Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lindy Shock - Impresssions & thoughts

On Behavior

Any workshop or dance camp offers a teaching environment and we all go there to learn. Some people don’t seem to remember that, however; they are rude and obnoxious in class - or maybe they were rude and obnoxious to me because I am a girl and I lead. Some girls it seems are still suffering from the complex that only men should lead. But I won't go into that because it's a whole different kind of discourse. Personally, I always welcome feedback and I ask for feedback because only by knowing what doesn't work you can learn and improve. However, I do not welcome feedback that is given in a dismissive manner. It would be a good lesson for some followers to try leading at some point. Maybe they wouldn’t be so pretentious afterwards. Followers, you have to realize that in a workshop the job of the leaders is very challenging, because not only do they have to learn a series of moves, but also learn how to lead them. And that may take time, which we don't have lots of in a workshop. So don't get frustrated if your leader is struggling and doesn't nail the move straight away. Give us time and be supportive. If something’s not working, let us know, but do it in such a way that we know that you want us to learn together with you. And also learn how to give positive feedback. In a classroom we are all teachers to one another, but learn to be good teachers and good teachers are not dismissive, or rude, or pretentious, or suffering from superiority complexes. Why don't you learn something from Hasse & Marie?

On Teachers & Teaching


Hasse & Marie (whom I was meeting for the first time) are exemplary teachers! They should be displayed in a museum. The sweetest, friendliest, funniest, kindest, most polite teachers I have met so far. If you want to learn manners, they are the teachers to have. The respect they show to each other they also show to their students. They will never put you down and they are constantly encouraging you. With their positive attitude they draw you in and allow you to participate in a meaningful way. I watched an interview with them from last year's Lindy Shock where they explained their approach on teaching which helped me put to (better) words what I experienced in their class: positive self-conditioning, learning in a positive environment that builds confidence in the students. Engaging the students in the teaching process so that they feel they are contributing. Approaching the students not from a level of expertise but getting down to their level so that they can understand them.


I love what they say about what makes a 'good leader' and a 'good follower'. Marie says that a good leader looks at her, appreciates her and makes things out of what she can do instead of showing what he can do. Hasse says that a good follower dances at his level, engages in a two-way communication and has a positive attitude.

Finally, I appreciate that their class was about going back to the basics. At workshops some times we get overwhelmed by new moves that we try to master, but it's necessary for someone to take us back to base one and help us trim our technique because without it we are lousy dancers, I am afraid. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Swedes (the "Swedish School") make a point of bringing their students back to the basics, whether that is musicality or connection. Hasse & Marie talked about connection, or rather the lack of too much connection. You can read more about their class in my post Lindy Shock - Class Notes  Their site: www.hasseandmarie.com


Another favorite teaching couple of mine are Ali & Katja. You can read about my impressions of them in my post Ali & Katja which I wrote after a workshop I had with them in Athens last Spring. It was such a delight having classes with them again. They are very clear when explaining and there isn’t anything redundant in what they say or teach. When they are explaining the technique of a move, you don’t feel that there’s anything left unsaid; they really dissect it. And when you ask them why something’s not working and you try it out with them they always know exactly what it is that's not working and they explain it precisely and clearly. They are friendly, approachable, funny, great teachers, indeed! Their site: www.aliandkatja.com


The third favorite teaching couple of mine during this event was Davis & Claudia. They mostly taught tasters (and I took two of those), but I think they should be invited to come back as regular teachers. They were fun and friendly but also very precise at explaining and they didn’t overcrowd their 1-hour class with too much information. There was enough time to practice the moves and for them to give feedback (which was not the case in other tasters) and they were very good at giving feedback! Their site: http://davisandclaudia.com

Sorry for the low resolution of the photo of Davis & Claudia - it's actually a still from their recap video. I did not want to use any of their official photos from their site because of copyrights. 

On Advancing


The dream of every beginner lindy hopper is to be an advanced lindy hopper. You cannot cheat yourself into the advanced level, however, and it seems to me that there are people that do. I don't know if it's a lack of self-awareness or merely a need to be seen as advanced. Or maybe they think that on the advanced level you learn better stuff (what a misconception!). In any case, assigning yourself to a level where you don't actually belong makes your classmates suffer and does not make you a better dancer. The quantity of the moves you know DOES NOT make you an advanced dancer. It's the quality of your dancing that does. I see some 'advanced' dancers that don't even have a pulse. How can you progress when you have already forgotten this very basic thing we learn in the first lesson of lindy hopping? Go back to the basics people. And be more honest with yourself. It's not a competition! As Bobby White says in his splendid post Swing 101 - Beginning your Swing Dance Education, "you don’t want to try to learn swing dance quickly — you want to learn it well...trying to learn it quickly is the slowest way to actually get good at it." Good advice, if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lindy Shock - Class Notes

The first international event I attended at the end of my first year as a lindy hopper, the Swing ‘n’ Swim III camp in Greece, was a landmark for me because it had made me a less anxious dancer. The teachers were reminding us not to try and fill our dance with moves, but rather to let our dance breathe. That was very liberating because as a beginner you are always anxious to incorporate all the moves you know into your dancing. Our teachers, however, were saying, “make it simple, let it breathe, enjoy it!” and that stuck with me.

