sWinging It – Week 11

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

 

Week 11 (Lesson Week 8)

The awesomeness this week started before Lindy. Having missed out on 3 Shim Sham routines (once on a Tuesday and twice when we were in Piccadilly train station last Wednesday) I decided that I would nail the routine. I thought it shouldn’t be too hard because Taina had already taught a good part of it earlier. The actual Shim Sham and the Cross Overs (If that’s what they are called) I already had down so I just had to learn the others. Turns out the break step is a £$”$^!

Fortunately Taina also found my online moaning about it and pointed me to another of her great videos (there’s one Facebook friend worth having, like some kind of Lindy superhero 🙂 ). Late Monday night I finally managed to do the routine without falling over and/or looking like I was having some kind of jumping fit. You could argue that I should have been sleeping but I maintain that I had my priorities right.

Beginners lesson was run on a much more sensible amount of pizza. This was good because it turned out to be Charleston. Charleston in a very hot and packed room. It turns out the pied piper of Lindy had summoned around twice as many advanced and beginner Lindy hoppers. I do feel sorry for the committee because they looked like they were at least one person down and dealing with twice as many people and a guest teacher (more on that later). I still really enjoyed my evening so I’m guessing between Taina and the Committee we have a Lindy Hop version of the Avengers.

The Charleston lesson mainly involved kicking and turning. I didn’t catch the names of the moves. In a room that busy there is a lot of background noise so even with the instructors (Amy and Andy W BTW) on microphones it was difficult to hear everything. I started the lesson finding it really tricky to get these down  (I normally get it at least vaguely right). Part way through I re-assessed what to focus on (balance!) and it started coming together.

This has led to me to thinking about a kind of Hierarchy of Needs for learning a move / dancing in general. This is how I’m currently thinking about it. Get ready for an aside where I try to trick Paula & Co. (and you) into dishing out some free thoughts/advice on dancing technique/philosophy 😉

Balance

Like I said earlier, I realised this during the lesson. Once I sorted out my own balance the rest became a lot easier. I also reckon that if you are sprawled out on the floor you aren’t dancing.

Footwork

If I can get my footwork down then I can at least dance in the same direction as my partner. I also learnt early on (week 3/4) that if I don’t have my footwork down my brain obsesses over it and ruins everything else!

Floorcraft

I snuck this in. OK you don’t need Floorcraft to learn a move but if you want to actually dance it without killing people then you do. I also reckon that if I can stay standing up and moving in the direction I want to then I am ready to be responsible for not hitting anyone else. Especially if doing Charleston. Nobody likes to be kicked…

Rhythm & Pulse

I’ve had moments where I’ve missed beats and had to get back in time and they can really disrupt things. I’ve also had one or two moments where my brain stopped working and I managed to be crazy out of time. I wasn’t dancing with my partner, the music or basically anything in the universe. These moments actually feel wrong. It’s horrible.

Also I know I’ve gotten somewhere with learning  a move when I do it and my triple steps are going in the right place and are nicely syncopated in line with the music i.e. they Shoop-De-Doo instead of Bang-Bang-Bang (sorry for the use of such technical terms…)

Frame

Given I only have a vague understanding of what this is I could have this completely wrong. During the Charleston lesson when leads and follows were kicking in the opposite direction then ‘pushing’ off each other’s hands I really noticed when the follow wasn’t offering much resistance/compression. Maybe I’m a dance gorilla (I hope not!) but there were a couple of times when I pushed my hand through theirs on the turn and struggled to spin around on time because I didn’t feel any compression, which threw me. I don’t know if this is to do with frame or something else (would you label it connection?).

Connection

Note this is a list of needs not importance – my favourite dances are when I felt like I had good connection with my partner (not many so far but I’m working on it!) Based on the few moves I am getting fairly comfortable with, I reckon I need to be able to stay up, move in the right way and offer the appropriate amount of compression/stretch before I can actually lead a move well. And that’s before I can read what the follow is trying to tell me through their movement. I hear some dancers can actually do that. I’ll believe it when I do it the first time!

Styling & Musicality

One day this might be something I actively think about in lessons or social dancing. Given I currently worry about everything else on the list this has to be the last ‘need’.

I’m really interested in anyone’s thoughts on this since as I said above I will happily steal any bits of info that make me either technically better or just nicer to dance with (or both!)

 

Sorry about the essay. Back to the lesson. I’d seen people doing these Charleston moves in the social dancing and was wondering if they would be covered at some point in the 12 week cycle so I was really pleased! I also love that when moves like this are getting introduced we are also being shown how to get in and out of basic at the same time so we can actually do them seamlessly (in theory!!!!)

Solo Jazz was run by a guest teacher from Athens! Josephine taught a Charleston routine known as the Blackbottom. Apparently it isn’t well known and hasn’t been passed down in the same way as some other routines like the Shim Sham, Tranky Doo, Big Apple etc. This might be because it’s ridiculously hard! The first 8 counts had a different move on every count and if you messed that up then good luck catching up later in the routine because it is SO FAST. I had lots of fun and Josephine was a very fun teacher. I was especially thankful I had my notebook because the routine was so complex I had to write it all down straight after the session. I’m still worried I missed a bit! This was a really challenging session and I enjoyed it because of that. Plus the routine is cool which always helps.

Social dancing was interesting. It was very busy and very hot because of that. At one point I wondered why the tables at the back of the room were the most popular place (dance floor aside) – they are near the window! This meant fewer dances this week and more time watching the floor. At the moment I still sit there mesmerised by how cool the better dancers look. I might start actually focusing on what they are doing to see if I can spot things to incorporate/think on. I still got some good dances in. A nice moment in the last dance of the night (with Alistair) was when I led a promenade and got pecked. “Sorry, I’m a pecker!” he said. Another one – awesome!

We are legion.

All the world shall be pecked.

Dan

Tell me something I don’t know about Dan?

When Dan was a teenager all the cool kids were dyeing their hair over the summer. He opted for blue but his friend messed it up, getting most of the dye on his scalp which made his hair look grey. He wasn’t pleased. Oh and he also played a Genie in an amateur dramatics club where he had to be painted green once a week, which basically meant he went to school with green eyebrows for half a term. This has led to a slight dye phobia which probably explains why he hasn’t tried to cover up his dodgy ginger and white beard. Ask him to dance (he’d love that) but don’t ask him for advice involving colour or dye!!

