Ballroom meets Hip Hop

dancers performing

Ballroom Dance Champions Garry and Rita Gekhman surprise the crowd

Ever notice how when you notice something, you seem to see it everywhere?  A while back I wrote a series of posts about fusion dance, a phenomena in which two different dance styles are “fused” together. Last week on my facebook page  I added recent example of Swango that was particularly beautiful.  No sooner did I post it than I found an example of a fusion dance that was totally new to me, and I suspect nearly everyone else as well. It is from 1004, but this is the first time I’ve seen it!  There’s an ironic twist in this because it fuses The Robot, a street dance, with competitive ballroom.  The irony is that street dancers, polar opposites of formal ballroom, might describe ballroom dancers as “stiff” and “robotic”.  Rarely do you see dancers so well versed in vastly different styles.  Their clever combination is a delight.  You can tell by the voice over comments that they brought the house down when they performed this fusion for a ballroom audience.

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dance Contest Played for Laughs Raises Consciousness Anyway

 

me and jose when we were young

Dancing with Jose in younger years

Jack and Jack Dancers

During the Peach State Country Western Dance Festival in Atlanta, there was a Jack and Jack competition in which men partnered with other men in texas two-step, waltz, west coast swing, and night club two step.  These guys were all excellent dancers and many of them were teachers.  They were also all straight and they camped it up, somewhat offensively, playing for laughs even  while dancing masterfully.  There was no Jill and Jill counterpart.

 

My friend Jose, who was my host, says they do this every year and we tried to avoid it by going Salsa dancing earlier but managed to arrive right in the middle of it anyway.

 

C/W dance teachers never die..

I noticed that they seemed to know each other well and were good friends.  They clearly enjoyed showing off their considerable skills together and they were having a lot of fun, but they couldn’t give themselves permission to just enjoy dancing together without making a joke of it.  When one of them made a particularly lewd dance move, the announcer to my astonishment said with a laugh “Dave Getty better not see that one!”

 

And neither does homophobia

Dakota Dave Getty was my first country western dance teacher at a now defunct club in Hayward called the West 40.  He was also the head honcho of the people who made the rules of C/W competition.  Because there was a gay couple who were so good they were likely to walk away with all of the awards, Dakota  changed the definition of a couple to “a man and a woman”.  He also would not let me dance lead in his classes even when there were extra women who could not be in the class because there weren’t enough men.  I haven’t heard anything about him in years, but I guess his homophobic reputation  is still known far and wide.  After the contest, during the dance, Jose was invited to dance by a man 3 times, and we noticed same sex couples on the floor dancing without raising a hint of hostility from the mostly heterosexual crowd.

 

“That never happened before,” said Jose later.  “Maybe some change was brought about by that contest after all.”  What do you think?  Coincidence?  Exposure over time to the sight of men dancing together even for laughs? Maybe the unmistakable friendship and real caring between the dance partners?  Or the changing times coming into play in spite of the homophobia of the contest?  Readers, weigh in!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing in Atlanta

Real southern food!

Enjoying the local fare with dance partner Jose and his husband Jim

A couple of decades or so ago I taught a series of monthly country western workshops with a close friend.  I usually teach alone because a teaching partner automatically cuts the take in half, but I loved teaching with Jose so I mostly did it for fun.  There was an expensive Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood where we had our workshops.  We loved the food there, so after we finished our class, we’d go there and blow our earnings on dinner and catch up on our lives over the previous month.  Then Jose’s day job took him out of state and our teaching team was history.

Dance partnerships never die!

Our friendship, however, remained intact, as did mine with his spouse Jim, who shares my love of gardening and old musicals.  Last weekend I finally visited them in Atlanta, combining my visit with the renowned Peach State Country Western  Dance Festival.

During Jose’s time in the Bay Area, Country was very popular.  There were C/W dance bars everywhere.  I taught a lot of country and went dancing frequently.  Now the country scene has all but disappeared here, although it appears to be thriving in Atlanta.  (I noticed differences, though. At least in the competition scene, the ballroom influence is so strong I could barely tell the difference.  In the early days of Country, the dancers prided themselves on NOT being ballroom.)  It begs the question: why do some dances disappear and others stay for good?  Why are some a flash in the pan, like the Lambada, only to be gone a year later, while others are around for years and still thrive in some areas but are gone from others?  And others disappear for a while and then come back with a resurgence a few decades later, like Lindy Hop.  Lindy is popular in the Bay Area, but fragile.  It takes work on the part of the dancers who love it to make sure the scene thrives.

