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Triple steps as variations follow up

Thanks everyone for your comments on my last post. I feel like I have been given one of piece of a jigsaw puzzle but that I’m missing the rest of the pieces and the overall picture. I could be missing out on something fantastic but I don’t have enough information to judge.

The results of trying this in the wild (rather than at an evening dance after a workshop) were really mixed:

  • If the leader is dancing without pulsing then taking out my triple steps it makes me feel like I am doing some sort of zombie dance in which I have had the life sucked out of me – especially on slow tempos.
  • If the leader is dancing with a lot of pulse then taking out the triple is out felt fine but I felt a little bit immobile and stuck especially on slower tempos.
  • On quicker tempos local leaders tend to do some sort of kick step or step step so I didn’t notice much of a difference.
  • I did notice that what my feet do depends far more on the music than what my leader is actually leading. Triple steps are my default to swing music, but if soul track comes on the triples becomes step step with a lot of pulse.
  • I also noticed that I can’t remember the last time I really thought about what my feet were doing at a certain point in the dance!

The trouble with taking random one hour classes from international instructors is that you get ideas thrown at you but there’s usually no time for an instructor to explain why they think you should do something their way and you can’t simply take another class to learn more. Sometimes I get ideas from a class and think ‘yes’, sometimes I can take the ideas and think ok I get what you are saying (and why) I’ll try it but I prefer a different technique/that’s not going to work with local dancers, sometimes ideas totally throw me and this was one of those.

So what next? One night’s social dancing is hardly a through test but I think the idea goes back in the box for a bit until I can make more sense of it/find more use for it.


Triple steps as variations?

Do you regard triple steps as a variation or a basic? My lindy basic starts with a rock step followed by a triple step. Some local teachers put the triple step first followed by a rock step but I think this is fairly unusual.

Locally, rock step followed by walk, walk is sometimes taught in beginner’s classes but it’s usually dismissed as something Ceroc dancers, Jivers and Rock and Rollers do and that adding in the triples is part of what differentiates Lindy Hop from other dances.

In a recent class I came across a different point of view in which triple steps were thought of as variations and the basic lindy rhythm was presented as rock step followed by walk, walk and some of the moves taught in the class were almost impossible to do if the follower put a triple step in. (Just to be clear these weren’t the sort of moves where the follower does walk walk or a triple step because of the speed of the lead, the moves needed the follower to do walk walk as a basic – or to be super skilled at noticing that the lead was doing walk walk I guess).

I have been to countless classes and been told numerous times that as a follower it’s important to keep the rhythm going, to go home  and drill rock step triple step, Sarah C made a similar point in comment a couple of weeks ago.  Consequently, rock step, triple step, is deeply ingrained into the way I dance.  I will do step, step rather than triple if someone leads me *really*clearly (and I am concentrating) or if the music is fast/I am feeling lazy but my default is to add in the triples.

It was an interesting class but I am left wondering what to do with this bit of information. Do I try walk walk as a default and really try to follow every step the leader is doing and only triple when the lead does? This seems a very restrictive style of Lindy. Will breaking my habit open up lots of new possibilities? Do I put this info into a box mental box marked interesting but not that helpful because most of the people I dance with aren’t that experienced and the follower holding the rhythm tends to make the dance go more smoothly. Am I just totally out of touch and is following the leader’s triple steps, rather than just doing them,  what most people do?


Stream of consciousness Ceroc?

My lindy mojo still hasn’t really returned but I am starting to enjoy dancing “Lindy Hop” again. I received a lovely compliment recently, something along the lines of ‘Thank you, that was fantastic, you’ve given me a huge confidence boost and I feel ok to ask other people to dance now’.

Aw, my heart melted and you can guarantee I will be asking this chap to dance again.  I am not exactly sure how you would describe our dances together but it certainly wasn’t Lindy Hop. Stream of consciousness Ceroc might give you an idea. It was a hugely uncool dance, we did some weird pretzel type moves, but it was an enormous amount of fun to just go with the flow.

The London Lindy scene is extremely varied and the different dances tend to have different flavours. At many venues there is very little Lindy and an awful lot of Ceroc, Charleston, Jive, Rock and Roll, Blues, Tango, ballroom and general randomness. This means you can dance every night and pick a venue that suits your outlook on life but it also means that most of the time you probably aren’t going to be dancing swing outs/lindy hop.

I seem to be having a lot of stream of consciousness Ceroc type dances at the moment and I think it’s doing me good. It’s not beautiful dancing, it’s not Lindy and it’s not very PC to say this but I am enjoying giving men 3 minutes of pleasure.

It’s easy to be part of a clique, dance only with your friends and think about lines, connection and good technique (and I did far too much of this last year). It’s much harder to dance with the guys whose leads are almost hidden by Parkinson’s type tremors, who decide it might be time to dance round the room ballroom style, who stand in one spot and arm lead or who are best described as random. For me, there is an enormous amount of pleasure to be gained from trying to match their style and moves, understand the way they are interpreting the music and adding some (subtle) flavour of my own. It would be easy to out dance them but then it wouldn’t be a partnership and I wouldn’t get that huge smile, high five or huge hug at the end!

