Category Archives: swing dancing

DJ Music

Last night was the DJ battle at the Legion to select the Vancouver DJ representative.  I’ve heard a couple opinions on the finer aspects of DJing – things of which I know nearly nothing about like transitioning between tracks and reading the mood of the audience. Before,  it really was pretty much a popularity contest,  maybe tinged by “who played more tracks I liked to hear.”

Now though, as a dancer, suddenly this is a whole lot clearer.  I used a single empirical metric that worked really decisively – how was the dancing during the set.  This time around I really felt the difference between the various sets, and how easy or hard it was to dance in general to the music.  Did I feel the beat?  A good mix of tempos?  And, perhaps most importantly – did it make me want to immediately find a good partner and swing out?!

It’s still hardly perfect – after all timing is still a factor, as I found it harder to remember the beginning of the night to compare with the end.  But there was a pretty big gap between DJs who played jazz that swung super hard,  and DJs that played jazz.

What a difference understanding what I want makes, because I know what I want – I want to swing out.  And so, what is really the most important bit in a DJ for me now is that they play music that makes me want to swing out.

Also maybe making things more obvious than normal was being tired – much lower tolerance towards music that is hard to dance to.  I want music that makes me want to grab a partner and swing out, not one where I have to (re)construct rhythm in my head.

Physics Prediction Software

One thing that continues to be pretty much an epic fail for me is physics prediction.  There is a surprising large amount of this in dancing,  and I am surprisingly terrible at it.  Left vs. Right,  spinning clockwise vs spinning anti-clockwise – most of the time,  it seems I am pretty unable to predict the outcome of my moves.  I often plan something and it turns out to most definitely not work out that way in reality – my mind is sometimes very much out of touch with reality.  I really need to work on this – probably ties in with the ability to catch things … general proprioception, as after all the world is just an extension/the medium that your body works in.

Rudeness to New Dancers

I’m rather surprised to hear that some new dancers get turned off from dancing because of bad experiences during their first dances.  Specifically,  I’ve heard a couple cases of a beginner dancer being told they’re just “not very good”.

Totally confused here.  I always assumed negative feedback is pretty rare in the dance scene – especially since as a beginning dancer invariably the first thing I ever did was make sure I told the person I was dancing with that I was a complete newbie.  Usually twice, just in case they missed it the first time. I can understand offering some tips and such – and even that I’ve heard is not always a good idea.  But to tell anyone they were not a good dancer – I don’t think I’m at a position in my dancing that I can comfortably say that to anyone.

Then again,  I’m usually the lead,  which means I consider it generally my fault if something goes wrong.  That is probably my personal hubris,  but in general I would consider “blame” for a bad dance to be shared.  Actually,  I would rarely consider a dance just plain bad – I guess there are dances where you don’t feel very connected with the follow,  or dances where almost everything you try fails in incredible awkward and embarassing ways …. but again,  most of those I feel are at least somewhat the fault of the leader.

Then again,  not everyone dances for the same reasons I do, and so success/failure metrics in dancing are a pretty personal thing. I dance for the sheer pleasure of it – sometimes there is a technical aspect to it,  the thrill of doing something particularly difficult – but ultimately I dance to be happy and to share that happiness.  I am perfectly happy to dance “definitely not really real lindy hop/blues/etc” to make a fun dance.  And due to my years of technical dance failure,  I have a small reservoir of things that I now label as “bad dance moves that are usually nonfail” – I’ve had years of experience dancing with a pretty poor dancer,  having had one in my dances all these years.  Maybe if most of your dance career is filled with technically and artistically excellent dances,  it would be different.

Maybe one day I too will be an insufferable dance snob…or *shudder* maybe I’m there already And I Don’t Know It.  Waitasec…have these conversations been directed at me in a subtle attempt to get me to stop being rude to new dancers…

I will resolve to be better to new dancers.  I think I have been neglecting that part – I always feel like this is an easy part of dancing to forget about,  but I remember it keenly because I have been the new/not very good dancer for a long time, and I know how much I appreciate being asked for a dance…and I (still) know personally how hard it is to ask someone you feel is totally out of your technical dance league,  and I try to remember how daunting the entire dance hall felt when I considered EVERYONE out of my league.

To new dancers – may you still find me for a dance every now and then once you become excellent 😉


Lindy Hop – relax the left arm.  Blues – relax the right arm.

On the upside,  I’m now out of arms to relax. So HA!

Swing Out Redux

It’s been about six months since I last put down my thoughts on swing outs,  but I think it’s a good time to put down thoughts to paper.  I feel like I mention in passing from time to time,  so it’s good to have this put down as a solid timepoint.

