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.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

S is for Syncopation

S is for Syncopation
Musically, syncopation is defined as a disturbance or interruption of the regular or expected rhythm, or the placement of accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.  I suppose that this definition would also be generally appropriate for dances that have basic patterns which include only the basic timing of quicks and slows in their basic patterns:  waltz, foxtrot, rumba, and country 2-step would all be examples.  But what about cha-cha and polka?  Their basic patterns include a triple step or 3 steps stuffed into 2 beats of music.  Hustle?  It includes 2 steps stuffed into 1 beat of music.  All are examples of syncopations in dance:  more steps than ‘normal’ danced in a beat or two beats of music.

But what is my favorite definition of syncopation?  The extra steps or fancy footwork that a more advanced dancer uses to correct (or cover up) a mistake!  What?  Who me?  Oh no…that wasn’t a mistake….that was a syncopation!  Why yes….I thought it was pretty interesting too.  Thank you! (smirk!) 

Dance of the Day:  Salsa

Mix together:
6 Roma Tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 seeded and minced jalapenos
½ onion, chopped fine
1 TBS olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, pepper, chopped fresh scallions, chopped cilantro, chopped parsley, to taste

Serve with tortilla chips.

Consume on breaks between dances while dancing Mambo “on the 1” to really fast 4-count Latin music!

R is for Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!

R is for Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
I think that one the most frustrating thing about learning to dance was that I was so excited about it that I wanted to be really good at it NOW!  Everyone around me made it look so easy and I felt like such a klutz!  And it seemed to take forever for me to learn even the simplest movement.  I couldn’t even remember which foot went where let alone put them there fast enough to keep up with my partner.  Why was it taking sooooo long and why didn’t I just “get it”?

When I started taking classes and lessons, I always wondered why the pattern or technique that was being taught would seem reasonably comfortable by the end of the class, but be foggy by the next evening when I tried use it at a social dance and completely gone by the follow week when I went back to class.  Then slowly, the earlier basic movements and techniques that I learned became second nature and they were replaced by more complex and difficult movements that continued to torture my self confidence and belief that I could learn to dance!  The trouble is that at the time I didn’t realize that I had accomplished anything so I continued to beat myself up on my inability to learn and really, looking back, spoiled the joy of the journey of learning.  (I really think this is why kids learn things faster than adults…they look at the process as playtime!)  

Dang…how could I be such a slow learner?  Of course, the answer is that I wasn’t necessarily a slow learner, I just hadn’t done enough repetitions to get the movement into my muscle memory so that I could execute it without thinking and go on to think about new challenges.

So…how many repetitions does it take to get a movement into muscle memory?  (And, while we are at it, how many licks DOES it take to get to the center of a Tootsi Pop?)

According to a 1991 book called Motor Learning by Drs. Schmidt and Wrisberg, it takes 300 to 500 repetitions to burn a new movement into muscle memory!  (Muscle memory is the body’s ability to execute a movement without consciously thinking about how to do it.)  That is just one movement…not a complex dance pattern or technique which might include several different movements!  To put those numbers into perspective let’s consider my favorite dance:  Country 2-step.  A slow country 2-step that would normally be danced at a country bar has a tempo of about 150 beats per minute.  Assume that a dance lasts 3 minutes.  That would be 450 beats/dance.  If a dance couple only danced the 2-step basic (2 quicks and 2 slows, down line of dance in close dance position, leader going forward and follower going backward) that would be 6 beats/basic pattern or 75 basic patterns per dance.  If the only movements they were trying to master was 1) the “2 slow steps”, and 2) the “2 quick steps” (and thus ignoring all the fine muscle control to hold dance position), than it would take at least 600-1000 repetitions of the basic pattern to burn the required movements into muscle memory.  At 75 repetitions of the basic pattern/song the couple would have to dance 8-14 songs, doing nothing other than a correct basic pattern to put the 2-step basic into muscle memory!!  Add in variations like turns or syncopations, each with several movement components and well….do the math…we just aren’t going to learn to dance in a couple of hours!

Oh…and a bit of bad news….the number of repetitions required to erase a bad habit and replace it with the correct movement?  3000-5000!!!  (Note to self…learn it correctly the first time!)

