Using Dance to Explain Music

picture of interpreter

Swedish interpeter steals the show

A dancing interpreter for the deaf is winning hearts across the internet with his heartfelt signing of musicians.  It’s a great example of how to interpret music for those who can’t hear it.  He is so fun to watch because he dances as he signs, his body movements feeling the music as his hands interpret the words.

 

A few decades ago I studied American Sign Language because I had a deaf friend and occasional deaf students in my self defense classes for people with physical disabilities. I never got fluent enough to sign for my students or converse with ease with my friend, but I spent a lot of time with the deaf community in order to practice.  They all thought I had recently lost my hearing because I was such a novice at signing.

 

Dancing is popular among the deaf, but I never attended any dances because the music was too loud for my sensitive hearing. They crank it up so they can feel the bass through the floor and find the rhythm.

 

Feeling the rhythm section to get the beat is not the same as understanding music, however.  When the interpreter moves to music as he signs, the nuance of the music comes through.  I’ve seen this before in some of the best interpreters and wonder how much of the music comes through this way.

 

When I watch without the sound, it’s definitely not enough.  But when the beat is added, the baseline that can be felt if not heard, the dance makes sense.  It may be impossible to really express the idea of music to those without hearing, but this combination of dance and signing comes as close at it can.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Sisters Do the Dance of Love

 

young sisters smiling

Dancing sisters pose before their dance

Dance has all kinds of functions, from exercise to art, to connection, to just plain fun.  As an art form, it’s one of the best ways to express emotion.

 

My sister, whom I love more than just about anyone else in my life, sent me this beautiful video of another set of sisters performing a dance that tells a tale of love about as eloquently as I’ve ever seen it told.  Love is a favorite theme in art, in it’s many forms.  Love unrequited.  Tragic love.  Plain old romantic love. Love of nature.  Love of beauty.

 

Sisterly love we don’t see so much.  Watch it come through with such blazing sincerity it brings tears to your eyes in this moving dance number

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dance Heals the Brain

 

Distonia sufferer dancer

Italian journalist Federico Bitti finds healing in dance

Dance as a cure

Dance has been used as a valuable tool to cure various brain disorders.  When we are passionate about something, often our brain skips over the part that’s not working right and focuses.  Music, when it is music we love, can have a healing effect of it’s own.  When music and passion and movement are combined, magic can happen.

 

It’s a miracle!

I’ve seen with my own eyes many times the miracle of elderly people who can barely walk, leaving their canes and walkers by the side of the dance floor as the music starts, returning to them after the dance is over.  Neurologist Oliver Sacks has written about music bringing patients out of comas and alzheimer’s patients have also been known to come back to themselves when they hear a familiar and beloved song.

 

My friend Zo DeMuro, a wellness coach who is magical in his own right, sent me this beautiful video of a man with a condition that I’d never heard of before now.  Nothing worked for him until a creative and open minded holistic practitioner realized that dance was the road to wellness for him.  The video speaks for itself!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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The Fat Dancer “Controversy”

A scene from Nothing To Lose

Dancers from Nothing To Lose

I’ve written a few past posts about fat dancers and was inspired to write again on the subject by a show in Australia featuring a cast of obese dancers.  What caught my interest, aside from the obvious fact of how unusual this is, was the director’s comment that such a show shouldn’t be, but is, controversial.

 

In my area there is a popular feminist dance company called the Dance Brigade. It’s talented director, Krissy Keefer, while not fat, does have an atypical body type.  She’s short, stocky, and muscular.  Just because her body is not that of a typical ballerina, her dancing is controversial.  Just what is this all about?  Why is it controversial for more than one body type to perform dance?

 

Human beings move naturally to music.  We do so with grace, or we don’t, and it has nothing to do with our shape, size, or even our physical abilities.  Yet the majority of people in our society are astonished to see great dancing in a fat body and embarrassed to find themselves as mesmerised by the movements of the fat dancer as by the more familiar lithe dancer body.

