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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