Confessions of an Ex-Ballerina
At a recent solo jazz workshop weekend, I had an interesting experience that has stuck with me and really forced me to think about my Lindy Hop learning style. At this workshop, I was taking part in an individual technique assessment that involved performing an improvised solo jazz set to three different tempos of music while seasoned professionals looked on. When I had finished, one of the pro dancers looked at me and proceeded to summarize my entire dance training history deduced entirely from the intricate details he saw in my styling.
That was when it became abundantly clear to me… you can take the girl out of the tutu, but that darned tutu will just keep on poofing itself all over your Lindy Hop.
I won’t lie, having 30+ years of dance experience before making the leap to Lindy Hop has had its advantages, such as a comfort level with musicality, acute body awareness, and the internal metronome that baffles many a co-dancer. But it hasn’t been without its challenges, and as more and more dance school dropouts migrate over to our wonderfully diverse community, I suspect these oddities will be far more common:
Counting versus Scatting
For me, 5-6-7-8 wasn’t just a preference, it was a necessity. Recreating a syncopated rhythm without knowing exactly which number my weight shifted on caused many of my first Lindy Hop brain explosions. After all, you can’t immediately undo decades of conditioning just because someone scats in your general direction… but eventually you can. And it’s soooooo worth it.
What the what now? You want me to bob up and down while keeping my body low throughout my turns? Throughout everything? That can’t look right. That can’t possibly help me maintain balance. That can’t possibly… oh wait… fine, you win this round, Lindy Hop. Finding (and maintaining) my dance pulse was so foreign early on that I had to do it consciously for the entire first year of my Lindy Hop life. I studied many dance styles before this and none of them were based around the pulse concept, but it fits perfectly within Lindy Hop. I think I drove my first instructors nuts in the early days by constantly trying to smooth out my swing outs…
Breaking Up with Back Leading
I was used to being solely responsible for my own dance experience, my own performance level, my own competition prowess, my own fun. The idea of sharing that with another person or *gasp* letting them hold the reigns took a lot of head shaking. I would practice sequences alone, confident of where I’d step my feet and which direction I’d dance in, regardless of what was led. Sincere apologies to my early dance partners. Oh heck, current ones too.
You Dance in Jeans?!
The Lindy Hop community has a wonderfully relaxed attitude when it comes to rehearsal attire. Show up in whatever you wore to work, or what you plan to sleep in, or your vintage best. Anything goes. I love that, but it’s also weird. How do you dance in something that restricts your freedom of movement? I don’t get it. Therefore, I’ve been repeatedly asked to explain the reasoning behind my rehearsal tights, ankle warmers, or split-sole shoes. And I’ll happily keep explaining. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks!
And unintentional pointed feet. And unintentional head spotting during turns. And unintentional port de bras hands. And unintentional releve. All. The. Time. These things took a long time to get to second nature, they take a long time to reprogram. Or not. I finally stopped pointing my feet in basic side-by-side Charleston but I can’t promise the end of pretty hands in a swing out.
Those Aren’t Narcissistic Fantasies
I love dance studio mirrors. I stare in them constantly. No I’m not that self-obsessed. But how can you know what to improve with your dancing if you don’t know what you look like? How low are your swivels? How clear is your Camel Walk? This brings up a whole social-dance-versus-performance derailment that could be a blog all to itself, but suffice to say I use the mirrors.
Just deal with it. Or submit yet another goofy photo of me to #LindyFace. S’all good. I’ve decided to own it. If yer a-watchin’, I’m a-performin’. It’s natural, like breathing. Yup, I laugh at videos of myself too. It’s goofy. But it’s me.
These are of course just my personal experiences and observations, most of which have been greeted with an enthusiastic “oh gosh me too!” by other bunheads when we realize we’re not the only weird ones who took forever to absorb the concept of connection.
Are you an ex-pat of the pitter pat world as well? I’d love to hear your experiences with transitioning to Lindy Hop! Share your thoughts in the comments below. And who knows? You may just help another NewBee navigate these strange waters and discover the amazing freedom and joy that this dance can bring!
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