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Do Animals Have Rhythm? Another Look at Musical Animals

a pianist plays for elephants

Elephants enjoy a Beethoven concert

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I’ve written on this subject before, the answer being that some animals really do dance in response to music (birds) and others are simply trained to go through the motions (dogs).

Whenever I see a new example of musical intelligence in an animal, I’m inspired to take up the subject again.

 

Elephants are remarkably sensitive and intelligent animals with an enormous capacity for long term loving and committed relationships.  They are also playful and enjoy music.

 

In one clip an elephant dances without music and in another, another elephant plays music without dancing. In this first video, the question arises “what exactly is the definition of dance?”  I usually define dance as making a musical instrument out of your body and jamming with the band, but I also see dance as a physical expression of emotion.  People can burst into spontaneous dances of joy when there is no music at hand simply because the joy is so powerful it bursts out of them. Sometimes there is a fine line between joyful play and dance.  Do you think this elephant is dancing?

[embedplusvideo height=”390″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/2f5kTGD” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/LV8tBVglpUo?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=LV8tBVglpUo&width=640&height=390&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep9981″ /]

In this next video, Peter the elephant is entranced with the music being played by his human friend and is eager to try it himself.  He is clearly not only enjoying the music but fascinated by the making of music, much like a human child with a natural musical talent.  Watch him carefully work on the nuance of getting a gentler tone out of the piano.

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Do you doubt that this animal has rhythm?

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing With Myself

 

me, dancing alone

Enjoying my own company on the dance floor

I’m a great fan of partner dance and for me the fun is in the connection with the other person.  But there is something to be said for dancing alone.

Dance as meditation

For people who are resistant to sitting still and being present, solo dancing can be the easiest form of meditation.  The Whirling Dervishes use it as meditation, and in a less formal way anyone can lose themselves in movement to music to calm and center themselves.

 

Solo but social

Of course, it can be social as well.  Even though you don’t touch your partner, you can engage with each other in other ways.  You can follow each other’s movements, try out each others steps, play off of your partner’s styling.  Doing this is much more fun than just standing in front of another person on the dance floor and basically ignoring them.

As is so often the case, the case for solo dancing is perfectly expressed by the muppets!  With irresistible enthusiasm, Gonzo makes a case for the best partner of all time: himself!

[embedplusvideo height=”509″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1EgoLLO” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/b-VPgyMAfM4?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=b-VPgyMAfM4&width=640&height=509&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep9038″ /]

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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My Favorite Students, Part 1

I’m not going to talk about specific students in this post, but rather the kind of people I most like to work with, and why.  In other words, as marketing people like to say, my target market.

I like to work with people who think they can’t learn to dance.  This isn’t everyone, of course.  I do have students who come to me without the baggage just because they heard I’m a good teacher and they want to learn to dance, but the majority have some kind of issue to get over.

Sometimes they are people who have always wanted to dance and have finally reached a point in their lives when they are willing to take on this huge challenge.  They’ve been attracted to, and terrified of, this enticing activity for as long as they can remember and here they are, giving themselves up to someone who does FOR A LIVING this thing at which they feel totally incompetent.  Could anyone possibly be more vulnerable?

They often begin by assuring me of how competent they are at whatever they are good at, least I mistake their ineptitude at dance for general stupidity.  If, as is remarkably often the case, what they are good at is technology, it gives me a perfect opportunity to put them at ease because how they feel about dance is how I feel about what comes so easily to them.  I still have phones that don’t do anything except make phone calls as you would know if you’ve ever tried to text me.

Dancing has always come easily to me but that doesn’t mean I can’t relate to my student’s experience.  I studied Jujitsu for eleven years and not only did I totally suck at it, but I still couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag.  We’ve all got things we naturally do well and things that make us cross eyed.  I love seeing people take on the challenging stuff and truly feel honored that they trust me to guide them through it.

Because I specialize in teaching people who are dance phobic, the one thing a lot of my students have in common is a conviction that they are terrible dancers and will be difficult if not impossible to teach.  “I’ll bet I’m the worst student you’ve ever taught,” I hear from almost everyone except the worst students I’ve ever taught.

So why do so many people self identify as hopeless dancers?  Many of them are not only not hopeless, but are perfectly normal.  Sometimes people think they can’t dance simply because nobody ever taught them.

