Jive Junction You're not wrong Walter, you're just an asshole. -The Dude

21Nov/125

What are you saying?

Jonathan Stout recently saw our band play and afterwards I asked him for any advice he wanted to give. He said something thought-provoking in response.

While so much of playing is the physical command of one's instrument, even more is learning what to do with that command.

Since my left brain is devoted full time to drawing parallels between things my right brain is doing, this question seems equally applicable to dancing. Once you've gotten good at dancing, what are you doing with your dancing? What are you saying?

Our band hasn't really defined itself yet; so far we have been struggling just to be competent enough at playing our instruments live that it meets our own acceptable standards. I can feel us getting more relaxed and natural with every gig, though by no means have we ironed out all the wrinkles. But it is time to start thinking about what we are doing, as opposed to how we are doing it.

As a dancer, I am not expressing very much, if at all. I'm not trying to say anything concrete. I'm not performing, I'm not competing (except in the most subtle sense which is fundamental to lindy hop -- "I'm better than the guy next to me"), I'm not doing anything other than trying to have fun with the person I'm dancing with.

But dancers at the very highest skill levels, in all forms of dance, have thought consciously about what they are expressing. The very act of defining their technique in such detail expresses their attitude to the dance. By becoming that good at dancing, they are simultaneously paying respect to the dance and those dancers who have come before, and adding their own "genes" to the dance. Over time, that is how dancing evolves; the very best dancers define the standards of the dance, simply by blazing new paths.

Technique is something you can acquire. If I can dance, or drum, or write, any schmuck can do it. But soulfulness, emotion, self-expression; these things elevate you. If you want to be known as a truly great dancer (or musician, or artist, or writer...) you have to have something to say, something that is uniquely yours.

Posted by Julius

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  1. Love this – jazz music and jazz dance is so much about personal expression, and I think that’s part of its pedigree as an American art form. Though I am, and will always be, striving to improve my technique, I do feel that I’ve found my “voice” in swing dancing. And I’m blessed to have a partner who shares that vision. We definitely don’t follow the trends, but we have way more fun this way than copying the “latest and greatest” on YouTube.

    • Well said, Julius. Since Lindy Hop is, in a sense, just as improvisational as jazz, thee music we dance to, once you have the chops to do the dance, then, I believe, it becomes important to try to dance like yourself, to personalize your dance, and finally to dance in accordance with how the music is affecting and directing you. Of course, this advice works better for a leader than a follower, but followers can and do put their imprinteur on interpretation of the dance and musical urgings.
      Like jazz, Lindy Hop has a certain set of structural rules. They are not limited to the traditional syllabus of moves (steps), and rhythmic precision, but also include styling limitations, and, likewise, styling prohibitions.
      Too confining? I disagree. There is lots of latitude to become both a good and pleasing dancer, and also personally unique and expressive.
      to wit, some recent commentary has erupted because of stylisiic break-throughs by top Lindy Hop pairs, not limited to, but included are Kevin and Jo and Skye and Frieda, who have preferred to dance to subdued tempos in order to introduce pleasing stylistic nuance to Lindy Hop. More important, however, is that the rank and file of Lindy Hop social dancers see that excellence can be obtained with less athletic prowess, and thus, it can be attained by those who don’t have the strength and quickness of the top athletic dancers.
      Yes, dancing Lindy Hop well to very fast music is exciting and difficult, but, I would hope there is more to Lindy Hop than excitement and difficulty. When the tempos become very fast, they present, I believe, less opportunities for personalized styling, and drives everyone but the best, into an uninteresting and ritual form of Lindy Hop, and worse, this may discourage the average social Lindy Hopper from improving. But, then, I could be wrong–Hey! it has happened before.

      Allen Hall

      • I would say that dancing to fast tempos is what distinguishes lindy hop from almost all other dances. It’s one of the fundamental things that defines what lindy hop is, and that’s why the ‘lazy hop’ trend in the early 2000s was so painful to see.

        I think it’s wonderful that people are focusing less on sheer athleticism, but I disagree that ‘stylistic nuance’ is more easily attainable than athleticism. In my opinion, anybody (who has a twenty year old’s body) can do athleticism with enough bull-headed training. But stylistic nuance applies whether you are dancing fast or slow. It’s just overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the dance at high speed. The best dancers strive to integrate everything — athleticism, musicality, technique, in order to become the embodiment of the music.

        • Julius,

          I refuse to engage with you in a tempo quibble, preferring to believe that we are both correct within our frames of preference, which may be distant from one another, but still lie easily on the spectrum of Lindy Hop.

          Allen

          • I think you envision a much larger gap between us than there actually is :)

            I’m not saying EVERYONE has to dance fast and well, that’s for sure. But someone’s gotta keep that part of the dance alive and well, or else it’s not lindy hop anymore. I think we’re safe for another 30 or 40 years, until we all get osteoarthritis.


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