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Heels at ILHC 2011

After Sarah Breck’s famous post on “Why Women Should Wear Heels” I thought it would be fun (but only if you are a geek) to see what the women wore at ILHC. Interestingly and if I have done my sums right*:

ILHC 2011 Strictly Lindy Open – 100% of the women wore flat shoes

ILHC 2011 Classic – 80% of the women wore flat shoes

ILHC 2011 Showcase – 100% of the women wore flat shoes

Conclusive proof that wearing flat shoes makes you an ILHC competition winner  🙂 Even the people that I normally associate with heels wore flats in this competition.

That said I really want to be able to dance in heels because I am vain and there I times when I want to dress up and do the whole heels and elegance thing. I want to be able to have the choice to wear heels or flat shoes but right now balance, poise and confidence are all, sadly, lacking when I put on a pair of heels. I wish there was one of these workshops in London:

Apparently you can:
• Learn techniques for successful heel wearing.
• Feel better in heels of any height!
• Improve balance, poise and confidence.
• Be light! Walk tall and be beautiful.

Balance, poise and confidence oh how I wish that was me in heels!  Of course once I’ve learnt how to wear my heels and done a quick online lesson with Evita Arce and they will be no stopping me! Possibly time to stop daydreaming and start practicing!

 

*Analysis

ILHC 2011 Strictly Lindy – Open

  • Annabel Truesdell (1) – Flats
  • Eleonor Kolberg (2) – Flats
  • Alice Pye (3) – Flats
  • Delphine Laurens – Flats
  • Shauna Marble – Flats
  • Katarzyna Dybowska – Flats
  • Nelle Cherry – Flats

ILHC 2011 Classic

  • Frida Segerdahl (1) – Flats
  • Jo Hoffberg (2) – Flats
  • Alice Mei (3) – Heels
  • Naomi Uyama – Heels
  • Mikaela Hellsten – Flats
  • Sharon Davis – Flats
  • Laura Glaess – Flats
  • Maeva Truntzer – Flats
  • Hyun_Jung Choi – Flats
  • Giedre Paplaityte  – Flats
  • Jessica Yoon – Flats
  • Giselle Anguizola – Heels
  • Mary Freitag – Flats
    Eileen Kim – Flats
  • Alice Pye – Flats

ILHC 2011 Showcase

  • Annie Trudeau (1) – Flats
  • Natasha Ouimet (2) – Flats
  • Gabriella Cook – Flats
  • Maeva Truntzer – Flats
  • Eleonor Kolberg – Flats
  • Lisa Clarke – Flats
  • Sari Zelenietz  – Flats
  • Ann Mony – Flats
  • Shannon Chirone – Flats
  • Katarzyna Dybowska – Flats
  • Elaine Silver – Flats
  • Brittany Johnson – Flats
  • Merika Jones – Flats
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Lost mojo – seeking inspiration

Blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground recently because I have most definitely lost my dancing mojo. Lots of reasons:

  • Frustration with the flaws in my dancing
  • Fatigue from doing the same thing week after week for many years
  • Favourite dance partners not dancing so much
  • Not as much live music to dance to
  • Really poor DJing from experienced DJs (including one dance which finished early because everyone left to the go the pub due to the most uninspiring dance music I have ever heard played at a dance – never seen this happen before!)
  • Shoulder niggles which mean that I am constantly worried about getting my arm yanked
  • Listening to leaders rave about other people’s following whilst knowing they don’t say the same about me
  • Closure of venues
  • Dodgy dance camps that haven’t been quite what I signed up for/levels way off
  • Seeing people who haven’t been dancing that long sign up for super-duper advanced levels at camps and knowing that I definitely don’t belong in those levels and don’t have the balls to fake it
  • Not wanting to partake in the vintage scene which means self-exclusion from many dances.
  • Busy time at work

Have tried taking a break, tried new dances, have read Frankie’s book again, have watched the ILHC clips and tried dance camps but to no avail. Perhaps I should try reading the book Tap and Jazz? Seemed to work for Agent A. In reality I think I’m just not happy with me and until that changes I don’t the dancing mojo is going to return.

