Westify LogoWest Coast Swing dancing every Saturday night. We'll be spinning dance tunes from a variety of genres including Blues, R&B, Hip-Hop, etc. Lessons at 8PM. Dancing 9-12. Westify is currently looking for a permanent location. Always check the location before coming.
Bug's Question of the Day Print E-mail
You, John William Holland and Todd Horne like this.

Bug's Question of the Day
This has come up a lot where I live. Thoughts?

Thaddaeus W. Morelock
i think that is contextual. where is one learning? where is one living? and what is ones goal?

Tom DeGroh
It is important. It is frustrating when I see dancing that ignore all the basics and then goes crazy with "creativity".

Bug's Question of the Day
like... fusion? (jokes)

Chris Cooney
I like messing around, but it's important to make sure you're still doing the dance you claim to be doing.

Vaughan Murray
You have to learn what the rules are before you can bend them in any meaningful way.

You know, if you're going to cheat at poker, you have to know what is supposed to happen normally in a poker game. If you're going to cheat at dancing, you have to know what normally happens in this dance.

John William Holland
How do u teach novices? Isnt there some standard, some definite basics one has to learn? That there isnt seems strange to me

Chris Cooney
frame, connection, and basic beats work for me. From there, add in how to properly lead a given move and ways of combining individual movements.

Bug's Question of the Day
what about posture, pulse, basic footwork, etc? there's more to dancing than frame and connection. Also, what I'd like to see taught is basic musical structure. That is standard! seriously... it's called music theory for a reason. There should be a standard "dance theory" similar to music theory. Even modern dance has basic technique.

Vaughan Murray
Yeah, barely anyone gets music basics or theory anymore. It bothers me when I see someone so obviously never dancing on or with the beat of a song.

Chris Cooney
that's what I mean with basic beats - lindy goes RS-3step-step-step-3step most of the time, for instance. Agreed on the theory. Until a month ago, I assumed a lindy basic was 1 bar long. Seems it's 2 instead, but nobody ever thought to mention it.

Erica D Black
I think we need diversity to keep new things coming. But in class the main things I try to work on is having connection so you are actually dancing WITH someone not just holding their hand.
I find to often that we teach the steps and not the reasons to dance. Many newer students I see understand dance like set patterns. You do a basic then a variation maybe something else ohh back to basic. They don't know how to dance but not how to REALLY dance.

Damon Stone
What should be taught in Blues (to everyone all the time)
1. Posture
2. Physical Connection
3. Pulse/Rhythm/Floor Interaction/Footwork (first introduction to musicality)
4. Partner Dynamic (second exposure to musicality)

A beginner class should pretty much just focus on this things (the teaching of moves is something I whole heartedly support, but as the means by which to teach and improve these things).

Intermediate classes should clean these up, teach greater vocabulary to the leaders and focus on the followers being able to maintain these four technical elements that create the blues aesthetic while being lead in new moves (and the incidental variations that occur when the leader makes a mistake), and teach some musical theory (they should have learned how to distinguish specific elements like the rhythm, pushing and pulling of beats, rhythmic tension, stacatto and legato, and how to hear a break in beginning classes).

Advanced classes should be about exploring how flexible the rules really are. I'm always amused when I hear certain teaches lauding the benefits of fusion being free and flexible to blues dancers... because you won't find a social dance form more flexible or adaptable to ones personal style. Invariably the teacher is not an advanced dancer themselves and never got far enough in Blues to see past the basic structure. Certainly not true of every teacher of Fusion, but there are some teachers intimately associated with it who just don't know what they don't know.

Master classes of course are identical to beginning classes, with even more detail and much MUCH higher expectations.

