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Another Dance Controversy: Hip Hop Crews on Trains

 

dancers hang from the rafters

Hip Hop crew Tylive makes creative use of the subway  props

The other day on BART, three young hip hop dancers looking like street thugs started dancing and passing a hat.  They weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either.  And they were doing something joyful that took skill and not a little hard work and practice, for the pleasure of onlookers.  For money, yes, but they exerted no pressure, and they obviously took pride in their achievement.  I put a buck in the hat, thanked them, and told them they made my day.  They beamed in appreciation of the compliment.  Other passengers enjoyed the performance as well.  How often do you get live entertainment on public transportation?

 

In this clip you can see real pros at the top of their game busking for a tough crowd: New York subway riders.  I’d have been thrilled to have gotten to see these guys, but even so, the first youtube comment calls them criminals and urges subway patrons to report them.  “These so called dancers are nothing more than criminal beggars!” he rants.

 

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Granted, not everyone likes Hip Hop, but to call these guys “so called dancers” bespeaks a serious shoulder chip.  Whatever your opinion of people busking on the subway, these dudes can DANCE.  It does make me wonder, though, why so much anger?  Yes, it’s illegal.  And if amateurs had a go at this level of gymnastics it would be downright dangerous, but these dancers were highly skilled and very much in control.  Would he have had the same reaction if a team of white Olympic gymnasts had taken to the racks of his subway car?

 

So what’s really going on here?  Hip Hop is an African American street dance.   It reflects a very specific culture.  Not just black, but ghetto black.  My last post about a dance controversy was about people’s reaction to fat dancers on stage.  When someone has a visceral, angry reaction to art, there is usually deep seated prejudice of some kind behind it.  Fat prejudice for Australia’s Nothing to Lose, racism in New York’s subway for the Tylive Crew.

 

It’s my vision statement to do my best to contribute to a world in which people break out into spontaneous dance in inappropriate places, so you know where I stand on this controversy.  But I also like to see people, including myself, take a look at the reactions we have to art and question the validity of what’s behind them.  After all, that’s part of the job of art, isn’t is?

 

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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Men Dancing in Heels

 

 

I’ve often heard it said that in their dance routines Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did except she did it backwards and in heels.  It’s a popular comment, except of course she didn’t lead and she didn’t choreograph the dance.  She did, however, dance in heels and had the bleeding feet to prove it.  Fred was an infamous task master with no sympathy for his partner’s disadvantage due to her tortuous footwear.  It’s no wonder they disliked each other.  Fred had no idea how hard it is to dance in heels.

Heels and Skates on the Dance Floor

 
Dancing in heels is not for sissies, except when it is.  You’d never catch Fred Astaire in heels, but there have been occasions where men have risen to the challenge.  I found this clip and don’t know the story behind it.  Kevin St. Laurent on skates and Mark Muthersbaugh in heels while swing dancing. Both of these guys are champion swing dancers and I have no idea why Mark is in heels at this event.  One of things I love about the swing community, though, is that in keeping with the Savoy tradition of mixed races, SF swing dancers mix gender identities.  

Integrated Dance Floors

 
The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem during the heyday of Lindy Hop was the only integrated ballroom in America.  Frankie Manning used to say all anyone cared about was “Can they dance?”  Mixed race couples don’t raise an eyebrow anymore, at least not in the bay area, but our version is straight guys dancing with gay guys.  All we care about is “Can they dance?”  The answer is obvious here.
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More Guys Dancing in Heels

And while we’re on the subject, here’s another delightful example of dancers hamming it up in heels.  These guys make it look natural.  They do Ginger proud!
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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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A Brilliant Use of Dance and Technology

dancers with light imagry

Dancers interacting with the light

Before I was a dancer, I was an artist.  When I was in art school, I took a trip to Hollywood to see the Art and Technology show.  Famous artists of the day like Claus Oldenburg and Andy Warhol teamed up with  tech companies like Hewlett Packard to create works of art that utilized the technology the companies had to offer.  It was a wonderful idea and a great show.

