Author Archive: warrenac

Remembering

Because those who fought for us deserve for us to remember. To never forget the darkest aspects if our selves. That we are capable of the most atrocious things in the name of war. That we honor all those who fight and have their lives in hopes of never needing to fight again. The regret of needing, forcing our own down the path of darkness that we may have light.

I believe that war is a monstrous, terrible thing. I also believe that it may be necessary, ingrained in our souls. It is because the story of Cain and Abel is so horrific, yet so possible. There lurk monsters, if not in our minds, ingrained in our DNA. We are wired to fight, to hurt one another, to strike when others are weak, to take advantage. Part of us will always want to live, and at the most basic level, to live is to take from the world.

And yet I also believe that even though there is a price to happiness, that the balance of our mind is knowledge, is the ability to choose. Some say it separates us from animals, or from lesser people – but even if you are the only person in the world capable of free will, your responsibility to that power is to use it for good.

Let us never forget those who were made to use their power in the most terrible way, in the darkest of times. That we honor their legacy by never making the choices that bring us to that brink. The uncountable lost – how can you imagine a million names, let alone entire lives, stories lost. That we are here means that the price they paid was not in vain. May we honor their legacy as custodians of the future.

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Smooth Lindy Hop

Thinking of the Lindy as a smooth dance is pretty recent for me – the bouncing pulse doesn’t immediately translate to flowing lines in my head. Recently though, thoughts of natural movement, flowing from one action to the next, has been popularized – James Bond by Daniel Craig is the man in constant motion, Batman in the games by Rocksteady. So I’ve started to view Lindy Hop as a dance where you sun to redirect momentum rather than stopping and starting – a flawless freeflow combo.
Maybe that’s why I’m suddenly confounded by East Coast Swing. Rather than straight lines and arcs, there are far more perpendicular changes of direction that now take me by surprise. It does the dance disservice to simply say East Coast Swing is just the 6 count subset if lindy. It’s origins may be so, but in its evolution in parallel with rock, country, jive and neo-swing, it is now its own beast.
Not that the lessons of lindy aren’t applicable – after all, when you have a hammer what isn’t a nail? Still, even agreed-upon conventions could be made twice as awesome if there was a way to gently lead it…

Chasing Momentum and Alternate Dimensions

Just go with the flow. A bit of a zen kind of outlook – don’t fight the world but instead read the intentions and use this to propel yourself. It seems to make so much sense, although, of course putting it into practice is far trickier. After all, you don’t want to simply be a plaything of the universe, and sometimes you will need to tack into the wind. And, of course, it’s hard to tell hours often this comes about due to brilliant planning, and when it is really just dumb luck. But it does feel awfully brilliant when the cards fall your way, and it gels like all is falling into place in your master plan.

Sometimes I like to imagine that we are 4-dimensional creatures, able to hop between dimensions – but we are taught to live so solidly in this single line of time that this is the only thing we see. But sometimes, perhaps due to some reflexive fear of a particularly dark future, we flex our d-hopping muscles. Maybe we instinctively navigate the dimensions, using autonomic reflexes to shift ourselves slightly towards the outcomes we want. “Lucky” people are simply those with a better innate mastery of this art – our just better than you. And if anyone were to be able to master this…they would appear to be a completely different beast altogether. And this puts failure in context – that this was the better outcome. Then again, maybe the muscle was tired, overworked, sore. Maybe it was a mistake. These aren’t quite satisfactory though since what does it mean when time is taken out of the picture. Rather, perhaps something else – someone else’s will perturbed yours. This makes the clash of desires direct.

Maybe it is even more subtle than that – maybe each alternate timeline, your will exerts influence – your worst nemesis might really be alternate you – your own will in all the other dimensions. Maybe sometimes you will amplify out complement yourself, but sometimes you will interfere or even hinder yourself. Everyone and their alternate selves all moving and shifting the fabric of reality – that would be probably too much to really understand. We have enough trouble with 3.5 D – actually, we’re really only good with 2.5. 4 is probably far beyond what anyone can usually manage to visualize.

Rose-Tinted Glasses, White Lies, Conspiracy Theories

Sometimes I wonder if maybe what we see and what we hear, especially about a past that is otherwise lost and unrecorded, can be affected by the rose-tinted glasses, hazy memories, wishful thinking…After all,  when people come to you for the definitive history, when your word will be that which leads, guides and inspires the future, might you not think about tweaking the truth.  As a storyteller, is it your duty to protect those who have already passed, and tell the story as it should be told? Truth is. after all, a thorny, spiky ball that never fails to prick surprisingly.

