Posts Tagged ‘health’
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.
I just dread this time of year. When the weather starts getting colder, I start to feel panicky and desperate. I really should have been born in a warmer climate.
See, I’m by nature a very indolent person. Lounging around is my art form. All summer long you’ll find me sprawled out on the porch swing with my book and my iced tea, or stretched out on a blanket with my music and my SPF 70, or chilling in a hammock with a crossword puzzle. I’m not one for throwing frisbees or doing cannonballs. I’m the one that stays behind and watches everyone else’s stuff for them.
The hot weather is great for a lazy person like me. But it’s a different story in the wintertime. Sure, I still lounge around, but I just can’t get warm. I pile on the sweaters and afghans and sit there with my book and my boiling hot tea, and I’m freezing to death. Everyone else is roasting, and I’m getting in arguments because I want to crank the heat up. I wear my mittens in the house.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m proud of my sloth-like ways. In fact, inertia is something I work on and struggle against all the time. (Main reason being that, let’s face it, laziness does not help the figure one little bit. Being zen-like is fine, but looking like the Buddha is not. Fat seems to follow the law of the jungle: it preys upon the slowest.)
So this winter I need to find a way to conquer those twin demons, laziness and chilliness. And I think I’ve worked out a scheme.
Whenever I’m sitting around reading a book, if I get the urge to crank up the heat, put on another sweater, or dig another afghan out of the closet, I’m going to do this instead: haul my lazy butt out of the recliner, put on some music, and dance until I get warmed up enough to finish the next chapter.
And if any of my readers out there are of a similar zen-like nature, I invite you to try the same thing!
We post-feminists and latter-day Jazz Babies owe a lot to the New Women of the 1920s. To that intrepid brand of vintage female we owe the right to cut our hair, to show some skin, to wear makeup, and to do anything we damn well please with whomever we like without fear of social ostracism. And most indispensably, the flappers taught us to Charleston.
They achieved momentous things for us, and we should be grateful.
But not every habit bequeathed to us from the Jazz Age generation was beneficial. For example, smoking. The flappers made folks accustomed to seeing women smoking cigarettes in public. Thank you, but no. They also had a disturbing tendency toward giving themselves alcohol poisoning.
Nearly as harmful was what the flapper did to our spines.
Here is what fashionable posture looked like a generation before the flappers:
Here, in contrast, is fashionable flapper posture:
And here is what fashionable posture looks like today:
The visual record is clear. As dancers in a culture that places little value on the spine, we need to be flappers with our attitude, but Victorians with our posture.
Also, don’t smoke.
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?
At the age of forty-five, I have finally learned how to run.
See, I grew up bookish, in a bookish family. We lived purely from our necks up. Nothing involving anything lower than the chin was considered of any value – no dancing, no athletics, no pretty clothes, and sex? Hell, no. Just endless reading and talk, talk, talking.
I never thought of myself as athletic, and as I entered my thirties I was starting to put on pounds. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Lindy Hop, and began to learn that I do, in fact, have hips. I have a cardiovascular system. I have muscles. I have a spine. Who knew?
But I could never run. Even though I could dance long, hard and fast, running was a whole ‘nother thing. As soon as I even thought about running, my chest would constrict, my muscles would tense, and I’d be breathing hard before I even stepped outside! I could maybe run a block or two before I’d have to stop, gasping for air, with a stitch in my side, thinking I was going to die. So the fact is, I developed a fear of running.
I asked a college athletic trainer about it one time. Her helpful advice? “Maybe you’re just not meant to be a runner.” D’oh!
Well, last weekend I was doing a jazz dancing workshop with my friend, teacher and dance guru, the fabulous Brenda Russell, dance maven extraordinaire. And she had us do this thing where we had to move around the room, falling forward from foot to foot in a really relaxed manner. She kept reminding us to breathe and to relax, and after about fifteen minutes of this, I thought to myself, “Hey! Isn’t this just jogging?” Blew me away. It certainly seemed like jogging, yet I wasn’t out of breath, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t struggling. I was just falling forward from foot to foot.
So the next day, when I went to take my dogs for a walk, I decided to try this falling forward business. I started slowly jogging, and every time I started gasping or dying or freaking out, I would just remind myself to relax and fall forward. And you know what? I made it the whole way like that. I ran, in other words. Slowly, but still, it was running. The whole way! My doggies, Max and Chewy, were certainly surprised. But they weren’t as surprised as I was! I seriously have never done anything like that before.
Okay, so what does this have to do with dancing, you ask? Let me tell you.
As a Lindy Hop scene, I’m sad to say that Portland doesn’t have the best reputation. We seem to have a lot of really arm-y leads who yank their follows in and then shove them out backward in this really rough manner. Correspondingly, some of our follows are pretty heavy and hard to move. And I’m one of them. My main struggle has been learning to negotiate the dreaded lindy swingout – every time a guy looks like he’s going to yank me into a swingout, I instinctively tense up, brace myself, and get really heavy so I don’t get thrown on my ass. Which obviously doesn’t help anything. And then I tend to sort of jump forward on “one,” before the guy has a chance to yank on my arm.
