Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Conversation

[Author's note:  I have numerous advisers, mentors, and even peers I bounce ideas off of.  I also have a dance mentor who lives inside my head.  The advice he gives is a synthesis of all the advice I've gotten from real conversations, arguments, and "ah ha!" moments.  This is one of those discussions.  If you recognize your words, that's because I probably absorbed your lesson.]

"So what is it that you want out of Lindy Hop," he asked me.

"I want to be an advanced dancer," I replied.

"Where are you now?"

"I think I'm solidly intermediate."

"And what does becoming an advanced dancer mean to you?"

"That's tough to say.  I'm not worried about flash. Or performing.  Or competing.  But I am worried about making a dance fun for my partner.  I'd like to be able to dance with a beginner or a visiting pro and have that person walk away thinking, 'Now that was a fun dance.'"

"That's a good goal.  What do you think you need to do to achieve it?"

"Well, I feel like I'm solid in what I can do now.  But that I need more moves, more vocabulary..."  I stopped as he shook his head.

"No.  What you need is basics."

"I'm ... not sure what you mean 'you need basics,'" I replied, trying not to be offended.  I mean, I knew my basics.

"Well, you said you needed more vocabulary, right?  You chose that metaphor, and one of the old tropes you hear instructors use feeds right into it: 'Dancing is a conversation.'"


"Well, have you ever read a technical journal outside of your field?  Or 'The Canterbury Tales' in their original Old English?  Have you ever thought to yourself, 'I need to learn some of this vocabulary so I can have better conversations with my friends!'  Of course not.  You have better conversations by mastering your basic vocabulary then using it to maximum effect.  Ever seen a poetry slam?  Or a 'spoken word' showcase?  Or an actor doing a one person show show with multiple characters, accents, and points of view?  Or a great stand-up comedian with the audience in the palm of his hand?  Or a an effective political orator swaying the feelings of an audience?  Those people don't use words you don't know.  They have mastery of basic vocabulary."

"That can't be all they have."

"Of course not.  They've also mastered the artistic use of their words, the effective timing, the ability to read a crowd.  The way they _use_ vocabulary might be different from yours."

"But I see advanced dancers doing moves I don't know all the time."

"You're forgetting that this is about having a conversation.  Can you conceive a thought, begin it, and complete it with clarity and directness?   Can you construct a thesis statement and supporting points?"

"The first step is working on your basics.  Variations and new moves come after that.  I'm sure you can probably think of local dancers who have tons of moves, but they don't seem ... quite right.  Or lots of people will complain after dancing with them.  About clarity.  Or harshness.  Or injuries."

"Yeah, I can, now that you mention it.  So you're saying I need to learn how to express my feelings..."

"Feelings?!  No, not your feelings.  I'm saying you should learn how to have the Lindy Hop equivalent of a polite, clear, superficial, conversation with no nuance.  Feelings?!  Feelings are a whole other conversation!!!"

Are there any conversations or observations that you can remember which changed your dancing?   What is the metaphor for dancing that you use most often to express basic concepts?  Has anyone ever told you that you needed more work on your basics when you felt they were already very good?  How did you take it?


  1. Prasad Gadgill says o me:
    good thoughts brother......I see that with many local dancers as well where they are so into trying new moves, being flashy and all without realizing the basics like partner connection, timings are missing. Question is how many do really think about it? :):)

    I reply:
    That's a good question.

    My return question is "how many people will accept that tons of moves isn't the same thing as a good dancer?"

    Prasad again:
    well, since they see lot of Pros doing it in social dancing, competitions etc, they think thats what it takes to make a good dancer. What they need to do is like like watch a video or something in detail to understand little differences between the PRO doing it and and a non Pro doing it

    Of course that is just my opinion.

  2. I enjoyed it. This is funny, because when it comes to Lindy, almost every random class I've been to has decided to teach the Charleston. It's a conspiracy. Obviously to get me to spend actual time, effort, and money on dance lessons. It's nice to know you like the dance, first, though.

    I'd agree, but I also think extending one's vocabulary is ... Read Morepart of what enriches the basics. Learning more moves is part of what makes the timings go more naturally, gives a greater sense of the dance, making it that much easier to add flair to simple moves or make them that much more fluid and fun. True, a strong poet can use simple words in very powerful ways, but I think part of that is that they and their use invokes a summation of larger breadth and context. I relearn the basics after I have a better sense of the dance, after I've sated some desire for a broader understanding and more moves to make it more fun and engaging.

    Perhaps I'm just impatient, though.

  3. Tim, your comment on extending vocabulary is well taken. I'm not suggesting that more moves are a bad thing, but it's too easy to use the breadth of vocabulary as a (bad, in my opinion) metric for measuring dancing proficiency.