Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Music In Class Vol. II

Music is essential to dancing. Music inspires the dancers; Swing is the music that made and makes the dance what it is. Music is the key to our dance and, as such, should receive attention in class. We already know that music in class should swing. But what other factors related to music in class should we watch out for?


I've seen many moments where Lindy Hop was taught to 28 bpm. This is quite slow. Also when teaching beginners it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to help them by playing very slow music so they can practice "stress-free".
One defining part of lindy hop is momentum exchanged on a line. If music turns too slow, momentum dies. So we have to have a certain amount of tempo - even for beginners - else we have no way to dance lindy hop. I've set my personal lower limit to 34 bpm which I feel is more or less the slowest where you can have easily momentum. That is generally speaking of course. In a slow lindy class, I will break that limit.

Walking bass

This aspect was touched in Volume I, but should be reiterated here. Hearing the rhythm can be troublesome for people that are not used to it. That is why I sometimes revert to music with a strong walking bass. One moment is when I teach beginners. Another moment is when I teach workshops in scenes where the music played tends to be non-swing. In both cases the walking bass helps the students to hear the rhythm without losing the swing.

Pre- and "Post"paration

Prepare your music in advance! It costs time to search for music in class and that is time that your class will lack in dancing. Try to plan at least basics; When do you want to play music in class? What you want to practice during that time? It will give you clear indicators of what kind of music you will need.
Also "post"-pare your music. I keep a list of music I've compiled for teaching that I continually update. Removing songs that didn't work as expected and adding new ones. It includes music in range from 30-56 bpm and has different styles - mainly traditional swing and New Orleans Jazz.

Having your music prepared and matching your music to your exercises and students will enrich your class and guarantee you and your students a better experience.

A Jazz Song Alphabet by DJ Paulo

Paulo Rodrigues aka DJ Paulo from Lisbon, Portugal from That Old Swing Magic gets his grove on and made this Jazz Song Alphabet:

Always - Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
Breakin' in a New Pair of Shoes - Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra
Cuttin' the Campus - John Kirby and His Orchestra
Don't Be That Way - Teddy Wilson
Evenin' - Jones-Smith Incorporated
Fiddle Dee Dee - Lionel Hampton and His Sextette
Good Queen Bess - Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra
Hello Dolly - Louis Armstrong
Indiana - Oscar Peterson Trio
Jump Through the Window - Roy Eldridge and His Orchestra
Keep Smilin' - John Kirby & His Orchestra
Love Must Be Catchin' - Julie London
Mack The Knife (live in Berlin) - Ella Fitzgerald
No Soap, No Hope Blues - Anita O'Day
Out to Lunch - Coleman Hawkins Quintet
Put a Lid on It - Squirrel Nut Zippers
Queen Isabelle - Cab Calloway and His Orchestra
Royal Garden Blues - Bob Crosby and His Orchestra
Spring Cleaning - Fats Waller and His Rhythm
The Gal From Joe’s - Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra
Une Petit Laitue - Roy "King Jazz" Elridge and His Orchestra
Viper’s Dream - Quintette du Hot Club de France
Well, All Right Then - Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra
Xico - Luisa Sobral
You Showed Me the Way - Frankie Newton and His Uptown Serenaders
Zozoi - Claude Hopkins and His Orchestra

Want to listen to this compilation? Go here!
Want to see all alphabets? Go here!

If you are a DJ and have an alphabet, send it to me and I'll post it! Keep the alphabets coming!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Freedom For Followers And Other Nonsense

Freedom for Followers sounds great. Three words starting with an f in a row. Together with "leaving space" and "micromanaging the followers movements", we've got a couple of expressions that all somehow suggest that leaders are dominating, taking away liberty from the followers. It's time to see the full-fletched liberation of following in another light.

For those that this is still a gender issue. It is not. You can stop reading. For those that want to know what it is about - the "freedom of followers" implies that followers should do more than just following. It assumes that following is inferior to or less important than leading.

Why We Lead And Follow

Back in the days there was no such thing as leading and following as we know it today. Frankie Manning tells stories on how they told their partners what the next move was.

When Lindy Hop was still small we often shared events with other dances like West Coast Swing. You can read about the revival in a great series of articles called Artistry In Rhythm. A dance is very limited if it consists only out of moves and to have more freedom and probably also inspired from other dances, we started to develop leading and following techniques.

West Coast Swing vs. Lindy Hop

In West Coast Swing the follower decides a lot on what movements she is going for. WCS differs in many aspects to Lindy Hop but the key difference to this discussion is the speed that WCS is danced to. In both dances we speak about fast and slow. Tendency is that slow in Lindy Hop equals fast in West Coast Swing. Slow dancing leaves a lot more space to fill and a lot more time to catch up. If leaders left the same amount of space by not leading in Lindy Hop we would simply be lost. So we need to lead and follow all the time anyway. Now you can start a discussion to what degree things should be lead but this is neither the reason for the problem nor the point of this topic.
Also not the topic are those experiments where leaders and followers switch roles during a dance. There is a reason they stayed at an experimental stage.