So when they tried, of course they failed miserably and were mortified.   They assumed the problem was not their lack of education but that something was just wrong with them.  They just can’t dance.

There is a popular myth about leading and following in dance.  The assumption is that it is natural for men to lead and women to follow and that they should just kinda know already how to do it without any instruction.  The truth, of course, is that not only is it a skill like any other, but it is not even gender specific. In fact most people are naturally inclined toward leading or following and you have about a 50 50 chance of falling into the category that society has assigned to your gender, not unlike the rest of life. You may remember a past post or two about that.

OK, so how about the people whose self image is on the money, the ones  who really DO have a tough time learning to dance?  Well, they fall into all kinds of categories.

Some of them have difficulty finding the beat, and I’ve devoted entire posts to that in the past.  But most of the people who have the most challenging time have a kind of physical dyslexia, and I encounter this phenomenon all the time.  It’s as if they understand how to follow the instruction, but by the time it gets to their feet, it gets twisted into something different.  They do get it eventually through perseverance, but it takes dedication and a lot of practice.  And a very patient teacher of course.

I once had a student who took a month of dedicated practice to learn the box step, something my average student can learn in about 10 minutes and a quick student can learn in about one minute.  Next week I’ll talk about some other reasons people might fall into the category of my target market.  Stay tuned!

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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Dancing and Sports

Red Sox celebrate a home run

Boston Red Sox and fans dance for joy in celebration

What do sports events have to do with dancing?  My friends know I don’t relate to sports at all, so they’ll be amused by this topic, but a wonderful video that’s showing up on social media got me to thinking.  Here’s the video of spontaneous celebratory dancing at a Detroit Pistons game:

[embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1cKxoPS” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/JgPrQZ499nI?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=JgPrQZ499nI&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7859″ /]

I’m not a total ignoramus when it comes to sports,( although it is true that I don’t know if the Pistons play baseball, football, or basketball.)  I actually attended a baseball game with my sister and brother in law earlier this year in DC and my sister informed me that I also attended one in early childhood, so I’ve been to a ballgame twice so far.  I trust her (she’s two years older) even though I have no memory of that first game.

So here’s the connection:  Sports events are the one part of American tradition where it’s permissible, even expected, to celebrate loudly and physically and with a strong sense of community.  People jump up and down and yell and hug each other.  I was in San Francisco when the Giants won the World Series, (which spell check informs me is Capitalized), and strangers were hugging one another in the streets.

In situations like this, pure, unadulterated joy is expressed.   Physical joy is naturally expressed through dance.  In this video, there is music and there is joy with a spirit of celebration, and that translates into spontaneous dance for a lot of people.

I was really looking forward to that part of the experience when I attended the game with my family, but the DC team chose that particular game to get royally trashed by the visiting LA Dodgers.  It is not permissible to dance with spontaneous joy when your team loses by a mile.  When in the company of my brother in law, the Nationals are your team.  And why not?  I have no loyalty to LA.  I thought the Dodgers were from Brooklyn.

This is a truly great thing about the great American pastime.  My vision is for a world where every celebration is gloriously expressed with a dance of joy.  If you missed it, this subject is covered without the sports angle in my recent post Celebrating your Dance Victories.  Now go out and celebrate, any way you can!

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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Another Incarnation of my Vision Statement

 

musical in a mall

Singing and Dancing in a mall, Improv Everywhere does it again!

If you’ve been to my home page, you know that I have a dance vision of the future that has people dancing spontaneously in public places. Every once in awhile I see people embodying this idea in their own unique and creative way. Few people have more fun with the concept than the wonderful Improv Everywhere. Not spontaneous exactly, as it’s obviously well rehearsed, but these little mall musicals embrace the idea of surprising people in ordinary situations by breaking into song and dance as if life is a musical. I love these guys. Here’s one on my favorites: [embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/13howf2″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/3c_mPevNk8E?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=3c_mPevNk8E&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep4290″ /]

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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What Constitutes Bad Dancing?

Elaine from Seinfeild

The Famous Elaine Dance: Epitome of Bad Dancing

I teach a lot of freestyle dance because it’s the one kind of dancing you need as a basic social skill.  It will never go out of fashion because it requires no skill except the very rare and useful attribute of not caring what other people think of the way you dance.  The people who come to me are worried that they’ll embarrass themselves on the dance floor.  Sometimes all they need is my professional opinion after watching them dance.  “Yep.  That’s dancing.  That’ll be $100.”

