sWinging It – Week 19

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

 

Weeks 18 & 19 (New Term)

Both these weeks have been very similar to me in terms of what I’ve done, (Manchester and Mersey each week, with some added social fun at Ruby Blues in Liverpool last Wednesday) and how I’m feeling about my Lindy at the moment.

Overwhelmed and frustrated!

This isn’t because the routines we have covered so far are too difficult. They are tricky (especially the Manchester ones recently) but I’ve found that by the end of the lesson I have it to a place where, if I could practice more, it would be ok. It’s just because now there is a lot more going on.

Take Mike and Kate’s routine from week 19. In that one session concepts that were new to me were:

1) Varying energy in the rock step to signal/get a ‘quicker’ cross over.

2) Leading your follow in a direction where you aren’t strictly speaking going yourself (right towards the end I felt like I’m kind of bringing the follow towards whilst moving out of the way at the same time and I’ll be honest I’ve still not figured that bit out).

3) Breaking the comfortable beginner pattern of ‘rock step, triple, step-step, triple’. I’ve come to the conclusion now that this basically doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the correct step on the correct counts to make sure you (and your weight) are in the correct place and you are moving nicely with the music.

4) Moving your connected hands in time with the music for certain steps (this was right at the end).

And that’s on top of actually learning the routine. Oh and there is most likely more stuff that was new that I’ve just forgotten about before typing this up.

There is SO much to learn. SO much to get better at. And I can’t learn it all.

This is where the feelings are coming from. Overwhelmed (and a little excited) by how much there is to learn and frustrated that I can’t do it. I’m a quick learner (I like to think) and when I don’t get something I will go at it again and again until it works. I can’t do that here.

It’s hard to practice these routines during social dancing when you are navigating the floor and you actually would like to fit what you are doing to the song (still working on that…). It’s impossible to practice completely at home unless you have a partner because knowing if you got something right relies so heavily on seeing your partner move and feeling the connection, especially when you are trying for compression and stretch.

I almost gave up Solo Jazz for a while to get a bit more social dancing action in the hopes of helping consolidate these things. Thankfully I realised that was crazy. Take the one thing I am getting good at and drop it to feel more frustrated about the other stuff I want to work on… Not my best plan.

I’m sticking with the Solo Jazz. In fact I’m pouring more energy into it at home again. I need to balance out the frustration. Fortunately, the Manchester p__p (censored) walk routine this week was a lot of fun and quite rejuvenating after a really tricky class. On the classes front I’ll just make sure I get a few things out of it to think about and work on. The reality is if I get one thing out of a class I’m making progress. I like to really learn everything and consolidate stuff so I feel like I know it (spot the internally competitive one…) but I need to realise this just ain’t happenin’.

So more Jazz and more patience.

Let’s see what the next few weeks bring.

Dan

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sWinging It – Week 17

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

 

Week 17 (New Term)

My week looked like this:

Monday: Blues (Basement Blues Manchester)

Tuesday: Lindy (Manchester Lindy of course!)

Wednesday: Lindy (Mersey Swing in Liverpool – I can see this being a new haunt)

Thursday: Lindy (Matt and Phreds – The Gelatos can swing!)

Friday: Pub with Lois, Kunnaya, Tom & Sam (This was a rest night, we didn’t even talk Lindy shop  which is a miracle)

Saturday: Lindy (Mersey Swing Winter Ball!!!)

Sunday: Learn the meaning of Swungover*

 

My body isn’t talking to me anymore. This was an exceptional week and I don’t think I can have another like it for a while!

Tuesday was a record for Manchester Lindy. There were countless beginners giving it a try. Apparently they were three or four (FOUR!) rows deep! I didn’t witness this because I was in the Improver class (I had M People – Movin’ on up stuck in my head which probably shows my age).

I won’t go into depth on what happened on Tuesday because I’m thinking of changing the format of the blog a bit. I’m going to just pull out things I’ve improved, discovered or thought about and how I’m feeling in general. This may mean fewer posts as progress slows down but I honestly don’t know. If this week is anything to go by I have a lot to talk about.

So onto things I’ve noticed:

Following is hard!

We did a bit of this in our lesson and I had done a tiny amount of following before (in a blues lesson) and so had a bit of an appreciation for how hard it is. It is very hard.

People I have spoken to talk about how stressful it is to lead because of the thinking ahead and having responsibility for the structure of the dance etc.

Follows just have a different kind of stress. As far as I can tell they are constantly on the back foot, expected to react quickly to a lead’s signals and can have little to no control over how the dance goes (depending on the lead). To me that is super stressful!

That said I’m not put off following. One of my goals (at some point in the distant future) is to get reasonable at following and be able to do switch dances** because they look like great fun.

Six count isn’t scary any more.

Something I started to notice in social dances this week is that somewhere along the way, my brain has become much better at picking up where we are dancing in the music. To the extent that a lot of the time when things have gotten ‘out of sync’ with starting on the 1; either through excessive six count or just fluffing something up, six count has saved me.

