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!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Boogie-Woogie

Boogie-woogie is an African American style of piano-based blues that became popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but originated much earlier, and was extended from piano, to three pianos at once, guitar, big band, and country and western music, and even gospel. While the blues traditionally depicts a variety of emotions, boogie-woogie is mainly associated with dancing. The lyrics of one of the earliest boogie-woogie hits, "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie", consist entirely of instructions to dancers: “Now, when I tell you to hold yourself, don't you move a peg / And when I tell you to get it, I want you to Boogie Woogie!”  


It was recorded in 1928 and first released in 1929. Smith's record was the first boogie-woogie recording to be a commercial hit, and helped establish "boogie-woogie" as the name of the style. It was closely followed by another example of pure boogie-woogie, "Honky Tonk Train Blues" by Meade Lux Lewis, recorded by Paramount Records; (1927), first released in March 1930.


Late 1930s: Carnegie Hall

Boogie-woogie gained further public attention in 1938 and 1939, thanks to the From Spirituals to Swing concerts in Carnegie Hall promoted by record producer John Hammond. The concerts featured Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson performing Turner's tribute to Johnson, "Roll 'Em Pete", as well as Meade Lux Lewis performing "Honky Tonk Train Blues" and Albert Ammons playing "Swanee River Boogie". "Roll 'Em Pete" is now considered to be an early rock and roll song.

The album with those historic concerts is available on iTunes and Amazon.co.uk for purchase but also on Spotify for listening.

[image from: http://stillabrooklynkid.blogspot.gr/2011/11/blog-post.html]


These three pianists, with Turner, took up residence in the Café Society night club in New York City where they were popular with the sophisticated set. They often played in combinations of two and even three pianos, creating a richly textured piano performance.

Here's a very nice rare recording at the Café Society night club from 1944 - Ammons and Johnson perform 'Boogie Woogie Dream".


1930s–1940s: Swing

After the Carnegie Hall concerts, it was only natural for swing bands to incorporate the boogie-woogie beat into some of their music. Tommy Dorsey's band had a hit with an updated version of "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in 1938, which was the swing era's second best seller, only second to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood". 

I am not a fan of Dorsey's version, but here it is, live:


From 1939, the Will Bradley orchestra had a string of boogie hits such as the original versions of "Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar)" and "Down The Road A-Piece", both 1940, and "Scrub Me Mamma With A Boogie Beat", in 1941. The Andrews Sisters sang some boogies, and after the floodgates were open, it was expected that every big band should have one or two boogie numbers in their repertoire, as the dancers were learning to jitterbug and do the Lindy Hop, which required the boogie-woogie beat.

Here are The Andrews Sisters boogie-woogie-ing for their country in the 1941 Abbott & Costello film, "Buck Privates".


And of course one of my favorite boogies is by my beloved Count (here, live):


Key figures

Amongst the many pianists who have been exponents of this genre, there are only a few who have had a lasting influence on the music scene. Perhaps the most well known boogie-woogie pianist is Albert Ammons. His "Boogie Woogie Stomp" released in 1936 was a pivotal recording, not just for boogie-woogie but for music. 

Ammon's 'Stomp' sounds very similar to Pine Top Smith's hit, doesn't it? Hmmm


Some of the flattened sevenths in the right hand riffs are similar to licks used by early rock and roll guitarists such as Chuck Berry, who augmented Johnnie Johnson's 'Sir John Trio' by fusing his Charlie Christian-inspired guitar style with Johnson's boogie-woogie riffs. Ammons' two main compatriots were Meade 'Lux' Lewis and Pete Johnson.

My favorite boogie-woogie by Ammons is the "Sixth Avenue Express" here performed by both Ammons and Johnson. Don't you just want to get up and dance???


Before these three were playing piano, the two leading pianists were Jimmy Yancey and 'Pine-Top' Smith. Both of these pianists used bass patterns similar to ragtime and stride piano, but the distinctive Boogie-Woogie right hand licks were already in use. 


