Once upon a time, I learned to dance. And I fell in love. I wanted to be "The Perfect Follow." I strove to find the "right" amount of lag, the "right" amount of tone in my arms, the "right" amount of "heaviness." I wanted to be mistake-free. Then, someone told me I was boring (You know who you are- and thank you, by the way), and made me sad. So I got creative. I got musical. And I found myself learning to have a voice, as a contributor- as a dancer, and not just as a follow.
In a sense, this is also the story of the blues community (or one facet of it). Follows were told to be soft, to always wait, to let the leads move us. The perfect leader was one who left so little room for error that he could lead anyone to do exactly what he wanted, all the time. I can easily imagine a written guide to blues dance in the early 2000s including the fact that a follow's variations should not affect the lead. It wasn't meant to be repressive, it was meant to create dances that worked. It's intuitive- to move a paintbrush, you hold the paintbrush, you master how to move the paintbrush, and you create your painting.
The first Blues Muse, in 2008, did not invent the idea of follower voice. But it was the first Blues workshop that I know of whose point was explicitly to focus on the followers' side of the dance*. Topics included technique for follows and what follows really want from their leaders. Topics also included the musicality, presence, and style of the first four muses (for you whippersnappers who don't remember 2008, that was Carsie Blanton, Megan Adair, Heather Adams, and myself). All of us were interested in these topics before the first Muse happened, which is why the event happened. (*There was a similar, preexisting event for lindy called Southern Belle Swing Bash, which inspired the creation of Blues Muse)
Six Blues Muse workshops have happened. And the world is a very different place. By bringing the ideas of follower contribution and receptive leading into the limelight over and over again on a national level, Blues Muse has changed the standard. Follows no longer strive to be paintbrushes; we strive to be artists. The number one buzzword I heard from the advanced students this weekend was "collaboration." From a personal soapboxy-perspective, I could think of no better word to describe the process that creates our music, and it delights me that it now describes our dancing as well. In the same way that handing out charts with note-by-note parts written out to a blues band would be ridiculous (and monstrously wasteful), leads and follows are now expected to be equally responsible for movement, musicality, and partnership.
Now be aware, that I do not believe this means we have to be shouting over each other all the time (this is not free-jazz). Neither partner is obligated to layer distinct variations or make loud, additive statements to have a voice, and we can take on different aspects of the partnership as we dance. But where once I took your step as a follow, now I as a dancer embrace your step as my own, and we take it together; where once you would lead a step completely, now you follow me within the step that you create, so that we make it together- the product of so many tiny subtle negotiations. The point is that no matter the type of dance that two dancers are creating, it should feel good, and it should feel like teamwork. And while this is the product of the blues community at large, I think that an unduly large part of that is due to the efforts of the collective Blues Muse team over the years, and I thank them providing such a space where we are all encouraged to advance our art together.
Warning: this is not, directly, a dance-related blog. But it is about nutrition and science, it's an interesting idea, and I'm hoping to get a bunch of accountability buddies by going public, if you will. Now, on to the blog! (If you want.)What it Is
For the first time in my life, I'm on a diet. Winter is coming (I always gain a few pounds in winter), my exercise levels are very low right now while I rest up tender joints, and there are two equally important additional factors:
1. I have to fit into The Dress in April, looking my best.
2. I LOVE a science experiment. Especially where I'm the subject.
So instead of thinking to myself, over an order of fries, that I should "eat better," I'm going on a strict diet. It's a modified version of the Eco-Atkins diet, developed by David M. Jenkins, MD. This is the guy who came up with the glycemic index, if the internet tells true. You can read about his methodology (and his whole study) here: Jenkins Methodology
Jenkins put one group of subjects onto a diet that was low (but not extremely low) in carbs and vegan, and another group on another diet- we don't care about them here. He recognized that low-carb diets are good for weight loss, but bad for the cardiovascular system, and a terrible idea ecologically (meat and hummers are in the same category, y'all- they make the bambi cry). So he put people on a diet that was calorie restricted, and gave the same calorie ratios that I used below. Processed grains were pretty out, but there were some cereals allowed, and some nice whole-grain items. The results were great. People felt very full, lost weight, and had great lipid profiles (that means their arteries were happy). What I'm Doing
Now, Jenkins is a big fan of veganism, and I'm a big fan of cheese, so I'm using a modified version. I'm being less strict on what, exactly, I eat, but equally strict on the math. Since he's a researcher, and not a marketer, there aren't a bunch of Eco-Atkins websites, so there's some information out there on what types of ingredients he gave his subjects, but not a bunch of menus, diet books, and supporting websites. So I'm on my own to come up with food that works. Here's my plan:
-Calories: I'm doing just a smidge under normal recommended caloric intake for my activity level
-Protein: 31% of my calories come from protein- that's about 120g of protein a day
-Fat: about 46% of my calories come from fat- that's about 75g of fat daily
-Carbs: about 26% of calories come from carbs, which comes to about 102g of net carbs
The deal is, I'm trying to do mostly (almost all) vegetarian protein, and mostly plant-based fat. That said, I'm down for some cheese and eggs- I'm not a fan of completely cutting a food group out. At first, I was finding it very hard to get enough protein from plants with only 102g of carbs, until I realized that I needed to be looking at net carbs- fiber doesn't count towards caloric intake, because it outtakes, if you will. Since I'm eating so much bunny food, I actually eat about 150g of total carbs per day. After seeing that I wasn't getting enough vitamins and minerals even before the diet, I've added a once-a-day supplement. I'm also keeping an eye on amino acid composition, fiber, and water intake.
