All posts by John White

I first saw a date of mine dancing Lindy Hop in February 2007. I thought, "If I'm going to keep dating her, I'd better start taking some lessons!" The relationship didn't last, but the dancing did. Actually, so did the lessons.

Taylor Hatala Admiration Not Envy

Not sure where in my social network this video of Laurence Kaiwai’s choreography to Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda came from, but thank you friend. Apparently that’s 11-year-old Taylor Hatala front and center at the end of a choreo class, just crushing it. I have Taylor Hatala admiration, not envy, I swear.

Which of course sent me down a rabbit hole of Taylor Hatala hip-hop dance videos.

Ricki Cole’s choreo
“Act Out” by Audio Push

Taylor Hatala admiration!

Matt Steffanina’s Choreo
“Problem” by Ariana Grande

Taylor Hatala admiration!

David Moore’s choreo
“I Don’t Know” by Meek Mill
Make sure you watch past the credits, there’s two post-class choreo performances there, one to Chris Brown’s “Down.”

Taylor Hatala admiration!

I was chaining these performances (and more; The list just goes on) and trying to figure out what I was feeling. Envy that this young girl had the opportunity to have gone through so much hard work at such a young age? No, maybe that it was in something so immediately applicable in life. My 200 yd butterfly skills haven’t come up recently. But wait, dance happens to be something I appreciate at this point in my life, but just 8 short years ago (When Taylor Hatala was 3!), I definitely wouldn’t have thought of dance as something “immediately applicable in life.” In fact, I’m not even sure that phrase is really true about dance.

It’s admiration. Really. She’d definitely worked harder than I at dance over the past 8 years, and it shows. It’s awesome to see the results. She’s got space to improve too, watch pro Sophia Aguiar do the routine to “Down.”

Oh, you want a non-staged, no cut, classroom version? Once at the top, and again at 2:40.

Clean, right? The isolations are just amazing. And of course it’s not a fair comparison. I’m really struggling with this. It’s not fair to project a career, practice, or skill development onto an 11-year-old. I hope she’s having as much fun as it looks, and that it stays fun.

Ten-thousand hours of Deep Practice
Master Coaching
Ignition

I’ll be keeping an eye out for further videos and inspiration.

Oh, Lindy Hop content? How about that killer scoot at 30s of the last video? Reminds me of the scoot styling that Stefan Durham did in this J&J. Especially at the beginning. But also that tremendous scoot at 1:16, even though it doesn’t have the windup on the same plane. Unrelated: Jo Hoffberg is still amazing.

Lead and Follow Without Sound

I had a really interesting experience last night, dancing with a deaf follow. I didn’t realize it right away, but she didn’t respond when I offered my name or respond to my conversation at all. And then I realized in open position, she was getting ahead of the beat. I experimented a bit with loosening and firming my left-to-right connection but wasn’t able to transmit the beat to her as effectively as when we were in closed and I could use my right hand and forearm (I suppose I don’t actually have any idea what her level of hearing loss actually is, or how well she could feel the beat in open; I just know when she was on and off the beat).

I’d like to experiment in the future with lead and follow classes where the lead hears the music through earbuds while the follow has ear plugs. How effective do you think you’d be at staying on beat with these limitations?

Men Following

vernacular jazz dance.

I’ll always remember Jo telling us girls that learning to lead would improve our dancing, but noone ever told the men that learning to follow might just expand their horizon as well. 

I don’t mind saying it again.  One of the most important classes I took during my novice/advanced-beginner phase of learning was a beginner series as a follow.  I remember the epiphany I had, “I have no idea what this guy wants me to do now.  I wonder if my follows feel that way when they’re dancing with me?  I’ll make sure that never happens!”

That led to a phase of over-leading, but I eventually dialed it back to something clear without being exaggerated.