The good news….dancing is an amazing life long journey and social hobby!  Getting those movements into muscle memory isn’t painful at all!

Dance of the Day:  Rumba

Rumba is the slowest of the International Latin dances that are danced competitively.  It is danced to 4-count music and has a basic pattern timing of slow-quick-quick.  It is a beautiful, sensual dance of Cuban origin that was introduced to Europe and the United States in the early 1950s. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Q is for Quandary

Q is for Quandary...

Yes, life got in the way of my best intentions and I wasn't prepared for the A-Z challenge with all my blogs in a row and scheduled to post on the correct day whether I was paying attention or not.  So, now I am in a quandary as to whether to scramble and try to finish the alphabet before Monday...

Dance of the Day:  Quickstep!

Waltz patterns danced to slow foxtrot timing (slow-quick-quick and slow-quick-quick-slow) very, very fast!  And, it is simply the most fun of all the ballroom dances (in my opinion, of course).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Posture

P is for Posture

Ummmm….as I watch dancers move around the floor, I almost always find my eyes settling on one or two that just seem to stand out from the crowd.  Not because they are doing the hardest moves or wearing the cutest dress or even dancing the most musically (although this is really high on the list of things that catch my attention, especially when I am dancing with someone)…no, what draws my attention is the dancer’s posture.  Standing straight, not leaning in toward their partner or bending at the waist or slouching.  Head pulled back and held high, not looking down to make sure that gravity is still causing their feet to hit the floor!  Shoulders comfortably stacked over their backbone, chest drawn up and broadened, dancing like they are proud of their abilities and comfortable in their dance shoes.  Those are the dancers that catch my attention no matter how experienced they are, no matter how many patterns they know or how well they execute those patterns.  No matter at all as they are the dancers I hope will ask me to dance…and if they don’t…guess I just going to have to ask them…’cause I know it is going to be an awesome dance experience!

Dance of the Day:  Polka

A fun, fast paced progressive dance that is characterized by a skipping, triple step action.  Although it originated in Poland in the early 1800’s, it is danced all over the world:  from Mexico to Iceland to Ireland to Germany and probably everywhere in between.  In the United States it is danced by both the ballroom and country western dance communities.

O is for Obnoxious Behavior

O is for Obnoxious Behavior!

I know that there are many things that irritate us, both on and off the dance floor.  But the dance floor behavior that I find most obnoxious, either during a social dance or in a group class, is being coached by the person dancing with me.  You know the situation….when a partner you are dancing with, who very likely doesn’t know how to dance their own part, let alone yours, tries to tell you how to dance.  Really?!?  If they really knew what they were talking about don’t you think they would be teaching professionally at a studio instead of forcing their opinion on their innocent partner for free?  (It’s worth noting that professionals almost never teach on the social floor...it would be like a dentist demanding to clean their dinner partner’s teeth at the restaurant table!  Ick!)  And telling other students what to do in a group class is even worse…it is disrespectful to the instructor that is supposed to be teaching the class and is rude and distracting to the other students.  The unsolicited coaching can be insulting, demeaning and detrimental to the self confidence of the recipient.

The bottom line…if you aspire to be a dance coach, learn to teach, set up some classes, invite students to attend and teach what you know in a studio…not on the social dance floor.  If you are the victim of unwanted coaching on the dance floor…there are a number of ways to suggest that your coach-y partner…well…shut and dance.  I was talking to a dancer the other day that uses the following when HE receives unwanted coaching on the social floor (yes…women are as bad with this obnoxious behavior as men are!)…. “I’m really sorry…I don’t learn very well on the fly, do you mind if we just dance”?  I think that is a really kind way to take care of the problem.  After all…I really don’t think that any of us do be expected to learn on the fly.

N is for NightClub 2-Step

N is for Nothing

Nothing is what I strive to think when I dance.  I do not want to have to think about my feet and where they are stepping.  I do not want to wonder whether I have the skill to follow my partner.  I especially do not want to second guess what my partner is trying to lead…I will be wrong.  I simply want to feel my partner’s lead and respond, as well as I can.  No thinking, just the cadence of the music in my head, a smile on my face and the knowledge that I have the skills in muscle memory to move as I need to in order to follow what is led.  Nothing more.  Nothing at all.

