(please do read the previous blog post beofre reading this - https://bsharpblues.weebly.com/bswing-blog/march-22nd-2019)
4. Actual Partnerwork
I was fumbling for a title for this last point. I originally wanted to call it "real vs fake social dancing" but i felt that it was a bit too misleading. This is complicated so let's take it apart and see what all of this means.
In the old days, the men led the dance and the women followed the dance. Sing danced a lot with Frankie in the 90s and tells me that his lead was "very strong and very clear". I think the terms have different meanings from what i would use in class today, but one thing is for sure - Frankie took efforts to lead his partners as best as he could. In today's modern global Lindy Hop scene, there is a lot of ...(for lack of a better word) pseudo-partnerwork. Pseudo means - pretended, not real, so pseudo partnerwork means - dancing that looks like it is really partnerwork but IS NOT. You may ask - as long as they are dancing together it is partnerwork right?? And i would have to agree with you, but also remind you that partnerwork in Lindy Hop terms (or even social dancing terms) is very different from partnerwork in ballet or hip hop, or other types of dances. In Lindy hop (and other social dances as well), partnerwork is predicated on LEAD & FOLLOW, a connection & communication between the 2 partners who are dancing together. I would go so far as to say that this connection & communication, is what is unique about social dancing in general, as opposed to a choreographed ballet (pas de deux) or 2 modern dancers dancing together. The major difference is generally that it is choreographed, whereas in social dancing, it is improvised.
So here, i am going to define partnerwork in Lindy Hop as GENUINE and AUTHENTIC, if there is really
1. Lead and follow (each person in the partnership takes on a specific role and stays with that role & generally does not take upon the scope of the other role in the partnership)
2. (some form of physical) Connection between the 2 partners
3. (some form of) Non-verbal communication between the 2 partners
For Social Lindy Hop to be Genuine and Authentic, i would add
as one of the criteria, and we have discussed improvisation in the previous blog post already.
Already, we can see that partnerwork in ballet or hip hop doesn't meet the same criteria, because there is no specific lead and follow. In a proper lead and follow scenario, one person initiates the movement or step, and the other executes the movement or step as signaled. There is no simultaneous execution of movements or steps because, like when one is driving a car, only one person has the wheel and the pedals, not both of them. A lot of times in these other dances, moves are executed simulatenously in tandem by both partners.
Let's jump to our modern global Lindy Hop scene and discuss the types of dancing possible. B4 we move on, it is useful to understand that these scenarios i am describing run on a scale from MORE TO LESS.
a) Partnerwork steps --- Solo Jazz steps
b) Improvised partnerwork steps and sequences --- choreographed partnerwork steps and sequences
c) Lead & follow that is loaded with communication and signals --- lead & follow which is spacious or empty
Let's take scenario a).
So here, clearly, when there is MORE partnerwork steps than solo jazz steps (if u think of a % like at least 60% partnerwork steps vs 40% solo jazz), then the dance runs closer to "REAL" (actual) partnerwork. We do have a dancer here in Singapore, who loves to dance solo jazz but with a partner. The way this person dances is very unique (no judgement here on this from me - i am purely describing the way this person dances) - in that the dance ends up being mainly solo jazz steps while either being in the typical open position, or the closed position. There is a lot of improvisation on the solo jazz aspect while holding hands or in close hold, but very little traditional partnerwork steps in that one partner (the lead) is giving signals to the other partner (the follow) what is to be done. As solo jazz variations are generally not "leadable", there is no way for the follow to do exactly what this leader is doing. For this particular dancer -the % scale would run roughly between 70 to 90% solo jazz and 30 to 10% lead and follow communication. I have no issue with this dancer wanting to dance like this, i just find that when it reaches this place of 70 to 80% solo jazz - it does not constitute actual partner dancing based on the definitions above, and so i would not call it "partnerwork" even though the positions being used, are the actual positions we use for partnered dancing in Lindy Hop.
Globally speaking, I do see a trend towards greater and greater expression of solo jazz in partnered Lindy Hop. My take on this is very clear - I do not want to call doing solo jazz while holding hands or being connected to another person - PARTNERWORK. I feel that this would be a mislabeling of the term, since historically, partnerwork always involved the above criteria as i have mentioned. I think it is fair to say that there is a scale but a 50/50 ratio is the most i would give before i would call it something like - solo jazz while holding hands. While breakaways were present in the past, the moment the partners got back together, it would be lead & follow all the way till the next breakaway. Solo jazz was generally reserved for breakaways (a generalization but true) and the men really wanted to be dancing with the ladies in those days (the 30s and 40s).
In competitions as well, i find there is no clear cut ruling on the matter of how much solo jazz is too much, and it seems that as long as the partners are holding hands or connected it is considered "partnerwork".
My opinion on this is that it is a bias against dancers who actually lead and follow their partnerwork. I find that doing solo jazz while holding hands or in a partner position to be very much easier than actually leading and following. It would not be fair to equate the required mechanics of leading and following a swingout (for example), with 2 people holding hands and doing footwork variations for 1 eight, or executing a choreographed jazz break together for 1 eight. A complex lead and follow or partnerwork sequence, would require even more effort on the part of the partners involved than 2 partners holding hands and doing variations of solo jazz in various positions for 4 eights or so. Here, i think we have to give credit and respect where it is due - simply because lead and follow partnerwork does take more effort than "partner solo jazz" - no matter how much fancy the "partner solo jazz" is and how much more visually appealing it looks. Literally, solo jazz while holding hands is an individual dance for 2 reasons -
1. there is no possible way to communicate complex rhythmic variations to the partner to follow exactly, hence it is more or less individual improvisation and the partners can just do their own thing... (like how hard is that...)
2. if it is done together, it is more likely than not CHOREOGRAPHED and executed simultaneously, and not a lead and follow signal
- and both of these scenarios are easier in terms of effort and difficulty than actual, improvised partnerwork dancing.
I ask my readers to be discerning and aware of what is happening when you watch any performance or competition. Not everything is equal and not everything takes equal effort to put together. A routine heavy on solo jazz choreography, even if its very fast and very fancy, is still easier than an equivalent partnerwork routine done at the same speed or complexity.
We mentioned a little bit about this in the previous blog post but here is the place to elaborate. In the modern global Lindy Hop scene, the norm is couples who teach and perform together exclusively. As they have been working together for a long time, these couples usually develop their own techniques and understandings which are unique to them and not to others. It would not be false to say that not all of the material that they use as leaders or followers could be applied on a general scale to dance with social dancers all over the world globally. That in itself is fine - the couples deserve the right to use whatever technique they want for their workshops and classes and performances. The issue is more that there is no awareness that this is so - many social dancers take class expecting these steps to be usable for social dancing when they are not really. Once again, i ask dancers to be aware and discerning about what they are learning in class. Just because a step looks cool and fantastic, doesn't mean it's gonna be applicable on the social dance floor, and also just because it was taught by so-and-so famous instructor, that it's gonna be applicable on the social dance floor when u try it with another social dancer.
One of the reasons why this is important to bring up, is because it compromises certain situations in social dancing because of the familiarity. This was the case in certain American Lindy Hop competitions in the 2007 to 2011 period. The organizers and judges somehow realized that couples who were dancing with each other on a regular basis produced more stellar looking luck of the draw dances - but it was due to the partners' familiarity with each other that this could happen, not because they were excellent social dancers. Hence a ruling came into place which required that there be a certain amount of time that these teachers or dancers were not teaching and dancing together b4 they be allowed to be paired with each other for luck of the draw contests. Dancers beware, not all luck of the draw contests really feature genuine, authentic social dancing and partnerwork.
When i am looking at a luck of the draw contest - i am looking out for 3 things
1. communication between the 2 partners (how well they communicate as they dance, missed cues, steps did not work out)
2. % of solo jazz to % of lead & follow partnerwork (if there is an emphasis on solo jazz then i do not consider them good partner dancers)
3. Whether the 2 partners have taught and performed together b4 and have a history working together. (once they have, it is hard to tell whether they are actually social dancing or it's coming from their long history of working together with each other - in a Strictly or Choreographed division, this issue would not really crop up, but in a luck of the draw division, this then renders the whole point of social dancing/improvisation - MEANINGLESS)
Once again, it's an issue of giving respect or credit where credit is due - for example, I love Skye and Frida very much, but they do use a great deal of workshop material in their dancing, so on the scale of social dancing and improvisation, it falls somewhere in the middle. I'm not going to give them credit for improvising on the spot when they are executing chunks of workshop material or choreographed material at least 50% of the time they are "social dancing"- i would not call that (improvised) social dancing. I'm not saying anything about their ability to social dance at the high end of the improvisation scale. Both of them have excellent track records as social dancers, and they CAN social dance on the high end of the improvisation scale. I'm just saying, when they are dancing at a workshop or at a competition sometimes, they are not "really" social dancing the way we think they are, with a high level of lead & follow or improvisation, and dancers who watch these videos of them dancing, should be aware of that fact, and not blindly assume that just because they are executing partnered steps, that it is of the same degree and difficulty as the steps being danced on the high end of the social dancing/improvisation scale. I would just like that credit and recognition be given to dancers who are doing their dancing on the more improvisational/lead &follow end of the spectrum, because i think that this is harder and takes more effort than executing choreographed or preplanned sequences, and dancers do not seem to be aware of this issue, but it is really important!!
If we are not careful about this, pseudo partnerwork would then be misconstrued as real partnerwork and luck of the draw competitions would begin to lose their meaningfulness, since luck of the draw contests are meant to test/benchmark, social dancing, lead & follow connection & communication and improvisation. We also need to be aware as dancers, what really is difficult and what is not - so as to give credit and respect to the correct things and not to the illusion of things. We also need to understand that there is a scale and it means that one end of the scale is easier than the other end so we have to be discerning to know which end is which and not blindy assume that steps or sequences executed while holding hands or in typical partnerwork positions are all equally difficult and all fall under "partnerwork".
This is difficult to explain as it is rather technical in nature. Certain leaders (like myself for example) lead in a way where the lead could be called - spacious or empty. It comes about from a certain way of using the frame and structure, as well as a great deal of relaxation especially in the arms. This means that there is an ability to control the amount of information and signals being given to the follow, such that, just like in regular communication, the basis of understanding is that -
If the leading is more empty, it is a less complex/complicated step, or a basic or neutral step.
If the leading is full of information then it is going to be a complex or complicated step or sequence as the leader needs to process and send the information in rapid chunks to the follow in order for the step to be executed without issues.
Here we are talking about improvisation, and not a preplanned or choreographed sequence which the follow is already aware of and has been worked out and practised prior to social dancing. Here the follow is unaware of the sequence of steps and has to dutifully follow the information as it is given by the leader in order to execute the complex step of pattern.
Just like in verbal communication, if you have to say a lot on an issue in order to explain it clearly, it is considered more complex/complicated. If you do not have to say a lot and it can be explained clearly, then it is considered less complex.
So here, the scale would be - If the dance generally consists of steps where the leading is spacious or empty, it would be easier. The steps would be called simple or uncomplicated.
If the dance generally consists of steps full of signals and information, then it would be a complicated or complex dance. Linking this to effort and skill, it is obvious that when it veers towards complex/complicated, it takes more effort and more skill. Bringing it back to social dancing and improvisation, if the social dance was more full of steps with more complexity then it would be more difficult than a choreographed routine of equal complexity simply because of the factor of the improvisation.
I would also like to mention here - that is why some leaders are easier to follow and some leaders are harder to follow. It depends very much on the complexity of their leading and the steps that they choose for their social dancing. When the leading is full of information, followers sometimes feel that they have not a moment to breathe or switch off as the leading information comes fast and furious at them for them to execute. Following the logic here, it means that followers who can follow complex steps are more skillful than follows who cannot.
This is also important to say here -
I am not saying a that a complex or complicated dance is necessarily a better dance, i'm just saying it takes more effort and skill to execute, and we give credit for the effort and skill. Just like in cooking, a dish could be really complex and have many ingredients and take many steps to prepare, but even after all of that, one might not like the taste of the dish. But that doesn't negate the effort and skill required to prepare the dish. Whether or not one likes the dish, has no bearing on the effort or skill required to make it. That's the recognition i am asking dancers to become more aware of. If we look at the scenario closely, we see that in many cases, many instances, we value the skill and effort it takes to do something. Why do we not apply this to our dance as well? Why do we not apply this discerning perspective to our social dancing as well? We apply it to food, we apply it to products, we apply it to services, but we do not readily apply it to dance. We scrutinize products and services for best value, best quality, best materials or ingredients, and we recognize these qualities by paying according for them - we are happy to pay for perceived quality or skills, but here, we do not readily recognize what is actually difficult or skillful in dancing, and we are easily misled by fancy and aesthetic looking performances and routines with lots of solo jazz and footwork over more difficult and requiring-more-skill partnerwork and improvised dancing. Why is that? I think it's time to be educated on this so we can be clear on what we are dancing, and that ultimately bodes well for our dance in general, as the dancers globally become more discerning and more aware of what really needs to be understood.
I hope this blog post has brought to light the complexities of improvised dancing, especially in the area of partnerwork, and brought to your attention that not all partnerwork is the same or equal in terms of skills or effort required. I hope it has allowed you to see a bigger perspective on the use of solo jazz within partnerwork, or the use of choreographed sequences in partnerwork. All these things have their place in our dance. It is just important to understand where. It is also important to be discerning about the different ways of dancing partnerwork in that some ways inherently require more skill and effort than others, or are more difficult and complex than others. This way we can give credit where credit is due, and not lump everything under the same umbrella. Should you have questions, come and speak to me when you see. Till the next time.
In this blog post, i thought i would take time out to write about some of my own ideas, beliefs, principles and values with regard to topics in Lindy Hop. I would call this series "About B".