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sWinging It – Week 10

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

 

Week 10 (Lesson Week 7)

After the drought last week, I was very lucky to be able to dance on no less than 3 occasions this week*! It started with Manchester Lindy on Tuesday, fuelled by copious pizza. Yum.

Pre-Lindy Pizza is a Tuesday thing I discovered on Facebook during holiday week (last week). The idea is to have a catch up and a bit of pizza before the lessons. I skipped lunch and so ordered a whole pizza. I had no idea how big they are! I was very hungry and ate over half (I did skip lunch). I was told by Kunnaya** that I was very brave/foolish eating that much.

Beginners session was ‘All about the pecks, ’bout the pecks, like a chicken…***’ . Basically promenading along and pecking at each other for two counts. A lot of people are self conscious about looking at their partner whilst dancing. I am definitely included in that list at the moment.

Many are also very self conscious about pecking. I’m not on that list. If it involves pecks then I’ll promenade and look right at you whilst my dignity flies out the window and my inner chicken breaks free! I don’t know if this makes me more or less scary to dance with. I’m too afraid to ask for feedback.

They did cover other things including 8 count tuck turns  -> twice the spinning = twice the fun and some very dizzy follows! However, as you can probably tell, pecks were the highlight! Hopefully I didn’t scare off half the follows with my pecking. I guess we will find out next week.

The pizza didn’t affect my dancing at all.

On to Solo Jazz which I am still enjoying loads! This week was run by Amy again. If you’ve read all the blogs then by now you know that Amy runs a very fun but intense lesson. This one was no exception! Highlights include the Mess Around, Knee Slaps & Scoops. I’m beginning to think I am unnaturally attracted to moves that make you look silly. By the end of the session I can say I had the routine firmly set in my head, which is great because I can work on the muscle memory at home! By the end of the lesson I had also learnt (the hard way) how to do knee slaps lightly. This is an important skill.

Pizza. What Pizza? Kunnaya hasn’t got a clue what he’s talking about.

I have a quick wash, change my top and grab a glass of water before social dancing. The water is vital after a whole Solo Jazz session and I down it and go to grab another. I’m suddenly reminded that my stomach exists! I miss around 5 or 6 songs sitting down, feeling sorry for myself, watching the sensible people on the dance floor and willing myself to digest as quickly as possible.

Kunnaya why didn’t you tell me before I ate the pizza 😦 !

There was a side benefit – watching the better leads and follows dance. You learn loads just watching what they do. How they flow from one move to the next is (for me) still really inspiring.

The social dancing I did do was great fun. I got a couple of pecks in (of course) and my swing-outs from open and closed feel like they are getting better. I got a compliment on my Floorcraft****!  We got our Solo Jazz on and there was a nice Celebration Jam followed by a Snowball! We went out for a drink afterwards and I got to chat again to all the nice Lindy folk.

And that was just dance session number one!

Wednesday morning involved getting up early to hit Piccadilly train station and do some Lindy Hop to support the Poppy Appeal. Taina organised it and around 8 of us (9 including the DJ) went and did some dancing. This was nerve-wracking beforehand, but once I was actually dancing I didn’t even notice the commuters. Lindy Hop is either increasing my confidence or destroying my dignity. Perhaps both. Either way it is a good thing. I found I really enjoyed doing this!

Wednesday evening involved a trip to Manchester Students Union for a quick lesson with the Manchester Swing Dance Society. I was a little bit nervous about this. A 34 year old man going into the students union and not dressed as a Dr/Professor is a bit weird. Fortunately there were several friendly regulars from Manchester Lindy there and all the students I met seemed nice enough.

We covered Baskets. Because of the extra complication of suddenly realising you can do stuff with your arms, my feet sometimes stopped working, which added to the difficulty just a little bit! A lot was covered (they did say it wasn’t for complete beginners). I had loads of fun and learnt a ton about my frame just by doing the moves and focusing a tiny part of my brain on how my shoulders, back etc. felt when it went right, or, more often, wrong! In retrospect maybe I was using my footwork brain for that bit. That would explain a lot.

I had to go home early because Wednesdays nights are for gaming with my wife. So I missed the beginners lesson and the social dancing but I had great fun with the improvers lesson. Another group of Swing Dancers that are really friendly! Not surprising really.

So I’ve definitely had my Lindy fix and feel much calmer and rational this week! I’m glad I’m living on the 6th floor. Practicing baskets and pecks at home without a partner would be interesting for anybody spying through my windows…

 Dan

*I’m breaking my own definition of a ‘week’ because I danced twice on the Wednesday after the Tuesday lessons which technically would be next week. I’m such a rebel, that’s just how I roll.

** A very nice guy (Organiser?/Teacher?/Overlord? at Manchester Swing Dance Society).

***I’m listening to ‘Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox version of All About The Bass’ right now so it is filtering into my typing.

****The art of not bashing yourself or, even worse, your partner, into someone else on a crowded dance floor.

Dan Who?

During the early 1980’s, in a secret laboratory in Stevenage; scientists attempted to create a master dancer with the ultimate knowledge of dance physics. Combining the DNA of Al Minns and Richard Feynman, the result was Dan – an abject failure. During the week Dan leaves his wife and child at home in Bedfordshire and attempts to achieve his genetic potential through rigorous training at Manchester Lindy. It’s not working very well but he seems to be happy.

Answers (or at least, philosophical thoughts) for Dan’s questions

Answers,

(or perhaps just philosophical thoughts?)

inspired by Dan’s questions

(to accompany Week 9 of sWinging It)

Hello!

One of the great things about Dan’s blog (a real-time report on being a new dancer) is how it’s making us old dancers think about things in a new way. It reminds me of a parent pointing out a field of cows to a toddler, it’s no longer just a field of cows, it’s COWS! LOOK! COWS! Lots of COWS!