Amanda Lorenz
I think the hardest part is determining what someone is ready for... some need more work on posture first before they're able to sustain a good physical connection, and connection is a pre-req for partner dynamic, etc... i think the question should include, what are the different types of 'learners' out there and how could be best approach them? I'm taking ballet classes from an extroardinary teacher and she has two classes... one designed for the learned who wants to know the why's and technicality first, and one for those who learn best by moving first and understanding later. Technique to the beginner social dancer can be pretty unapproachable if someone's not ready for it... I think in the end, everybody receives a similar overall experience of dance, but the sequence of learning depends on what their ready for... lol, so I guess my questions how is what's the best way to open up someone's mind/body to be responsive and ready to handle knowing how much they don't know?

Broc Brockway
In any arts genre, outstanding artists perform the basics flawlessly! There must be a core, a base... to create a foundation upon which the advanced performer builds.

If I am designing the lighting for a modern dance troupe, I must understand color theory, additive and subtractive lighting... I must understand how to light the body in 3-D. I must know my equipment and how to use it to make the body "come alive."

Then, I can start to be creative.

Fundamentals, techniques -- first!

Then, let me show you what I can do to make all your fundies and techniques and creativity really "shine!" [Of course, pun intended!]

What would SYTYCD finals be without my world of stage lighting?

Joy Arico
This is a very good question!!! I think Diversity is good!!!! As a rule, when picking teachers for BluesBlaze we look for this. We know Steven and Virginie are very Holistic, Damon and Heidi are solid instructors of Theory and Aestetic but also Holistic...so in picking the other teaching couples..we are seeking a more Technical perspective.

People learn differently and are coming into any dance with different anatomical, and experiential strengths already. They will all progress at different rates, but I feel some will learn better if the usual order of basic instruction is changed to accommodate their strengths.

For example, I walk into a room of 5 Blues students. 3 of them have been doing West Coast Swing for years and 2 of them are lindy hoppers. I always start with Pulse but with this mix I may pick different songs to see what they pulse to already. WCS dancers have a beautiful very internalized base pulse that I can tap into and help them exaggerate to find a grounded downwards blue pulse. So for them I put on a blues tune that swings. Pulse with them til they can see the difference and they get it.

Lindyhoppers have an overly exaggerated upward pulse that is actually harder to redirect. As a rule I will play a song that is not Blues or Swing. Probably hip Hop to draw out their natural response to the song. Chances are high they will do the pulse I am looking for and not bounce with resilience from the ankles.

Then I challenge all to maintain that pulse throughout everything else we do. Sorry long example..but point was made.

All students are different and require a different focus. It is not bad to skip teaching frame all together, or anything beyond where to touch each other in connection, footwork. ect. It really has to do with the amount of time you have to teach; and the main goal of a specific lesson. (personal note..I do not teach frame..Barbie Arms are the Devil!)

If my goal is that all students walk out of my drop in lesson able to connect enough to dance all night long, then I need to cover everything briefly. If my goal is to improve all attendees connection skills, then we focus on that only. It depends on the end goal, and what the advertised focus of the lesson is.

Damon Stone
Frame really isn't about the arms though, that is really more carriage. Frame is what controls the transfer of momentum from one partners body to the others in a smooth manner, so it is really about the muscles that are in the torso that control the rotation and height of the arm.

I teach frame from the beginning... but I may never mention frame in a beginning class. Just like I teach body leads but almost never talk about someone's "center" in a beginning class... it is just another thing for beginners to stress about. Teach it in context of what you want them to accomplish and bam, results.

Damon Stone
I think that if one is teaching a specific dance or dance genre that the basics, the fundamental skills be consistent from teacher to teacher. I don't think that means they need to be taught in the same way. The idea of someone teaching "lindy hop" but not teaching how to lead without yanking on the followers arms, or without anticipating the lead and the follower doing the moves on her own is ridiculous.

Sad that there are some people who do it though, and Blues is about ten times worse. The very idea of a syllabus for teaching blues with moves and skills designed to create a vocabulary for beginners to use and and aesthetic for them to achieve causes arguments and the throwing of the words "elitist" around. *sigh*

Amanda Lorenz
Damon, can you explain more how it's "the torso that controls the rotation and height of the arm"?