A little bit about me
Although BSL is a relatively new venture, I have been dancing July 2001, and have been teaching in Singapore professionally since 2006. During 2001 to 2005 I was part of NTU's Kinetics Lindy Hop club, in various roles including as a performer, choreorgrapher and committee member. Later, after leaving NTU I taught under Jitterbugs Swingapore as one of the "teacherbugs" until Jitterbugs no longer ran adult classes.
I also taught at NTU in an official capacity for many years. The history behind this is privy to me because I was part of the original committee who awarded the contract for teaching to Sing & Jitterbugs in 2002. After I graduated from NTU, Sinclair held down the fort at NTU for a couple of years until he longer worked with Jitterbugs in any capacity, then I stepped in as the official teacher from Jitterbugs shortly after. After some years teaching at NTU, i think maybe 5 years or so, i was ready to move on - the commute was long and the pay not great.
I had a discussion with Sing to tell her i was wanting to stop, and in good faith, we decided that it would be a good opportunity to pass on the teaching post to a young and enthusiastic dancer who wanted very much to teach. Sing also graciously awarded the contract to this dancer as well, so all the money from the school would go to this person.
(Previously, Jitterbugs would take a cut, and as the official teacher from Jitterbugs I was paid the Jitterbugs teachers rate, which was $40/h at that time. I personally thought it was a great opportunity for this person, not in terms of money or convenience, but in terms of learning - learning about humility, responsibility, how to teach, learning about how to learn, learning about managing a group and choreography etc etc. I am the dancer today because i walked down this path of teaching, choreography and performing, all thanks to my time at NTU and the Lindy Hop club there.)
Also i think it was a gift, given that this dancer had no track record as a teacher or anything of note at all other than being super eager to teach, share their own ideas and philosophies and become a teacher. Sing and I valued such enthusiasm hence we made our decision that way. I myself had become a better dancer and a better person by becoming a teacher but I guess not everyone succeeds in this way.
I was also a member of Swing Express, the performance team of Jitterbugs Swingapore from 2005 to 2010, and also performed with many of the groups that Sinclair formed under Jazz Inc. After Sing left Jitterbugs, we teamed up to teach at Timbre at the Arts House, until that was no longer viable, and then BSL was formed shortly after.
One of the reasons why i have remained so obscure is because of my aversion to social media. I prefer face to face communication and do not maintain personal Facebook and Instagram accounts. Mediated communication is not for me. I also prefer to be known for my dancing and teaching abilities rather than being known from pictures taken of me at so-&so event. The dance is very important to me and between being a well-known person who is not a good dancer vs a not well-known but really good dancer, if i had to choose, i would rather be the latter. But social media is happily taking care of the former circumstances so who knows, I may end up becoming both some day.
The current accounts on FB & Instagram are purely for dance and BSL and I make it a point ONLY to post dance related media. Personal media is kept out so you wont find details of what projects I'm working, what social activities i went to, what food i am currently raving about, what clothes/fashion I have just bought - UNLESS these are somehow related to dancing. I prefer it this way. If you want to get to know me as a person, just come talk to me; interact with me face to face. I am generally frank and blunt sometimes so bear that in mind in case you are a sensitive person who gets offended easily.
Come 2019, i will be 39 but I still continue to teach and perform today where-ever i have the opportunity to share my love for this special and unique family of dances. I believe that a dancers' longevity is important, because a lot of us start dancing at a later age, and we have to learn, alongside learning the dance, ways to take care of our bodies, so that we can enjoy this activity well into our 70s or 80s, just as Frankie and Norma did.
Today's "About B" topic
My belief is that -
Improvised dancing is much harder than choreographed dancing and good improvised dancing (that is "real") is way more difficult to achieve than good choreographed dancing.
(In this article, we can assume the terms improvised dancing to be interchangable with social dancing, and choreographed dancing to be interchangable with performance dancing. The latter terms are what we are familiar with in general, and it's easier to simplify the explanation this way for real life relevance and not a abstract discussion where there is no application to what we do with Lindy Hop in real life. The terms are not synonymous, of course, as there is improvised performance dancing and choreographed social dancing, so i would ask the reader to remember that as well.
I am a person who gives credit or recognition based on what i think is difficult [as objectively as i can], because i recognize effort and skill undertaken in order to achieve the required mastery.)
Let's explain the statement above properly and in what context. It is quite specific in its understanding so i will have to define some of the terms used in the statement above for clarity. When the word "factual" or "objective" is used, I use it to mean - "I see it as a matter of fact" and not a "matter of opinion". So for example (as explained below) - I see improvised dancing as "factually" taking more effort than choreographed dancing.
Moving on -
By social/improvised dancing, we mean -
1. non-choreographed dancing. This really has to be explained. To be honest, all social dancing is choreographed because we ALL learn steps that have already been invented. A good analogy - words and sentences. Dance steps are like words. We learn them individually and then string them together to make a sentence. Usually we don't break up the words we know into individual letters and then start making sentences from the individual letters. we use the words in the whole form, and string together longer and longer groups of words, making sentences or paragraphs. A swingout, is 8 counts. This is a fairly long word that we use often. There are shorter words, like 6 count steps, and even shorter words, like 4 count steps. There are also groups of words that we use as a group, like Frankie Sixes (or Frankie Four), which is 4 6ct steps, strung together to make like a little sentence. There is also the "sentence" - 3 swingouts and a circle, which i use very often in my classes. Improvisation...then, really is the stringing together of these words and sentences (and sometimes paragraphs) in a NON-FIXED order. If we strung them together in a FIXED ORDER, then we get what is called a CHOREOGRAPHY - which remains the same because of its fixed order. But because we don't string them together in a fixed order, we call it improvisation. This then, is the main difference between choreography and improvisation, in the context of social lindy hop. You have to understand this b4 we proceed on.
From here, you can already see that, it requires more effort to improvise during social dancing, than to dance to a choreography - based on this idea that a choreography is fixed and unchanging, while an improvisation is constantly changing. Once you are past the initial stage of memorizing the choreography, then the work is done, but with improvisation, you have to redo it each time you dance so that it doesn't remain in a fixed order. This is of course a spectrum - the more fixed your personal arrangement of dance steps and sequences are - the closer it is to a choreography than an improvisation.
The second thing that determines this is whether you use larger or smaller chunks of dance sequences. The larger your chunks, the more it veers towards choreography, the smaller your chunks, the more it veers towards improvisation.
You might not agree with me, but i think that it is far more difficult to improvise with smaller chunks than larger chunks, and it is far more effort to constantly keep changing the sequences than to remain in a fixed order. Let's not factor in things like - how well you memorize, how familiar you are with steps, or how small/large your repertoire of dance steps/footwork/following steps is - lets make all those equal, and then just look at the effort needed to execute a social dance vs executing a choreography (which you have already memorized and each time you perform it it will be the same). So my conclusion here is - Improvisation using smaller chunks is more difficult than improvisation using bigger chunks, which is then more difficult than a fixed order routine, otherwise known as a choreography.
If you have issues with memory work or issues with remembering things in a fixed order, you may well find choreography more difficult for yourself personally than improvisation, but that is a lack of practice in your ability to remember things and not a factual thing that each time you perform a choreography it is the same, but each time you improvise, it is different. That in itself is extra effort aside from your personal issues with learning and memorizing a choreography. I would say that you are just better practiced, at improvising than memorizing. It doesn't make improvisation - factually less effort than choreography if both abilities were equal.
So, coming back to topic, non-choreographed dancing really means - how non-fixed the order is, and how small the chunks of sequences are For myself, I have no basic fixed order and i improvise at the 2 count level. If we go back to the analogy, it means i am making up "words by using individual alphabets", so for dance steps, i am making up dance steps, using 2 count basics. If you don't understand what that means in terms of dancing, that's fine, come take a class with me...but at least understand the analogy here - A large part of my dancing is built from the 2 count level, even big "words"/"steps" like swingout, circle, charleston etc etc.If you have danced with me as a follow, that would explain why I seem to have endless lead variations that are unexpected. But really they are just smaller individual pieces of dance steps than the average leader does, put together in a non-fixed order.
2. Lead and Follow Communication
In a social dance, lead and follow communication always has to be LIVE and present for a good social dance to occur. In performance dancing, especially with routines that are very familiar, the lead and follow dynamic (the physical dynamic that needs to occur to get the step executed) exists, but the communication between the lead & follow for the execution is un-necessary as it is a choreography, planned beforehand and familiar to both parties. There is no need to tell one another, ok this next step is....then after that is .....then after that again is this......All of which is needed for social dancing. In social dancing, the leader has to keep telling the follow through his leading, what's coming up, what's coming up, what's coming up. In a performance, they already know the whole routine start to finish. No need to engage in that. This again, objectively, is extra effort during a social dance, vs a performance dance. When i'm dancing a performance, i just remember my role, and i leave it to the follow to remember her role. I don't need to lead her with 100% focus and accuracy to execute any given step, i can put that extra energy into performance styling or project it to the audience. But if i'm taking care of my follow the way that i do for social dance, 100% of my energy goes there, making sure throughout the social dance she's aware of what's happening, where to go to, what's coming up, preps to make the journey smooth etc etc. So here the scale is -
Again, to me, that's just factual - improvisation just needs one to always be alert and listening, choreography you can switch off this aspect sometimes and use the energy elsewhere if you wanted to. It's just not needed all of the time, another reason why social dancing takes more effort than performance dancing. Once again, let's make all other factors equal. Performers of course put in a lot of energy into a performance and for social dancing we can skimp on that, but if we were to equalize that, it still wouldn't change the fact that this is effort that has to be undertaken when social dancing over performance dancing. I personally try to put in energy into my social dancing so that the level of execution can reach performance levels. What can i say? I like it when it looks nice too.
I know that some of you reading this would say - performance is so difficult, i could never perform and look good or remember choreo but i can social dance so easily week after week. And then it seems like there's no way social dancing can be objectively more difficult than performance. But i put this scenario to you - suppose, you started off as a Lindy hop performer, day after day, you learnt steps and routine and all you did was perform them. After 5 years, someone asks you for a social dance, which you have never done before.
Will it be difficult? Yes.
Will you be unable to improvise smoothly on the spot? Yes.
Will you be stressed and say things like - "my mind blanks out, i can't think fast enough, i dunno what's going on..."? Yes.
Will you actually have fear of social dancing? Yes!
I see this a lot with syllabus tap dancers and musicians. They know how to play a piece or tap a routine, but they CANNOT IMPROVISE. It's so tough for them. Why? It's as tough for them to improvise as it is for you to perform. It's just what you have put time & effort into. I want you when reading this article, to put aside any bias you have that social dancing is easier than performance or vice versa and just read it from the place where you are hypothetically good at both, because that is the context this discussion is placed in, not the context where you assume one is easier or more difficult than the other from your lack of experience and practice with it.
3. Social dancing skills and techniques are not given as much recognition as performance skills and techniques are
I have mentioned this before in short. The main reason for putting this here is because, social dancing is meant to be fun and not meant to be stressful. So we don't put a lot of emphasis on good social dancing skills and we also don't make want to make dancers feel like they are not dancing well - when the point is to go out there and have a really good time. I'm completely aware of that and i want all of you social dancers to have a good time as well - whether or not your technique is good, whether or not you've been dancing for 1 year or 10 years, whether or not you can really lead or follow or not. On the social dance floor, all of that is NOT IMPORTANT. But having said so, that doesn't change the fact that there are social dancers who
- are better than others
- who can lead & follow better than others
- who are clean and precise and beautiful to watch in terms of their social dancing
- most importantly, who feel good to dance with in both a PHYSICAL level (this is about the physical dynamic of the lead & follow connection, that it is smooth, clear, gentle yet firm, caring etc and not jerky, yanky, confusing, staccato, hard, stiff, painful etc) and feel good on a mental/emotional communicative level (in that as they dance with you they are making the effort to communicate with you, not blanking out, not on autopilot, not "somewhere else" and only dancing with you because the job demands it - this is really tough for teachers, especially since they have to dance with so many students at any given workshop)
All i hope for, is that the time and effort put in by these dancers into their social dancing be recognized. I have met international teachers, who because they perform and teach for a living, are average social dancers - simply because the amount of time and effort that they have spent has been put mainly into performance skills and not social dancing skills. On the social dance floor, they are beautiful to look at, but not necessarily a fun and enjoyable dance in terms of communication, engagement, creativity or the physical feeling of connection. Sometimes the leading is very simple and basic, sometimes the connection is a bit strange, sometimes the partner is a bit stilted, sometimes there is no interest to social dance other than for the job....and i understand why. I give them the recognition for their achievements in performance dance, but not when it comes to social dancing. A lot of times, people give RECOGNITION AND RESPECT to these dancers/instructors, automatically giving credit for their social dancing skills because of what they have performed and how they have performed (or even their international reputation as teachers and performers), instead of making this assessment based on having several social dances with them. One of our local dancers told me that she didn't have a good dance with a world famous dance instructor at SLR 2 years ago, and she told me she felt so lousy about that. I happen to know that 2 other people had danced with this instructor and also was not impressed, so given this information, i was more inclined to believe that this instructor was not fun to social dance for whatever reason (no judgement there). But this local dancer automatically assumed that she was at fault because of her poor technique and her poor skills (which may have been the case as well, we can't factor that out) but the reason she gave me was - she's just a local dancer and the leader is a world famous teacher, so based on this reasoning, SHE HAD TO BE THE WRONG ONE. This i completely disagree with. Don't jump to conclusions based on the reputation and name of the instructor alone - that's such a biased perspective, and the wrong kind of mentality to have. Such thinking compounds the problem. These are 2 different skill sets that do overlap, but they are distinct enough. Very few teachers are very good at both.It could also be possible that the teacher is at fault, keep it as impartial and open as possible and don't jump to either side of the equation - that it must be you who was wrong, or that it must be the teacher who was wrong. Look at it objectively and ask other people for their experiences and observations. Don't just assume.
