Random thoughts: dance expression

For some reason Sarah Breck’s post, “How Far Do You Take Your Following?” reminded me of a post I read recently by Fenn on Short Girl Blogs.

Fenn takes issue with a post written by Steve Losh about how blues dancers use their body movement to respond to the song Saint James Infirmary in which he writes:

The one major thing I’d like to tell followers is: “stop being sexy.” There are songs where that is completely appropriate, but this is not one of them.

If you’re only used to trying to be sexy, what can you do instead?

The simple answer is: “just follow.” Don’t worry about adding styling if you’re not comfortable with it — a solid follower is much more fun to dance with than one that’s trying to force a style she has no experience with.

Fenn responds by saying

Dance is an expression, it’s not for anyone else to determine what to express or how. So, the lyrics for Saint James Infirmary are sad but people want to dance sexy? Why is that a problem? The lyrics might be sad, and I feel that the music is sad, but the music could also be sultry. A couple, any given couple, could choose to interpret the pace of the song however they choose, which might be with intimate or sexy movements. Why aren’t they allowed to do so?

Whilst I don’t particularly disagree with Fenn’s sentiments, I also understand where Steve is coming from. One of my pet peeves is being asked to follow tandem Charleston moves to a song like Fly me to the moon or It’s only a paper moon.* There is nothing in this song that even suggests Charleston movement to me and on a practical level I’m not balanced enough to do tandem Charleston that slowly – and doing it that slowly makes me feel stupid. I could be charitable and say these leaders are hearing something in the music that is inspiring them… but I doubt it. It’s a pattern people get into, a routine learned in class, a sequence that looks cool, something a leader wants to work on or [insert some reason] that has very little to do with interpreting the music.

Which brings me on to Sarah’s post “How Far Do You Take Your Following?” in which Sarah writes:

At what point do we get so good that we become unwilling to temporarily sacrifice what we have built for ourselves in the name of swing dancing? Let me explain more. Think of a follower in your head that is pretty advanced. Think about her style of dancing (we all have a distinct way we like to dance). Now start putting her with different style leads. Does she change her style to match her lead or does she generally look the same? I can’t honestly think of a follower who chooses extreme change. I’m very often caught doing the same thing. It’s hard when something feels so good to you and your leader is asking you to go to a place that you don’t think you’ll like or that might look stupid.

So with that thought, ask the question, “why do you like social dancing?”. One of my top reasons why I love to social dance (and why I love to be a follower) is that every dance and every leader is different. I find it an exciting challenge to feel these differences; and understand in those few minutes the way they hear the music; chose to move their bodies; and technically view leading. I believe in going beyond appreciating that to wanting to experience it for myself. I try to join my leader’s party even if it sometimes means throwing a lot of what I believe in out the window.

Perhaps it is time for me to follow Sarah’s advice and match what my leader is doing a little more. Stop focusing on what I perceive as my leaders lack of musicality and embrace the challenge of “joining my leaders’ party”!


*I find it amusing how infectious moves like tandem Charleston can be. One leader starts doing it and the next time you look round and half the dance floor are doing the same thing.



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