Dance of the Day:: NightClub 2-step

Nightclub 2-step is a contemporary social dance that was created in the mid-1960s to dance to mid-tempo ballads in 4/4 timing.  It has a quick-quick-slow timing and rock-step -side to side movement that can rotate and float around the floor.  The hold is relaxed and has a casual, romantic feel.

During the 1980s, the country western dance community adopted the dance and over time adapted it for the many slower country music ballads, dancing it on slow-quick-quick timing and replacing the rock step with a close-cross movement on the quicks and a strong, developed slow.  Called NightClub, the dance is one of the 8 dance that are danced competitively on both the UCWDC and ACDA circuits.

M is for Move

M is for Move!

Dance…what happens between the beats of music….making music visible….add a partner and WOW!  What a rush it can be.  Move….move…move to the music…move with your partner, move with the music…just move.  It is good from for the body and good for the soul.  Move.

Dance of the Day:  Mambo

A Latin dance originated in Cuba in the early 1930’s.  It was originally danced to “Mambo” music (seems obvious).  It was wild and free with no breaking steps or basic steps.  Over time the dance was moved to Mexico and then in the 1940’s to New York City where it was sanitized for market-ability to the ballroom community.  By the 1970s, the current version of the dance (2 quick steps and 1 slow in any direction) or alternately “rock” or “break” step, step was widely danced, but to salsa music not mambo music.  The difference between salsa and mambo?  Mambo “breaks” on the “2” and Salsa breaks on the 1.  In other words, Mambo is simply cha-cha with a single “slow” step replacing the chasse in cha-cha that is danced on the “4 & 1”.  Of note is that the cha-cha came first….it was altered to become the Mambo.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Lilt

L is for Lilt

The Scotsman danced a polka with lilt
His feet a flyin’, his body a tilt.
He skipped ‘cross the floor
& now we know more…
‘bout what poked out from under his kilt!

Note:  I hope that dancing blows your dress up…but please remember your dance pants!

Dance of the Day:  Lindy – West Coast Swing that lost track of it’s track!

 Ok…Lindy or Lindy Hop is possibly the oldest of the swing dances to moderately fast music.  Using both 6-count and 8-count patterns, it is very similar to west coast swing, only unlike west coast swing, it is not restricted to a linear structure or track.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for KISS!

K is for Kiss

KISS….Keep It Simple Silly…or alternately…what can happen when you drift to the right out of proper dance frame and find yourself toes to toes, knees to knees and …lips to lips with your dance partner! 

So since the second option is pretty obvious (although the mechanism of how we got there sometimes isn’t), let’s contemplate the first option! 

 I’ll admit that I am not a step junkie.  If fact, quite the opposite and much to the irritation of several coaches and a couple of dance partners, I really don’t find much joy in learning to dance the steps or patterns by myself backwards and in high heals!  And when I am dancing, I am much more impressed by a leader that has great timing and musicality than one with a bunch of badly led steps! 

I am inspired by learning to be a really good follower and being able to follow any of those patterns.  But actually learning to dance each one of them on my own seems overwhelming if not impossible, backwards and not that much fun.  So, whenever it was really necessary, I would learn short sequences of difficult or highly choreographed (un-lead-able) choreography for my various competition routines and know that if my leader blew out of the routine that I had just learned then I would have to follow whatever he led that had no resemblance to the original routine anyway so what was the point?…sigh. 

And then somehow, I found myself starting to teach.  And, in my opinion, if you can’t dance it you shouldn’t be teaching it…so that left me in a bit of a bind because I really needed to learn to lead quick and that meant, drats, learning patterns.  Oh dear, what now? 

Fortunately for me…and anyone who wants to learn to dance but is overwhelmed by the thought of learning all those different patterns for each different dance…at least at the social level, nearly every pattern that can be danced in one dance can be danced in more than one dance and sometimes in many dances…so there aren’t that many to learn after all!  And that is where the simplicity comes in…learn to execute a pattern proficiently, study the timing of the dance that pattern comes from, choose another dance, usually from the same family of dances although not always, study the new dance timing, adjust the timing of the pattern to the new dance and POOF! a new pattern in two dances!  Now we are getting somewhere….if I learn 5 patterns and how to blend them together, then apply the to the different timing of 3 different various dances, I suddenly have plenty of material to lead in each of 3 different dances…I think that even I can get my pattern-phobic head around that concept!

