The Youtubification of the Lindy Hop

Recently I had a brief conversation with a prominent Balboa teacher who also dances Lindy Hop, in which the person claimed that “Lindy Hop has become all about pageantry.”  When I asked what that meant, exactly, they explained by saying that 10 years ago, if you asked a beginner or intermediate dancer what their goals were, they were likely to say something along the lines of, “To have great social dances with people of all levels” or “To be able to follow anything that’s led on me.”  Whereas today, that same beginner or intermediate dancer is more likely to say that their goals are “To join a dance team/troupe,” or “To do a performance,” or “To win in a competition.”  Furthermore, this teacher claimed that even social dancing is now often about dancing “for those three people watching” rather than for one’s partner.

I must say that on the whole, I agree with this assessment.  Dancers’ goals seem to have shifted over the past decade in a way that reflects a shift in values or emphasis in the scene.  I believe the evolution of dance events away from exchanges and towards competition/workshop weekends is further evidence of the trend.  It’s exceedingly rare these days to attend a dance weekend in which there is not a single competition or performance.  “Pageantry,” or the desire to show off and been seen, has definitely wormed its way into the heart of the contemporary Lindy Hop scene.

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Posted in Deep Thoughts on Dancing | 12 Comments

How I Fixed My Knee Problems (and accidentally got in the best shape of my adult life)

I used to have trouble with my left knee.  I first noticed it after I’d been dancing for maybe 6 years.  I’ve always been a very active, athletic person (soccer, horseback riding, track, etc.) and had struggled with my right ankle in the past, which I’ve sprained no fewer than five times, but this knee issue was a new one for me.  It was hard to predict exactly how or when (or even where) it would hurt, but I knew it was impacting my dancing because I would feel it twinge, and I’d want to not do movements that felt “risky” for my knee.  Trying to protect yourself from doing certain kinds of movements with your body when you’re a follower in an improvised partner dance is pretty tricky, as you might imagine.

I went to a doctor, who diagnosed my patella as not moving smoothly when I bent and straightened my knee, which was causing inflammation, which was causing pain.  I was sent to physical therapy, where I did a variety of exercises that I don’t remember.  Eventually I stopped going to PT, things probably got a bit better, and I didn’t think about it for a while.  When enough years go by managing something like this, I think you start to feel like it’s just part of your life, and you pay less attention to it.

Sometime in late winter/early spring 2012, I realized that I’d been unconsciously managing (or perhaps studiously ignoring) my knee pain for what amounted to quite a long time.  I know that I eventually identified that my IT band tightening up was basically the culprit of my troubles, and when things got bad I would go to a massage therapist and have them work out that IT band like there’s no tomorrow.  Which helped a lot.  But ultimately I was still treating the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause.  It was impacting my enjoyment of the dance. I was worried that it spelled trouble for the possibility of dancing well into old age.  So I started talking to other dancers about it.  A friend said it sounded like I have runner’s knee, in which basically the muscles in my leg are unequally strong, which contributes to the imbalance that causes my patella to get pulled to one side instead of tracking smoothly.

At this point in the story I have to make a confession/give some background explanation.

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Yo dawg, I heard you like dancing…

…so I think you should put some dancing in your dancing, so you can dance while you dance.  (Know Your Meme)

I just got back from a fan-freakin-tastic weekend at Lindyfest/Lone Star Championships in Houston, and I’m feeling very jazzed right now about dancing.  (Hey-o! Punny!)  My head is buzzing with many Deep Thoughts, so I’m picking one and putting it out here for general discussion.

Painting in broad strokes, I think there are basically two things that you can be really good at in Lindy Hop: technique and ideas.  The best dancers in the world are great at both.  Some of the most well-known dancers and pros out there happen to be stronger at one than the other.  I think “having good technique” is fairly self-explanatory.  What I’m really interested in at this moment is the importance–and difficulty–of having good ideas.

