Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I've been fighting through a few months of stagnant feelings in my dancing, but have been re-energized recently with some conversations and classes.

The first shock was my private lesson with Laura Keat... sort of. Let me be clear in saying it was an awesome, mind-blowing lesson that focused on a new connection paradigm. But in some ways, it's forced me to regress and focus on all my basic moves. As a result, my dancing doesn't feel as interesting. That's a bit frustrating, though I imagine if I took more private lessons, I would make faster progress.

Next was the series on smooth Lindy that Augie Freeman taught at Atomic Ballroom in April (2008). His swing-out basic involved a constant rotation on counts 3-6, giving the swing-out an extremely smooth, rotational feel. Very cool.

Next was a conversation with Jofflyn Valencia and Amber Villa. They filled-in as teachers for a class in April, and it was the most like taking a class with Jerry Jordan that I've ever had. That is, they were able to break down the footwork of their moves with extremely insightful technique observations. This month, they started teaching a level 1 and level 2 series on Tuesdays, as well as DJ'ing regularly on Tuesday nights. They mentioned in passing that all their technique and dancing was revolutionized by badgering (my word) competition judges for notes. Then they compiled their notes into a theory behind their dancing.

So after I heard all this, I contacted Jofflyn and told him I'd like to hear about his theory. We finally chatted this past Friday night and I got the brief version. They view dancing as broken down to movement, momentum, and rhythm. That's it, stripped bare. They re-emphasized the swing-out that Augie taught as what a basic swing-out should be, stripped of all styling. To this point, they view the slotted swing-out as a styling, theorizing that it was developed for movie formation work (single camera, no camera moves). Very interesting. The theory behind this is the idea of continuous movement: taking out as many of the places in which dancers come to a complete stop. I danced with Amber a bit and she had me strengthen my right elbow and smooth out my rotation (I was still accelerating through counts 5-6). Oh, she also wanted me to look her in the eye as much as possible. That felt creepy. :-)

Amber and Jofflyn also had me work on my Balboa basic. They tell me that I shouldn't gather, then step on 3-4 and 7-8. Rather, move my foot directly from where it was to where it's going. Again, as a basic, stripped of all styling. Much smoother. Very cool feeling. I know I've learned this before, but it's gotten lost in the mists of ... trying to learn moves. :-)

May's series with Augie starts out with us working on Balboa, and this same feeling carries across to his class. We start out working on our basic, doing a box step instead of a linear basic. We slightly change 2 and 6 to slightly sideways steps. Then we add the "lilt," leaning forward in the first half of the basic, then tilting back in the last half. Tweaked connection by focusing on leaning in and against each other and having leads connect to follows with the right forearm, relaxing the hand completely.

This week focused on spike-outs. And though this was a level 3 class, I was shocked how much I've learned. The first revelation for me was that I wasn't making "catching" contact early enough. If I contact on 7, the natural motion of the return rolls the follow back into my forearm. If I contact on 8, the follow gets so far away that my arm extends and she jerks to a stop. This dovetails with Amber and Jofflyn's continuous motion theory. My spike-out is so much better from this one class. We add a spike-out variation where the leads face away on 5, with the left arm wrapped around us clock-wise just below shoulder level. We need to have our right hand ready to catch on 7 again. Also continuous spike-outs: We do another spike-out instead of a come-around to end it.

Finally, we worked on improv steps. We're repeating certain counts. Last week was repeatedly shuffling 5-6 until we felt the need to go on. This week, we do paddles, something which I've never learned successfully. Augie makes it easy. :-) Initially, we prep our 1-3 like a transition step, down on 3 rotating to the left. Hold 4. Repeat 5-6 (right, left) either rotationally or in-line. Similar action with feet reversed on 1-2 (after down on 7, hold 8). Fall-onto/off-the-log are the final move, starting with either a left foot kick on 4 or a right foot kick on 8. Just realized we can do either the on or off version by leading the weight shift.

Anyway, this smoother style of basic is awesome. Application, there's a heavier follow who comes regularly to Atomic. Well, there are lots, but this one dances extremely heavy. Before, I had to really dig in on 3-4 and 7-8 in order to keep from getting overbalanced. I dance with her every night, so I specifically remember this happening last week. Last night with this continuous motion swing-out, it was effortless on 3-6. Even 7-8 was better with a more circular feel.

Danced with Caitlin of the Bobbysox Brigade (Amber and Jofflyn's troupe) last night. Amazing.


  1. Wow, such detailed blog. Way to work on your dancing though.