 Don’t believe me?  Try it...Mambo and cha-cha are the same dance but that the “slow” in Mambo is replaced with a “triple step” in cha-cha.  Therefore, anything that can be led in Mambo can be led in cha-cha!  It works because both a “slow” and a “triple-step” take up 2 beats of music and the other action in each of the dances is a rock-step.  That’s just one example but the principle works over and over again….just keep it simple…don’t try to learn bunches of patterns for every dance…just learn good basic dance technique, understand the principles of structure and timing in each dance you want to learn and learn to execute a few patterns really well….then change the timing of each pattern to fit the timing of each dance that you want to dance suddenly dancing isn’t so overwhelming after all…even for us pattern-phoebes!

J is for "Just DO IT"

J is for…. Just Do It
 Hmmmm….guess that “Just Do It” would apply to my getting this blog written on time, too!  Actually, doesn’t it apply to anything that is out of our comfort zone or not something that we don’t actually love to do and do easily?  Really….when was that last time someone had to tell me to ‘get off my butt and Just DO IT’ when it came to eating an ice cream cone?????

 It’s hard enough to get committed to do something that is unfamiliar, seems that it will be difficult or overwhelming, or maybe even embarrassing or painful (as in my favorite excuse for not going back to the gym….it has been months or maybe a year since I have been and I know I am going to be too sore to move after I have been so…why go!) but more often than not, the thought process that we go through to try to justify not doing something unfamiliar is much worse than the actual activity turns out to be (that acknowledgement probably will not get me to the gym tonight because I have several other well worn excuses)!

 Dancing can be a really tough activity to start, especially if we believe that we are clumsy or uncoordinated or have 2 Left Feet!  I mean…if I go to dance class and can’t dance, I might look bad…right?  Umm….isn’t not being able to dance the point of taking dance class and isn’t it really likely that everyone else in class is equally unsure of themselves and their ability to grasp the new techniques that they are being taught?  So…wouldn’t taking a class be a great way to get started?  And, if a class still seems overwhelming, there are always private lessons….one-on-one attention from an instructor with no concern about the rest of the class watching, pointing and thinking…wow….(s)he does that way better than I do…I wonder what (s)he is doing in this class?

 So…be brave…try something new….JUST DO IT….learn to dance!

Dance of the Day:  Jitterbug 

(Could be Jive…but I think that describing those darned kick/flicks is way too much work….just dancing them!)

Jitterbug is a member of the swing dance family that gained popularity in the mid-1930’s.  Danced to moderate or faster swing music, it can be very energetic, aerobic and acrobatic.  Although a number of different versions of swing have been called “Jitterbug” over the years, what we commonly dance now is ‘rock-step, step-step’ pattern to quick-quick-slow-slow timing.  It’s just that those slows can be pretty darned quick sometimes!  The dance is rotational in nature and mostly stationary although it can “drift” somewhat randomly depending on the patterns danced. 

Interestingly, the term “Jitterbug”  is used to describe the dancer as well as the dance.  It has also been coined as a somewhat derogatory reference to the jerky, uncontrolled movements of a drunk person.  The term has appeared in many songs, including Cab Calloway’s “Call of the Jitterbug” and “Minnie the Moocher”.  And, although it was cut from the final film, a song called “The Jitterbug” was written for a scene in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” where the Wicked Witch of the West sent a bug to sidetrack the traveling heroes by causing them to dance the “Jitterbug”!  Ah….and dancing is still a great distraction today!

I is for Inspire

I is for Inspire

What inspires you to dance?  Or…what would inspire you to dance?

 …moving with your favorite music?  …honoring your loved one’s wishes (as in “Honey….lets learn to dance…PLEASE”)!  …watching a dancing tv show or movie?