I can take an ‘uh-oh where am I in this song?’ panic situation and lead a bit of six count back to ending on the 8. The really exciting thing about this is that I’m not even consciously thinking about how many or what kind of six count moves I need to do. My dance brain just knows. This must be why all the more advanced dancers just look so effortless. Their dance brains must be bulging with stuff they just don’t need to think about anymore (editors note: no matter how long you’ve been dancing, you still get blank moments! However, we have tricks to help with this stuff, and now you are in Level 2 we’ll soon be sharing the secrets of 2,4, and 10 count moves – aka – ways to effortlessly get back to the 1).

This also gives me hope around things like recognising phrases and leading appropriately to the music for a whole song. At some point, if I keep bludgeoning it with social dancing, my dance brain will pick these up as well!

Solo Jazz is going to be HOT for the next few weeks.

The class was packed 5 rows deep and jammed from end to end. A note to whoever is planning Solo Jazz routines – if this carries on there will be no travelling moves possible! The Solo Jazz routine this week was great! I loved the kick ball change and jump into tick tocks! Oh and the Shimmys!

I cannot do a spin to save my life.

The techniques class in Mersey Swing covered this and I just can’t do it and keep balance (something new to practice at home methinks). I did discover I can do lock turns (thank you Solo Jazz!)

The Winter Ball is amazing.

So many lovely people, so many lovely dances, so much lovely cake!

I’m off to sleep for a week now and grow some new feet.

Dan

*A term coined by Bobby White? A hangover type feeling induced by excessive swing dancing, usually at weekenders etc.

** Dancing where both partners can lead and follow and will switch roles mid way through.

sWinging It – Week 14

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

 

Week 14 (Lesson Week 11)

I’m typing this out quickly before my Tuesday evening starts. I’ve noticed something about what I’ve been typing recently and also what I’ve been dancing. I think they are linked. I’m going to see how it goes tonight (so I’m typing this out now in order not to get any retrospective bias in here) but here’s the context.

I wasn’t completely honest last week. I said I enjoyed the social dancing and, on one level, I did. That said, after some reflection at home a couple of days later, I realised that I was unhappy with a few of the dances. They were really bad. I’m risking a telling off from Chris here by apologising to any follows that got a raw deal last Tuesday but I justify myself by claiming I wasn’t even really dancing (which you don’t apologise for!) but just stupid practicing. I can do that at home.

I realised this when I was practicing my Solo Jazz and really not enjoying it. It was also going badly. I knew I could do better. I had done better. The only time I was enjoying dancing on my own was when I was just randomly dancing to some other music. The rest had gone stale.

And I think the last few blog posts have probably been a bit stale too. I think I’ve been overly focused on technique in my dancing and my blogging. I’m not leaving room for anything else, including enjoyment (how sad). So I had to go and re-learn a lesson I had taught myself without noticing (and then forgotten without noticing) way back around week 4. At the risk of invoking that word, it is probably the first and most important lesson in musicality (IMHO).

Listen to the damn music, and feel it!

I tried it at home. My Solo Jazz suddenly feels awesome again. I did it at Basement Blues* on Monday and it felt awesome too. Working on technique has its place. I’ll work it to death in the classes and clinics etc. But when I’m dancing, for now, it is going to stay at the back of my mind.

I’m trying it tonight. I’m excited. First ever lesson excited.

Let’s see how this goes…

 

 

Oh yeah! Every dance I had last night was fun! Oh some things got messed up (I’m only 3 months in!) but every dance felt good. Some highlights are:

A dance with Katy (Patient Lady – now with correct name spelling!) where we both just changed the footwork timing & styling together (turns out it’s easy when you listen to the music). Also throwing in a Texas Tommy from the class earlier and getting a surprised smile (maybe I’m getting closer to that awesome great satisfactory dance I boldly promised some weeks ago?!)

Dancing with Beck** and ending the song bang on time with a kick the dog. You know the dance went well when you are high fiving at the end! Paula – I found the end of a song! (Woooo! I’m so proud – Paula) Still struggling with the drawn out endings but I’ll get there.

So I feel like I have recovered my mojo. That is a real relief!

Other great things from this week include:

As said above, learning a Texas Tommy. My favourite part of the lesson was Andy W showing how to switch from the right hand to the left at the end of the move. You probably had to be there but I found it really funny! I can’t (won’t) tell you how but it’s a masterful sleight of hand.

Solo Jazz with Kate and Mike! I had heard tales in Pedro’s just that evening of Mike’s scatting whilst teaching. Now I have experienced it first-hand. It made some footwork and timing that was more complicated than normal SO EASY TO LEARN. I am now a big fan of scatting to help with dancing. It hasn’t happened yet but this will likely be something else I end up doing on the streets in broad daylight. Yet another reason for the commuters to fear me.

So back on the up after a little dip.

Roll on next week!