Anyway, for those who like the video clips, here’s something inspirational and a little bit crazy, Heidi Salerno in her Guinness World Record attempt for most number of Bal-Swing turns in a minute!

 

Keep calm and carry on?

Most of London’s lindy dancing is cancelled tonight for obvious reasons and whilst I totally agree with the organisers’ decisions to cancel (I wouldn’t want anyone to get inadvertently tangled up in the violence I saw outside my flat last night) a part of me is thinking what happened to the British “keep calm and carry on” spirit?

Keep calm and carry on” has become a bit of joke but the events of the last few days have reminded me that it takes a lot of courage to “carry on”. London is closing down tonight. Shops are being boarded up, social gatherings are being cancelled and everyone seems to want to get home before dark. Londoners are collectively choosing to protect their property and to stay safe knowing that this will all be over in a few days. But what if we didn’t know when the violence would end? Would we still have the courage to go out and dance like they did in the 1940s?

Getting togged up in vintage clothing and going to World War 2 dances is a bit of a lark for most of us, an entertaining way to spend an evening. We live in a London that so different and so far removed from 1940s London that it’s impossible to imagine what it must have been like to dance in a hall that might be bombed or to walk home and not know if you will ever make it back. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Charleston and Jitterbug, two dances that are incredibly vibrant, immediate and full of energy, evolved at times when life was far more uncertain.

I am Lindy Hop

Bead 109 has a lovely post about “We Are Always Ballet“. I think the following sentiments will resonate with many of us who happened to stumble across Lindy Hop because we needed a diversion from work or an emotional escape from life’s challenges:

Being ballet is about being present in where you are and what you are doing, it’s about finding that place where what you do is part of who you are. I know that well. I am science, I am scholarship, I am thought, work, and creation. When I work, I am intensely part of my work – I think about it, I talk about it, I dream about it. It’s actually one of the things that drove me to not only want to watch ballet but to learn ballet. I spend so much time being science, being scholarship, being thought, word, and research creation, that I wanted, I needed something that could remove me completely, to allow me to have a real break from it. At the same time, I’m not a lie around on the beach sort of person, so my “diversion” needed to be something challenging, something of substance. Ballet allows me to become something else for a few hours. And now I am ballet. It’s like that buddist idea that we are all buddah, you know, be where you are.

Let’s be where we are and be what we love, always being present in the joys and challenges of our lives. We are always ballet. Now, let’s dance!

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.

More post workshop reflections – habit and choice

Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post. I’ve been reflecting on how my dancing has changed post workshop and it will probably come as no surprise that it hasn’t really changed at all.

My “habit” is to copy my leader’s variations and body movement. Sometimes these variations/movements are lead but on the whole most local dancers have a loose enough lead (Thom’s term, see comments) for me to add my own ending to a swing out and, with more experienced leads, probably do my own independent jazz steps for the next 8 counts should I want to do that.

This is something of a revelation; the leaders I commonly dance with aren’t leading as much as I thought they were. I am choosing to do the same variations as a leader but this choice has become so subconscious that I think I am interpreting my choice as a lead.

If I want to put more of “me” into my dancing then I need to break this habit! It’s going to be an interesting process…

Lead and follow or initiate and respond?

Another weekend, another workshop, this time a Lindy workshop which challenged my notions of lead and follow yet again.

My original Lindy Hop teachers were old school and part of the 1980s revival. I’ve heard their teaching being referred to politely as old school, less politely as old fashioned. Whilst leading and following and was taught as an important aspect of the dance there was (and still is) a strong emphasis that leaders should be doing their moves but that followers should also feel free to do their own different moves and a reminder that in the original 1930s dance there was plenty of choreography, (which might be initiated by the wiggle of an eyebrow so followers pay attention), but also plenty of stuff where follows could interpret leads an invitation to follow or as an invitation improvise depending on how the music grabbed them.