There's more to come, but i will post the continuation another day as the next section could end up being a bit long on it's own and i think, deserves more attention as it covers a big area. See you on the dance floor in the meantime!
- end of part 1 - B.
On the first Friday of Feb 2019, we had the Lindy Train graduates of 2018 perform their final choreography pieces as part of their graduation from the year-long Lindy Train program. Our aim at Lindy Train was to cultivate better dancers overall, but our emphasis was on helping dancers become more self-aware and more intentional when they dance. We used a combination of tools and devices to help them progress, one of which was performing. In this blog post I want to write about the performative aspect of Lindy Hop and help our dancers understand more about this aspect, especially in relation to social Lindy Hop. So you will see social Lindy hop being mentioned a lot in this post as well.
Before we start, I want to make it very clear that the roots of our dance, DO NOT LIE IN PERFORMANCE. This is not necessarily the case for other vernacular dances of the 1930s. For example, the roots of TAP, do lie in performance dancing. Lindy Hop and its predecessors, were first and foremost, SOCIAL DANCES. This just means that people danced them to have fun, as recreation, as part of gatherings, as part of culture and not to perform, entertain or make a living. Therefore, even till today, the heart of Lindy Hop is social dancing, not performance lindy hop, which is an aspect that came about later on, when it was possible for African-Americans dancers who were dancing a lot of Lindy Hop, to break into the entertainment industry in the 1930s in American and begin to make a living as entertainers. In other words, the main motivation for the African-Americans at that time to perform was to get work by dancing the Lindy Hop, which they were ALREADY DOING SO SOCIALLY, at the various ballrooms they were dancing in. You can read between the lines in Norma and Frankie's autobiographies about this period of their lives, when they were dancing at the various ballrooms before they were scouted and recruited by Whitey to be part of his performance team.
The video clips that we have, from After Seben to Hellzapoppin' are all performances, in other words, these were staged for the camera. To what extent the dancing was changed as a result of that, we do not know and probably will never know. In the documentary the Spirit Moves, you can find clips of social dancing at the Savoy in the 1950s. I also do not want to give the impression that how they danced socially, was different from how they danced for performances. At this stage, i don't have enough information to make any strong conclusions. I can only say that with regard to Frankie, for example, he had plenty of what i like to call pocket routines, which were chunks of steps that he had put together and even when he did social dance, you would see these little chunks of choreography pop out - rearranged in terms of sequences and perhaps minor changes here and there, but the general form of the pocket routine would be recognizable. So from the 1930s, there would always be this link between performance lindy and social lindy, because a lot of what the Whiteys Lindy Hoppers used for their performances, they also used in their social dancing and at this stage, without living oldtimer dancers to speak to, the information is scant and we will have to hear from other oldtimers about this topic to have a clearer view of it.
Moving on, let's come to our modern day context of Lindy Hop.
All of us, start Lindy Hopping socially. I think very few of us, start Lindy Hop wanting to perform or become a teacher. And this follows the history of the dance. Lindy Hop was one of the ways the African-American people expressed themselves and social dancing was a night out for them, of enjoyment and festivity. In a modern day context, there are dancers who see lindy hop as a way to make a living, and hence very early on in their dancing journey, start competing and start performing in an effort to break into this industry where you can make a living by being a lindy hop teacher/dancer. To be honest, i don't think highly at all of teacher/dancers who are great performers and competitors, but are average or mediocre social dancers. I think that social dancing should be as exciting as performance dancing. If u get more excited watching a performance than getting a good social dance, then you are really different from me. I way way way prefer getting a good social dance than watching a great performance. One of the things that was important to Frankie was how good a person was as a dancer. It's hard to say this without sounding offensive in modern day context, but for some of the dancers from Whiteys', if you weren't a good dancer, they would probably not take notice of you and not ask you for a dance. Mickey Davidson tells this interesting story of how this silent tradition was maintained all the way until the 80s, when she started learning the lindy hop. It took Frankie a whole year to ask Mickey to dance, because all of that time was probation of sorts. Today, we don't make such distinctions, we dance with anybody who asks, teachers and newbies alike. I'm not saying this is right, I'm just making a factual comment that this tradition existed. It's important that a teacher/professional Lindy Hopper be an excellent social dancer. I think if a teacher is not good at social dancing, he or she doesn't understand the heart of Lindy Hop and probably also doesn't know the history - that its roots lie in social dancing and therefore social dancing is important to Lindy Hop.
In today's context, social dancing and performance dancing has become more differentiated than before. In Frankie's time, there was more of an overlap as i mentioned previously. Today though, from my experiences, i find that distinctions are being made between social and performance dancing by many teachers/professionals. In 2016, I attended a workshop with Skye and Frida, who are both great performers and great social dancers. I recall a student asking Frida a question about the routine/class material, and the question was - "How do i do this in my social dancing?" And Frida replied (my paraphrasing of course), "What we teach is not necessarily to be used in social dancing, it is more to teach about rhythm and movement, not so much about social dancing or how to social dance". You can read into the implication there - the class material doesn't work 100% in social dancing, simply because it was not designed with social dancing in mind. Here we come to something very important to say very clearly -Dancers today need to understand that the material they learn in class, is not necessarily useful or applicable to their social dancing. I find that dancers take class thinking that they are going to become better dancers by learning new steps and new material, but the fact is that some material is simply not meant for social dancing. This would be useful for dancers wanting to become performers or teachers, but less useful for dancers who are wanting to better themselves as social dancers, since it is true that not all dancers are wanting to become teachers/performer. Most are wanting to just become good social dancers, because they go social dancing 3 times a week, and social dancing is what they do for most of their dance journey.
Another incident that brought this distinction to the fore really clearly was a dance i had with Skye at that event. After class, i had asked him about the class material, so he danced with me to show me. His lead was very light, so i asked him - "Is this how you dance with Frida?" and he said, "Yes". Later on, at night, i asked him for a social dance. His lead was very different from what he had led me in class, even for the same step, say the tuck turn. There could be many reasons for this (first and foremost being - I am not Frida!!), but it is my conclusion that he uses different technique for different situations. Nothing wrong with that, just that it seems that there is indeed this distinction between social dancing and performance dancing. So i think it's important for dancers to know where they are heading (for themselves) and what sort of material they are learning, so they can make the best of it. It just would not work out, to blindly test out class material unsuitable for social dancing, on the social dance floor and be dismayed by the results.
There is also an issue of teachers material being isolated to how the 2 specific partners would dance with each other, like in the case of Skye and Frida, but not how they would dance with other people socially. This too is not an issue as long as people are AWARE of it. It's just that when in class, dancers are not aware of this and tend to think that the material/steps/technique they are learning can be universally applied and it will work on the social dance floor...because there is this assumption that all good dancers lead like Skye and all good follows follow like Frida, so if we take any step from their class, any dancer who is "good" should be able to lead and follow. That is an oversimplification and is not true.
Haven't we all had the experience where only 1 person went to an overseas workshop, came back with steps/material and then upon trying to lead/teach it, find that it fails completely or doesn't work out as it was supposed to?
Clearly there are many reasons for that, skill level being the first, but i would also like dancers to consider that --
1. teachers sometimes teach very specific things that only works for that particular couple and they way they dance/perform
2. the steps are not always tailored with social dancing in mind
3. teachers may dance differently from what they teach in class in a social setting, whereas the technique they teach in class is what they use for their performance and competition dances.
-- before getting disappointed with how the step is turning out, why is it not working, how come i can't lead/teach it... etc etc
The only suggestion i have for dancers who are in this stage of their journey is to understand that different teachers/teaching couples use different techniques, and to really try and read between the lines when you are in class. How is this material to be used? How can one get an understanding of the teachers' philosophy of dancing from what is being presented and taught in class? What is the basis of this material? What is the preference of the teachers - are they tending more towards a performance paradigm or more towards a social dancing paradigm? A lot of what we watch on Youtube today is performance dancing. A lot of times we see something that amazes us and we think - i gotta learn that or i wanna dance like that - not realizing that what we do is social dancing, and what we are seeing is performance dancing, and the two are very different and not interchangeable at times. Even for luck of the draw competitions, i don't find that the dancing done there is the same kind of social dancing done when it's not a competition and no one is watching. So we have to be very clear that luck of the draw dances are also...different from the type of social dancing when no one is watching and its just you and your partner on the dancefloor - no cameras, no judges, no other competitors. The kind of social dancing that all of us are doing if we are not teachers/performers or professionals. The same kind done at the Savoy, and the kind that is at the heart and root of Lindy Hop.
Performance is important to the dance (the dance as an artform, not the dancer as a person) for 2 main reasons.
1. It gives visibility/publicity to the dance and helps draw attention and funding to the dance to allow its continued existence
- All artforms perish without human support and involvement. By increasing visibility and publicity, performances draw new people to the dance which then keeps the dance alive. It's that first impression or first look, that hooks people in, and keeps their attention long enough for these people to find out more about the dance, the music, the community and the wonderful experiences and benefits that come with being a Lindy Hopper. The commercial nature of this world and it's financial system necessitates that this artform be self-sustaining in terms of its ability to be financially viable, and performance is an integral part of that.
2. It creates evolution & progress in the dance as performers try and find new things to say about the Lindy Hop artistically.
- Even where re-creations of old routines are concerned, this does further the dance - if not these old routines might be lost to time, and in the process of recreating an old routine, sometimes new steps and movements are brought to the fore, thus spearheading evolution of the dance. Good performances also inspire dancers to improve themselves by showing what humans can achieve when they put their minds to it and is a testament to the creativity and possibility humans possess as creative beings. This keeps the dance alive and renewing itself, so that it does not fall into stagnancy and become obsolete.
Some people might interpret that as - we must always be inventing new steps and styles in order to keep lindy hop relevant and fresh. I don't think so and i want to make it clear that the evolution of Lindy Hop is not solely based on inserting new steps and styles into the existing dance. This article is not the place to go into that rather difficult discussion, but i thought i should make it clear here before someone thinks that is what i meant by the above statement.
At the individual level, performing is a fantastic tool and super useful in improving all aspects of one's dancing when used correctly. I find that a lot of times, performances force dancers to revisit basics and practice precision, both of which are important for social dancers as well. Performer also have to train aesthetics and styling, and this then gives their social dancing a beautiful refinement visually. It makes social dancers become aware of their lines, postures and shapes and this is what we see when we watch international teachers social dance. We are awestruck by how visually appealing their dancing is, and this is due in no small part to having practiced a great deal, most likely in preparation for performances.
At the individual level, the motivations for performing are as varied and personal as each person's unique character is. Some people do use performance as nothing more than a tool to refine their dancing, others like to be in the limelight and have that extra attention showered on them, fulfilling certain ego desires, whilst still others perform out of a necessity to increase publicity and visibility for the dance, just to keep it alive and going on. It is not necessary to discuss these varied motivations and desires - what each individual gets out of performing, because all are legitimate to the person themselves, and we don't judge these things unless there is harm done to others while going about the process.
I can, however, discuss certain aspects of performing that are important to the dance as an artform and not pertaining to the individual performing. What i mean is the performance shows the dance as an artform by treating the routine as a work of art, as opposed to a social dance for recreation or leisure. Now, these 2 qualities are not mutually exclusive, some of the finest instances of Lindy Hop as an artistic form i have seen are social dances, not performances routines. A lot of time though, I see dancers using the form of Lindy Hop as a means to express themselves artistically without having thought about the essence of the dance that is Lindy Hop. It is a bit like a sculptor who works with clay but really not knowing the properties of clay, and trying to create art pieces from that, or a fashion designer who knows very little about cutting, patterns, tailoring and textiles while still trying to design clothes. There is nothing wrong with self-expression per se, that's part of the point. But dancers & performers have to remember that lindy hop is not a blank canvas for them to write on, it has a 100 year history and has its own unique character and flavour, which has to be understood and worked with in order to create new work. A really good example is the desire to dance lindy hop to modern music. Many dancers find the music of the 30s and 40s boring or difficult to understand and find it easier to express themselves to modern music.As a result they find it more enjoyable to dance to modern music than the music of the 30s and 40s. These dancers, usually (not always but usually) are the ones who don't understand the dance and want to use the dance for their own artistic expression without having understood the unique character of this dance. They then take the external form of the dance, it's steps, it's postures, its rhythms, it's styling, and then place them into music that they find they can understand best. Once again, as pertaining to the individual, this has no ramifications. You can do whatever you like if you like it, but as a performance pertaining to the artform, it doesn't showcase that rich 100 year history & culture.
All performers are ambassadors of the dance. They carry the responsibility to present the dance in a way that has considered its unique character and flavor and also to showcase the dance in the best light they can, so that others may come away appreciating not only what they think is beautiful or wonderful about their dancing, but what is intrinsically beautiful and unique about this dance called Lindy Hop.
At this point it is important for me to make clear that i am not against performing or dancing to modern music, or getting inspiration from modern things like K-pop or whatever and putting it in your dancing/performances, neither am i against dancers taking artistic licenses to create what they really feel inside using the form of Lindy Hop. I also have no issue with dancers wanting to present non-traditional or non-authentic forms of Lindy Hop as how they like. I would just like that all dancers and performers consider it's 100 year old history and culture before doing so, and then after taking that into consideration, make their decision on whether to be traditional/authentic or not, and then craft their artwork/their dance and name it appropriately. If you have been inspired by K-Pop to include k-pop steps, stylings and music in your Lindy Hop performance, make sure that it is called Lindy-K-Pop fusion, or a name that accurately reflects the (non-traditional) nature of your performance/choreography. To call it Lindy Hop is misleading and is actually a misrepresentation of the specific form of Lindy Hop that has a this 100 year history. To use modern steps, stylings and aesthetics to a period song from the 30s also does not qualify as authentic or traditional. If that's how you like to dance it, call it your style (of Lindy Hop), but don't call it (traditional/authentic) Lindy Hop.