 

Even worse, derisive laughter is a common reaction, no matter how good the dancer.  Derision is a tool that keeps people in their place through shame.  So it’s all the more impressive to see the existence of a show like  Nothing To Lose, where the dancers are unabashedly comfortable in their bodies.  Take a look at this video and notice if you have a reaction, positive or negative.  It’s interesting to look at the root of that reaction and question it’s history, influence, and how much of it is culturally imposed and how much is pure artistic appreciation.  Have fun!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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A New Take on Disability and Dance

Viktoria Modesta shows off a beautiful fake leg

Viktoria Modesta sporting a prosthesis as glamorous as she is.

I’ve written in the past about dance troupes like Axis that feature dancers in wheelchairs performing with able bodied dancers, blind and deaf dancers, and a hip hop crew composed entirely of physically challenged dancers.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart because of my background in working with people who live with physical disabilities.

 

You may have seen the video I’m featuring today because it’s gone viral.  Pop singer Viktoria Modesta is an amputee who in the past has made videos in which her prosthesis was hidden and she looked like a classic beauty with all of her limbs intact.  In “Prototype” she features two different artistically designed prosthesis and at the end of the video does a dance with one of them.  The first one looks elegant and exotic, a perfect fit for her fashonista style. Her movements are graceful and natural as the prosthesis lights up like a futuristic bionic body part.

 

The second one is a spike that comes to a point and it looks as if the dance is designed for it or it was designed for the choreography.  If you want to fast forward to the dance, it starts at 4:57, although she does dance here and there throughout the video.

 

This video sparked a ton of comments, many from people who dislike her music and therefore find the whole thing pointless, or a shameless use of a disability to get attention.  I confess I’m not a big fan of this type of music either, but I think the way she showcases her prosthesis is groundbreaking.

 

I would enjoy it a lot more if I liked the music, but that doesn’t change what she’s doing in this dance.  She could easily hide her leg and still dance.  We wouldn’t be able to tell.  So what is so new about this that makes it different from some I’ve the other artists I’ve written about in former posts?

 

She doesn’t just show the world that she can dance just as well as an able bodied artist in spite of her missing leg.  She creates a work of art out of the leg and showcases it.  It’s a thing of beauty in its own right.  One viewer commented, to the disgust of many others, that he almost wished he had a fake leg that lit up.  He voiced what many were thinking.  It’s that cool.

 

Born with this disability, she’s comfortable with it and it’s a big part of who she is.  I’m glad it’s sparking controversy because it means people are thinking and talking about it.  I give it a thumbs up!  Here you go:

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing for Seniors

elderly couple dancing

Two seniors enjoy a dance

Let’s Dance

A short article in United Health Care’s Magazine Renew entitled “Let’s Dance” reminded me to take up this subject again.  There has been much research on the subject of the best exercise for aging bodies, and dance keeps coming up number one.

 

Dance if it brings you joy

Of course, I still hold with the truism that the best exercise is the one you’ll do, so if you don’t like to dance, and I’ve heard rumors that such people do exist, it may not be the best one for you.

It is true that dancing is great for balance, strength, bone health, posture, flexibility, stamina, stress reduction, confidence, and it’s been proven to ward of a number of age related illnesses, but I believe it’s greatest benefit is joy.  It’s no coincidence that this ad for a senior living facility chose dance as it’s metephor for what it will be like to live there:

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Dance is the embodiment of joy.  It’s the perfect expression of a joyful feeling, and doing it also brings that feeling to you.  My unscientific contribution to this discussion is that a joyful life keeps us young.  I can’t say which benefit is the most  important, though.

Or maybe dance anyway

If something unhealthy and sedentary brings you great joy, like say watching old movies while consuming great amounts of chocolate, you might want to give dance a go anyway.  You may find that you can reduce the amount of time you spend on the couch and the amount of sugar you consume and still have great joy and a more cooperative body into the bargain.

You get to have joy in more than one way in this life.  Exploring new things also brings energy and delight.  Who do you know who’s feeling low because their aging body is beginning to betray them?  If you celebrate the gift giving traditions of this time of year, consider giving them a package of private lessons from an inspiring dance teacher.  It could be a life changer!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Down Syndrome Dancers Show Us How to Have Fun

poster for Down Syndrome dance

Down Syndrome Dancers
advertise their extravaganza

To Dance With Abandon!

