I really, really enjoy solo blues. I love to teach it, I love to put it in my partner dancing, and I love choreographing it. However, you may have noticed that solo blues competitions are, shall we say, not my thing. For one thing, I'm a follower- improvising a dance just isn't my strong suit. But there's another reason I stay out of solo blues competitions: they're usually not solo blues competitions.
There exists, in other street dance forms, a type of competition called a cutting contest. In case you haven't seen them done, picture break dancers or hip-hop dancers. The idea is straightforward: you watch your opponent dance, then you respond, building or improving on what they did. Essentially, you're trying to one-up your opponent.
Allow me to give a ridiculous example (I'm assuming their dancing is interpretive- I'm just un-interpreting):
Dancer 1: "I'm awesome. I ride a unicorn, and fire a bow and arrow."
Dancer 2: "Oh yeah? I ride not a unicorn, but a pegasus, and I rain snakes down on you!"
Dancer 1: "Nice- I think you've wounded me... Too bad for you I have a snake slingshot, and launch them back at you!"
Clearly, dancer 1 has won. How do you come back against snake slingshots?
Seeing the potential for interesting, entertaining, and challenging competitions, blues organizers have latched on to the idea of cutting comps. But I'm afraid I simply have to say it: we, as a community, just aren't mature enough to play that game. What usually happens? Here, let me interpret again:
Dancer 1: "I'm awesome. I ride a unicorn."
Dancer 2: "Well, I'm humping your unicorn with infinite sexiness."
Dancer 1: "Well, I'm in your face, and I have infinite sexiness plus 1."
Dancer 2: "Well, I have infinite sexiness plus 2, and I'm even more in your face!"
And so on.
There are a few notable exceptions- people who can make the game more interesting by (this is rare) yielding in a fun way, or paying attention to their opponents, and answering their movements. But most of our competitors, most of the time, don't have that particular skill; they go for intimidation, rather than cleverness; they wind up with frantic shouting for attention, instead of musically appropriate phrasing. So rather than good cutting, or even just good solo dancing in its own right, we get a competition of who can be the most ridiculous and aggressive. Our only entrance, it seems, is to get in our competitors faces. Or, failing that, wander up right behind them and shadow them until they notice it. Why? Because a cool entrance would never get noticed, or get the floor.
Interestingly, charleston competitions- which are never called cutting comps, and have structured solo time- often still result in cutting. Go watch for the interplay in top-level competitors; I like to think that when our community is ready, we'll get there. But until our solo dance competitors more experience, confidence, and flexibility under their belts, I just don't think they're ready to add another layer. So for now, let's just focus on good dancing. Let's build a community of awesome solo dancers, and see where they take things.
Let's suppose for a moment that you take a random look at my music collection- we'll look at my "all jazz" playlist, to avoid too much dance-style bias. Suppose, then, that you search for songs with a trombone and a clarinet in them, and then sort by playcount (what? I don't know why you'd do it, but suppose.). If you look at the top 17 most-played tracks, you will find 17 that are new-orleans style jazz. Messy, polymelodic, hard-swinging. You will find exactly 0 neatly-arranged, larger-than-life big band tunes. At a quick glance, I'd estimate about 8 songs in the top 50... and several of those are choreographies (which bumps the playcount up).
There was a time in my life (the first few years of swing dancing, in fact), when I liked swing dancing despite
the music. Before you gasp aloud, let me remind you that this was a mix of neo-swing, non-swing, and- most insidious of all- "Top Hits of the Big Band" type music. Oh yes- "In the Mood," "Sing Sing Sing," "Begin the Beguine"... songs that, as far as I'm concerned, suck. Now, in case you weren't at the Eastern Balboa Championships
, or you were, but you missed Kyle Smith
's fantastic lecture, let it be known that there may be non-sucking recorded versions of these so called sucky-songs. But these were not those versions.
Now, whether my distaste for big band music comes from early swinghood trauma, or from the fact that I grew up listening to the music of New Orleans, or from a natural inclination to move in ways that are stretchy and gushy and imprecise, I never learned to love the big band stuff, only the dance. But in 2005, my dance life changed forever, when I went to Herrang (giant month-long dance camp in Sweden)- because that's where I met Sidney Bechet, and his version of "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me.
