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Dance

It scares me because you’re alone. And you’re deciding what to do. And people are staring at you.

It also scares me because of how good people can get at this thing that’s bloody difficult.

Ack!

I’ve been looking at some of the solo videos on hamfats.ca, one of my favourite dance blogs run by one of my first blues teachers. Man, are those guys good! I love the way they move, but also how creative they are, and how you can see them using all of their other styles to inform their blues dancing. So good.

Solo dancing is something I really, really want to get good at. And while for the past few years I haven’t wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole (much like learning to lead), I think I’ve gotten to the point where I have to learn it in order to become a better dancer. And, let’s face it, as much as it scares me, it is amazingly fun – or so I’ve learned from clandestine kitchen dance sessions (blues dancing gets a lot more exciting when it involves ducking out of your housemate’s sightline). So it’s getting added to my already mile-long list of New Years’ resolutions. This year, I’ll learn how to solo dance.

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After two intense, almost back-to-back days of blues dancing, I took a musicality workshop yesterday at Swing Tonic in Norwich. My mind and muscles were still in blues mode. And it was awesome.

Turns out that, despite using a seemingly entirely different set of muscles, blues and swing really complement each other. Blues teaches you to have balance and core strength, to be able to turn and stop on a dime, to be smooth and deliberate in your dancing, and to use the air (that moving-through-molasses feeling) and the floor as you move – all skills that make your swing dancing more musical.

Most of all though, I think blues just forces you to pay attention to the music, and to negotiate with it. To hold on to the stretches as long as possible, to lag just a little. For me, swing has always been a little regimented – you must do a triple step, so that must take the same amount of beats no matter what the music does, right? Apparently not quite. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a swing song before; I’ve always paid attention to the beat and to my partner’s rhythm, and nothing else.

Most of all I think blues teaches you to be a dancer first, and a swing, blues, Ceroc, whatever dancer second.

I’ve now danced on both sides of the ocean, and it makes for an interesting comparison. Some not very coherent thoughts:

  • It’s interesting how much stays the same. Swing is a tiny world, and you eventually get the same famous instructors, the same jazz routines, etc. etc.
  • The dance group here is apparently magic: every lead they touch turns to gold. I don’t know how they do it, but their leads get really good, really fast. Repertoire and musicality take as long as anywhere else to build up, but confidence is the key to a good dance, and their leads have just the perfect amount. Magic.
  • There’s a house style in every studio, and definitely in every city. I’ve noticed this most of all when dancing here with someone from Toronto: he dances like a Canadian. I couldn’t possibly tell you exactly what it is, but his repertoire screams Toronto Lindy. That’s not a value judgement in any way – I adore both styles. It’s just interesting to see that the difference exists.
  • On the same theme as the last point, people here don’t do dips half as often as in Canada. I wonder why that is.
  • They also treat blues very differently – there isn’t much of it, which definitely contributes to the reticence, but there is also definitely a level of discomfort with the closeness that you don’t see as much of in Toronto. In TO, there is very much the attitude that blues is just another style, another dance form. Here I think its sensuality takes the forefront in a way that it doesn’t in Toronto, and it makes people uncomfortable.
  • I love how interconnected both scenes are. Because everything is so close by in the UK, I think travelling to exchanges and other events is much easier, and it certainly seems like there are more of them here. I can’t wait until I’m done my masters and can actually make it to some of them. I’m also a little sad that I never got to go to Followlogie while I was in Canada.

All my friends are posting about the great time they had at Toronto’s monthly blues night yesterday, and it’s making me miss blues like crazy.

There’s no feeling like a great blues dance. It puts your body into the tipping point of momentum, until your lead can move you like a rag doll, make your body bend to its own movement, tip at impossible angles. It’s balance and gravity and stretch and pull and momentum. Its what birds must feel like when they catch a thermal.

I’ve been looking at the list of blues and lindy events in the UK this year and it looks like there’s one I can actually make. I am so excited I can’t even.

Here’s some AMAZING blues danced by Campbell & Chris:

I got to dance with Chris once, right after he and Campbell taught a blues fusion session, and taught us leg flairs brought over from tango. It involves the follow wrapping her outside leg around the lead’s inside leg in such a way that with a little flick he can make her leg flair around until it crosses behind her inside leg. We all practiced it a lot. Getting our legs to warp around properly was tricky, and it was hard to figure out what the flair was supposed to be – it ended up being me waiting for the flick an then propelling my leg around, which is not at all what it’s meant to be.

And then I danced with Chris. Before I knew it, he had positioned me perfectly, and got my body to do exactly what it needed to for a perfect, graceful tango flair. One of the best dances I’ve ever had.

How could I forget to mention this? The blog will definitely have lots and lots of posts about dancing.

In the interests of throwing everything into the void, here is the full version of the picture in my header:

I love, love, love this picture. I love how this picture is Lindy Hop: this is exactly what it looks and feels like. You can see the swish, the momentum, the tension in their connection and the awesome tension and spring they just got from their other hands. It looks like this was an amazing dance – no wonder she’s beaming.

Even better, this photo is from the Savoy, where Lindy Hop was born.