On the heels of my Dance Walking posts, I couldn’t resist commenting on this wonderful video.
People with Down Syndrome can teach us a lot about dancing with abandon.

Dance: The Embodiment of Joy

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: dance is the embodiment of joy. If I could give my students one gift it would be to remove the bone in their head that makes them care what other people think of the way they look on the dance floor. While I’m at it, I’d like to sign up for the same surgery myself.

In a previous post, http://www.stepsontoes.com/?s=dancing+for+joy, I wrote about Tim Harris, a kid with Down Syndrome who has his own restaurant in which he bestows hugs on his appreciative customers. In Tim’s video, he dances for joy on his way to work because he enjoys his life so much he is called to express it with a heart felt dance.

Dance in the Best of Worlds

In this video, a group of people with Down Syndrome bring awareness to World Down Syndrome Day by filming themselves doing their own version of dance walking. Most people have a hard time expressing spontaneous joy in public. It is the gift these lovely people bring to us to show us a glimpse of a world where love and joy are easily expressed.
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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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My Dance Story: Part III

head shot

Still dancing, but I look like this now!

Continued from previous post:

We closed the collective because it was too hard to be politically correct and survive financially at the same time. I started offering workshops to other martial artists on how to teach physically disabled people. I didn’t really think at the time that I could make it as a dance teacher, but I knew that if I was going to hang up a shingle and seek students, I had to learn more than Jitterbug and badly danced Foxtrot, and a made up dance that nobody else did.

So I started learning more dance, taking classes here and there to expand my repertoire as I continued to teach. Meanwhile, Lori fell in love with Salsa, which my knees couldn’t handle at the time, and I fell in love with Swing, which her knees couldn’t handle. I was on my own again.

Things got a lot better when I found a practice partner (see “How Most Dancers Age”) and could learn new dances and practice things my students wanted that I wasn’t up on. I gradually retired my massage career as I built up my dance business. I was good at massage but I didn’t love it and I eventually made the choice to stop spending advertising money on a business I didn’t want to do. I don’t remember how many years I had been teaching before I made that decision but I do remember how scary it was.

Thirty four years later, it’s still a work in progress. I still take classes from favorite master dancers when someone I like is in town. (See “Favorite Teachers From My Past”) and constantly improve my skills. I make a surprisingly lot of use of my former skills. I now start my students out with a coaching session that gives me insights at the very beginning of how my students learn and what their bottom line goals are.

I teach students with physical disabilities again, but not in a group. I have taught a few group classes but I’ve built my business around private lessons for people who need that extra attention.

I could go on, but I know you all want to get back to the videos and fun posts. Plus there’s a cat sitting on my keyboard and it makes for slow going. Thanks for reading!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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My Dance Story: Part One

dancing in my past

Me, with a favorite dance partner a couple of decades ago!

People frequently ask me how I got started in this business.  Actually, there is a lot that lead up to it.

I folk danced in grade school and square danced in high school, but I really didn’t start to dance socially until I was in college.  Singularly unpopular in high school, I never went to dances or danced socially with my peers.

I square danced outside of my school where the other dancers didn’t know they weren’t supposed to talk to me.  I even went to my junior prom with a square dance partner with whom I had never had much of a conversation before our disastrous date.

Not only did I find out he couldn’t social dance at all, but we also discovered that he was a right wing fundamentalist Christian and I was a left wing Unitarian.  We couldn’t get away from each other fast enough and that was the extent of my social dance experience before college.

In college, there was only freestyle and “slow dance” if you were popular enough for the boys to want to hold, which I was not.  I didn’t dance much until I was out of college and working as a crisis counselor at a battered women’s shelter.   There, I found a coworker who was also interested in partner dance but was saddled with a non-dancing boyfriend.  We decided to learn together, which is why I started learning both lead and follow right from the start.  We practiced together and traded off leading and following.