I'm only on day three, but I already have some pretty firm opinions, and interesting observations.
1. It's a VERY low glycemic index plan. I have yet to feel hungry or sugar crash. Those of you who know me well may find that hard to believe.
2. Jenkins used, essentially, a starch-free plan. I'm not being as strict, but I do find that there's just not room for the super-carby, nutritionally lacking group of foods that he cut out. No processed sugary stuff, no starchy potatoes/pasta/white bread. But LOTS of fruits and veggies- my inner hippie is very pleased.
3. I'm eating all day long. I make a plan in the morning, and am constantly impressed by the amount I still have to eat- I'm eating a lot more food, and getting a much better nutrient profile. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack, treat.
4. I was NOT getting enough protein before- even meat-containing meals that I thought were protein-rich were just not.
5. Despite being sick, I feel really good. No sugar crashes, no fuzziness. That's pretty exciting. My energy level is more consistent, and higher.
6. This diet is a lot of work. Like... a lot of calculations. I'm sure I'll get faster at it, but right now it's time consuming.
7. The food Dan and I have concocted has been really delicious (homemade seitan, curry over cauliflower, chorizo burritos), and I'm trying recipes that are super new to me. Plus, I've been able to have a tasty treat each day (a beer, a peppermint mocha) without busting my diet. This is the most delicious week of eating I've done in a while!
This weekend will be my first dance weekend on this thing, and I have no idea what will happen. I'm taking some dry goods for snacking, and I'm going to try and do some calculations ahead of time while chilling at the airport. Wish me luck!
Much love, and all the noms!
ps- Yes, Mom- I'm taking Thanksgiving off. But I'll probably skip the rolls... because I feel awesome right now!
Hardly a day passes that I'm not grateful for the giant plate of awesome (with extra awesome sauce) that is my job. Sure, I've talked (sometimes at length) about the downsides, but man- my job is sweet. Why? First, my boss is generally me. And I suck less than many of the people my friends work for. True, I never leave myself alone, but typically, I'm pretty understanding. Second, and more relevant to this post, I work (for all practical purposes) in the world of non-profit. I work in a community-driven, big-picture-oriented, camaraderie-over-competition setting. My co-workers want me to do well, and I support them in return. This is not always the case, and has not always been the trend, but I think generally, The Scene has gotten wise to the value of cooperation. Allow me to illustrate.
Myopic example: Back in The Day, us old-timey Knoxville dancers used to go down to new-fangled Atlanta for just about anything. Big workshop? Great! Small workshop? Cool! Bigger-than-usual monthly dance? We're there! We thought of hotlanta as our sister scene in a way- the cooler older sister we'd never had. We were fortunate enough to have an exchange (not that common in the early 2000's), and it was our pride and joy. Yet not just once, but twice (as my addled brain recalls), Atlanta, a mere 4 hours away, hosted workshops on top of our exchange... knowingly. What makes the story so sad is not just that they thought it was ok (which is lame), but that we continued supporting these organizers (hey, events were scarce in The Dark Times). Have a conversation, past-self! Tell them that's not cool! Le sigh.