Now that I’m a dancer, I’m equally fascinated when dancers team up with technology to make creative use of media beyond the human body and music.  This is not a new concept, as evidenced by Gene Kelly’s partnership with Jerry the cartoon mouse in 1944’s Anchors Aweigh.  Here’s Jerry and Gene in their famous one time partnership:

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But what inspired me to write about it now is the Japanese troupe Enra. In a previous post, Can Inanimate Objects Dance? I showcased an artist who created dancing lights, but with out the human dancers.  In this brilliant work Enra uses animation to create collaboration between dancers and light.  It’s a flawless blending of two art forms, resulting in pure magic!

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If you want to know more about how this was done and see the video, check out this article in the Huffington Post.

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Dance Fusions-Blending Different Styles

Fusion in physics

Fusion in physics reminds of the same concept in dance

The term fusion is used to mean a mix of music as well as dance.  In this post I’m focusing on dance fusion.  By that I mean two different dances or dance styles fused into one dance.  This is a surprisingly controversial thing to do, given that it pretty much mostly happens with street dances which are open to interpretation anyway.  By street dance, I mean a dance that was made up by dancers in response to music that was new at the time.  Street dances evolve with the creativity of the dancers and are constantly changing, but they do retain something in all permutations that enable them to retain the integrity of that particular dance.  This is as opposed to a studio dance like Ballroom, which has very specific rules and never changes.

So why is it controversial?  Because people are afraid of the dance they love getting lost if it fuses with other dances.  Purists get upset if you name something and they don’t see what they consider the integrity of their dance surviving in that particular version.  Fusion shows up every so often in various swing dances.  Hip Hop is the most common culprit and it’s usually the hip hopper, not the swing dancers, who get upset.  This doesn’t really surprise me because what you see is a swing dance with hip hop styling, not the other way around.  If you dance that style of swing, it’s obvious that it’s still very much lindy, or west coast swing, styled for hip hop music.  The hip hop dancers don’t see enough hip hop to consider it legitimate so it’s not unusual to hear scoffing comments (“There’s no real  hip hop here!”  “Where’s the Hip Hop?  The baseball caps and baggy pants?”)  I have to admit, when I saw a hip hop troupe incorporating swing, I had a similar response.  There wasn’t much swing and what there was wasn’t very good.  It must be extremely challenging to do justice to two completely different dance styles in one performance.

In this clip two of the world’s top Lindy Hoppers, Max Pitruzzella and Thomas Blacharz, put some hip hop into their routine.  The result is a highly entertaining, absolutely stellar lindy performance, but hip hop dancers remain unimpressed.

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If you are not being distracted by the fear of your dance not being properly represented, you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy that charming little show.  I featured these guys in an earlier post about stealing in partner dance  with Annie Trudeau in case you want to see more of them.

Here’s an example of West Coast Swing infused with Hip Hop.  Similarly, the West Coast Swing is unmistakable, that hip hop just adds styling to the dance and fits it to the music.  Well, this WAS for a west coast swing competition, not a hip hop contest.

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So I suppose you want to know what I think of fusion dance?  Well, I do have a concern for the integrity of each dance.  I don’t want to see all dance styles melded together  so they all become the same, but I’m not really worried about that.  I remember attending a workshop with Frankie Manning, one of the original creators of the Lindy Hop who would be turning 100 if he were still alive.  Frankie taught the running man step in a Lindy class.  He learned it from his hip hopping granddaughter and thought it was a great move.  Street dancers are constantly stealing ideas from each other and from other dance styles. But when those moves are incorporated into a different dance, they become part of that dance.  And, frankly, when I see dancers this good I just appreciate their creativity and enjoy the show.  Life is too short to do battle with my fellow dancers.  There’s room for everything in the world of dance.

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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There’s More Than One Meaning for Chair Dancing!

AXIS dancers

AXIS Dance Company

As many of you know, I have had the pleasure of teaching people with various disabilities to dance, having come to dance from a martial arts background where I taught self defense to people with disabilities. I’ve never taught dance to anyone in a wheelchair, but it’s a fascinating challenge. Just like anyone else, a wheelchair bound dancer needs a level of commitment and practice to gain the skills to learn to dance.