When I started dancing, I was inspired to learn to be a really good follower.  No matter how good or bad the lead, no matter the type of dance or speed of music, I wanted to be able to follow that lead and follow it well!  Today I am still inspired to be a really good follower.  But I also find inspiration in helping others learn to dance…achieve their dance aspirations!  It is truly amazing to watch to be part of another dancer’s learning process…especially those who think they have 2-left feet!

 So…what inspires you to dance?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

H is for Health!

H is for Health

Stifling an urge to dance is bad for your health; it rusts your spirit and your hips! – Terri Guillemets

In my late 30’s I found myself unattached, nearly 50 pounds over weight (an issue I had battled all my life) and somewhat at my wits end as to what to do with my “spare” time.  Hmmm….is time ever really spare?  Anyway, along with a change in eating habits and some new rules about how often I was going to get to the gym a week, I decided that I would start dancing.  I had always done a bit of what I fondly refer to as ‘Cowboy crank ‘n yank’ (having grown up in Montana where it must be recognized as the State Dance!) but watching the dance floor at my local watering hole, it seemed that there was a whole lot more than crankin’ goin’ on….oh yeah….and there were some really different types of dancin’ happenin’ too! 

 So, like nearly everything that I get interested in, I jumped in with both cowgirl boots and a new pair of size “I ain’t tellin’ ya how big” Wranglers and started to learn to dance…the hard way….on the bar room floor (and you thought I was going to say ‘on the bar’)!  One thing lead to another and I followed line of dance right out of the bar, into group classes, private lessons, competitions, performances, teaching, and who knows where the journey will end.  It has been a fun and rewarding journey and I have met some great friends along the way, but the really amazing thing was how fast I lost those 50 pounds, and how I was having so much fun I didn’t even notice that the weight was disappearing until I had to buy smaller Wranglers!!  OK…dancing wasn’t the only exercise I was getting but since I was dancing 6 or 7 nights a week for about 3 hours at a time I was probably burning an additional 6000 calories a week….and having FUN, socializing and filling some of that “spare” time!

 So here are some statistics on dancing and our health….

  • 1 hour of ballroom dancing burns about 300 calories depending on the dancer’s weight and the intensity of the dance.  Admittedly that is only about ½ the calories that can be burned running on a treadmill for and hour, but dancing is much more fun than socializing with a treadmill! 
  • Dancing reduces stress, increases energy, improves strength, and increases all-over muscle tone and coordination (Mayo Clinic research).
  • Dancing can lower risk of coronary heart disease, decrease blood pressure and strengthen bones (NHLBI research).
  • This is a BIGGIE:  A 21-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in the elderly!  The physical aspect of dancing increases blood flow to the brain, the social aspect leads to less stress, depression and loneliness and dancing requires memorizing steps and working with a partner…both of which provide mental challenges crucial for brain health and brain body coordination!
So…don’t let your hips rust!  DANCE!  And remember….you don’t quit dancing because you get old….you get old because you quit dancing!

 Dance of the Day:  Hustle

Hustle is probably the most famous of the disco dances which were made popular in the 1970’s.  Although both line dance and partner dance forms of the dance exist (and both were danced in the movie Saturday Night Fever), it is the partner form of that dance that really interests me.  The Hustle has many similarities to swing, it’s timing is essentially double time jitterbug and it is either danced rotationally like jitterbug or 4-count swing, or linearly like West Coast Swing.  Additionally, it is often quite quick in tempo like a 4-count swing.  Most, if not all jitterbug or 4-count swing patterns can be danced in Hustle with little or no adjustment for the different timing of each dance.  Speaking of timing…since partner Hustle has a 3 beat basic (counted ‘&1, 2, 3) it can be danced to waltz music!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

G is for........

........Geez.....I failed to post a G topic on Saturday.  Guess I was to busy dancing @ the Oklahoma Dance Festival.  Congratulations to my student Paul S who danced really well, winning Gold in Nite Club 2-step, West Coast Swing & 2-step & Gold w/Honors in Waltz!!  (The UCWDC uses a medal system in pro-am competitions so that students are judged against a standard of quality at their age/ability level rather than being judged against each other).  "Gold" is the mark of acceptable execution of the dance.  "Gold w/Honors" means that the execution is beyond expectations!  Paul's Gold w/Honors is particularly special since this was the first time he danced Waltz in competition & it was the first time he received a Gold w/Honors in any dance!!  Congratulations Paul....I am very proud of you!