There’s No Progress Without Challenge

For the past seven months or so, I’ve been faced with a new challenge in Lindy Hop: very slow progress on something I’m focusing on (aerials).  Not progressing the fastest among my peers.  For the past few years of my dancing, that’s been really uncommon.  Maybe I’ve been prideful about it?  No maybe’s about it.  I’ve taken great satisfaction in it.  I’ve been a high achiever.  No so much with this work.  It’s been slow, grinding progress.  Extremely slow.  Sometimes it feels like two steps back, one step forward.

And yet, throughout this time, I’ve been able to keep from getting frustrated by focusing on my process.  Watching a lot of other people’s progress.  Trying to understand what was making successful people successful.  Trying to get a lot of feedback from expert coaches.  Trying to get feedback from my partners and peers.  Accepting and trying to internalize suggestions and critiques.  Trying to get video of myself for self-critique.  Keeping my goals in mind.  Remembering other challenges that I’ve met and overcome, and how that’s worked in my favor.  My emotional state hasn’t been perfectly serene the whole time, as I’ve definitely had my valleys, but it hasn’t ever been … bad.

I’ve been trying to use it as a reminder what it’s like being a novice.  When you’re a novice, the number of problems to fix can seem overwhelming.  When you’re a novice, it’s difficult to know what order to fix things in.  When you’re a novice, on any given practice repetition, it’s difficult to concentrate on fixing more than one thing at a time.

How do you deal with learning something that you have a high desire to do, but make much slower progress at than you’re used to making?

Musicality and Creativity Are Best Buddies

I just finished re-reading Rebecca Brightly’s post, Musicality Is Overrated, started to respond with a comment, and decided to write a post instead.  I recently wrote a bit about what I mean when I discuss musicality in Musicality: Macro and Micro, so my thoughts on the issue are fresh.

Responses

I think there are some strong comment responses because of the strong oppositional statements against musicality (“sucks”) and driving toward a new paradigm of creativity.

I don’t quite agree with the premises:

Ambiguity of Definition

I think this is easily combatted by thought, discussion, and definition of personal terms.  I mentioned how I use micro- and macro-musicality, but I could have used rhythmic- and expressive-musicality (Darn, those might be better terms since they imply their definitions).

Is it a problem that other people have different definitions for the same or similar phrases?  Not as long as we all know each others’ definitions.  What I think of as macro-musicality seems to closely align with Rebecca’s expression of creativity.  I think it might come close to a linguistic difference.

Impossibility of Teaching

I’ve used the exact same creativity exercise referenced in the original post, packaged as a musicality exercise.  I’ve gone through the process of walking through different variations and points in music where rhythm changes match up to the variation.  It doesn’t feel that difficult to me.  It does require more time, effort, and students ready to be receptive to the ideas (learning where best to apply existing knowledge as opposed to learning new material doesn’t feel like a good value to some people).

Intuitively Difficult to Understand

I think this probably flows from lack of definitions.  If I can define a thing more clearly, it’s able to be understood by other people more clearly.

Doesn’t Go Far Enough

I think this flows from a lack of definitions but might also come from a mental model of musicality that is limiting rather than embracing of new things.

Best Buddies

If, to this point, I sound like I don’t like what Rebecca Brightly wrote, I apologize.  I think I disagree with the framing, but we probably think about musicality differently and have different existing paradigms in our heads, which lead to different expression of ideas (Actually, that’s a great parallel for expressiveness in dancing).

Overlap

Ultimately, I think that musicality and creativity go hand in hand.  If Rebecca Brightly says “creative expression” and I say “musical expression” and we mean about the same thing, is that so terrible?  I don’t think so.  Do I think it has to mean the exact same thing?  Probably not.  Creativity could cover a large number of meanings, as could musicality.  There could be musical parts of dancing that minimize creativity and creative things which aren’t musical.  So no, there isn’t 100% overlap.  At the end of the day, when I read about this phrase “creative vision” as applied to Lindy Hop, I think to myself, “Those are my words for an aspect of musicality.”

Process

It’s apparent that another source of stimulation for Rebecca Brightly is the presence of sources for stimulating the creative process.  I really love this too, and am checking out a number of the sources she references.  I’m obsessed with process.  I’m convinced that a big difference between dancers who improve and dancers who don’t improve is the processes they use (if any).  The pedagogy of teaching musicality is a subject that’s rich for mining, I think.  I’d looove to have that discussion!

