Tag Archives: styling

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.


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.




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.


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

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.


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. 🙂

Madd Chadd

Hip-hop isn’t my genre of dancing at all, but this is an amazing tip from an amazing dancer.

Spoiler: “Be patient.”
When one’s a novice dancer, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to advance quickly, to jam lots of learning into as small a time a period as possible.  But imagine the process of learning how to do this kind of body isolation movement:
Does he have an amazing skill?  Of course!  Did it pop into being suddenly?  Almost certainly not.  In fact, watch this:
Still good.  Still obviously skilled.  Same fluid, body-isolation aesthetic, but clearly not as good.  And that was six years ago.
So now think about how he’s saying to be patient.  To not rush.  He’s clearly lived that.  And in fact, it seems to infuse his entire aesthetic sense.
And if you’re wondering where you’ve seen him before:
So what is your impatient voice saying you should be doing or achieving?

Dance Like You: Kelly vs. Astaire

Jofflyn Valencia repeated something in a class that I’d forgotten about his “dance like you walk” story.

“Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly:  Both amazing dancers with different bodies and styles.  Astaire was taller and leaner.  He used his longer limbs to make elegant looking lines.  Kelly was more muscular and powerful.  Was one better than the other?  What’s more important is that they each danced in a way that fit their own bodies.”
Are there particular dancers out there who are inspiring you right now?  When you watch them, do you think about adopting their look?  Or is there something else you can learn from them?

Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

One of my main motivations for starting this site was to discuss some of the mental models that I use to think about dancing.  I previously referenced my reasons for calling the blog “Black Belt Lindy,” which implies the use of the martial arts as a model.  Unfortunately, the belt system in martial arts is a system of colors and can be fluid in the meaning of certain colors.

About a year ago, I read Andy Hunt’s “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning” which stimulated an avalanche of thinking and re-thinking.  It’s nominally about computer programming, in that it’s written from the perspective of a programmer and a lot of the examples reference programming, but the lessons are quite easily applied to things like dancing.

Today I’d like to focus on a single idea I was exposed to: The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition.
The idea behind this model is to classify someone’s skill level so as to better give an instructor guidance on what a student needs to work on to advance.  Here’s the description from the wikipedia page on the Dreyfus Model:

A helpful summary of the model is provided by Eraut (1994)[2]:
1 Novice

  • rigid adherence to rules
  • no discretional judgment

2 Advanced beginner

  • situational perception still limited
  • all aspects of work are treated separately and given equal importance

3 Competent

  • coping with crowdedness (multiple activity, information)
  • now partially sees action as part of longer term goals
  • conscious, deliberate planning

4 Proficient

  • holistic view of situation, rather than in terms of aspects
  • sees what is most important in a situation
  • uses maxims for guidance, meaning of maxims may vary according to situation

5 Expert

  • no longer reliant on rules, guidelines, maxims
  • intuitive grasp of situation, based on tacit knowledge
  • vision of what is possible

6 Proficient Expert

  • Knows the evidence base and underpinning knowledge to entirety
  • Can teach the skill to others
  • Can utilise the skill interlinked with other skills

This is evocative of so many memories!  Being a novice all all about needing the rules explained.  Ever remember a someone asking, “How do I know when to do six or eight count footwork?”  Someone looking for a hard and fast rule is placing themselves solidly in the novice range.
What about the inability to understand priorities?  I remember acting as a teaching assistant at a workshop and asking the instructor what the priorities in fixing problems were.  Frame before footwork?  Footwork before lead?  The inability to prioritize the focus of my instruction was the mark of an Advanced Beginner.
As we shade into Competent practitioners, we start to see more of the big picture.  We can see how decisions we make in our dancing affect the aesthetics.  How actions in one part of a move affect latter parts.  How the end of one move naturally feeds into the beginning of another.  How changes in the music should elicit changes in the dancing.  How the structure of the music helps us to anticipate future decisions we’ll be making.
I don’t claim to be a Proficient practitioner, though maybe I’m shading towards this level.  I’ll be working for a while at getting enough practical experience to really claim this.  At this level, rules get abstracted into maxims, which might be so nuanced as to seem meaningless to the Novice.  One I’ve heard is, “Dance the way you walk.”  That meant almost to nothing to me until I was shown a practical application.
OK, so how does this help us become better dancers?  Well, I’ve never talked to someone in swing dancing who’s heard of this model, so I kind of doubt any workshops will be adopting it to mark teaching levels.  To be honest, I’ve never talked to anyone who’s heard of this model, so it’s not something unique to swing dancing.  What it can help us do is to better understand where we are in the process of learning.  It’s actually a continuous spectrum, not a series of discrete steps, so you may have characteristics of multiple levels.
I’m classing myself as a Competent shading towards Proficient swing dancer.  I can very quickly see whether someone is fitting my aesthetic sense and kinesthetic sense of “good dancing,” and figure out why with minimal review.  I’m someone who’s able to think before I walk, so I feel like I grasp some of the ideas behind being Proficient while I lack a lot of the experience.  For example, I’m usually fine on the social floor at most speeds, but tend to freeze up when asked to jump in and do 8-8’s in the middle of a song.  I need a lot more practical experience before that becomes a natural part of my dancing.  I’ve spent most of the past 18 months ironing out my basics and adding in rhythm changes and very minor footwork variations as my styling.  I need to add a lot more styling variations and get comfortable with them as part of a “flash” library.  My personal style tends to be more subtle so I need to be more comfortable with a “bigger” style if I want to compete.  My reactions aren’t geared towards “listening” to an assertive follow telling me she needs extra time or wants to play with a theme.  I need a lot more practice at being responsive to this.
So let me throw this out there.  Where do you rank yourself as a swing dancer at the moment?  Do you have any specific memories that are linked to anchoring you at a point in time to a specific characteristic in the Dreyfus model?

How does this affect your thoughts on basics vs. styling?

Basics and Styling

I recently read Mary Freitag’s post on The Secret to Swinging your Follower Stylings where she advocates adding triple-steps to stylings to really make them swing.
Really cool idea.  I like it on multiple levels.  First off, it emphasizes to the advanced dancer that good stylings work so much better when they’re musically inspired.  You can explore using a triple in any two beats (either a triple-step or triple-stamp).  You probably already know it, but it’s always eye opening to see someone apply that in a way that I haven’t thought of before.

h/t to Mary for the video reference.  Frida at 1:00:

To the novice:
Do your triples.  Seriously.  Do them.  It’s so much easier to tap-step or kick-step in every place where you should be tripling.  And it’s not that you shouldn’t ever do those variations.  But if you can’t triple-step, then your styling variation has become your basic.  And my philosophical position is, “It’s bad to let what should be a styling become one’s basic.”

And believe me, I’ve been there.  Here’s some teeth-grinding video of me on the Atomic Swing Team, not doing triples.

Do your triples.

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?