Dan

*This is a blatant plug but you should try Basement Blues if you can make it to Bridge Street Tavern on a Monday night (starts 8.00 to 8.15). I was hesitant because I thought it would be way out of my comfort zone but I’m enjoying it. Half the people there you would recognise from Lindy and the rest are really nice too. Plus, because it’s small at the moment, you know everybody by the end of the class which is nice!

**It turns out Beck was too active on Facebook to get an alias – I recognised her. I think this may have disappointed her a bit. She thought she could be ‘Leopard Print Lady’. She is now.

Tell me more of Dan’s great triumphs!

I can say llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch without spitting on anyone – we moved to North Wales when I was seven and I had to go on intensive language training. The taxi driver made us sing it. They are serious about their Welsh there.

I didn’t pick up a Welsh accent during my 11 years there (I love the South Wales accent but the North Wales accent is not good).

The idiot who picked on me for pronouncing lemon like an English person got a lower grade than me in the Welsh first language GCSE. I’m better than him in his own language.

Sometimes it’s the little things that keep us going…

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 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.

sWinging It – Week 5

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly

Week 5

I’ve fallen hard for Lindy Hop. I know this because a few things happened this week

1) I keep opting for the Paul Anka version of Smells Like Teen Spirit because I can practice to it.

2) I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to meet my Mother (who I haven’t seen in a while and was in Manchester for just one evening) without missing the Tuesday lessons.

3) My 7 yr old daughter spontaneously said ‘One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Se-ven.  Eight.’ in that way*.

So I’m a disloyal fan and a bad son but a very proud dad.

I did a lot in week four that wasn’t mentioned / was glossed over in last week’s post. I will be talking about that a little bit. I justify writing about this now by the fact that I am still digesting and using this in week 5 (and most definitely beyond). If you aren’t happy with that you are going to have to pretend I’m Dr Who or something.

Whilst looking for internet sources of support I found (following a link on this site) Swungover and, more useful to me at the moment, its sister site Swing101 (for beginners). My mind has been blown into tiny little pieces. There is a video tutorial on advanced walking! Enough said.

I could be daunted by how much stuff there is to consider in just doing some Solo Jazz basics but fortunately, the videos are very well done and the concepts are well explained (at least I got them). Also, Bobby White (the blogger) clearly has a sense of fun which immediately put me at ease. So throughout week 4 and week 5 I have been practicing some of these concepts as well as what I remember of the Solo Jazz  and the Lindy moves from lessons.

So thank you Bobby White and thank you to whoever put the link on the Manchester Lindy site (Editors note: that’ll be me! Manchester Lindy happily points at a range of online resources via our links page – we are just a tiny part of a global movement and connecting to our local and International community is important to us. Don’t forget to check out our Facebook Discussion Group, our Twitter and our Facebook Fan Page too! Paula)

The thing I’m finding is that the practice doesn’t feel like practice. I’m enjoying it so much that I just want to do it whenever I can. This seems to be ensuring I have a good attitude (for me) towards progress in getting any better. I’m sure that the time I am putting into practicing steps, posture etc. will turn out with me improving but if practicing is this much fun then I’m fine with needing a lot of practice.

I can’t talk about the beginners lesson or the Solo Jazz because I missed them (I cried inside).  I made the social dancing – I wasn’t going to miss everything! Another night of dancing fun. The lesson had covered some 8 count moves which I fortunately had some experience with because of the lessons I had attended in weeks 1-3 (my weeks 1-3, lesson weeks 10-12. This is going to get confusing…).

So I practiced these with some of the other beginners. I asked a lot of people to dance again and when I wasn’t dancing with someone  I was either getting water, doing a few Solo Jazz moves beside the dance floor, or chatting. Another really enjoyable night.

I’m still learning loads of little bits at the social which I’m finding helpful. Tonight was no exception. I got asked to dance during a song that felt a bit too quick for me. A couple of weeks ago I would have probably asked to wait for a slower song. I’m finding I am much more inclined to just go for it – there’s only so many songs before 10.45pm and I’m not inclined to miss many. Plus it’s nice to be asked to dance so I’m not turning anyone down! The very kind follow had two tips. Smaller steps and/or do some Charleston. We did both – thanks!

I’m still enjoying myself. I’m still practicing. I’m still walking into work with swing music on. I’m still practising ‘walking’ and sometimes even ‘advanced walking’ on the way to work. I’m still feeling cool**.

 

Dan

*If you haven’t heard people count like that you probably will soon. Just count out the beats and drag out the seven. To me it feels like I’m saying 7 & 8 like I would dance a triple-step. Am I the only one thinking this (or do my triple-steps really need some work…)?

**I said feeling cool. I gave up on looking cool a long time ago. If this makes no sense then you didn’t go look at the video tutorial on walking.

Who is this guy?

Once a week Dan travels from his home in Bedfordshire to work as an IT contractor in wonderful Manchester. He has a habit of practising footwork on the train and he isn’t sure if this scares or impresses people (OK he knows but won’t admit it). If you want to help Dan to actually impress people then look for the balding guy with the ginger (and white) beard and ask him to dance. He won’t impress you but he will be very grateful.