Sometimes I wonder what if the lindy hop we are doing nowadays is double-time – after all,  we are taught to clap on the even beats.  What if that’s when you normally stepped,  once for every pulse. Maybe they sometimes did go double-time – and maybe always for performances, or particularly fast music, where they want as much speed to come through as possible. When you come back to music not danced to for decades, who is left to argue? It might not have even been intentional – after all, we seek the best dancers and to dupliate, and maybe they were easily all comfortable with double time.  Would beginners half time things? Would people quadruple time things? Is it possible that the lindy hop we have today is really an agglomeration of the aspects the old-timers wanted to keep?  That they cut out the parts they didn’t like, hid or forgot the most dangerous or stupid moves? They wouldn’t teach all the groping, the inappropriate stylings, the politically incorrect movements that teenagers would make up. Those wouldn’t be appropriate for film either…

The truth, from the Onion News Network. 

Brain Dumping

Maybe I’m getting old and starting to be afraid that all these ephemeral thoughts of the person I am today will be lost to the sands of time,  or maybe it’s just that time of year where I seem to feel the need to empty the head a bit.  Or maybe having the android app for WordPress really makes it quite convenient to write down the random thoughts I get while taking the bus or while walking – although as it gets colder I’ll be less inclined to take my gloves off to type/swype, so maybe this’ll all get curtailed as the temperature drops.

No good deed goes unpunished

What I think that really ends up meaning is that those who follow the path to do good despite knowing this are a special kind of bad-ass – one who is sufficiently cocky to thumb the nose to the universe, unafraid of the inevitable entropic backlash, the hidden blood debt. It’s like “good guys finish last” – except it’s more like epic slow-motion finale, giant explosion on the horizon, “nobody could have survived that blast”, finishing with a camera zoom to a faint shadow on the horizon resolving into a resolute, hard-as nails character doing the slow motion walk to the epic soundtrack.

Leading and Suggestions

I usually try to reassure dancers when I’m dancing – follows, I will tell that the follow is always right. Leads, I will tell them that the lead is never wrong. And while one intention us to reassure them, it really us how I believe the lead follow mechanics end up working. I think that being right or wrong is an internal perception – you are wrong if you don’t do what you want. The lead-follower dynamic on the other is more an exchange if desires and how these requests are fulfilled are up to the actors. I’m not entirely certain where I fall in the debate of how much leading the follower should be doing. At one point I believed that the ideal would be symmetry, where either out both could be leading or following. But like many things in the world, this view of the world us a bit simple, and ignores the unique difficulties and nuances if each role. Perhaps mastery of both roles completely would be the ideal hypothetical end point, but mastering just one role is already an infinitely long path. I’m not saying that one should not try – knowledge of the opposite role can be humbling and enlightening – but rather mastery will be elusive. Sometimes you want to dance your best and for most, we will have invested more heavily in one of the roles.

So what is leading? At its most basic, it is “asking” – and by default the lead initiates most if the leading. On the other hand, a lead cannot operate in a vacuum – and actually, the more complex the lead, the more the lead has to pay attention. Following is, in the best description I’ve heard thus far, the “fulfillment” of the lead. But it’s a bit like Batman – you may get what you need rather than what you want. Well, you might rather get what she wants 🙂 But the more complex the “move”, she will be responding to what is being led – and each response is actually a potential query.

It really parallels a conversation – an overused, but apt metaphor for the dance. Sure, you can exchange pleasantries pretty much automatically, and this can be a perfectly relaxing way to pass the time. But a true conversation can quickly take unexpected turns. A follow’s response can both perfectly fit the lead, and yet be completely be unexpected. As the lead, you have to adapt – sometimes this takes the dance in a new direction. Sometimes you will lead something subtle and it will pass unacknowledged. Not everyone gets all your subtle jokes, your nuanced leads – and sometimes you’ll just have to let it go and wait for a different audience.

Still, resolving the inherent asymmetry to the lead-follower dynamic seems a bit incomplete in my mind. And, of course, different leads can approach this completely differently – while I enjoy it when I get unepxected results in my leading,  some leads are much of the mold that there the lead is to be entirely clear and that each move is a result of a a proper lead. Most of the time, it all exists in a continuum – some leads are meant to be specific,  and some are very open to interpretation.  And this is also changed by the perspective of the follow – some may see opportunities where others will only see a single proper response.    I guess there is sometimes a bit of negotiation during a dance…and sometimes some suprises.  I like surprises =)

Terms for Swing Music

Or, more precisely, what is this music that we swing dance to? The nomenclature is muddied by terms used by dancers, terms used by musicians and then the mess that is how the rest of the world calls it all.  Here are a bunch of the search terms that I look for when reading through music descriptions – I’m still struggling with the exact definitions of all these terms

swing jazz:  Perhaps the most accurate term, but also a term that is sadly rarely used as a category of jazz. And also while some think of “swing” in terms of swung rhythm, some people simply think of  “swung notes” .

