Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waves and Monkey Bars: a recap

As I will have to skip the US Open Swing Dancing Championships due to illness, I'd like to take a little time to discuss some of the things we have worked on in class recently.

Two weeks ago, we had an entire class on pulse and smoothness. I'll probably rename that class "Creamy vs. Chunky" or something equally glib in the future. It might have gone over the heads of some of the students, but it's the same content with which I pushed myself and it still inspires me today.

Last week, we discussed music. It appeared that none of the students in class really had developed vocabulary on the subject. When I asked them what a break was, the most prominent reply was "it's a pause in the music." It reminds me of the way folks at the original Memories would all snap to pose on the hit from "See Ya Later, Alligator," by Bill Haley and the Comets!

Honestly, the dancing in this clip is pretty different from what I remember at that club.

At the old Memories, I remember watching from the balcony as the entire room hit the same punch. This was probably the first time period of the turn of the century southern California dancers really understood the concept of a break. It was fun to watch, but I wondered at the time whether everyone would be stuck hitting breaks in that one way forever.

Taking it back to the class last Thursday, I spoke of some different ways to use the music. I remembered the time when I was speaking to one of my math students who expressed that he just didn't understand dancing. This student was a surfer through and through. It came to me in that conversation that a dancer rides the music like a surfer would ride a wave. This seemed to make a visceral connection to that student, but I never saw whether it made an impact on him in the long run.

Then I began to describe the common structures in swing music, taking it back up with Breaks. The way I use it, a break is that last bar of music in a pattern before that pattern can begin again. In See You Later Alligator, this isn't the drum hit at the end of the bar but that whole line: "you say your love for me is true."

Anyway, I may be butchering actual musical vocabulary.

The other image that I used in class was that the structures in music were like Monkey Bars on a school yard. They're there for dancers to play upon.

We did a few exercises around that and then we called it a night.