Dance of the Day- nope.....couldn't think of one that started with G.  Guess I have to take a day off from dancing occasionally!

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Festival...Dance Festival!

F is for Festival….Dance Festival
United Country Western Dance Festival (UCWDC) to be exact….what FUN! (another F word).

The UCWDC is an international organization which promotes country western dancing by producing dance festivals and competitions (including the annual World Championships of Country Dance) in 20 countries.  The organization advocates country dancing as a social activity for people of all ages and abilities. 

UCWDC festivals are a blast!  Typically they are 3 days and nights of social dancing, workshops with the world’s best country dance instructors, and amazing competitions (sanctioned pro-am, amateur and professional couples, and line dance competitions; social jack ‘n jill contests and “just dance” contests; and with some festivals even ballroom and swing contests).  Take part in a UCWDC festival and I guarantee that you will be foot sore and happily dance exhausted by the end of the weekend…new friends, new dance skills and a renewed desire to dance and dance some more…as soon as the feet recover, that is!

Check out ucwdc.org for more information!  Hope to see you on the dance Floor at a UCWDC dance Festival for dance FUN!

Dance of the Day:  Foxtrot

A smooth progressive partner dance that is usually danced to big band music in 4/4 time.  It is a beautiful, elegant, sophisticated dance that was developed in the 1920’s but became most popular in the 1930’s and remains popular today.  It is dance competitively both in American Smooth and International Standard competitions.  A faster version called Quickstep is danced in International Standard.  A simpler social version often called rhythm foxtrot is the most popular of the foxtrots in a social ballroom setting. 

Why talk about foxtrot (other then it starts with F) below a discussion of Country Western dancing whose flagship dance is the country 2-step?  Well…it turns out the 2-step and rhythm foxtrot are kissin’ cousins….it’s just that one is a city girl and the other is a country boy!  The basic timing of Rhythm foxtrot is slow-slow-quick-quick.  The basic pattern structure of 2-step is quick-quick-slow-slow.  Many of their patterns can be interchanged in the beginning levels of the dances…but 2-step is faster and uses much more open work and turns along with weaving and slingshot patterns in the more advanced levels of the dance.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Escape

E is for Escape
I suppose there are many reasons I dance…this first being that I can’t fly!  If I could fly then I would no doubt fly to escape what ever reality is annoying me at the time.  But since I can’t fly, I dance to escape my annoying realities.  When I dance, I find it nearly impossible to continue to focus on anything other than my connection with my partner, the music and movement of the dance…and really why should I try to concentrate on anything else?  When I’m on the dance floor, I think dance.  The wood floor is my sanctuary, the dance my escape.  And after an evening of dance, body tired, and mind much calmer, my annoying realities seem to retreat until the next day.

Dance of the Day:  East Coast Swing

A type of swing dance with a 6-count basic pattern typically called out as quick-quick, triple step, triple step or rock step, triple step, triple step.  East coast swing is rotational in nature, with one partner usually rotating around the other.  It dates back to the 1940s and is danced to the slower (not the slowest) swing music….energetic but still slow enough that the triple steps can be comfortably executed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Dancing...or is that Dating?

D is for Dancing or is that Dating?  The Perfect 3-Minute Relationship!
Have you heard that dance is the vertical representation of horizontal passion.  I certainly hope that isn’t always true ‘cause I have danced more than a few dances that were much closer to a horror story than a steamy romance novel!  But than, what dancer hasn’t?

But if dance is a date than consider it a 3-minute relationship – and what’s not to love about the dancing relationship?  It’s acceptable, actually expected to dance in public, even if you are not married to the person you are dancing.  Either a man or woman can ask for a dance.  Many, sometimes hundreds of people group dance in the same room.  Swapping partners is expected, often required.  Politeness is usually the norm on a dance.  The dance can be fast-paced/exciting, relaxed/casual, or sultry/sensual, depending on the mood.  Eyes meet, bodies touch and move together to the music, each striving to make the experience better for their partner than for themselves.  When the dance is good, it is very, very good…breathe deep and smoke the imaginary cigarette good.  When it is not so good, well it still isn’t so bad that I wouldn’t accept another dance….it is just that I am very thankful that all I am committing to is about 3 minutes…not the rest of my life!

