A to Z Challenge

Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zigzag!

Z is for Zigzag

So many things in life are zigzags….sort of roughly headed in a given direction but not directly getting there....really...when was the last time you drove right up to the parking place directly in front of the store door? 

Dance is no different.  Many progressive dances such as waltz use a sequence of patterns to zigzag move in the direction of line of dance, at least the generally in that direction, while zigzagging back and forth.  Learning to dance is a zigzag sort or process….stay with it and you will learn, but it is not a direct process, there are zigzags along the way….head off one way, learn something, head back the to other way, learn something else, eventually end up at your goal, hopefully with all the skills and technique you need…and then set another goal and zigzag off toward it. 

Funny how dance echoes life….live well….dance!

Y is for Young!

Y is for Young!

You don’t stop dancing because you get old….you get old because you stop dancing. 

Today is my birthday and I hope to dance past many, many more birthdays to come!

X is for Xylophone!

X is for Xylophone!

The first time I visited Disney World I found the most wonderful thing in the midst of all the wonderful things in the Magic Kingdom - a floor that played music when I stepped on it.  The trouble is that at the time I wasn’t a dancer and didn’t really understand how wonderful and whimsical a find I had found.  There in the Imagination pavilion I found the stepping tones…a stretch of floor that when I stepped on it, a musical sound played.  I don’t remember all the details but as I sort of skipped around the floor musical notes rang out.  I remember wondering if I had enough time there, could create a tune, or maybe a whole symphony, with my feet?  A passing thought and than it was off to look for more magical, whimsical things.

But many years and a lot of dance experience later, I found myself wondering if my partner and I danced an east coast swing on that amazing electronic floor xylophone, would we, could we play a recognizable tune, a recognizable east coast swing, maybe?  Maybe I should buy a plane ticket back to the Magic Kingdom and find out!

W is for What Happens Between the Beats!

W is for What Happens Between the Beats?
Dance!  Dance is what happens between the beats of music.  The dancer’s feet hit the floor on the beat, their bodies move through the space and time between the beats.  The space between the beats is where movement is led and followed, where turns, swing, sway, rise and fall are executed, where the motion of dance can be seen.  The beats are for timing and accent…dance wouldn’t be a visual art form without the beats…but the beauty of dance happens between the beats!

Dance of the Day: Waltz

Modern waltz is a much slower version of the original Viennese Waltz.  It is danced to ¾ music with a characteristic gliding, wave-like motion that incorporates rise/fall and swing/sway.  Waltz became popular (although scandalous and controversial because of the close proximity that the partners held each other) in England during the Regency period (around 1811-1825) and continued on to become the mainstay of ballroom dances into modern times.  Nearly every culture has music written in ¾ timing to which some version of waltz could be danced.  Additionally, if you look closely at the patterns danced in any modern ballroom dance, you will see that most are similar, if not identical, to syllabus waltz patterns, but are, of course, modified to fit the 4/4 timing of the other dances.  Hmmm….learn waltz well, not only is a really fun dance, but knowing waltz patterns makes learning the other ballroom dances easier!

V is for Variety

V is for Variety

Of all the social activities that we can get involved with, the one that has the most variety might well be social partner dancing!  Foxtrot, slow foxtrot, waltz, vieneese waltz, quickstep, International tango, American Tango, paso doble, rumba, cha-cha, jive, bolero, country 2-step, night club 2-step, triple 2-step, west coast swing, east coast swing, jitterbug, lindy, shag, polka, hustle, Argentine tango, salsa, mambo and countless local variations.  In most cities, partner social dancing can be found 6-7 nights a week.  What a great exercise plan…each dance uses different muscles, burns an average of 300 calories/hour, it’s a great social activity, fun and social dancing has more variety of movements than any musical exercise routine!

Dance of the Day:  Viennese Waltz

Viennese Waltz is the oldest of the modern ballroom dances and the scandalous.  It was introduced in Europe in the late 1700s.  In 1797, its scandalous nature (ladies held their gowns very high to avoid stepping on the hems which gave the appearance of cloaking or covering themselves and their partner from outside eyes!) became the subject matter of a pamphlet entitled “Proof that Waltzing is the Main Source of Weakness of the Body and Mind of our Generation” by Wolf!  By Gosh!  Based on that pamphlet, I say “Let’s DANCE!” 