The beauty of Lindy Hop, to me, comes from the specific values and ideas of the 1930s and 40s. Lindy Hop was at its zenith at that time and it's unique and colourful character was clear for all to see. As dancers in a modern context we have to start by understanding the history and culture of the 1930s and 40s, in order to get a good understanding of the dance so that we can be respectful when we create our own performances & choreographies . We are not restricted or limited to stay with what has come before but we have to respect it so that future generations of dancers will always be able to find the roots when they want to. They can then "go back and seek out" through watching the different performances what is the essence of Lindy Hop, and then carry that forward in their own artistic ways. By choosing to be clear about what we are dancing and what we are performing, we provide a clear path, almost like a reference library, for this dance as it has evolved through the ages, and how it has evolved in many different ways as well. This clarity of performance intention & nomenclature will allow future generations to see clearly what is traditional and what is modern, what is authentic and close to the roots vs what is progressive and avant-garde and provide all future dancers the choice to select from the rich tapestry of this dance what they need artistically to move forward as dancers, seeking out the best means to express themselves.
"How Do I Become A Good Dancer?"
Is what i hear many students asking teachers. The answer usually is "Practice!" but i think many students and aspiring dancers don't fully understand what practice means.
Let's start at the beginning and hope that this blog post will demystify many things about becoming a good dancer.
There are somethings we have to get out of the way STRAIGHT AWAY - like, right at the beginning of the article and those are -
1. Definition of "GOOD"
Because Good means different things to different people, always check what "good" means to YOU (yourself) when embarking upon a journey to becoming a good dancer. What other people offer will be their measures, values, benchmarks and standards, which will both differ and overlap with your personal values of "good". Because different people want different things in their dance, what each defines as good will be unique to themselves and it should be something that you yourself, come to define for yourself. What other people share with you should always be treated as reference information and not the "only truth/standard". I believe very much that this is one of the most important parts of any dancer's journey because
i) this is the only way to come into your own as a dancer and person, and not just as a mishmash of whatever teachers and classes you followed/took. Everyone has to grow up and be themselves someday and this applies not only to children becoming adults, but also to young dancers becoming mature dancers.
ii) it really helps one clarify what is important to you as a dancer and then streamlines/informs/shapes what you do at socials or events and helps you find the sweet spot that lets you feel secure, comfortable and satisfied with what level of dancing you are at and where to go with your dancing.
A second definition of "good" in terms of technical ability is that one has to be able to demonstrate clearly the action involved, i.e. "be good at it", before one can define that action as being "good". So if you want to know if you are good at a particular step or footwork, or good at connection, or good at musicality, you have to be able to demonstrate it clearly and it should be easy for the people watching you to understand what you are doing. So similarly, when we apply the word "good" to a dancer, this dancer must be able to demonstrate clearly and consistently/repeatably that he/she can move well, express and interpret the music well, lead and follow well, execute the steps well.
2. Practice in the form of repetition and drills is UNAVOIDABLE.
No one likes to hear this, but it is true. I do not know of any skill which doesn't hone itself through repetition. When a guy goes to the gym for the sake of building muscles for a nice appearance, they do reps. Women put on makeup to look nice everyday - it's practically a ritual. Repetition is the key to so many things in our lives, daily or not, so why would it be different here in dance? Being unrealistic about that is a recipe for disaster straight away. If you can't accept this fact, it's time to stop reading and forget about becoming a good dancer - because i don't know how else to help you achieve that goal, seriously.
The real issue is not really practice, it's the
i) lack of time (i hear this reason all the time)
ii) don't know how to practice (i hear this one fairly often)
iii) practice is boring (usually not applied to dance but applied to things like ...school work or something in our childhood that then gave practice a bad reputation in our heads)
iv) i'm scared to practice wrongly so i want to be super sure about what i'm practicing before i start practicing (so that i can get it right and don't need to practice so much)
3. Natural Talent
Some people are more gifted than others and pick up things faster. Others are slower at learning things and that is fine - don't beat yourself up because someone who has been dancing a shorter time than you appears to be better (or even actually better) than you. At the same time, i have seen people with good natural talent...learn slowly because their mindset or learning mentality/system is poor and inhibits their ability to do better.
Let's address the issues under "PRACTICE".
i) Lack Of Time
I want to be blunt here so sorry if its hard to hear but sometimes the real issue is not a lack of time but a lack of good planning with regard to how people want to spend their time. I spoke a little about priorities in my last blog post and i just want to say again here that becoming good at anything requires a commitment to getting down and doing it. Think of it as goal setting that you must follow through with and not like New Year Resolutions that you make and then forget about. If being a good dancer is important to you, prioritize it, make it something that you will do, something that you will commit to. That's the first step. Plan out a schedule, set aside time, get a friend to practice with you etc etc.
When that is not the issue, or no longer the issue...then we come to the next part here, which is really, not having enough time because one is so busy with work or with family.
My advice here is just to make the most of whatever dancing time you get. It has been my observation that most dancers just come to socials and have fun. You might go "duh!!" And yes, i get that. I get that dancing is recreational for you and that the whole point of dancing is about enjoying yourself, of course - so when you come social dancing, the main priority is to maximize fun or enjoyment. That's fine in and of itself. No argument there. I m just saying, if you are one of those that is strapped for time and social dancing once or twice a week is all you can cobble out for dancing BUT you STILL WANT to become a good dancer, then the answer is to practice during the social dances that you attend. Say u attend one of the many social nights a week here in SG. Each social is about 2 hours +/-. Make a commitment to practice at least 30 mins out of the 2 hours that you are dancing. How do you practice while you are social dancing? Pick something specific that you want to work on, like styling, or a footwork, or a particular step that you have been trying to get right. And practice it. This is especially useful for follows working on styling and footwork. Both of these things are usually generic enough that you can practice it with the steps you've been given by the leader. If you want to practice bigger twists, every time the leader leads a swingout - right there - An Opportunity to do the bigger twists. How many swingouts do you do a night? maybe 100? well, that's 100 times you get to practice your big twist or twist styling a night. Don't waste it. Same goes to the leaders for styling or footwork. I need to work on my arm swing during my swingout. Well, how many times do I do a swingout a night? 200? Great. 200 repetitions for the arm swing. For leaders practicing a step, the important thing is to try it repeatedly, say 4 or 5 times, during each social dance and be aware of how you are leading it, that's the only way to correct anything. Different follows will give u different responses and try to see what went well or didn't go well each time u led it. After 4 dances, u would have tried out the step 15 times. That's usually enough of a feedback loop to give u some info on how u are doing with the step. Repetition. Keep doing it until u get it right. This applies to anything.
Sometimes i hear - "I need a (specific) partner to get it right." For this statement we to look at the context of the step you are trying to get right -
The contexts where this applies -
1. Very specific teacher material that involves specific technique or frame where you would really need someone who attended class with you to practice with because of how specific the technique or step is (this is more common than you would think, many teachers teach material based on their own dancing and sometimes it only works between the two of them, and other people, even other teachers would not be able to follow or execute the step. Be careful about material like this)
2. Connection based steps that really require a high level of understanding about lead and follow where the partner has to be fairly skilled for you to get the correct dynamic and connection. In cases like these, u would have to practice with partners who are more skilled and not with beginners or less skilled dancers.
The contexts where this doesn't apply -
1. Steps or techniques that involves you moving in a certain way (even if it affects your partner). Anything that involves you and your own movement/way of movement is completely under your control and ability to practice. Say you need to practice holding your core while you dance. That's all you, u don't need a partner for that, any partner will do. Or you need to step underneath your hips. That's all you too - you don't need a partner for that. That's why footwork and styling fall under this context, it's all you.
2. Solidifying/consolidating your own way of dancing, your personal values and systems. This applies to higher level dancers who are looking to express themselves more fully. This is a challenge to be able to stay true to your values and systems while dancing with anyone. If u have to change the way you dance/express with certain people because you cant maintain your personal desired expression, you NEED more practice doing so, and you cannot do this practicing with one specific person. You need to go and practice with MANY different people.
This is of course non-exhaustive and there are more contexts where you will need to make decisions, but the important thing is that you do. Take the time to weigh/assess the situation and make decisions about it. If in doubt or in confusion, that's the time to go talk to someone else. But always do your own work first before bringing the problem to someone else. Make the effort to try and solve it on your own. That's really helps you grow as a dancer.
ii) Don't Know How To Practice
This really is a misnomer, what people mean when they say this is - the practice is not reaping results so they don't know what's wrong, so they abbreviate that to "dunno how to practice". The key to repetition is to perform the step/sequence/movement over and over and over again while correcting flaws in the execution. If you are not getting it, there are several thing you can do to make a complicated step or sequence easier.
1. Do it slowly. Keep slowing it down until it is manageable for you. Perform the repetitions at a slower speed until your body begins to get used to it and starts to remember the movement. Feel for it, feel what the body feels like when you are performing/executing the step. As the body remembers you will be able to perform the action quicker and quicker. Build up to the required speed. I personally do this A LOT for tap. Tap steps are ridiculously complex sometimes and you really have to do it like 100 times slowly before u speed up by 10%. Then another 100 times before you speed up by 20%. It's a slow process but it works.
2. Break down the sequence or step into its components and practice each component individually. This speaks for itself. You decide how small you need to break it down to and then perform the required repetitions until the body remembers, then you put the sequence back together again. Once again, I find this to be very useful in general, for everything, rhythms, footwork, steps, airsteps...everything. If you attend my classes, this is what i am doing most of the time in class, helping my students break it down and put it back together again.
3. Build awareness of the muscles and body mechanics as you are performing the step. I am not the most qualified person to speak on this, but this is super helpful if you can learn even just a bit of it. I find sometimes that we are too much in our heads - too cerebral, too intellectual when it comes to dance, which is really a body thing. We need to step out of our head by 50% and give over more awareness and responsibility to our bodies. U know the cliche "Men need to get in touch with their feelings?" - well, that's what i would to like to say to the dancers, we all need to "get in touch with our bodies" more and stop being so much in the intellect when dancing or learning dance. How to?? It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss this VERY BROAD AREA. I highly recommend taking bodywork/yoga/pilates/Alexander Technique (many different things) to help you become aware of your body and to connect to it more strongly. As a general piece of advice, i would say begin to take notice of how the step feels, in the weight shift, the dynamic, the muscle activation, the connection rather than thinking about how to do it, or what needs to be done. That hopefully should get you started.
iii) Practice is Boring
This is all in your head. If you have had traumatic school-years experiences where doing repetitive tasks like homework or CCA practice has scarred you for life - I also dunno how to help you .... Many of our impressions and beliefs are formed when we were younger and i think practice and our mental concept of practice is one of those things. The best way out of this is to look at it from a different perceptive and see how it could be positive, rather than negative. I personally find the repetition to be soothing, as it takes me out of my mind and into my body and somewhat restful (for the mind) - I don't know how many of you watch Nigella Lawson on TV but she always talks about how chopping and dicing is soothing and relaxing for her even though some consider it the most tedious part of cooking. So drilling is seen usually as the boring part of practice, but is it really? I also find the repetition in the pursuit of excellence rather exciting. It's almost as if you can see the progress being made as you practice consistently. I guess a good analogy is the gym analogy. When guys go gym and build muscles, they like what they see - the progress, the big muscles, the well-defined abs, the body taking shape and that motivates them even more to keep at it. Same here. When the dancing gets better and better you feel more confident, more excited, more safe, more expressive....and it makes you want to keep at it.
iv) Scared of Wrong Practice
Again, I have to make a very blunt statement here and sorry if it''s hard to hear -
THERE IS NO WAY TO GUARANTEE THAT ANYTHING IS RIGHT.
The best you can do, is just simply to try your best and forgive yourself for your mistakes, pick up the pieces and relearn things. I say this from personal experience but also it seems that this is the only way. No one ever gets everything 100% correct and never goes back and corrects or changes things. No one. I repeat again - NO ONE. NO ONE.
Let's take a moment to talk about the very first thing you learn at any lindy class. The footwork. Rock-step. Triple steps. The most basic of the basic.
After one year or 2 someone (could be a teacher) comes along and tells you you've been doing the triple step wrongly all this time. U cry out in anguish and have a mental breakdown. Then 5 years later, another someone comes along and tells you the way you've been doing rock-step has been wrong all this time. Your hair instantly turns white and you stop going to social for a while.
Ok, so i exaggerate, but this is more common than you think. The reason is simply -
when we learn anything for the first time, we usually can't get all of it right.
What we define as right is usually just being able to execute the step competently enough to survive social dancing, and we're happy and at the beginning that is really all that is needed. To me, social dancing is the HEART of lindy hop, if we don't/won't/cant social dance, lindy hop really loses a lot of its meaningfulness. So in the beginning, learning the step is about being able to use it for social dancing, which is a simple objective. You are not asked to perfect the step or learn it in depth, but just required to learn enough to get you dancing on the social dance floor.
But the step is far from complete. There is usually so much technique behind each step that it takes a while to learn everything about it. Once we're competent and confident with it on the social dance floor, that's when we start asking, what else is there - Is there anything more? It's after a while that we're ready to look at the step in more detail at a workshop or a class. In a lot of advanced classes, the dancers work at the basics, because then they can really rebuild their fundamentals, and they might do this for a few cycles before they are finally happy with what they have achieved. To put this in perspective, if you are happy with what you are doing and it works for you, you don't have to change. No one is forcing you to rework basics that you don't want to rework. But on the flipside, people are allowed to dislike the way you dance because you haven't worked on something and made it better, and you have to be ok with that. It's only fair - that's how it works in the real world as well - You can be lazy or complacent or stagnant, that's fine, but don't expect people to have to like that about you. The people who put in effort into their dancing and constantly improve should receive the recognition and reward for doing so, from other dancers as well as personal validation from their own progress. Dancers who aren't prepared to put in the effort should also not have unrealistic expectations of being highly desirable to dance with, or to be seen as being a good dancer on the dance floor when you haven't put in the work. Life should be fair in that sense, that's the most objective way to deal with dancing.