(True story: when my son was about 3 (he’s now a whopping almost 16-year-old) I was on a train journey, looking out of the window at some COWS whilst nudging and pointing excitedly. Of course, I had forgotten that my son was at Granny’s, and I was traveling alone, and the person I was nudging was not a sleepy preschooler, but a be-suited and now bemused business man. Oops.)

Anyway, that digression aside, here is a whole bunch of thoughts that came about due to Dan’s Week 9 questions, thought by me, Paula.

Essentially, all of Dan’s questions take us meandering off down the same road, so rather than answering them in the order they were posed, I’m going to witter on in the way that makes the most sense, to me anyway.

I’ve embedded the most important video illustrations, and the bold words are links to further videos or extra info (as if this 3,500 word essay isn’t enough)!

Dan’s questions:

What is ‘musicality’?

What is a ‘break’?

Why does Jazz start on the 8 and Lindy Hop on the 1?

Read Dan’s questions in more detail over here: Swingin’ It – Week 9

Let me preface this with a disclaimer – modern Lindy Hoppers are incredibly fortunate that many of the original top dancers from the 30’s and 40’s lived long and healthy lives (probably not a coincidence, dancing is great for a person, mind, body and soul) and this, combined with some incredible community historians, such as Peter Loggins and Bobby White, and some wonderfully committed and motivated dancers worldwide has given us a huge pool of knowledge to draw on. Nonetheless, finding answers to specific questions can be still rather difficult, mostly due to the maddening answers that our beloved, much treasured old timers have given us – for example, when asked about specific musical counts for steps and patterns, Norma Miller is credited with the perfect (yet entirely non-satisfactory) answer, “The only Count I know is Basie“.

So, the following is a mish-mash of partial secondhand knowledge and partial idle thought, filtered through the mind of a garish tattooed lady, sprinkled with love and respect for a dance that has been a part of my life for more than a decade, and a part of dance life for more than 8 decades. Think of it, as is best with most vernacular subjects, as philosophy rather than fact.

Let’s start with what Jazz music actually is, or at least, what it was when our beloved dance was born. This in itself is actually quite a hard task, and again, Wikipedia doesn’t help much: Jazz.

Still, we’ve got to start somewhere, and here will do. We can disregard the bebop bit, and the freeform stuff that comes after (even the most musical of dancers will be challenged to dance to THAT!) but from NOLA through the big band era, the music informed and inspired the dance (and indeed the dancers informed and inspired the musicians, too).

The bit from the Wiki above that we should *probably* be paying most attention to, is Swing rhythm, and syncopation. You can find many detailed, complex and confusing explanations of these terms online, but they are mostly aimed at musicians and are difficult to access without tons of prior knowledge. For new Lindy Hoppers, both the Swung rhythm and the syncopation of the music that Lindy Hop is danced to is actually illustrated in the basic footwork (and the almighty triple step must take a bow here). This is why Lindy Hop teachers sing the footwork directions, which probably sounds a bit weird at first (I promise it makes sense though):

rock STEP tri-ple STEP, step STEP, tri-ple STEP

The words (and their associated movements) in capital letters are actually a way of communicating Jazz syncopation – the emphasis is on the  “back beat”,  aka the “down beat” (when a band’s conductor would swipe their baton downwards) aka the “even numbers”.  The tri-ple illustrates (in body movement and words) the way “Swung” notes are “tied” together.

So it’s the musical elements of Jazz syncopation and Swung rhythm that make up the Lindy hop basic step and that’s why the sound of Swing music and the basic step fit together so well. The dance steps are the physical manifestation of the music.

This is why some purist old fogies, including me, disapprove of dancing Lindy Hop to the “wrong” music. You see, dancers will naturally adapt their steps to fit the music they are hearing, and this sufficiently alters the dance to make it stop being Lindy Hop and start being something else – check out West Coast Swing videos on YouTube to see what happens when you dance Lindy Hop to other forms of popular music – give it a few years and it becomes a dance all of it’s own, which isn’t a *bad* thing, but it is a thing, and a very specific thing at that. Here’s another example, Take Some Crime:

I actually love this dude’s dancing and have spent quite a bit of time watching his videos – he dances to current music, including some Electro Swing, he even uses elements of Solo Charleston – but what he does isn’t Charleston, and in fact he’s given what he does a new, specific name, “Criming”. He’s incredibly hypnotic to watch, and I truly adore what he does, but he is also a very good argument against the inclusion of Electro Swing on the Manchester Lindy playlist – and perhaps also a very good argument to get out of my fogie-shaped rut and go to an Electro Swing night sometime?

When one plays music to emphasise the opposite, the up beat (on-beat, or the odd numbers) you get a completely different feel, it’s more upright, less laid back, and definitely not Jazz (check out some Polka music and Polka dancers for an example).

When we clap along to a Jam circle, we also do it on the even numbers, because we are further emphasing the important part of the Jazz rhythm.

Here’s a fantastic clip of Harry Connick Jr showing exactly how to cope with folk clapping on the odd beats to Jazz music:

Remember, friends don’t let friends clap on 1 and 3!

clap-on-1-and-3-orange

Click to buy (totally unconnected vendor!)

Ultimately, Duke Ellington sums up all of my above waffle with this very succinct answer as to why Jazz musicians and Jazz dancers emphasise the even numbers, “Because clapping on 1 would be considered aggressive.”

So, why do we start Jazz on the 8 and Lindy on the 1?

Well, authentic Jazz shares it roots with rhythm Tap dance – and Tap dance is essentially complicated clapping with your feet – tapping to swing music emphasises the back beat because again it emphasises the laid back nature of Jazz music.

The most obvious way to do this is to start on the last beat of the intro, the 8 – and that’s what we do in most Jazz choreography – we learned this from the classic routines, like the Big Apple and the Tranky Doo, passed onto us by the old timers, and we generally  continue that tradition when we choreograph today.

So the real question isn’t, why start Jazz on the 8, but “Why start Lindy Hopping on the 1?”

The music we dance to is in 4/4 time so as Lindy Hoppers we take two of those groups of 4 and add them together to come up with our 8 beat basic (i.e., the Swing Out, the defining step of Lindy Hop). Musicians often freak out about the 6 count basic when they start learning to dance because it doesn’t seem to fit, but just add enough of them together until it becomes divisible by 8 (6×4 =24 8×4=24) and you’ll be ready to start on the 1 again – yes you’ll be triple stepping and step-stepping in the “wrong” places, but that’s easy to solve – just stop thinking about it in terms of right places and wrong places and in fact, forget about the 6’s and 8’s too – total anarchy!

