Why Black Belt?

“Black Belt” is verbal shorthand I used to describe the advanced form or level of something.  If you were doing some badass knitting, well, that was black belt knitting.  Know what I mean?

When I’d been swing dancing for a long enough to be focusing on intermediate classes, an instructor mentioned that he taught a different version of the fundamental move in Lindy Hop, the swing-out, to beginners.  “Here’s your beginner swing-out.  Here’s what I teach to an intermediate dancer…”

“Ah!”  I couldn’t help but interjecting my terminology.  “Are you teaching the black belt swing-out today?”

That stopped him for a moment.

“That’s a really interesting way to think about it.”  He cocked his head to the side for a moment, thinking, then moved on with the class.

That moment has stayed with me during the intervening years.  Teaching different movements to different levels of dancers is probably worth a philosophical discussion, but strip that issue away and we’re still left with fact that there are layers of understanding that go into just this simple, basic movement.

My desire isn’t to turn this note (or this blog, for that matter) into a discussion of the actual movement.  (I’m sure there’s an abundance of instructional video available now).  I would like to marinate in the idea that learning how to do a swing-out is a process, and one that exists on multiple levels.  There’s a basic level of learning footwork, rhythms, connection, lead, and follow.  Then there are deeper and deeper layers of understanding in each of those topics.  I’d really rather be having meta-discussions on the process of learning in all of these stages.  And not just on the black belt level.

There’s so much to learn about the fundamental moves in Lindy Hop, and yet as humans it’s easy for us to not want to focus too much on them.  We judge ourselves and each other by variations, not fundamentals.  So is it a sign of a black belt to be focused on fundamentals rather than flash?

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2 thoughts on “Why Black Belt?”

  1. To answer your last question first – yes, it’s a sign of a black belt to be focused on the fundamentals, because they realize that there are variations *within* the basic. And I don’t just mean styling- I mean connection with your partner, nuances of your body position, looking at dancing socially vs. performing…the swingout is the hardest and most interesting move in lindy hop, and so long as I dance I’ll always spend more time on it than any other move.

    On another note, I completely disagree with the idea of teaching different basics to beginners vs. intermediate dancers. Certainly, you want to emphasize different aspects of the moves depending on a dancer’s ability to comprehend and execute a concept, but the fundamentals should not change. I don’t agree with dumbing down concepts for beginners in any field, dance included. It only leads to confusion later on, and you’re doing a disservice to your students.

  2. On another note, I completely disagree with the idea of teaching different basics to beginners vs. intermediate dancers. […] I don’t agree with dumbing down concepts for beginners in any field, dance included.

    Yes, I can understand and agree with that. The example that pops into my mind is teaching a follow to walk a pattern of steps without a lead as “the swing-out”.

    I probably worded the original statement badly. The specific situation was “what to do on 1.” Which is ironic, considering Pull On 2 and Should Lindy Hop Follows Step Forward Or Back On 1?. Specifically, he was discussing delaying the lead “in” until a-two or two… or three. So really, he was talking about a variation that he liked and used more often than “lead forward on one.” As you point out, a concept that is probably beyond the ability of a novice to comprehend (much less execute).

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