Salsa in the South

I managed to get a little Salsa dancing in as well, to my delight.  Jose is from Cuba and still my favorite Salsa partner.  Salsa is a dance that seems to be popular everywhere and here to stay.  It’s hard to imagine a stronger dance scene than Salsa, yet it’s a relatively new dance.  By that I mean that I was a young woman when Salsa was a new dance.

I never expected Country to leave the Bay Area, but even the gay community is not supporting Country dancing as much any more.  We may soon see the end of it all together.  Jose suggested the theory that it may be the music.  There is little distinction between Country and Pop today, so there is not as much reason to do a different dance.  That may be, but doesn’t explain why it’s still popular in the South.  It’s an interesting question.  Why do you think some dances come and go while others seem to be here to stay?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Banning Same Sex Partners in Competitive Ballroom Dance

two women dancing

Bay Area champions Zoe Balfour & Citabria Phillips
strut their impressive stuff!

I’m not a fan of competitive dance, particularly Ballroom, but I have no objection to it’s existence. Many people love it and more power to them.  When I write about it, it’s because something in that world has captured my attention.

 

Same sex dancers still strike fear into some 

I’m having a hard time believing that, at a time when many sports are reversing long held homophobic beliefs and policies, the British Dance Council is considering a proposal to define dance couples as consisting of a “man” and a “lady”.  Maybe some of the women will then be disqualified on the grounds that they are too crass to be considered ladies.  I mean, just take a look at some of those costumes.  Would a lady wear that?

Country Western Dancers preceded Ballroom

I miss the Country Western dance scene which has all but disappeared from my neck of the woods, but I don’t miss the homophobia.  After a couple of gay men were so good that they started winning too many competitions, the powers that be did indeed pass a rule banning same sex partners from competing.  The flourishing gay competitive dance community, on the other hand, had no problem with opposite sex partnership.  Everyone was judged on dance skills.  Period.

Women banned from dancing lead

Homophobia was so rampant in the early days of Country dancing that women could not lead in the lessons.  At the now defunct but then thriving West 40, where I was studying advanced Country Western dancing in earnest, you had to find a partner with whom to take the lesson because there was no changing during the lesson.  There were always extra women who wanted to be in the lesson but couldn’t find a partner.  Even though I would be doing the service of providing an opportunity for 2 extra women to take (and pay for) the lesson, the teacher made it clear by a combination of ridicule and ignoring us, that women were not welcome to learn the lead in his class.

 

It saddens me now to see the same thinking mirrored in the ballroom community. A big hue and cry complete with petitions, of course, is occurring in response, so maybe they’ll have a change of heart in time.  The internet was a baby during the time of the Country Western policy change, so nobody knew about it until after the fact.  Stay tuned for the aftermath when the decision is made!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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When Is A Dance Too Acrobatic?

acrobats from Cirq Du Solei

The incomperable Cirq Du Solei is famous for combining acrobatics and dance

Controversial dance

This surprising controversy in the dance community popped up when this video started going viral:

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But is it really dance?

Some people commented that is isn’t really dance because it’s really just a bunch of aerials and really qualifies as acrobatics rather than dance.  If you’ve read my previous posts about acrobatics and dance, “Are Gymnasts Dancers? Part 1” and “Part 11”, you know that I feel that just about any movement that goes to music qualifies as dance and why are we arguing about this anyway?  We should all get a life.

Dance Aerials in other countries

Nevertheless, it put me in mind of the German dance that they call “Rock and Roll”.  Now that, unlike the previous example that had beautiful musical interpretation and expression, really does fit the description of a bunch of aerials stuck together with a few very peculiar basic kicking steps.  Here’s an example of Rock and Roll:

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If that qualifies as dance (and it definitely does) then how can anyone argue with the first example?  Yes there is more to dance than stunning air steps, but no matter what I think of the filler steps, the spectacular aerials and the basic step that glues them together are all on beat and do go with the music.  That’s dance!

In fact, the concept of a cultural dance that consists primarily of air steps glued together with a basic step of some kind and very little else, seems to exist in vastly different cultures.  Odd though Rock and Roll’s basic straight forward kick step may look to us (or at least to me), it is in it’s own way distinctly German.

In this stunning example of Mexico’s Quebradita Acrobatica, you see the basic step continually repeated in the second part where the music speeds up.  The sexy fluidity of this movement reflects the culture of it’s parent country as well.  Gorgeous, isn’t it?

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Does it really matter what you call any of it?  It’s all highly skilled movement to music.  That’s good enough for me!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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More Thought on Fat Dancers

John lindo dancing

Champion Swing Dancer John Lindo in action!

A great dancer to watch

I’ve written before on the topic of fat dancers, but I realized I left out a glaring omission, especially since I talked about partner dance but used video examples of performance dance.