Over the years, I’ve lost a lot of the “attitude” I was originally taught. Connection and following skills rather than follower spontaneity and improvisation seem to be prized and rewarded by leaders so that’s what I’ve focused on. It’s a focus that has been reinforced by international workshops and other local teachers who value connection over improvisation.

Fast forward to the weekend, and I attend a lesson taught by a couple of well-known Swiss teachers (it seems unfair to name drop when I might have misinterpreted their message).  I felt like I was going back to my roots. Leading and following was replaced with ideas about leaders initiating a movement and followers responding. A large part of the class focused on rhythms and building our own rhythmic patterns independent of what the lead was doing. A question came up along the lines of “do you have to take a step if your partner steps” and the answer was, of course, “no, providing the leader has given you space to do this”.

For the first time in a long time I feel invigorated and excited about Lindy Hop. Trouble is I know very few leaders who will give me the space to respond to the music in this way. My local leaders seem to be following an American (?!?) pattern of leading followers through pretty much every step they take. As a leader I can see the advantages of this approach, but guys (and in my scene it is almost exclusively guys) sometimes it’s nice to be just a follower responding to a leader but sometimes it’s nicer to be a dancer responding to the music.

EDIT:Space was a poor choice of phrase. In the class it referred to physical space as in, if you are standing side by side and the leader has his arm around you, you have no space to do this. If the leader has his arm on your left hand side then you have a lot more space/room to do these sorts of moves.

Time for a Lindy Hop blog carnival?

Jerry Almonte has another interesting post on Wandering & Pondering about The State of the Lindy Online Disunion which is well worth a read for those who read and comment on Lindy blogs. Jerry comments:

“I’ve found that very few people are interested or willing to write about larger issues in our scene with any kind of depth. It all seems geared towards newer dancers, even blogs written by the more experienced dancers. There’s a lot of: “here’s a video I like” or “this is an event I went to.” There isn’t that much writing about the dynamics of the scene outside of why the good dancers seem like snobs or the occasional technical dance geekery.”

Guilty as charged! This blog was created as a place to store and keep track of ‘stuff’ rather than a critical thinking outlet. I do occasionally pass comment on other people’s posts but in general I stay away from anything too controversial because:

  1. I rarely feel qualified to comment
  2. I really don’t have time/energy to respond to comments
  3. Dancing Lindy Hop is an enjoyable hobby but entering into a possibly hostile online debate about Lindy Hop isn’t my idea of fun
  4. I don’t feel as if I have the words get my point of view across

Thinking about Jerry’s post today it dawned on me that I have no idea what the larger issues are within the Lindy Scene. Perhaps there isn’t much discussion about these issues because they don’t impinge much on people who blog? Most Lindy bloggers aren’t scene leaders, event organizers, top flight instructors and haven’t been around long enough to comment on 15 years’ worth of changes within the community.

My favourite blogs deal with dancing technique, Dance Advantage is a favourite, check out their recent post about balance. I would like more instructors to comment about technique and why they choose to teach their basics in a certain way.

I would also like to see more discussion about professionalism, teaching and role of workshops. I’ve been disappointed with the last few workshops I’ve been to. My gripes range from plagiarized material, poor teaching, questionable value for money, wildly unbalanced classes to something more fundamental about how useful it is for beginner/intermediate (balboa in this case) dancers to spend 2 days learning from 4 couples who ask the students to try completely different techniques for exactly same moves.

More discussion about injuries from the extreme of broken bones in aerials practice to the much more common repetitive strain shoulder injuries, the Lindy induced foot and knee operations, the bad backs and the scars from being stabbed by stiletto heels also wouldn’t go a miss. I don’t think my own scene is particularly unusual in mocking people who want to warm up or stretch after a dance but elevates those who dance in vintage clobber, especially footwear, even if it means they can’t walk for days afterwards.

