Lindy Hop Versus West Coast Swing

 

west coast, not lindy

What West Coast Swing dancing looks like

What’s the difference between West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop?  It’s mostly stylistic.  West Coast (the state dance of California, by the way) is usually danced to contemporary rhythm and blues, is danced in a slot, and has a slick, sophisticated, sexy look.  Lindy has a wild and crazy quality, takes up space in all directions, has WAY less dignity and a kind of “who cares how stupid I look, I’m just having fun!” attitude.  Both are jazz dances, which means that even though the dance is lead, there is room for individual creativity on the part of both the lead and the follow.  This clip shows a couple doing first West Coast and then Lindy.  This clip, by the way, is from a Jack and Jill contest, which means partners are drawn at random.  This couple does not usually dance together and none of this is choreographed.  Can you see the difference in style?

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Can Learning to Dance Save Your Marriage?

 

In another life before I was a dance teacher, I was part of a counseling collective.  My specialty was couples counseling and mediations.  I was good at it, but it was not a good fit for me because I couldn’t shut the door of my mind and forget about my clients in between sessions.  I worried about them and felt responsible for their healing process.  Anyone who does this for a living knows this is not a sustainable flaw for anyone in the therapy business.

 

Now I use that skill to teach my students how to dance without getting on each other’s nerves.  But those neural pathways are permanently embedded in my psyche, and I’m constantly aware of the dynamics I see in the couples with whom I work.   Learning to practice is just like learning to relate in any other way.  It’s all about communication.  You can translate what you learn about yourselves and each other as you learn together, to whatever other dynamics come up in your relationship.

In your dance lesson, it looks like this:  Sometimes you don’t know what you are doing wrong, or in fact that you are doing anything wrong.  You need feedback, or you’ll just keep happily practicing the same mistakes, especially if your partner enables you by guessing what you meant and doing what she knows you wanted rather than what you actually lead.  Sometimes you do know what you’re doing wrong and you just need to practice.  What happens when your partner keeps pointing out what you’re doing wrong when you just need to practice?  Right.  How long will this marriage last?  So how do you avoid getting on each other’s nerves while practicing this challenging dance you’ve chosen to learn with another beginner?  Somehow the answer is not as clear when you are in the emotion as it is when you are presented with the question here.  Communication comes down to two basic components.  Tell your partner when you need feedback and when you don’t.  Ask your partner if they want feedback if you’re not sure.   OK, three components.  If it’s not working and you can’t figure it out, stop practicing and wait until you can ask your teacher.  If this comes up in other aspects of your life, make an appointment with a couples counselor.  Do it early, when you still feel open and want more for each other than for yourselves.  Don’t wait until you’ve lost trust in each other.

About that business of enabling your partner.  In my essay about following, I comment that in our society women are hardwired to expect men to screw up, and to consider it our jobs   to fix it before they notice.  It’s a hard habit to break because we do it unconsciously  but it’s important to pay attention to.  Whether you guess wrong or right, it doesn’t help him learn to lead and it make a lousy follower out of you.  Since I’ve never known a student who appreciated being second guessed by his partner even if she’s right, I can pretty much assure you that it doesn’t work in the rest of your relationship either.

I have students who say they use their dance lessons instead of marriage therapy.  This can work if your relationship is working.  It’s a good test for healthy dynamics  and of course you are learning the most romantic skill you do together.  If you’re really not hearing each other (you know this because neither of you feels heard by the other) then go see someone whose job it is to teach you how to communicate with each other when you’re NOT dancing.

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing for Joy!

 

I love everything about this wonderful video, but the part I want to comment on is that this is a true example of that all too rare thing: dancing for sheer joy. This young man follows his heart in every moment. He dances because he’s in love with life. Spontaneous, joyful, and completely unselfconscious. It is my vision that the rest of the world learn to dance like this!

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Does Dancing Keep you Young?

 

Shim Sham Shimmy

Frankie Manning, in his 80s, performing with his son, Chaz.

People often assume dancing is why I don’t look my age.  A lot of dancers look younger than their years and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.  Dancing keeps your body limber and active.  Doing what you love keeps you joyful, so it’s a great combination if dance is what you love.  Of course, genes play a part, too.  I got mine from my father who does not dance, and so did my sister, an accomplished square dancer who can hold her own on a jitterbug floor.  So maybe dance has enhanced the youthfulness given a jump start by our genes!  Doing something joyful that keeps you active is, in my opinion, a recipe for youthfulness.

All dances, however, are not created equal.  I’ll never forget my tap teacher telling me years ago that ballet is the only dance style that teaches the body to do that which is unnatural to it.  Ballet dancers retire young and often deal with physical problems later.  It’s common, in contrast, to see elderly tap dancers still moving with grace and ease.  Tap is a difficult dance to learn, but it requires a relaxed natural movement.  Once mastered, the body remembers it.