But we’ll not stop thinking and we’ll not stop counting, we’ll just make the maths as easy as possible and start thinking of EVERYTHING as groups of two beats, with the emphasis back beat (the evens).

After we GET STARTED dancing is continuous, we don’t stop on the 8 and start on the one, we dance through the 8 and into the one

1           2         3-a     4        5         6      7-n        8

rock STEP, tri-ple STEP, step STEP, tri ple STEP

and to push that a little further (going BACK TO THE FUTURE or perhaps FUTURE TO THE BACK!)

(7-n)              8       1         2      3-a       4           5    6         7 -n

(tri -ple) STEP rock STEP tri-ple STEP step STEP tri -ple

and further back in time again

6           7-n         8         1         2      3-a         4       5

STEP tri -ple STEP rock STEP tri-ple STEP Step

And you can actually make any combo of two-beat movements and put the emphasis on the back beat (and remember, emphasising the back beat is the aim of the game)

1          2       3-a             4    5-a       6       7-n      8       1-a      2         3         4        5

rock STEP tri -ple STEP tri-ple STEP tr-iple STEP tri-ple STEP step STEP step

Heck, we can throw in a kick-STEP or step-KICK or kick-KICK or a kick-HOLD or a hold-KICK or even a walk-WALK or a walk-PAUSE or hell, a pausePAUSEpausePAUSEpausePAUSE

And that’s why we can do Charleston and Lindy interchangeably:

RockSTEP kickDOWN kickHOLD kickDOWN

and in fact (and this comes with experience) we can lead any combo in any order, and the reason it fits with the music is because we are still emphasing the back beat

rock STEP kickDOWN tri-pleSTEP walkWALK

So we can start anywhere, really, and the original dancers probably did prep on 7 to start on 8, at least some of the time, but they were dancing almost exclusively to LIVE music, and the dance was new and had no habits or convention.

However, because social dancing is team work (all be it a small team of two) and we want to be able to dance with as many other people as possible, regardless of where they learned to dance, and because we need to give beginners some kind of structure, and because we started to teach Lindy Hop in a dance studio/classroom environment in the 1980s (when the original dancers were located and persuaded to pass on their knowledge by interested dancers from a number of disciplines, dancers that had learned in studio based backgrounds) we started to arrange these groups of two into patterns of 6’s and 8’s (and less commonly, 10’s, 12’s and even 7’s).

(crikey, that was a long sentence!)

If you are going to start a pattern that takes 8 beats to complete, and you are introducing it to a beginner, or lots of beginners, it’s simply more efficient to start on beat 1 and end on beat 8. The alternative, starting on the 8, could still be taught (and as an example, a Lindy Turn, or Swing Out would be ‘step, rock-step, tri-ple step, step-step, tri-ple’) but a) it makes my head hurt and b) we’d all topple over after ‘tri-ple’.

So the answer to the question is, as I see it:

Both Jazz and Lindy Hop emphasise the same musical beats (the even numbers) but for ease of teaching we made Lindy Hop patterns start on the 1. Jazz still starts on the 8, because it is most often taught as choreography.

I finished typing this bit with a giant grin, easily mistaken for a grimace. I’m not sure if there IS an appropriate emoticon,  I’ll leave you to imagine it.

So what is ‘musicality?’ well, it’s the ability to interpret the music you are hearing and give it physical form through your movement, and emphasising the back beat is one of the surest forms of doing this, when dancing to Swing music.
Musicality is one of the skills that separates good dancers from great dancers and it comes very easily to some people, and others have to work very hard at it. Some people will never really get it, but will learn to fake it pretty well. Others will find they get lots of Lindy enjoyment without it, and won’t mind too much if they never get it. The great thing about Lindy Hop is there is space for all comers!

Here’s a clip of a currently competing couple, Nicolas Deniau and Mikaela Hellsten (who I hope we will be able to entice to Manchester at some point). I think Nicolas and Mikaela have amazing musicality skills (although I have no idea how easily it comes to them :P), I’ve chosen this particular video because they are dancing to a Western Swing-type track (a bit like the kind of arrangements the Swing Commanders do) and I’m hoping that it being right on the outskirts of the normal range of songs we play at ML will help to highlight how they are picking movements that are the physical manifestation of the music:

(I also love how happy N&M always appear to be!)

Now the above is a choreographed routine, so they’ve likely spent many hours on picking those movements and refining them until they are as perfect as I believe them to be, so here is a video of the same couple social dancing to a live band, where their on-the-spot musicality skills are put to a real test:

Pretty impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree!

Choreography has always been a part of Lindy Hop, and this is reflected in the most often-used competitive categories today, which go from as close to random as you can get, to the absolutely rehearsed (although how much choreography is too much choreography is yet to be decided, search the internet for improvrespect for a recent debate and read about competitive divisions at the biggest event of the Lindy Hop year here) but (and I believe this is a paraphrase of another old timer quote, but 20 minutes of questioning Uncle Google have been fruitless) the best Lindy Hoppers make choreographed routines look as spontaneous as social dancing, and social dancing look as seamless as choreography.

So how do we develop musicality skills that enable our social dancing to look as seamless as choreography?  Well again, we’ve established some short cuts to help with teaching musicality skills (and faking them), so here’s a few that newer dancers will come across in classes, and some that can be done at home too.
First things first, learning how to identify the 1 helps enormously. It’s less important for Followers than Leaders in the very early days, but later on, being able to identify your position within a musical phrase will give you freedom to execute learned variations and improvise new ones. For some new dancers, finding the one is so obvious they’ll wonder why I am even mentioning it, for others it’s more akin to finding a needle in a needle stack, so for their benefit I present Where Is The One? ( a video playlist created by Nathan Dias, click his name to find out more):

After you’ve located the one, you can learn to count phrases. Music of the period was written to (what was presumably at the time, a winning) formula, and almost all of the music you’ll hear at a Swing dance will either be

Swing phrased

(aka AABA or 32  bar form – which lends itself well to 8 count patterns  – read about it here: Christian Bossert on 32 bar form)

or

Blues phrased

(12 bar form, aka “Call and Response”-  which lends itself well to 6 count patterns – see a web slide show on both over here).

