Thursday, January 29, 2009

Homework assignments

Yes, homework is required, but there's still hope!

With these assignments it is vital that you record these thoughts in some physical way, as opposed to simply thinking about them. This means using your notepad or hand-held device so that you can look at your notes in the future. I will never ask you to make a list of moves and generally will discourage you from this impulse. What is more interesting and invigorating is a series of ideas.

Assignment: Goals - List your goals with regards to this class. What would you like to achieve in the the next month, year and decade? What work will be necessary to make this happen?

Assignment: Interview - Choose a dancer whose dancing you have enjoyed. Approach them politely and ask questions about their dancing and how they approach what they do. Feel free to ask them about their technique and philosophy. If they are willing to show you some steps (and please make sure they don't mind) then feel free to take their feedback.

Assignment: Compliments - List the compliments you have received with regard to your dancing. You should probably also make a list of compliments you have received elsewhere, but that belongs in another book.

Exercise this!

I recently saw a demonstration of Honda's Asimo robot at Disneyland and was reminded of some powerful exercises. If you haven't heard of Asimo, it is a project to create a humanoid robot, like Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons, but on two legs. Here's a commercial:

While Asimo is certainly an achievement in engineering , in terms of balance he's got nothing on the potential of the human body. Still, if you've seen Asimo's ability to balance, I'd ask you to consider challenging yourself.

Balance exercise #1

  1. Standing with both feet shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched, slowly and easily raise one leg forward, then lower without letting it touch the ground and then raise to extend the same leg backwards. Bring that leg back to standing and repeat with other leg.
  2. Close eyes and repeat the process, which for most students is much more difficult.
Questions to ask: Why might closing my eyes make the balancing more difficult? What are the tools which can be used to make this balancing easier?

Thanks to Marcus Koch and Baerbl Kaufer for this exercise.

Balance exercise #2
  1. Standing with legs shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched, raise right foot to meet left knee, balancing on the left foot.
  2. Lift gaze to ceiling, or look upward.
  3. Point fingers and bring them easily to the tip of your nose.
Questions to ask: Why would moving my hands to my face change your balance? What skills can be learned to improve my balance?

Thanks to Emily Falcon for this exercise.

Lead/Follow exercise #1
  1. With a partner, join hands facing one another.
  2. Let the lead choose to walk either forward or backward, letting the follow find their ease in following. The lead may choose to switch directions, forward or backward only, with the follow working to become more sensitive to the physical sensations necessary to follow.
  3. As the follow becomes more comfortable, the lead may adjust their movement by shifting forward or backward and ending mid-step, with a foot in the air, challenging the follow to adjust to unexpected weight changes. While it is also difficult to make the follow move sideways, it is NOT a priority. Leads should work on getting a sense of how comfortable the follow is with the shifts in backwards/forwards movement.
  4. Repeat the exercise, with the follow closing their eyes.
  5. Repeat the exercise, but now with the lead closing their eyes.
Questions to ask: Which senses will I need to engage in order to be a better lead or follow? Why does closing my eyes make a difference in using these senses? How can I turn on my receptors?

Lead/Follow exercise #2
  1. With a partner, dance a few measures of Lindy Hop.
  2. Let the follow close their eyes, continuing the dance.
  3. Switch roles, letting the lead close their eyes while the follow re-opens theirs.
Questions to ask: Did I anticipate my partner or was I successful in connecting with them? How do I engage the senses that activated when I close my eyes? What is the default state that will engage the essential lead and follow connection?

Thanks to Simon Selmon and Rusty Frank for the above two exercises.

Lead/Follow Exercise #3

Two partners bound at the wrists with a held cord or rope. Dance socially, but instead of using fingers and hands to lead, use only the cord and the lead's right arm/follow's back connection for leading.

Questions to ask: What modifications do I have to make in order to lead or follow under these circumstances? Which impulses are essential for leading and following and how can I access them?

Counterbalance/Compression exercise
  1. Face a partner in a two-handed closed position
  2. Choosing a partner to lead, slowly bend the knees as though sitting, noting the musculature that connects from one partner to the other. When a comfortable sit has been created, note the counterbalance used to keep both partners aloft. Viewed from the side, this would be called a V-shape.
  3. Let the lead pull the couple together, both coming to standing.
  4. Repeat and switch roles.
  5. Stand as in step 1, but place both palms against each other as though each partner were performing a push-up against a wall.
  6. Each partner should lean in toward the other, noting the work from their hands, arms and shoulders through to their cores. Viewed from the side, this would be described as an A-shape.
  7. Work the transition from the A-shape (compression) slowly and easily through to the V-shape (counterbalance), and back again, noting the work in the corresponding musculature.
Questions to ask: What is the most efficient way to use my musculature when transitioning from A to V and back? Which of my muscles felt strain during this exercise? Where does my partner feel strain and how can I tell before asking? What can I do to ease this strain?

