Category Archives: Charleston

Pulse in Lindy and Blues

I am a firm believer that pulse is one of the core elements to all social dancing. I can’t claim to have an expert opinion on the matter because I lack knowledge in ballroom/latin/tango. . .basically, anything that isn’t swing. From what I’ve seen though, every dance has its own means of pulse. When we are teaching, Susanne and I emphasize that the pulse is the primary means of communicating rhythm with your partner.

That pulse is most apparent in Charleston, where there’s a pulse downward on every beat. I like starting beginners off with Charleston for just this reason. They can focus on getting pulse into their bodies, and feeling and communicating rhythms. Then, we can build up by adding weight changes moving forward and backward. Continue reading

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Filed under Blues Dancing, Charleston, lindy hop, Technique, Theory

Smooth Criminals: My Stompology Thoughts

“As he came into the window, It was the sound of a crescendo.”  – Michael Jackson.

After some time in the ICU of my bed recovering from the Stompology weekend, I’m finally coherent enough to put some thoughts down about my time at Stompology 2011. This was my second year there, and I was just as blown away as the first year. The quality of instruction there is amazing, and I always learn so much about dance. I was particularly taken with Nathan Bugh and Evita Arce and their incredibly thoughtful and articulate teaching.

I took a lot away from the weekend, and Susanne and I have posted our videos online for you to see some of the material that was covered. The thing that best summed up everything that the weekend embodied was the final class where each of the instructors presented their rendition of the Shim-Sham. Nathan Bugh’s shim-sham (it starts at 52″) blew my mind. I’m really sorry that I missed the first part of his shim-sham on the video, but I still captured enough of it for you to see what I’m talking about.

At the very start, Nathan’s shim-sham feels bland, small and uninspired. Little hand gestures (he called them “Magic hands”) would put his feet out. It was so simple and basic, and when he first taught it, I was thoroughly unimpressed. Then, he moved on to the crossovers where his hands came more to life, eventually “pulling” his body through the crossovers. By the tacky-Annie, he was full into it with a great little variation that grew the energy with this explosion of movement. Then, he hit the half-breaks. I don’t know that I can even break down what he did with words, but visually, he exploded. All the pent up energy from the small movements’ slow growth burst out of him. The video really doesn’t do them justice.

Nathan’s shim-sham was the sound of a crescendo, to quote Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” What I was thoroughly unimpressed with at first, I became totally enamored with in the end. Those tiny movements that started off his shim sham where a pianissimo, a soft dynamic, intentionally put there to create context for what was to come. I now find myself constantly thinking about dynamics in my dancing, both solo and partnered. Am I dancing loud or dancing soft? How am I shaping this phrase?

In her Charleston class, Laura Glaess talked about the need for repose after some awesome movements to give the audience a chance to take it in. This kind of thoughtful, composed editing is something that the instructors never explicitly talked about, but it was so deeply embedded in everything they did that I couldn’t help but notice. Every inch of the instructors’ bodies worked towards creating a shape, a motion, and a phrase all at once. . .this is what I am now working to accomplish in all my dancing. Its time to edit myself, and make my dancing a more coherent statement about who I am as a dancer. I want to be a smooth criminal.

Once again, my thanks go out to all of the teachers and organizers behind Stompology. The organizers did a great job putting together this event, even in the midst of some unexpected tribulations. And the teachers astound me. The depth of their knowledge and thoughtfulness and passion around the dance are a true inspiration.

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Filed under Aesthetics, Charleston, Technique, Theory

Croquet and Dancing

This past weekend was insanely busy for us, packed full of dancing. Saturday, we went to the annual croquet match between St. Johns College and the Naval Academy. Everyone was all dandied up in their finest vintage inspired threads. There was some croquet there, but to be honest the game seemed secondary to hanging out, dancing, eating, drinking, and general all around merriment. We had an amazing time. Continue reading

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Filed under C-Jam, Charleston, community, lindy hop, lindy wardrobe, Video, vintage

Where Shame Goes to Die

Last night, I was teaching intro to blues for the Towson University Ballroom Dance Club, and we touched upon the issue of self-consciousness in dancing. I firmly believe that to be a great dancer, you must leave your shame behind every time you step on the dance floor. You have to take risks with your body, make weird shapes, feel awkward, and be completely willing to make a fool of yourself. As my students will attest, making a fool of myself is something at which I excel.

It’s not that the goal is to make a fool of yourself. The goal is to free yourself from the critical, judgement centers of the brain to free your body to be expressive. The goal is to give yourself the permission to dance with wild abandon, with no reservations and no hesitations. Yes, you might end up looking ridiculous, but the path to looking ridiculous is strangely the same path to looking phenomenal. Continue reading

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Filed under Aesthetics, Blues Dancing, C-Jam, Charleston, lindy hop, Technique, Theory

Why I Love Solo Charleston

This past Sunday, we started teaching our annual solo charleston routine to our Annapolis crew, and I had such an amazing time. I was reminded of how much I love solo charleston and jazz steps. It just feels so comfortable in my body. When I first tried my hand at solo charleston, I felt like a bumbling idiot who fell apart anytime I tried something beyond a basic. It took practice to get comfortable with each movement, and to figure out how to transition into and out of the moves. (Transitions are always key!)

When I’m practicing a partnered dance, my focus is most often on developing good partnering skills. I try to minimize styling (when I’m practicing) to clean up my technique. When I’m practicing solo dancing, I no longer have to concern myself with good partnering and can focus on what I’m doing with my own body. I can play with rhythmic variations and syncopations without worrying if I can lead it. I get deeper into the music, listening for crazy little rhythms and trying to figure out how to put those rhythms in my body. Continue reading

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Filed under C-Jam, Charleston, Technique

10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me

When I first started dancing I was super enthusiastic, much to the dismay of many a follow’s arms. I wanted to know big and flashy moves, and for me that meant the Texas Tommy. Now, as I look back at that green well-spring of passion and flailing arms from eleven years ago, there’s so much I wish someone had told me. I mentioned this to Susanne, and she helped me compile this list of things that don’t often get talked about in the lindy world.

10 ) Murphy’s law of extra shirts. You will always need one more extra shirt than you bring with you. Those days where you forget an extra will be the time you need it most. So always keep one extra shirt tucked away in your car or your dance bag. Or maybe just leave one for yourself in the lost and found of every venue where you dance.

9 ) Not everyone is what they seem. Not all creepy guys and girls, aka “creepers,” are actually creepy. Most of them are just socially awkward people that gravitate to swing for the structured social interaction. Some of them are amazingly awesome people that will become friends over time. Likewise, there are some seemingly super cool and suave people out there that are total lotharios. Then, there are the actual creepers out there.

8 ) Get feedback. You are not an impartial observer of yourself. What you think you look like may be very different than what you actually look like. What it feels like to a partner might be vastly different to what it feels like to you. Ask people for input. Ask friends to videotape you dancing. Open up lines of communication for critical feedback with people whose dancing  you respect and admire, and who you trust to be both honest and caring. Continue reading

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Filed under C-Jam, Charleston, community, lindy hop, Music, Technique, Theory, tools of the trade

The Twelve Days of Dancing

On the twelfth day of dancing, my Naptown gave to me:

 

Twelve drummers swingin'

Eleven Leads a Leapin'

Ten Horns a Blowin'

Nine Ladies Twirling

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Filed under C-Jam, Charleston, community, lindy hop, Technique