Jason Baggett
my answer is no. I've got a whacked out view and I end up contradicting much of what is taught by many teachers. I tell them to do things that their other teachers tell them to never do. at the same time, I also tell them to avoid things that their other teachers tell them are vital.

maybe I'm a pain in the ass to the other teachers, but I think the students are better off.

not saying the more conventional teachings are bad. they work, but so do mine.

Damon Stone
Contradiction is not a badge of honor. IF you are producing students who have trouble dancing with the vast majority of people out there you may be doing your students a disservice.

There is a difference between being unconventional in how you teach something and being contradictory in what you are teaching. I've never seen you teach so I'm not commenting on anything other than this particular post. I would hope you have a unique perspective but what skills, aesthetic, and techniques are getting taught are the same... otherwise I'm not sure how you could claim to be teaching the same dance... unless of course you are saying that others are not teaching the same dance, but something totally different.

Jason Baggett
my teaching does contradict much of what many other teachers say, but it is not my goal to contradict. I'm not out to prove everyone else wrong, though I recognize that it can be seen that way.

my students tend to excel in dancing with a wide variety of partners, even those who my teaching contradicts. the differences in my teaching do not result in difficulty on the social floor, only in the class.

For example, another teacher might really enjoy social dancing with a student of mine but become confused when conversation about mechanics and technique come up. Even more so if he tries to explain to his students how it's possible for my student to excel without following his "rules" for the dance.

and it's not just a matter of perspective. the approach is different, but the technique taught is also very different. It IS the same dance, but it is NOT the same technique.

Jason Baggett
that's not to knock other teachers. Many of my favorite dancers have very a very different technique from what I teach and do, and also different from each other. I don't believe there is a single "correct" technique. Justin Zillman has a very different technique than David Dalmo. Neither is "correct".

Damon Stone
Enjoying social dancing with someone has little to nothing to do with whether someone is doing the same dance or doing a particular dance correctly. There are a lot of westies who can dance with blues dancers or lindy hoppers (doesn't matter who is leading or following) and enjoy the dance... the doesn't mean that they are dancing with proper technique for the other dance.

"It IS the same dance, but it is NOT the same technique."

We probably don't agree on what technique is in regards to dancing. If you teach flexed foot, no spotting dropping in your movements and slouched shoulders you are not teaching ballet. If you are triple steps, bouncing and hijacking you are not teaching Viennese Waltz.

Technique is good or bad in a dance, but completely different technique leads to a different aesthetic which leads to a different dance.

Damon Stone
Justin and David don't have very different technique. They teach very different styles or flavors of the same dance. The differences are in the emphasis and range of a technique. One likes more leveraged tension and stronger compression and the other likes almost none at all, but the way they generate whatever amount they do use is the same... unless one or the other has changed since I last saw them teach.

Jason Baggett
haha! this is the second time recently the definition of "technique" has caused confusion between the two of us.

re: justin and david
I think the technique is significantly different, but until we can define that word it's pointless to go further.
BUT, I think you're talking about the difference between the technique itself and the application of the technique. If that is the case, then we may have found some common ground.

Perhaps a specific example would help.
(obviously difficult to do in words alone, so I'll pick a simple one)

many teachers teach a basic position to hold your body in, that it is necessary for the mechanics of the dance.
I teach to stand in whatever posture or position is most comfortable and relaxed for where you are and what you are doing in the moment. At some points, you may be very low and at others almost completely upright. it all depends on the dynamics of what is happening.

now, it's true that many of these teachers agree with me on this specific issue and that they only teach the way they do because they don't feel the students are not quite ready and need that crutch.

BUT, many times it's not the case. for example, frame and the shoulder back connection.
this is an area where I'll often disagree with other teachers and it's NOT an issue of using a crutch or not.
This specific point is harder to explain by typing. If you like I can give it a try.

