Why Do Dance Teachers Take Dance Lessons?

posing with dance friend

Me with my friend Shala Marie in NY last May learning and dancing and learning more!

 

My last two posts were about two amazing dance teachers who are influencing me now.  More than one person has asked me, since I’ve been teaching for more than three decades, am I still taking lessons.  There are so many aspects to that question that I thought I’d address some of them here.

Dance exercises the body and the Mind

 

One reason is that dance is one of the best forms of exercise both for the body and the brain, but not when you’ve been doing it for years and it’s second nature.  When I go out dancing I like to dance every number, but I don’t get tired.  My younger partners are panting and I’m not breaking a sweat, but trust me.  I’m not in better shape than they are. I’m just more efficient.  My brain is relaxed, too.  It has already absorbed the information and knows what to do effortlessly.  I have a lot of fun but I don’t get much exercise.

 

The classes I wrote about are (relatively) new dances for me.  The ways of moving my body in these styles are challenging and the choreography is mind bending.  It’s thrilling when I finally get a particular way of moving in Samba or nail a really complex routine in latin rhythms that don’t follow the familiar count of Salsa but constantly change cadences.  I sweat plenty and I have to challenge my brain not to quit on me.

 

Plus, it’s just plain fun, and that’s the bottom line when it comes to dance.

Becoming more of an expert

So that’s the reason for learning dances that I don’t teach.  What about the dances I DO teach?  Well, here’s the thing about dance.  There is ALWAYS more to learn.  When someone comes to town who is a master, I want to take advantage of them.  I can always sharpen my game and learn new things.  And that’s exciting.  Keeps me humble, energized, and fresh.

 

When I was deciding whether or not to quit dancing in the TinaMania show, a friend told me that I should stay because nothing keeps you sharp like professional dancing.  He had a point, but taking classes from exceptional teachers does that as well.  Human beings are learning machines.  We’re wired that way.  When we stop learning, we’re dead.  For me, the most fun thing to learn is dance, and there will always be more dances in this world than I can learn in a lifetime.

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Do Justice to the Culture Whose Dance You Are Borrowing Part II

Yismari Ramos

Yismari in performance

Last week I wrote about my Samba teacher Jacqui Barnes.  Today I’ll introduce you to my latin rhythms teacher, Yismari Ramos.

 

Like Jacqui, Yismari is passionate about the music of her culture (Cuban) and the the way the dance feels.  Her classes consist of complicated choreography that incompasses the various rhythms of Cuban dance.  This is a class for dancers and the choreography is as challenging for the brain as it is for the body.

 

Here’s Yismari teaching our gym class.  She’s in the blue top and black pants in the center.  If you look hard, you can catch me in the 3rd row struggling to keep up.  (In my defense, this was my first encounter with a routine she had been teaching for 2 weeks.)  This is a typical routine which she teaches for 2 weeks before choreographing a new one.

 

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Just like Jacqui, she wants us to learn the moves but is more concerned that we put feeling into it.  She’ll often parody how the dance will look without soul and tell us to just do SOMEthing.  “I don’t care what, just move your BODY.”

I love learning from these women, because they are inspiring in the impossible ways they can move, but also because of the love and passion they have for their art and their music, and the culture represented by the dance.

 

Here’s an excerpt from a performance by Yismari and another great local teacher, Erick Barberia.  If you are lucky enough to live in the bay area, consider taking advantage of the amazing talent available to you here!

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Do Justice to the Culture Whose Dance You Are Borrowing

 

Jacqui Barnes

Jacqui Barnes dancing in Carnival

Dance teachers in my present

I wrote a post a while ago about dance teachers in my past who influenced me.  I’d like to write now about teachers who are influencing me now.  Yes, dance teachers do still study.  It never ends!

Brazilian Samba

I am lucky enough to be able to study Brazilian Samba with the great Jacque Barnes.  Just getting the footwork is challenging enough in this beautiful dance, but that’s not enough.  “Don’t just go through the movements,” Jacque tells us.  “Do justice to the Brazilian people and their culture.  Put your soul into it and make it your own.”  

 

What I love about working with Jacque is her passion for the music and the culture that created the dance.  You can’t help but pick up that passion and feel inspired to let the music move you.

 

When I was in Europe studying the delightful European swing dance they call Boogie Woogie, one of my favorite teachers once said, as if she was eating chocolate, “I just LOVE every step!”  That’s the spirit of Jacqui’s Samba classes.