It’s fear, you see. Early on I learned to be afraid of doing a swingout, and now, even though I know better, I’m still fearful, and I still have that tension in my body.
So when I was experimenting with running last week, I was comparing my new way of running with the way I used to run before, when it didn’t work very well. Used to be that instead of falling forward and letting gravity and momentum do their job, I was fighting against both of them. I was tensing up and then sort of springing up and forward on each step, using muscle tension to try and get somewhere. No wonder I was exhausting myself.
And what I realized is that the fear of running that I had, that made running so difficult for me, is the very same fear that I have when I’m dancing and doing swingouts. And it results in the very same tension in my body.
So now, I see what my next step is. I need to learn to take the principles that fixed my running, this business of falling forward and using gravity and momentum instead of muscle tension, and apply them to my swingout.
I’m very hopeful. This running business has given me confidence. If I can learn to run, surely I can learn to do a proper swingout. Wouldn’t you think?
Here’s a thing I do; you might like to try it.
Next time you feel like working up a sweat, instead of going to a cheesed-out aerobics class at the gym or zoning out on the elliptical, stay home instead. Put on your favorite swingable CD or playlist. Then as each song plays, pick one of the following maneuvers and do it for the duration of the song:
- Hopping step-kicks while pushing forward with your hands, in fours, twos or singles.
- Rock step, kick step, moving all around the room.
- Step, scoot, step scoot. By scoot, I mean slide. Try this in all directions, scooting forward, backward, inside, outside, and in place.
- Happy feet, while making extravagant arm motions, chest pops, etc.
- Plain vanilla Lindy, Balboa, or Charleston footwork, moving all around the room.
- My turning exercise.
- Fall off log with scissors on the break.
- Squat Charleston.
- The ab killer: walk around the room doing swivels.
If a song comes on that is ridiculously too fast or slow for any of these, use that song to stretch or to do any muscle-building exercise you can think of. I suggest squats or holding plank position.
Now how do you like that? It’s aerobics without the cheese!
This is kind of a goofy topic, but it’s on my mind today, so here goes:
Dancing can literally save your life.
Specifically, today, I’m talking about balance. The physical ability to not fall down and break your neck.
I remember this one time, maybe twelve years ago. I was out taking a walk. Probably trying to lose weight, I don’t know, I was about forty pounds heavier back then.
Anyway, at one point during this walk I crossed in the middle of a street, somehow missed the curb, and fell down, plop, right on the sidewalk. Total pratfall. Collapsed like a bunch of broccoli, for no apparent reason at all. Just tripped and fell.
So embarrassing! People walking by, avoiding eye contact, trying not to notice the thirty-something, overweight lady struggling to get back up onto her feet. Not wanting to embarrass me further by trying to help. Probably assumed I’d been drinking.
Well, that’s a sad story.
Okay, so fast forward to last winter. After eight years or so of dance classes and social dancing, I was back to a semi-normal weight, and in much better condition. One afternoon I was out walking with Cholula, my Chihuahua.
It had recently snowed, frozen, and then snowed again. Things were pretty slippery out, but Chewie and I were fed up with staying inside.
The only proper boots I owned were zip-up ones with high heels. Just asking for trouble, right? But at least they were warm.
Well, I was making pretty good progress along the sidewalk. Then I got to a spot where a big old tree had encroached on the pavement and deformed it into a lumpy patch of rubble. Not only that, it had dropped big branches all around, and no one had bothered to do anything about it.
So I’m in my high-heeled boots, with my spastic Chihuahua on a leash, picking my way through this treacherous area in the snow.
With my right foot I unknowingly step on a long bent stick. It makes a loud crack, and one end of it flies up in the air.
Chewie freaks out and dashes between my feet.
To avoid stepping on her I take a giant step to the side.
My left heel gets hooked into the stick.
Chewie is pulling on me with her entire eight pounds’ worth of craziness. Her leash is looped around my right leg.
Nothing. A graceful little skippity skip, and the whole thing is over. A total non-event. You’da thought I’d practiced it or something.
I actually continued on my way without even thinking about it. It was only after a couple of blocks that I realized, Hey, wait a minute…
Why am I not lying on the ground right now?
Why? What made the difference between splatting on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, and a decade later staying upright in the most challenging of circumstances?
I can honestly say it was all because of dancing. Dancing saved my life. You want to know the secret of not falling down and breaking your neck? It’s dancing.
I can’t even think straight today. Just flew all night from Portland, Oregon to Washington DC. A murderous trip with two layovers, but I made it! Gonna hang out with my sister and go to the DC Lindy Exchange this weekend! Yayy!!
Now, I gotta stay cool about this. Last few exchanges I went to, I got overexcited, danced every dance the first couple of hours, got totally exhausted, and then had to leave by two a.m. Weak! This time I swear I’m gonna pace myself. I’ll sit out a few early on, and maybe I’ll manage to be one of the last bleary people stumbling home at five a.m. That’s my goal.
My other goal is this: I swear I’m gonna dance with every last lead there. Every single one of them, without fail.
But not all on the first night!