looking more-or-less at my partner, without staring anywhere in particular, my turns worked better, I felt more grounded, and most importantly, it was a lot easier to smile! Awesome. Did anyone else have a similar or not-similar experience with this challenge?
This week I have a visualization for you to try. We all know we’re supposed to dance with our bodies, not with our separate parts: arms, legs, hands and feet. The famous “body leading” we always nag leaders about applies equally to followers – we need to “body follow” as well. This is the most comfortable, efficient and safe way to dance and also looks way better than steering and stomping.
Now, the deepest, most elemental part of our body is our primitive fish body, or our spinal column. As a way to encourage us to dance with our bodies this week and not with our parts, I suggest the following visualization. Imagine that you and your partner are nothing more than a couple of spinal columns. While you’re dancing, try to feel where your spine and your partner’s spine are in space, and in relation to each other.
Leaders, explore how you can move your partner’s spine by moving your own. Followers, play with feeling what your partner’s spine is leading your spine to do.
And when you’re solo dancing this week, explore generating all your body movements from the movement of your spinal column.
Well, that’s what I’m going to try this week anyway. Let me know what you think!