FNW again!

Since apparently this blog has been relegated to advertisements for FNW when I’m teaching, guess what? I’m helping teach again!

http://www.fridaynightwaltz.com/

With summer in full swing, come learn the fundamentals of Rotary waltz and club two step, essentials for wedding receptions and parties. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her teaching style, Mirage is a cheerful, chipper teacher with a great sense of humor, and a unique perspective on both leading and following, having done both for years. She always has great tips for the follows as well as the leads and will have you dancing like a pro in no time.

Hope to see you there!

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Teaching at Friday Night Waltz

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Mirage and I are teaching at FNW on Friday. ūüôā Mirage is a great instructor who always makes class fun and light. She has a great sense of humor, and has lots of great tips for follows.

The class blurb:

Summer is heating up, finals are here, work is impossible when it’s so beautiful outside…We really need something cool and easy to help us relax on a warm Friday night!

7pm – Cool Cross-Step Waltz Variations – Come cool off with us with these easy-breezy cross-step waltz steps. We will review some simple moves that flow easily (and breezily!), and work our way into variations that keep you cool while looking fancy. This is a great class to build on the intro classes you’ve taken!

8pm – Easy One-Step Variations – We will speed up and have fun with the easiest dance of them all… one-step! Come feel the wind through your hair while we zoom around the dance floor and learn some easy variations. We will run through a ton of moves together at a brisk but relaxed pace. Phenomenal class to bring a friend to!

Hope to see you there!

Stanford Ceili – Which way is left?

After 4 years of contemplating it, I finally went to a Stanford Ceili event.¬†At first, I was busy finishing school. I don’t remember what the tuesday night conflict was, but there was one. Then I was working nights and weekends, and that wasn’t conducive to dancing, and most recently, I got a day job that I was working 12 hrs a day at. In other words, i had lots of excuses.

Eventually, two of my coworkers, one of whom was bitten by the dance bug only recently, and the other who swears by Argentine Tango, convinced me that we should try it. So, we left work at 7 pm last Tuesday (sacrilege as far as our company is concerned) and headed over to Stanford Campus for the Ceili all dance event.

One of my friends who has done Ceili and/or stepdancing for most of her life explained “the pitch” (by which we mean the recruiting tag-line that you use during activities fairs) for Stanford Ceili to me:

If you can walk, count to eight, and tell your left from your right, you can Ceili — and the last one we can work around.

Lucky for me, they can work around the last one. Ceili was a lot of fun, but made it very apparent that despite having danced for going on… seven years now… I still can’t tell my left from my right. Counting to eight is no problem. It used to be, but enough Lindy Hop finally taught me to count past four ;). As for walking. I’ve been passably faking that for over two decades.

I’ve done so much dancing in the form of¬†of social ballroom dancing that I don’t need to think about feet and directions in terms of left and right for those dances. It’s just “which foot is free?” and “which direction can you go?” But for Ceili, it’ll be a very long time before that kind of instinct exists. With all the different patterns, I’m not sure I’ll ever develop it.

Aside from the challenges of lefts and rights, the choreographies were a little overwhelming by the end of the night. I was really glad that we happened to pick a night that didn’t have lessons. I think it would have been too much for me to also keep track of footwork while people dragged me through dances.

Despite this, I had a blast, and so did my coworkers. I at least will definitely be back.

Facebook Friday: Dancers are Insane

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Facebook Friday take 2.

So I came across this from a friend who doesn’t even dance very much (unfortunately.)

I get weird looks even if the music isn't just in my head :)

I get weird looks even if the music isn’t just in my head.

I find that people who don’t dance generally think I’m crazy. The whole “Big Dance”, dancing all night thing might have something to do with that.¬†I’ve never had anyone give me grief for being a dancer, not even in jest really. Most people shake their head in awe when I tell them I dance, and that’s about it if I fail to persuade them to join the cult of dancing.

As for hearing music that no one else can here, I’m going to wax philosophic here for a minute. I find that one of the best things I got out of dancing is that I stopped caring so much what everyone else thinks of me. I still haven’t shaken the problem completely, but I’m working on it. I have learned that when you find yourself in a situation and have to make a decision, just make it. No one can see the situation from your perspective, not even you after the fact. Make the best decision that you can at the time, and don’t second guess yourself after the fact. It is at best a waste of time and at worst, counterproductive.

Do you guys ever have pleasant or unpleasant interactions with non-dancers who think you are crazy?

An Age Old Debate

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This popped up on my facebook feed and I thought I’d pass it on. It’s a small collection of photos from jazz age dancing, demonstrating a variety of dance holds.