It's About Dancing!

Leading and Following are two roles we have added to Lindy Hop so we can communicate better. What we have to keep in mind though is that Lindy Hop at first is two people dancing together - no matter what role they picked in the beginning. Teaching how to lead is a lot easier than teaching how to follow and that is why leaders receive more attention in class; I encourage balance. Both roles are equally valid and don't differ in the difficulty of integrating the role into the dancing.

Following is an art! Stop undervalueing it!

Thumbs up for our fellow dancers that follow!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Dance Is Like A Conversation

Non-dancing friends often ask me if dancing isn't anachronistic, in that men are always leading, asking the follower for a dance. My answer uses a metaphor that I've heard a couple of times: A dance is like a conversation.
Interestingly, this metaphor can be taken quite far. There are many parallels. In the following article I want to discuss those aspects focussing on the parallels in leading / following and how to put them into dancing.
I'll address the leader as 'he' and the follower as 'she'. It's just a simplification, the same statements would apply if I address leaders and followers vice versa or if both are male or female.

I wrote this article about 5 years ago, and have changed my opinion on many things quite a bit since then (e.g. using the non-matching terms follower and leader, instead of dancer in analogy for dancing :)). But despite that, it's a fun analogy and demonstrates an approach to many issues in the scene. It's open for discussion :) 

A conversation isn't just there. It doesn't fall out of the sky and you start talking. A conversation needs to be started. Someone needs to ask for a dance. I've almost never run into the situation in daily life that only men start conversations, so why should it be different in dancing? Anyone can start the conversation. 

To have a conversation you need a language in which you can talk. Technique would be the equivalent in dancing. There are a lot of techniques including some that just don't work together, which is not to say that one is better than the other. Once the language is chosen you'll need a topic to talk about. The topic often happens to be the music. Of course it can also be set by the leader or the follower.

We haven't yet started talking, which is considered helpful for a conversation. Let's start out with basics. Leading is talking and following is listening. Leaders, be aware that unclear leading is like mumbling. Your partner doesn't understand you and probably will be annoyed trying to decipher what you want to say. Followers you'll please every leader with a good ear.

Clear communication in one direction is very basic. Usually conversations are much more complicated and so is dancing. A one-sided conversation, in which the leader talks and talks and just won't stop, is boring for the follower. The inverse holds true too.

There are many ways in which a follower can talk. Sometimes talking is a smile or an extra turn that wasn't lead. You have plenty of options here followers; go and explore them. Finding new ones is very satisfying.

So now that the followers know how to talk we have a problem - we might have two people talking at the same time. Experience will tell you that this doesn't work. So leaders have to learn how to be quiet and to listen. How to be quiet as a leader? It isn't easy, especially since you were probably taught to lead all the time; maybe the follower even expects you to. 

Followers, generally speaking if there is something you really want to say at that moment, go ahead. The same goes for leaders. Being quiet is definitely not the same as listening. If you want to keep a good conversation going you'll need to listen and show interest in what your partner tells you.  What is your partner doing? Switching topics? Be aware also that not listening can easily be interpreted as rude. You profit though to not do interpret it in that fashion.

Going further: Sentences from two different people do not alone necessarily make for a good conversation. What you need is not just pure talking, but the content of what you are saying should relate to what your partner just said. In a conversation, that can be an answer to a question or a response to a statement. Responding can be done for instance by taking over the new style that your partner introduced (e.g. adding a bounce), but here again there are so many ways. Be alert and play around. 

Sentences should also be intra-connected content-wise. "I like bananas. Check out that Giraffe. Did you just fart?" are totally random. This happens when leaders just lead move after move. But if you start dancing then moves should become connected. I personally really like to keep the energy of a movement going, inverse it, increase it, decrease it, but in any case use the energy of the precedent movement. This is what will make your dance flow.

A careful reader might have noticed that I suggested 'smiling' as a way to talk. Smiling is not a lead, so how come I mentioned smiling? A good connection is not just physical. In a good conversation there are quite often emotions involved. This is nice to know when you are speaking because it adds an extra communication level which will open a whole new mode of information transfer. It's not so much about the amount, which of course grows too, but you gain the possibility of transferring different types of information. There might even be different information transferred simultaneously. This level has the nice feature that both of you can transfer information at the same time.

Something I've seen a number of times is the repetitive use of one styling. If you think of everything you do in dancing as talking then repeating yourself all the time is like telling the same joke over and over again. At some point that joke just isn't funny anymore. 
If you can listen to the music, try to get new things out of it or watch yourself and when you find yourself repeating the same things be open minded, look at other dancers, change the way you used to dance moves!

