I’m really bored of seeing the same thing over and over…

Just read Vernacular jazz dance’s post entitled “I’m really bored of seeing the same thing over and over in Lindy Hop routines” (agree) and it got me thinking about this stop-motion animation

and a comment made on the Wandering & Pondering Facebook page by Matt Smiley:

I love that I don’t remember watching the routine on which this was based, but I was able to tell who the couple was by watching how the figures moved. That is what it means to have style.

Which, in a very roundabout way, reminded me of something that has been bothering me recently. There are a number of excellent local follows, they take their dancing seriously, they compete when the opportunity arises and they are accomplished dancers, but they look the same as everyone else and it’s boring to watch. Their clothing is based around the currenty Lindy Hop uniform of Keds, short tight black stretchy skirt, simple vaguely vintage inspired top, and vintage hair. Their dancing is polished, I would describe it as feminine rather than athletic, skilled but not inventive, bland rather than expressive, historically it’s on the money – it’s an incredibly ‘safe’ style of dancing that’s hard to criticise but it doesn’t grab my attention. They look like all the other really good followers you find at international dance camps and they dance like all the other really good followers you find at international dance camps. It’s a bit like staying in a Hilton or Sheraton hotel, they are the same the world over with a few local accents but nothing to make you feel too uncomfortable or too far from home.

As Martha Graham said:

“You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”

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8 responses to “I’m really bored of seeing the same thing over and over…”

  1. Ann says :

    Only the followers, really? What about the leaders? Are they really all boutique hotels to the followers’ Sheratons?

    • sleepingglitter says :

      I hadn’t even thought about the leaders! The followers I am thinking about are technically very good and I tend to watch them and look at what they are doing and how they are responding to the music rather than the so so leaders they dance with.

      Interestingly, most of the leaders I dance with (who are usually not in the top league) definitely have their own dance style and quirky dress sense. Bits and bobs of their dancing might be taken from Skye but there’s definitely some individuality in there. Same goes for many of the lower level followers. I guess we have nothing to lose, we just dance to have fun and if we mess up we mess up. We aren’t competing to dance with the top leads and so it doesn’t matter if we go a bit crazy on the dance floor. (Of course, drop us into the middle of an event where we have to compete for leads I know many of us will moderate our dancing and drop our individuality to fit what we perceive as good dancing…)

  2. Zabette says :

    This was really fun. So who are the leader and follower here? I have a guess….

  3. dogpossum says :

    I haven’t really noticed this lately (!!) because I’ve been watching leads like a hawk. Because I’m at the point where I want to steal everything my favourite leads do. I’m kind of aiming to become a carbon copy of Daniel Heedman, Skye (well duh), 1950s Al Minns or Frankie (c early 90s). If I get to be that carbon copy, _then_ I reckon I’ll be ready for my own flavah flave. No, actually, if I can pull of a carbon copy of one of those guys, I will be a complete gun, and no further changes will be necessary…

    When I read your comments I’m thinking ‘needs more role models’. But then perhaps copying role models is the problem? When I first saw Frida move into dancing with the Americans I thought ‘oh yeah, giggedy piggedy, things are gonna get sweeet’, but it didn’t really work that way. Her example wasn’t as pervasive as I’d hoped. Maybe the problem is that there aren’t a lot of top shelf follows bringing interesting styling to inspire other follows? But that’s not right – there are lots of exciting follows around doing exciting, inspiring stuff! Maybe just that next layer down is still constrained by their local scene’s norms and expectations?

    I recently did a private where I learnt how to tidy up 5 and 6 of a swingout and make it really clear. All I did was learnt how to make really clear, obvious weight changes and therefore manage momentum in a more efficient way. That weekend I was at MLX and social danced with a zillion amazing follows. I noticed with my ‘new’ swingout that suddenly every single follow I danced with was bringing extreme awesome flavah from 4 til they were back in closed again (on 3 or wherever – I can’t remember the numbers). It blew my brain because I was deliberately being as simple and basic as I could. It was as if my new simplicity suddenly gave the follows a confidence in my leading that let them bring their shit. ie They finally knew where my weight was, and what I was doing (because I was finally communicating properly _at last_) so they finally felt they didn’t need to baby me through a swingout by doing things safe and vanilla for me.