Rhythm tap

One of my aims for 2012 was to take a tap dancing lesson. So far I’ve made it to three absolute beginner lessons and I have absolutely loved them!

A couple of lessons in and tap has already changed the way I think about Lindy Hop. This might sound strange but when I think about rhythms in Lindy Hop I think of visual patterns (like swinging a swivel variation) or movement patterns (step, step, triple step). I have never thought of my body as something that could make a noise to pick out a rhythm (these dance styles are alien to me).

At the end of my first class we were asked to improvise to some jazz music and I fell back into familiar jazz dance territory and moved by body as well as my feet. It took me a few goes to think about keeping my body still(ish) and using just my feet to make different sounds. The shim sham has taken on a whole new meaning for me – no longer is it a rather dull thing  that I dance somewhat half heartedly – it’s a couple of minutes when I think about the rhythm my feet are making.

Unfortunately limited time and resources mean that tap is going to have to remain something that I occasionally dip in and out of but it’s been great fun so far.

Negativity – trying to stuff the genie back into its bottle

Most of the time I am reasonably accepting of where I am with my dancing and I don’t usually compare myself to the person next to me in class or worry about what I can do now compared to what I think I should be able to do.  However, when I register for a workshop or camp and I have to pick a level suddenly there’s a voice in my head saying,

Why aren’t I better than I am?  How come X who has only been dancing two years can confidently place themselves in the super advanced level whilst I am 3 levels below them? Why am I still stuck in the lower levels with my fast tempo and connection issues? Why I am in the same workshop level I did 3 years ago? Why does my dancing look so bad? Why can’t I pick things up more quickly?

I get lost in the negative and start beating myself up and forget the reasons why I dance… The ego is a difficult genie to stuff back into its bottle!

Dancing highlight of 2011 and dancing aims for 2012

Like pretty much everyone else I wrote an end of year review but it was so negative (2011 was a difficult dancing year for me) that I decided to ditch the post and start the year with something more positive.

Highlight of 2011

My highlight of 2011 was attending Bobby and Kate’s Balboa dance at Glen Echo Park. It was such a great experience, the dancers were friendly and happy to dance with a stranger and Bobby went out of his way to make me feel welcome. I wish I could say my dances with Bobby were heavenly but I was so nervous I hardly remember them! Sharing a cab back into town with some random chap who stopped his taxi to see if I was ok trying whilst trying to find a bus stop in the dark reminded me how friendly and different Americans can be from the English. It’s a memory I will cherish.

2012 aims

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions and my working life is so full of targets, project plans and SMART objectives that I shy away from them in my non-work life but I do have some dancing related aims for 2012:

  1. Take more classes or a workshop as a beginner lead and start socially dancing as a leader because I am fed up of not being able to lead
  2. Go to some more Feldenkrais group sessions to explore movement in my injured, but now mostly healed, but very inflexible right shoulder
  3. Take a tap dancing taster lesson because I fancy having a go at tap dancing just the once
  4. Continue with my Alexander Technique lessons because until I can feel balance and poise in my own body I am going to dislike how my dancing feels and how my poor posture makes me look
  5. Try dancing at some new venues because my usual dancing spots are feeling a little bit stale and I think a change will do me good
  6. Continue with my yoga classes because I love the freedom of movement I feel dancing after I have been to a yoga class
  7. Learn more about the history of jazz dancing in the UK because I want a better understanding of the people who danced, the music they listened to and where their inspiration came from. I’m interested in the ballroom dancing that was done to jazz music in the 20s and 30s, the swing dancing that American soldiers brought over, the 50s Trad Jazz scene, the original rock and roll dancers and so on
  8. Find a way to make Lindy Hop dancing fun for me again!

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.”

Do dance weekends make you more passionate about dancing?

I’ve been reading the posts on the vernacular jazz dance tumblr and pondering if dance weekends really make you more passionate about dancing? VJD comments:

“So I went to an event a little while ago. Usually you always read how travelling for dancing will make you more passionate about the dance yadda yadda. Whereas this event pretty much destroyed my dancing mojo.

This is about the icky feeling of having to compete for leads with other follows. More often than not, I was asked for a second dance by wonderful leads, but over the whole weekend I probably got asked to dance no more than five times. Rationally, I know this is not because everyone hates me, but because all free leads get snapped two seconds into a song due to the imbalance (this is also why I didn’t enjoy the social side of Herräng very much). I hate what it does to my state of mind – often the eagerness to please takes precedence over fun or establishing a true partnership.”

I completely understand and agree with these sentiments. I’ve come away from many events feeling exactly the same way but I haven’t seen this discussed much. Who wants to come back from a big event and tell everyone that it was crap?