Anyone in the west coast swing community knows the glaring omission is John Lindo.  One of the best Swing dancers ever to grace a floor, John Lindo is well known for breaking the stereotype of what a dancer’s body “should” look like.  Youtube is full of videos of this fabulous dancer, so if you love watching the following example, feel free to spend even more time enjoying other clips.  This is one of my favorites:

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Dance is the great social leveler

I often speak of partner dance as the great leveler.  There are few attributes more sexy than a great leader.  Height, weight, hair loss, age, even personality, doesn’t matter.  If you can lead well, everyone will want to dance with you.  Over and over and over again!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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More Thoughts on How Dance Makes a Better World

Can Dancing Bridge a Gap Between Police and the Inner City?

I live in Oakland where there are neighborhoods the police won’t even go to.  To say the least, there is a huge cultural gap between the inner city and the police.  Mistrust flies rampant in both directions.

Dancing Pigs

The police are called pigs (you’d think there would be a newer epithet by now) by the rebellious black teens and many of the police act as if all black people are criminals.  In this video, the culture of dance bridges that gap.

Hip Hop Cop

A cop enters a hip hop contest.  Someone still calls him a pig, but it’s effect is dulled by the fact that he more than holds his own in the competition.  This dance is part of the inner city culture and anyone who does it well earns respect however grudgingly.

I’ve always thought dance was the best ambassador for peace, not just between nations, but a healer for the strife with which we struggle at home

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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New Ideas in Competitive Dance: Part II

Erin and Frankie

Erin Stevens from the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association teaches a jazz step with the late great Frankie Manning

Dance Inovatin from Israel

The second innovative dance contest idea comes from Israel where there is a solo Lindy competition.  Yes, Lindy is a partner dance, but there are many jazz steps incorporated into the dance, which allow both partners to be creative while still dancing in partnership.

 

Jazz Dance Routines

It’s also common for teachers to put together routines so that students can practice the jazz steps.  Sometimes such a routine, like Ryan Francois’ Jitterbug Stroll, will catch on and become a popular dance in Lindy communities world wide.  The most widely known such routine, The Shim Sham Shimmy, is a classic tap routine adapted by Lindy Hoppers in the 1930s and still danced in many places today.

So again I’m surprised no one has thought of this earlier!  I’m also surprised it hasn’t caught on elsewhere since this is not the first year the Israelis have held this contest.  Check out these fabulous dancers strutting their stuff sans partners:

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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New Ideas in Competitive Dance

I’ve never been much of a fan of competitive dance, but even I was intrigued by two categories I recently heard about in the Lindy Hop competition scene.

Jill and Jack Dance Contest

The first is a Jill and Jack, in which, like a Jack and Jill, partners are selected at random.  The twist is that women have to lead and men have to follow.  This is always an option in a traditional Jack and Jill (no rules determine gender when you sign up as a lead or follow) but this is the first I’ve seen in which all leads were women and all follows were men.
It’s not uncommon in the Lindy community for advanced dancers to dance both parts, so I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before.  These dancers in the 2014 O-Town Showdown in Ottawa are great fun to watch as they show off their skill in this twist on the traditional Jack and Jill.  I expect this to catch on elsewhere!

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Next week I’ll tell you about the other unique contest in the global Lindy Hop world!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Deaf Dancers: Can You Dance if You Can’t Hear the Music?

Before I was a dance teacher, I taufht self-defense to people with physical disabilities.   I was inspired to study American Sign Language when I had a deaf student in one of my classes and a deaf friend in my Jujitsu dojo.  I hung out with the deaf community (who thought I had recently lost my hearing because I signed so poorly) so that I could practice.  I was surprised to find that not only were there deaf dance parties, but that they were so loud I couldn’t bear to be in the room even with ear plugs.  My friends explained that they feel the rhythm through the reverberation in the floor when the music is turned up high enough.  Don’t try this at home if you don’t want to lose your hearing, too.

Obviously I knew there were deaf dancers, but I hadn’t thought about deaf professional dancers in a hearing world.  Anyone can have a passion for dance, with or without hearing, and there are many approaches to keeping rhythm in your body when you can’t hear the music.  I’m featuring two dancers in this post.  One is a young hip hop dancer who is striving to make dance his profession.  The other is a classical/modern dancer who dances professionally but supplements her dance career with her day job as a chemist.

The young man feels the bass through the floor like my partying friends, but has studied the nuances of what the bass is doing so that he can interpret the music and dance to it.  The classical dancer learns choreography and takes her cues from the other dancers and the director as well as her interpreter.  Both dancers rely a lot on their internal sense of rhythm to carry them through the dance when the cues are not there.  They seem to agree with my premise (see previous post Is Rhythm Innate?) that rhythm is innate in humans.  Clearly, the ability to dance, even if you use my definition of dance as making a musical instrument of your body and jamming with the band, comes from deep within the soul and is not connected to any one sense.  Not even the ability to hear the music.

