Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thinking ain't Dancing

I have often said this to my students: "Thinking ain't Dancing."

It has been noted by many other thoughtful dancers that a partner dance is a conversation. I'd like to consider this in a little more detail and to draw out the analogy a bit more. When these dancers refer to a "conversation," to which part of the interaction do they refer? What IS a conversation?

My own personal take on this is that all interactions involve a flow of information. This seems to make sense in the context of a conversation between two people: one person has a message that they would like to share with the other. They might use words and gestures or they might use notes and emails. One difference between a face-to-face conversation and a lengthy long-distance exchange is that when you can see someone their face and body often communicate more powerfully than their words. This seems to be closer to the kind of conversation that we're discussing.

Then there's the physical impulses. While we are dancing, there are a bunch of purely physical sensations. These vary from "ooh, my back hurts" to "I'm hungover," but perhaps the most pertinent in this discussion are the sensations that tell that "I'm touching another human being and they are right here with me."

In class I often refer to "mechanics." In specific, I often am referring to what I believe to be the essential mechanical tools of basic leading and following: a sense of connection from one partner to the other; a sense of balance not only with the partner but with one's self; engagements of a set of muscle groups in one dancer to a corresponding set of muscle groups in their partner; an understanding and application of the core muscles; the support mechanisms of the body from the ground through to the top of the skull. There are an awful lot to discuss, so in class it is more expedient to use the expression mechanics.

In my own personal estimation, these are the most visceral exchanges of information. They don't require a thought process. In fact, it is much slower to process a thought than it is to use our senses. In my beginning classes I sometimes have yelled "stop staring at me and start doing something!" I'll get back to that in a bit, but in short the flow of information goes from my physical image, through eyes into the frontal lobe somewhere, gets processed as information down the spine and usually into the feet. As far as I'm concerned the visual method, while perhaps vital, is also a very inefficient way to learn the dance.

In the improvisation class that I take with Bill Chott, he mentioned an idea called the "rate of acceptance." This is the rate at which after one performer has made a statement that the second performer says yes and then builds upon that foundation. This is in line with what I'm discussing here. One must be able to accept the information in order to use it with their partner.

The thing I mentioned earlier about "stop staring." If I catch a student looking at my feet while doing a step or looking at their partner's feet, I often ask them to take their eyes up and find a new eyeline. While our eyes are useful for communication in the interpersonal sense, they are often impediments to the visceral mechanics that we need to use as Lindy Hoppers.

More about this later. This seems to be plenty for now.

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