I am struck, at moments, by the peculiar relationship between dancers and musicians. Personally, I'd rather dance to canned good music than live bad music. That being said, having a live band or musician who brings a good sound can move me in a way that surprises me every time. Likewise, there are some musicians who would prefer not to share a stage with dancers; an understandable hesitation, since dancers can be a distraction, and a musician's livelihood comes from being the center of attention at their shows. There are some musicians who are downright hostile to dancers even being in the crowd (including one band who gets djed very regularly). Then there are musicians who appreciate what dancers bring in the way of energy. And, finally, there are musicians who use dancers as another layer of art, and make something together with dancers.
I recently had the honor to perform with some truly talented musicians recently, at the August Heritage Festival (link at bottom). Daryl Davis, Saffire (the Uppity Blues Women), and Fiona Boyes were kind enough to share their stage with us at the Blues Week concerts, and gave us more energy and fun than we knew what to do with. Who's "we"? Dan Rosenthal (formerly of Pittsburgh, now of Tampa Bay) was kind enough to take a week out of his life to be my "lovely and talented". In addition to helping me teach the classes, he also made performances possible, for which I am completely grateful. In addition to the rockin' tunes by the aforementioned super-talented musicians, we also requested a slow tune, and Joe Filisko (links at bottom) stepped up to the plate. We ran into Joe the day before the show, and he asked how slow we wanted: 60ish bpm would be great. He told us that, after seeing us over the course of the week, he had just the perfect song.
The evening of the performance, Joe's first song was a fox-chase/train song combo. I couldn't see how the audience took it, but the pros backstage were leaning out of their seats, shaking their heads: impressed. Then Joe said something like, "for this next song, I'm stretching way out of my comfort zone; I've never done anything quite like this. That last song was easy," leaving the audience to chuckle, bewildered. From backstage, we heard Joe start a snap, or perhaps it was his foot on the stage. Then Joe played the most ghostly, hauntingly sweet and eerie tune I have ever had the honor of dancing to. Ranking right up there with Nina Simone's "Tell Me More and More and Then Some" (link at bottom), Joe's quiet, husky voice and the sweet, strange lyrics told a story of love, while the harmonica painted dark harmonies and juxtoposed intimacy with longing and loneliness. The name of the song, I have found, is "Need by Baby," by Big Walter Horton, and it normally sounds nothing like the way Joe did it that night. Making our way onstage, knowing that Joe was pushing himself artistically to create something with us, wrapping ourselves in character and dancing as the song itself... that will forever be one of my favorite memories of all time. Was our performance flawless? I don't remember, nor do I care. Dan's dancing was the best I've ever felt it. We had already decided to put in some things that were purely for the audience- some blues flash, and some a few bits of tango flash (if they fit, which they did). My feelings on that? Simple- we wanted to use any tools we had to move the audience: to create a visual for whatever it was that Joe was going to play. We wanted to show a room full of musicians what we as dancers feel and hear. It dawned on me, at some point during the song, that the audience was deathly quiet, in contrast to the rowdy cheers and hoots with previous performances. There wasn't any time to question it, but if I had, my answer would have been provided when the song ended. Joe finished his last note, and I get chillbumps remembering the instant transition from pin-drop silence to deafening explosion. I don't think I've ever been as proud and honored as I was that night. I cannot explain how absolutely grateful I am to Dan and Joe for giving me a chance to do what I love, and a shot at making art.
Ps: Links!Joe Filisko's HomepageJoe Performing at the National Harmonica LeagueNina Simone's "Tell Me More and More and Then Some
"A typical performance of "Need My Baby"Augusta Heritage FestivalSaffire: The Uppity Blues WomenDaryl DavisFiona Boyes
Pps: If I get access to the video, and permission to post it, I'll do that. If I only get the video, I won't post it, but will have it, if you'd like to see it sometime. As of right now, I don't have either. Wish me luck!
After every audition, there are people who feel disappointed in their level placement. There are always questions, always appeals, and occasionally even tears. So to try and reduce the amount of sadness that follows auditions, I wanted to write a little about the reality of auditions/tracks, both from the perspective of a post-aha student and from the perspective of a teacher/judge.
First things first: the advanced level of a workshop is not Advanced. It's "the top x leads and follows who auditioned." Not making the top x students doesn't mean you're not advanced. Conversely, making the top x students doesn't mean that you are advanced. Next time I have resources allowing, I'm auditioning all student except total beginner, and calling them shoe, toolbox, windex, and candle. The different tracks, rather than serving as a global indicator of your dancing, give you an idea of where you are relative to the other students at that workshop. That is all.
Also, consider this: once your dancing gets past a certain point, people become delighted to discover you. You regularly get comments like, "that was awesome!" "you follow everything/everything you lead works" "you're so much fun!" That point is not the advanced student threshhold. It feels that way, I realize. Dancing suddenly works, people give you nothing but positive feedback... rainbows sing and puppies fly. I know. That's a really beautiful place. But it doesn't equal advanced. When (or if) it happens depends on the dancer, but please don't think it means anything about your level. And even if it did, remember my first point.
The judges are not amateurs. Before you decide that a judge simply can't tell how good your dancing is, consider this: dance instructors make their livings by learning to see dance. We have learned to diagnose connection issues visually. We can also see move choice, rhythm, posture, musicality, control, balance, and quality of movement. For follows, don't be fooled by the idea that if you only get average leads, we can't see you shine. A beautiful dancer will make simple movements shine- they have control, quality and richness of movement. A lesser dancer will lack the same control, even on nicely led fancy moves. Quality of movement matters, y'all- it's more than a style thing. For fun (by which I mean education), go watch the SYTYCD auditions on youtube. Not only can you pick out stronger dancers during the choreography, where everyone gets the same movements, but you can see on movements as simple as a step, or a hand gesture, during their solos. Go look! And then give your judges a little more credit.
On that note, leaders, what judges want to see at an audition are your.... basics. We want to see your fundamentals. We're not looking for which leaders have the fanciest moves. We're looking for solid leaders. And, might I mention, it would be nice to see the follows do their fundamentals, but that's reliant on you, boys.
When I was at Herrang in 07, I was sorely disappointed to be left out of Advanced I. But after a few days, it dawned on me. Yes, I had followed just fine. But the difference was that while Advanced II follows could follow everything, Advanced I follows made it look like art. And there, children, lies the rub- dancing is about more than just connection. At some point, very late in the learning process, the visuals matter. No, I don't care about your styling (yes, judges can see past styling to fundamentals). What I care about is that after you reach a certain point in connection, the sorting variable becomes about aesthetics, and taking you art past something purely social, and turning it into art. Don't lose the social- connection is always important- but on top of that, make it yours. Have control over every bit of your body (and control involves relaxation as well as engagement).
If at this point, you say to me, "But I don't care how my dancing looks- I only care about connection" then be satisfied with what level you get placed in. Don't place stock in a placement (such as between the top two levels) that involves a variable you don't care about. By your metric, your level should be as good as the next, so be happy- and that's not me being snarky. I truly wish people would enjoy their levels, and make the most of them. Every moment you think about being in the wrong level is a moment you're not open to learning. It suddenly becomes about preconceptions and ego. Some of the best classes I've ever had were in tracks that were too low, or that I thought were too low (which looking back, were right on).
One last point: it's not only unkind to your possible classmates to put you in the wrong level. It's unfair to you. We as instructors want to give you the best chance to learn the most possible. The instructors are just as good in a lower track, but they're fine-tuning the material to the needs of that group.
Yes, misplacements occasionally happen. But they're very, very rare. And if you're open and working hard, you'll get more out of being placed too low than too high.
With love and good will,