Revisits and revisions.

I started this blog because I was thinking very deeply at the time about blues dancing and its place in my life. I was thinking about everything from mechanics to social conventions. I was thinking about how movement influences music and music influences movement. This blog was a place to capture the chatter in my head. To force it to be words, to be able to clarify my ideas well enough to share with others.


I’m very glad that I put forward the effort to do so.


I stopped regular updates because other things took prominence in my life. I started on the last year of my graduate degree. I started learning a new dance. I moved twice.


I’ve continued to dance and to read and to learn and to teach, though the balances have shifted. Some of my opinions have changed. I have refined some and discarded others. Some I have come to believe even more strongly. I am glad that this blog has served to capture my point of view at that time, and I hope that at some point it will again capture my new views. I hope I am able to load them with as much nuance as exists in my own mind.


I will not be posting regularly again for a while, but I wanted to capture this moment.


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It seems to be that one of my roles in the dance world is to be kind and welcoming to lots of people. It’s come up in a few conversations how I have been one of the first people to really reach out and make someone feel like they belonged in the room with us dancing.

This pleases me quite a lot.

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Conflicting feelings.

I’m never going to be one to say that a person should wait to learn something, or that there is an entry bar, but…

Any namable dance, whether codified (like waltz) or not (like blues) has an idealized form. This would be made up of the dance’s basics (if those exist), the wider accepted vocabulary, the bodily aesthetics of the dancers, modes of connection, the common musicality approaches, and the music itself. It is the adherence to these ideals that make the dance sharable, spreadable and repeatable.

Learn the idealized form. You should build up defaults first and learn how to be creative within the defaults. There is a world of infinite creativity within those boundaries. It takes knowing the idealized form inside and out to really be able to branch out and appropriately change things to suit you. You should do that with intention and in a way that makes sense. If you begin with the idea that anything goes, you will develop habits that are inconsistent and sometimes plain out wrong. A basic theory of how people learn motor skills (Dreyfus and Dreyfus model) suggests that novices learn rules and apply them no matter what the context. Intermediate performers can apply the rules appropriately to the context. Advanced performers can find appropriate times to break or disregard the rules. Masters are no longer conscious of the rules, but their gut feelings serve appropriately a vast majority of the time.

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Dancing is just like walking

Every time I have to guard a patient as they walk toward me in the parallel bars, I wonder how they would feel if we started to dance. Of course they are seeing me because they have no balance, so it’s probably not the wisest of ideas.

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I have been thinking quite a lot and talking quite a lot lately about the obligations that come out of being a part of a group of people who enjoy dancing. Some day I will write a blog post or three about that. Today is not that day.

Instead I need to talk about one specific part of what we do. Leading and following is a part of the mechanics of what we spend our time doing with each other. It is not necessarily dancing, as I’ve argued before, but central to dancing blues and being social about it. Otherwise we could go to a club and dance near our friends and it would be the same thing. There is a magic that is dancing with each other. Since it is so central to our dance it is a problem to only know half of it. A lead who doesn’t follow or a follow who doesn’t lead cannot fully understand their primary role, and has an incomplete understanding of what our dance is.  Almost every advanced dancer I know, every nationally recognized instructor that I know of can switch roles. If not beautifully, not as smoothly as their usual dancing, at least passably. Yet this tends to be done out of sight. We do it in private lesson, and when dancing with our practice partners and off in a corner at the social dance.

Since I think a lot of the expectations and norms of our dance are transmitted by modeling, I believe firmly we should be showing beginners people dancing both roles. I think it should become a public act to practice and learn. I think we should show up to lessons and rotate through. Just showing up as a female lead is why I compete. I also think we should encourage this skill to be picked up sooner, but that’s a whole different thing.

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Changing tempos

I use VCL a lot, and one of the nifty features is that it will let you change the speed of audio playback. When I was practicing for the choreography competition we would dance to our song both slower and faster. Each had a different value. Slow requires body control. Fast required precession. They both required us to listen to the music and allow that to be our guide to how we were dancing.