But back to wrong practice - There is no way to fix it. Instead of being negative about it and not working on anything for fear of getting it wrong, just understand that that this is the only way, and move on with the process. Understand that this will take time, and you will be repeating it. Listen and think about what the teacher is offering you. Is the technique you currently have suitable? Or can it do with improvement? Remember you don't have to take the advice and rework anything if you are happy where you are and don't want to improve or change anything. Or if the teacher is offering a useful alternative technique, would you like to learn that to become more versatile? Also a possibility.
After a few cycles of reworking the basics, you really would have covered most of the possibilities. The best way to handle this is to change your personal perspective and mentality on what learning means - learning is a process, it doesn't stop because you achieved a certain level. There are further levels to go, until you can't see any more levels, or you start to see the levels converge at some point.
As an anecdote i offer my personal story.
I have reworked my basics - 4 times.
My first teacher was Sing.
My first reworking was Bill Borgida. He came along in Seajam 2003 and told us our rock step was wrong and so was our frame. oh gosh! I had been dancing for 1 year.
My 2nd reworking was Mattias Lundmark. I had to learn how to relax and stretch and change my frame to do that. I had been dancing for 3 years.
My third reworking was Skye and Naomi. My rock-step was wrong again, and so was my connection. Worse still, i didn't know how to bounce, according to them! Oh my goodness! Ok, back to square 1. I had been dancing for 9 years.
My 4th reworking was learning Kevin & Jo basics. Understanding weight shifts and preps for triple steps. I had been dancing for 12 years and my weight shift was far from good. Oh well.
And that's just my Lindy. I have had to rework my tap basics 3 times as well. The important thing is not to give up. In my personal experience, I looked carefully at what was being offered by each of the teachers that came along. In all of that, I saw new things i could learn that would improve my dancing and help me move forward. So i reworked my basics both from the bottom, but also not losing what was before. You don't have to destroy everything and substitute a new structure over the old one, you just have to do like a major renovation. It's like designing something. You get ideas which you like, but you have to assimilate and integrate them into your own design, and not just cut and paste it into your design, like a mishmash or collage. It has to become part of you and in the process of reworking, you integrate the new things as an upgrade to your current way of doing things, so the rock-step (for example) becomes more well-rounded,multi-faceted and versatile.
Each of the times I reworked things, the previous way of doing it was "wrong" - it doesn't make me a bad dancer per se. I would suggest not taking the word "wrong" as a criticism of you or your dancing personally and substitute the word "wrong" with the word "different", "less effective" or "could it be better". When you come to see it this way, then it really becomes an option, that is just being offered to you, with certain benefits. You don't have to buy into it, but if what's being offered is really good (like when you go shopping and someone is trying to sell you a product - and is touting the benefits or why it's good - if you listen and assess the claims being made, and you really think it has merit, then you would buy it - would you not?) - why not take the technique as is being offered by the teacher/salesperson?
- Would u like the "more effective or the less effective rock step, sir?"
- Would you like the "more efficient or less efficient triple step, ma'am?"
- Would u prefer the "full weight shift or the half weight shift, sir?"
And that is the most important part of this section - assess the benefit of the information that is being offered to you and make a personal decision whether or not to accept it, based on whether it moves your dancing forwards or not, and knowing that there is no such thing as 1 time get it all correct.
Sometimes, students tell me that they have no awareness or idea when or where they are going wrong. This is a big problem because it suggests/implies that there is no understanding or concept of what feels right or wrong in terms of connection/body mechanics/lead & follow, so that a distinction can be made regards the execution of the step. The best solution for this is to increase awareness, both in the body (as mentioned earlier in the article) as well as about the step one is executing. Complex steps are really just simple steps put together. Very seldom is a complex step a step that is a totally new way of doing things. Usually it is just a conglomeration of simple steps put together and perhaps done in a different rhythm or speed than what one is used to normally. So if you bring to the complex step, the awareness to do each of its component steps in the best-feeling way possible, it makes sense that the whole complex step will feel good. That's another reason to keep working on basics. If you get the feeling right for each and every basic, then since complex steps are nothing more than various combinations of basics at varying tempos, then...all your complex steps will feel good. This really is too over-simplified, but in an article it's very hard to give a good idea of what it's really like. I hope this short paragraph has helped somehow with that.
For some dancers who just started dancing (less than 2 years) you might find that all of this doesn't seem to apply to you. But if you keep dancing you might find that one day, you will reach this place and ask the same questions about becoming a good dancer or practice. Overall, this is a complex topic and I've just scratched the surface. I am very much a face to face person. If you have questions come and talk to me when you see me on the dance floor., That's the most effective and most direct way of communication. All the best to all the dancers who are wishing to improve!
Here at BSL, one of our taglines is "All About The Dance".
Other than loving teh-tarik, one of the things you have to know about me is that I can only dance lindy hop and its related dances, i CANNOT dance anything else for nuts. Watch me try hip hop, k-pop or salsa and die laughing. It's less a matter of technical ability and more a matter of not having the interest nor passion to pursue those other dances. I look at those dances and I don't find myself attracted to those dances. They look so...technically difficult, what with the body waves and the body isolations and the disjointed step to step choreography...and also, I simply don't identify with values of those dances. I don't really understand hip hop, and I don't like the music as well. I don't really understand K-pop and I don't listen to the music as well. Salsa is too sexy and attention seeking for me.
But when it comes to lindy hop and it's related dances, i can get it.
It's about fun. Check.
It's about self-expression. Check.
It's about freedom. Check and double Check.
It's about dancing with someone else in a free and self-expressive way. Triple Check.
That's not to say lindy hop can't be serious, street/edgy, romantic, sensual or sexy.
There are so many umbrella dances under the SWING dance banner/family that
1. you would not be able to MASTER (i mean master, not learn) them all
2. each one is different yet the same enough and possess some of the other attributes described above.
For example, Blues/Slow drag/Grind carries the sexy/sensual attributes.
Airsteps carries the "serious" attributes, simply because, if you're not serious in a focused way, they often go wrong and result in injury.
Solo Jazz carries the street/edgy attribute.
All these in addition to the general attributes we associate with Lindy Hop and some of the vernacular dances coming from the Jazz Age of the 20s to the 50s.
Jazz music, in the beginning, was very tough for me to understand (you wont be able to tell by looking at me now but 15 years ago...was a different story). Now when we teach we really break it down for you to hear, and really count you in. One of the wonderful things about jazz and swing jazz in particular, is how simple it really is once you've gotten past the initial barrier to it. Even musicians, who have been trained classically, sometimes find they don't understand jazz and don't know how to play it. It's because we're sometimes stuck behind a wall of our own biased perception - we expect music to be a certain way because we're used to classical, rock, pop or other styles, but then jazz comes along and shakes those perceptions up, then we don't know how to deal with that. Understanding jazz is easier if you come from a period specific cultural perspective. What were the qualities that were culturally significant at that time? How did the people of those times express themselves? What was changing in the culture such that the dance arose with the music? When we look at what's key to our dance, we can also find the same key things in jazz music. Because the sensibility that exists in our dance, certainly exists in the music that grew together with the dance. I'll leave that for you to figure out, and not digress too much from the main content of this blog post.
It was during my internship at Singhealth in 2004, that I made my decision that I wanted my life to revolve around this particular dance, Lindy hop and the associated vernacular dances under the big umbrella. Knowing that I can't possibly master all the different dances in this family, I've chosen to focus on -
1. Lindy Hop
Under this banner, there are 2 subgroups which must be mentioned
a) Airsteps, which is a very rigorous and demanding subgroup requiring a lot of time and effort to train for
b) slow lindy, which is as yet, a still-developing subgroup of Lindy Hop so it's rather formative and needs more effort to consolidate
2. Solo Jazz (Vernacular Jazz)
previously under the Lindy Hop banner, Vernacular jazz is now coming more and more to the fore. When i started dancing in 2002 there were people who could dance partnerwork but not dance jazz. Nowadays, there are people who can dance jazz but not partnerwork! Phew, how times have changed. I have been dancing solo jazz since 2003, just 1 year after i started dancing partnerwork lindy.
3. Tap - is a large area unto itself and while it grew up in the Harlem Renaissance of the 30s, it is so far beyond that now.
Charleston is a large group as well, in addition to solo dancing, there is partner dancing for charleston, and both these groups can be generally categorized into 20s style or 30s style. When we do pivots on the feet and touches instead of kicks that's 20 style.
30s style is when we do kicks with the bounce.
When i look on the dance floor, i see the some basic partner charleston patterns but not complex patterns - well, certainly not as complex as what we can do with our 8/6 count. Many dancers now do not have a strong repertoire of charleston patterns such that they can get through a 200bpm song WITH ONLY charleston partnerwork patterns and not resort to 6/8 count patterns. I am one of those few dancers who can, simply because I've spent time learning and practicing these patterns. As for 20s partnerwork charleston, on the local dance floors, i haven't really seen anyone dance that.
The Rest of the Family ...
I don't find myself attracted to blues dancing nor shag/balboa/bal-swing as much and also - I already can't finish learning the above dances, can't take on any more on my plate. The word "learn" is tricky, because people would define it differently. When i use the word "learn", i mean - reach a certain level of proficiency that is of some standard.
Now - back to All About The Dance.
I am a serious teacher, partly because that's my personality but also because i love this dance. So here I am making this distinction - I don't love dancing, I don't love DANCE as an artform, I only LOVE this very specific family of dances. I think it's important to make this distinction because some people just love dancing, no matter what the dance is as long as they get music and get to dance... and some people love all forms of dance, meaning they love dance itself (as an artform) - both of those scenarios are different from each other, and different from me. I only love this family of dances, if somehow, i had to stop dancing I would not dance/learn other types of dance. Maybe knowing that will help you understand the way i behave in class or the way i teach class, or why i can be so serious about this dance.
I know it's a bit cliched, but this one is the only one for me.
It's my lifelong love affair.
Other pretty things may pass my way...but i will never stray.
that was quite cheesy...quite a bad line.
I hope the analogy works though - that you get what i mean.
Although I am very serious and passionate about this family of dances, I am very aware that dance is not separate from LIFE, like as in, the big picture of Life, the existence that we are all living at any point of time. Dance to me, is not just part of LIFE (the big picture) but also, like a microcosm of life itself. So, for me, if you substitute the word LIFE for DANCE, it makes sense in my own personal perspective. Everything we do in dance, we also do in life. We may not see it as such but we do. So when i dance, i am living. When i dance and i am happy, i am living life happily. When i am working for dance, i am making a living from dance. When i am learning in dance, I am learning in life as well.
Some people might ask - how is that possible? What does dance teach you about Life?
My Answer - It's possible at so many levels.
When I am taking a class and learning new things, I learn many different things at one time. Or more accurately, I am trying to learn many different aspects or levels at one time.
A teacher teaches a step or a combination in class. At the most surface level, i.e. the most obvious level, I am learning the movement and rhythm for the step/combination so that i can learn the step and execute it.
I am also learning about
1. My own body mechanics as i learn the movement of the step
2. What muscles i am using in order to perform this action safely and efficiently - which i then apply to my daily movement
3. The teacher's "teaching method" - so that if it's really effective and helps students learn better, i can learn it and apply it on my own students, helping them
4. My own process of learning and how i am trying to absorb and assimilate new information and new ways of moving so that in life i can learn quicker and easier with regard to other things
5. The teacher's philosophy behind the way they dance and what they are teaching (this is usually implied, you have to listen and read between the lines to get it)
6. What are the blocks and difficulties that other students are experiencing as they learn this step, which may also be present in their daily lives as a biomechanic dysfunction, or a bad learning process.
Now, if that's isn't a big picture scenario, i would not know what else is! I know dancers are so focused only on the surface level, which is really just about the step and how to apply it in their dancing - nothing wrong there, but my personal perspective is quite a bit broader than that, so once again, a peek into how i view this aspect of dance/dancing, and why I don't see it as a separate thing from LIFE.
So when I go dancing, i really just go for the dancing. Let's not play semantic/word games here. When i say "I really go for the dancing", it doesn't exclude chit chatting with people, interacting with others, drinking or eating or other stuff. It just means I am there more to dance, than to chit chat, or to eat or drink, the priority is dancing, not the other possible things we could do there. The percentage is probably like an 70/30%. The desire to dance is 70% and the rest is 30% (when i was younger it was like 85/15!). I understand that some people are there for other reasons, or the percentage weightage about dance is different. It could be the other way around, 70% others and 30% dance. I am not going to judge what weightage others give to dance, but I would like to point out some things about a scenario where the OTHERS outweigh the DANCE.
1. The standard of dancing won't be high because the priority is not there. Whether or not that is a good or bad thing really depends on how important the dancing is to you personally. For someone like me, having bad dances all night is.....ugh. I think that applies to all the dancers (teachers included) who have worked on their dancing and have reached higher and higher standards, only to come to a community/scene and then have to dance down because the standard is not high. Nobody is going to say it - that they didn't enjoy themselves, but inside, quietly, that is what they felt. It then creates a silent rift between dancers who like to be good and have worked at it and dancers who arent concerned whether or not they are good and just dance to enjoy themselves. The ones who aren't concerned don't feel it, because as per etiquette, most dancers rarely refuse a dance, so there's little way a good dancer can refuse to dance with a bad dancer without being rude. So the bad dancers get away with bad dancing, and the good dancers suffer quietly inside.
