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:

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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