    It was too, too exciting. Who’d have thought: if you do your simplest, clearest swingout, follows decorate it with the most complex, exciting stuff!

    …I don’t like to draw conclusions about entire dancing scenes from just my one personal experience and one anecdote, and I don’t really know a lot about dance technique generally, but I wonder if the reason the follows aren’t feeling confident enough to do crazy, original shit, is that they’re not feeling confident in their lead? That feels like a pretty radical statement, and I can’t really articulate it properly because it’s just such a new idea to me. But maybe follows really are the whole point of a swingout, and if you build a perfect, simple, solid swingout, the following genius will come to it? …ok, so now I need to add Kevin Costner to that list of role models. 😐

    I’m only just really new to this idea, and just learning, but it feels to me that if I do make my swingout rhythmically clear, each step a beautiful, clear weight change, my bounce perfect and powered, my arms chillaxed but energised, my posture sweet, my management of our momentum clear but not demanding, then that suddenly gives the follow that exciting feeling of space and support that they need to show off?

    *runs to studio and practices and practices*

    • sleepingglitter says :

      You should write this up into a proper post, there’s some gold dust in here that deserves to be more widely read and not lost in a comments thread.

      I don’t disagree with anything you have written but I was thinking about dancers on an international rather than local stage and it’s definitely not all dancers. I am just thinking about the up and coming dancers who want to become hot shot lindy hoppers here, the people who are very good but aren’t winning competitions (yet).

      These are excellent dancers capable of doing awesome crazy and individual stuff but it’s within such a narrow stylistic band that unless you are really obsessed with the minutiae of the dance it all looks the same. Perhaps what I am seeing is similar to the comments made by spectaprod on http://swingscene.wordpress.com/2009/01/11/the-growing-homogeneity-of-lindy-hop/ ? It might also have stood out more in Europe because there still are a lot different styles of Lindy Hop danced so when you see one group all dancing the same way but not geographically linked it struck me as unusual.

      Of course Lindy is a lead follow dance, so if the leaders aren’t giving followers what they need they can’t show their individuality but I think something a little different was going on here, possibly something about belonging, playing safe – not sure. I can’t imagine many of these up coming dancers wanting to take the risk and come up with a modern version of

      (good thing many people might say) perhaps when they are established then they can put more innovation back into their dancing and take a few more risks.

  4. MJ says :

    As a dancer who came to social jazz dance forms out of the world of concert dance (ie; modern, ballet, broadway jazz, etc.) the thing that excited me most about social dancing was that I had multitudinous opportunities in an evening to improvise for three-and-a-half minutes at a time with a different partner each time. And this lady loves improvisation.

    Rather than rolling around on the ground or other people for hours at a time, I studied quite a bit of improvisation for performance, the goal of which is to improvise around a structure so that the resulting dance has its own logic and wholeness.

    Lindy hop offers me a rhythmic structure to work with (within, around, over, through) and a very intuitive means of communicating with my partner to create a logic and a sense of wholeness for my three-and-a-half minute improvisations. That’s why I love it.

    The most brilliant thing about improvised dance is that it offers the dancer an opportunity to bring her whole self to it – all of her past experiences, what she feels in that moment, and what she wants to try to make of the three-and-a-half minutes she has with her partner. There is no reason then, why anyone’s dancing should look like someone else’s.

    Role models, sure. They’re great. I’ve got a few. However, I take issue with putting too much stock in our role models. History, authenticity – that’s great too, and interesting to study. But with all of this looking backwards, we have to beg the question – what will Lindy hop look like going forward?

  5. dogpossum says :

    I’ve been thinking about this post a lot, and I’m really grateful for your writing down your ideas.

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