Category Archives: blues dance

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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Filed under blues dance, community, learning, socialization, teaching

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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Filed under blues dance, community, learning, socialization

Anxiety

My dancing tends to be an exploration of my inner state. So often I go through life barely acknowledging the things brewing within myself. I am working toward the next goal, getting stuff done. I think that this state of being was who I am long before I moved to NYC, but it is an attitude that is well matched to this city. When I put on my jazz shoes and there is music and a floor, everything changes. I, the massive klutz, become graceful. I slow down and my mind stops planning every little detail of the upcoming week. Suddenly I am aware of my own inner life.

At different points this has been a curse. I deal every day with unusually high levels of anxiety. For the most part I ignore it until I need to take medication for the tension headaches, and then I push on and ignore it more. Dancing breaks that down and I feel it viscerally. There is no ignoring and no getting away from myself. When I first began blues dancing this inability to ignore my own state, and my desire to be good at this thing while being just a beginner combined into a terrible spiral. I was doing something to provoke anxiety. I was feeling all of the anxiety all at once for the first time. I didn’t know how to handle it. I learned that I would become more and more stressed as the night went on. Stress would make my muscles clench and my body rigid, which ruined my frame and my following. Knowing that my following was worse than normal would cause me stress and this would become a repetitive loop. It took a few panic attacks where I shut myself in the bathroom to hyperventilate to learn that there would be nights that I would have to pull myself out of the dance. I could go home even if it meant that I had only danced half an hour.

As I’ve improved, both at dancing and at managing my anxiety, things have shifted. Sometimes I would have a moment where everything was shut out but the sound of the music and the feeling of my body. I could focus so clearly on where I was and what my partner was asking that there was nothing else. These moments were addictive. Beautiful shining moments that kept me coming back. Eventually they would get longer; from a moment to a phrase, from a phrase to a song, from a song to a series of songs. I’ve recently begun mindfulness meditation, and when I’m doing well with that, it is not unlike those moments.

This weekend past was a triumph for me. I’ve usually taken a long time to resolve my anxiety once it is the state I am in. For me it is not as simple as something anxiety producing being done, I usually spend some time still being wound up and worried for a while. I had a week of finals and a last looming final on Monday. Yet I was able to go to the Saturday late night and have perfect amazing moments of dancing. Moments that I was perfectly in tune with myself and my partner. Moments that make me happy and soothe. I had a night filled with these moments, entire songs with new partners and familiar partners. If all dancing felt like this, I would never need a break for it is so refreshing on its own.

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Filed under blues dance, exchanges, following

breaking a move

Since I have been focusing on my skills as a lead lately I have been thinking about taking solo movements and how to partner them. Lots of things that I do are pretty explicitly leadable. I could probably get someone who is following well, but who had never seen the move to do it with me, just by managing our centers well. However, I like to think about what would happen if I didn’t lead it correctly. What happens if we do it “wrong”? Yesterday, waiting for the train I think I found my favorite new move to try out by exaggerating a wrong way of doing something.

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Filed under blues dance, leading, learning, teaching

The time I struck myself as profound

I have a collection of quotes that I keep. They can be a sentence or a few paragraphs that strike me. They are usually better articulations of ideas that have been kicking around in my mind for a while.

The other day I wrote the simplest of sentences that set off all sorts of resonance within me.

We are a community and each of us contributes to that.

We talk so often about the dance scene and dance community. We talk about the things we appreciate. We talk about the things we want from it. We talk about the things that we wish we could change. Yet each of us individually contributes to our dance scene. In every house party you don’t break things at, in every newbie you are friendly to, in every time you open your houses to weary travelers from out of town either for events or when they are just passing through you (and I) contribute to the tone of our scene. It goes the other way too. Every time you criticize someone for not doing just as you do, in every time you take a surly tone declining a dance, in every time you allow a boundary to be crossed you are also contributing to the tone of our scene.

I’ve also been thinking about what dancers who have been around longer owe to those who are new. I know that I look to those around me and model my behavior off of theirs. Now I hope that when people look at me, I am demonstrating behaviors to truly be aspired to.

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Filed under blues dance, community

Presentation

I have been thinking a lot lately (within the last 48 hours) about how I present to the world. Specifically how I present sometimes to the dance world. I consider myself a pretty neutral person. Most of the time I walk through the world without any thought about my gender. Sometimes though, I notice it blaringly, mostly as a relative lack. I watch a woman put on make-up on the train, I see someone with well styled hair, or form fitting clothing, and I notice how different I am from them. When I consider that if I had to put myself somewhere on a scale, I would be just feminine of neutral.

When I go out dancing locally, I tend to go in whatever I was wearing anyway. This can range from a dress to polo and khakis. Yet when I head out of town, I think people may get an impression of a much more feminine person. I pack dresses to wear almost exclusively. This isn’t really anything more than the fact that dresses take up less room, and the ones I own usually pack and travel better than my other “nice” clothes.

Except for the planning of one specific thing.

When I compete, since I do not value winning, I always compete as a lead. When I compete, as a lead, I dress as high femme as you can ever expect from me. I wear heels and tights and a dress. I might do my hair, and I often do my make-up. I believe that I am a decent lead, and I want to show the world (or at least the exchange) that a person can be a decent lead while still embracing femininity. Too often I feel that women who lead reject their femininity and dress “in drag” when they lead publicly. I’ve had someone who knew I was able to lead ask if I wanted to lead her even though I was “dressed as a follow”, and this struck me as silly. Is there a dress code to go with dance roles? Am I choosing how I want to dance when I make my wardrobe choices? I think not, so I think it is important to show myself to the world as a who is sometimes feminine and who sometimes leads.

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Filed under community, performance, socialization

Partnering and Dancing

I’ve talked before about my beliefs about the fine intertwining, but separation of the skills of partnering and dancing.

As I’ve improved my skills at both I’ve found that my skill in partnering allows me to do a lot more of my own dancing. I don’t have to concentrate quite so hard on what my partner is asking me to do, which frees up a lot of energy and time to work in my own variations, or body movements, or do things just to match the music. I feel like these things still let me dance with my partner. The most amazing follows that I’ve lead do very similar. They do their own interpretations of the ideas that I start us out with. Sometimes it’s jaw dropping levels of amazing how someone can mold and shape their ideas while keeping true to our dance. I’ve danced with the opposite. Follows who cared very much about what their dance was, and didn’t pay close attention to partnering. Where I felt I had to be very firm to get their attention at all, taking any subtlety out of my leading (not that I’m super subtle to start).

However there is one type of person that will ruin both my partnering and my dancing. The person who will lead me into others on the dance floor. For a good dance, especially when I am following, I need to be able to trust the person I’m dancing with. To partner well I need to know that they aren’t sending me into danger. Otherwise I spend the dance worrying about looking after myself. This introduces anxiety and with the anxiety I become tense and that washes my dancing down the drain.

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Filed under blues dance, community, following, learning, socialization