The point is, to watch them dance, or dance with them, you'd say "that's lindy hop" even though the "technique" (by my definition) is very very different.

Damon Stone
I'd have to hear the back connection thing.

Regarding blues posture it is one of relative points not a definitive pose (as it was taught to me). Weight on the forward part of the foot, knees bent, shoulders forward, hips back... the pose a healthy human body defaults to during athletic spontaneous movement (which is a good way to roughly describe blues dancing). I can have this posture and be in a very low position relative to the ground or I can be almost standing upright (but the points mentioned earlier are still in general alignment with the hips out of that line).

There are exceptions to every rule, if I am going to dip my partner I'm going to change those points because I am no longer moving or weight shifting I am attempting for a stable and static pose where I am basing for another person.

Jason Baggett
so when it was taught to you, perhaps the teacher would agree with your current views but at the time felt it necessary to "simplify" it for you to be able to learn and progress from where you were at the time?

as for the posture you describe, I'm pretty sure I'd agree with you. It's hard to communicate these things clearly with only words on a page.

re: the arm/shoulder/back thing. 

from what I've read previously, I think our concepts of "frame" might be similar. For example, neither of us is a fan of "barbie arms".

let's start from the stretch at the end of a swing out. many of my students carry the tension of that stretch in their arms. some of the better ones have learned to relax their arms and they hold the tension in their shoulder/back. I teach to let that tension go through their whole body all the way to the floor, not stopping it at the elbow, shoulder, spine, hips, ect...

this involves letting the whole body become relaxed while doing something involving a lot of energy and momentum. I tell them to use their arm as though it was a rope. It can hold a whole lot of weight, but it does it with out tensing any muscles. their arm is allowed to completely extend and their SHOULDER is also allowed to completely extend. THAT is the point where I have found very few experienced dancers willing to question the "rule" that you have to keep your shoulder locked into your back and not "let it go".

Then they show examples of how tragic it can be if you "let your shoulder go". I agree that all of the worst case scenarios they describe may be likely IF you are stopping all the energy/momentum at the shoulder while letting it out. BUT, if you allow the energy/momentum/tension to continue to pass through your body all the way to the floor, then there is no impact or stress on the shoulder even when it's extended as far out as possible.

If the song is faster, then I still don't tense my shoulder to protect it. Instead, I allow my lower body to bend more. As a result, I end up dancing lower and lower the faster the song gets, but I'm still letting my arm and shoulder stay completely relaxed, like rope.

Lindy Hoppers tend to use their legs very little and rely on their upper body strength a whole lot. It works, but with that technique it is necessary to protect the shoulder.

The way I see it, your legs are always going to be stronger than your arms. So I try to use my arms as little as possible and rely mostly on my legs and torso. With this technique, I am able to completely relax my arm and shoulder when stretching. It feels great and, in my opinion, looks great. You are able to dance longer and extend farther while using LESS energy.

As for the effect on the lead/follow communication, it is fantastic. you feel the energy in your partner going though her hand, arm, shoulder, torso, hips, legs, feet, then into the floor. I find I'm able to experience my partner so much more with this full body experience than when I'm dancing with someone who is protecting their shoulder.

Jason Baggett
wow, that took a lot of words to explain and I'm still not sure how clear I was. It's so much easier to show in person...

Damon Stone
I think I know what you are talking about but from a biomechanical place I disagree. There is a relative amount of engagement that should be happening all the way through the body from the fingers to the toes, and if you are dancing with a *completely* relaxed (as in disengaged) shoulder then the only connection happening from the arm to torso is unprotected connective tissue and that is not natural (as in instinctive) nor anatomically sound. It relies too much on the expertise of both dancers not to make an error that falls outside of a specific range, a range which beginners and beginner intermediate dancers will not be able to stay within at all times.