The above addresses only the situation of two people interacting, specifically the couple that is dancing together. But hey, I'm sure you've had conversations with more than two people involved. Having more than two people can be difficult in dancing simply because it's unusual and seldomly taught. These conversations are usable as well as totally in accord with the above. 
Stealing is one of those situations. Assume you have one follower and two leaders. Yes, it's very likely that the leaders will communicate a lot trying to find even smoother ways of stealing the follower which doesn't mean nobody is paying attention to the follower any more. It is a different way. The follower is now the topic of the dance and thus has quite a lot of influence on the conversation. You can make it easy to be stolen or hard or.... It's a new situation, a new playground!
Another situation with more people involved can include competitions, when the other people involved might not even be dancing. Stay open-minded on conversations with more than two people. They can be fun!

One last parallel, probably the one which will draw most disagreement: If you are asked for a dance it is often considered impolite to refuse. But looking at the metaphor of conversation, I do think there is at least one good reason for declining a dance. Sometimes you get asked by someone with whom you just have nothing to talk about. It happens. That conversation would turn out to be very one-sided or pure small-talk and therefore very unsatisfying. To turn down such a dance is in my opinion totally acceptable.

Feel free to pick those parallels that fit for you. I'm very interested in your views and feedback.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is Connection Part Of Leading and Following?

Not long ago someone asked the following question: Is (building up the) connection part of leading, or leading starts once the connection is established? (The question is not about how to connect or lead but focusing on the scope of the expressions). I really liked this question, and thought it might be interesting to more than just some facebookers.

It helps strongly to know how connection is built to answer how you use the word. Thus I'll quickly talk how the way you "create" connection is different depending on your technique. To me, you can seperate leading/following techniques into two big categories. In one you have those, where you have leading and following additionally to your dancing. It's like having a two layer cake. The other group of techniques is where leading and following is already incorporated in your dancing by using movements that are needed anyway.

Two-Layer Cake

From the two layer cake version you can derive both -  a yes and a no to the original question. The no is quite easy to derive. Since both parties know that they are using such a technique they are preparing themselves for dancing by tensing certain body parts, and I've seen instructors tell their students that follow to walk a little back to create the connection, based on a visual lead/hinting "seeing that the other one wants to start". The connection falls a little "out of the sky".
Assuming again the open position as a starter again, a leader could move back a bit to create tention, if the follower then reacts you've got a connection. In that case, it would be part of leading. It also show though that there is no leading without following in this group of techniques.


In the second group of techniques, where the solo body movement which is the dancing at the same time as it is the leading, you can derive also both answers. If the follower is just hanging out waiting for the leader to move, building up the connection is part of the dancing. Now if the follower is starting dancing herself and the leader is too, you have two solo body movements already going on. Adding a physical connection (e.g. holding hands) will have a connection that is created by those two solo body movements and thus not part of leading and following. 

The Answer

Since no matter what technique you use you have a clear nyes when it comes to if (building up) connection is actually part of leading and following. I like being honest with my students and rather give them a complete picture that is colorful instead of an incomplete black and white one, I'll use the word connection accordingly to the situation. Sometimes it is part of leading and following, sometimes it isn't.

How do you use the word connection in class? Comment below!

A Jazz Song Alphabet by DJ Superheidi

The first Jazz Song Alphabet from Rotterdam, Netherlands found its way to me. I'm happy to post DJ Superheidi's alphabet here. Don't miss this one!

Ay-Ay-Ay – Bunny Berigan
Bounce Me Brother With A Solid Four – Will Bradley & Ray McKinley
Carioca – Artie Shaw
Down Home Jump – Lionel Hampton
Exactly Like You – Count Basie
Flying Home – Charlie Barnet
Gin Mill Special – Erskine Hawkins
How About That Mess – Lucky Millinder
I Gotta Swing – Blanche Calloway
Jumpin’ Jive – Ella Fitzgerald
Kingdom of Swing – Benny Goodman
Long Gone From Bowling Green – Willie Bryant
Malady in F – Glen Gray & Casa Loma Orchestra
Now They Call it Swing – Teddy Wilson & Billie Holiday
Organ Grinder’s Swing – Frank Froeba
Please Don’t Squabble – Harlan Leonard & His Rockets
Quatre Tickets – Alix Combelle
Riffin’ – Fletcher Henderson
Stompy Jones – Duke Ellington
There’s Rhythm in Harlem – Mills Blue Rhytym Band
Ultrafox – Quintette du Hot Club de France
Vid Den Gamla Kvarnen – Sonora “Swing Swingers”
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans – Kansas City Six
XIT Song – Billy Briggs
You Must Be Losing Your Mind – Fats Waller
Zuiderzee Blues – Freddy Johnson & the Rambler

Want to listen to this compilation? Go here!
Want to see all alphabets? Go here!

If you are a DJ and have an alphabet, send it to me and I'll post it! Keep the alphabets coming!