*I was sitting and hanging out about to watch the Jack and Jill Finals at School of Hard Knox in Knoxville, Tennessee last weekend. No lie I was kinda salty to fly from Dallas to Atlanta spend the night in an airport ride to Athens, GA ride in a car so I could do a solo comp there and not make finals and have that same thing happen with the Jack and Jill o well. When a dancer comes up to me and asks “Don’t you have a blog” I look around and I’m like “Yes but haven’t written in a while”. The dancer goes on about how much this blog meant to him as he randomly stumbled upon it and this article really inspired him and motivated him. After trying to keep myself from shedding a tear and coddling this young mans head in my bosom and saying “bless you child” while gently stroking his head as if I was a old Catholic Grandmother, I figured I needed to write again and I’m updating this posts to match my current outlook.
Alright after my last post just to really put up videos and ask what it is I should be writing. A friend of mine out of Panama City, Florida asked me about my view point on practicing. She has dancers that ask her many questions regarding practice, these questions ranged from such things as what should I practice to if I should have a partner etc. So I’m pretty much going to divide this up into what I recommend beginner dancers should practice along with intermediate and Advance/Master level dancers.
Defining your Level
Probably the trickiest part of writing this entire article, would be how do we differentiate a beginner from an Advance/Master level dancer? Your level of dance doesn’t really depend on how long you’ve been dancing with exception of being a beginner because you can’t be focused on particular aspects when you don’t know your basic. Levels are really fluid and subjective and they aren’t as clear cut as Beginner dancer, Intermediate dancer and Advance/Master dancer. I like how the organizers of Lindyfest in Houston, Texas break down levels and explain each and everyone. They make a focus on pretty much describing what skills you have mastered not how long you’ve danced but though I’m breaking down concepts to practice by level doesn’t mean an Advance/Master level dancers should not or could not work on beginner level stuff or vice versa.
First up is our wide eyed and bushy tail beginners. Super nervous on screwing things up as they may not have rhythm and syncopation down perfect. So I’m going to lead off with this, I feel for a beginner the best thing they can do is work on their 6 count and 8 count rhythms (or just solely 8 count if you’re in a scene that only teaches 8 count stuff). I feel this can best be done by themselves, unless they’re that person who can’t keep a beat to save their life. The dancer should work on doing the footwork in place, then rotate footwork in place and then traveling with said footwork. Things to focus on with your footwork is pulsing into the floor, moving your whole body, keeping your feet up under you as you travel. After getting things down in place, you can try moving with your triple steps and possibly playing with them aka styling. *A simple aspects of styling will be testing out how much ground you can cover in your 8 count and 6 count Rhythm. So going through your basic see how much space you can cover and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. On the flip side see how little ground you can cover within those rhythms as well see what works and what doesn’t.
The video from the easy swing channel down below is a great progressing exercise to help beginners get the basic internalize. The only thing I feel a beginner should work on in regards to partnering (which I have a strong opinion against because there’s a chance they only learn to dance well with one person rather then a multitude) is making sure you can connect in a manner that is comfortable. So leads and follows having their hands and arms in the correct positions and possibly finding comfortable connection (which starts the endless battle that is connection). *Going big and small with your basic 8 count and 6 count movements with a partner is also super important as well, as this is helpful on the social dance floor with floorcraft.
Being an intermediate dancer is like being a college/high school sophomore you know more then the freshman but you’re still a noob in comparison to juniors and seniors. You have a swing out, lindy circle, side by side charleston and an array of moves to build off of that. You have a “solid” take on the basic and you start to discover what musicality and improvisation is. *My definition of musicality is pretty much dancing in a manner that compliments the music not necessarily hitting every bleep and blorp but complimenting it like a good beer compliments a good steak. To improve that I’m gonna break this down how Michael Gamble broke it down in a class I took with him. “The best way to improve musicality is to listen to more jazz music. Now with that said we’re going to give you a few moves that you can apply to this concept when you feel it’s necessary.” By listening to more music you learn to pick up on what speaks to you the most melody or rhythm then you can take the moves you know and apply them to that. You can also learn song phrasing as well which is explained by the ever so talented Sharon Davis. I’m really big about musicality and phrasing in my dancing hence why I devoted a whole paragraph to this lol.*Also, I’d recommend changing the shape of your body while performing certain moves . You know dip that shoulder to the side on a swing out, put alittle sharpness to a triple step or get really upright on a follow through of a pop turn.
