Do you acknowledge who you learnt your dance moves from?

Cookie’s post recounting a story about a newer dancer not knowing who Frankie Manning was reminded me of a fairly a recent drop in class I attended where the teacher was teaching around the world and points ( which I think of a classic Frankie Manning move but, sadly, Frankie didn’t get a mention.

Do you acknowledge who you learnt your dance moves from? I have noticed that local older dancers (dancing 10+ years) seem to be more willing to acknowledge where there dance moves came from, who taught them (know who taught their teachers) and appreciate that there are many ways of executing a move. I learnt to dance Lindy and Bal from revivalists who learnt the dance from Frankie Manning/Bal old timers/video clips (and had to make up a lot of the dance themselves along the way), these teachers usually acknowledge in class where they got their material from, e.g. ‘today we are going to learn a classic Frankie Manning move which you can see in the movie XXX’. I think this is a lovely way to introduce the move and its history; it takes seconds and can be easily ignored but it gives those who are interested a way into the history of the dance. I don’t usually get the same info from some newer teachers who seem to teach as if there is a Lindy Hop moves textbook which defines the correct way to execute each move.

Which brings me on to a thought provoking post by Harri Heinila about “Google-historians” and the history of Lindy Hop. Harri writes about dance history:

“One striking feature in these opinions has been that, how easily these “researchers” speak about their subject. Even large subjects are explained easily like they are simple entities. No complicated and versatile subjects at all. Anybody, who has lived this life by somehow looking at what happens in this world, realizes that life is not a simple thing to perceive. So, how history can be that?”

The good local teachers who have been around a while seem to understand the layers of interpretation that teaching a historic dance entails. There’s subtleness in their teaching that often stresses ‘this is the way I teach X’. Sometimes if the audience is right they will expand on why, which might be as simple as an old timer told me not to do that, or explain how they tried different techniques whilst learning the move initially and they decided that in their experience technique x works better than y. There’s no right way to do anything, some ways might be more ‘right’ than others but there’s no definitive right/wrong.

I love the ambiguity, humility and complexity that teaching this way brings. I’m in a rebellious mood at the moment and I find it liberating when someone says this is what I teach because….  Doing this leaves the door open for me to challenge them, try out other techniques (and them almost always bow to their experience) it gives me more scope to learn, not just learn by rote.


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2 responses to “Do you acknowledge who you learnt your dance moves from?”

  1. sarahsellaphix says :

    I teach locally from time to time and I try and provide some kind of context for what we’re doing, including the origin of the move.

    For Students: It can be easier to understand or feel good about a move if there is a narrative around it. In learning the move they can feel like a part of the story. It also contextualizes what you’re doing in the broader context of the dance. “This is how this piece fits in.”

    For the Community: Oral history for the win! It’s not only about giving credit and showing love, which is important, but connects yourself, your class, your scene to the larger culture.

  2. Beth says :

    I guess I’m an Older Dancer, as much as it pains me to admit it! 🙂 I’m passionate about referencing the original dancers in class, and if anyone is interested I’m more than happy to talk about from whom I learned. When I started dancing in 1998, everyone was learning and discovering the dance more or less together, and there were VERY FEW full-time instructors. Today, there are many “experts” and aspiring “experts”, and I think there is so much competition over getting teaching gigs that a lot of these instructors don’t like to mention anyone else.

    I realize that’s a very negative view of the situation, and I’m sure it’s not the only reason. But I see more and more self-promotion these days, and I do honestly think that losing our past is a negative side effect we need to be careful to avoid. Wow, I’m super wordy. 🙂

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