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 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.