Super-Awesome example: This year, when preparing for Enter the Blues, Meghan and I discovered that unwittingly, we were for the same weekend as an event just a few hours from Atlanta, in Columbia, SC. We didn't have them on our calendars, and they hadn't announced their event, so we thought our weekend was safe, and confirmed some very important details. When we got an email from the Swing Into Spring team, we were a little heartbroken to know. But, being the awesome peeps that they are, they said, "well, since you're stuck, we can move our weekend." Now, back in The Day, the excuse would be made that lindy and blues are different dances, so there's no real competition. But if you haven't been to the dark side lately (whichever dance you do less, that is), you're likely to see some pretty familiar faces. The swing world is not a big one, and whether you dig on Bal, Charleston, Lindy, or Blues, you have a good chance of seeing familiar faces at any other swing-umbrella event. We're all just lovers of vintage american partnered folk dances, here. So they moved, and we've offered to help cross-promote (when they're ready) and maybe even offer some good-old-fashioned incentives for people who want to get down with their lindy AND blues selves. Bam- everyone spreads the love of dance, and the Southeast gets more than its share of cool events to attend.
But this post isn't about how cool the Columbia people are (although, of course, they are), or how glad I am that we've moved forward from an age of "may the biggest event win" to an age of "let's make the best dance scene possible." This post is about some ways that we can continue to move forward towards an even friendlier, healthier scene with fewer chances for conflict, and better dancers all around. So, with much ado, I present to you:
Tools for the Scene
1. A regional, non-public calendar. In the past, I've used a google calendar, and given access to anyone who is an organizer. This is important because it lets organizers put "maybes" on a calendar, so that they can give each other a heads-up before going public with an event. This way, organizers can talk before deposits are made or tickets are booked. Let's not repeat the nastiness of the Dark Ages.
2. The recognition that Lindy and Blues or Balboa and Blues events will, in fact, be in direct competition. Honestly, I even dislike Bal-Blues competition, but there are fewer of us who do both, so I'll settle for this: if it's a lindy event, it competes with any other swing-umbrella event (excluding Westie). Regardless of dance style, I'd like to see 2 months between events in the same city, and ideally several weeks between events in the same region.
3. This one doesn't exist, but I like the idea- a staff/volunteer database. I have people who have worked for me who are worth their weight in gold. Likewise, I have some positions at my events that need someone super reliable. Beyond personal knowledge, how I do I find super-awesome people to work for me? What about someone who fails to show up for 3 of their shifts with no explanation? I'd like for them to explain why they put Bob's Exchange in such a bad position before I hire them for mine. (If anyone makes this, let me know!)
4. Google Docs. No, really. Do you have any idea how powerful google docs are? No, really. Check it- this is how registration for Enter the Blues
works this year:
1. You pay on our website.
2. Paypal emails us.
3. (Glitchy right now, but in hypothetical land, this happens) a gmail filter reads the email, and sends you the form to fill out.
4. You fill out the form, which populates a spreadsheet.
5. The spreadsheet sees that you're done, and emails confirmation.
6. The spreadsheet autopopulates other spreadsheets with only the relevant data- so Karen, our lovely housing person, doesn't have to see what track you're taking, and our financial sheet doesn't tell us if you're allergic to cats.
For real- Google does registration for us! It takes a fair amount of work on the front end, but still- it's cool. Of course, if you want to really go pro, and have a great team of support, I also recommend Open Dance
. Very smart, very professional, and good peeps to top it off. Want other uses of Docs? How about storing bios for your local instructor pool so they can update them at any time, and you never have to pester them to resend again? Or, having your instructors for a weekend create cohesive curriculum using a doc that includes internal notes like pre-requisite moves or nice material to follow up with?
5. Public dancing. Quite the opposite of public shaming, dancing in public gets you in the public eye. We as a dance scene owe our existence to a Gap commercial, neo-swing bands, and a couple of movies. The more people know that lindy/blues/balboa exist, the more likely they are to give it a shot. So have outdoor dances at exchanges, dance in the park on Sunday, dance at music festivals. And if you have a media connection, use it! Get the word out- dance is a way cooler way to meet folks than this is:
I'm a believer that more events mean better dancers, and that's a good thing- but we need to place them with wisdom. So, I'm curious- what else can we do? How else can we grow the pool of dancers (and maintain our sanity), so that events can flourish?
With much love and lots of organizing on the brain,
Recently, I've had been fortunate to spend a lot of time dancing to several live bands. Dan and I did a one-week tour with Solomon Douglas, and were able to teach the beginner lessons before the dances. Normally, I think we tend to have people dance about 110-125bpm for most of the lesson, pushing them to 130-135 on the high end. Teaching right before a live band, though, we felt compelled to push the tempos a bit faster; we started them closer to 125 and tried to spend the bulk of the class dancing above 130, to give them a fighting chance at feeling comfortable during the dance.
