Category Archives: dancing

Dance Connection: What on Earth is It??

Some interesting thoughts about dance connection. Resonates with my reflex to attempt to categorise everything – I immediately started thinking of all the different kinds ways I connect with people when I dance. Sometimes it’s just fun, sometimes it feels like we’re both working hard. Sometimes it’s ridiculous, sometimes it’s a little sweet. Sometimes it’s a game of one-upmanship, sometimes it’s just relaxed. Sometimes it’s just one intimate moment, sometimes it’s the mood for a whole song. Sometimes it’s just one incredible instant, a flash in the middle. Sometimes it’s a beautiful ending…and sometimes you just wish it didn’t have to end. Sometimes it feels like I’m barely in control, sometimes it feels like all my plans come together, sometimes I don’t care what happens as it’s all reflex.

All sorts of ways to be happily surprised…

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It’s the best part of partner dancing, that makes all other dances pale in comparison. It’s a one-of-a-kind connection you can’t hope to attain with anyone else. It’s what we dance for, and makes dancing so highly addictive. It’s those indescribably good dances that lift the dance experience to another level, make us go, “Wow” and stay with us as unforgettable experiences.

Is dance connection any one or all of those things? I don’t know anymore.

Dancers: What do you mean when you talk about “dance connection”? Can you please describe, in your own words, how you experience it, and what you think it is?

Do you believe that connections between two dancers exist that are profoundly “special” and can’t be replicated?

I discussed this with a fellow dancer on my way to Rose City Blues and back, and concluded, both before and after, that I don’t believe that dance…

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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 😉

For Whom is This Dance

I like to think that I dance to share the incredible joy that I feel in the music – the smiles,  the enthusiasm, the hilarity, the comfort.  Dancing like a gentle hug,  a hearty pat on the back, goofy faces,  spinning with happiness.  I dance to get to know people better, to see a little of their reaction to the happy music of swing.

Sometimes I dance with a purpose – reaching out to someone new,  including someone shy – because of course I have been there and done that – wanting a dance and not seeing one – myself – likely that very night. Sometimes it makes me feel almost noble, thinking of others before my self.

But I also dance for myself – sometimes, I dance for my happiness.  I dance to forget my troubles,  I dance to appease my prideful, jealous, greedy, covetous nature. It feels a bit of a slippery slope to acknowledge that sometimes,  I have wishes that I want to grant myself.  Sometimes I will ignore and deny it,  since it will be staring me so ugly in the face. Sometimes I feel like I deserve it – for being obedient,  what the world owes me.

And sometimes I don’t do the dances I wish,  and sometimes the regret is palpable. I hope I learn the balance…

Sweating and Looks

A “motivational” poster saying “If you still look cute at the end of your workout you didn’t…Train Hard Enough” got me thinking. Actually, it also reminded me of the photo album by Sarah Goldberger of runners right outside a park (looking for those who looked like they just finished a run), and then having the same people coming back and posing again a week later in a photo studio.

Makes me realise how little I worry about sweat, actually.  I’ve had many follows apologise or warn me about sweat – running the gamut of a little sweat on the hands to damp clothing – and personally,  I’m usually at that point post shirt change and fully understanding, not to mention that my hand at this point has made contact with lots of my sweat and that of quite a few others.  But in addition to the non-squeamishness I have with sweat,  I don’t think post-dance their cuteness is at all affected.  Actually, after a good dance, we’d both be smiling so hard I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d rate them as cuter, at least in the heat of the moment (and therefore in my recollection).  Makes me wonder how the before/after pictures would look if you had smiling lindy hoppers after absolutely nailing a song – or really, “the look of success” like mountain climbers at the summit – and compared those post-exertion pictures with their “regular social persona”. Hmm….although pose/facial expression might factor a lot into how people look…

Which reminds me – there is definitely photographic evidence that I have some pretty weird faces while I’m dancing.  Which apparently are giveaways/tells/leads for some of my moves – looks like I have a “swingout face” 😉

Dancing…Where? Who? What?

I wonder I like dancing best?  I know I love dancing in ballrooms, like my “usual” dance venue, the Legion – sometimes supported by the energy of an entire roomful of dancers, sometimes an entire wide space all to yourself,  the music filling the entire room.  I also love dancing out on the deck in Showboat – cool wind in my hair, the sun setting gently in the backdrop.  I love intimate little restaurants and bars, where the live music is right at your elbow.

