Category Archives: leading

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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As a person who is sometimes teaching

The best thing to me is to have people thirsty for knowledge that I can share. At my home scene, I’ve helped the pre-dance lesson often by being a demo partner. This past weekend I did that, then had several people find me later and ask for tid-bits of clarification. I probably spent a good five dances in the hall way talking about things. The next day I traveled a few hours away and taught a class of my own. The way I had structured it, the first part didn’t seem very much like dancing at all. Then there was a moment where suddenly everyone, even the first time beginners, was legitimately dancing with someone else.

These are the moments that are addictive. The sudden understanding. The shift from not dancing to dancing, from lack of knowledge to knowledge. I seek out these moments all over the place. I recently spent a portion of a night teaching someone how to find knots and was rewarded with the look on his face when he first felt one release.

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One of the things that I love about capoeira is that it was one of the first places that my brain would realize potentialities. I would be watching others in the roda and notice that the thing they were doing right then could very easily turn transition into a different move. I think part of this is because a huge amount of time is spent in capeoira training taking the basic few kicks and dodges and stringing them together in drill after drill. I got used to the feeling of using momentum and redirecting. I got used to selecting one movement as appropriate to what my partner was doing and having that suggest to my body the next place to go.

Shortly after I had this break through in capoeira I started to lead in blues. Very quickly the same sort of discovery was apparent to my mind. I would get to a movement, and as my follower was finishing it, I saw possibilities arise. Their position, or momentum or even some movement flair would suggest sometimes one and sometimes a dozen things to do next.

I have attended hundreds of beginner lessons for blues dance. I think that in blues dancing giving beginners a sequence to try out is out of favor, if it was ever in. I’ve had discussions and the feeling toward connection and improvisation is always brought up as why we shouldn’t teach sequences. However, in light of how capoeira drills sequences and then expects you to break them, I think improvisation can be learned from there. Someone else once compared teaching sequences to creating sand art. You follow the direction of someone else until you get it. Then you erase it and use the same rules to make your own.

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More Material

When I worked for Mad Science there was always like 6 ten to twenty minute activities. We had the kids for an hour. Include the time that I had to spend talking about the concept and explaining how to do the actives, that is way way more than needed. My trainer explained that he wanted to make certain that no matter what the class, there was some activity that everyone could enjoy. It was my job as a teacher and part of classroom management to chose activities on the fly that would fit the group.

Planning for a dance class I’ve adopted this method. In my planning stages, there’s a dozen things that I think should be said for each of the handful of exercises or movements I choose to cover. I never get to to do all of the movements, and not all of the things that could be said should be said to the group that is in front of me. At that moment in my life I was learning so much about learning and teaching both on the job and in classrooms. I’ve carried that forward, and I feel lucky that I’ve had these opportunities.

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Social, Partner, Dancing

I made a point to break down to the people that I taught this past weekend that blues is a social partner dance, and that I thought that each of those was it’s own complete concept.

Social – we go out to where there are other people. We mingle and make friends. Our classes have us rotate so we get to know how to dance with many others and so we get to know the  others we might dance with later.

Partner – I like to think that most of the leading and following technique falls here. This is where we find connection, and follower’s physics, and the tacit agreements. A lot of classes give this the lightest of service, and I want to make sure that I always have some part of my classes address this.

Dancing – this is probably the part that is the hardest to teach. It shares a lot of techniques with partnering, but unless there is an intention to dance to music, I don’t think people are learning dance, but instead learning movement.

I think that all of these elements need to be balance. The pull between partnering and dancing is sometimes the hardest to get right, and the sweetest to hit when you make it.

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Filed under art, blues dance, community, following, leading, learning, music, socialization, teaching

Degrees of freedom

In motor learning I learned this interesting idea: as a person is learning a new movement they don’t have the attentional capacity to keep track of and control all of the moving parts. Instead they’ll focus on some portion that they deem important and “freeze the other degrees of freedom” leading to movement that is not the most efficient, but capable of being attended to. As we learn more, some parts of the movement can become grooved in and require less attention. We call this reaching automaticity. Ideally once automaticity on one portion of the movement happens the other degrees of freedom are opened up and we can work on that portion. I feel like the Jazz Lindy Hop Steps Made Easy series takes advantage of this idea quite a lot. Once you are comfortable with one layer, another layer is added.

I fear that sometimes it takes a lot of self awareness to notice when a person has stopped halfway through the process. They’ve gotten some part of the movement automatic, but they haven’t gone back and worked on the other degrees of freedom. I see this most common in leaders. They are so concerned with how to get a follow to do a move that they concentrate very much on their arms, shoulders and chest. Once they’ve got that down, they are confident with their move, but forget to dance themselves.

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Projects for self

I’ve started a new project. I feel like in order to advance my blues dancing I need to figure out what makes my style. Once I know that, I can work from there. I can reinforce the things that I do well or with pizazz. I can figure out if the places that I’m lacking are things that I should actually work on or if they are ok to leave behind. Not everyone is good at everything.  Bobby White once mentioned that you should figure out what you like and do more of it. But first I need to figure out what it is that I do.

To do this I’m going to enlist the aid of something I generally don’t like. I’m going to video myself. I’ve asked a few friends of mine to dance with me, and we are going to record it. I’ve put together a pair on songs, so that I dance to different styles of music. I will dance both as a lead and as a follow. Hopefully there will be overarching things that can be pointed to. Things to say “This is me“.

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