Conclusions

One of the main reasons that I started writing about how I think about dancing was to get contrasting views, and for this reason alone, I loved reading the post.  I got some pointers to cool resources and got a peek inside someone else’s thought process.

Inspiration Clip 2

Here’s another video clip that I’ve been finding personally inspiring lately.  This is Peter Strom and Ramona Staffeld in an instructor jam for Lindyfest 2007.  Hmmm, that’s the year I started dancing.  Ok, that’s an unimportant detail.

Video 1 (multi-angle):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vdMZrrBQUg

 

Video 2 (fixed angle): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_G4QlkThyw

The song in the clip is E-Flat Boogie by Buster Smith.  The video clip starts at about 1:10 into the song.  Oh, that reminds me, I’m going off the time code from the first video, but the second video has the same footage, just subtract 10 or 11 seconds from the time I give.  Different angle and worth checking out.

I’m a lead, so what I find inspiring about this clip is mostly about Peter Strom:  slippery footwork, playfulness, playing to the strengths of his body, and macro-musicality.

Slippery Footwork

Peter Strom is a pretty big guy [1], but he almost looks like he’s on skates, not in shoes.  Some of that is the slide you can get in leather shoes on a dance floor, but some of it is aided by emphasizing the slide.  Right away at 0:16, he’s just triple-stepping while moving backwards, but each step is accompanied by sliding the other foot away into the air.  So for a left-right-left triple, the visual effect is that the right foot is sweeping out each time he steps on his left foot, almost looking like a double-kick in each direction.  I generally dance in rubber-soled shoes and wonder if I can have some of the same effect.  That’ll take some work.  You better believe I’ll be back to the same drills that I used before.  You can see this effect very clearly almost right away.  The triples lead into a tuck-turn, then at 0:21, there’s a trading-places move where his left-foot rock-step on 1 emphasizes a slippery look by kicking out his right foot.

The second technique I see them use is to enter a closed circle with a lot of built up momentum, then switch feet while continuing the turn, giving the illusion that the turn is coming from slipperiness and not momentum.  The first time they do this is from 0:28 to 0:32, the second time is the sequence from 0:49 to 0:55.  Do you see what I’m seeing?  The momentum is built up by an energetic closed circle which continues to rotate.  You can really see the evidence by watching Ramona during the second sequence;  There’s so much energy springing away from each other that she has to essentially stop and act as a rotating counter-balance in order for the circular movement to continue.  That’s awesome.  I’d really like to revisit this clip to really breakdown Peter’s footwork in these sequences to see what’s going on, but I fear that I might be the only one interested in that level of footwork nerd-dom.  I’ll save it for another post.

Playfulness

From the very first “moves,” the triples at 0:17, they’re leaving space for play, styling, and expression.  Those triples could have been styled any way they felt.  At 0:24, Peter pauses for four beats which Ramona can do anything she wants with.  From 0:36 to 0:40 is what I think of as the signature Peter Strom twist styling.  Again, playful, fun, expressive, musical.  And watch Skye Humphries react in the background, inspired to move the same way!  At 0:46, there’s a swing-out which ends with an extended bump-a-dum-a-dum-a-dum.  Again, not just move, move, move, move.  Extending a move as inspired by the music.

Body Strengths

As I mentioned, Peter’s a pretty big guy.  And he really uses that to his advantage.  He makes great lines with his body and especially with his long legs.

 

 

Macro-Musicality

When I hear the song, I hear a driving bass drum beat, which is difficult to ignore.  The interesting thing is how the various instruments play off that beat.  Peter and Ramona come in during a pretty mellow (well, as mellow as you can get with that bass driving the action) saxophone section.  Then at 0:24, a trumpet solo starts.  The energy is a lot higher.  More … “Up.”  And the dancing definitely changes.  Actually, this is where the first swing-out comes.  Interesting, right?  All of the previously mentioned high-energy, circular, closed-position moves come during this trumpet solo, especially the second one where the trumpet starts driving harder than the bass drum!

