Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Zero = Infinity

Here's a weird piece of my personal dance philosophy. This seems like shoe-gazing to me. Pardon me while I stare at my toes for a few minutes.

Back when I was new to Lindy Hop (well, when I was new to East Coast Swing, back in the heyday of the Derby) I remember seeing a friend of a friend who had written down a list of perhaps twenty moves that he had learned. My immediate reaction to this was dismissive. I didn't say it out loud, but I remember later calling out this behavior in classes that I taught. "Do you really want to be the guy who dances from a list of moves?" I asked. Of course, when asked that way, it's really easy to want to say no.

My thinking on the subject at the time was that dancing should be completely fresh and that list-making would only serve to stifle creativity. To a certain extent I have always felt this way, still do feel this way. When I dance with a partner, I'm more focused on having fun than on performing steps. There are a lot of levels to this upon which I won't elaborate now.

Suffice it to say that I never think of "dance moves" when I am dancing. The reasoning behind this is that if I have no moves, then all moves become available. Just like the title says, zero equals infinity. More or less, this works for me. Perhaps that's because I've been at it for long enough.

It comes with its drawbacks, surely enough. It might be easy to repeat the same moves over and over if one is not paying attention. Perhaps if I've repeated the same motion enough that I notice it, it's time to increase the variety. Last night I noticed myself making the same kick again and again. Time for a new way to approach that moment.

Thinking ain't dancing, I always say. The action of making lists seems to be one example of over-thinking the dance. On the other hand, perhaps I have been wrong with regard to making lists. In some ways I wonder if not having organized the steps has been a different kind of limitation.

At some level I'd like to re-imagine this idea of list-making. The notion of a completely memorized by rote routine, like the ones that are most often taught in swing classes, still seem problematic to me. Speaking to another teacher, she felt that more often than not classes don't teach essential skills like leading and following. I still agree with this. However I imagine there's a good way to use a list to set one's self free.

If instead of seeing the catalog of moves as the goal we use it as a tool, the creative impulses might not be clogged. Once a dancer has mastered move on their list, it might be time to take that move somewhere else, to find a new challenge with it.

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