Art, Percussion, and Dance

Music and dance go hand in hand, but sometimes the dance IS the music, or at least part of it.  The most obvious example of this is tap dance, where the dance creates the percussion.  Tap is the perfect blend of music and dance because the dance is part of the music.


Watch how this Latin Jazz combo works with the dancers as percussionists.

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There are, however, other examples where art and percussion and dance come together.  When I was in college I discovered for the first time an Appalachian dancing doll.  A friend and I were transfixed by the concept and bought the doll at a crafts fair.  We were art school students so we bought a blank one and painted it.  My friend moved away after graduation and we used to lovingly ship the doll back and forth like a child from a broken home.


In this video you can see how the doll is a musical instrument and a dancer at the same time:


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Don’t miss next week’s post on dancing marionettes!


by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Fusion Dance Part III: Swango!



swango dancers

Swango dance experts Lynne and Topher demonstrate their expertese

In my first article about fusion dance I wrote about hip hop and swing. In the second, I wrote about Lindy and Tap. This one is about Tango and Swing.

Unlike Tap and Hip Hop, which can be used to embellish or change the style of Swing, Swango is literally a combination on the two dances. You can use Tap or Hip Hop to play with your own styling without affecting your partner, but here both partners must be competent in both dances. The leader is moving from one dance to the other as the music moves him and hopefully makes the transitions seamless.

I’m using three videos here to illustrate what’s happening in this fusion. The first is an example of West Coast Swing. I’m using this because West Coast is the Swing style that is used in my Swango example. Here’s a bay area local favorite, Michelle Kinkaid, dancing with Jason Taylor:

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In this clip, a classic Argentine Tango is flawlessly performed. You can see why the follower has to know this dance in order to follow Swango.

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And finally, here’s a West Coast Swing version of Swango from Lynne and Topher who specialize in Swango in their Monterey studio. See if you can recognize the merging of these two beautiful dances in this example:

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Tango can also be fused with Lindy Hop as well as Blues, but no matter what, it’s extemely challenging because it combines a knowledge of the most difficult partner dance (Argentine Tango) with an equally proficient knowlede of another challenging partner dance.  Something to look forward to as you progress in your dancing!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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More Fusion Dance!

Jenny and Ryan

Jenny Thomas sans tap shoes dances with partner Ryan Francois

In my last post about fusion dance I wrote about hip hop and swing. A friend of mine just posted a video of a fusion between Swing and Tap, so I wanted to comment on that as well as on the Swango phenomenon that I’ll address in another post.

Lindy Hop has its roots in tap, so it’s surprising we don’t see more of this fusion, but it’s rarely done. Jenny Thomas is a professional dancer. She’s a British national tap dance champion and has performed Lindy Hop all over the world, including on Broadway, so it’s not surprising to see her take an interest in this combination. In this clip, she’s teaching a workshop in lindy/tap fusion, demonstrating the improvisational use of tap in freestyle Lindy.

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As a performance, Lindy can be choreographed but it is primarily a social dance with lead and follow. Tap is a performance dance that is not danced socially and is not a partner dance. Putting the two together can be done with a specific choreography or the dancers can improvise their lindy with tap variations.

Because Lindy is a jazz dance, there is free play built into it. The dancers use jazz variations of their own during a dance, so if they are tap dancers they can use tap variations instead. You can’t combine these two dances unless you are skilled in both of them, so it would be fun for tap dancers to use their tap knowledge to add creativity to their social lindy.

Unlike combining Tango with Swing (keep your eye out for future post on Swango) it is not necessary for both partners to know tap for this fusion to work. As with any jazz variation in Lindy Hop, each partner improvises in their own style, so it would work to have one using tap and the other just dancing. A lot of the jazz variations that Lindy Hoppers use regularly in their dancing have their origins in tap, so this is a natural progression for tap dancers who know Lindy already. I’ll bet this workshop was a huge delight for the students!

In this next clip a performance troupe is using the same concept so you can see how it could look in a performance. This is choreographed and rehearsed, not invented on the fly as in the first example. In order to do fusion, whether choreographed or improvised, you have to be skilled in both dance styles in order for it to look good or be fun to do.  Looks great, doesn’t it?  If you didn’t know it was unusual, you’d think the two dances were always combined!

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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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Who’s that Cow I’m Dancing With?



LaurieAnn with her pooka

“Before I met LaurieAnn, I had 4 left hooves!”

I met my dancing cow in a session with the fabulous hypnotherapist Christine Bartlett. I had just entered an airplane, stowed my luggage, and sat down. Sitting next to me was a six foot tall black and white Guernsey cow reading a newspaper. One of my father’s favorite movies being “Harvey” with Jimmy Stuart, I immediately recognized the cow as a pooka. Those of you who’ve seen the movie may recall Mr. Wilson (an attendant from the insane asylum) looking up the word in a dictionary and learning that a pooka is a mischievous Celtic animal spirit, “fond of rum pots, crack pots, and how are you Mr. Wilson?”

I was naturally quite honored to be befriended by a pooka, since they are reputed to be fond of pubs and I’m a total teetotaler. I’ve since learned that it is the rabbit pooka who likes to hang out in bars. Cow pookas, it seems, prefer dancers.

Christine suggested I have a formal portrait painted of me and The Old Cow Pooka, (as she introduced herself to me.) Christine also knew the movie and was referencing the famous scene in which Jimmy Stuart hangs a large oil painting of himself posing with Harvey (a six foot tall pink rabbit), and hangs it over the fire place. I called photo-shop maven Susan Lirov, presented her with a picture of me with one of my favorite dance partners, and asked her if she could turn Bill into a cow. Since pookas are invisible most of the time, this seemed like a good plan and The Old Cow Pooka was pleased with the result.

She doesn’t earn much from helping to advertise my business, so she accepted a gig for a milk commercial. She loves a challenge, so here she is in her challenge dance. Pretty impressive horns in her costume don’t you think?

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She also wanted you to know that, despite Susan’s otherwise excellent depiction of her, she does have a udder, so here she is again showing off her impressive tap dance skills. In her invisible guise, she swing dances with me, but she only shows up for tap.

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So if you want to attract a cow pooka, learn to dance. No guarantees (they have to like you, too) but well worth the effort to give it a try.  All pookas love fun loving people.  But even if you don’t meet a pooka, you’ll still have dance. You can’t go wrong!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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