“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?