Swing musicians (and blues musicians) spend a lot of time (most of their time) playing well above that 125bpm beginner mark... often, their mode is much, much faster. In fact, it's fairly common knowledge (at least according to the internet) that if you hire a band, you need to coach them on a few things- namely, keep the songs short, and the tempos lower. Most bands are pretty darned accommodating. I noticed that Solomon even changed his tempo profile from scene to scene throughout the week. As a dance community, we value bands that are "used to playing for dancers." That's a pretty intriguing thought... the idea is that bands need to change what they do to be fun for us dancers. So here's the question- how do we meet them in the middle? How do we push our scene to be fun for bands?
I think there are several things we can do to make musicians want to have us around, as much as we (hopefully) want them around:
1. Teach your dancers to clap for the bands. I know- you want to dip your partner, tell them how awesome they are, and maybe even talk about how great the song/band was. Guess what? The band can't hear you! Their language is applause, and they need some love back from you to have a good time playing. I've been at events where the dancers were having a great time, and failing to applaud (young scene)... let me tell you that the backstage chatter did not reflect the audience's feeling. The band felt unloved. So hug your partner- right after you've given a rowdy round of applause.
2. If/when a jam breaks out, let the musicians see! Clear a space so the band can have a clear look at the performers. Why? Because not only can you dance to the music... they band can play to you. That's the advantage for you (the dancers). The advantage for the band is that they're included, instead of shut out. Ever been at a huge event, and walked in to see a ring of butts watching something awesome? Not awesome for you, right? Let's make it common knowledge that the band is a crucial part of the jam.
3. Let's tailor our scenes to the bands. Let's teach our dancers to dance well at super fast, super slow, and super medium (?) speeds. Most scenes have a pretty strong comfort zone. Sometimes, it's unofficial (certain scenes are classically fast and charleston oriented, some really dig the slower, more chilled out feeling). Sometimes, it's even imposed by organizers (a whole other topic of debate, I'm sure). But let's make it a point to have a wide range of tempos where we can play. Sure, you might not have the resources to be a master from 60-320bpm, but try to encourage your dancers to step outside the 120-160 range (or the 180-220, or the 110-140, etc). Let's be able to dance well(ish) at any tempo.
This is a challenge to dancers, organizers, teachers, djs, and me. My dream is that at some hypothetical future date, I can say to a band, "I'm hiring you because you're rad. Do what you do best, and what you feel good about- my dancers can hang."
Bonus! - if you're looking for an incredible opportunity to get into the heads of musicians (and practice hearing/making/dancing to live music for a week), I can't say enough good things about the Augusta Heritage Festival, in Elkins, WV.
Why you should go:
1. This year, swing week is offering a whole class on playing for dancers and dancing for players (you could have skipped reading that blog!).
2. There are classes on how to make music- whether you already play an instrument or not.
3. There are jams happening all over campus all day and night, concerts, hangouts, and more merrymaking than I can fit in one paragraph.
4. The advantage of this over a music festival is the direct dialogue with the musicians- as in, everyone there is either a musician or a dancer, so we talk at lunch, in class, at dinner, walking around the mountain...
5. Constant exposure/conversation/practice of music will make you a dramatically better dancer. Dan and I have taught there for several years, and every year we come away much better dancers.
6. Ice cream with lunch.
7. Vacation in the mountains.
8. A week! Did I mention it's a week long?
9. Solomon Douglas will be there (as will Dan and I).
10. Learn to speak musician! This makes hiring a band much easier. Also, music structure (macromusicality) will make more sense.
11. This will make more sense: http://gallery.me.com/edmalloy#100328
12. I will teach you why you need a spoon to properly eat a chocolate chip cookie.13. Did I mention that the music is kick-ass and constant?
There is a week for blues (which unfortunately has no partner-dance classes this year) and a week for swing (that's where Solomon, Dan and I will be!).
Augusta Heritage Center
Swing Week: July 29th-August 3rd
A few times a year, I hire my fiance to restrain my hands so I don't rip out my eyeballs. Before you ask whether that happens every 28 days or so, let me tell you: it's not. It's generally 2x per year. And if more organizers were good about sharing feedback on workshops, it'd be more often (hint, hint, organizers).
Boy, that's a weird start to a blog. Is it just me, or am I getting weirder?
