MSJF was a blast! It was amazing spending time with fellow Ninjammerz and with the entertaining Sonny Allen. During one of his speeches he went off on a little tangent. In it he said something along the lines of, “You know how a negative plus a negative equals a positive? Well, when you get one bad dancer dancing with another bad dancer, you get a GOOOOD dance!” I can’t exactly quote him but that is what I remember.
Even though it took me a few minutes to get where he was going, I loved this statement! Dax and I preach a lot about matching; about dancing WITH your partner. I can’t help but think of what Dax usually says about drunken wedding couples; two people who have no idea what they are doing on the dance floor but they are doing it together. You can easily watch them all night. Then I think about the times I see two swing dancers on the floor…one a beginner and one the more advanced. It’s sad when it appears that the advanced dancer is taking things too seriously (I’m guessing out of frustration or boredom), and as a consequence, I see the beginner looking a little stressed from the pressure. I also rarely get a chance to witness people drastically changing the way they dance to match their partner, stylistically or technically.
At what point do we get so good that we become unwilling to temporarily sacrifice what we have built for ourselves in the name of swing dancing? Let me explain more. Think of a follower in your head that is pretty advanced. Think about her style of dancing (we all have a distinct way we like to dance). Now start putting her with different style leads. Does she change her style to match her lead or does she generally look the same? I can’t honestly think of a follower who chooses extreme change. I’m very often caught doing the same thing. It’s hard when something feels so good to you and your leader is asking you to go to a place that you don’t think you’ll like or that might look stupid.
So with that thought, ask the question, “why do you like social dancing?”. One of my top reasons why I love to social dance (and why I love to be a follower) is that every dance and every leader is different. I find it an exciting challenge to feel these differences; and understand in those few minutes the way they hear the music; chose to move their bodies; and technically view leading. I believe in going beyond appreciating that to wanting to experience it for myself. I try to join my leader’s party even if it sometimes means throwing a lot of what I believe in out the window.
I can’t tell you how many times I have a dance with a beginner student and I see pictures or a video later that I think, “OMG I was doing that?” Sometimes the pictures capture me in the most funny and akward positions but what I remember at those moments is that it was so much FREAKIN FUN! I felt like I was in a totally different body. One that wasn’t mine but just as fabulous. And that is why sometimes I like dancing with the beginners more than the higher level dancers. It’s often that the higher level dancers try to show me how much technique and variations they know. Beginners don’t have much technique or moves under their belt so the only way they know how to impress me is by dancing their hardest.
If you lead me technique and fancy moves; I will follow with technique and discipline. If you DANCE with me; I will DANCE with you
Both approaches are great and function well depending on the circumstance. There is room and a need in the swing world for everything. I just am not sure people have put much importance on learning to have the ability and willingness to do it all.
What I really like about dancing with pro leaders is how I get to go beyond matching my leader. For example, if I am dancing with JUAN (and sadly, this doesn’t happen very often). I love the idea of trying to dance as if I was a female version of him. Then I love to imagine how I would dance if I was Sharon dancing with him and for those few minutes I try to find the magic that I imagine he has with her. Then of course, I get to appreciate the way I move my body. Most people talk about “styling” as an ability to change their body movement within the lead or follow (for example replacing the rock step body movement with a kick ball change body movement). I view styling more as a way of changing the style of one body movement. I try to style by exploring how many different ways I can rock step.
Here is a video from the Ninjammerz jam at MSJF. There are a few times you see me change my body somewhat drastically. There is a part in the first solo we do of the slow section where Dax decides to do some in-and-out movement extremely loose and wiggly. We make our students do this a lot and I can’t help but feel like Gumby when I do this but it’s a great challenge because it makes you find extreme looseness and relaxation. Boy does it look silly but fun! Then towards the end of the video I dance with Thomas. He is one of my favorites to dance with when I’m trying to explore things. First of all, his rhythms and body movements are insane, I can barely keep up. Second, I love Alice’s dancing and I sometimes try to think about how she would react to Thomas.
Here is part two. At around 3:05 Dax and I do a solo. Check out how I drastically change my body movement styling. This time, they were my choices to dance different and not so much about how I was being affected by my partner. The first few eight counts I was trying to dance really smooth and tighter. At that time, I wanted to make it look like I was floating or ice skating (not that that necessarily happened. lol). Then as we started to swing out and I felt the music building; I decided that wasn’t enough for me so I imagined the end of the clip Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers Radio City Revels 1938 where the little girl is dancing with the large man, swiveling extremely low. I do one swingout attempting to do the same. I haven’t gotten them down but their getting there! The last two swingouts I think I just lost it and started whipping my head and poor Dax had to hang on. hahah.
Sometimes the choices I make end up looking really awkward but it has been one of biggest learning tools I’ve had this last year. I find it completely empowering to be able to not just follow or lead but be able to drastically change the way you move your body to fit your partner and/or the music and/or your mood.
So, wrapping this tangent up, I’d like to encourage people to not be afraid to dance ugly. To not be afraid to be completely technically wrong, and to be more open to the various possibilities your body can experience in the name of fun!