Jazz will get lots of results,  but jazz as a whole now encompasses a huge genre of music, and sometimes also includes anything improvisational or experimental, so finding swing jazz at a jazz festival can be surprisingly difficult.

Traditional Jazz or Trad Jazz is often a monicker used by bands  that play earlier swing music, but also often includes Dixieland jazz and New Orleans-style Jazz, forms of music contemporary to Charleston and dances that preceded and influenced lindy hop.

Big Band Jazz is often swing jazz, although big bands also include more contemporary band music. Tributes to Count Basie are a good sign,  as are Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman,  Ellington (although some of Duke Ellington’s experiments are arguably not so danceable) or (insert your favorite vintage bandleader/musicians). And, of course while traditionally a big band meant easily over a dozen instruments, nowadays “big” can sometimes mean “more than six”.

Pre-bop is a term I’ve heard encompassing swing jazz and earlier jazz forms, and correspondingly bebop usually identifies music that is no particularly for dancing.

Dance is unfortunately a term that is nowadays overloaded to also include the more modern house/club dancing music, which is often solidly out of the jazz spectrum.  Sometimes in this spectrum is Electro-Swing, which can range to remixed swing jazz but sometimes juxtaposes with the electro/dance music more directly, or is electro music where rather than electronic samples there are vintage audio clips.

As I’m hardly an expert on jazz music, I’m often curious whether the above impressions that I’ve gleaned mostly from trial, error and observation jive with the “official” definitions. Mostly, I’m a little distressed that it is so difficult to pin down definitions for all these – but maybe it means that swing jazz is still in a bit of flux.  We have new instruments, better amplification technology, and access to a huge repertoire of recordings – although there is definitely a lot that we’ve lost in the intervening years, including charts and techniques – I still think there’s room for the genre to grow.  There are new arrangements mixing up old songs, and even brand-new pieces. It is all this that makes every live band performance unique and exciting, and absolutely worth hunting for!

Vintage, vernacular, past, future

Things that are old will be new again – revolution in its purest form. But it goes further than that – when the past comes around again you suddenly have both re-emergence of the past colliding with all the knowledge of the present.
Lindy hop is a dance from the past – it is squarely a vintage partner dance, where a lot of effort has been spent learning from the dancers of that era and the available video recordings, as well as dissecting the partner mechanics. Nowadays though, the learning arc for a new dancer is usually through classes rather than learned on the fly on the dance floor. We also have easy access to recordings from both the past and present, both instructional and as examples of the dance. We also have the ability to travel much farther than in the past – dancing in other cities, and learning from dancers from all over the world. I think this ability for dancers to share their knowledge amongst each other, transcending physical location, is what allows us to take the lindy hop of the past, the dance half-lost in the mists of a world half a century away, and makes it a living, present dance. The fact that we are not just inspired by the past dancers, but also by present dancers – that we can still be surprised – is what makes me believe the dance continues to grow.

I consider the music that we dance to is also be intertwined with the continued development of the dance. There is some debate as to whether “lindy hop movement” to “non-swing music” is lindy hop.  Personally, I’ve come to consider present-day lindy hop to be the evolution of the vintage dance from the days gone by. I think actually that we over-analyse the mechanics of the dance, but in a completely awesome way – what might have originally be flashes of inspiration, dancing by instinct – is now slowly being understood in terms of mechanics, momentum, dynamics – a whole “science” of movement dissecting and extracting the fundamental aspects. And just as I think we should not be afraid to over-analyse the dance,  we should not be afraid to bring the dance to other music, and should not be afraid to see what happens with it.  In some sense,  with the power of technology we can now time-travel with the dance, taking it into the past before its inception to trad jazz before the partner dance and the mechanics of the swingout were put together, to the music of lindy hop’s future, after all the dancers disappeared.   I think doing so – especially dancing to live bands and the live musicians living the legacy of this music – allows the lindy hop to grow, but also allows the music to continue.  By dancing to live music, we allow, effect and affect the creation of more swing dance music, which is another key component to the continued growth of the lindy hop.

And really, to be a bit facetious, when you’re in the “lindy hop to swing music” debate – if you define lindy hop as the dance you do to swing music, how would you define swing music?  The music you lindy hop to, of course 😉

Installers Don’t be Scary

Was writing another post when this giant orb with green arcing electricity suddenly appeared in the centre of my screen.  It was some kind of green electronic baleful eye…after a little while it disappeared and I was left thinking – has it happened? Machine sentience?  Big brother is watching?  I’d better finish my post?

Turns out it was the installer for some Microsoft Visual Redistributable as a couple seconds later the usual dialog for the EULA appeared – I was installing Game of Thrones in the background and had totally forgotten – but probably a good note – help your users remember who you are and put your name on your artsy logo.  Maybe don’t make it a splash screen that’s not in a window that can be hidden or moved, since they could have been working on something else.