Back to the topic at hand. I think you (yes, you- person who has a love of dancing, or of me) need to know something. When I get feedback, I read every single word written by every single person. Every. Single. Word. I don't send the results to some identity-less person working for a corporation they hate, to compile meaningless data and pass it back. I read every glowing compliment, every outraged indignity, every "nice job." And it's a painful, awful, crucial
process. And for every dance-event survey you fill out, someone (probably several someones) goes through that same process- probably a few times.
I need every one of you to know this: the people who read the surveys are the people who have poured blood, sweat, and many tears into running these events. They may or may not make a dime. They might make $1.60/hr when all is calculated. But none of that matters- they do it out of love for dance, and love for the scene, so I have a very serious request: fill out surveys with love.
I don't mean you have to be all "everything was perfect" if it was a seriously flawed event. But when you fill out surveys, I need you to remember who you're writing to. For EtB and Blues Muse, you're writing to every organizer and every instructor: they will know what you said about their classes- and that's a great thing! That's how we make better events! But tell me
what worked or didn't, and how I
can improve. Here are some more and less effective examples (all made up by me, right now):
"The award ceremony was ridiculously terrible! I was supposed to be dancing, and spending so much time watching other people win awards ruined my weekend!" Less helpful- I have to fight the urge not to react emotionally. Here's a better way: "I was troubled by the length of the awards ceremony. Perhaps simple announcements could be used next year to allow more time for dancing." Helpful, clear, and seperating between the feelings of the writer and the issue at hand.
"I learned nothing in the classes." That will pretty much just ruin my day, and doesn't help me improve anything. Don't be evil like that. How about this: "Classes were so crowded that I was unable to focus on learning, so I only took 2 classes- that was disappointing." Your emotional reaction is conveyed, along with information about what we could do to improve (more class space!).
"Your awesome!" Mixed feelings here. 1. Your grammar is wrong. 2. In with all the rage, I love me some happiness- yay! 3. What did we do right? Try this: "What a great event! You created a great vibe, and totally allowed us to manage our needs, while still providing a full schedule! Plus, you're very charming!" Much better!
Also, there are a few things you should know:
1. Organizers are probably aware of glaring errors. For instance, if classes ran late all day, chances are good that the organizers are (painfully) aware. Mention things like this if they matter, but keep it brief. They get it.
2. Positive feedback is every bit as informative as negative feedback, and keeps us from stabbing out our eyeballs.
3. Believe it or not, professional dance instructors are generally good at knowing how you dance, how much control you have over your body, and YES
, how your connection FEELS
by watching. I have an entire blog on Auditions
from a few years ago, and you should truly read it if you haven't. We do make mistakes, but that's what an appeals process is for- and those mistakes are pretty few. We see what's wrong in class, we see what's happening in privates, we recognize tone levels in prelims, and we have a pretty darned good idea what your connection feels like in auditions. I promise.
4. DJs need feedback, too! Pay attention to who is DJing when you're having fun, and when you're not. Even just information like "I had great dances all weekend" tells us that the DJs did their job well, so let us know!
5. Painfully low ratings on a class make me desperate to know what I did wrong. Pretty please, if you give an extreme high or low rating to something, give a comment if you can. That's helping!
So remember- every time you write a survey response, make it calm, rational, specific, helpful, and most important, write it so that a human who loves the dance scene can do an even better job next time.
For EtB this year, I'm going to do something which will keep my fiance employed for days or weeks. I'm going to respond to anyone who wants it. You can either fill out the survey anonymously, or you can include your email address. If I see something that I would like to explain, or thank you for, or if you have any questions, I will answer you. That will take time, because we're expecting about 150 people, which means about 60 surveys (plus frequent eyeball-protection breaks), but I will answer anyone who wants an answer, for the dual purposes of better customer service, and better survey filler-outers in the future. Also, all of my teachers will get their feedback, and all of my DJs will get their feedback. So write meaningful stuff, y'all!
XKCD said it better than I could.
As most of you probably know already, I walk on the wild side; I live on the edge; I laugh in the face of danger! All of which refers not to my bravery, but my destitution (to to be confused with other -stitutions, which would make me not poor). Since people often ask me advice on becoming a full time dance teacher, I thought I'd write some of my top tips for being desperately poor, or traveling for really-really cheap- so those of you who are just totally addicted can also reap the benefit of my extensive knowledge. (And, I'm humble!)