All text is from Wikipedia and these are my personal highlights (mostly relating to swing). For the full text on Boogie-Woogie, please visit Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Swing 'n' Swim Δ'


It took me a while to write about the camp this year because I have been waiting for official photos and videos. Since those, however, are still not available (except for one or two) I decided to write the post and add more photos later. 

A small introduction: so far, this blog has not been about me expressing opinions about Lindy Hopping, simply because I was completely inexperienced and could not and did not have any opinions about anything. This was simply a blog or notebook of things I picked up along the way about the era and the dance in general. I am finding, however, that as I progress in my dancing, I unavoidably start to develop a critical eye and start to formulate opinions about the dance, the style, the technique or the teachers that do the teaching (see my post about Ali & Katja). What follows, therefore, is a small account of the camp and the material taught, colored unavoidably by my personal (who knows, maybe even faulty at times) opinions.

This year, the camp for me was a different experience in many ways. For starters: not many Greeks. In my level (Intermediate) we were only five. The rest came from mostly German & French speaking countries and I did not mind one bit! Everyone was very friendly and enthusiastic and we got to see what fellow students from abroad learn in their countries. I also really enjoyed practice time with the German-speaking posse! It was very sweet of them to include us Greek girls...

Second, the emphasis this year was not so much on routines, maybe because of our level, maybe not (I don't know); the emphasis was on musicality and how to dance to the music rather than what to dance, which I thought was very helpful and liberating because it means you do not have to constantly worry about what move to do next (mind you, I dance as a leader so what movement to do next is a concern). You just have to listen and dance to the music, improvise and have fun. I remember our Swedish teachers had mentioned this last year as well – not to fill our dancing with movements; to let it breathe. "Have breaks in your dancing and enjoy yourselves!" Great advice if you ask me. I see some routine-hungry leaders on the dance floor that make me want to scream "breathe!". It's them usually that lack a good connection with their follows. They are too preoccupied with what move to do next and with whether they are going to execute it properly that they forget they are not dancing alone. Their preoccupation takes away the joy of partner dancing; some of them don't even smile, which is a pity, beause Lindy Hop is such a cheerful dance.

I am sure it was accidental, but I thought that it was quite fitting that our level this year was given the name of 'Euterpe', who in Greek mythology was the muse of Music.


Because of this emphasis on musicality this year I became more liberated as a dancer, I enjoyed dancing more and I even dared to dance as a follow which I rarely do because I have not been taught it in a classroom, so I always fear that I am doing things ‘wrong’. But I dare say, I was not that bad and I promised myself I will be dancing more as a follow in the future.

Things I picked up:

Daniel & Åsa talked about gliding; a notion, if I understood correctly, that Frankie Manning had taught them. It means moving around the dance floor together with your partner instead of staying rooted on one spot. Important tip, I think, especially if for example you are trying to avoid hitting someone, or if you see a spot opening on the dance floor – move to that spot with your partner while dancing. 

Make your movements small. Economy of movement is, I think, very characteristic of the Swedish 'school' of Lindy hopping (which is inspired by Al Minns and Frankie Manning). Everything is minimal and yet so stylish and elegant. No need for huge rock steps for example. Good to remember, especially on a crowded dance floor – you will avoid stepping on fellow dancers. And a little addition of mine: leaders, always turn your head around to see where you will be swinging your follows out to. It’s your job!! You are not dancing alone. You have to respect your partner. So when you rock step, incorporate that slight turn of head to see where she will be ending up. If someone’s there, go to plan B.

Pontus and Frida B. taught us jig walks and I enjoyed them especially. We did some jig walking with Lennart & eWa last year as well, but this year we did turns and other things. I like jig walks because they fit so marvelously with some songs, but also with parts of songs, and it’s so stylish during a song to shift between your normal grip to a jig walk grip and to move close to your partner. Oh yes, I am in love with jig walks! Leaders, please, more jig walking!