 

Everyone learns differently and some people get the feel and style before they get the footwork.  But most people first have to learn the mechanics and then can put their attention to the styling.  I’m like that, but I’m constantly inspired by the effortless grace of Jacqui and her advanced students, so that as I learn the footwork, I also get the feel of how the movement relates to the music and can throw myself into the spirit of it all.

Ballroom vs. Street Dance

If you don’t understand the difference between Ballroom  Samba and Street Samba, it is this.  Ballroom dance has a styling that infuses every dance in it’s genre.  Even though there are many different Ballroom dances, they all look kind of similar.  They no longer have the feel of the original culture and have often, as in the case of Samba, morphed into a dance that bears little resemblance to the original.  There is a unique styling to the genre of Ballroom Dance and it infuses every dance in that category.  

 

Street Samba is unique to the Brazilian culture.  It’s not a partner dance and I don’t teach it.  I just do it for fun and to broaden my skills to keep myself sharp.  If you are intrigued by the dances of Carnival, and are lucky enough to be in the bay area, I encourage you to take advantage of Jacqui’s expertise and supportive teaching style.  Maybe I’ll see you in class!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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A Spiritual Definition of Following in Dance

Some wise teacher once said the definition of freedom is not needing to know what comes next.  I can’t remember the originator of the quote but no doubt one of my readers will recognize it and come to my rescue.

When I saw the quote I thought, that’s a perfect definition of following. Both the joy and the challenge come from being able to let go and let someone else do the driving.  If you are following, you DON’T know what comes next.  Every move is a surprise even though it’s often familiar.

Letting go is a phrase that is common in spiritual speak.  Organised religions as well as non-denominational  practices like yoga and meditation all refer to “surrender.”  In dance it means to stop trying and to let the flow of the dance and the music take over.

Of course you must first learn to do it right so that when let the music take over you are still connected to your partner.  But once you’ve learned the skill of following, it indeed becomes a meditation.

Are you one of those people who hates meditation?  Me too.  That’s why I was struck by the opening quote when I first read it.  I realized that I do have meditation in my life.  Every dance I share with a competent lead allows me to turn off my brain, take a thinking break, and surrender to the dance.  Not only do I not need to know what comes next, I don’t want to know.

If you are resistant to meditation and you want to find a way to make it fun, learn to follow.  Sheer joy in motion!

by LaurieAnn  Lepoff

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Why Do Dancers Like Flash Mobs So Much?

In this charming video a group of swing dancers gather around a street orchestra to perform a charleston routine.  It’s a simple routine that repeats, they do it well, and they are enjoying themselves immensely.  It’s a great choice for a flash mob because for swing dancers it wouldn’t take long to learn.  They know the steps already and just have to learn what order to do them in, but they have to be pretty skilled for it to look this good.

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Dancers looking good

And it does look good, doesn’t it? It looks good because they are experienced dancers and because they are having fun.  It’s fun to watch people have fun and this would have been almost as fun to watch if they were less skilled but still having a blast.

Dancers showing off

So why is it so much fun to do?  Because dancers love to show off.  There are exceptions to this of course.  I’ve known good dancers who are shy and don’t like to be in the spotlight, but for the most part it’s energizing to feel the appreciation of onlookers.  Doubly so when it’s a surprise.  A show that people pay to see has a much higher risk level.  It’s still fun and energizing, but everybody is there already with an expectation that this will hopefully be good enough to be worth the ticket price.  A flash mob comes out of nowhere and feels like a gift out of the blue to people lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to witness it.

Musicians like to show off too, so when dancers and musicians combine their talents this way it’s a guaranteed success.

Flash Mob or Lindy Bomb?

A close cousin to a flash mob is a bomb.  I’ve never heard other kinds of dancers use this term but it’s common in the Lindy Hop community.  When a group of swing dancers put up a boombox and break out dancing in a public place, it’s called a Lindy Bomb.

A flash mob is choreographed.  Whatever the material, it’s planned out in advance and everyone learns a part or does the same routine.  A Lindy bomb could be spontaneous, starting with a small number and growing as people join in, or it could be planned out by a particular group, but there is no choreography.  People just dance as they would in a club.  They’re just doing it in a public place where it’s not expected to happen.

Anyone can join a Lindy Bomb if they know the dance.  Any level dancer can participate.  The fun for the audience is seeing a bunch of people suddenly breaking out in a joyful dance.  If you are dancing Lindy, even if you just started, let others know you’d like to participate in the next Lindy bomb.  And if nobody has one planned, consider organizing it yourself.  It’s a guaranteed fun-for-all!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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