2. Why use dance, if dance is not going to be the focal point around which a community gathers? Singaporeans, we love to travel and we love to eat, and we love to have get-togethers and eat and celebrate. There is nothing wrong with that, but when those things become the focal point of any dance community, then it sort of defeats the purpose of having the dance in the first place. Might as well skip the dancing part and just get down to the part which everyone is really there for, the shopping, or the travelling or the eating, or the get-together. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, why are we really here (at so & so dance event)? Is it to dance, or is it just so we can have a party? And if the answer is "to have a party" why did it have to involve dance in the first place? Some people might ask - What's wrong with that? That the reason for the community to come together is not dance but something else. I would say - Then the dance becomes irrelevant and will fade away, and disappear from the landscape like an extinct species. Things which become less and less relevant will fade away inevitably. Once again whether or not that is a good or bad thing comes down to how important dancing is to you personally. If the dance fades away and there's no loss in your life - fair enough. It would not be the same for other people though, just saying right? To explain it another way - any kind of club or association - music, gardening, literature, origami, whatever it is - all these clubs or associations by nature, must have at their core - the activity for which they were formed. It would not make sense for the gardening club to do 15 mins of gardening, then everyone packs up and then goes for 2 hours of hanging out and chit chat at a cafe...and that more and more people join the gardening club, not because they want to get involved with gardening but to join these awesome 2 hour chit chat get-togethers at the cafe that the gardening club is famous for. Nothing wrong with 2 hour chit chats, but that defeats the purpose of the gardening in the first place, no?
2a) tagging on from previously, I would personally argue that the loss of this family of dances from the Singapore scene is indeed a tragedy. It brings much joy and much needed outlet for many people and we should continue to grow and support it because i feel that it can do so much for peoples' lives in Singapore, if these people were to give this dance a chance to grow in their lives and enrich it.
3. Sometimes local dancers come back from overseas dance communities and gush about how wonderful it was to have danced there etc etc (usually with an implied meaning of - how much better it was compared to dancing back here in SG), and i completely agree with those comments except that
a) the reason why it was better there was because the people in those communities placed a higher priority on dance than on the "other" things
b) if the dancers liked what they experienced overseas, but are not interested in playing their part to help build the local community so it can grow into the overseas community from where they just had that marvelous experience, then...... they actually have no business comparing it to the local community and gushing about how wonderful it was in comparison.
That's like so typical complainers' syndrome loh - don't like something but then not willing to work at it to enable the change to come about but then still want to make the comparison. (pardon my usage of Singlish here, it's just so apt i think)
Again - don't want to judge - just want to point out that if you had enjoyed your overseas experience, and you would like that experience to be present in SG community as well, then one of the ways to make that happen is for there to be a culture where more priority is given to dancing.
In my opinion, SG is really one of the stronger communities in Asia when it comes to Lindy Hop, but i think we can go further if people were to place on priority on dance in this community. If you were to ask me - What would be the benefit or reward for people to do that, put in more time and effort into dancing?...I would not know how to answer you other than -it's so enjoyable and so rewarding on so many other levels than just what is immediately obvious, like getting to know people, having a group to hang out with, having something to do over having nothing to do....For me being able to connect with people physically while dancing and being able to self-express and communicate non verbally through social dancing is one of those things which i'm not sure i can find elsewhere so that keeps me coming back to it.
If you've never experienced that before, how dancing can make you happy....give dance a bit more priority and time and see where that leads you. I can assure you that it has happened for many people around the world, that's why they all dance. Once again, it just boils down to how important the dancing is to any given person. (in a future blog post, I will write about how to be efficient with time and practice given the modern world's busy busy schedule)
I think between the 3 teachers in SG, Sing, Sinclair and me, we all think the dancing is important, and not because we teach it, or we make a living from it, or what-nots. I think we all just believe in Swing Dance/Lindy hop as tool for life, that it really feels good and can make people happy, and central to that enriching experience of Lindy Hop, is good dancing, which comes about through a good amount of focus and priority on dancing. I don't want to give this idea that only good dancers have an enriching Lindy Hop experience, but maybe a food analogy is good here - the $3 econ rice can be as good a meal as a $30 restaurant main course, as long as they are both good. There's place for both to exist, in different contexts, when they are both good. But if they are both bad, not nice to eat...then you wouldn't even pay $3 to eat bad food, much less $30. Good food comes from a certain set of priorities - hygiene, fresh ingredients, prepared with some skill and love....etc etc. It can be applied to the dance and dancing as well. Good dancing will come from having certain priorities as well.
How is it that Lindy Hop and the other associated dances can fascinate us endlessly on Youtube...when we're watching a performance, or make us feel something inside when you watch 2 good dancers social dance? When i watch videos of Frankie (usually social) dancing in the early 90s,I really feel something emotional inside me that makes me smile and then I think, i need to learn more so i can have a bit of that magic that Frankie had in his 80s.
.To me that's how the logic stacks up. I hope i have brought some new perspectives with this blog post and see you on the dance floor soon.
Social Dancing is a huge area to write on. It is inexhaustible, and as social Lindy Hop dancing develops, so do new things pop up to be written about. This post cannot be exhaustive, naturally. I think's its just a good starting-off point. I will start off with something important to me, which i think is important to social dancing and Lindy Hop in general.
A discussion on GOOD & BAD / RIGHT & WRONG in Social Dancing
(disclaimer - the views expressed here are my own)
When i started social dancing in 2002, these labels were already present. There were good social dancers and bad social dancers. As a beginner, I remember trying very hard to improve so that I would not fall into the bad category. I didn't think much of the implications nor the more complex ideas that underpin the existence of such labels, after all, the main aim was to dance and be good at dancing, and naturally, that included being good at social dancing. So the first thing to note is - these labels have been in existence since before the Savoy. The Savoy had a Cats Corner where the best dancers would hang out and dance with each other, and you had to prove yourself before you could dance in the Cats Corner. Similarly, Whitey chose the dancers he thought were the better ones, or who had the most potential, to be part of his Lindy Hop teams, and he was picking them out of the dancers he was looking at in the Savoy ballroom, so i presume/assume, that he was looking at dancers who were social dancing at the Savoy and picking out who he thought were good or had potential to be good. In other words, some form of this labeling of good and bad social dancers was already present in the 1930s, although i certainly cannot speak for Whitey and what he thought was good or bad.
In a modern day context, I think we need to discuss the whole thing a little bit and define the terms clearly. I'm gonna go with the things i personally find important to social dance -
To start, we can eliminate STYLE - which is an aesthetic and is subjective. STYLE includes how you like to dance, what you think looks pretty or appropriate for dancing, what sort of presentation and vibe you would like to give your dance. I think of it as fashion for the dance - like putting clothes on - what kind of colours, casual or formal clothes, mix and match, shirt or t shirt, jeans or pants ...
As STYLE is highly personal and subjective, STYLE does not fall into a category of good or bad unless the STYLE you like to dance is disrespectful, dangerous or hurtful to others (elaboration later).
TECHNIQUE can be labelled good or bad. In order to give a more impartial basis to technique, we need to use more objective qualities to define whether technique is good or bad. i like to use the qualities effectiveness and efficiency. Secondary qualities that i like to use in consideration of good or bad technique is clarity and comfort.
By effectiveness, i mean success in producing a desired or intended result, so the technique being used should be able to consistently produce the same desired result most, if not all of the time. A lead is ultimately a type of signal. If the lead signal is not effective, it will fail to produce repeatable results and that's when we decide "ok, we need to learn how to lead something better."
By efficiency, i mean achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or energy.
For example, generally speaking, a more rigid frame is more tiring to dance with, regardless of whether you are a leader or follower. It is NOT WRONG TO DANCE WITH A RIGID FRAME, just LESS EFFICIENT and therefore LESS EFFECTIVE in terms of the mechanics of social dancing. Here, if we were to apply the label "WRONG/BAD", it refers to "less efficient, more tiring, therefore less effective". We could say the same about arm-leading or arm-following. If you led or followed with your arm and not with your body, at the end of the social dance, you would generally go home feeling very tired in your arm, and waking up with muscle ache in your biceps and shoulders the next day.
By clarity, i mean the clearness of the signal/communication being used between the 2 partners. A speaking analogy works well here - rambling, mumbling, stuttering are all forms of unclear speech that makes communication difficult. If we apply that to a dancing context, we can see that the lead & follow signals we use should not be rambling, mumbling, stuttering or otherwise unclear.
By comfort i mean ease, relaxed, free from pain or tightness/restriction. Injuries, discomfort, tiredness, ache are signs that dancing was not comfortable. (here we'll not discuss muscle capability - which is the strength needed by the muscles to perform dance moves. If you have weaker muscles, they will ache after dance but that is not the same context we are discussing currently)
You can begin to see how the qualities interact with each other in a social dancing situation, good technique is more effective, clear, efficient and comfortable to use than otherwise. Even so, all of the qualities that i've described above are different for different people. I absolutely dislike waking up with tired arms the next day but not tired legs or core. Some people might prefer tired arms to tired legs or core. It's hard to say. At this point, i think if i were to thoroughly explain each and every thing to do with each and every quality, it would take FOREVER, literally. If you have specific questions come talk to me on Fridays or after class when/where you see me.
Last one - COMMUNICATION, by which i refer to the way the 2 parties in the dance communicate and exchange information, as well as the temporary relationship we have for the duration of that 3 min song. Communication can obviously be good or bad, once again thinking back to a speaking analogy. We all know that misunderstandings and arguments can occur when people do not communicate well, and in a dance context, frustration and injuries can occur if lead & follow do not communicate well. The desire to maintain good communication is a kind of respect for your partner and the whole partnership. I think people don't think much of this in a dance context but i find this to be super important. Using a conversation analogy, it's like when you're talking to someone, sharing something and you find the person distracted with the phone or blanking out, not really listening to you, not really there with you. Conversations work best when both parties are present and engaged in the conversation, and why should lead & follow be any different? Your partner should be engaged with you fully present all the way for that 3 minute song and not distracted by other things, like looking in the mirror, making eyes at someone else standing at the wall etc.
Now - the bad stuff -
Whatever that is disrespectful, dangerous or hurtful to others is bad for our dance. This too, is very broad, and i don't want to spend a lot of time discussing this here. In any case, any form of physical harm or injury is bad. Now, accidents can occur, but they should be one-offs and corrected asap. If accidents happen frequently, then something is wrong. It's the same for feelings of discomfort or tiredness. If your leg or arm is aching very frequently after dance, something is off. Go take the time to find out what is the problem. If you frequently feel unsafe or hesitant to dance with someone, something is off. Take the time to figure out what & why and decide on a course of action. This includes areas concerning physical boundaries and privacy, as well as basic respect for each other as human beings. Being rude, being pushy, being aggressive all fall under this category. Leaders need to be more aware of follows' permissions, especially when it concerns close hold full body contact, airsteps, tricks and dips. Follows should not be forced into doing steps that they are not comfortable with or dislike. Also, we need to be very clear on intention when we come dancing - for example - Guys should not come to dance wanting to pick up girls/hookups and girls should not come to dance looking for husbands or boyfriends. We are here to dance, have a good time and interact in a socially appropriate manner that makes everyone feel safe & comfortable. These things should stay outside of the dance venue and not be mixed in together with dance.
Like i said, this is really broad and this barely covers the issues in this area. I would like to ask anyone who feels discomfort or unsafe to come & speak with the teacher or organizer that you feel safe to confide in, whether at the venue you usually dance, or another venue. Sometimes you are uncertain if something is indeed wrong and need clarification. Come talk to us confidentially, don't just ignore the red flags in your head.
I think what makes this labeling of good and bad tricky is that each person has different thresholds for what is acceptable/not acceptable and different perceptions for what is good/bad. If we talk about a yank, where a leader forcefully pulls a follow, some follows will be more ok with it and others not so ok with it. It's a complex scenario where whether or not a follow gets injured depends on several factors and not just solely on pain threshold or technique or communication. At this point, i think its just important for dancers to begin thinking about what's good and whats bad for you personally as a dancer and have conversations and discussions with other dancers about those things. I think discussing it will lead to new insights or realizations about "good and bad"/"right and wrong". Honestly i don't think there's another way except to discuss it and learn through the process of discussion.
Coming back to social dancing, what are the implications?
For one, everyone likes dancing with a "good" dancer. If you've been to workshops or dance weekends, you can see the queue form for the visiting teachers, everyone wants to dance with them - and the reason is that they are (PERCEIVED by the workshop participants to be) good dancers and therefore everyone wants to dance with them to see how that feels like. From the perspective of the regular social dancer, that's what we come to dance for - to have a good time and to have good dances with other people. Based on the reasoning above, i think its fair and respectful for each individual to understand and become more aware of the person you're dancing with - basically, that means to get to know the person better, understand where they are coming from, in terms of wanting to dance, reasons for dancing. We don't do this often enough.
Many people come to dance with many different intentions and motivations, some are valid, others a bit iffy, and some might be dangerous or criminal. From a personal safety aspect we should try and get to know the people we are dancing with so we can better gauge their personality and character and not throw caution to the wind and expect that the organizer will keep the place safe or that the people who come to Lindy Hop are always without fail, nice. We do this in our daily life - we take stock of people and situations because it's our personal responsibility to do and we should not shirk that responsibility when it comes to Lindy Hop and social dancing. Looking at the sexual assault cases that have rocked the Lindy Hop scene globally in recent years, i feel being responsible for one's personal safety is still the best option. The organizer wants to keep the venue safe, but the organizer is not gonna be omnipresent to see everything that goes wrong, so rather than place the responsibility on the organizer fully, just do it like how you would do in regular life.