Unfortunately, in the early seventies in the bay area there was no social dance scene like there is today.  There was one remaining ballroom dance venue, Ali Baba’s, and disco clubs.  Ali Baba’s did not allow women to dance together (this was the 70’s remember?) so there really was no place for us to practice in public.  We tried our best.  Lori was tall and flat chested, so she tried dressing up in drag and accompanying me in a ball gown.  I did the talking, but the keeper of the door took one look at Lori’s pretty face and refused to sell us a ticket.

That left disco.  It would have made sense for us to just have learned disco partner dance, which would have solved the problem and would have been fun, but we wanted to be Ginger Rogers, so it never occurred to us.  We took what little ballroom dance we knew, adjusted it so it wouldn’t have to travel, styled it to fit a disco beat, and went to the clubs to practice.

To be continued…

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing When You’re Really Blind

blind dancer performing

A blind dancer featured in the film “We Also Dance”

 

Last week I wrote a post about dancing blind, but it really was about dancing temporarily blind.  This one is about dancers who are always blind.

I’ve written in the past about deaf dancers, dancers in wheel chairs, and dancers with other physical limitations.  I’ve never written about blind dancers but they’re out there!

Many years ago I taught self-defense classes at the Albany Orientation Center for the Blind.  The most striking thing I remember about my students was how varied they were in attitude.  One young woman had lost her sight less than a year before I met her and she was unstoppable.  She accepted her situation and with an upbeat attitude began learning as much as she could to improve the quality of her life.  Another who had been blind since birth had been coddled all of her life and was afraid of everything.

Any kind of dancing is possible if you can’t see.  It’s all about commitment and attitude.  As with sighted people, if you fall in love with it, you’ll practice enough to get good at it.

I’ve only taught dance to one blind person.  He was a large man married to a tiny woman with congestive heart disease.  She was frail, but could see.  He was strong, but couldn’t.  They were an unconventional couple who didn’t care if they looked odd to others, so were happy with my solution of having her learn the lead, and he the follow.

It is possible, however, for a blind leader to learn to lead.  It’s much easier if it’s a performance.  The floor can be mapped out and memorized.  The biggest challenge is sharing the floor with others.  Not everyone can handle this but some have managed to do it.

Mana Hashimoto’s dance troup, like the Axis Dance Company I featured in my post There’s More Than One Meaning for Chair Dancing!, is a mix of blind and sighted dancers.  In the documentary film We Also Dance, she explains how the dancers orient the floor without the use of sight.

Greg Kolichi, featured in the same film, dances Country Western.  He rises to the challenge of leading a partner dance while navigating the floor using his other senses.  If you are interested in this subject, check out the movie.  Here’s a taste!

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Dancing blind

blind-folded dancer

Dancing blind opens up all kinds of new insights

When my dance students are learning the skill of following, I often suggest they close their eyes.  Closing your eyes takes away a lot of the urge to back lead, and it brings forward the senses you use to feel the lead.

Even when social dancing, I often close my eyes because it’s relaxing and feels good.  Leaders, however, are in the driver’s seat, so they need to keep their eyes open. 

That’s why I was blown away by this video of a West Coast Swing performance with a blind-folded leader.  OK, this is a rehearsed routine, but it’s STILL pretty impressive even though I doubt they used the blind fold before they had mastered the choreography.

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Even though the lead is in charge, there is a certain degree of sensing what’s happening with your partner, especially with a jazz dance like West Coast Swing or Lindy.  Practicing with your eyes closed is a good exercise for leaders, too.  Just make sure you have plenty of room, and unless you have a LOT of room, not a good idea for you both to be blind-folded at the same time.

Dancer Rebecca Niziol talks about performing  blind when she lost a contact right before a performance.  Although she never would have done so on purpose, she was surprised to find out how tuned in she was and what came out of her when forced to rely on her other senses.  For the full article, see Dancing Blind Taught me to Be Present.

You may find yourself surprised at what you get in touch with when you can’t use your eyes.  Try it just for fun, and if you discover something interesting, let me know!

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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