Dance From the Center

I Love to Dance!

As you can read in David’s post, BridgeTown Swing 2005 was very memorable for us. The week before, I honestly had no idea if I would be able to dance at all. (My story explains my situation a little more.) I was pretty much bed ridden all of Labor Day Weekend until Wednesday. As we headed towards the airport I asked David if I was supposed to feel like my body has been through a whole dance event before even going. But I knew the weekend would be fun no matter what happened. I was looking forward to spending time with my brother, Jack, and other friends there, as well as seeing some great competitions. My energy started coming back so that by Friday, I was able to dance a few warm-ups before competing with David in the Strictly Swing competition.

Before competing, David, Jack, Marco, and I took Libbat’s workshop on competition mindset. She had us pick a partner to practice finding at least one thing we liked about dancing with them. Well, I picked my husband, and as we danced for that 30 seconds or so, it was as if a revelation came over me. Of course I knew I love dancing with David, but I hadn’t thought it through very much before. I found so many things I love about dancing with David: the way he leads with his center, the soft but secure feeling of his frame, his handsome face, and kind eyes, the way he does this one move that his head turns and his body follows with a cool and suave snap turn, and…well, I could go on and on. Anyways, this class really helped me to get away from the critiquing that I learned from judging certification classes. The technical things I learned from the judging classes were valuable to me to improve my dancing and to know what judges look for in a competition, but Libbat’s class reminded me of the joyful and social side of it too. I agree with her that all those technique and timing skills need to be worked on before, but the only thing we can really do in competition is focus on teamwork with your partner. I know that there was a difference in David’s and my competition after taking her class. It was full of enjoyment of each other and the dance, with peace rather than nervous jitters. Nothing mattered except just being there, being able to dance, and getting to dance with my husband. I was so happy!

Saturday, I took a Style for Follows workshop from Sharlot Bott. We had class discussion on what style is and I said that, to me, it is putting my personality into the dance, to move in ways that come more naturally to me. The point was brought up about dancers copying other people’s style looks like just that: copying someone else’s style. I agree, but then I wonder how you learn new stuff that you can own as your personal style? Sharlot said you can practice moving to music the way your body wants to, and to take risks at looking ridiculous. She mentioned Elaine on the show Steinfeld, I believe. I don’t watch much t.v., so I could be wrong about which show it is. She also mentioned Napoleon Dynamite, which I have seen and can relate to. Her point was to find your groove and develop it.

I have challenges with being able to repeat some of the stylistic things I’ve done on improv. They just fly out of nowhere, and then I don’t remember what I did. I found it interesting when Sharlot said she wished she didn’t always have to know what she does in dance so she can just enjoy it for the creative moment that it is, but as a teacher she has to figure out exactly what she did so she can repeat it. I want to pay more attention to what I’m doing so that I can do more of it on purpose; building up more material for further improvisation to be based on.

She talked through several techniques to work on such as settling our weight to send ourselves to different spaces with power and balance. She demonstrated body flight. We went over contra-body motion, walking like supermodels, and thinking of our shoulder blades sending a line down and across into the opposite back pocket of our pants. She covered the sending foot action helping us to dance “into the floor,” instead of up “above the floor.” I want to figure out how to stay grounded on the social dance floor when I find myself with a partner who dances “up”. I haven’t figured out how to not follow the same “up” feeling. Awareness of that fact is the first step, I guess. Practice is next.

Another element of style she covered is the free arm. She said to have it in “ready mode,” bent and in front, not back or down. But she showed us how to style it as well, so that it’s not just stiff and still in front, but doing some movement that looks nice and adds a lot to simple basic patterns.

Another thing she mentioned was how her husband hates it when follows play in the middle of patterns because he feels like he has to just stop and wait till she’s done while he does nothing. Trina mentioned a similar situation for us follows is when the guy gives us extra beats after we’ve settled into our anchor and are ready to move forward. (“Like a monkey on a string,” were her words as I recall.) Sharlot says it’s better to play around the anchor and to keep our creativity within the framework of the pattern. She often extends her play into beat 1 of the next pattern. I like how smooth of a transition it looks! Another strategy is to shorten our arm on beat 4 to allow ourselves more space to play into the anchor rather than be already at the end of our rope. But whatever we do with the anchor, even if it is a step forward, we are to keep the “away” feeling that says “I’m done and ready to move into the next pattern.” Anyways, the class was great, and I’ll have to get together with Trina and Trudy to go over some of the stuff she showed us so I can practice. I really like Sharlot’s style. There are some great and amazing dancers out there, but she is one of a few that I would say my body’s style of motion matches closer to. But even then, my body type is different than hers, and so I will naturally move differently.

Later on Saturday, I danced a few times with my friend, Darren, before competing in the Jack & Jill contest. We had such great connection and creativity! I told him that it didn’t matter to me what happened in the contest because I was so happy with our dances we just had. In prelims I got Michael Salvador, the dancer who I placed 1st with 2 years ago at Monster Mash, which had bumped me up to intermediate. My second partner was Josh. Both were fun dances, but I was unsure about making it to finals. There are some great follows in intermediate. But I made it to finals and happened to get Darren! I enjoy his foot work and style, and he’s great with eye contact and smiling. What a fun competition!

The DJs did a nice job. I think Mike Pyle chose great competition music, and Chris Jones and Terry West play some great stuff (aside from the “Mother F-er” song and the “Don’t you wish your girlfriend” song – great beat, but sad message that people can be so unfaithful to their partner.)

The pro competitions were nice. I appreciated the fact that they didn’t get distastefully raunchy. Tessa is so creative! I would have liked to have seen more of Wayne and Sharlot. I really enjoy Katie M’s dancing. Libbat is always fun to watch. And Leah DeForest shines! Wow! Mary Ann and Doug were very entertaining. She’s so little and cute, and then to have her doing aerials and stunts with Doug really got me cheering along with the crowd.

The results of the competitions, as David states in his entry, were an unexpected blessing. Getting to share the victory with such supportive friends is what made it even sweeter. But there were so many other parts of the weekend that made it so wonderful. I had such fun dances with David, Darren, Jack, Marco, Clark W., Justin, Josh, Paul, and Manny, to name a few. (I missed Tracy, Thuy, Arthur, Clark, and Tovah. Sandi, and Sonny, and some others too. Next time!) Val and I ended up sitting next to each other to watch many of the competitions and share a few comments. It was a nice compliment to have someone come up to Leah G. and me as we sat at the BridgeTown shoppe table and ask us if we are sisters. Jack and I had a nice brother-sister chat at 1 in the morning as I tried to wake him up to get him out dancing again. (Carrots are good, potato chips – bad. Going to bed at 5am – not so good for me either!) I loved watching Mary dance, as well as all my friends who got out there in the comps.

Out of the whole event, however, the thing I loved most was that David and I were able to be together a lot throughout the event. He was there for me, calming down my neck and shoulder muscles, and holding my hand through some rough moments. I may be biased, but I love dancing with him best of all.