" That song, for many of us, is magic. That was the first legitimately jazz song to make me feel desperate to dance IN
the music, instead of just dancing during the music.
My love of New Orleans jazz, and the many, many bands who make me swoon, is a story for another day, but this past weekend, I really appreciated the aural aesthetic of the classic big band sound. Not the sucky recordings mentioned above, but the good stuff. So what changed? My movement, for the most part. Many, many people disagree with me on this (that's the joy of personal preference), but songs like Jubilee Swing
don't make me want to swing out. They do, however, inspire me to balboa. In fact, they inspire me enough that today, I went looking for big band music, which brings me to today's gem. Before I tell you the title of the album, you have to promise not to write it off before you listen (or read on.)
No really, promise me...
Ok. The album is by Chick Webb, and it's called (yes, really) Strictly Jive. For me, at least, this brings two images to mind:
-There Are No New Steps! [Strictly Ballroom
- Jive: This dance.
But wait! The album is neither of those things. Remember Jubilee Swing, above? That tune is on there. In fact, there are 26 tracks on the album, and at least 12 made me want to do bal. (After hearing 12 songs I wanted, I went ahead and bought the album. Chances are good there are many more than 12).
Obviously, if you're looking to build a library of awesome bal songs, and someday aspire towards DJing bal, you need to read Kyle's blog, go to a bunch of bal events, and do your research. But if you're looking for one album to be a good starting place, this is a great one to pick up.
And, because I adore Emusic, I have to point out that on Emusic, you can get the 26 tracks for 12 credits... which is pretty darned cheap. [If you don't use emusic yet, you should send me an email, and I'll send you a referral email. I highly encourage everyone you to use them- they're cheap, but still legal.]
If you want to take a look and and a listen, you can preview the album on allmusic.com: Strictly Jive by Chick Webb.
Much love and many toss-outs,
ps- yes, I wasted a lot of time looking for Strictly Ballroom and Jive clips. And yes, I enjoyed it.
pps- for those of you who aren't into balboa yet, and you want to see a good clip, check out the battle
between Jeremy and Laura and Adam and Nelle- epic goodness.
Alright. Before you read this, I want you to go look at something adorable. Maybe this
. Also, remember that I LOVE the dance scene, and thus dancers- that probably means you! My goal is to make people happier on the whole. And for the last few years, I've watched something that makes a lot of dancers unhappy- the act of asking other people to dance.
Now, at LaB (the weekly Philly dance), we often give a little demo at the end of the novice class about how to ask people to dance. Here are some of the ways to avoid:1. The Panhandler:
no words, thrusting your hand into your target's space and waiting expectantly- usually the eyebrows are also up. -Why it's no good:
there's no polite way to say no thank you in your own terms. Should the other person push your hand away? That would seem terribly rude. Also, like I said in the description, you're invading their space before you've made a social contract.-But what if...
there's a language barrier? Attain eye contact, motion to the dance floor, and make it clear that it's a question. There's much better body language than "gimme".2. The Tap-In:
from behind, tapping the person on the shoulder. Especially when your target is being sought by another dancer who seems to be using eye contact. Touched'em first! Possession is 9/10ths, loser!-Why it's no good:
humans are super-visual creatures. We use our eyes and non-verbal visual cues to communicate. Which means you don't give the person a chance to seek you out, or avoid you. This way of asking makes for a lot of awkwardness.-But what if...
you're asking someone you're intimidated by? Glad you asked! Practice asking on people who don't scare you. I'll tell you a secret- I don't usually ask people I'm intimidated by. Too much stress! I look for people who seem fun and approachable, or look left out, or who I already know. Sometimes those "scary" people ask me, and then I'm flattered, and have more fun that I would if I'd stressed myself out working my way up to dance with them. True story.3. The Tag Champion:
also from behind, making a leaping grab for the nearest available body part of the target, and grabbing hold. Tag! You have to dance with me!-Why it's no good:
agreeing to dance should be consensual. This isn't a competition, where the first one to touch a person wins. It's a decision to make art together for 3-6 minutes. Don't you want them to say yes by choice?-But what if...
