Tag Archives: video

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.

How We Step

I recently saw this video on barefoot running that reminded me of some thinking I’d done about how we step in Lindy Hop.  Starting at about the 3 minute mark, there’s an interesting discussion of how the forefoot running stride differs from the heel-strike based stride.  But what triggered this memory was the image of the force transfer at the end, when presumably the runner was taking the next step.  There’s a propelling force off of the back foot that naturally happens in running that’s a bit hidden in walking or dancing.

Imagine taking a step forward on a specific count.  Lindy Hop instruction tends to focus on the foot we’re transferring weight onto.  But as thinking dancers, it’s just as important to consider the foot that we’re pushing off of.  A step forward on count 1 implies thinking of propelling off of the other foot after 8 but before 1.

Video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jrnj-7YKZE

In Lindy Hop instruction, I’ve heard a lot of instruction that doesn’t help people understand this idea.  Something like, “Use the floor more!”

I think it would help if we spoke of pushing off of one foot onto the other.

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?

Be Water

I came upon this video excerpt of a Bruce Lee interview (“Be Water”) back in September of 2008, and it’s stuck with me:

What it means to me has changed over time.  When I first saw it, I felt like I wanted all follows to dance “like water.”  If the lead creates something powerful, be powerful.  If the lead creates something calm, be calm.  “Empty your mind” of preconceptions.  Just follow.

I think that there’s value to that attitude, but when dancing with advanced or just assertive follows, it’s not the reality of every partnership.  Sometimes a musical phrasing, emphasis, or hit will inspire the follow to do something that the lead isn’t thinking.  And that should be OK in a partnership.

So some notes for the dancers at the early stages of the Dreyfus model:

Be Water

Novice Follows
Carry no expectations into the dance.  Do the moves that are led.  Don’t worry about styling.  Worry about basics.

Novice Leads
Be clear about the shapes, forms, and expectations you’re placing on the follow.

Advanced Beginner Follows
Let the lead set the tone, energy, and character of the dance.  If he’s a bottle, be a bottle.  If he’s a teapot, be a teapot.

Advanced Beginner Leads
Try to let go of some of your preconceptions of the moves you’re going to do.  Experiment with emptying your mind before each dance, and leading each move as an extension of the move before it.  It’s difficult at first, I know!  You don’t need to do this with every dance.

Does this clip stir any ideas in you or your dancing?

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.