Strange how things change as things progress – back then,  I had made peace with my swingout.  Somehow, in the intervening timeframe,  I think I finally understood what it meant when all the teachers,  the hardcore lindy hoppers mean when they say that the swingout is the defining move for the lindy.  I still remember Nina Gilkenson at Killer Diller, as we were working on musicality and doing what the music tells us – that sometimes,  there’s music that goes “SOMEONE SWING ME OUT RIGHT NOW” (appropriately enough,  the example was Lindyhopper’s Delight).  It has become a move that makes me positively happy.

That is perhaps the reason I have a harder time dancing with inexperienced follows these days.  There are many other things I can do,  and lots of fun to still be had in those dances,  but sometimes – especially when the music is really swingin’ – I ache for a solid swingout.  Sometimes,  I only reluctantly dip into other things, just because they don’t feel as awesome as a swingout.

Of course, this also means that I have to work on finding that much more fun in everything “not a swingout”…

Why do I dance?

I though this was something complicated,  but actually,  now that I’m exhausted and tired after a full day of this,  it’s pretty clear – dancing makes me ridiculously happy.  I am moving to the music I love – and I get to share this journey with someone else.

Really,  I’ve never had another hobby that lets me get up and be happy so instantaneously – it is truly strange imagining that so much of my life hasn’t existed on this plane…

Ah…swingouts again…

Dancers mess with your perceptions.  Recently,  I had a dance that flipped the feeling of weight upside down for me and made me rethink exactly what I am anticipating and more importantly,  what my role in creating and reacting to weight is.  I’ve been taking “weight” perhaps too much as “commitment” from the side of the follow.   I think a couple factors are in play here but a big part of it is undoubtedly too much tension in my left “lead” arm,  not giving a chance for natural tension to occur.  I’ve been taking my role in this too lightly – perhaps artificially creating what should be relaxed tension by tightening my frame.

It’s probably time to double-check my usual suspects as well – stepping straight back,  catching earlier and the target for the connection hand.

And these things only deal with the aspects I feel – there’s still also reconciling this with what I actually look like – the sometimes crazy random hand flailing directions,  bobbing up and down (especially at the beginning of the swingout!),  and sometimes completely losing the step back.  Have to keep an eye on this…it’s easy to know that this isn’t perfect,  but it’s also easy to get comfortable and complacent…

Just because I’m happy enough to do it doesn’t mean that it’s good, or even good enough.

Favorite Dancing

Coinciding with a little mental thinking on the topic, I was asked just recently who my favorite people to dance with are.  There is the ever-changing list, but what really makes this tricky is that it’s not just a matter of skill.  My previous stab at this was that perhaps, as a lead, it is a bit of a level of intimidation,  and so perhaps what you want is a follow of approximately the same skill level.  A bit more thinking/observation/experimentation leads me to believe that perhaps this is more a question of “synchronicity” (and mental images of gauges and standard anime action fare about synchronising leading to improved performance).  Perhaps it is a bit of mental emotional burden – there is being challenged and then there is also being given confidence that you can meet the challenge.  There’s the fear of messing up the moves (used to be the only thing I worried about) and there’s also the fear of not being able to do anything interesting (which used to just be moves, but now is a separate category mostly for musicality and matching interesting patterns to the music)

Hmmm…Synchronicity and confidence.  Confidence that you can ask for anything and that something will happen – these days, I don’t mind being a little surprised 🙂  Somehow in synch with the music and your partner – when it seems you both are sharing in the music, the rhythm – the lyrics! and then it seems that you can see what your partner intends as it happens,  and it seems she is reacting before you even think.

Why I like things is always interesting to poke at, even though it’s generally a bit futile – broad general strokes,  but the specifics – ah,  the specific details will always complicate you to death. Maybe it’s the song, the mood for the night, pre-existing emotions,  level of exhaustion,  adrenaline, fear, anticipation…hoping for too much or pleasantly surprised…

Real life is complicated.

Swingouts – Redux

Was chatting with some other dancers before Jump Session today,  and we were discussing plateaus in learning.  Being stuck in a dancing rut is something I am intimately familiar with, having been in one for about half a decade.  Still,  I like to think nowadays about swingouts as an interesting indicator of how things have changed – updating my thoughts from about August,  where I had made peace with this lindy staple.

Of course,  having learned East Coast swing originally in classes,  I had an awkward relationship with swingouts for a long time.  It seemed pretty necessary to do them,  since moving my dancing to the Legion meant dancing with Lindy hoppers – but it was more of a formality – I did my best to ignore it,  I’d do a couple swingouts to satisfy the “basic lindy requirement” and then try my best to escape.