At the end of the trumpet solo, a sax comes back on, and they go into more of a close blues position.

Conclusion

This makes me want to work on a couple different things: being more playful, finding that character and inspiration in every song, finding what the strengths of my body are…  How about you?  Does the clip move you?  Do you see something different?

[1] pretty big… I met him when he taught at the first Inspiration Weekend in 2008 (?), and looked maybe 6’3″.  I just asked my friend Google, and found out that he’s 6’2″.  On the other hand, the same page tells me he’s 185 lb, shoots right, and played for Vastra Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League and was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 8th round of the 1994 NHL entry draft, so that might be a different Peter Strom

Musicality: Macro and Micro

I thought I’d just briefly write something down about how I discuss musicality.  If you think about it in different ways, I’d love to hear about it.  In broad terms, I think of musicality as coming in two flavors, macro and micro.

Macro-musicality

To me, macro-musicality is the general feeling and atmosphere inspired by a song or a section within a song.  I think I first awakened to the idea during a class by Sean and Tonya Morris during the first Inspiration Weekend (2008?).  They played Savoy Blues (Kid Ory), and asked us to react to the eight eight-counts, then feel how the following section and various solos created different feelings.  “Holy crap, they totally do,” I thought.  It hadn’t penetrated my mind that if I listened closely to the music, I could really be conscious of how it made me feel or that I could reflect those feelings in my dancing.

The opening to Savoy Blues is pretty staccato and upbeat.  The next section has more two-beat draws, which feels more like movement should be drawn out or legs should be swept around or something like that (the last part of this is in the Amazon sample).  The early part of the next section has long trombone draws with a quick clarinet counterpoint, transitioning into solo clarinet with long held notes and trill/vibrato (the first part of this is in the Amazon sample).  Then the trumpets break in for a really brassy, higher-energy solo… etc, etc, etc.  If one dances the same way to each of these sections, one’s not really listening to the music.  They have different energies which can be reflected in posture, energy, even facial expression.

Micro-musicality

Micro means small, right?  I think of micro-musicality as the matching footwork rhythms to rhythms in the music.  If there’s a beat that’s slightly different from the standard triple rhythm, can I match it?  If there’s a draw, can I do that instead of my 7-8?

How about a visual example?  Sure!  I think Nick Williams and Nikki Marvin accomplish both types of musicality here, but I especially like watching the footwork and how the moves get modified in relation to the music.

Nick Williams and Nikki Marvin – US Open Swing Dance Championships 2010 Strictly Lindy Winners

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctAjFEWs97g

The whole thing is a clinic in micro-musicality.

1:08

Lots of fun, lots of ideas.  Did you catch this moment at 1:08?  Pure awesome.  The entire dance is full of moments like that, but I hate gushing.  Hate it.

 

 

Conclusions

How do you think about musicality?  Do you have a different paradigm that you fit things into?  Contrasting definitions of the same words?  More precision?  I’d really like to know how other people think about this.

Inspiration Clip 1 Part 2

Continuing the ideas started in Inspiration Clip 1 Part 1

Sky and Frida Showcase ALHC 2005

(Again the song is Slim and Slam’s Look-A There)

After re-reading Part 1, I’ve decided to deviate from the “list of things I like in the order they happen,” format to something a bit more focused.  My thoughts have crystalized into three themes:  Contrasts in Body Isolation,  Spinal Alignment (or posture) and Highlighted Movement.

Body Isolation

I guess body isolation can mean a lot of different things in different dance contexts.  The meaning I’m focusing on is isolating the upper body from vertical movement in the lower body by absorbing at the knees and hips.  It gives a very smooth, floating look to the dance and accents the dynamic look of jumps when they happen.

This contrast is showcased early on at at 0:26

Isolation during "fall off the log"

(isolating the torso from jumping give a floating look) and 0:28

Contrasting Jump

(jumping with the entire body really pops out).

