Category Archives: performance

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under community, performance, socialization

Dancing to non-native music

Some people argue that the type of music being danced to is integral to the dance. These people believe that the core of the dance is directly related to the music that is happening. I disagree. I think that for most dances that are codified well enough to be a separate dance, the music playing is unimportant. I can still look at it and know what dance it might be. Consider the following:

These videos  are some identifiable dance: tango, balboa; being done to a song that doesn’t really fit the style. It is certainly not the most natural thing to be doing, but it is clear that it works out for those people. The dance style allows both dancers to come to a place where they can interpret the music together smoothly. I recently spent some time learning yet another dance style. Despite my history of dancing, there was plenty of time being awkward and on the wrong foot. To me it is understandable to try to do a dance that I know to a song that doesn’t quite fit, than to try to poorly do the dance that does fit.

Leave a comment

Filed under community, fusion dancing, learning, music, performance, socialization

How I’m approaching solo dancing

Solo dancing is a difficult topic for me. I know that it is considered one of the key ways to become more awesome as a social dancer. Some people think that it is one of the best ways to deal with unbalanced scenes. However, even though I follow and I lead, the moment I let go of my partner, I feel like I am lost in a sea of notes and bits of my own body. I know movements. I know variations. Somehow I still feel as though I am cast adrift. I am slowly, slowly getting over these and embracing the solo dance. Here’s how I’m muddling through.

Firstly:
Figure out some go to moves. I like to have a few that don’t go anywhere, and a few that travel. For me my preferred are: fishtails, apple jacks, skates, mess arounds, and shimmies. This awesome video has a list and performance of common jazz step vocabulary. I chose a few that fit my style.

Secondly:
Learn these moves! Get the basics in your body. Take a class. Find youtube tutorials (lindy in the park’s jazz step of the week and Rebbeca Brightly’s lindy hop steps made easy are great places to start) and practice at home. Offer to buy dinner for some one who does your chosen move well in exchange for showing you their technique. Work on learning visually and copy some one who does it well.

Thirdly:
Figure out all the ways you can change it without losing the recognizable core movement. Can you do it more slowly? More quickly? Can you end more suddenly? Can you ease into the end? Can you do it bigger? Smaller? Sideways?

Fourthly:
This is where I made my breakthrough. I came up with adjectives to describe how I was doing the different movements. I also came up with adjectives to describe the sounds in the songs I am dancing to. Then I matched. If a song sounds heavy to me, I’ll use one of my core movements, with heavy feeling embellishments. If a song feels old timey, I’ll use embellishments that remind me of silent movies. Now instead of four moves I have literally infinite possibilities.

You still might not catch me dancing by myself though

Leave a comment

Filed under blues dance, learning, performance

Another post about solo dancing.

I’ve signed up for a riffing contest, which brings my focus back around to solo dancing. For a long time I was extremely uncomfortable with solo dancing. I was actually extremely uncomfortable with a lot of the space I was given to improvise and express. Dancing is such a physical thing that I am blatantly moving my body in a way that demands attention. Especially expression in following, I feel that the lead must be put upon to accommodate to my body. A part of it probably relates to me mentally understanding that there are some people who might find me attractive, but my body is not anywhere near the standard attractive mold. I do not look around in the media and find reflections of what I have. I do not look at the national level blues dancers and see reflections of what I have. Then it loops back around; because I know that someone to find me attractive must reject the rest of the world, I fail to find myself attractive. It’s an uneasy truce in accepting my general awesomeness and not liking how I look.

Yesterday I danced by myself (in a room with practice partner), and I stared at myself in the mirror. And for the most part it was incredibly difficult. I didn’t want to look at myself. I have to, in order to learn how to feel my lines and what not, but I didn’t want to.
I didn’t want to see my face all flushed. I got sick of my hair flopping about and collecting sweat. I hated most of all the way my clothes clung to different parts of me. I danced and I figured out movements and I learned, but it was a difficult process.
I am particularly concerned that with my distaste toward myself that others will look at me in the same way. The thought of getting up in front of people who will be looking at me, and judging me, and while it will be on my dancing it may also be a bit on my body. There’s always the argument that the lines just don’t work as well for me as for a standardly pretty person. I feel like there’s plenty of things that I’m not technically proficient at, but I’m afraid I could fudge them more if I were not me.
At the end of all this I consider all the people that I look at dance. I never think,” if his ass were just a little firmer this would work”. I think things like” wow!” or “I want to be that ballsy”. I know that the people I’m drawn to, that I find beautiful are not the standard mold of beauty, and that it’s ok. That it’s better than ok, it’s one of the wonderful things that makes them interesting and enriching to my life.

Leave a comment

Filed under blues dance, competition, performance, socialization

Why writing is not perfect communication

The most obvious part is that there is no perfect communication. Any time you try to take an idea from your brain and transfer it to another’s there will be loss or distortion of parts of that idea. That’s why we have conversations. We can exchange an idea and then refine it until each person is pretty sure the other gets what they are saying. In conversations we generally consider many things to make sure our conversational partner is with us. We look at their body language, their gaze, we listen to their tone of voice. Most times we know the people that we are conversing with, or the conversations are to get to know them better.

