Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why Teaching Is Awesome (cont'd.)

It's such a crazy feeling to dance with one of your students one day and think to yourself, "Whaaat, since when can you dance like this??" -- only to realize that the answer is "since they've been taking your classes".

And if that's not awesome enough: being told that they've been working on implementing the little tips you gave them a week or two ago, and really feeling the difference it has made in their dance... how great is that? :]

I'm so proud of some of my students. :3

Sunday, February 6, 2011

O coração guardado não fica partido,
nem tocado,
nem mudado por nenhum outro.

Aberto, vai sentir o sol
e também a chuva,
mas com os dois
vai crescer como uma flor
para ser capaz de bate mais forte
com a paixão da vida.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Towards learning to dance

The dance analog of this post on learning how to play guitar just struck me. Creation and versatility, not emulation.

I suppose this is why I'm fairly comfortable thinking of myself as a dancer, whereas I'm not at all comfortable with thinking of myself as (or other people calling me) a musician. I'm not even close to able to express my own feelings or ideas (musical or otherwise) through music. As far as guitar goes, I am the equivalent of someone who has watched a bunch of instructional YouTube dance videos and has learned from them how to execute a handful of patterns. I don't think of myself as being able to "play guitar"; I can just play some songs on a guitar. And I really enjoy playing them, no doubt -- but I wish I wasn't so limited to such a select few songs, in the specific keys and arrangements in which I learned them.

But with dance, I *like* learning the equivalent of scales, chords and miscellaneous theory; it's intrinsically enjoyable to me, to discuss and play around with the nuts and bolts of dance. I love exploring lead/follow connection and working on body control and movement, with no particular end result in mind other than getting better at moving myself and hearing/moving my partner. And it seems that this, as in guitar, is how you gain the freedom to express yourself. Knowing your way around your instrument.

Adventures in Leading (Part III)

Boston Fusion Exchange. This event sold out of follow passes at least 6 months ahead of time, so I, curious about "fusion" and really wanting to go, registered as a lead. I figured I'd do the workshops as a lead, and at least get to dance in the evenings as a follow. Looking at the DJ schedules and seeing that at pretty much all times there'd be blues playing in one of the rooms, I also figured I'd just follow the blues around, since that's what I dance (as opposed to tango, west coast, lindy, etc.). But I discovered that leading can be really freaking fun, and fusion is super cool; there's something insanely awesome about just dancing with your partner to the music that's playing, in a way that suits (your interpretation of) whatever music that happens to be, and regardless of what kind of dances your partner knows how to dance.

So despite my intentions beforehand, I ended up spending most of the social dancing over the weekend dancing as a lead, to fusion*. One of the best parts about it was that, being an exchange, the attendees consisted mainly of a) local dancers from the host city's scene, and (moreso) b) the most hardcore dancers from other scenes across North America, who travel for dance.

I've been to several exchanges before (and taken numerous workshops as a lead), but it was way more fun to social dance with such a wide variety of dancers as a lead than as a follow. Maybe the novelty factored in, but man, there were so many amazing follows there -- blues and tango follows especially -- who really knew how to handle their own movement, balance and momentum, how to wait for a lead before moving themselves (!!), and how to stay connected *throughout* a movement rather than just doing it themselves once they feel the initiation of the lead. So awesome. Dancing with such follows is like magic. *_*

But the REALLY cool part was dancing with other kinds of follows. Beginner follows, heavy follows, follows who don't listen, follows who rely on their lead for balance, follows who clamp down on their lead's right arm (ow.. ;_; ), drunk follows... It convinced me that a really good lead will be able to dance with anyone, regardless of dance background (not just in terms of level, but style of dance), and will figure out how to dance with any follow in a way that they can both enjoy. That it takes listening to how your follow moves, and learning how to lead her to do what you want her to do by working *with* her instead of using brute force. (... and if something's not physically possible to lead her through without brute force, just don't do it: it won't feel nice for her. :P)

I am very much looking forward to working more on my leading. :]

[* "What is fusion music?", you ask. There's no one good answer to this (that I can give yet, anyway), but this fellow, after attending the second Fusion Exchange, composed some music specifically for fusion dancers. He DJed at BFX as well, playing more original compositions. Other DJs in the "fusion" rooms played things along the same lines, plus other stuff ranging from pop to r&b to rumba. But fusion, as far as dancing goes, isn't about the style of music so much as the approach: moving to the music that's playing, and moving with your partner. So you can easily dance what appears to be blues or tango or lindy in a fusion way, if there happens to be blues or tango or swing music playing. But it doesn't come from picking a dance style and simply doing that dance, with a partner who also knows that dance. More on fusion in a later post.]