The truth is that the vast majority of freestyle dancers are doing some very basic repetitive move that expresses what they feel in the music and doesn’t look stupid.  Freestyle dance in its most common form is very much like moving in your seat to the beat at a concert, only standing up. So what is bad dancing?  In this classic clip from Seinfeld of the famous Elaine dance episode, everyone agrees that she is dancing badly enough to be an object of ridicule. [embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/12pOzQZ” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/5xi4O1yi6b0?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=5xi4O1yi6b0&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8517″ /] So what is it about her dance that is so bad?  She’s on beat and she’s even expressing the basic feel of the music.  What’s funny is that she’s totally lacking in grace.  Her movements are jerky and over the top.  Basically, if you’re going to dance in a way that calls attention to yourself you want to be really good.  Otherwise, you’ll be the opposite.

In this clip of the dance scene from Hitch, the dancing is comical because it’s so over the top.  [embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/12pOT1Y” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/2bH0OXsmsbQ?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=2bH0OXsmsbQ&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep1908″ /]Same idea, though.  Very attention attracting and even though you have to be a dancer to pull this off (see Dancers Make the Best Pratfalls), one crazy step after another lacks finesse and is just too much.  Ironically, the way Hitch is trying to teach his client to dance (made to look very boring in the film) is very much what I teach students who want to blend into the crowd and not call attention to themselves.  The character who is dancing in the Hitch scene has no self-consciousness. He’s having fun.  His partner is having fun.  I wouldn’t touch it.  Fun is what freestyle dance is all about.  It’s not a performance. And it’s not my job to judge it (unless they ask me to!)        

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Cats in the Dance Studio: Pros and Cons

Fred and Ginger as kittens

Fred and Ginger, Dance Studio cats

Taking a tip from one of my favorite columnists, Jon Carroll, Warning!  The following is a cat article.  Non cat people may want to skip this one.

 

Cats are great role models.  They embody effortless grace.  They never suffer from self-consciousness.  They are never put out for long when someone refuses a dance with them.  They naturally assume it was a onetime fluke.  They always give you a second chance.

 

My cats, Fred and Ginger, grew up in a dance studio and are a great asset when my students are cat people and not so popular when they’re not.  Ginger, being a cat, assumes that anyone who comes into the studio is there to visit her.  She gets highly insulted when she is ignored, particularly when I’m working with a couple.  After all, there is an extra person.  Why aren’t they petting her?  This attitude is reinforced by the fact that they usually are.

 

Unlike Fred and Ginger, my first cats, Uki and Tori, were shoulder snugglers.  Tori would hang out on the shoulder of whoever wasn’t dancing, happy to be transferred from one dancer to another throughout the lesson.  I had students who couldn’t bring themselves to stop coming because they had fallen in love with my cats.  A definite asset.

 

Since both cats are content to be locked in the bedroom as long as they are together, there is no problem with students who don’t care for cats.  The only downside is the occasional student with a serious allergy.  This was a rare problem for most of my career, but it is getting to be more common.  Places of business with live in cats boast a unique charm, but the allergy thing is a definite liability.  The only circumstance in which I’ll travel to a student’s home with no extra charge is when an allergy prevents them from coming to me.  If they’re not more than 20 minutes away and I want to work with them, I’ll go to them.  After all, it’s not their fault my studio is home to animals.  Most studios are not.

 

Ginger practices a dance move.

Ginger practices a dance move.

Without a doubt, the most common reaction on being greeted in the studio by Ginger is one of sheer delight.  Ginger is a real charmer and helps put nervous new students at ease the moment they enter the door.  Not everyone loves cats, but the vast majority does seem to appreciate Ginger.  Over all, the charm of animals in studio adds a positive element that far outweighs the negative.  What do you think?

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing for Joy!

 

I love everything about this wonderful video, but the part I want to comment on is that this is a true example of that all too rare thing: dancing for sheer joy. This young man follows his heart in every moment. He dances because he’s in love with life. Spontaneous, joyful, and completely unselfconscious. It is my vision that the rest of the world learn to dance like this!

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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