The stomp off (the accentuated step/step done on 'and 8') is very jazzy and syncopated and it goes perfectly with the rhythm. I picked it up last year from Daniel, and I adopted it immediately. I see many leaders doing it. However, some are over-emphasizing it, I think; it’s not supposed to stand out. It’s supposed to be discreet and function as a signal for the follow and as a phrase's initial breath. Another thing I picked up from Daniel last year is the swing out technique. I remember I asked him how he teaches swing out because leaders in Greece are taught to step out of the way during the rock step in order for the follow to pass (on 1 you pull her in, on 2 you step away). Daniel told me, and it was imprinted in my memory, “I make myself thin”. He does not step out of the way, but instead he gives the follow a rock step and then on the triple step he passes diagonally next to her (and so does she). I have been doing this and it’s more economical, both spatially and in terms of tempo (it saves time), and also helps with the momentum on 4.

This year we also had authentic jazz classes. Now some people might not see their purpose and may think that it’s something separate from Lindy hopping, but I strongly disagree. I think authentic jazz classes should be obligatory for lindy hoppers. First of all, they teach you moves that you can incorporate in your lindy hopping, and second and most important, for me at least, they teach you the authentic jazz style and how to move and dance in a syncopated manner. Now you might be taking syncopation for granted, but watch the dancers around you…are they all syncopating? Are they listening to the music (when the music is authentic swing, at least)? (back to the music…you see, it’s basic). Some lindy hoppers’ dancing is completely flat. They do not even have a pulse (bounce), even though the pulse is the first thing we learn. For a pulse, you need bent knees and, if you notice, those that have no pulse, dance with their knees straight. This makes their dancing very upright and stiff. If however you watch the original lindy hoppers, like Manning, dance, you will notice that their upper body is diagonal and not vertical in relation to the floor. That's because their knees are bent which gives them flexibility of movement but also brings their center closer to the floor. That's why I call their style more grounded, closer to the earth. 

I like authenticity in jazz dancing because, well, it's a dance of another era and for me, stylistically, it's important to be able to dance any dance with the original style. Of course eventually you come to add your own personality to the dance, but the basics I think ought to be there. Pulse and syncopation I consider basic and therefore should be there in the dance. Without them, is jazz, jazz? One last note: 'clothes do not make the man' and they do not make the lindy hopper. In other words, the style in Lindy Hopping is not given by the wardrobe (the clothes are only the package), but by the way the body moves. And movement can and should be taught.

We had authentic jazz classes with Fatima and Jessica. Jessica did Charleston (which I love) and Fatima did a more authentic jazz routine. From Fatima’s lesson I am keeping the fall off the log. She’s got such great style. Instead of falling back, like we are normally taught, she falls back and leans to the front at the same time…those of you that haven taken classes with her know what I mean. It’s so jazzy and grounded. Her whole dancing is very grounded, very rooted, like a force is pulling her towards the floor. Very African American, I may say! Oh I really like it! I don’t ever want to do a fall off the log any other way again.

To sum up, Swing 'n' Swim Δ' was for me a very fulfilling camp. Learned many things, had lots of fun dancing and, I will say it again, I became a more confident dancer. A  general observation, though: It’s still frowned upon by many (Greeks and non Greeks) when a girl dances as a leader, but honestly, I don’t think they know better. Yes, Lindy Hop is a partner dance, but it's a dance, before and above all. Dancers should be liberated to dance anything. I led some guys during the camp and they were completely uninhibited and pretty darn good because they were really good dancers. Dance should be the great equalizer! Just dance you people! Don’t discriminate!

about the Harlem Hot Shots: http://www.harlemhotshots.com/en/

This is a link to my 8tracks mix inspired by the camp with songs that our teachers used in the classes or that were played in performances and parties, including the last one which is not swing but it will always remind me of the camp: Swing Mix #35 [The Swing 'n Swim Mix] 

Here's the official video of the exceptional Harlem Hot Shots performing the Lindy number after it was initially cancelled because of heavy rain!! [hear the thunder at the end? they added that as a joke]


And this is my angle of the performance if you want a closer look at their movements:

video
 
Fredrik, Pontus & Sakarias (aka 'The Freak Brothers') performing "The Sand Dance' (aka 'The Greek Number') - this is how ancient Greeks danced the Lindy apparently...hilarious!


Next stop: Lindy Shock, Budapest. My first event outside Greece and I am really excited! See you on the dance floor!
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