Learning how these structures work is one of the best ways to appear musical, even if you aren’t.

Something that may particularly appeal to Followers in the early days (and Leaders a bit later, after they’ve found THE ONE and learned how musical structure works) is identifying the tone of the song. Try listening to a bunch of songs at home, and giving each one a descriptive word, or group of words. Is it happy? Subdued? Smooth? Bouncy? Wild? Languorous? Miserable? Can you dance in a way that fits the same descriptors? Try it out!

Or how about identifying your favourite instruments and seeing how you can fit your movements to those? When I’m leading, I tend to be most inspired by the drums, bass and if there is one, the tuba. When following, I LOVE the clarinet, and am more likely to respond to the vocal.  The trumpet tends to make me misbehave regardless of the role I’m dancing!
One fairly sure-fire way to hone your musicality skills is through solo movement, and in fact, it’s one of the biggest drivers we have for offering Jazz, Charleston and other associated solo stuff from day 1 (other similar dance groups don’t tend to prioritise Jazz to the extent that we do). It’s a bit of a trope that ‘Solo Jazz makes you a better Lindy Hopper’ and we rarely go into why that is – I know for me, the main benefit has been to my timing and rhythm i.e. my musicality  (and of course, it also helps with shapes and lines too).

This rather neatly bring us around to the subject of Breaks, and what they actually ARE – like most topics in swing dance, there is a dance definition of break and a music definition of break and they may or may not be closely related.

In dance terms (and I certainly have more dance-knowledge than I have music knowledge) I presume the Jazz break (often first encountered as the  Full Break and Half Break (I recognise those feet!) versions in the Shim Sham, although there are other break varieties in the Big Apple and the Tranky Doo, too) comes from Tap dance.

Time Steps are one of the defining elements of Tap dance – they come in a variety of types, single, double, triple etc. and they all follow the same structure, one thing happens a bunch of times (usually alternating on the right and left feet) and then something else happens. The something else is referred to as a ‘break’.

In this example there are 8 ‘single buck time steps’ followed by a break. If you can’t immediately discern where the difference happens, try listening to it rather than watching it (clue – the break begins at 0:25!). The reason the dancer breaks there, and not elsewhere in the song, is because the music is also doing something different:

The classic Jazz routines take a mostly similar structure – something happens a few times (usually to sets of 8 counts) and then something else happens (to one set of 8 counts, or perhaps to seven counts with a pause, to reflect the music).

In terms of non-choreographed dancing, whether that be solo or partnered, the aim is to figure out when something different is going to happen in the music, and reflect it in your movement. This is the phenomenon known as ‘hitting the break’.
What the break actually is and where it falls, is up to you to decide – sometimes it’s obvious, like a dead stop, or an almost dead stop (a famous song for this is Watch The Birdie) and sometimes it falls neatly into the musical structures described above – but it may be something much more subtle, and if you are dancing with a partner, you might not necessarily identify the same ‘break’. This is not a problem and although in the earlier dancing days, the Follower may be looking to the Leader to identify a break for the both of them, later on, the Leader may well find the Follower’s movements indicate a break is about to happen and the Leader can respond to that indication – this is one of the many skills in partner dance that is summed up by the idea of it being a physical conversation between two people, rather than a one sided lecture from the Leader.

As to whether it’s too early to be asking these questions? Yes! No! Maybe! And perhaps, all of the above?

Lindy Hop and its relatives are wonderful dances because you can dabble in them just enough to have fun for a short period, or totally geek out for a lifetime – whether it’s too early or not probably depends on where you will fall on the spectrum – some folk won’t ask these questions at all (they are probably still trying to find that tricky, elusive ‘1’) and that is perfectly OK.

As you can imagine, I suspect I fall on the geeky, in depth, lifetime, end of the spectrum, and that was the geeky, lifetime Lindy Hopper equivalent of nudging a stranger in the ribs and shouting “LOOK! COWS!”

Peace, love and Swing Outs

Paula

 

 

 

 

 

sWinging It – Week 9

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

 

Week 9 (Lesson Week 6 Holiday Week)

As mentioned last week I was on holiday and so missed lessons this week. For those of you interested, my withdrawal symptoms included an increased need to listen to swing music*, spare minutes spent reading internet articles about dancing (covered more below) and a small bit of solo jazz to some buskers in Rome (in my defence they did swing).

Also worth noting this week is that I discovered the identity of ‘man in shorts’ through the power of social media. Not all of social media is a force for good but the Manchester Lindy Facebook group clearly is. ‘Man in shorts’ is called Chris. It’s good I discovered this before winter set in as I can’t imagine Chris needing shorts much longer.

So without much opportunity to practice, but plenty of thinking time whilst squashed on Rome’s buses, these are the things I have been wondering about before, and during, my holiday. I don’t blog about them normally because my random thoughts are nowhere near as fun as what happens on a Tuesday evening. There are two running themes to these questions.

1) They have a lot to do with interpreting music (or over-thinking it, a speciality of mine)

2) I am nowhere near ready to actually start worrying about them during lessons/social dancing** (which is why I torture myself with it in my spare time)

Why do Jazz steps start on the 8 count?

OK there are plenty that start on the 1 but I’ve also seen enough that start on 8. I did do some looking into this using the magic of the internet but couldn’t get a satisfactory explanation. The best I found was that for those moves, the second step contrasts/compliments the first beat. I don’t have a clue if this is right. It bothers me.

What on earth is a break / how do I know it is a break?

I will hold my hand up and say there are some good articles on this which talk to musical structure and have examples to listen to, but I haven’t had time yet to really focus on them. I have seen a break described as when all of the instruments stop but also as when most of the instruments stop. I’m convinced that breaks exist, but not very clear on how to accurately recognise them. At least I no longer think it’s where you stop in the middle of a really fast song and hyperventilate.