If you go as part of a group then, yes, events can be amazing but I’ve found travelling as an unknown single follower really tough. There are often huge lead/follow imbalances which means you have to compete for leads. If you know a lot of people in the scene then you will get more dances because people recognize you, say hi and ask you to dance. (Same happens in local dances although leaders often make a point of asking you to dance as the out of towmer which is lovely). I don’t even think dancing ability counts for that much. I’ve been at European events where I have seen minor American rockstar follows (who have a queue at home) have to compete for leads in the same way as everyone else. I’ve seen awesome masters track followers do all right things at post workshop dances and still be relegated to the non dancing sidelines.  Simple fact of the matter is that most people dance with people they ‘know’ and if you don’t know anyone it’s hard going.

I totally get the eagerness to please thing too. Dogpossum puts it better than I can:

There is almost always a shortage of men of a higher dancing ability in a scene, and there is often a sense of competition between women dancers for the attentions of male partners. On the social and competitive dance floor. This competition is seldom articulated, is demonstrated more through the oblique social manoeuverings that characterise women’s power dynamics more generally, and to speak about these issues at all is to jeopardise your future possible partnerships. Or to at least believe that commenting upon this status-driven and deriving state of affairs will affect your desirability as a partner.

Again, bluntly put, women lindy hoppers have been convinced that the uppity woman will be punished. The uppity follower will be dismissed as a ‘poor follow’ and ‘miss out’ on dancing with the ‘good leads’. Who usually represent their scene’s dominant notion of ‘preferred’ masculinity/leading rather than actual, solidly capable leading and dancing. The uppity follower, I’d argue, will suffer the consequences of a heteronormative, patriarchal culture.

Of course the answer is to learn how to be an amazing lead but if you really enjoy following then you’re a bit stuck.

Mojo starting to return – the dance floor ain’t nothing without ya girl

Thanks everyone for your comments on my previous post, the dancing mojo is slowly starting to return although I still don’t have my lindy hop mojo back.

I think I needed a confidence boost more than anything and, bizarrely, I found it in a hip hop drop-in dance class. I have no idea who Usher or Gucci Mane are but an hour spent with them solo dancing, in a dance studio, in front of mirrors, following complex choreography, where I was at least 10 years older than everyone else and twice the size of the most of the women (i.e. about as far out of my comfort zone as it possible to get) reminded me of just how enjoyable dance can be.

Lindy Hoppers and Balboa teachers are passionate about what they do, the teachers really want you to get it ‘right’ and the correct/preferred technique is explained in minute detail and mistakes are corrected*. All well and good but sometimes, for me at least, it sucks all the joy out of dancing. I end up focusing on everything that is wrong with my dancing and cease to enjoy actually dancing.

Contrast this with my hip hop class. Certain technique points were briefly explained but then it was really just a case of repetition, teacher demo, more repetition, teacher demo and then a bit more repetition. Each time we repeated a sequence I saw a little bit more and understood the choreography a little better and noticed the subtlety of movements that I had missed before. Hardly anything was said during the class and I completely lost myself focusing on the movement. If a dancer needed help the teacher came over and did a demo in slow motion with them until they picked it up but almost nothing was said it was a really interesting learning experience for me.

Towards the end of the class, when everyone had the basics of the choreography and had just about go the timing, the teacher made a point of singling us out during the chorus, pointing at the spotlights in the room and then pointing at us and non-verbally indicating to us to give it our all:

“Cause the spolight ain’t nothin without ya girl
And the dance floor ain’t nothing without ya girl
You a show stopper ohhhhhh
Let’s get it poppin”

It was a special class and I felt incredibly inspired and privileged to be learning from a teacher who could make me feel 100%, make me dance with spirit and appreciate the effort I was making without criticism – even when a quick glance in the mirror revealed just how far away I was from what I was supposed to be doing!

* I know I am not alone in having had some very bad Lindy Hop learning experiences. Some people might be motivated by being told they will never get something, that they are useless, that all the women in the class need to lose weight because we sound like elephants, or being singled out because you are doing it wrong but I am not one of them. I’ve also had some amazing Lindy Hop teachers who have a very special place in my heart because of the support they have given me and their belief that I would get ‘it’ eventually.

Is it ok to smuggle drinks into a club which has a perfectly decent bar which is not too over-priced?

There’s a good discussion on the Swing Dancers of London page about buying drinks at dance venues. I am 100% with the “if you’re attending a dance in club or bar expect to buy drinks” camp.

I dislike the measures some promoters now have to take, like searching bags before you go into a club (it makes me feel like a criminal) and jacking up entry costs to include drinks tokens in the cost of entry (what a faff at the bar) to try to keep venues going.

The London scene is huge and there is usually more than one dance on every night, if you don’t want to buy drinks then go to one of the events held in a synagogue or church hall where you get free tap water in a plastic cup with your name written on it or where you can bring your own booze. If you want to dance in more interesting venue that serves alcohol/soft drinks then expect to buy drinks.

Confession: I am not whiter than white on this issue and I might have taken some water into the 100 Club once or twice but I always bought a number of drinks there as well.