Dance of the Day:  Disco                                           

While which song started the disco phenomena, it is generally agreed that that it was sung in about 1972 and that it, like all Disco music, had funk, soul and Latin influences.  Disco’s driving, all accented (every beat is equally as strong as the next and all of them are very strong) structure originally attracted club-goers in New York and Philadelphia who were interested in a bit of rebellion against the mainstream rock music of the time.  This counterculture danced “freestyle” dances such as the “Bump”, “Penguin” (and I thought that movement was reserved for a badly executed chaine turn!), “Boogaloo”, “Watergate”, the “Robot”, and of course….the “Hustle”.  In 1973, “touch” dancing found it’s way into the Disco scene and oh my, oh MY!  the partnered version of the Hustle (which is really just a syncopated 4-count swing) became the rage by 1977…thank you Saturday Night Fever!   By the way, even though Disco is danced to 4/4 music, Hustle is my favorite dance to do to an intermediate tempo waltz!  Yup…think about it….Hustle is usually counted “& 1 2 3”, a waltz basic is counted “1 2 3”....try it sometime!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Connection

C is for Connection
Various dance partners have told me that I was too light (every girls dream?  Not really in this case) too heavy (definitely not dream material), too slow, too fast, not following, disengaged from my core, not connected and can’t follow.  OUCH!  …someone please remind me why I dance?  Anyway, after the tears and dejection and repeated repairs to my dancing self confidence, I started to understand that all those mean spirited comments were really just dance buzz for “I can’t lead you to do what I want you to do!”  And that is my fault why?

Partner dancing is really just a conversation between two people about a piece of music.  A conversation requires communication and dance communication is called connection. Since at our very best, humans rarely communicate well, it is no surprise that communicating something as esoteric as how two bodies should move in order to “talk” about a piece of music that each is likely to hear differently…is well…at best full of scary pitfalls and at worst a recipe for disaster. 

Of all the different dance skills that I have worked on, connection is the most elusive.  There is no single “right” way to connect.  Like communication, I have to use a different style or amount of connection for every dance and with every partner.  It is simply a bit of luck, a bit of trial and error, and a lot of listening (yes, listening…with my muscles, not my ears).  Connection is only “right” when it works and only works when it is “right”.  It is not an easy concept to teach or to learn.

Over time, I have learned that at least part of the failure of any communication and that includes connection really IS my fault.  You see connection is created by energy in opposition between the leader and the follower, but interestingly connection is created by the follow, not the leader…yes really.  If the leader tries to create connection, it feels to the follow like a lead.  However, if the leader creates the frame for the follow to connect with then the leader can use that connection created by the follow as a baseline from which to alter the amount of connection to create a the lead.  If the follower does not create the connection then the leader can not lead.  So truly, if the follower can’t follow, the leader can’t lead…not the other way around! 

Hmmm….that sounds a bit like life doesn’t it?

Today’s Dance: C ha- C ha - C ha

A fast, spirited Latin Dance that was imported from Cuba to England in the early 1950s.  Known for its lightening fast footwork and (hubba-hubba) Cuban hip action, it is danced competitively in both American Rhythm and International Latin competitions.  Although the dance has a very distinct structure of rock steps and triples steps, competitively the footwork has become so fast and syncopated that it is often difficult to see the basic pattern….or the ladies costume….

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Balance

B is for Balance

 I used to think that when I wobbled taking an unsure step or leaned a bit too hard on my partner while we danced across the floor, that I had lost my balance and that was a bad thing.  Then I learned that partner dancing, like life, really can’t be accomplished in perfect balance and that the only bad thing about wobbles or leans was that I hadn’t learned how to control gravity yet!

Since dancing is just a controlled fall and getting really good at it means learning to control one’s intended motion as it opposes gravity so that the outcome looks fluid, in sync with one’s partner and the music, and…balanced…then losing your balance isn’t really a bad thing at all….it is a requirement!   And the perception of balance is simply an illusion!  If dance partners were in total balance with each other there would be no dance– only statuesque stillness with beauty perhaps, but no musicality, movement or emotion. 