I have been listening out for breaks and think I hear them sometimes. I do have trouble in tracks where one instrument stops and another starts. Is this a break or something else? Can I make up a name for it in case I accidentally hit it? I definitely hit that swap…

I can picture a moment in my future when I hit what I think is a break but clearly isn’t. If/when that happens I will have to tell myself to read this post again. Right now I can’t imagine having any brain capacity left over from all the other stuff I need to think about during a dance to actually hit a break, real or imagined.

Musicality

Oh yes. That word. Come on. From the Oxford Dictionary no less:

1) Musical talent or sensitivity:

her beautiful, rich tone and innate musicality

his compositions reveal an exceptional degree of innate musicality

2) The quality of having a pleasant sound; melodiousness:

the natural musicality of the language

Glad that one was cleared up.

This is the most ambiguous but often used term I have come across. People seem to use it to express an awful lot of things and that bothers me*** because it leaves me open to misconceptions which I am sure I would swallow. It would not surprise me to hear someone mention the word ‘musicality’ and ‘you can’t get pregnant during your first social dance’ in the same sentence. I would probably believe it and spend the rest of the evening wondering what kind of social dancing they do.

In all seriousness, I would like to see at least some kind of list of things that express/show musicality. I guess hitting a break would be one. Maybe by the time I’m ready to start actually demonstrating musicality I will be a bit clearer on what exactly it is.

I have just read this blog post back to myself and think I need to add ‘ranting about Lindy concepts which frighten and confuse me’ to my list of withdrawal symptoms. I need my next fix. Tuesday is only one sleep away. I can make it.

 Dan

*Flights go really quickly when accompanied by The Boilermaker Jazz Band, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington and Glenn Crytzer And His Syncopators.

** This is actually a blessing. I am actively trying to have fewer things to worry about during social dancing in the hopes I might actually relax a little bit

*** As a (long ago) physicist I confess that I probably have a hang-up about precise definitions and that, in more artistic areas, that isn’t always possible because it is very subjective. It’s like being cool. Everyone can accurately tell me I’m not cool. Nobody can tell me what I need to do to be cool. Except my daughter who says I need sunglasses like a spy, a leather jacket and some black trousers…

Dan clearly needs help, what can I do?

The doctor he found on the internet has prescribed dance related treatment. Dance with him. If you spot a break you can punch him until he starts to recognise them. Then he will be known throughout the world as ‘that guy who hits all the breaks by cringing’. A small price to pay to hit all them tasty  breaks.

sWinging It – Week 8

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

Week 8 (Lesson Week 5)

Two months of Lindy have flown by and have been marked this week by… a FAIL. A fail of the social kind (the worst 😦 ).

I nervously walked up to two ladies who were sat down. They both looked at me as I was about to ask one of them to dance and… I asked if either would like to dance. This was pointed out to me (in a very nice way) as bad. A no no. If I had been thinking at all I would have realised (before I said it) that I was basically telling both of them that neither was particularly special and was also labelling myself as needy to boot. My finest hour…

I could just not write about this (convenient being the story teller) but I set out to write about the good (mostly), bad (rarely) and the ugly (hopefully never again). Also:

1) If you have done this and feel like an idiot. You now know you are not the only idiot.

2) If this stops you from being an idiot, then bonus.

3) Most importantly, to say thank you to the two ladies. I basically insulted them and they were really nice in the way they set me straight on how to, actually, you know, be polite. They still danced with me. They also seemed a little worried I was upset (I was horrified – with myself).

People like that are what make Manchester Lindy just a really nice place to come to.

Lesson week 5 (run by Ben and Meg) was sort of Charleston and 8 count refresher but also about moving between the two. This was good because, amongst many other things, I have been wondering a lot about how you signal moving from 8 count to 6 count (and back), and 8 count to Charleston (and back). One of those I can now practice until I have it down cold.

Lindy Circle* was also covered. This move was one that I really was not good at, so I was pleased it was revisited. I can now reliably get a full 360 turn if I want (teacher tip – little steps!). For me I feel like I am really invading my follow’s personal space when it goes right. Either this is correct and I will eventually feel more comfortable doing it, or, someone will tell me how to do it without being creepy and I can have another embarrassing confession to make!

Solo Jazz was run by Paula + a lady I don’t recognise (I think she’s Kate but I could have just made that up) (Editors note: you did, it was Beck – and that was her very first time as a teaching assistant! She was awesome! Paula). We learnt the first 40 seconds of the Tranky Doo. This doesn’t sound like a lot but in 45 minutes this is (to me) a real achievement! Also, Paula announced that she had decided, after reading this blog, that she needed to be as hardcore in the Solo Jazz class as Amy (Paula is the editor so she has the power to read blog future). What have I done??!!! If this carries on there will be casualties.

I loved learning the Tranky Doo! It’s really fun. The shuffle just feels fun to do and it is the only routine I know of that features Zombies. Paula suggested shouting out the names of the moves as we did them to help remember. During practice I had no spare brain power to do this but at home I have concocted a story including the names of the moves to help remember the order** – it works for my brain. We performed this again during the social (it is definitely a thing now – yeeeess!). They may or may not have videoed it. If I am on the video then look for the person that does it wrong about half way through. I did recover (phew), so not all bad.

Other than my moment of shame, social dancing was again good fun. There are now a small group of beginners that all started around the same time as me and come pretty much every week – we seem to have found each other. This is really nice because I can practice with people at or around my level. For me this is a comfortable break from the great, but sometimes scary, experience of dancing with the more advanced follows. It’s worth noting I’m still enjoying dancing with absolute beginners (says the guy with only 8 lessons under his belt…). It’s not like I can’t do with extra work on my pulse and my rhythm and my connection and…  But there are things I can’t do with people who have attended a couple of weeks. I wouldn’t subject a complete beginner to my very dodgy swing-outs – especially given how keenly I still remember my first session of social dancing!

Nice moment – one of the dances with another beginner in my ‘started same time’ group was declared as awesome (by her not me – but I thought it was awesome too!). It’s a great feeling when you have what feels like a good dance!

That said my best moment was being told by Meg during a social dance that she could tell I had worked on my footwork. Yes!!!! Obsessive practice is paying off!! And I got to dance with Paula for the first time! Good times.