there are a zillion other people lunging after your target? Pick a better target! Everyone wants to get to dance, and aggressive dance-seeking is an arms race- aggression is leading to aggression. If everyone backs off, we can be a lot more civil. 4. The Scavenger:
there are a few versions of this:-The Moment-Crasher-
asking a person to dance when they haven't finished their post-dance moment with their previous partner. Let it settle, folks.-The Hide-and-Seeker-
asking people who are not in the dance hall, or (in the case of one very large room) are way back from the dance floor, often deep in conversation.-Why they're no good:
the body language of these people says, "I'm not looking to dance with you right now," but you're not reading it. No one likes turning people down, but everyone needs to rest, or wants to enjoy a moment (or multiple songs) with an old friend/new dance partner/potential flirtation/dance crush/whatever. Even if they dance with you, some part of them is unhappy about it.-But what if...
there's no one left to dance with? If there's really, truly no one else you could dance with, take a break! Wipe the sweat off, go cool down, get a drink, or (my personal favorite) watch other people dance! Enjoy your three minutes of chill time.5. The Pushy Salesman:
you've made your move, acquired your target and you've... been turned down. Never one to take no for an answer, you argue, beg, plead, and attempt to convince your target that they should dance with you.-Why they're no good:
turning someone down for a dance is hard- as hard as asking someone to dance. Fact is, no one likes to be disliked. So chances are that you're making someone feel uncomfortable, and they're probably resenting you.-But what if...
you really wanted to dance with that person? Then ask for a rain check! Cheerfully say something like, "Maybe later," and let it go.
Enough of the bad ways. What's a good way to ask people to dance? Simple- they same way you'd start a conversation.
1. Get within a reasonable distance, and within sight range.
2. Make eye contact. Make mutual
3. Ask the other person to dance.
4. Accept their answer graciously. Whatever it may be.
Notice the themes here: what I'm saying, really, is let people turn you down. That's contrary to what we normally teach. Normally, we teach, "never turn someone down without a really good reason." But from the other side, read people- if they look sweaty and exhausted, and are beelining for the bar/bathroom/fan, think twice before you tackle them. If someone looks like they're eagerly approaching another dancer, don't intercept. Be less aggressive, and let's ramp-down the arms race. Stop and look around for people who look like they want
to be asked to dance, and enjoy the results!
ps- don't forget- Be happy with this happy puppy!
--Before I start this note, I need to own up to something. I am a hypocrite. I am weak- I'm inclined to steal. I watch pirated TV/movies on the internet. I feel bad about it, but I do it. I'm cutting back, because I recognize that it's outside of my moral code. I am, of course, quitting.--
I've long had a problem DJs who trade libraries. It's a common thing- new DJs are starting out, they're looking to build a library. Another DJ "helps out" by giving them their hard-drive full of music. DJs who admire each others music will swap gigs of music at a time. Even I used to accept a mixed-CD as a gift, and not re-download the music.
The longer I've been aware of it, though, the more uncomfortable I've become with this practice. There are several blatant problems with it. First off, you're stealing. What if the artist is dead? Well, the record company isn't, and if it's remastered, those guys probably aren't. And then off course there's the possibility of an estate of the deceased, possibly doing something nice for the world of music. Additionally, when you pay for blues and jazz, you create an economic statement of "Blues and Jazz will sell! Support them!" Second off, you're stealing- and selling those stolen goods for money or admission to a dance. You're asking to get paid to play stolen music. Even from a DJ-quality point of view, will you really get familiar with a 20gig library that they got over a 2-week period? I know a lot of DJs who don't have good notes, bpms, etc, because they're overwhelmed by their massive libraries. There's nothing like the joy of nurturing your library- getting an album or two at a time, and making notes, learning the songs, and then adding more. Yes, it takes time, work, and money. Life is hard. Try bing a composer/arranger/studiomusician/remasteringtechnician/etc.
But at least it's honest work- both building a real collection, and being an artist.
I came across a composer's blog recently (link below- read it!), and while I've said this privately in the past, I'm saying it publicly now: I'm not ok with pirate DJs. I'm totally ok with helping out new DJs- rather than copies of the music, give them lists of musicians/songs/albums to look up! Teach a DJ training class! I'm calling on DJs to re-acquire paid-for versions of their songs, and quit wholesale swapping of music. Think of this as an opportunity to build a collection from scratch, and manage your library as you go, instead of getting overwhelmed. And I'm calling on organizers to support DJs who care about their music, and the music industry, and shy away from pirate DJs.