Anyway, Viennese Waltz is danced very fast (about 180 beats/minute) to music that is written in ¾ time such as the famous Strauss compositions.  Originally Viennese Waltz patterns were entirely rotational using only a change step to switch from a left rotating turn to a right rotating turn.  This structure has not changed much in the last 200 years, closing the distance between partners while in dance hold and adding only 4 additional patterns (Fleckerls, contra check, left whisk, and canter time pivots) to the International Standard Syllabus. 

Today, while it is danced competitively as one of the International Standard ballroom dances, Viennese Waltz is not danced socially as often as it’s off spring the Waltz (danced much slower at about 90 beats/minute). 

U is for Ugly Duckling!  (Dancing turns us all into swans!)

Dancing is an amazing social equalizer.  Like the ugly duckling (are ducklings really ever ugly?) grew up into a beautiful swan, people of all sizes, shapes and ages are suddenly in demand, attractive, and popular when it becomes known that they are good dancers.  The movement and beauty of dance is the perfect platform for anyone to become a swan!  Wow!  What an easy way to create a social transformation!  Learn to dance!  Become a swan!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

T is for Technique!

T is for Technique
It seems so odd to me that so many social dancers seem to think that technique is a dirty four letter word.  At first I thought it was just that dancers can’t spell (or count for that matter)!  But no….that’s not it because I know some brilliant people who also dance (and thus should at least be able to count to 8…although t-e-c-h-n-i-q-u-e has 9 letters in it.)

So why don’t more social dancers find learning the skills and technique necessary to dance lead and/or follow well and to execute movements comfortably and with ease a fun, challenging journey?  Why do I hear so often:  “I just want to learn the pattern, all those fancy techniques are for competitors” or “I don’t need to take lessons…as long as he can lead, I can follow”?  Why is there such a stigma about learning the basic skills? 

When I started dancing I noticed that for the most part patterns were taught in group classes and technique was only taught in private lessons, and that private lessons were more expensive thus maybe technique was somehow being reserved for the well off and elite dancers.  Occasionally I would find a brave instructor who would teach technique in a group class.  One very forward thinking west coast swing instructor not only taught technique in her beginning class, but made mastering the material taught in that class a pre-requisite to graduating to her more advanced classes!  Her beginning class so popular there was a waiting list to get in.  Yet other teachers would tell me that they couldn’t teach technique because students didn’t want to learn it and they couldn’t fill a class that taught anything other than patterns.  Huh?

I think that I am starting to believe that most social dancers don’t find technique important because most teachers fail to make it important in their classes…technique classes aren’t widely available so students aren’t exposed to technique, so they find the concept of learning technique scary and secondary in importance to learning patterns. 

So why don’t teachers teach technique?  Perhaps because it is much, much more difficult that teaching patterns!  Nearly anyone can learn a pattern from a video, teach it back to a group of dancers and call themselves a dance teacher.  It takes a very skilled instructor who has actually mastered the skill they are teaching to actually be able to teach techniques effectively, especially in a group class where everyone is learning at a different rate.  Maybe if more instructors gained more mastery in their craft and offered quality technique classes, learning technique would become more important to students…after all, with good technique, patterns are easy and dancing is comfortable and fun.

Dance of the Day: Triple 2-step

A beautiful, flowing, romantic, progressive partner dance that is danced almost exclusively in the competitive country western dance community.  Triple 2-step was derived from the popular club dance the Ft. Worth Shuffle.  It is danced to slow (88-100 bpm) country ballads with a “rolling” feeling.  The timing of the dance is quick-quick-triple, step-triple-step and the dance is characterized by looping and lacing actions that curve and sway as the dance couple moves around the floor.  Maybe if more instructors would teach technique, more dancers would learn to love triple 2-step because it is not an easy dance, however beautiful and rewarding.