Why teaching is awesome

There are few things as wonderful as an epiphany: suddenly *getting* something in a way you really didn't before. I recently took a workshop that made my brain explode with new understanding on multiple occasions within the space of an hour. So wicked.

But man, being on the other side of that? Turning on lightbulbs in someone *else's* head? I think that just might be even better. :]

Fortunately for me, the only way to keep exploding other people's brains indefinitely is to continually pursue additional Brain Explosions of Learning of my own. The best of both worlds.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Adventures in Leading (Part II)

... And not too long later, I'm really excited about this leading thing. I'm super lucky that a few really great follows actually want to help me learn and can give me really helpful feedback while I repeatedly epic fail at trying to lead them through things (thanks for being such awesome sports, guys! :]). So I'm slowly making progress -- there are at least a couple of things that I can lead pretty smoothly now. (Shock!) It's so satisfying to be able to successfully execute a move. :D

A couple random thoughts from my Adventures in Leading thus far:

In blues, since there's no basic step, there isn't really any sort of framework or structure to rely on to know where your follow should be, or which foot her weight is on. But trying to start a move irrespective of where your follow's weight is is a sure recipe for someone tripping over themselves (or their partner). So a good lead has to kind of follow the follow after initiating a move, keeping track of where her feet are, and going with her so *he* can match up with *her* before trying to initiate anything else. Trying to do a simple inside turn, I at first had to watch the girl's feet in order to time when to pull her back into closed position, but I figured that one should be able to just feel where her weight is without looking and be able to get the timing just by the feel... and sure enough, after trying it a few times without looking, I actually got the timing down, and it feels surprisingly smooth now! Or maybe I shouldn't be surprised. It's always easiest for me to follow with my eyes closed, presumably since there's much less sensory input to distract me from the most important thing in partner dancing: connection.

The other thing is that, after getting a lot of feedback over many attempts at executing various moves, it seems that, at least in terms of the physical aspects, there does seem to be a fair amount of symmetry in the way I and my follow experience a move. That is, it seems like if it feels to me like it went smoothly, my follow generally agrees that it felt smooth; and if I think something didn't feel quite right, my follow also generally agrees. This is really, really good to know -- knowing I can trust my own perception of things will help me a lot when dancing with follows who don't give me much feedback.

I have to wonder about leads who don't also know what it's like to follow though... After dancing with a rough lead, I can't help but wonder if it actually feels smooth and enjoyable to him, or if he thinks I must enjoy being jarred and tossed around. During one recent dance, I couldn't stop myself from visibly wincing (and uttering some kind of corresponding sound) when a guy did something that felt much more like a martial arts move than a dance move (my wrist was very unhappy as a result :|).

On a related note, I'm finally starting to be able to relate to a lot of things I get from beginner leads, like how challenging it is at first to string together various moves naturally, even once you've learned to do them well individually. One point of interest for me though, is about hand-squeezing. As I expressed here not too long ago, the poor-leading habit that I hate the most is squeezing a follow's hands. I totally got caught doing that exact thing the other day. (Well, I'm not sure if I was squeezing -- I don't *think* I was -- but my thumbs were down! Bad!!) But unlike the other beginner-lead challenges I've encountered firsthand so far, this one makes me have even less sympathy for leads who do this. I must tell all my follows to yell at me every time I do it. :|!