Jazz Age Dance Holds

While there isn’t a comment thread on the page, there is one on the fb link that I found kind of interesting. I’ve reproduced it below, minus the names of course (colors simply indicate different speakers):

  • My latest Jazz Age ballroom dance page: devoted to demonstrating the cheerful anarchy that prevailed when dancers assumed the ballroom position in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.
  • Yes¬†– and one thing common to all the pictures you posted is a very close hold – especially noticeable compared to today’s – with the “frame” and the “air between the partners”…I have the same reaction to anything called “the real vintage swing”. I was around when this dance was created and before it got boxed into “West Coast”, “East Coast”, Lindy, etc…and as I tell young dancers “interpreters” as to the costuming they should look at pictures of their parents and realize that their mothers and grandmothrs did not show her crutch and wore longer skirts, and what they copy is not what was danced socially but created for dance demo for black and white TV – that also was not in every home as a dance historian who shall remain nameless was asserting: “kids learned these dances from the American Bandstand, from watching TV at home”…
  • When a dance form is new and vibrant and developing, it is anarchic and individual and messy. When it becomes “vintage” and preserved in amber, then we lose the spontaneity and create rules to define it as “authentic” – and there is a tendency to confuse performance dancing with social dancing.
  • ¬†Most of my dance performance experience (outside of ballet and modern) involved staged, “kicked up” interpretations of traditional and ballroom dance. We never assumed that Russian peasants really did the tricks we perfected for “Hopak,” and being dipped and flipped around the way I was in some ballroom numbers would have turned a social dance scene into a triage situation. The ethnic dance police were somewhat more severe than the ballroom dance police, but I have always enjoyed incorporating new elements and seeing dance forms evolve. I never assume the way I am doing things is “right” or “traditional” and would never claim any degree of adherence to the original.
  • ¬†(So I particularly enjoy looking at these old stills – hey, I could try that… or that…)
  • Thank you. The looser, more intimate style of foxtrot as danced the 1920’s and 1930’s had a great deal more vitality and honesty to it. When I see people dancing Arthur Murray style at period dance events I sometimes have to scratch my head in wonder.¬†There’s something so stiff and regimented about it, although I appreciate the skill and practice it takes to be good at it… and some people are quite good at it. My opinion is that the average ballroom dancer shouldn’t be trying to emulate performance and exhibition dancing — it creates an unrealistic expectation for most of us (me included, I’m not that good), yet this is more or less what many dance instructors are teaching us to do.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f0/Ballroom_dance.jpg¬†Just not my style, I guess.
  • My late Honey, Jim Layne, a stellar dance professional himself, used to decry the kind of “ballroom” seen in ballroom competitions on TV as unnatural, having about the same relationship that riding a horse has to dressage. Rather than International style dance, he was a fan of American style, which is more like social dance than exhibition.
  • I am totally with you on this!

This thread really started a couple of thoughts in my head. Please understand that I am not saying I think these people meant what I am about to speculate on, just that they sparked these thoughts in my own head.

Vintage vs. Modern Ballroom Dancing

I find the idea that vintage dances are set in amber to be an intriguing metaphor. I don’t go in for it much myself, but having been a student of Richard Powers, I certainly respect the task of reviving a dead dance. Trying to do something between interpret and reverse engineer a dance from a handful of videos and photos, (or just one or two pages in a single dance manual!) is exceptionally difficult. It is no wonder in my mind that this leads to the “there is only one right way” school of thought. We have no way to tell whether even the most natural seeming variations would have been done at the time.

If you can’t verify something’s authenticity, then you aren’t reconstructing it any more. You are interpreting it. Which is fine, if that is what you are trying to do.¬†The part I’m not so much of a fan is that this seems to logically lead to a¬†stifling¬†of creativity. I’m all for reviving vintage dances, but not to give dance instructors one more way to tell people they are doing it wrong. Instead, i think these dances should be revived as inspiration for continued creativity. There was a reason these dances were popular once, i think it is valid to assume that there are aspects of these dances we should preserve.

One of my favorite examples of this is the Dawn Mazurka, danced at Stanford’s big dance every year. It is a reconstruction of a mazurka by Charles Durang¬†(see here for details). Mazurka quadrilles are not something¬†commonly¬†done at Stanford, or in the Bay Area at all as far as I can tell. The mazurka quadrille has a lot of potential for creativity, and I wish we did them more often. Richard ¬†Powers taught one class at FNW about them, and it just didn’t seem to catch on in the community I guess.

This therefore leads me to a conclusion similar to that made by some of our facebook commenters.  Specifically the distinction between performance and social ballroom dancing.

Performance vs. Social Ballroom Dancing

This is an important distinction in the dance community. Performance ballroom is very technical, choreographed and well rehearsed. There is minimal room for spontaneity. And it is very likely that many of the videos and pictures we have of any given dance are performances. We will likely never know how these dances were danced in a social setting, simply because of their nature. A social dance is not about filming each other, it is about dancing.

Which means that the reconstructions we do, the “vintage” dances, are performances. They were meant as performances, and (debatably?) should be done as performances. A choreographed sequence that shows off a favorable snapshot of a dance that was once so popular that someone made record of it.

Even if we did try to document social dancing, we would have to take thousands of videos before we got a reasonable sampling of the styles involved. Dance style varies so widely from city to city, studio to studio, person to person, and even dance to dance. How could we ever hope to encapsulate it all?

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So I guess what I hope people get out of this post is that I have some advice for the next time someone says (about your dancing) that you are doing it wrong. If they can’t follow that statement with “you are hurting, or likely to hurt, your partner doing it,” stick your tongue out at them and keep doing it your way. Your individual style, is yours, and you have every right to it. And if your creativity comes up with something awesome and new, share it!