The second international event I attended at the end of my second year as a lindy hopper, the Swing ‘n’ Swim IV camp in Greece, was an even bigger landmark for me because our teachers’ emphasis on musicality liberated me even further as a dancer; what I understood from their classes is how important it is not only to listen to the music for the beat, but actually to understand the music - its phrases, its breaks - so that we can interpret it instead of just moving to its beat. That, in addition to the “make it simple, let it breathe” lesson of the previous year, made my dance more minimalist maybe (no longer do I worry about what move to do next or how to impress) but made my dance experience more fulfilling. I no longer fret to add moves to my vocabulary. I mostly strive to become more eloquent with the ones I know well and slowly and methodically weave all the new moves in with the old. Dancing for me this way becomes a craft instead of just a past time or a hobby.


This third international event, my first one abroad, will also become a landmark for me because this time I was not only liberated as a dancer, but more particularly as a leader, since the theme of the classes for my level, at least, was to a great extent the sharing of the responsibility for the dance

As we progress and become more advanced dancers, no longer is the leader the only one responsible for the dance; it is also the follower’s responsibility to contribute. And that was a great eye-opener for me and I only wish my Greek classmates were there to hear what those teachers had to say, because this sharing of responsibility is the only guarantee that the dance at last becomes a dance. 

Up until now, we have been learning that leaders lead and followers follow, which is important when you are a beginner if a dance is to be set in motion. As we advance, however, the challenge is not to either lead or follow, but rather to dance, which means interpret the music and create a conversation between two moving bodies. And to dance in such a way you need two separate individuals that can stand on their own two feet and express themselves through music. 


The first time I realized this distinction between mere moving and interpretive dancing was not in classes but during the competitions at Lindy Shock. I had never watched competitions live and I noticed something I had never noticed before. Being a leader, most of the times my eyes follow the leaders to see what they’re doing. This time, however, my eyes were noticing the followers as well and I think that’s mostly because the followers’ personalities were drawing my eyes to them. I realized that advanced followers are confident enough to be able to dance (interpret, express), instead of just follow, and that’s indeed very attractive! 

A dancer’s job is first and foremost to DANCE, not to lead or follow. And I think this is what our teachers were trying to do in our classes: Make us dancers rather than leaders or followers. For starters, it’s not only the responsibility of the leader to be musical; the follower needs to be musical as well. She needs to listen to the music, feel the music, dance to the music and enjoy the music. Most followers I know still just follow; they just do what you show them, instead of dancing. Dancing means taking the lead the leader is giving and not stopping there, but building upon it to express the music and, in a way, reply to the leader. In Ali & Katja’s class we spent quite some time practicing being each other's metronome. First, the followers had to keep the rhythm for both our sakes, regardless of what improvisations the leaders were doing. Then, the leader had to be the metronome. And then both had to be metronomes for each other. This was not an easy exercise because it required communicative skills that most of us lack. Lindy Hop is a partner dance. This, however, does not mean simply that it requires two individuals, but that it requires two individuals to engage in a conversation with each other through their bodies and with the help of music. And that is the true challenge of an advanced dancer.

Hasse & Marie’s class was also built around this notion of sharing the responsibility for the dance. It was a class about connection by not, however, being connected all the time. In other words, leading only up to a certain point – to the point where the follower gets what you want from her - and then letting go of her hand so that the follower does her “job”, as Hasse was saying, which is to continue the movement. We spent some time practicing that and it was not easy knowing when to let go, knowing how much leading is enough and how much responsibility a follower ought to be given. What I realized from this class was that we leaders tend to over-lead and that most followers are so used to be over-led that they become lazy; if you don't lead the entire movement for them they don’t continue it themselves, so the dance ends up being truncated; some times they even stop as if they don’t know what to do next. For example, on beat 6 of a swing out, if a leader were to let go of the follower’s hand, the follower ought to continue her movement, no matter what, and her momentum would be sending her backwards, until the leader stopped her. Many followers, however, stop this backward movement themselves. As a result there isn’t this wonderful elasticity in the end of the swing out, which is actually what a swing out is all about. 

Patrick & Natasha also based their class upon this notion of sharing. They did not emphasize technique but the class was all about leaders initiating a move (various jazz steps, specifically) and then letting go of the follower’s hand so she can follow through, either by mirroring the leader, or by doing something of her own. 

What I am taking with me: Connect, but not to the hip, communicate, contribute, express your personality. 

My advice to the followers: this is not a competition of what you know or how well you know it or how well you can predict what the leader invites you to do. It's about expressing yourself. Now, it may be difficult to express yourself in a language that you don't know well, but you'll never learn the language and you will never communicate with the person across from you if you don't make the effort. Use the dance vocabulary you have to engage in a conversation even if you don't know many words. Listen to your fellow speaker and reply back. Show them who you are through your replies. For us leaders it is easy to show off because we initiate the moves, but you have more chances to shine if you show us some of your personalities. Leaders who like to show off by impressing you with their moves (like men who talk all the time) are boring leaders. So are followers who do not talk at all. Engage in the conversation!! If you have nothing to say with your dancing, then don't dance, because in the end it's boring, like having a conversation with a boring person. Dance is artistic expression! Use dance to express yourselves, not simply to say that you've danced with that leader or the other leader, to find a boyfriend or to lose weight. And don't forget, the enjoyment of the dance is not only the leader's responsibility. Contribute to the fun! And see you on the dance floor!
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