How Far Do You Take Your Following?

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!

I got them Smokey Feet

Sorry for the delay! Dax and I have made it back to Los Angeles and have been enjoying the rest time way too much! Now that I am back to work (blogging), I want to share with you our experience at Smokey Feet a few weeks ago!!
This was the first year Amsterdam had a big international event….and when I say big, I mean SURPRISINGLY big for a first year event. First of all, let me explain briefly about Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a city built on mud (and you can see with all the falling buildings) and covered in water canals. It favors pedestrians and bike riders. There are more bike riders than cars! It is also very liberal (prostitution and weed is not punishable by law). Oh, and the shopping!

Dax and I spent a whole week in Amsterdam on a mini vacation. One of my favorite moments was siting outside our favorite cafe, people watching over cappuccino’s. It’s good we left when we did because we would have spent all our tour money!

Okay, on to the event! First of all, the best band of the weekend was on the first night. (Swell Rhythm Combo! I checked out there myspace and it sounded NOTHING like their live music)

Another highlight was the students. There were so many fresh and enthusiastic students. Everyone was open and willing to learn and that’s a teacher’s dream come true!

It was also a pleasure to work with the other teachers lined up:

Todd and Nina

Gontran and Moe

Ali and Katja

Thomas and Alice

I sincerely respect and am inspired by all of these dancers. For me, this was the first time working along side Nina and getting to know her more made the weekend even more special.

Lastly, I want to give props to the event promoters, Praveen Raghuraman, Quinten Kray, and Sarah Wastiaux. They took care of Dax and I. We had a perfect place to sleep for the week, they fed us like no bodies business and sincerely tried to make sure we had the best experience. It paid off! I was so excited they asked us to come back next year. Here are some personal pictures of our time in Amsterdam (you can see event pics on their facebook page) and a video from the teacher’s cabaret (Todd unfortunately had to bow out of the cabaret because of his knees).

Crep’Swing Festival

Here is a recap or our adventures in Rennes during Crep’swing festival two weeks ago…

First of all: WOW! I ate wayyyyy to many crepes…I still get a little nauseous just hearing the word. I’m still in awe that the French can thrive off of eating mostly sugar and coffee all day. It’s impressive. lol

But seriously, Dax and I had a blast. Rennes is a pretty fabulous city. We the best hosts and everyone got to stay together in a beautiful huge house with home cooked meals three times a day! The turn out of people was amazing and we had some amazing students take our classes.

It was the first time Dax and I taught  a workshop in a month so, unlike Ninja Thomas and Ninja Alice who dance every weekend, we found ourselves pretty dead (I was taking a nap every chance I got!!).

A very precious moment during the weekend was meeting a band of older gentlemen (Jazz o feel) who played live music for us during the first night dance. They have been swing musicians for the past 20 some years without ever knowing such a big scene of appreciative dancers exist. They seemed so overwhelmed with joy to play for us. During the end of the night when all the dancers line up and sit down to cheer on the band’s finale, they had the biggest grins across their faces it brought tears to my eyes.

One of the night dances turned out to be the most fun I have had in a long time dancing. Why? Because the floor was terrifyingly slippery. I was so nervous at first but soon I got used to it and was doing moves on the dance floor I’ve never done before! Just like dancing in heels when your used to flats instantly changes your dancing- so does the surface of the floor! I found myself being so creative. It was exciting and inspiring. Here is a social demo of us sliding around a bit.

At the end of the amazing weekend, Julien took us to an Irish pub for some beer and saucisson!!

Thank you to Peter Wishart and the rest of the crew for a great experience!!

Travel product!

JanSport Driver

Dax bought this wheeled backpack a few months ago. I sometimes am more into the aesthetics than functionality of things but I have completely fallen in love with this carry-on. It can carry so much stuff (we can put two laptops, jackets and gadgets in it) yet is still small enough to fit under the seat in front of us if there is no space in overhead storage. It is very lightweight (which is crucial for times you have to run down a flight of stairs with it) yet the most stable wheeled bag I have used so far. I really recommend for your carry-on needs! I wish it was nicer looking but since it is technically Dax’s bag I can’t complain 😉


Surfing Fun Leads to Busted Ribs

Part 1: The Incident(s)

Every year we take a vacation in December with one rule– NO DANCING. The truth is, our everyday life is more like a typical vacation. We spend most of our time dancing and traveling the world so our idea of a “vacation” is hence demoted to, NO traveling, one location, and a place with NO swing dancing in existence. This year we chose Costa Rica. Riding high on imagination that I would be surfing everyday reliving my childhood memories, this was destined to be one of the best vacations yet…

Crack! One week in,  I bust my rib. Surfing non the less, and how unfortunate considering I had just enjoyed 5 solid days of warming up and was ready to rip it up.

What started as a minor injury only worsened. I can probably attribute that to underrating the injury and about 2 other incidents.

  1. We went to the Gym because my our friend Doug wanted to take this “class”. Turns out this crazy Spanish speaking, French, Thai Kickboxer was running it. He had us jumping around, doing plyometrics and ab workouts at chipmunk speeds. Of course this didn’t help my rib situation, not to mention my ego kept me going extra strong even though I knew I should have quit the second I took one good look at the Van Damme wannabe.
  2. The day I started feeling better, Sarah and I decide to practice. Everything was going well and we were working on some lifts. In the heat of the feel good, we decided to try a new lift where in the first stage, Sarah does a jumping bear hug wraping her legs around my rib cage…Exactly, that didn’t end well. I was brought to me knees in a split second of excruciating pain. Whoops.

Part 2: Liberia Hospitals & The X-Ray

There is nothing more awkward then going to the Hospital in a foreign country. I would actually recommend wearing a helmet while traveling but it isn’t very practical for sleeping on planes. Anyway, we rock up to the hospital in our rental car on the way to Tabacon. Honestly it looked like the DMV in downtown Los Angeles. Lines of people were pouring out of every entry to this 1 story complex. Vendors were selling tacos, back braces and Bengay. It was a happening place and had me awfully confused.

Contrary to not speaking Spanish, and hardly anyone speaking English, I somehow managed to get an X-ray, and have it examined by a doctor who insured me that my ribs were not broken. Turns out they were “bruised”, which can take almost as long to heal and can result in just as much pain.

Looking back now, how I managed to get through the whole system is astonishing. I think there were about 29 stages to the whole process. I would explain in detail but this is a blog post, not a novel. I will, however, share one highlight.  I handed my X-Ray to the doctor, after which he placed it on the “light-board-thingy” for closer examination, and to his surprise, the thing was busted. The back light didn’t work, go figure, since it was practically rusting right off the wall. He left the room cursing in Spanish. Two minutes later he comes back and while holding the X-Ray up to the overhead light, as if it could actually illuminate some possible crack in my rib, and says “See, no broken!”. That was funny.

Big Audition Coming Up! – Paula Abdul’s Live to Dance

Sarah and I are going to New York to Audition for Paula Abdul’s new Show “Live to Dance”. It is a new CBS dance show with details yet to be totally revealed. Hopefully they will be ready for some good ol’ Lindy Hop, swing and some of America’s home cooking! Of course we won’t forget to eat some of our favorite cooking at Momo Fuku, do some social dancing, and actually teach a little workshop! Going to New York City always gives me this curious energy and creative spirit. Hopefully it will allow for good things at the Audition.

Wish us Luck!

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