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Posted in Deep Thoughts on Dancing | 4 Comments

Gender Drama in the Lindy Blogosphere

There has been a blow-up in the Lindy Hop blogosphere having to do with questions of gender.  I speak here about two blog posts in particular.  Nathan Bugh, a friend and occasional partner of mine whose teaching prowess and analytical understanding of the dance I greatly admire, wrote a blog post called “Ladies First.”  (That’s Nathan in the photo header of my website.)  Setting aside the title for the moment, the post essentially makes a pedagogical point, arguing that when it comes to effectively teaching lead/follow technique, the dance is constructed in such a way that the follower’s technique is logically prior to the leader’s technique.  I won’t paraphrase the argument, as I think Nathan summarizes it quite well in the following paragraph:

“However, when it comes to learning and teaching lead/follow skills, the follower’s technique is a much higher priority than the leader’s.  Her dancing ability, her awareness, strength, balance, use of the floor, etc. are the elements from which spring her following ability AND the leader’s leading ability.  She is the beginning of the logic in the dance.  In class, the followers empower the leaders to learn.  Leaders judge their progress according to the results that their partners embody.  Followers are the focus of the lead/follow process, and they have to follow before the leaders can lead.” (emphasis mine)

To flesh out the context of this post a bit further, I would argue that by now it is a commonly observed phenomenon that often in Lindy Hop classes, instructors structure their teaching such that they are mostly speaking to the leaders about how to lead moves.  Instruction given to followers beyond “and followers, follow” can tend to be lacking.  (As Nathan says in a Facebook comment related to his post, “In moves classes, teachers should make sure the followers have something to practice that doesn’t depend on the leaders’ rightness.”)  This phenomenon is one motivation that led to the creation of so many follower-focused weekends in the mid-2000’s, including my own Southern Belle Swing Bash weekend.  (NB: In 2009, Nathan attended Southern Belle as a guest leader/helper.)  It’s also my anecdotal understanding that the dynamic I’ve just described has improved somewhat, partly due to the influence of such events.  In fact, one reason that we decided to stop organizing Southern Belle was because we perceived that the “point” of the weekend had ceased to be as relevant as it once was, which is a good thing.

[Sidebar: This perhaps points to what is often a controversial point among feminists, namely when and whether some particular feminist initiative ought to view its ultimate goal as its own dissolution.  For example: ought we to hope that “science for girls” programs ultimately become obsolete, because “regular” science programs finally incorporate a perspective on gender that enables them to effectively do outreach to both girls and boys, thus bringing girls into science at the same rate as boys?]

Given the above context, when I first encountered Nathan’s post, my initial reaction was that it was refreshing to see a perspective (advocated by a high-profile international instructor, no less–and a dancer whose primary role is as a leader!) that elevated the importance of the follower when approaching the pedagogy of the dance.

Not everyone shared my reaction.  Notably, frequent gender-and-Lindy blogger Sam Carroll over at Dogpossum was less than impressed.  I was disappointed in Sam’s analysis of Nathan’s post, particularly because I have often agreed with many of the points she makes in her blog posts, and I greatly appreciate the service her blog does in keeping gender alive as a topic of conversation in relationship to the dance.

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Posted in Deep Thoughts on Dancing, Gender & Dancing | 8 Comments

DCLX 2011: Battle of the Bands

I want to talk about this:

(You can see me smiling and clapping at about 7:18.)

First of all, I’d like to say that these two bands were so incredibly swingin’ that even before that actual head-to-head, Jonathan Stout’s orchestra was playing a tune prior to the official commencement of the battle, and then Glenn Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band all wandered onstage and took up the tune with them, until both bands were playing together and finished it out as one giant swinging monster.  I was standing center-stage the whole time, watching and listening, and it was so damn exciting that I literally cried tears of joy watching it happen.  Yeah, so these bands on stage making music together, in a room full of lindy hoppers dancing to the music that this dance was made to be danced to, made me cry.  I’m a total sap.

I kept thinking to myself that this is what the Savoy must have felt like every night.  That this is what our community has been missing for so many years, without my even really being able to put a finger on it.  Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like music of this caliber just hadn’t been a part of the Lindy Hop experience up until the past couple of years.  And now it’s here.  And I sure hope it’s here to stay.  Because everyone deserves to witness a night like the one I witnessed at Glen Echo last Saturday.  I was probably standing and watching and listening more than I was even dancing, and I just may have enjoyed watching and listening more than I enjoyed dancing.  The music was that good.

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Posted in Awesomosity, Deep Thoughts on Dancing | 1 Comment