Frankie Manning, my friend and mentor for the last fifteen years of his life, was an example of how we’d all like to age.  The picture I included at the beginning of this post shows how youthful he was well into his eighties.  Chaz, only 18 year younger than his dad, ages just as gracefully.  Frankie was eighty when we met, continuing to dance and look forty years younger into his nineties.  He popped an aerial with me at the end of his birthday jam on his 85th birthday, with perfect grace,balance and timing.  His son Chaz, now in his eighties, looks just as young, so you could make an argument for genes, but then again Chaz is a dancer, too!

There are lots of reasons why people age as they do, but a joyful attitude has to be one of the best anti-aging tools around.  I’ll be sharing some inspirational videos of older dancers in future blogs, so keep an eye out and keep dancing!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Contra Dance guest blog

the line is what differs from square dance

Contra Dance is danced in a line

Contra Dance is a great place to start if you’re a beginner looking for a friendly scene. I don’t teach it because it’s a called dance, like square dance, but much easier. The best place to learn is at the scene. Here’s a great blog from a contra dancer at Oberlin College

http://blogs.oberlin.edu/community/student_organizations/music_weekend_p.shtml

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancers Extraordinaire: The Nicholas Brothers

Many people believe the Nicholas Brothers to be the greatest tap dancers who ever lived. Self taught, they started as children. Although the act was Fayard’s idea, and he engaged his brother into the project, they were also fortunate to have a very supportive father whose excellent advice they were smart enough to take.

This is my favorite Nicolas Brothers clip, from the great classic “Stormy Weather”.   I once had the honor of having dinner with Fayard Nicolas who I knew briefly in his eighty’s. “Are you a tap dancer?” he asked me. “No,” I confessed, “I’m a Lindy Hopper. But I know plenty of people who’ll be impressed when I tell them I had dinner with Fayard Nicolas!” I take my bragging rights where I can find them.  His brother Howard was already dead by the time I met Fayard.  A stroke survivor, he was wheelchair bound, but he still had those amazingly graceful hands.  Notice how the brothers use their hands in this amazing clip.

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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How to Tell if You Need Dance Lessons

This dance question may sound obvious, but it’s not just “If you can’t dance and want to, you need lessons”.  That’s true, of course, but what if you don’t know you can’t dance?  What if you think you can dance but your partners disagree?  What if they are too polite to tell you?

 

Here are some classic lines I hear from people who need lessons and don’t know it:  “When I’m dancing with a really good lead, I never have any problems following.”  When you follow really well, but only with the best dancers, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking the problem is with the leaders, not with you. What these followers don’t realize is that the mark of a great leader is the ability to assess the skill level of his  partner and dance at a level that doesn’t make her feel stupid.  In other words, he’s dumbing down the dance for you.  The worst follower in the world feels like a pro with a great lead.

 

“Nobody ELSE has a problem with my lead!” in response to a gentle suggestion.  Or “Women seem to like dancing with me.  I haven’t heard any complaints.”  It’s important not to confuse politeness with pleasure.  Just because she’s not willing to be rude doesn’t mean she enjoyed the dance.  If you really want to know if women enjoy dancing with you, notice how often they approach you after you tell them you’d enjoy dancing with them again later on.  If you’re still in doubt, ask an advanced follower for honest feedback.  This takes guts because it’s hard on the ego to admit you could use some help when you’ve been entertaining the notion that you’re great on the dance floor.

 

Many years ago I met a young man who had fabulous style. He was good looking and always looked great dancing.  All the girls lined up to dance with him.  I asked him to dance and was amazed to learn that he led so badly that I was afraid of being injured.  I had to stop before the dance was over and told him “I’m sorry.  My shoulder can’t take this rough a lead.”  “Am I that bad?” he asked.  “’Fraid so,” I told him.  He could easily have blown me off because, in fact, nobody else HAD ever complained before and women DID like dancing with him.  But he respected me, took it as a wake up call, and began studying in earnest.  He became one of the best dancers in the community and later confided in me that he blushed with embarrassment whenever he thought of what he used to put his partners through on the dance floor.

 

Great style and good looks will bring you plenty of partners, but the ugliest guy in the room will have more partners lined up to dance with him if he’s a great lead.  Likewise, if you’re a cute girl, all the guys will want to dance with you, but it really has nothing to do with dance.  They want to do ANYthing with you!  If you really want to find joy in dancing, learn the skill of following.  It’s worth it in the end to take an honest assessment of your skills, and take dance lessons if you need them!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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The Most Joyful Dance Partner Ever

I always tell anyone preparing for a dance performance that the easiest way to engage the audience is to have a really good time. It’s fun to watch people having fun. So if you want a partner capable of expressing pure unmitigated joy, you can’t beat dancing with a child or a dog. Here’s a great example of the later!  Have fun, you all!

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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