Category Archives: socialization

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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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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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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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

Awesome accidental workout

I was about to present, and my brain wanted something to obsess about, and I knew that going over my presentation again would be counterproductive. Instead I took myself into one of our labs, shoved a plinth out of the way, put on a song, and did one jazz step that I’ve been working on continuously for three-(ish) repetitions of the song. One of my explorations today was how much I could change my vertical dynamic. I was going from very straight up to very low and bent. By the end of my second cycle of the song, I was sweating and my thighs burning.

Also amusing: a class mate of mine came through nodded at me and said “nice”
“sometimes I need something to obsess on”
“best sort of thing to obsess on”

I love being in a physically based career.

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Jazz is a balm to my soul

The past few days have been very difficult with a bunch of school things coming due. Last night I was waiting for the train to go home and changed my mind. I left one train station and began walking to another. On the way I stopped at a shoe store and ended up finding an awesome fascinator on the sale rack. I went to the tiny speakeasy where there was live jazz and a handful of dancers. I spent the night swing dancing, and it made me happy and light.

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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.

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