At the end of the evening, as I was being really slow getting ready to go***, I was asked to the pub by Adrian and Valadee (almost surely spelt wrong). Considering I’d never met them this was really nice. Six of us went out for a drink and some pizza and I really enjoyed myself. It’s a nice comedown from the dancing and made even better by friendly company!

Sadly I won’t make it next week because I’m in Rome. I haven’t figured out yet how to get to Manchester for Tuesday evening and back to Rome for Wednesday morning without my wife and child noticing. So there may be no week 9 or, if there is, it will be full of my rambling dancing thoughts (more than usual) rather than any real insight into what happened in lessons.

Dan

*The names are all so obvious that I am only now calling out ones that I feel aren’t particularly descriptive of what you actually do.

** Some things I will not share here and my primary school level Tranky Doo memory story is one of them…

*** I loiter until the very end. I think a small part of me is saying. “Maybe they will stop packing up and put the music back on?”

Who is Dan?

I’m writing this on Back to the Future day. So if my plan worked then Gray’s Sports Almanac has been replaced with a note that Marty McFly will take back to me in 1985. The note will tell me to find somewhere to start learning Lindy and I will be an awesome dancer.

Given I am 4 years old in 1985 I probably ate the letter. This means my 2015 self is not an awesome dancer. I am most likely a humdrum IT contractor with a wife, one child, two cats and no social dancing etiquette. I am, however, starting to feel like part of an awesome dancing community.

sWinging It – Week 7

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

Week 7 (Lesson Week 4)

Lindy is bleeding into work and not necessarily in a good way. I caught myself looking at people’s backs the other day wondering where I would place my hand in closed position and where I would expect their arm to sit on mine. I hope nobody noticed or my contract could be very short. Also, a colleague asked if I was going swinging again this Tuesday. I cleared that one up pretty quickly.

In other news ‘Patient Lady’ has a name! It’s Katie (if I spelt it correctly). I have been lucky enough to dance with her pretty much every week since week 3 and can report she is still as patient as ever (which is saying something). One day I will be good enough to repay her with an awesome good satisfactory dance (I promise!)

Now I just need to collar ‘Man in shorts’ and get his name.

If you have been reading this every week you are probably wondering if I completed my mission. I danced with loads of the more advanced dancers (more on that later) and at least two of them I asked, so mission accomplished! Also, the dances I did have were really fun. If you are feeling intimidated by the more advanced dancers I would say that, across the other side of the dance floor they look scary, but up close in person they are all lovely – go for it!

Beginners was taught by Amy and Andy C. Last week was Andy W (I just called him Andy). I should have known there are two Andy’s because I have actually looked at the committee page on the website – doh!

This lesson was Charleston – Woo! Amy and Andy went through a lot of material, covering the basic step and no less than 5 cool variations (with pecks* and kicking the dog**)! On top of that they emphasised feeling the pulse*** of the music. My Charleston felt very jerky before this lesson and now seems much smoother – Result!

Taina taught the Solo Jazz again (as well as back in week 3). The stars must have aligned because I saw a video of Al Minns showing some Shim-Sham variations (among other stuff) on the Manchester Lindy Facebook page. This took me to (through the power of internet searching) a video of Frankie Manning & Erin Stevens doing the Shim-Sham. I had planned on using this video to learn myself and I watched it a couple of times on Tuesday night but had to go out to – Manchester Lindy. Lo and behold that night I was taught the Shim-Sham by Taina. Fate wanted me to learn the Shim-Sham. I don’t argue with fate.

We also spent a lot of the session doing a Jam (Battle or just a Jam? – I can’t remember the proper name). Taina had taught two routines. One side of the room came in to the middle (with a cool entrance, of course) and did some moves. They then exited (again in a cool way). As team 1 exits, team 2 enters (in their cool way), does their routine and exits. Repeat until the song ends and you all want another song. The only downside is my bum hurts from  doing ‘Spank the baby’. If I will choose that move to exit on then I will pay the price…

And finally on to the Social Dancing which is how I danced with countless more advanced dancers (awesome). Among various Lindy traditions is a Birthday Jam, where the Birthday lead/follow (or more if there are more birthdays) gets to dance to a whole song. Their partners swap in and out during the song so they get to have fun dancing with loads of people. This Jam was different in that they asked everyone who had anything to celebrate up. This means some more people on the dance floor which lowers the pressure for nervous people.

Week 1 of this blog went live this week, which Paula announced as something worth celebration (I was too shy to mention it but secretly pleased). This meant I got to be in the Jam! My first ever!

If you are worried about feeling on show then I can confidently say that the setup minimised this and that, once the music was on, any nervousness disappeared. The benefits of taking part far outweigh any fear of participation. You feel special and it’s like being asked to dance loads of times in the space of 5 minutes! Every time I am asked to dance I get a little warm fuzzy feeling so having a Jam was very cool. Thanks to everybody that danced with me during the Jam – that one dance is worth way more than any time and effort I have put into writing this blog!!!

As I mentioned earlier I asked a couple of advanced dancers I hadn’t danced with before. I also danced with lots of people I had danced with before. Lots of dancing, lots of attempts at a decent swing-out. One day (soon hopefully!) I will be able to actually do one and reliably follow it up with something, rather than have my mind just say “Swing out done. Time to shuuuut doooowwwn.” But I’m having fun trying!

If I had to sum the evening up it would be.

A.MA.ZING!

Dan

*You peck your head a couple of times – like a chicken

** You kick three times in this move (six including your partner). I feel sorry for the dog…

*** I can’t explain this very well. I don’t exactly associate pulse with the timing of the music (although the pulse definitely has a rhythm). The way my strange brain thinks about it is, if I put some swing music on and just step softly on the balls of my feet in time to the music, I will naturally bob up and down as well – that’s the pulse (to me). I could have this completely wrong in which case call me out as a liar. If you call me out as a liar you have to say why so I learn more! More delicious learning!

Who is Dan?