Here's the link, in case you want to read a better argument:
Because music, musicians, jazz, and blues matter,
I've recently had several independent conversations about what I think fusion is, or what I think of fusion, etc. There's a big muckety-muck of a debate raging on forums (ok, all debates rage into muckety-mucks on forums), so I decided to do this here, where instead of jumping into a philosophical mosh pit, I can simply make a statement about what I think. No beehive-poking intended. (I'm going to focus on tango-into-blues influences here, since that's the easiest place for me to draw examples, and I suspect that's the easiest thing for most of you to relate to).
First off, what is fusion?
I think fusion can have a couple of meanings. The first meaning is essentially just crosstraining- for instance, at Buenos Aires Blues this year, the idea was that people would work on blues skills, and tango skills, and walk away stronger dancers. I think the same can be said for a lot of cross-over events. My thoughts on this? I think it's fantastic. There's a biological term for this: hybrid vigor. One purebred dog may be susceptible to some recessive deleterious genes, while another purebred of another breed may be susceptible to other recessive deleterious genes. However, when you cross them, the first generation offspring, possessing one copy of each gene, will not show either of the weaknesses of the purebreds. The metaphor would get weird after that, so I'll stop there. Likewise, a purebred beg/int blues student may have a really great embrace, but have pretty weak balance (generally, I don't see blues students start drilling balance hard-core until pretty late in the game). They go to a tango workshop, and the 2nd thing of the day is balance and rotation. The student walks away with a better understanding of the importance of balance, hopefully practices, and splits weight less often. Everyone wins.
The second thing that happens under the name of fusion is basically move-stealing. Students go to a fusion/crossover/different-dance workshop, and find things to add to their primary dance. The most common example here is ochos, although other elements like parallel systems, volcadas, and calecitas have also been seen from time to time. It's pretty much a guarantee that if a blues scene has any tango influence, it also has ochos. More on my personal feelings on this further down the page.
The third thing that happens under fusion is the mixing of many dances. I have strong feelings about this, both encouraging and cautionary. There is a lot of music out there that tells me to move. And some of doesn't say, "move like a _____ dancer;" it just says move. So I'm perfectly fine with taking the elements that I have in my mind/body, and combining them in a way that I think makes sense to that song. Am I creating a new dance? Sure. A dance that will be well-formed, and get passed from dancer to dancer? Nope. I'm just dancing, in the moment, in a way that feels good. Maybe you've heard a jaded old dancer like me snicker about playing a non-blues song at a blues event (Sweat, Fire, songs like that), and thought, "but that song makes me want to dance!" Sure- but that doesn't make them blues songs, and what most of us crusty old-timers have found is that they don't make us want to dance in a blues way. So next time you hear it played, dance if you want- just don't label it blues, and I've got no issues.
For those of you who were at DIY last weekend, and heard my "What IS (and isn't) Blues" lecture, you already know the punchline. But I'll fill the rest of you in. Defining a dance is not about defining the steps of the dance. You can watch Rumba, Foxtrot, Tango, and Blues, and define each of them simply by watching them walk down a line. Defining a dance is entirely about the way the dance is done- the place where the dance spends most of its time on continuums like rotation/liner, expansive/contracted, relaxed/engaged, etc. Which means that to me, there are very few elements that you can't steal, and make legitimate. The key, of course, is making it legitimate. One of my favorite blues couples has a video on youtube (I'm not posting it, because I don't want to throw them under the forum-troll bus), where they do 3 historically tango moves in a row, but the sequence is unquestionably blues- they're blues dancers, do a blues dance, with moves that started off as tango.
So here I've said that you can take elements, mix them up, and make new compounds- here we have the ultimate dance lab. So I'm a fusionist, right? Well, I think the key to successful fusion is this: keep your reagent stock clean. In order to pull elements into blues (or any dance) successfully, you must be able to define your home dance. You need to know that your base is blues. You need to know what makes that dance what it is- the history, the music, the traditional moves, and most importantly, the elements that define it. What I'm not ok with is the idea that everything is legitimate. Ok, that's not true- all dance is legitimate on its own. But not all dancing is legitimate blues dancing. And that's not my call to make- it's a combination of a personal decision for you, and a collective decision by the blues community as a whole. So in this sense, I'm a purist.