The AXIS Dance Company combines able bodied dancers with dancers in chairs in choreographed routines that showcase the unique grace of a skillfully maneuvered chair. Their work is beautiful, inspiring, and creative. Here’s an example of the wonders of this remarkable company:

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AXIS is a modern dance performance company and performance dance is a very different art form than partner dance. There is a unique challenge to adapting leading and following skills to a dancer in a wheel chair, but it can be done. A modern dance performance like the one in the AXIS example is a choreographed routine. All of the dancers know their parts and memorize the routine before performing. In partner dance, the leader leads the moves and the follower does not know in advance what is going to happen at any given moment.

In this clip, the dancer is the chair is already an athlete, which gives him an edge in learning this difficult new skill.  As with any other ballroom dance performance routine, it combines partner dance with choreography that is done without lead/follow connection. Watch as he demonstrates and talks about the challenges he faced and what inspired him to learn:

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In this example, the follower is in the chair.  It’s choreographed, so, as with the previous example, there is a lot of non-partner dance here, but you can see that there is real lead-follow connection as well.  If you’re feeling impatient, the dancing starts at 1:45.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Inspirational Dancer Awes Us at 61!

 

Innovative dancer Maya Plisetskaya

The Great Dancer at age 86

Maya Plisetskaya is one of the most gifted dancers of all time, so if you had to pick one to beat the odds on longevity, you’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate.    She has had a huge influence on ballet with her unique style, charisma, and dramatic as well as technical genius.  The clip that inspired this post is of a performance at age 61.  Actually, the great dancer is a lot older than that now (88), but what’s really amazing about this clip is that she was performing ballet.  Ballet is the only dance form that trains the body to do that which is unnatural to it and for this reason classical dancers nearly always retire when they are in their thirties.  Dancing like this at 61 is like playing professional football at that age.  It’s not unusual to see tap dancers still hoofing it in their 80s, but ballet?  Teaching, creating choreography, running a ballet company, definitely, but a professional soloist with a world class company?  Unheard of!  And as you can see, at 61 you can’t tell she isn’t still a young dancer in her prime.  She actually retired as a soloist for the Bolshoi at the age of 65, but I couldn’t find any examples of her dancing at that age.  Anyone have a more recent clip than this one?  My thanks yet again to Rebecca Shannon for turning me on to this wonderful video:

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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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Effortless Dancing

Eleanor Powell dancing

Eleanor Powell’s effortless dance style shows even in a still shot

What is it about real masters that makes their dancing so irresistible to watch?  It’s not that they make it look easy.  It’s that they make it look effortless.  Some dancers have it and some don’t, but the difference is striking.  Ruby Keeler was a prolific movie star who made a ton of musicals in the 30s and 40s.  She tapped her way through them all, never losing her effortful, heavy footed style.  She was cute and had good chemistry with costar Dick Powell, but clearly was successful in spite of her dancing, not because of it.  Here she is demonstrating her famous lack of grace on the dance floor:

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Contrast this with Eleanor Powell, who was so good some of the best dancers of her time did not want to partner with her for fear she would show them up.  She was the epitome of effortlessness.  I love this clip of her dancing casually in her living room with her dog.  Button  is thoroughly enjoying himself with no ego issues while Eleanor drifts through the dance with amazing ease.  Watch how her dancing suddenly comes alive the moment the music starts.  There is no wasted energy in the way she moves.  Only the muscles she needs are being used while the rest of her is totally relaxed.  You don’t see any effort.  This kind of dancing is truly inspirational.

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I don’t work with professional dancers, so few of my students will every achieve anything close to this level of grace, but I will say this.  Most people get closer and closer to it simply by doing it a lot over the years.  The more you dance, the more your body figures out on its own how to conserve energy and move with less effort.  Learn to do it right first, then go dancing, and dance some more.  It never hurts to hold an inspirational dancer in mind and channel them when you dance!  Who is your favorite?  Pick someone who inspires you and imagine dancing like that and see if it doesn’t make a difference!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Using Aerials in Swing Dance

aerials in dance

Master Swing Dancers Natalie and Yuval do an air step

Whenever I get a new dance student, they often say “Swing, that’s the dance where they swing you up in the air, right?” The reason people equate air steps with swing dancing is because that’s what they see in the movies. Air steps are fun to watch, so any movie with swing dance scenes will show the dancers tossing their partners into the air. It’s not historically accurate, but it’s entertaining.