 

 

 

There’s what looks like what’s supposed to be a similar contrast at 1:00 (a scoot step)

Scoot Step

and 1:03 (a jump).  Unfortunately they don’t jump at the same time, and the effect is lost.

Jump at 1:03

Interestingly, Skye scoots with his knee really high.  Frida’s isn’t as high (relative to her own body) and that loses some of the partnership balance which looks like it was supposed to be there.  Skye’s accent is highlighted at Frida’s expense as opposed to the previous movement at 0:26, where they both match.

The entire bowed bass solo from 1:00 to 1:41 and the guitar solo which follows to about 2:00 is leave out the lyrical accents from the opening section of the song, giving the choreography room for lots of smooth movement.  You can see another matching jump at 1:14, though it’s smaller.  Then what looks like was supposed to a be higher matching jump at 1:18 that isn’t.  They don’t match in heights or timing, so some of the emphasis which should be there is lost (I’m sure an expert judge saw this kind of thing immediately, but it took me 20 viewings to figure out what was bothering me about that moment).

A great isolation is the lateral movement from  1:51 to 1:55 (bump-a-dum-a-dum-a-dum).  The legs are moving up and down, but their torsos stay even.

Spinal Alignment

Maybe this is something that I picked out because I’m working on it in my own

Spinal alignment

dancing, but it’s interesting how straight up and down their spines are for the majority of the dance.  Skye contrasts this a lot more with a bent over position, especially on the “Look-a-THERE” hits (look at the sequence from 0:38 to 1:00).  I think this was a powerful realization for me since when I watch Skye dance, he gives the illusion of being bent over all the time.  But actually, it’s done infrequently enough to really contrast with his normal posture.

Bent Accent

Highlighted Movement

I’ll be honest.  This is something it took me 10 days of repeat viewings to pick up on (but seems obvious in retrospect).  Their choreography includes moves to highlight each other as individuals not just the partnership.

The synchronized jump I mentioned at 1:14, is followed by a move sequence where Sky jumps twice on his own, on the inside turn at 1:15 and the left hand leading from behind his back at 1:17.  This really highlights his movement, while Frida takes a back-seat.  Each “look-a-THERE” hit highlights Skye.  But watch the sequence at the transition to the bowing solo from 0:56 to 1:00.  Definitely a Frida moment.  She giving the illusion of skating just above the floor.

I’m just guessing here, but it looks like 1:31 to 1:36 was supposed to highlight her again with a slow, oozing walk followed by a double-turn in two counts.  It didn’t happen, and you can actually see at 1:36 where Skye leads a turn and Frida breaks frame.

The turns are definitely highlighting Frida, even the single turns.  I think this is done a couple times by the simply breaking convention.  One of the earliest moves beginners learn is to trade places in six counts, with the follows doing an inside turn.  At 1:58, they do this with an outside turn and in 8 counts.  And again at 2:04.

Conclusion

So that’s my examination.  Do you agree with what I’m seeing?  Disagree?  Spot some other theme that I’ve overlooked?  I’d love to hear what other people think about this clip.

Inspiration Clip 1 Part 1

There’s so much inspiring video of Lindy Hop, that I thought I’d record some of my thoughts when viewing individual clips.  Hopefully this will give some insight into what I’m seeing for whomever happens to be reading this, including future-me.

This is Lindy Groove’s clip-of-the-week for 17 Feb 2011, a showcase performance by Sky Humphries and Frida Segerdahl at the American Lindy Hop Championships in 2005.

Sky and Frida Showcase ALHC 2005

(The song is Slim and Slam’s Look-A There)

My first reaction is to the music.  Slim and Slam’s style of playful bass/guitar/piano music topped by playful vocals is  really, really catchy.  There are a lot of changes of mood and attitude during the different sections, which give dancers a whole lot of variation to work with.  And since it’s such a playful song, dancing playfully to it is a little easier.  The song feels loose, and you can see that reflected in the the attitude that Sky and Frida project.  It’s interesting because despite the loose atmosphere of the music, it’s still strong technically, which is again reflected in the dancing.