I love it when I am swamped with dances, barely finishing one before diving back in for another – surprising dances people I’ve never met,  settling right in the groove with my comfortable friends.  I love dancing and watching those I know and respect,  learning and experimenting.  I love killing song after song with someone I know and trust, laughing off silliness, locking eyes with a smile and jumping right back in.

Today’s thought from the Universe says “Baby souls follow.  Young souls lead.  Old souls dance alone.”  I will dance alone if I must, but I love following, even if I am but a infant at it,  and I love learning how to lead.

There is a lot to love – and of course the flipside but I think this half of the glass is a lot more interesting!

Dance Elitism

Lindy snobbbery – part of my rails against this label, as I like to think of myself as inclusive, “I’ll try to understand everyone’s dance styles” and “I may love lindy hop but your dance has its merits too”.  I like to think that lindy is easy to get into,  via east coast swing and similar simple patterns, and that it’s very much easily danceable at many tempos, to many different kinds of music. There are definitely different styles and differing philosophies on how the dance works, but we seem to get along quite well. And it’s an easy to recognise “popular” dance style – or, perhaps more accurately, it was a popular dance style.

On the other hand, I secretly revel in the “elite” tag.  I like that it’s an uncommon dance style – that it’s the slightly out of mode partner dance rather than solo dance.  There’s a bit of showboating appeal,  as this often means being one of only a few dancers, especially if you’re dancing somewhere other than a usual dance event.  It appeals to the geek in me – just like the appreciation of  traditional jazz, vintage clothing and all things really from the bygone eras. I enjoy the “tweak your nose at the serious dancers because we’re out to Have Super Fun!” culture – I guess, a bit of contra-elitism.  Conversely, I consider it to not be an easy dance – there is a significant learning curve,  there are moves that are not easy (that the trademark swingout falls into this category is perhaps a plus in my eyes) and so in my mind the fact that you can be good, and you can be bad,  and there are ways to improve makes it very much a reflection of life and reality.

But for all the points of elitism,  partner dancing is inherently a social activity – especially with the swing dance culture of social dancing and not dancing all night with the same partner. And so I find most swing folks uncommonly friendly and uncommonly kind – really, a pretty awesome community overall.  If that sets the community apart – well, I can get on board with that as well.

Significant Moments

And the world starts turning again…Prompted by realisation that I’ve been getting “significant advances in dance technique” recently – notably,  running into the picture of my first hardcore social dip. Canada Day, 2010, to Dal Richards. When you suddenly realise – I am no longer the same person I was yesterday. (And crazily enough – there is photographic evidence.)

And the crazy thing is, of course, when you do it, it’s as if you’ve been doing it all your life. I remember afterwards going “Was that alright? Did I do it right? That was my first time!” and the follow telling me “That was awesome!”.

It is one thing to wish for change.  It is another for it to actually happen.  Like today – plan was to work non-stop.  It’s now 11pm…past time to seriously crack down and do things. I seem to be solidly in relaxed mostly non-working holiday mode.

One of the distracting otherthings that did happen was putting this blog into a bit more order – I’m going to try to organise things a little bit better, just so I don’t have to plow through it’s entirety if I just want to hunt up an old post about a particular topic.

But while doing so, it was interesting to see exactly how impactful dancing has been, recently.  Pre-2010, dance posts were pretty rare…although I surprised myself in discovering that I did attend the Vancouver Lindy Exchange, despite having no real recollection of it anymore. Did I dance ’till morning (highly unlikely).  Did I even go on multiple days?  I think I probably only went to the Saturday night dance…

Flash forward to a resolution early 2010 to do something with this dancing thing.  I’m assuming this is effectively my first midlife crisis.  I’m glad I ended up doing something useful with it though! What’s interesting is corresponding the blog posts with pictures – and how so many recent pictures now have me dancing – as unsurprisingly that’s where the bulk of my social time ends up.

Now, weirdly enough, I contemplate the possibility of competing – purely amateur rank, but now seriously wanting to look decent while looking like I’m having the time of my life – while having the time of my life! Passing the bar to make the advanced class at Camp Jitterbug doesn’t seem quite like a crazy dream anymore…

Music is Motion

Interesting how dancing has changed so many of my perceptions.  Not least of which is my understanding of music – before, I would grant the connection between tapping your hands and listening to music.  And I could of course see how amalgamating music and choreography can create incredible pieces.  But now when I see an article intrinsically linking music to triggering all sorts of movement centres of the brain, it is almost an expected result.  So much of music makes sense as motion now, that music without movement is like a black and white picture,  or a movie without sound.  It can be an artistic choice,  but you are intentionally stripping something fundamental from it.