In fact, air steps are not social dance steps. They are performance and competition steps, not done on a social floor except in jams. Jams are a spontaneous phenomenon where dancers form a circle and one couple at a time shows off for a few bars of the music before being edged off by the next couple.

Aerials are fun, though, if you are young and able, and the mistake many beginners make is that of jumping into the fun stuff before really learning to dance. Air steps are flashy attention-getters and often get lots of impromptu oohs and ahhs from the crowd even when done badly. Experienced dancers, however, know the difference between bad dancers using aerials to cover up their lack of skill, and good dancers using them to enhance a performance.

In this clip, a couple is doing air steps pretty well while lacking the basic dance skills to go with them.

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The result reminds me of the time I went to a pool hall with a friend just for fun with no real experience shooting pool. The hall was filled with regulars and we didn’t exactly fit in so everyone noticed us. My very first shot was a perfect example of beginner’s luck. To my astonishment I made a very tricky shot that I wasn’t even trying for and everyone stopped to watch what I would do next. My next shot was, of course, commensurate with my skill level, and everyone nodded as if to say “Oh. Right.” and went back to their respective games. It was way more embarrassing than if I just just played the appropriately lousy game from the start. Doing a flashy aerial along with a poorly executed dance is like wearing a sign saying “Look at us!! We can’t dance!!”

Okay, this couple is really not that bad.  If they were I wouldn’t be able to find them on youtube.  They have good connection, can execute complicated moves safely and have good basic leading and following skills.  But aerials are performance steps and this is not a good performance.  They’re not using the music, none of their moves are timed to use the music in any way, and the air steps are better than the rest of the dance.  They are having fun, though, and that’s a very good thing.  You’ll get what I’m talking about when you see the next example.

In this clip, an advanced couple uses air steps to great advantage. Their dancing is amazing, the aerials pop at the right places, are timed perfectly with the music and show off their skills. To be fair, this couple is more than just “advanced”.  They are champions, and this is about as good as it gets.[embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/11ogA0g” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/krmNVAj7usc?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=krmNVAj7usc&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep6923″ /]

Of course dancing is all about fun and if you’re having a good time, who cares? But since air steps are rude, not to mention dangerous, to do on a social floor, when are you going to use them except in front of others to show off what you can do?  You might want to consider honing your dance skills before adding flash to show off your lack of them.  You don’t have to be as good as Natalie and Yuval (few people are) to use aerials in your routine, but I would recommend taking as much care with the rest of the dance as you do with the air steps, making sure your  air steps make sense with the music, and having a dance your can be proud of even if you left the aerials out of it.

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Wedding Dances: Too Many Choices!

Your first dance, your father/daughter dance, a mother/son dance.  Which ones should we do?  In what order do we do them?

“What is the proper tradition?” is a question I often hear about all of this. Lucky for you, the answer is that none of this is really traditional at all. The original tradition (I know this because I read Miss Manners) is simply for the couple to open the dance floor because it’s rude to start dancing before they do.

 

A dance performance is a relatively new concept, so you really can put it together any way you like. If your parents love the idea of a father/daughter/mother/son dance, then by all means, do it. If they are mortified by the idea, either spare them or put their dance at the end, have them dance for a few merciful seconds, then have the DJ invite the crowd to join them.

 

The one thing I do suggest is unless you and your parents are dancers or are taking lessons, don’t subject your audience (and yourselves) to an interminable dance after dance after dance of rocking slowly back and forth until the song ends. The bridal couple can always make a dance shorter by telling the DJ (or band) to fade out the music when they see you dip. A dramatic dip, by the way, is a must for ending any first dance. If your materiel is small, the dip is what they remember and it gives the impression of a fabulous dance.

 

You have options for how you organize these dances too. If your parents are dancers, let them show off with as long a dance as they want and let them have the floor to themselves in each dance. If the opposite is true, you can have the father/daughter and mother/son at the same time. If you’ve picked special music, of course, then this option won’t work. The point is, it’s up to you. There is no tradition. Keep in mind that this is a day of joy and celebration. You are honoring your parents in your dances with them, so consider their feelings first.

 

It’s your wedding and your day. As long as you treat everyone involved with love and respect, remember why you’re there, and keep a spirit of fun in your hearts, you can’t go wrong!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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