It seems by the end of last summer,  I had made my peace and accepted my swingouts – they would often be alright,  and randomly they would feel pretty good!  I stopped having “unreasonable expectations”, and it entered among my repertoire of moves.  And if it were any other move at a point earlier in my dancing life, the story might end there.

Not long after,  RCMA happened and blew my mind – and blew apart my swingout.  And then it started coming back together again.   And I’m still taking it apart,  tweaking it…and it has gone from something I can do to the move that exemplifies the incredible flying happiness of dancing.  It is not just a move I like to do – it is now a move I yearn to do,  I dream of doing and doing better.

As recent as last week, I added more notes on how to make the swingout better,  and today I got some more (re)coaching on bad habits that still follow me around … and I can’t wait to swing out again.    I am waiting and hoping that I can figure out how to repair everything else I know – now the bar for success for all my moves has suddenly jumped.  I probably won’t be happy until they are all as amazing as the swingout…

Why is it so amazing?  After all,  it is a move that induces happiness in Lindy hoppers everywhere – “doesn’t this music make you want to swing out”?  In a sense,  the has become synonymous with the dancing – and to think I used to try to avoid it.  I theorise that it is because it combines  an intimate embrace, whirling and spinning, with a kinetic high-speed  thrilling sensation of flying apart and together again.  In a sense,  it evokes in my mind pair spins and death spirals from figure skating, while adding a changing shape and dynamic.   Perhaps it is the versatility and variability of this move that makes it so amazing.

Music and Dancing

Actually,  my thoughts on leading and following also kick me into thinking about the role of dancers with respect to the musicians.  Exactly what is the role of dancing – in some sense,  they’re not integral to the band as “the show can go on” without dancers.  Are we an accessory – like costumes,  or lighting,  or sound equipment?  That’s probably what I used to think – but then more recently I’ve heard tap dancing likened to a percussion instrument,  which got me to thinking – are dancers just another aspects of the performance art process?  After all – many forms of performance intrinsically link music with performance.  Although I’m not quite at the level to see/hear it,  I’ve heard of musicians feeding off the energy of dancers,  catering to them and sometimes even styling to emphasise what the dancers are doing. But how does this work when there are many couples on the floor,  many dancers,  each doing something different…How does the interaction work there?  The energy of the crowd?  Those closest to the band?

This also has to do with what you think the role of music is – in my mind,  it is something like protolanguage.  Sometimes I imagine music uses  rhythm, pitch and tone to convey the feelings, the state of mind,  colour and images of the composer’s mind.  But then the musicians take the music and make it their own when they turn it into sound,   so why not another step of processing,  with the dancers imparting translating the sound into motion.  But is the processing just one way?   It may be possible to ignore dancers when they are present,  but it’s also possible to just play music straight.

Perhaps…it is just a matter of what you want to achieve – as a composer,  as a musician,  as a dancer.  There is unwillingness to give up a particular artistic vision – I’ve heard some composers are so very explicit and meticulous about exactly how the piece the music is to be performed – exactly what kind of ornamentation,  dynamics – a vision of the sound.  Then there are musicians – and solos – improvisation,  and turning playing music into a performance.  And the dancers – there is following the music,  but then there is also adding to the music – an additional instrument, another step in this music making process.

Tap dancers are sometimes considered half percussive instrument as well as half performer.  Swing dancers often emphasise beats with their footwork,  working in stomps and jumps,  in addition to the kinetic performance synced to the music.

For now,  my focus is in making an interesting dance for my follow (and me!).  I haven’t figure out exactly what I want it to be like – be able to replicate Astaire?  Replicate a Broadway musical dance number?  But the aim is something that makes sense to the music,  but also something that makes sense to who I’m dancing with – and of course,  since I’m driving,  makes sense to me!  For now, I’m probably only at the level of doing things that complement the music, my partner – which is a gentle addition – but I know that there’s still the whole realm of creating new things to go along with it all…Then again,  I’m starting to realise that being able to lead,  and sync to the music and the partner…and lets not forget doing dancing on your own end…is not an insignificant cognitive load.  Then add on top of that strategy and planning for the phrase structure (“hitting the breaks”)…and then on top of that there’s matching the overall mood – fast, slow, upbeat,  slow – as it changes…

Actually, that starts feeling like there’s the “base” – your steps – that branches upwards into immediate things to worry about – your partner – and then perhaps into doing things with your partner to the music,  complementing the feel of it,  it’s structure, and then timing for the structures.  Maybe an upside-down pyramid…and all of it is perhaps dancing.  The dance pyramid…like a food pyramid…Hmmm