And speaking of dance injuries, I seem to have incurred my first one. I don't mean the flesh-wound kind, where someone elbows you in the face, or stomps on your foot in heels -- those don't bother me any longer than the immediate pain distracts me from dancing (i.e., not very long at all). But last weekend, through a combination of mild foolishness on my part and what happened to be awful timing, I almost broke my arm off at the elbow. It was too fast for me to really remember what happened, but I definitely felt something like the beginnings of a snap, and it hurt like hell well after that dance. It felt more or less fine by later that night (except when I fully extended my arm), but I figured I should get it checked out just in case... I didn't end up doing so during the week, but it wasn't really bothering me until this weekend... when I stupidly tried to lead something that involved rotating quickly and building up lots of momentum, then releasing the girl from closed position (so she kind of flies away from the pivot point) and stopping her with my (apparently not-so-intact) right arm. Bad, bad idea. >_< Add to that the aforementioned kung-fu lead I danced with later that night, and it looks like I have thoroughly messed up my elbow. Not sure what to do, given that not dancing isn't an option. :\

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Adventures in Leading (Part I)

So about a week ago, I started actually trying to learn how to lead in blues. I ended up (unexpectedly) diving in face first, since the day after my first real attempt, I had to lead in a so-not-beginner progressive lesson, and the stuff we were doing throughout the class involved a crapload of elements which I had no idea how to lead (being that I couldn't really lead anything at all :P). I don't remember what it was like the first few months I started dancing, but since I can remember, dancing as a follow has involved basically no conscious thought on my part. So I never really pay much attention in lessons, since it's never particularly useful to do so. I just follow, and when something isn't working, I ask questions specific to the problems my partner and I are having. So in this class, in addition to not knowing how to lead anything that all the other leads already knew, I had to actually pay attention and take information into my brain for conscious retrieval. Epic. Fail. Being so unaccustomed to paying attention in dance class, I couldn't help but zone out every two seconds, which made remembering what the instructor was demonstrating impossible. Not that retaining it would've helped me much, since I didn't know how to lead any of the components anyway. Gah. But I tried (and tried, and tried), and it was impossibly hard, and by the end of the hour and a half my brain felt like it had short circuited and melted and was leaking out of my ears, and I wanted to collapse into a crumpled pile on the floor. Like, actually.

I think that's actually the most awful dance has ever made me feel (brain pain FTL!). In any case, I was really frustrated because the kind words of reassurance people were giving me (while I appreciated the sentiment) weren't helping anything. People seem to think that when I say I can't lead or am bad at leading, I mean I can't-and-won't-ever-be-able-to lead or lead well, in a boo-hoo, woe-is-me sort of way. That's not how I feel at all -- I just know that I currently don't know how to do anything, and I want to learn how to do stuff (properly), which requires a) being shown how to do stuff, and b) recognizing when I'm not doing it properly, so I can figure out how to fix it. This is why comments like "No, you're a good lead!" and "You'll be fine!" just frustrate and dishearten me more -- they're not constructive, don't actually help me get anywhere, and make me feel like I won't be able to get the kind of feedback I actually need in order to improve (i.e., hopeless :P).

But moving on... One observation I've made so far has to do with connection and counterbalance. As a salsa dancer, one of the biggest challenges for me as a follow in blues is connecting with my back to my lead's hand/arm. I've been told my closed position following is good (maybe from having done some tango back when I started dancing?), but that relies on connection through the front of the torso and through the legs. Once there's some space between me and my lead, we rely hugely on connection between his arm and my back, and that's something that's totally foreign to salsa -- being in almost constant opposition to one another, and trusting your partner to counterbalance you. (There's exactly one common move I can think of in salsa, called a Coca-Cola around here, that uses this same kind of connection. But even that doesn't require deliberate connection on the part of either lead or follow, since there's centripetal force there creating that connection whether you want it or not.)

This is the same thing that I'm having the most trouble with now that I'm trying to lead: I'm used to handling my own weight and keeping my own balance, and suddenly I have to handle not only my own weight, but also the weight of my follow -- and I have to do it almost all the time, because of the nature of the connection. I practiced leading a bunch in one night, and the next morning I woke up with my entire back and whole right side incredibly sore. (This despite forgetting to counterbalance my follow almost all the time, and almost toppling both of us over repeatedly as a result. :|) I made various semi-joking comments about having to work out if I want to be able to lead, but the fact that other blues leads I know who come from salsa had the same problem when they started in blues tells me that it isn't just that I'm a lame weakling -- the kind of connection in blues is indeed very different from salsa.