How a Break from Improvising Saved My Social Dancing

As choreo season draws upon us I can’t help but feel a bit charged with nostalgia (something I’m not generally prone to). Choreographies have made my most memorable moments at Bees’ Knees Dance, both as a student and a teacher. And memory is the key word here, because learning a choreography is all about turning theory, moves, and feel into a clean performance that is completely committed to your mind-grapes. It’s fun, it’s intense, and it’s ironically the thing that really took my social dancing to the next level.

In normal classes we approach moves with a lot of detail and information. We talk about the lead and follow, we talk about transitions, and we even temporarily put them in little choreographies (sequences) to practice them in the midst of other moves we’ve learned. For most this is a great way to fully understand how to perform and incorporate a new piece of swing lexicon into their dancing, but for others this knowledge and understanding is only temporary (oh, hey). Let me be real for a second. I don’t remember MOST of the moves I’ve ever learned. It’s no one’s fault. There’s so much to know and to be honest, it’s mostly the fault of how my brain works. Moves that aren’t currently on my radar of “stuff I’m working on” generally lie forgotten on the sprung floor of my mind.

But then, there’s Choreo class. HELL. YEAH. If there’s one thing that knows how to print to my long term memory it’s repetition. Even if you’re someone who really retains information from all classes you’ve taken (EXPLAIN ME YOUR SORCERY, WIZARD), repetition is still the holy grail of building dance vocabulary. And choreo is THE venue for it. You have the camaraderie and pressure of a performance with fellow dancers, and your only option is to get. it. done. No matter what.

My first choreo ever was a really fun medium-fast Lindy Hop with Arthur and Heather. We did it to “I Like Pie, I Like Cake” (before it got supa’ hot in the global scene within the next couple of years) and for the first time I was dancing with real confidence. The pressure of thinking up the next move was gone, and with it the pressure of being musical (I’m a musician, the fear of NOT being musical was actually anxiety inducing). It was all right there, laid out for us, and it was AWEsome. We used moves I knew, moves I didn’t know, and a SLEW of transitions, both common and unorthodox (including an 8 count entry into tandem charleston that I still use today). We also formed a real team of dancers, people who relied on each other to make us all look good. We started holding extra practice sessions at each other’s houses and really started to enjoy each other as company instead of just classmates.

At the end of three months I had had so much fun approaching Lindy Hop in this new way. I had committed a ton of new moves to memory, made a bunch of new friends, had gotten to practice swing-outs faster than I ever had until it was easy (easyish), AND I was even more appreciative of my normal classes. Normal classes made so much sense now. In them you really work with WHY a move is what it is and how it should feel, how it should be lead and followed. In a choreo class you don’t always get the time to ruminate on the theory of a move. Choreography classes are built to cram moves in to you like an overstuffed suitcase going on a swing voyage (this year we’re going to Harlem!), but in normal classes you stay on them and pick at them until they really make sense.

In tandem (whomp whomp), these two styles give you the theory and vocabulary for great dancing. And something a little more I think, because now I can’t do that tandem transition without my sense-memory going back to that part of “I Like Pie, I Like Cake”, and remembering the room, the feeling, and the energy of that class. And that’s a voyage I enjoy taking.

Got a fun story from one of YOUR choreo classes? Let us know in the comments below!