So I'm a purist/fusionist lindy/balboa/blues/tango dancer. Anyone else confused?
Much love and many swingouts/ochos/fishtails/sugar-pushes/wagon-wheels/up-holds/tuck-turns/volcadas/circles......
This weekend, those of you who are clever enough to be at GirlJam will get a peek at something very frightening for me- a bonified genuine original Mike-the-Girl choreography. Sure, I've done choreography for big events before, but they've always been shared endeavors- which is to say that I had someone else to hind behind. But for this choreography, I decided to bite off a pretty hefty bite. I recruited 4 of my favorite lady performers from the region, picked a song I that had wit and style, and committed. While that part felt good, I've had to wrestle with a lot of nervousness along the way:
Source of Fear #1: My under-played, interesting, perfectly-tempoed song had apparently caught the ears of some very talented dancers. At Lindy Focus, Juan and Kevin did a fantastic Strutting routine to the very same song. WAIT!! Don't go look it up! If you haven't seen it yet, wait until after you've seen mine. Look it up on Monday. I can't follow that act! I decided to stick with my guns (and song), though. While following Kevin's choreographic interpretation of a song is pretty terrifying, I totally believe that this song is the right one to use for this choreography. And these ladies are not only bewitchingly beautiful, they're also charismatic. Which means watching them perform is delightful- to say nothing of their mad dancing skills. So I have faith in the song, and faith in my performers, which means that I'll have to override any lack of faith in myself.
Source of Fear #2: My dancers don't live within a hundred miles- of me, or each other. Representing the NE this weekend, we'll have Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, and Rochester. This has made rehearsing a little tricky, to say the least. We had one weekend when we were all in the same city, but since I'm a slow learner, I thought we'd be able to make a decent amount of rehearsal time. Fortunately, we live in a time of cheap and easy... technology (you thought I was going to make a joke about your mom, didn't you?). I used a google document to make a spreadsheet of the choreography itself. Then, over the course of several afternoons, 37 additions to my playcount, and several shots of scotch (that's not actually true), I filmed each section of the choreography for each dancer. Needless to say, I know everyone else's parts...
Source of Fear #3: The real deal. There's a great deal of vulnerability in art, and while this piece is not exactly a statement on the human condition (if you're happy and you know it clap your hands?), it's nevertheless a submitted, prepared piece. If you guys don't agree with my kinesthetic opinion of this song, there's no blaming it on a conversational mishap- no siree. This isn't raising your hand in class- this is submitting your thesis!
The good news: Proportion. Ok, this isn't a thesis. It's more like a 10-page paper in a class with the "writing intensive" label on it. If the choreography turns out to be boring, or weird, or generally unpleasant, it's just another weak choreography, and there will be others. And, more importantly, it's a chance to watch 5 ladies doing silly things on a stage. How bad can it possibly be? And that's the real issue- that's what keeps me from turning into someone who lives in their mom's basement and never goes out for fear of embarrassing herself. An embarrassment is simply a moment. A more or less forgettable moment. Chances of great success are slim, chances of moderate success are very high, chances of epic failure are practically none.
So while there are some very real reasons for reservation, logic tells me that fear here should be totally overridden. Maybe the choreography will be great, maybe not- either way, the world won't end.
Who knows- maybe I'll start tackling other irrational fears next- pronouncing foreign words in front of knowledgeable people, singing when sober, starting a conversation with a stranger, or even asking a balboa rockstar to dance (yes, that's a fear of mine. Someday I'll finish that blog post... ). At the end of the day, fear has a useful biological function, but logic should decide whether the fear is justified. So look out, stage, here I come!
While I hesitated to put that as my title, for obvious reasons, in the end, I just had to do it. Allow me to explain. Imagine that you have a skill: one that you've worked hard on, one that reflects your strengths, one that makes you feel accomplished and satisfied at the same time. Now imagine that you've been hired to use your skills, but not been given an opportunity to use that particular skill. You keep being given jobs that just don't quite let you use that skill. You can imagine the frustration. That frustration found release for me this weekend in Rochester.