But wait, isn’t that just like life?  Life’s balance isn’t really standing with both feet planted firmly on the ground, going nowhere and doing nothing.  It is finding harmony and equilibrium between all the things we want and need to do.  Balance is finding a way to do what we want/need to do while making it look calm and easy.

Calm and easy…flying apparently effortlessly across the floor with a dance partner.  Two bodies moving separately yet as one with each other and the music, looking calm and controlled, yet completely off balance and in a continuous love/hate battle with gravity. 

And to all my partners who have had hold up more than their fair share of our partnership in order to support me when I wobbled or leaned too hard,  please forgive me…I was just learning how to lose my balance.

Today’s Dance: Bolero

A slow-tempo Latin dance done to “bolero” music.  There are both Spanish and Cuban forms of the music.  The Spanish being ¾ or waltz timing dating from the late 1700’s, the Cuban being the 4/4 timing version dating from about 1930 that is commonly danced today.  Bolero is danced competitively as one of the American Rhythm dances.  It is an unusual Latin dances in that it requires both the typical Cuban motion but also incorporates rise and fall as found in waltz (homage to it’s Spanish cousin, perhaps?) and contra body movement.  Note that the famous “Ravel’s Bolero” is of the Spanish genre, in ¾ timing, and thus sadly, one can not dance a modern bolero to Bolero!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for ASK Me to Dance - PLEASE!

Ask me to dance….PLEASE!

Here I sit, swaying to the music, trying to look casual and smiley & happy to be sitting at the edge, tapping out the rhythm and watching all the real dancers fly around the floor.  Looking hopefully into the face of every man walking my direction and hoping he will ask me.  Pick me.  Ask ME!  Oh PLEASE ASK ME TO DANCE! 

There he goes off to ask a good dancer. And here I sit, careful to follow him only with my eyes not my head, ‘cause that would look too desperate….too close to the truth. 

Oh oh….here comes another one.  Maybe he’ll ask me.  Maybe I’ll be his charity dance tonight.  Who cares, it’s still a dance.  w…w…WHAT? Why, YES, oh YES!  I would love to dance with you.  Thank you for asking.  Um, yes, I am still learning and thank you for putting up with me.  I’m taking classes and trying to learn as fast as I can but it would be easier if more people would dance with beginners like me.  Thank you for being so kind.  Thanks again, for putting up with me.  It was a fun dance (for me at least) and you are a great leader and I hope you will dance with me again sometime….

Oh good…a chair…I love to dance, I LOVE to dance, I love to DANCE…and looking back it is so amazing that I dance nearly every dance now but every now and then it feels so good to sit out a song.  Um…what?  Oh….yes, of course I’ll dance with you!  No, I don’t mind at all if you are a beginner.  We all started as beginners.  I still (painfully) remember being a beginner…I had to BEG for dances.  Of course I’m happy to dance with you, and you and you…and you....  

Ah, now….where was that chair.  Oh dear, someone is sitting in it.  Well…there are other chairs.  But wait.  The guy sitting in that chair looks like he’s new here….like he’s new to dancing….like he wants so desperately to dance but is terrified to scan the crowd for a willing partner to his stuttering timing and unsure leads.  Oh well, so much for chairs…excuse me…yes, hi….are you new here?  Awesome…I’m so glad you are learning to dance!  May I have this dance?  Yes…I know you are a beginner….that’s fine, we all started somewhere and I would really like to dance this dance…with you.

Dance of the Day:  Argentine Tango.

A mythically difficult dance that is often said to be all about musical interpretation and believed to have no basic structure.  It was originally danced in the 1880’s in the bars, gambling houses and brothels around the periphery of Buenos Aires as a tool in negotiating the services of ladies of the night.  Tango found its way to Paris in the early 1900s.  Ironically, the scandalous Argentine dance immediately became the Parisian craze.  Then, after being (close) embraced by all of Europe and New York, tango returned to Buenos Aires where it was welcomed as a long lost favorite son and is now one of the country’s top cash crops.  Ah…what’s old is new again!  And it does have a basic structure…really.