Thanks to Melinda Comeau for this exercise.

Breathing Exercise #1
The breathing exercise can be very dangerous to describe in text, as it it often misunderstood by students. The most important consideration when working on the breathing is to release any unnecessary tension. The image of a full breath might be one of a four-sided box, being your chest and belly, your sides and your back, open at the top and the bottom. In a full breath, each of these sides should feel relaxed and easy.

This exercise works well with a partner leading the way, but once it has become familiar it can be done solo.
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, imagining a golden thread from your scalp into the sky, lengthening you to your tallest, easiest height.
  2. Cut the thread, rolling the chin to the chest and continuing the roll down the spine to a relaxed fold at the waist as low as you can go without straining.
  3. The standing partner places their palms pressed lightly at the nape of the folded partner's neck, right at the top of their spine, requesting a breath; "take a deep breath into here... and then out." The standing partner should note when the folded partner has released tension in that area, adjusting their touch responsively to their partner's breath.
  4. When the musculature has opened up and released tension, the standing partner brings their hands somewhat lower and repeats the request.
  5. Repeat step 4 until the folded partner's breath has opened up at the near the lower lumbar region of the spine. Take a few breaths in and out here and then hold in, roll up the spine to standing, remember the golden thread, and then release.
Questions to ask: It seems better to me not to suggest getting extremely self-conscious about breathing. However I would suggest doing a bit of research on the subject if you are interested. Perform a Google search on deep breathing. I can't suggest any of these links specifically, but it might be time for an adventure, though I believe that my approach to body awareness was informed by my teachers' suggestions of Feldenkrais Method and Alexander Technique, though I don't consider myself deeply educated in either. Buyer beware.

It looks like I have some research ahead!

Thanks to my college movement and voice teachers for this exercise. I wish I could remember your names.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shim Sham Shimmy

There are many examples of the Shim Sham Shimmy, but here's one that is close to my heart, the dance is about 5 and a half minutes into the clip:

This was the performance for which I learned the Shim Sham so many years ago. We performed with the late Leonard Reed, the inventor of the dance, at the Orpheum theatre in Downtown Los Angeles. So there while there are endless Shim Shams worth learning, this is the one that we'll be working on in class. Please don't use my fledling style as an example. For inspiration, check out Leonard, Rusty Frank or Chester Whitmore, all three of whom led the charge that night!

And also thanks to Maxwell DeMille and Tracy Blue for inviting me to perform! I wouldn't have been there without you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lindy Hop clips, part 1

Hellzapoppin', featuring the Congeroo Dancers and the Slim and Slam all-stars.

Hellzapoppin' is easily one of the most influential clips in history. The Congeroo dancers were a sub-group of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.

Groovie Movie, a Pete Smith short featuring Arthur Walsh, Jeanne Phelps-Veloz, Irene Thomas, Lenny Smith and others.

Groovie Movie is easily the film clip that influenced me most. It's a tongue-in-cheek dance short that kicks booty anyway.

Jammin' the Blues, a short film by the incomparable Gjon Mili, featuring dancers Archie Savage and Marie Bryant.

Lindy Groove Lindy Technique class overview

Welcome to the Lindy Groove Lindy Technique class blog. I'm your host and tour guide, Neil. It's my job to make sure this class rocks!

The Technique class focuses on teaching Lindy Hop skills to dancers through ideas, discussion, homework and exercises. It is geared to any student who is interested in improving their dance technique, as long as they have an applied understanding of the Lindy Hop. That means that a student must know the Lindy Hop swing-out and other associated moves and especially have spent time on a social dance floor shaking their groove thang.

Concepts that will be discussed in class include: essential leading and following, balance, body awareness, improvisation, style, musicality. Students will also learn Shim Sham. The emphasis in the Technique class is on growing an understanding rather than on learning new moves. If your goal is to learn new moves, keep looking. I'm sure you can find a class that will teach you new moves.

Required items: a notepad, pen/pencil, a will to work, a sense of humor. There is a suggested donation of $5.

To your right you will see What's Buzzin'. That's your handy guide to the various posts on the blog. Notice the high number of dance clips? You might want to check out some of those. From time to time I post homework here. You can use What's Buzzin' to click directly to the latest assignment. Get it? Got it? Good.