1. This Is My Health Care Provider
. No really- many self-employed, unemployed, or under-empoyed peeps will tell you that being without health insurance is scary as heck. However, if you do get sick, and don't want to declare bankruptcy just yet, simply find yourself a free health clinic. Protip one: take a friend- it will not be in a nice neighborhood. Protip two: take a book- there's a good possibility that you'll need to wait for quite a while before being seen. But in some places (like CA), you'll get a free or discounted visit, and even free meds, if you need them.
2. These things are better than caffeine on the road. No, really! Expensive coffee that's full of sugar is not a good thing- these guys are between a buck and a buck-fiddy, and are spicy enough to wake you up. Plus, what's cuter than being a good co-pilot, and feeding your driver pretzel bits? Not that I go for that, or anything. Plus, you can finish them the next day, share them with friends, and shake them without wearing them. Awe. Some.
3. If you're going to have to get a shuttle to/from the airport, it is often cheaper to get a rental car- under a few conditions. First, you must already have good insurance, so you can decline theirs. Two, get a small car that will not be a guzzler. Three, wait until the last minute, do a name-your-own price, and try $12/day. Yes, really. There will be a boatload of fees tacked on, but if your visit is quick, and especially if you can find a coupon, it might be a better option than the $35-$40 you'll often pay for a one-way shuttle when public transit won't do you right. And if you can split it, then (obviously) it's even cheaper yet.
4. Burger King has a legitimate vegetarian option: an actual veggie burger. Taco bell also has veggie options. Also, burritos. Otherise, vegetarians go hungry, and get grumpy, and slowly start considering homicide. That's all I need to say about that, right?
). Travel by bus has a reputation for being slow, sketchy, and expensive- and all three of those stereotypes apply to Greyhound. I'm not bitter, but I am blunt. However, neither Megabus nor Boltbus is overpriced, full of scary (possibly insane) people, or prone to running on time. So if you have a 3-hour window before you need to be somewhere, busing can be cheaper than the cost of gas, especially if you're planning far in advance.
6. If you must travel by plane, pick a favorite airline, and have a little loyalty. Your miles will add up far too slowly to get used if you rotate between 7 different airlines. But if you're flying the same airline all the time, and you're flying a round-trip per month, that can do you some good lickety-split (or maybe lickety-sundae?).
7. If you must travel by plane, buy your tickets so that your travel is flexible, and volunteer to be bumped. What do I mean, exaclty? Simple: airlines will oversell their planes, so that when (not if) people don't show up, they still fly with a full plane. If more people show up than they'd hoped, they ask for volunteers to get bumped to a different flight, and give those volunteers a new booking, plus compensation. You can get all sorts of vouchers in exchange for a slight inconvenience. Protip 1: Evening flights seem to have the best shot of overselling. Protip 2: Don't check a bag. It costs you more money, and might get lost when you get bumped.
8. Take me with you! Food you can make at any host's house, that can sit in your car for 12 hours before you get there:
-Can of Tuna, ziploc of rice, with seasoning salt added. Rice and tuna is delicious, salty, and stupidly cheap.
-Raman- not as good as you'd think, because it's very low in protein. But it is salty, delicious, and cheap.
-Bread, peanut butter, bananas, honey, marshamallow fluff: ok, pick one of the sweet things. Proteiny goodness.
-Really hard cheese, and a loaf of tasty, hearty bread. Soft cheeses will go bad pretty fast, but hard cheeses are tough.
-Liquor! Despite what your instructors may imply, you can't actually live off liquor. Don't try.
-Clif bars- all flavors. They go on sale occasionally for $1. Stock up. Protein and fiber.
9. Goodwill and Ebay are your friends. Yes, you will wear out your clothes, leave a trail of lost (never heard-from again) items, and your wardrobe will shrink alarmingly. Dancing like a maniac is rough on your clothing collection, but thrift stores and ebay are awesome. Note: "vintage" shops and consignment stores are not thrift stores. To count, you must dig though heaps of slightly questionable material to find a great pear of jeans for $6, or a dress or $3.99. $25 is not appropriate for the impoverished. If you can pay $60 for an item, leave this blog immediately. (Ok, you can stay...)
10. Gas Buddy
is your... well.. buddy. You can map out prices using the heat map, to determine whether you should fill-er-up in New Jersy, Pennsylvania, or New York. You can also search for the cheapest gas close to where you are now. Also, you should report gas prices- help other travelers looking to short-change the oil companies, eh?
Ok! If that doesn't save you some cash... then you're probably poorer than me. Come over, and I'll make you a sandwich. No, really!
If that did help, then yay! Less money on unnecessary things like food, clothing, and shelter means more money for the important things... like private lessons.