However, the first time I listened to that song slowed down there was a moment of discovery. There was so much happening in the music that I just hadn’t the time to process before. I know that Jazz is complex and multilayered, but to hear it layed out like that was almost magical.

Now I’m playing around with a different genre of music, and much to my surprise I like it and appreciate it better slowed down. Maybe I just take a long time to process.

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On Pain

A friend of mine had hosted a dancer (I want to put in some adjectives; well-respected, talented, skilled, admired, etc to let you all know that this isn’t just any dancing Joe off the street. This is someone to listen to and to give weight and credence to my story.), and got into talking about philosophy and dance as intermediate and advanced dancers so commonly do. Eventually the topic swung around to injuries and pain. The hosted dancer had been dealing with a fairly serious injury that had taken him out of dancing for a while, and was limiting how he could dance now. They commiserated about how hard it is to learn to do an already learned skill while working around a new limitation. At the end of it, they agreed that pain and injury should be addressed in classes and workshops.

After telling me about the conversation my friend suggested that with my background I would be suited to teaching such classes and leading such discussions. While I think that pain is an important thing, I think it is important enough that it shouldn’t be handled by a huge class. With my training I have at least 7 different types of pain in my mind. Each has it’s own implications and an achy pain is very different than a burning pain. Ways to work around and compensate for pain is just as complicated. Some exercises are the same no matter which way your problem goes. Do your knees tend to fall outside of your foot? One legged squats making sure your knee-cap is centered over your second toe. Knees tend to fall to the inside of your foot? One legged squats making sure your knee-cap is centered over your second toe. This is so common and so important that I tend to teach it to every class who I have the privilege of speaking to. Most exercises or corrections however, are going to be very different from person to person. I am not going to encourage someone who over-tucks their pelvis to do the same visualizations as someone who is sway-backed.

What I do think would help is an emphasis in classes of doing things that work for you. Many classes focus on doing things just like the instructors (not necessarily the fault of the instructor since the way they know how to dance is their way) and this means that people do things that are awkward and uncomfortable. Learning to recognize the difference between this isn’t working for me because I don’t quite get it yet and this isn’t working for me because my body doesn’t/shouldn’t/can’t do it is very important, and should be encouraged. One of the more brilliant things that I heard was talking about styling, but could be easily applied to protecting your body

Do more of the things you like. Do less of the things you don’t like. Don’t do things you don’t like at all if you can avoid it. You only need three consistent things to build up a style. — Paraphrase (mangling) of Bobby White

Basically you should do things that you know you can handle, and avoid things that actually cause you pain. Hardest of all is respect your own tolerance. I know I want to dance all night, but at this point, my knee would not handle it. I need to respect that because I want to keep dancing for a long time.

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The day I started on a path

Toward becoming what I dislike.

I’ve always felt a bit of anger toward people who become pedantic about the definitions of what music is and is not blues for the defining of what is and what is not blues dancing. Yet on other parts of the internet I pushed someone toward stricter definitions of blues music because they stated they like blues dancing.

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Original quote from Ira Glass.

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May 23, 2013 · 11:39 PM

Saying yes

I have been thinking rather deeply this last week about what the dance community is. What we owe to that community and what that community owes to us. For the most part it has been a convoluted twisting and turning of ideas and has forced me to define and redefine some things multiple times.

One thread of my pondering has lead me to think about how we build up certain expectations. Most concrete of these is to say yes to someone asking you to dance. The lindy affair wrote about how yes contributes to our over all culture:

the low penalty in our community is one of the biggest contributors to the open and welcoming attitude which is so common in the Swing Dance community. When I ask someone to dance and they answer with “yes,” it makes me feel accepted. The special part of the Lindy Hop World is that any person – no matter their clothes or personality or age or gender or whatever – will be accepted.

For some reason reading this post reminded me of one of my favorite crossover concepts. In comedic improvisational acting the rule is that you never say “no”; it will shut down a scene, but instead say “yes and”. This allows for acceptance of whatever the other actor put forward with an expansion of your own making. There are several dance teachers who encourage this attitude in dancing. They are some of my favorites.

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