There's a skill that some lindy hop leaders have. Usually it's leads who have danced for a long time, and/or trained under dancers like Steven and Virginie. That skill, gentlemen, is taking movement through your legs, through our arms, and to my hips. Which is where my skill comes in. I love few things as much in lindy hop as a dance that lets me give the leader real stretch. I don't mean leading the direction my hips are facing (I'm definitely not asking that you direct my swivels in swingout).
There's a continuum of stretch, and the places it goes. There's a level where there's no stretch asked for/given- when the leader and follower are nearly exactly in sync. That's a place I'd rather not go- but there are, of course, leads who lead that connection, so what's a girl to do? There are leads who have stretch that goes through the arms, maybe even the back. Here, you can see a lag, a separation- tension and compression happen. But then there's my favorite- when a leader can use his hips to use my hips. Straight up, it's just an advanced skill- you can't get this at most weekly lessons in most cities. So most leaders just can't do it.
[For my Philadelphia chickies, who may be thinking, "so why haven't you taught us this," let me point out that before I can guide you to the good stuff, you need to have really solid compression and tension stretching skills. Which is also hard to get. To be honest, I'd love to teach way more of this, but I think it's better taught with a lead and follow, so I'll keep bringing in out-of-towners (like Reuel, and Dan) to teach this stuff, and working on it as a lead. Meanwhile, go take classes from Steven and Virginie! Do it!]
I took the first three classes on Saturday as a lead, and man, I'll tell you- it's so hard being a leader imitating Steven. Don't get me wrong- it's incredibly hard to be a follow imitating Virginie, but at least that's my native language. I had a leader mention to me last night that he finds that learning dance is getting harder and harder- I told him that I think that means he's doing it right. Taking an intro to lindy hop from S+V reminded me that the more deeply you get into the dance, the less likely it is that a lesson will be "too easy." Trying to step into the movement of two advanced dancers, in one hour, is incredibly challenging- and hopefully, rewarding.
So I totally sympathize with leaders who haven't got the hips yet, but I also want to encourage you to keep at it. The social dancing at the Saturday late night was some of the most fun I've had with lindy in months. So keep on using me... until you use me up.
de duh, de-duh deeeeh duhdeeduhdee duh.
duh duh duh duh duh.
Being a teacher first, and organizer second, I will freely admit that my event-running is utterly biased. I just returned from the most successful Buenos Aires Blues we've had yet, and I'm proud to say that despite my own flaws and "learning experiences," the event went off beautifully. I chose, for a number of reason, to withhold class titles and descriptions from the site, and rather than leaving folks to think it was an oversight (although I had a few of those, of course), I wanted to explicate my reasoning.
There are occasions when I think that class titles/descriptions are not only justified, but required. The most obvious example, of course, is any workshop where a student has to choose between classes at the same time. Instead of only the dance form and instructor name, the class description allows students to create a curriculum that suits their weaknesses and strengths. Then, there are times when the class titles are not truly useful, but provide a feeling of security- for instance, at a beginners' workshop, or an intermediate workshop, with only one track. A basic, very vague topic is easy to stick to, while still providing the instructor with enough room to alter the class plan to fit the students' needs. (One class on technique, one class on musicality, one class on moves[aka technique 2], one class on solo dancing. Sound familiar?)
However, there are some situations where class titles are simply impractical, such as BAB. Before Friday night, there's no way to know just what the levels will be. The instructors are from all over the country, as are the students, and with tango and blues dancers in one track, it's hard to predict what skills students will bring. Likewise, once instructors have talked, face to face, about what material they're teaching, the classes influence each other. All of our instructors at BAB made changes to their class descriptions (which I didn't publish); some changes were minor, but others completely scratched their original topics. The classes they taught were perfect for the levels, and flowed together way better than I could have hoped for. However, if students had received class titles that promised other classes, we either would have had to stick to the original classes, or have lied to the students by publishing classes that didn't get taught.