In this clip, the aspiring dancer auditions for “So You Think You Can Dance”.  He’s not quite good enough to make the cut, but he wows the judges anyway.  Let him explain in his own words how he does it, any why.

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In this clip, the professional dancer talks about the challenge of competing with the hearing dancers, the prejudice she experiences when trying out, and the ways she has found for solving the problem of dead on timing without the advantage of hearing the music.   Deaf dancers must learn the timing to perfection.  They can do it with or without the music.  Listen to her explain it in her own words.

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Pole Dancing for Everyone

 

pole dancers

A Pole Dance class at San Francisco’s Studio Botan

Pole dancing is a popular phenomenon on the exercise dance scene.  You can take classes at any fitness level in studios like the one in the photo in the bay area where I live.   

Formerly a style of dance relegated to sleazy strip joints, it has become a popular fitness dance fad.  Aimed primarily at women, it’s a challenging workout with sexy fun overtones.  You feel sexy as your body rises to the challenge of using the pole in graceful, strengthening, and sultry movements.  What a great time in history when women can learn to move this way just for fun, to use anyway they want. 

Some do it just for a fun exercise class, some to wow a romantic partner.  Some participate in competitive pole dance and some use it for its original purpose.  Who’d have thought that pole dancing as a job would ever be considered an old fashioned use of this formerly socially forbidden dance form?

Pole dancing really is for everyone now.  You don’t have to have a stripper’s body.  (Even strippers don’t have to have that body any more, but that’s another post!)  You don’t have to be young.  You don’t even have to be a woman.  Once pole dancing began to have mainstream contests, it was only a matter of time before men started getting in on the act. 

I’ve gathered a few short clips to illustrate the amazing variety of this graceful acrobatic art.  The oldest pole dancer, (yeah, she’s about my age.  60 really is the new 30!) Greta Pontarelli, eloquently speaks of her passion for the dance and why she sees it as a great fit for anyone:

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In completive pole dancing, there is now a male category.  The men don’t mimic the traditional style of women but give it their own style and flavor.   It’s easy to see why this gifted dancer took first place in the men’s division:

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And last but not least, in a fitting follow up to my Nov 15 post Who Wants to See A Fat Dancer?

Here’s an example of a dancer who doesn’t let her size get in the way of taking on and showing off her prowess in culturally forbidden dance to women of her girth.  I love the expression on the judge’s face when she does the splits in a perfect landing at the end.  Fat women are not supposed to have the strength and flexibility to do this kind of dance, and while the vote is split because she’s good but not outstanding as a dancer (my judgment) she still flies in the face of common assumptions about the capabilities of fat women and sets a powerful example to the many watchers of this popular TV show about dance being truly the birthright of everyone.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Veteran Dancers Make it Look Easy

Charlie and Jackie dance carolina shag

carolina shag champion dancers Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee

When I write about older dancers I usually try to find dancers still wowing us in their 80s and 90s. Today I’m going to feature Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee, even though they’re only in their 60s. The reason is that I want to talk about the ease that comes with experience. You’ve heard the expression “They make it look easy.” when people talk about very good dancers. I would amend that to say, no, it doesn’t look easy but it looks as if it’s easy for them.

With age (if you started early enough) comes experience. With experience, eventually comes ease. When I go out dancing, I like to dance every dance. I don’t like to sit out dances unless I don’t like the song, and even then I kind of want to be on the floor. People are amazed that I have the energy to out dance people half my age and younger, but it’s not that I’m in better shape. I’m just more efficient. When you’ve been doing something long enough, your muscles figure out which of them are needed and the rest of them take a break.  When you’re new at it, every muscle in your body thinks it has to participate. New dancers just plain work harder and tire sooner. Of course, they get more exercise, so there’s a perk for every stage in the dance of life.

Jackie and Charlie are famous for Carolina Shag and there couldn’t be a better pair of ambassadors for any dance. If you had to find one word to capture what is amazing about them, (aside from “Wow!”) it would probably be “ease”. Every move uses the precise amount of energy necessary and not a jot more. They are completely relaxed and their dance is effortless.

There is no shortcut to having the element of ease in your dance. It only comes with experience. You can either put in a LOT of hours when you’re young, or just keep dancing until you turn gray. Or, like Charlie and Jackie, you can do both! And if you are lucky enough to find yourself in their neck of the woods, take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the masters and try your hand at Carolina Shag. Enjoy!
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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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