The vocals and guitar give strong accent points: “a-look-a-THERE” during the first three eight-counts, followed by a break eight.  The resulting footwork rhythm is a really fascinating look at micro-musicality choices.  “a-look-a-THERE” is repeated for the first three eights, and the timing is a-eight-a-one.  One could do the last triple of the previous swing-out on a-eight-a instead of seven-a-eight, but that’s not what’s going on.  Instead, I see them doing a standard triple rhythm with an emphasis on a-eight, one.  In other words, seven-A-EIGHT-ONE.  So if I bold the lyrics, they’re stepping on “alook-a-THERE.”  The break eight has a slight accent around  “mama loves” but without the guitar hit, and the dancing reflects that.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh eights repeat the original rhythm and accents, but instead repeating the accent, they switch to a hold from the THERE emphasis through count two.  Well, the sixth eight is a jump landing on two, but I’m counting that.  I really like the fall-off-the-log variation at :25.  They have great isolation, with hardly any bounce at all.

The kick-up into an offset walk at :33 is cool too.  We don’t do much off-set positioned moves in Lindy Hop.  The connection is very different.  Interesting.

We get a cool foreshadow at :38.  After the tuck-turn, they cross-over on seven into a turn.  The same type of movement is done to a much flashier effect at 1:16 out of a swing-out with outside turn.  The spin creates the same lead on 1-2 as a step-step would.  The behind-the back hand connection gives an inside rotation into the next swing-out.  Very, very cool.

:47 is a Texas Tommy with kick-ball change on seven-a-eight.  The hand switch is so clean.  Almost a throw.

At about 0:58, there’s a bass interlude where Slam Stewart (?) used a bow.  The tempo doesn’t slow down, but the atmosphere changes.  The energy flows more smoothly, without the strong accents from the opening.

I’m going to cut this short and continue on from the 1 minute mark later on.

Are you seeing anything different in the first minute that you find inspiration from?

[UPDATE 8 March 2011]
Jerry Almonte wrote about the genesis of this performance in Behind The Dance: Frida & Skye at ALHC 2005 on the Wandering & Pondering blog.  It’s a great story and worth reading.  I don’t think I’ve ever met Jerry, but I’ve subscribed to his blog for most of the past year.  His long-form stuff is great, really inspiring.  And I really just started reading the facebook page for short-form stuff.

Should Lindy Hop Follows Step Forward Or Back On 1?

I recently was asked this question:  “Step forward or back on 1 for follows in lindy hop?”  Ok, it was a search term that came to the site, but that’s the same thing, right? 🙂

Ok, first things first.  If you’re asking the question, you’re putting yourself in the novice stage of the Dreyfus model;  You’re asking for a rule.  That’s fine.  Novices need rules.

So what’s the answer?  Let me be careful and specific about my opinion: Novice follows should step in the direction they’re led in on 1.  If you’re led forward, step forward.  If you’re led into a rock step OR if you have directional momentum from the previous move which leads you into a rock step, then rock-step.  If you’re given no directional lead, do your footwork in place.  That’s not quite as simple as stepping forward or back, I know.  Step in the direction you’re led on 1, otherwise step in place.  Perhaps that’s simpler re-statement.

Ok, so what are the real-world implications of this rule?  Well, leads and follows have to be working on frame.  If, as a novice follow, you’re not connecting well to your lead, you might miss the direction he leads.  Leads, you have to lead in a direction.

Great, that’s the novice version.  What’s the roadmap to the future?  First there’s lots of floor-time experimenting with connection.  Experimenting with tensing and relaxing different muscles along the arm, in the back, and in your core.  Experimenting with different frame at different speeds, with different leads, to different rhythms, in different directions.  Along the way, you’ll begin to appreciate that the directional lead can be a combination of the momentum from the last move, the connection from the lead, and choices the follow makes (presuming the lead is listening on your dance connection and not just speaking).

What rules were you given as a novice?  Do you still follow them all the time?  What’s the philosophical grounding for the rule?  Do the lead and follow both have to agree on philosophy before agreeing to dance?