To me it is the dance equivalent of Aikido, that is to say, philosophically is ideal, is based on the laws of motion, and once mastered undeniably the beneficial... and results in nearly everyone who is not a master to be unable to adequately defend themselves in an real world violent altercation. My personal philosophy is that one should learn a relative direct and violent combative science long enough to gain basic self defense competency before studying Aikido.

I teach my students how to relax their body and engage the muscles from the fingers through the toes at varying levels to protect themselves when moves go awry, but understanding that it is ideal to, at some point, achieve complete relaxation and take the momentum transfer into the body through the entire body.

Jason Baggett
I agree that "There is a relative amount of engagement that should be happening all the way through the body from the fingers to the toes". Without that, we'd just be rolling around on the ground. It's just a question of how much and where. In my approach, it is MUCH less in the shoulder and much MORE in the lower body. as for being "disengaged", I think I disagree. It's not only unprotected connective tissue. your arm doesn't stop at the shoulder. It connects to your body at the sternum where there is another whole joint that doesn't get used when your shoulder is "engaged" to your back. If you allow that joint to move freely, then there is no impact on the shoulder and the energy can continue through your body as far as you allow it till it reaches the floor.
As for what feels natural? I've found that it has more to do with experience than with what actually works best for your physical body. Students who start with me generally have a easy time learning this technique and it feels pretty natural to them, while students who have learned other techniques generally have a hard time because it feels "unnatural". It seems as though sometimes "unnatural" is actually just "unfamiliar".
(I haven't reviewed my anatomical terms for this in a while. If you want to get further into this I'll have to do some review.)

It sounds like we might have some level of agreement on the ideal, but you feel it's impractical for newer dancers.

It does require the expertise of both dancers to be perfectly executed. Only a handful of my students reach this level of expertise, but I from what I see in most of them compared to others with comparable experience it's been beneficial to them. They stand out and become more popular social dancers. I'll admit to some personal pride in this when I'm proven right by the results with nearly everyone telling me I'm wrong.
Granted, they rarely execute the ideal perfectly, but in striving for it they are able to feel the difference and find their own balance. That balance tends to be MUCH more relaxed than many of the "advanced" dancers. That difference is most often seen and/or felt in the shoulder and legs.

There's also a level of common sense. I don't dance this way with everybody. Actually, I only commit to the "ideal" with a handful of partners. Most often it's complete beginners or "advanced" dancers who think they've got it all figured out who you have to watch out for. There are many many partners who I don't do this with who I thoroughly enjoy dancing with. When teaching this technique, I tell them first and foremost, don't hurt your partner or allow them to hurt you. I also tell them that "the dance" is more important than any technical ideal. This obviously means being flexible with technical ideals. It's like a bicycle getting hit by a car. I doesn't really matter if you were "right" when you're a broken heap of organs on the street.

Jason Baggett
back to the point of this whole exchange.
I would define what I've described above as a specific "technique". One that is different from other "techniques", but neither one is "right" or "wrong" for lindy hop.

Hopefully this has helped to clarify my definition of "technique", addressing the initial dispute. Thoughts?

Damon Stone
Yes your arm does stop at the shoulder, that is what they are called arm and shoulder. :P

Seriously though, yes of course the muscles continue through and past that joint, but the muscles that control the angle of the arm and how it relates to the body are collectively colloquially referred to as your shoulder muscles (even when they are your pectoralis major/minor, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, rhomboideus major/minor, and of course this is not all of them). When these muscles do not have some level of engagement to prevent the humerus from rolling in a fashion where it can be "unseated" the ligaments and tendons are all that are left to do the job, none of which were intended to serve that purpose.

You can talk about taking it into the lower body but that eliminates the reality that when dancing the lower body is pre-occupied in most dancers with footwork and maintaining balance and when they are pre-occupied they will respond in a natural fashion rather than through a learned response first every time. What you are talking about is replacing their natural instincts with your method. I'm talking about using the natural instincts to protect themselves and slowly getting them to finesse it.

If I understand you correctly it isn't so much a different technique as an abstraction of the same principle...