When we begin to print our ideas we take away many of the cues that allow us to help others clearly get our ideas. Text conveys no tone on its own. The difference between a lighthearted jab and a cruel insult can often be understood in vocalization, and better with body language. In text it falls to the receiver to add more levels of interpretation. We do not get to see people as they read our words. We cannot gauge reactions and cannot make clarifications. Those receiving our words will go forward with whatever misunderstandings they began with, unless we foresee the misunderstanding and write (sometimes far too much) to guide them to our exact standpoint.

I think that when we begin to write our thoughts and ideas down we as “writers” need to consider every part of the previous paragraph. I might make an offhanded comment on my face book page and trust that my friends know me well enough to tell that I am joking. On the other hand, I am not going to be surprised that someone from Montana that I met once at a dance exchange in Pennsylvania is kind of freaked out by what I said. Blogging goes a step beyond that. It introduces people who are strangers to you entirely, who may have one tenuous commonality with you to your ideas. Hyperbole and satire and certain types of humor are all but impossible without a large shared base of understanding. Sometimes these understandings come from more than the larger culture, but also the niches that people find for themselves. For example, American conservatives, who for things except political ideology share culture with America liberals don’t get that the Colbert Report is a joke. A joke about them even.

I hang out around parts of the internet that exposes me to the blogging of other dancers. It is usually a pleasure to read what others have to say about dancing. Some people I find to express ideas in ways that I get. They talk about topics that I’m interested in and they put them rather well. Others may talk about things that I don’t care about so much. They might not write well enough to engage me. I generally find that I don’t bother to read their work with any regularity. Not a big deal. Recently there has been a bit of tension between people that I only know of, because I read their blogs. Some of this tension, if not all of the tension, has come from the fact that readers have interpreted ideas differently than the writers meant them. In defending the posts people have said something along the lines of  “but [writer/ I’m] not [whatever label people used in criticism eg. sexist], [writer/I] was using [humor/ hyperbole] to make a point”. The problem here is exactly what was said before. I don’t know the writers. Lots of people don’t know the writers. The writers used language very similar to that which people who really believe the position use. There was little indication that they meant to be joking. Yet when the words went out into the world without tone, without face to face communication it was expected that the fact that it was a joke to come across.

I try very hard to make my indications clear. I’ve put disclaimers on my hyperbole. However I also know that people might find offense with things that I write. It may because I’m unclear. It may be because my experience is limited, and I don’t know all of the things that are possible. Call me on it. I’ll try and expand.

Leave a comment

Filed under community, performance, socialization, writing

Body differences in dance

Sometimes I enjoy watching people dance not because of the skill level they are at, but because they do cool things with their body.

Now obviously there are more things that you can do if you are highly skilled. Also, if you are highly skilled, you know those cool things and can do them consistently. In the way that people move naturally, there is often some element of awesome. You can watch couples on the dance floor and see a moment where someone finds comfort and just dances. Sometimes it is fleeting, and sometimes it lasts. My personal goal is to have more of those moments, and to have them longer. If I can have an entire song of just moving, dancing, not thinking, I’m ecstatic.

Leave a comment

Filed under blues dance, learning, performance

Being the party starter

In December Ruby wrote a blog post about how dance culture is separate. There were many things that I understood from my experiences in the dancing community and out of it. She addresses how most people think of dancing as a thing that is done by other people,

The social pressure not to dance is stronger, only because there is so much shame and fear around who we are. We are not beautiful enough, not coordinated enough and certainly not talented enough, because to ‘have rhythm’ is somehow viewed as having a talent, and to move in a coordinated manner is somehow a skill. Never mind that the heart pumps in a rhythm, and the body naturally balances itself around a shifting axis with every step. Never mind that generations of people can move their pelvises with enough coordination to procreate, and can independently control their limbs enough to operate a vehicle while texting or smoking a cigarette. Dancing is in our bodies and the way we live, but we are cut off from it by our mental constructs.

I understand this being a constraint. I dance or practice dancing on subway platforms all the time. It is an entirely different thing to do it and mean it. It is very different to catch a musicians eye and dance to their music. It causes me anxiety to even think that people might be looking at me dancing. They might judge how I’m doing it, even though I mean it only as a physical form of expression. I think that we agree that it only takes a tiny push to get people to dance. She recalls a scene where

[The front-man] called out the girls on the fringe who were obviously wanting to dance, there was a brief explosion of shaking and shimmying. It wasn’t beautiful or coordinated, but spirited and free.

night life

I have as part of a small group in a large crowd, been the tipping point in getting people to dance. In the picture above we were at a dj’ed music night in a museum. The music was cheesy, but blasting. Our group, slightly lost without dance embrace, started doing our silliest strangest solo-ing. Quickly a circle formed. One of our group (not me :/ ) made eye contact with someone in the crowd and basically pulled them into dancing. With that one little break, a change came over the group and most people were dancing. People want to dance. Seeing others do so gives them the permission to do it themselves.

Now I personally want to have as many people as possible to dance with in the blues scene. I think that a great way  new dancers is to let the public see dancers. Going to music festivals, bars, live music venues etc. let the public see us. Sometimes we get people dancing with us despite them not being “dancers”. Many times this can serve as a first step. I want to dance in public more often and I want you to do it with me.

Leave a comment

Filed under blues dance, community, music, performance, socialization