Swinging It – Week 12

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

 

Week 12 (Lesson Week 9)

I’ve got to be a rug cutter, SWING OUT in the groove!

Wonder what this week’s lesson was all about?

I’ve been waiting a while for this lesson. My swing outs from open and closed were based on stuff I  remembered (badly) from lessons during my first few weeks, some internet searching (because once I saw them being done I had to learn them) and lots of practice. I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks that my swing outs were getting better and better.

My old swing outs were lame. My new swing outs are awesome*. I will probably be repeating those statements several times for the rest of my life.

I could go on about the details of the lesson but there is so much covered (it took a whole session) that I couldn’t explain it properly. Which is a nice segue into the first of the two most important things I learnt this week.

1) Youtube + practice is useful for learning but is a very poor substitute for having a solid teacher right there. Having someone stop you and your partner part way through the swing out and tell you what you should be feeling worked wonders for me. These bits are crucial to getting the physics of the move right and when I felt the move working, my academic geek** and my dance geek exploded at the same time!

2) You can think you have something down when you really don’t and that’s okay. This point was not based on the swing outs as I knew they weren’t really right. I did, however, think my lindy circle was pretty solid. Thankfully I had Chris as a follow in rotation early on and he showed me how I’d been stepping wrong. They now flow much better (thank you!). I expect to be making improvements to every move I have or will encounter for a long time. Swing outs even more so.

So now I’m dead excited about the next lesson, because I so want it to include swing outs from open.

I skipped Solo Jazz this week. They were covering the Shim Sham. If I hadn’t already learnt it for last week then I would definitely have gone along as it seems to be the most played social dance jazz routine. Plus it’s cool. That said, me and the break step decided to take some time away from each other after last Tuesday so I gave the lesson a miss. I still joined in (with everyone else) when it came on during the social though. I mean it is the Shim Sham.

This meant more time for social dancing. This was nice because knowing you have an extra 45 mins seems to calm things down a bit. It was nice to sit and chat to people. I met a nice phd student (they are everywhere!) who’s subject I can remember but name I can’t. I also caught up with a few other people. Don’t tell anyone but we talked about stuff that wasn’t dance related.

The dances during the social were also great fun! Obviously I practiced my swing outs. They are so much swingier (it’s a word now) when you get that tension in the arms! I enjoyed every dance and I keep trying to look up from the floor. At the moment this feels like it’s going to be a lifelong struggle!

One thing I did notice is that three times I got caught out when a song ended before I thought it would, which often meant I just finished a song in closed and did a quick Jazz Hands to cover it up. That’s what they are for right, kind of like pouring loads of icing sugar over a cake you just burnt? This is the complete opposite to last week where I was getting caught out thinking the song had finished when there were at least eight more counts. Clearly I need to work on recognising this, as per Paula’s great advice last week. Ending the song appropriately is clearly part of the demon that is musicality.

Also worth noting is I took a Blues dancing lesson this week on Monday. Already my posture is a bit better (I would hope so as that was the point of the lesson!). Also, given how slow the music seems compared to what we generally dance to on a Tuesday, I’m learning to be more relaxed, more flowy (also a word now) and to actually fill out the counts rather than rush them. I’m sure this will bleed through into better Lindy too.

I’m off to watch Strictly. I hear they are doing a different kind of dance for the pro routine this week. It’s an awesome dance form and I am in no way biased 🙂

Dan

*Relatively speaking. Plus we haven’t covered swing out from open yet and I am super excited because now my swing out from closed is much better my ones from open feel very limp.

** It’s been over 10 years since I got my degree. Any mention of physics now excites me disproportionately.

What does Dan do when he is allowed out of his ‘Quiet time box’?

Other than dancing and working, Dan loves to play board games with his friends. There is a whole world out there beyond monopoly where you can work together to fight global diseases, build your own space empire, or act like proper Romans by making gladiators fight and stabbing your friends in the back. My current favourite is Dead of Winter. A game where you can fight zombies as a ninja (or an accountant!), hoard medicine whilst your friends look at you suspiciously and face the moral dilemma of whether or not to kill a horse for food. Don’t ask what’s in the stew…

 

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!!

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.