As to what is natural, I'm referring the way the body responds without study, what is instinctive and can be seen when the body is put into numerous "real life" situations where the average person is simply reacting without training or conscious thought.

Jason Baggett
It seems like we understand each other, which is an accomplishment itself with words alone.
it also sounds like we disagree, which I kind of expected. Perhaps it would make a difference if we were to discuss and demonstrate in person. Perhaps not. As I've said, I've seen students and myself do well with this "abstraction". It does work. I've seen it and experienced it. But perhaps this is a far as we can get with a keyboard.

the angle of the arm to the body isn't that extreme unless you hold your body square to your partner.

footwork and balance isn't a preoccupation, it's a huge part of how this technique works.

as for what is natural, I think the practical spectrum is huge because our natural responses are often hidden through a lifetime of conditioning. We can talk about what is natural in a practical sense, meaning how are people most likely to respond today. Or we can talk about what is natural in the sense that nothing has influenced or changed our natural responses.

I think we've found some understanding between us about what "technique" means. Maybe the next word for us to hash out is "natural".

Jason Baggett
"If I understand you correctly it isn't so much a different technique as an abstraction of the same principle..."

it seems as though your definition might allow for ANY different method of achieving the same results to be defined as an abstraction of the same technique rather than a different technique.

Put another way, it sounds you define technique by the results, not the method. 

Am I any closer to understanding your definition?

Damon Stone
No. The technique behind lindy hop frame is based squarely on the various levels of engagement of the body, but is centered for learning purposes (both the ease in which to achieve fast results as well as the ease at preventing misunderstandings) at the shoulder and the muscles used to regulate/protect it.

The abstraction comes because you are including posture and body positioning as well as footwork into the concept of frame. They are all tied together, and when any one is poor it minimizes the effectiveness of the other. Most other teachers break this up because while they are interdependent, they also serve separate functions above and beyond what they do together, and learning a thing in parts is easier to digest and actualize than learning and trying to actualize a thing as a unified whole.

Jason Baggett
still fuzzy on your definition of technique...

teaching the unified whole carries some pretty obvious challenges, so I can understand the logic of breaking things up, but that leads to other challenges since they are all tied together.
It's a spectrum, and I don't think either of us thinks the extreme ends are useful starting points. I think different teachers find themselves at different points on that spectrum, and that's how it should be.

success and failure is partially influenced by where you choose to start on that spectrum, as well as on the patience and skill of the teacher, and probably a good number of other factors.

But regardless of those factors, the students progress and skill is what decides the validity of your methods.

Based on nothing other than the results I see in students, my method seems to be working great. Based on the same criteria, other teachers in the area usually agree.

To put it another way;
When judged by my students performance, I'm recognized as a good teacher.

When judged by my specific methods, I'm recognized as a bad teacher.

Which carries more weight?

I can't tell you how many times I've been approached, "wow, so-and-so is doing great! what have you been teaching them?". After I answer they say something like, "oh, that doesn't really work. you shouldn't be teaching them that."

They don't even realize the contradiction.

So I've just gotten used to it, sometimes even embraced it. Sometimes I'll wear "contradiction as a badge of honor" as you put it. It makes more sense than sacrificing my students progress to protect the status quo and have other teachers approval.

Bug's Question of the Day
WOW guys! I love reading your posts. Both of you! it's awesome to see a good discussion about technique. (But I'm a nerd about dancing so this is like candy for me)

@Damon: you're a bad ass. I'm stealing your shit man. There's a lot about my teaching that needs to improve and this thread as well as very closely observing your teaching at BluesSHOUT has really helped me. So thank you!

Jason Baggett
thanks for keeping such a great page active!

Bug's Question of the Day
you're the one keeping it active so the thanks is all yours. I wish I could post more! I will try and be better at it.

Damon Stone
I'm glad you found value in what I do Bug.

Cory Davis
Diversity is better.