Of course, like most dancers geeky enough to read blogs, I love discussion about the more philosophical aspects of the dance and wish there was more. What does it mean to lead and follow? How to do we adapt a 1930s/40s dance to fit meet the needs of modern dancers? Should the dance evolve or stay true to its roots? What sort of music should be played at a Lindy Hop dance?

Blog carnivals seem like a very old fashioned concept to me but perhaps there are enough Lindy bloggers around to make something like this work now. I suspect if Jerry picked a topic for discussion many of the Lindy bloggers would respond.

Choreography – glad I’m not the only Lindy Hopper who finds it difficult!

Choreography – glad I’m not the only Lindy Hopper who finds it difficult!
Reading Rik’s post called “Can you learn to learn choreography?” made me smile.

I am abysmal at learning choreography. They say practice makes perfect but I’m not convinced. Most weeks I go to a hip hop class and I usually fail miserably at ‘getting’ the routine. Sometimes I consider it a success if I can end up facing the same way as everyone else at the same time. It’s definitely got easier now that I don’t have to remember the moves as well as the routine but it still takes me forever to pick it up.

Sometimes I put it down to old age, sometimes a short attention span, but mostly I think I just don’t have the mind set to do choreography. I know I pick things up better when I can hear the choreography in the music and can use the music for cues. I really struggle with lyrical hip hop routines that play with the beat and involve hands and feet doing highly choreographed movements (I’ve had to come up with coping strategies like deciding to just do the feet so that I can keep up with the class). I’m better when I can say the rhythm out loud but that’s embarrassing. I’m also not very good at getting hip hop moves that are similar to vernacular jazz moves and have to fight my body to apply different styling/movement.

What I find most curious is my inability to separate myself from the people around me. Not sure if this is a follower thing but I can follow the body movements of the instructor pretty well but as soon as he stops dancing to watch the class perform I am totally lost. I am also incredibly aware of the people around me in class and end up relying on them for choreography cues and follow what they do even if I know it’s not quite right – it irritates the hell out of me but I find it very hard to focus just on me when I’m dancing!

So where am I going with my dancing?

I’ve decided to give up on choreography and Lindy classes for a bit and focus on body awareness instead. Progress is slow but I think I am starting to lighten up and make my dancing look a bit less clunky. So far I’ve tried:

Yoga – well, I found that there’s yoga and yoga. Some classes provide a means for you to learn about body awareness (if you’re in that frame of mind) and others less so. Plus I quite like standing on my head and it’s helping with my bad knees.

Body balance – in theory this class should have been just what I wanted but in practice it’s a poorly taught combination of yoga, tai chi, balance and Pilates set to music but you do get a nice sleep (ahem, guided meditation session) at the end.

Feldnekrais – if I had the time/money I would go to an “Awareness Through Movement” class every week. These sessions definitely aren’t for everyone but there’s nothing quite like spending an hour lying on the floor experimenting with how you can move your arm up and down, thinking about what other parts of your body need to move/not move and attempting do that movement differently.

Alexander Technique – fearsomely expensive (and for me slow progress) but fascinating if you’re interested in movement. Expect to spend a lot of time sitting down and standing up and thinking about what muscles you need to use to make a movement and what you add to movement that you don’t need.

Zumba – Ditch the workout, Join the party! Let’s just say it’s not for me.

Thomas Blacharz and Alice Mei dancing in Berlin

Thomas Blacharz and Alice Mei social dancing at the Superheros Workshop in Berlin. (Hat tip: The Lindy Roll)

I really love to watch the way this couple interact with each other, so many cute moments. I like watching how Alice watches, makes eye contact and responds to her partner (especially around 0.33) It’s one of those things that I like watching in social dance which tends to get a bit lost in performances when both partners know what’s going to happen.

Compare this to a class performance which I just happened to be watching where the dancers don’t make eye contact at the beginning.

Eye contact makes such a difference to the way a dance looks. (I know this a deeply unfair comparison for all sorts of reasons but I just happened to watch one video and the other and the difference really struck me). Must remember to look at my partner more!