Another issue that would affect the perception of good/bad and right/wrong is commonality between people for dancing. People with more similar motivations, reasons, values and mindsets will get more out of dancing with each other than dancing with someone who has vastly differently motivations and values from you. Once again, getting to know the other person is the only way to know if this person is more similar or more different to you in terms of those values and beliefs. In our dance we welcome all types. It's part of the spirit of Lindy Hop to be open and welcoming, and also the diversity and freedom really exemplifies some aspects of the original Spirit of the dance. What happens quite frequently, although it doesn't seem to be addressed much, is when 2 dancers come together with differing values and motivations for dancing. The question here is - Is it possible for people with different motivations and values to have an enjoyable dance together?
How can someone, who likes flashy stuff, dance with someone who likes to keep it simple?
How can someone who values connection, dance with someone who doesn't?
How can someone, who takes dance seriously and is always trying hard to improve, dance with someone who views dance only as a hobby, a recreation, something not so important?
How can these 2 parties dance with each other, and still have the best possible time together for the next 3 mins?
My answer is - yes, it's possible but it may not be as much fun as when you dance with someone who has more commonality with you. But there are exceptional circumstances where it can be more fun as well.
What i am about to discuss may be controversial or offensive, so it needs to be taken in its full context.
We need to have this understanding when we come for social -
Don't go into a dance
- thinking only about what you are getting out of it and your personal motivations for dancing
- thinking, "this other person is here at the same place as i am, therefore he/she must want the same things as i do when it comes to dancing".
Don't assume that
- all the different people dancing Lindy Hop at any given social are all wanting to enjoy the dance the way you do, or wanting to get the same things you want/get out of dancing.
- because everyone is indeed there to have a good time, that what you think is a good time is the same as what another person's idea of a good time is.
We see this issue with guys/leaders very often - their idea of a good time is (for example) showing off flashy moves, lots and lots of spins and tricks, jamming at fast tempos. And there is AUTOMATICALLY the (wrong) assumption that this is what the follows want as well. It could not be further from the truth, isn't that right follows?
But it doesn't only apply to this specific scenario, it applies to all scenarios where people have different motivations for dancing. As a teacher, i have very different motivations for dancing than a recreational dancer. It would be presumptuous of the recreational dancer to assume that what he/she wants out of dancing is what i want out of dancing too, and ask me for a dance with that assumption/expectation in mind. For example, recently someone asked me at an event i was at - "What, leaving so soon? Why don't you dance? There's a live band, the weather is cool, you came all the way, you're still young..."
But for me, the wet/muddy grass, the light drizzle and the outdoor setting are all big "no"s for me. This person was superimposing their personal ideas and assumptions about dance onto me. To this person, the setting was good enough to dance, for me it was not. In this case, no harm done, but it shows a lack of understanding between us.
Conversely, it would presumptuous of a serious dancer/a dancer who is serious about improving, to assume that everyone who comes to dance wants to dance at a high level and constantly work at their dance. That is certainly not true for a lot of the folks who come dancing, for whom social dancing is recreational/leisure. So then you get these rumblings of discontent that sometimes you hear about -
"...this leader is so boring to dance with, he always does the same thing, never improves..."
"...this follow doesn't connect with me, how am i supposed to lead her like this...?"
"...it's so stressful to dance with this person, they are so intense about being a good dancer but i'm not...."
"...why does this leader always want to dance fast songs only and keep spinning me...?"
- stuff like that.
But really, when you think about it, I feel it's just people not understanding each other well and not making compromises when dancing with each other.
It all boils down to the understanding that different people have different motivations and desires and one should not assume things. The following 2 points might help -
1. Treat each person as unique and individual. Get to know the person better. This allows you to adapt your style of dance (if possible) and also adjust expectations (if possible) when you go for the dance. I don't think we do this often enough, either bcos we are not versatile, technically speaking, or we are too focused on getting what we want out of the 3 mins. We hardly stop to consider what would work best FOR THE PARTNERSHIP. If we were to do that, i think it would really make a mile of difference. The power of this quality of "willingness to communicate/be open and listening" to the other person is powerful in transforming your experience on the dance floor.
2. If the differences are too far apart and there is no room for compromise, just say no to the dance. At our venues, we generally discourage people from saying no, but the reason/context is really different from here. We don't want shyness, insecurities or doubt to prevent you from having a good time, from giving the dance a chance to make you happy, so we tell all our beginners, if someone asks you, don't refuse. Give dance a chance, don't let your personal doubts and fears get in the way of trying out the dance and having a good time.
This context of commonality/differences is entirely different. Here we are talking about the preferences each individual has and usually we are talking about intermediate and above social dancers who have already decided on certain perferences. If a leader likes to do airsteps and dance fast songs, and you are a follow who doesn't, it's better to say no, unless you can make some sort of compromise about it and feel ok with what will happen when u say yes - then that's fine.
The important thing is to know whether you'll feel ok about what's going to happen next but if dancing with a particular person consistently makes you feel unhappy, unsafe or frustrated, then it's better to turn down the dance. So if a "no" will save you a lot of grief, it's better to say no - rather than suffer the next 3 mins and come out feeling disappointed about it. And if you do say yes, take responsibility for that "yes" by adjusting your expectations and reminding yourself - this is who this person is, and how he/she likes to dance, and i am the one who said yes so i have a responsibility as well. If the other person would do the same, then it shows a willingness on the part of both parties to try and make the 3 mins worthwhile.
It's quite simple really, but i think this understanding is not present in our minds when we go for a social. We're not going to try and change the motivations, values, beliefs and desires of the various people who come for dancing. Each one is unique and has every right to be there, whether its recreational or serious, exercise or artistic, show off-flashy or simple enjoyment, beginner or advanced dancer. I'm just going to try and understand the person more and adapt my dancing (if & where possible) and also adjust my expectations and compromise where it's needed in order to make the next 3 mins, the best possible time for us. If each person came to each 3min dance with this perspective, what a world of difference it would make, instead of coming to the dance with all these (false and probably wrong) assumptions about what dancing means to each individual. Compromise is also a 2 way street - both parties have to make concessions in order for this to work. Sometimes i hear advice being given that the more skilled dancer "dance down" for the less skilled dancer in order to make the partnership more successful. I think that is unfair to the more skilled dancer. It is something that is up to the more skilled dancer to consider, but it should be a choice, not a given in scenarios like that. The reason for this is because ultimately, all enjoyment in dance comes from authentic expression - if a dancer is "dancing down" he/she is not dancing authentically, i.e. true to themselves. If a dancer cannot express themselves authentically throughout the whole night of social dancing, i think there would be a lot of disappointment and frustration. (this too is a complex issue and shouldn't be reduced to such a general statement but for brevity's sake and not overly complicating this blog post we shall leave it at that)
In the end, the desire to change is personal and lies solely with the indiviudal involved. If you are getting feedback that you are not pleasant to dance with, the responsibility lies with you to find out why and whether you would want to change. Ultimately, our social dance is about PARTNERSHIP, so the change will be for the betterment of that.
Tying this post up, in conclusion -
- i would like to say, take time to think about things. Take time to think about what you think is good/bad, right/wrong and then discuss that with other dancers. Have a conversation and learn about other people and their motivations (not everyone values airsteps, not everyone values good tecnique etc).
- Become technically versatile so you can change the way you dance. Bring the understanding with you that everyone's different and wants different things, but it is the personal responsibility of each person to find that out about the other person, and not impose one's personal viewpoint on the other through assumptions.
- Know that good/bad & right/wrong are dependent on what qualities you use to measure them with and what values you prefer in dance.
- Finally, make an effort to communicate and find places to compromise to make that 3 min song the best possible 3 mins that you can make it. We all know that the purpose of dance is to enjoy ourselves, to feel alive and authentic, and to express ourselves. With better skills and better understanding we can do just that.
This post is by no means exhaustive, if you want to come talk to me, come look for me after class or on Fridays.
See you on the dance floor somewhere!
Last Friday 16th Nov after socials was the first ever t3 - Teh Tarik Time! The response was incredible. I had not expected such a big crowd, and i am very happy about it.
I was super worried about seating, so i must find ways to make that process easier. This doesn't work if the group has to sit separately. At least 5 people have to sit together in order for this to work, groups of 8 or 10 are fantastic if we can arrange the seating for it.
Some scene leaders or organizers talk about community engagement or community bonding through a social activity. It is believed that a scene grows because there is a social activity (outside of dance) attached to the community. It could be anything, ranging from sports to supper to baking to movies....the whole point being a way for people to spend time together and bond. Without this type of social activity, the community doesn't grow, or has a high turnover as people leave the scene. I confess i have always been a little too much "about the dance", so i could never understand all this talk.
"Aren't people coming here for the dance itself? Or the unique music that we play?"
I also thought,
"Dance is so much fun, i get so much fulfillment out of dancing!"
.........But.....i was wrong on both counts. Over the years, i have learnt people come to the dance for so many different reasons, and also, not everyone can easily find fulfillment in purely the dance itself. There are many reasons for that but this blog post won't delve into that. Instead, i 'll just say...."Oooohhhh. I see."
(for those of you that understand Japanese or read/watch anime - insert "naru hodo" + *nods head vigorously* here)
Enter - the Mama Supper, a cultural tradition for us
A mama supper is a uniquely Singaporean and Malaysian thing. Supper itself is not, but a mama supper.....which Singaporean or Malaysian doesn't know that?!? Lionel Tan, globe trotting Lindy Hopper and one of the founders of LindyKL, told me that to have a mama supper brings back memories for him. Memories of the early years of LindyKL, where they would go to supper after dance and eat roti/prata and have a drink. It was the same for me, as an NTU student, I remember the years where we would go out for late night suppers, sometimes at a mama store, sometimes at Macdonald's, sometimes at whatever 24 hour kopitiam was accessible, and we would have the best conversations or the best memories of hanging out from those times. I never thought to put two and two together. In some way, organizing t3 seemed a little contrived.
Anyone of you guys can understand - it's about the group that is already there, formed - that decides to go for the supper. In my uni days, the group was Kinetics, those of us who practiced and then were hungry after dance practice went out as a group to indulge in supper. Other times, it was the tutorial group after working late on a project, deciding to go out for supper together, or the hall group. But the group was always there first, not the supper. So it seemed a little odd to me to put the supper first to help in forming the group.
I've been a dancer and teacher a long time, sometimes i forget how beginner dancers feel. Coming to socials alone, that's a real challenge. It's scary and sometimes you feel so alone or left out, and if you don't already know some people at the social, asking for a dance is embarrassing and super tough. And then you're worried about your lead and following and you're worried about how badly you're dancing or if you're boring your partner and then that all kinda makes dancing stressful and difficult to be happy or fulfilled about.
(None of that is wrong, by any chance, it's just how it is in the early years of everyone's dancing, don't beat yourself up over that)
And sometimes in between dances if you didn't get a partner to dance the next song with, you stand at the wall by yourself and that too feels stressful and alone. The reason why t3 works is because it just gives an opportunity for people to get to know each other better in a setting everyone can relate to - the supper setting. I think the idea of organizing specialized activities that are supposed to create a bonding effect is too much effort and makes the whole activity feel rather contrived - for example, if i were to organize a movie marathon or laser tag just for people to bond (for the sake of dance!!). I think the best bonding activities are the simplest and closest to our hearts, the ones with the least contrivance and the ones we already know how to do, like supper. At ILHC this year, i attended Mickey Davidson's talk on being a black dancer in the 1980s, and i remember she said (i paraphrase) that going to the toilet was something that could create bonding! The black women, would get to know each other better when they passed by each other in the toilet, making comments about the men; passing stories; shooting sarcastic remarks about someone's clothes; all the while freshening their makeup or washing their hands! (you have to listen to her tell this story!!) So...i'm not saying we should do that but...if you believed Mickey...these women bonded while going to the toilet!
It's not really any different for dancers who have been dancing for a while. You probably haven't had a chance to get to know everyone who goes, and there are some people you usually don't ask for a dance or don't speak to, because you don't know them. None of this is about artificially creating one big happy dancing family, to me that's contrived. I think it's just about having a good time, and getting to know more people and getting to know more people better.
And how does it help the community grow? I think that people get to know each other better, and they feel more and more comfortable and familiar with each other, and that makes for a better dancing experience. When you're familiar with someone, there is so much less stress during the dancing itself. U feel at ease, u feel comfortable, u feel like it dun matter if you tripped a bit or smacked your partner a bit (just a bit), u feel like laughing while u're dancing because its so damn funny and u're having such a good time with this other person, u feel like u're safe because u have spent more time with this person and have gotten to know him/her better ... all of that makes for an overall better dancing experience. And then the magic in dancing really begins to shine because then...with all this new ease and comfort and familiarity, the partnership and the communication and the understanding soars, and u can take risks in your lead or follow, u can do funny steps to make your partner laugh, u can attempt tricky footwork. So that really increases the possibilities for dance. And definitely, once you know someone else who is standing alone at the wall waiting for the next song, you could dance together or you could just talk. It works out for the best.
Ours is ultimately, a partnered social dance. If we don't feel comfortable dancing with someone because we have just met or don't know each other well; or if dancers stand by the wall and feel alone or embarrassed to ask people for a dance or just talk, then the dancing experience itself suffers, and when the dancing experience itself is less than stellar, why would people come for/stay for socials?? I am all about the dance, but if late night suppers and teh tarik can help boost your dance experience i am all for that too.
Here's to more t3 sessions and better social dancing wherever you dance!
I thought i would take some time out to write about who my teachers were, during this long 17 year lindy hop journey, and what has influenced me over the years. Click on the links to be directed to youtube videos.