Dan is a contractor working in Manchester. As long as he is here he plans to squeeze as much enjoyment out of learning and socialising at Manchester Lindy as he can! Like making a big glass of juice, but with fun instead of oranges. Help Dan get more fun by finding the balding guy with the ginger beard asking him to dance. He doesn’t actually squeeze people. Promise.

sWinging It – Week 6

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

Week 6 (Lesson Week 3)

I’m sitting here typing to some Jazz on the headphones. It’s hard to type when you keep wanting to tap out a beat instead…

My left hip had a message for me around Thursday this week. Something along the lines of “You haven’t exercised properly in a long time and now you’re working me every day! I feel used and under-appreciated.” It wasn’t hurting, but I could tell I needed to treat it better.

Fortunately, the fear of missing out on a Tuesday night has now turned me into a very pro-active exerciser. I have been doing some hip strengthening and flexibility exercises since then and am certain I will keep it up. It did mean I had to lay off the dance practice a little bit, particularly anything with swivels etc.

I had a great recommendation from Paula (tattoo lady from week 1 – now named properly!) last week to just listen to lots of Jazz/Swing music so I did a lot of that (even more than usual). My knowledge of this music is poor (I hadn’t really got into it until I started Lindy) but here are 3 tracks that made not practicing very difficult

1) The Cats & The Fiddle – Gangbusters (doo dee ah doo dee ah… – not part of the song name but I just have to say it every time). The rhythm of this song just makes me want to get up and start some Solo Jazz. I’m loving it.

2) Alberta Hunter -The Darktown Strutters’ Ball (Amtrak Blues version – I’m not sure if there is another but I wouldn’t be surprised). An amazing song IMHO. Fortunately I can just focus on her voice whenever I get the urge to jump to my feet.

3) Anything by Count Basie (at least anything I’ve heard yet) but particularly Jumpin’ At The Woodside because I seem to have been conditioned to attempt The Stew (see week 2) whenever it comes on.

I’ll gratefully take any recommendations for other tracks/artists that could lead to compulsive dancing!

So I came to Tuesday without much practice in the week and I was eager to get to it.

Beginners Lindy was re-cap week for weeks 1 & 2. I had missed week 2, but through attending weeks 10-12 I had picked up the footwork covered in that lesson and RobotGate (see week 3) meant I had definitely put some practice into them. Paula and Andy (the teachers) somehow managed to get through 6 count and 8 count footwork (for several moves) and talk in good detail about hand placement and connection* in what felt like a very short 45 mins!

This was fortunate because I was pretty comfortable with the steps by now and was really trying to focus on where my hands were, how the connection felt and sending clear signals when leading (well trying to – it is hard). I was lucky because I was paired with ‘Man in shorts’ early and he immediately told me my hand was too high on his back (in a very nice way which makes me feel guilty for not knowing his name again). He showed me why by having me push on his back, which pitched him forward (making him bend over rather than move forward). I’m now wondering if I did that accidentally to anyone in the past few weeks – oops!

I was really pleased to be able to practice this connection rather than spending my time on the footwork, because it’s something that I can’t really do at home with my imaginary partner, Magneto**.

Solo Jazz was taught by Amy. She taught Solo Jazz in my 1st week (back when she didn’t have a name or a clear nationality). Whilst I am fitter than week 1 (please I must be) I was still feeling knackered after the session. Amy is a relentless Jazz machine. Oh, she will smile at you sweetly and be really friendly whilst she takes you up to, and then over, the edge. And you will enjoy every sweat covered minute – I certainly did!

There were lots of new steps, which was cool because my bank of Jazz moves is getting bigger and bigger. I also discovered the first Lindy/Jazz move that I don’t understand the name of (and can’t do – I really need to practice it). If anybody knows why an Applejack is called an Applejack I’d love to know. If they can help me to do it properly as well then they earn bonus gratitude!

Inspired by the beginners lesson, part of the Social Dancing for me was focusing on really trying to send clear signals and feeling signals back from my partner (the other part was focusing on having fun!) It didn’t happen very often but there were snippets. Tiny moments when it really felt like I wasn’t just doing some footwork and expecting the follow to guess what it was and copy, but was really feeling and, maybe even, leading my partner.

I want to work on this more because the feeling I got when I led some simple steps and could feel the response from the follow was great. This is clearly a part of how all the really cool looking advanced dancers seem to just know that their partner is throwing in some extra stuff and it just seems really natural.

We also got to do the Solo Jazz routine during the social again, which was cool! I certainly won’t complain if this happens again. As far as I’m aware, everyone that had attended the Solo Jazz (a lot this week!) and was still in the hall joined in. There is safety in numbers!

One thing I did notice during Social Dancing is that I have developed a little bit of an ‘advanced dancer intimidation’ mentality. If I ask one of the more advanced dancers to dance it’s always the same one or two and I’m not as relaxed when I’m doing it. So I’m setting myself a mission impossible type task of asking one or two of the other more advanced dancers next week.

I will also try and be more chilled and just dance (assuming they say yes). I will be reporting success (or failure 😦 ) next week.

Now I have put this in the public domain I’m going to have to do it. Better get my Ethan Hunt on.

Dan

P.S. I got a notebook for dancing. It’s great! I manically scribble down the Solo Jazz routines and anything I learnt or observed in the lessons and social. Now I don’t have to worry about forgetting things in between lessons. Notebooks are underrated.

*I’m probably going to give a really bad explanation here but my understanding of  the connection is basically kind of where the two partners are touching. When dancing close together (closed position) this would mean the hands they are holding in front of them and their other arm/back touching. The term seems to cover anything you can perceive about your partner and their intentions through your sense of touch e.g. the way their weight shifts, the pressure of their hands/arms etc. I really hope someone jumps in here and gives a better explanation!

** I named my imaginary follow after an X-men villain. I know that probably makes me very sad. It seemed a good idea at the time…

Who is Dan?

I’m Dan. I am a contractor currently working in Manchester. I liked watching Charleston (it’s so fun) so I looked for some dancing in Manchester and found Manchester Lindy. I seem to have fallen in love hard and fast. My wife doesn’t dance and my daughter tries to copy me (she’s 7), but can’t exactly practice with me. This, as you would have read above, has reduced me to appropriating imaginary follows. If you think I might have more fun dancing with a real person then please ask me. Look for the guy who is going bald and compensating for it with a short ginger and white beard.