Often, I am asked by students or colleagues, "What city do you think has the best blues/lindy scene?" This is, of course, a complicated question, for the obvious reason that 'best' is vague, broad, and personal. I think that most people can agree on several of the factors that would need to be measured: size of the scene, skill of the dancers, the quality of the music, the number of weekly events, the presence and skill of the instructors... but of course, there are probably many more. One of the most under-rated qualities of a scene, however, is its culture. I think it would be hard to argue that self-selecting groups of people, spending a good deal of time and money together don't have (or form) a culture of their own. Compare, for instance, the social undertones at a business meeting to a tango dance to an east-coast swing dance to a lindy dance. One of my favorite over-all scenes in the US for both lindy and blues is Philadelphia. Thanks to the values and policies of their scene leaders, their scene has grown from a handful of dancers just a few years ago, to a scene so special that there were (at my last count) 160 people swinging out at their weekly dance each week. Not 150 east-coasters, and 10 lindy hoppers. 160 people who could, at the minimum, swing out. Based on their model and success, I'm dedicated this post to Lindy and Blues, the Philly umbrella group.
For those of you who travel regularly to dance events, and also go out to 'normal' social engagements, have you ever marveled at the difference in the average IQ level? Sure, IQ is a questionable measure, blah blah blah. But really- swing dancers (especially hard-core traveling dancers) are darned smart. Much, much smarter than average. I'd love to do a study comparing various social group meetings' IQ averages. I have a feeling we rank pretty high (although I'm sure that Mensa would win that competition). Interestingly, the same is not necessarily true of all scenes nationally. Likewise, some scenes are populated by jazz aficionados, while others ask for more Cherry Poppin Daddies. Here are a few of the factors I value most highly:
Case study: I'm pretty geeky, and I enjoy describing things accurately. So when I teach a swingout class, I talk about the fake-physics of following. People who are math-science types catch it, and enjoy an atmosphere that welcomes academic discussion. So now you have an instructor who's talking about physics, and students talking about brainy things on the side- often math/science/wordgames. So people who walk in the door are subjected to nerd-culture; people who like the culture stick around, and people who would rather talk about The View will get less pleasure out of their visit. Next thing you know, the social activities are things like sci-fi movie night, boggle night, etc. Personally, I thrive in that sort of environment. Don't bother asking me about football. I can tell you that Michael Vick and Ben Rothlisberger are bad people, and that's about it. So when I like the intellectual atmosphere in a scene, be prepare for a high IQ, and mad engineering skills.
This is so difficult, and my hats of to scenes like Philly that can manage it. My favorite scenes have leaders (instructors, djs, organizers) who practice what they preach. The teachers are students, the DJs are obsessed with learning about and finding new music... everyone who teaches or DJs seeks regular, honest feedback. Whether it's in the form of private lessons, workshops (DJ or dancing), DJ battles, practice sessions, or just asking other community members for feedback, the major players in the scene are constantly learning. Believe-you-me, I've seen firsthand the hunger that this inspires in students. Not to mention, of course, that if your instructors are constantly learning, your scene is always getting better instructors.
I can't be the only dancer whose primary determinant for a good night (or not) is the music. And I just have to be brutally honest, here: I've heard the excuse that beginners will only dance to non-swing music, and I've seen proof that it simply isn't true. Yes, a DJ must choose their music wisely to cater to beginners. But that does not mean restricting yourself to pop and rock'n'roll. If you give beginners good music from the beginning, they learn the music, just like they're learning the dance. If you hold your scene DJs to high standards, I truly believe that this lets your students become more sophisticated dancers- and truly, more fun dancers. Musical dances are more fun, and venues which play good music are more fun. Combine the two, and... you get it.
Every scene has an overall personality. Some are reserved to the point of being cold; some are as friendly and overeager as a 2-yr-old golden retriever; some are just plain schizophrenic. To maintain growth, a scene must be welcoming, friendly, and positive- and this must come from the top down, with consistency. After all- being a beginner is scary, and sometimes you need to go where everybody knows your name.
Everyone has heard the complaint at least once- such and such dancer will rip out your arm. No fun. Now, no beginner starts off amazing. (If your beginners are amazing, call me- I'm coming to learn from you!) But what your instructors teach in that first hour sets the course for a dancers career- or at least, the rest of the night. If your instructors are good, your beginners will feel nice to dance with. And if your beginners feel nice, the friendliness is just a little easier. Advanced and intermediates will enjoy dancing with your newbies, and as a result, your newbies will get better faster. Additionally, your big events will be more fun if your out-of-towners aren't your only dancers who are fun to dance with. And of course, good technique extends to more than just your beginners. If your dancers go out and give your city a good name by being fun to dance with, more dancers will come to your events, when have exchanges or workshops. Not to mention, your weekly dances are just way more fun!
