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Pull On 2

Chatted with Augie Freeman about dancing at Memories on Monday.  Mentioned my desire to compete and he had an interesting piece of advice:

Pull on 2, not 1 if you want to do well in competitions.

My Personal History

It’s far from the first time that I’ve heard that.  In fact, I remember taking classes from Jerry Jordan (who teaches beginning leads to lead follows forward on 1) and Shesha Marvin (who taught leads and follows to both rock on 1) and not being able to reconcile the correct way to do it.  I asked both why and I never really understood the reasoning behind each, though Shesha wanted to emphasize a stretch away on one which caused a spring together on 2.  Why?  Again, I was never clear why.  That’s not to say they didn’t explain, just that I never understood.  I came away from those conversations with a feeling that they just liked one way over another, a personal preference.  Again, I want to emphasize that this was during my time as a novice.  I very well might have been asking about philosophy during a time that I needed rules.  Or during a time when I didn’t have the vocabulary or experience to understand what they were trying to explain.

Years later, when talking to Jofflyn Valencia and Amber Villa, I got some philosophy from them which made sense to me.  They taught beginning leads to lead towards them on 1 because that was the most simple, efficient way to do a swing-out.  Valuing efficiency of movement naturally led to bringing follows in on 1.  Which isn’t to say that doing things a different way is wrong.  Just maybe not the most efficient way to do it.  And at times you’re not dancing for efficiency, but musicality, showmanship, energy, styling, or any number of values.

Back on Topic

Pull on 2 is a rule.  And I feel that to properly incorporate what I’m doing into my world-view, I have to absorb things in a way that makes sense.  That is, I’ve moved beyond the novice stage of dancing rules.  But I have a framework already for varying from simple ways of doing things.  I vary my footwork as a result of hearing things in the music and expressing that.  So if I take that as a basis and generalize that to every part of a swing-out, I should be able to vary when I lead my partner forward based on how the music is making me feel.  Maybe that’s a small rhythmic thing at a certain part of a song, so I vary my lead during a single swing-out.  Maybe the entire song has a stretchy or languid feel which encourages me to leave the follow out for long periods of time.  Maybe the song has the opposite feel but I want to counter that for a visually jarring aesthetic.  The motivations for it could be countless.

Conclusions?

What I’ve realized, however, is that delaying the lead in is  a part of my dancing skill-set that I’ve neglected.  I probably shouldn’t wait until I feel moved to do a thing before I practice the skill needed to execute it cleanly.  Hmmm… there’s a topic for another post…

At any rate, many thanks to Augie for pointing that out to me. 🙂

A Conversation

This is a re-post from my informal, catch-all blog.


[Author’s note:  I have numerous advisers, mentors, and even peers I bounce ideas off of.  I also have a dance mentor who lives inside my head.  The advice he gives is a synthesis of all the advice I’ve gotten from real conversations, arguments, and “ah ha!” moments.  This is one of those discussions.  If you recognize your words, that’s because I probably absorbed your lesson.]

“So what is it that you want out of Lindy Hop,” he asked me.

“I want to be an advanced dancer,” I replied.

“Where are you now?”

“I think I’m solidly intermediate.”

“And what does becoming an advanced dancer mean to you?”

“That’s tough to say.  I’m not worried about flash. Or performing.  Or competing.  But I am worried about making a dance fun for my partner.  I’d like to be able to dance with a beginner or a visiting pro and have that person walk away thinking, ‘Now that was a fun dance.'”

“That’s a good goal.  What do you think you need to do to achieve it?”

“Well, I feel like I’m solid in what I can do now.  But that I need more moves, more vocabulary…”  I stopped as he shook his head.

“No.  What you need is basics.”

“I’m … not sure what you mean ‘you need basics,'” I replied, trying not to be offended.  I mean, I knew my basics.

“Well, you said you needed more vocabulary, right?  You chose that metaphor, and one of the old tropes you hear instructors use feeds right into it: ‘Dancing is a conversation.'”

“Sure….”

“Well, have you ever thought to yourself, ‘I need to learn some more words so I can have better conversations with my friends’?  Of course not!  You have better conversations by mastering your basic vocabulary then using it to maximum effect.  Ever seen a poetry slam?  Or a ‘spoken word’ showcase?  Or an actor doing a one person show with multiple characters, accents, and points of view?  Or a great stand-up comedian with the audience in the palm of his hand?  Or a an political orator swaying the feelings of an audience?  Those people don’t use words you don’t know.  They have mastery of basic vocabulary.”

“That can’t be all they have.”

“Of course not.  They’ve also mastered the artistic use and effective timing of their words as well as the ability to read a crowd.  The way they use vocabulary might be different from yours.”

“But I see advanced dancers doing moves I don’t know all the time.”

“You’re forgetting that this is about having a conversation.  Can you conceive a thought, begin it, and complete it with clarity and directness?   Can you construct a thesis statement and supporting points?  The first step is working on your basics.  Variations and new moves come after that.  I’m sure you can probably think of local dancers who know lots of moves, but they don’t seem … quite right.  Or people will complain after dancing with them.  About clarity.  Or harshness.  Or injuries.”

“Yeah, I can, now that you mention it.  So you’re saying I need to learn how to express my feelings…”

“Feelings?!  No, not your feelings.  I’m saying you should learn how to have the Lindy Hop equivalent of a polite, clear, superficial, conversation with no nuance.  Feelings?!  Feelings are a whole other conversation!!!”

Are there any conversations or observations that you can remember which changed your dancing?   What is the metaphor for dancing that you use most often to express basic concepts?  Has anyone ever told you that you needed more work on your basics when you felt they were already very good?  How did you take it?