In a sense, my decision not to publish class titles was a decision made by a dedicated teacher, who acknowledges being a terrible saleswoman. I knew ahead of time that class titles were a plan, from which we were free to deviate. I'm not insensitive to the fact that students want class titles- I like knowing what's coming, too. But I refuse to give my students a plan that doesn't mean anything, purely to make students feel like they knew what was coming. Essentially, I refuse to pationize you. This was my way of saying, "this workshop will be a collection of classes that make sense together, and flow from one to the next, by teachers I believe in. Trust in your teachers, show up, and we'll teach you what we think is best." Because that's what the student-teacher relationship comes down to. We ask our instructors to give us overall topics for a workshop or series, but after that, we ask them to do their best, and teach us what we need to know.
So thank you, to the instructors who put together a top-rate set of workshops, and especially to all the students who put their trust in the instructors this weekend. I may or may not publish class descriptions at various events in the future, but know that at the end of the day, my job is to make good dancers, and make people love dance, and I'll do everything I can to succeed at that, in the most honest way I can.
I'd starve as a politician. And that's from someone who eats Ramen now.
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,
I was filling out an online survey recently (no, I didn't win the $10 gift certificate), which asked me if I intended to pursue a higher degree of education, and why. That's such an awkward question for someone in this line of work. Dance education is constant. Every class I teach, every workshop I take, every video I watch, and every choreography I learn furthers my dance education. None of them, of course, lead to a suffix. All of this, put in the same five minutes of thought as "what on earth do I blog about next?" convinced me to bare my soul a little, and write about my process so far.
I've come to believe that once follows get past the initial introduction to dancing, they very quickly fall into one of two categories: the dancers and the follows. Obviously, every follow is both, to some degree. However, since we tend to have an inclination one way or the other, an intermediate follow is likely to hear, over and over, one of two comments:
1. The follows: "You're doing fine on connection, you follow everything I lead, but I want to see more of YOU in your dancing. You can start experimenting with styling, start adding to the dance. Be more spunky, less mousy." These are the follows who live for connection, and try to be "the perfect follow". Everything that's led gets followed, but the idea of "just do what you feel" simply doesn't apply to musicality.
2. The dancers: "You really know how to move your body, and your stylings/solo movement/movement-quality are great, but you need to tune into your leader more. You've got a lot of spunk, but you're limiting your what your partner can lead you through." These are the follows who rock the daylights out of solo jazz comps, and who have the coolest embellishments, but musicality sometimes comes first, at the expense of the partnership.
Every follower has some aspects of each, and the idea is to pursue balance between them- a well-rounded follow, while still inclined to be one or the other, should be able to tap into both skill sets (an introvert needs to be able to communicate verbally, and an extrovert needs to be able to listen).
For the first several years of my dancing, I was in hot pursuit of technique perfection, at the expense of everything else but rhythm. Around 2005, though, I started to change my ideas about following a bit. For starters, I got told by a lead I admired very much that I was boring. Ouch. For another thing, you can only hear the advice above so many times before you decide that while it's not your top priority, or your strong suit, maybe it's still worth looking into.
Of course, I'm still pursuing that status of "perfect follow", in a way, but my understanding has changed. For one thing, in order to be able to follow everything that's led on me, I have to know how to move my body in a lot of ways; solo jazz isn't an intuitive movement style to follow if you've only done swingouts. Additionally, I once believed that at the right "heaviness" and the right ratio of savoy/hollywood, I'd hit the jackpot, and be perfect. Turns out, the key to being a better follow is not finding the right answer, but recognizing that there is no right answer. The perfect follow has to embrace the zen ideal of knowing nothing. The right answer is not a way of dancing; it's versatility (that blew my mind in the summer of 2005).
As if it wasn't enough that I had to know all forms of movement and attain zen enlightenment, during my first time at Herrang, I watched the difference between the AdvancedI follows and the AdvancedII follows, and noticed that both groups could follow everything, but the AdvancedI follows made it look good. I realized that the well-rounded follow has to also be a dancer. In the words of the wise Amy B, immerepher. So now, I have to have musicality, good movement quality, awesome embellishments, know all forms of movement, and attain zen enlightenment...
Would you like fries with that?
And an answer to world hunger, for that matter?
That's going to be all for this installment- you've read a lot for one day. Go check out a webcomic, relax your brain, and come back tomorrow. I recommend XKCD.com.
Peace, love, swingouts, and zen,