BEGINNINGS (2001 to 2003)
My very very very first teachers were the teachers from Lindy Hop Ensemble Singapore, a group founded by Jacqueline Tan. I remember taking class with Jacq, Deborah, Xinyi, Kok Chiow and Amber. When i started dancing, i did not know anything about Lindy Hop, so like most Singaporeans, i just assumed that whatever the LHE dancers did was all there was to learn abount Lindy Hop. I was so wrong.
After leaving LHE, due to some complicated circumstances (a story for another time), me and then-partner Sik Banhuei, found that there was another studio that offered Lindy Hop in Singapore, called Jitterbugs Swingapore. We approached this school, this was Jan 2002, and this was the first time that i met Sing.
Sing was our teacher for the next few years. I had joined a club called Kinetics in NTU, where i was studying, and Sing would go to NTU once every week, to teach us youngsters the Lindy Hop.
LHE was primarily a performance group. At their classes and events, they did social dance, but it was never emphasized, and they danced to faster tempo music, which was not beginner friendly. This may have been because their teachers were the Jiving Lindy Hoppers from the UK, one of the lindy hop revival groups (I wish i had time to explain these terms i'm throwing around!!). This group had learnt from the Mama Lou Parks dancers, a later generation of Harlem Lindy hop dancers, whose speciality was the fast challenge dance, usually done as a performance jam.
Social dancing was completely new to us and it was very frightening to us at the time (as it still is for many beginners - don't worry). As a school club, one of our obligations to the school was to perform at school events and put up dance activities for the university, so from the very beginning, Sing had to teach us both sides of the Lindy Hop dance coin - the social aspect, as well as the performance aspect. Sing emphasized social dancing, in the tradition of Frankie, and she was especially concerned with good leading and following. She taught most of this generation of Kinetics dancers all their basics - frame, footwork, lead & follow, connection, steps etc etc and also choreographed for us and trained us how to do performances for the events we had obligations to do.
Kinetics was a fantastic experience. Some of the best local Lindy Hoppers came from the group during this era (circa 2002 to 2009). Some of the Kinetics alum who are still dancing today include Ethan (i just recently posted a video of him and Alex dancing), Jingyang, Taufan and Xinqiang.(wow those are all leads!!)
THE MIDDLE YEARS (2003 to 2008)
Sing had taught us all our basics, but she would always invite teachers from overseas for Seajam, the annual camp/workshop that she ran. This was where many of the older generation of Singaporean Lindy Hoppers would have met Frankie. Without fail, if Frankie could come, he would come, and it was fantastic. Even as a newbie, i could see something special and different about Frankie and at that time as youngsters we knew nothing about the Savoy or his work as part of Whiteys, to us, he was just some old guy that used to dance that Sing would always bring in for Seajam. The significance of Frankie hadn't sunk in yet. Meeting Frankie gave me something special and important - i learnt that the African Americans, had that something special, that many others didn't, when it came to this dance. It was a vibe, or a groove, or an energy, somewhat undefinable, yet clear, if you knew what you were looking at. These black people, they had it. These other peoples (could be white, could be Asian, could be Singaporean) did not have it. And that in itself, set me off on a journey, to find out what this "thing" was, and that eventually led me to tap. (another story) I have since learnt that this special quality can be learnt, can be passed on and is not exclusive to the African American peoples, but they have easier access to it from within their cultural and historical context but for the rest of us, we have to look for it, if we can even see it to begin with.
Many teachers came through Seajam. Some are still dancing while others have disappeared from the Lindy Hop scene for various reasons. The most influential on me that came through Seajam were the Swedes- the first generation of Harlem Hotshots, in particular Mattias Lundmark. (i'll continue with Mattias later on)
At this time as well, i and a couple of other Kinetics dancers were taking regular classes at Jitterbugs. Back then, circa 2004 /2005 there were 4 levels of Lindy Hop, called Lindy 1 to 4, and you had to audition to get into Lindy 4. We took Lindy 3 for a year, and then we auditioned for Lindy 4 and we got in, so we started taking both Lindy 3 and 4. the class system was lindy 1 & 3 at 7pm and Lindy 2 & 4 at 8pm, so we would do classes 7 to 9pm then go straight into Swing Fling after, and probably end up eating supper after 11pm. The teacher couples at that time were Sing & Chan Meng, and Sinclair and Fen. Sometimes Eric and Li-Hsien would come in and teach as well. We took class with all of them. Sinclair's classes were very different from Sing's classes, even back then. Not so much the steps but the focus/emphasis, which he would continue to bring to Jazz Inc a few years later and develop further.
Back to Mattias. The 1st year he came to Singapore was 2004. For every year he came, i took a private class with him, as well as attend all the classes he taught at Seajam. He taught me several important things, which were -
1. To relax while dancing.
2. To Stretch for Swingouts and 6 counts
3. How to do half body rotations
4. How to open the chest and straighten out a hunched back/shoulders
5. How a swingout and a circle were actually the same step
i worked with Mattias's style and material for 4 years, 2004 to 2008, and Banhuei and i took our last private with Mattias and Hanna Lundmark in Stockholm in 2008 when we went there for a holiday. We learnt how to do cross kicks and jig walks properly in this private, i still have the notes!
I was very inspired by this first generation of Harlem Hot Shots, the most famous is Frida Sergerdahl. We would look at their videos and see what we could learn from them. They were very smooth yet every energetic, and they did not have the roughness that you can see in some of the old Lindy Hop soundies. They had all the steps and the stylings but not the jerkiness. They came to Singapore for Seajam in 2006 and later 2012. The first time i saw them, ever, was in these videos here, and here.
LATER YEARS (2009 to 2016)
In a recent Lindy Train session, i asked the dancers about their satisfaction with their level of dancing. The answers were mostly - unsatisfied. I told them, i was satisfied with my dancing, and i had been satisfied since 2009/2010. I would continue to learn and grow, but that particular feeling of "not being good enough" or "lacking" was gone at this point of time in me. I had spent about 5 years working on the material and philosophy that i had learnt from the Swedes and at beginning of 2009, i felt really good about my social dancing. I was creative, had my own repertoire of steps and rhythms, had this nice relaxed feeling of stretch, and also this easy way of social dancing that felt really good and i was happy with that.
Skye Humphries' first visit to Singapore was in 2009 with Naomi Uyama. It was also for Seajam. I had known of Skye from the previous video - look at time 1:28 - i was not impressed at all; but they did a performance at Blujazz that still wows me today. Although i was very satisfied with my dancing, i wanted to learn how to do what Skye and Naomi were doing, and so thus began the next phase of my journey. This was the era of the YOUTUBE video, the major competitions were ULHS and ILHC and i watched so many videos of Skye, Frida and Naomi and the rest of the Silver Shadows to try and learn more.
In 2011, i was awarded the Herrang Scholarship, which enabled me to fly to Herrang, Sweden to take class at the world famous dance camp. I took one private each with Skye and Naomi and watched ALL of their classes for the whole week that i was there. These are the things i learnt from Skye and Naomi -
1. how to bounce/pulse
2. how to keep the flow going
3. how i didn't need to lead everything
4. how to take leading information from the leaders' body
Here is a video of a performance i did that sorta shows where i was at after this Herrang trip 2011.
This phase of learning continued until Oct 2016, when i went to Stockholm and took a weekend of Skye and Frida workshops and was finally satisfied that i had understood what i had set off to learn all the way back from 2009. i hadn't perfected it, of course, but i knew what i had understood and what i hadn't, just like in 2008 after the Swedes phase. It was also at this point in time I realized i had to move on from looking at other teachers and start to develop myself as a dancer.
MOST RECENT (2017 - 2018)
It may have taken 16 years, but now, i was ready to consolidate all the stuff i had been learning all those years of dancing from so many different teachers and so many different videos. To truly express myself as a dancer, i had to first come to this place that i could stop looking at other dancers for material and answers and start developing my own theories and philosophies and synthesize the techniques i had learnt into something that was mine and not a patchwork of all the other teachers. I'm still doing that today, learning new things from teaching and breaking down stuff for students and giving some of those techniques and exercises that i learnt in the past, reworked "B"-style, to help the students become better dancers. I want to be clear that I'm not closing myself down to inspiration from outside sources or other teachers, but to stop thinking that these teachers have something that i don't have that makes them better dancers than me or that they have the answers but i don't. And i encourage every serious dancer to do that, to keep taking class and searching and be open to inspiration, but also to keep searching within yourself and on your own for the answers. And it is more rewarding and more effective when u find it on your own than when someone told you the answer.
To me, the true reward for dancing is to be able to authentically express oneself through a given form, in this case, dance, and more specifically, lindy hop (it could just as well be art like painting, writing like poetry, or film-making or photography or singing). But then a joy that money cannot buy and laziness/lack of discipline cannot ever hope to attain (well, you gotta find it on your own effort right??) starts to appear when you dance. I think......it's the joy of expressing yourself well at that moment and feeling satisfied and good about that. And i hope many of you reading this will one day reach that place with your dancing as well.
Here is what happened, as best as i can tell.
HAVING TO LEAVE TIMBRE AND OLD PARLIAMENT HOUSE
Timbre Music Academy was being closed for renovations so Lindy Live! at Timbre had to be shut down. Danny had commuicated to Sing and Sing had told me shortly. **
I had a meeting with Sing on how we were going to move forward. Sing wanted to continue working with Timbre and Danny, whereas i was not so keen. At this point in time, i was not teaching the Beginners (Lindy Hop 1 & 2 class levels) at Lindy Live! already (a story for another time), and at the new venture with Timbre, which would be at Timbre@Substation, there would only be beginner levels. Also, as expressed before, i had never really liked the bar/pub social dance setting. I have attended many socials at different bars and pubs before, Harry's at Boat Quay, BluJazz at Haji Lane, Jazz Inc's Socials at the Flyer Bistro, and then subsequently at Ink Bar at Swissotel and China One at Clarke Quay...but i have never found myself comfortable in those settings. I had always preferred a studio setting for social dancing. And to me, that was a big factor in me becoming the dancer i am today, a social in a studio setting.
THE ENDING OF AN ERA
Why do i say "the end of an era?" I am not the earliest batch of Lindy Hoppers in Singapore. Sinclair is from an earlier batch than me, i think somewhere about a year before me. Jitterbugs Swingapore, had started operations in 1996 or so, and they had always had a social. The first studio was at Tras Street, in Tanjong Pagar. I had not yet started dancing, so i have never been into the Tras St studio. Some current community members who have been dancing a long time may remember (like Gen, or Marz). My first encounter with Jitterbugs was at the Orchard Point Studio, what is now OG Shopping Center in Orchard. This was 2002. Back then, Jitterbugs Swingapore was having socials on Thursdays and this social was called "Swing Fling". I grew up with Swing Fling. Later on, Jitterbugs would move to MIllenia Walk, where briefly they would have Swing Fling on Sundays 4 to 6pm, which didn't work out so well, and later on, it was returned to its usual Thursday slot. When Jitterbugs moved to Cathay, Swing Fling was still on Thursdays 9 to 11pm. When Sing left Jitterbugs and created Lindy Live! at Timbre we maintained this social on Thursdays at the same time slot.
You cannot imagine how many memories i have of Swing Fling. The many dancers and teachers i have met and danced with at Swing Fling. Swing Fling has been running on Thursdays 9 to 11pm. since before 2002. If you just count the years i have been attending swing fling, that would be 16 years. Swing Fling doesn't exist anymore for 2 reasons -
1. It was ALWAYS on THURSDAYS 9 to 11pm (except for the brief slot change to Sundays)
2. It was ALWAYS a STUDIO SETTING
Sing has gone on to create Swingstation@Substation, but it's on a Monday and also its not a Studio setting. The end of the era, for me, means that Swing Fling is gone. 16 years of social dancing @ Swing Fling, is over. For sure, i had attended many other socials over the 16 years, but the only social i would ever call "home" was Swing Fling.
I didn't want to take the name "Swing Fling" when i made the decision to start my socials on Fridays, it was something special that never really belonged to me, just something i was proud and happy and now sad, to have been a part of for 16 years.
WHAT IS B SWING LINDY? WHAT IS "B"??!!
My main aim in starting B Swing Lindy was to keep working (this was my job after all), and also to have a place to keep dancing in a studio setting. I had been tapping and teaching Leading Ladies at The Studio at Bugis for almost 2 years now, and i felt that i would be happy to organize socials there. The aircon is strong and the floor is sprung ok. (Tap dancers can tell if a floor is sprung from the sound, and how well "sprung" it is)
At a meeting with the Timbre teachers, Hong Wee had also expressed his concern that 2 months with no socials was NOT a good thing. I felt the same way - i didn't want to stop dancing for 2 months (for personal reasons i do not attend Monday night socials, and i do only prefer to dance regularly in a studio setting), and so Friday night socials were born.
"B" is the initial i usually use for my name, my parents and my close friends know me as B, and i always sign off emails as B, but B could also stand for many other things. Like bananas (i love bananas), or the word "Be", or the word "Best", or the word "Bonkers", all of which are important B words. So B Swing Lindy is NOT Brian Swing Lindy - that sounds terrible. The "B" is what you want it to "BE". I don't have any issues with that, only that you come dancing and have a good time at the socials.
I do not like social media so much and have never had a proper Facebook or Instagram account. For B Swing Lindy, i was advised to create a facebook account and a page and also put myself on Instagram. I am very much a face to face person, and very much a "real life" and not "simulated life" person. I find social media and other online things take us away from the immediacy of staying in the present A LOT and i prefer to try and keep that discipline instead of being 23/7 on the mobile (even though i fail at that quite a bit). I don't think one can really be "friends" on FB, that's just a word FB uses. Friends are the people i see regularly in real life and we interact regularly in real life.
But for events and social media presence i will be posting on FB and Instagram a fair amount moving forward.
This concludes my short origin story and i hope to see you somewhere on the dance floor.
**this post has been modified from the original at the request of Danny, owner of Timbre.