Ok, this one is pretty easy once you have humility and friendliness. But it's so important that I wanted it to get its own heading. How do you show your students you value the dance community as more than a source of income? 1. Welcoming new dancers explicitly- things like having a dedicated host, making it a policy to ask your beginner students to dance, having a new-dancer snowball at the end of a novice series, etc. 2. Supporting other facets of the scene- a bal event announcing a lindy workshop, a weekly dance announcing the exchange, etc. 3. Making individuals feel recognized- announcing when a community member wins at an out-of-town competition, jamming birthday people, etc. 4. 4. If your venue has announcements, make sure that they are respected, and tolerable- like parents making their kids sit down and turn off the tv at dinner, having announcements be a recognized, important ritual helps your students bond with you as an organizer.
There are more things that an organizer can do to create a good scene, but if you establish the right sort of culture, your dance scene is guaranteed to get better. Not only that, but it will have its own momentum to improve, even if you pass the reigns, or take a hiatus. This is the sort of culture that retains better potential students, produces better students, and establishes its own growth. This is the sort of culture that will draw dancers from all over the country to be teachers, DJs, or just happy participants.
Cheers to all the scenes who are actively working towards a better dance future, and especially those who directly teach their staff to embrace these ideals. You know who you are!
TL;DR: Want me to like your scene? Promote nerdiness, have awesome music, be friendly, have good technique, and put the community first. That's all.
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.
For those of you who haven't heard, I've picked up a part-time job at my local Curves (a gym designed for women, and especially women who don't like gyms- I love it!). My job title is "Circuit Coach." That means that in addition to handling any sales and phone calls, I hang out with the members, and act as a group personal trainer. Since that's not enough, apparently, I've picked up a new educational outlet. I've started posting science pop-news sheets. All the information is based on current scientific studies, and are designed to bring people relevant science info, in a (hopefully) fun, easy-to-swallow format. This one isn't on dancing, but it's on something that's particularly important to dancers: Stretching. Most people believe all sorts of myths about stretching, and don't know a lot of interesting truth about stretching.
Stretching: True or False? (Repeated with answers at bottom)
1. Stretching regularly improves muscle strength
2. Stretching before exercising reduces the risk of injury
3. Bouncing when you stretch is recommended by experts
4. Focusing on even, relaxed breaths will improve your stretch
5. To improve flexibility, you must hold a stretch for 60s
6. It’s good to stretch before warming up
7. Still stretches (holding a pose to stretch) are called static stretches
8. It’s best to stretch to mild discomfort, not farther
9. The first 25s of a stretch are the most efficient
10. Muscles are slightly weaker for 30m after static stretching
So what’s up with stretching?
There are actually several ways to stretch. The most common type of stretching, where we hold a pose, is called static stretching. For years, people have been told that static stretching should be part of your warm up to prevent injury. Recent studies, however, suggest that while warming up is crucial, static stretching doesn’t help. But there’s good news- stretching regularly not only improves your flexibility, it makes you stronger! The best time to stretch is when you’re already warmed up- so after your workout is the perfect time. How long you hold a pose is up to you; research suggests that 30s per pose is the best way to improve flexibility, but even a 15-20s stretch will help keep you loose, give you time to cool down, and help you get more out of your workout!
Next time you stretch, focus on breathing deeply and evenly. Your muscles will relax, giving you a better stretch. Your mind might also get to relax!Stretching Quiz with Answers:1. Stretching regularly improves muscle strength.......................................................True
2. Stretching before exercising reduces the risk of injury…………………………….False
3. Bouncing when you stretch is recommended by experts…………………………..False
4. Focusing on even, relaxed breaths will improve your stretch….……………...……True
5. To improve flexibility, you must hold a stretch for 60s…………….…………….......False
6. It’s good to stretch before warming up……………………………….………….....….False
7. Still stretches (holding a pose to stretch) are called static stretches….……....…….True
8. It’s best to stretch to mild discomfort, not farther……………………….……......…….True
9. The first 25s of a stretch are the most efficient………………………………....……..True
10. Muscles are slightly weaker for 30m after static stretching……………………….True
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.