Now musicality is more of what I call a mental skill which you can work on it without necessarily dancing. When I became a DJ and started listening to music constantly, while BPMing my music (logging the tempo/speed of my music) my feel for the music improved dramatically.*Also, this can help you learn to scat with music so you can inspire different moves and body articulations with the different sounds of notes and Rhythms. Now this can happen if you don’t neglect giving yourself a real foundation on your steps and this can be learned in the beginner phase of dancing (some are more tuned to music then others *coughs* musicians) as you practice basic rhythms to music. In this phase I’d recommend the above drill, along with dabbling into solo dancing.
I realized about 2 or 3 years into this Lindy Hop journey that some of the strongest dancers are very talented solo dancers. This inspired me to really make solo dancing vibrant and expressive, turning it into a big strength of mine, which has poured over into my partner dancing. I feel as a lead you should be able to move your body and control it sense your job is to move around another person (how can you expect to move someone when you can’t move yourself efficiently Riddle me that). Follows should have strong solo movement and body control so that way they have ownership of their movement and be proactive rather then reactive all the time as Bobby White goes into great detail in his post titled the Proactive Follower.
The easiest way i feel to really get a good arsenal of solo dance moves is to learn different solo routines. If you’ve been dancing pretty consistently over a period of time, I can assume that you know the shim sham pretty well. So to add on to that I recommend diving into learning the Tranky Doo, Jitterbug Stroll, Big Apple, Dean Collins shim sham, St. Louis Shim sham, Slip slop and or my personal favorite the Al and Leon Shim sham. Another way you can go is by watching the Alphabetical Jazz video that I’m posting below and just watch a number of solo competitions from around the world on youtube and copy cat the moves that you can do.
This section is probably going to be my shortest section sense a lot of dancers that I know on a personal level are at this level and I don’t want to be like “Hey this is what y’all should be doing to get awesome.” when just about all of you who are at this point have done a number of things to get to point where you can be referred to as an advance/masters level dancer. It’s at this point where things get really nit picky and there really isn’t a super clear right or wrong when it comes to dancing. Myself still focuses a lot on the things that a beginner does. Pretty much having good footwork and movement in all that I do. I work on refining my solo dancing but if there are dancers who are running into a snag on what to start practicing after going through the other levels here’s what I recommend.
Try mastering another dance. I’m starting to really invest in improving my Balboa sense most of what i’m doing with Lindy is theory based and really can’t clearly see progress on a theory. I’d say I’m an intermediate Balboa dancer, so i take time out of practices to work on dancing Balboa and this year will be the first time I’ll be competing in Balboa at the Lonestar Championships next month (there will be video of my prelims posted here and hopefully of my dance in the Finals) There are bunch of other dance styles. Such as Blues, Balboa, Partner Charleston, Collegiate Shag, St. Louis Shag, Boogie Woogie or Tap Dancing. I’d recommend learning another dance style because certain technique points differ across certain styles ( connection and weight shift is HUGE in blues dancing) and another outlet for creativity can pour over into Lindy Hop if that’s what you’re mainly bent towards.
*Start choreographing to songs that you really like. I have friends in the southeast who make up mini routines on a weekly basis that are 30-60 seconds long. I’ve started coming up with routines as well and has helped my creativity in regards to solo dancing and made my movement cleaner because I’m really focusing on executing a movement a particular way to convey an outlook. If you can’t come up with original choreography start imitating a routine that you love and change it to fit more of your style.
My other suggestion is to really spell out your philosophy about what is good dancing and learn the things that allow you to live that out. To me good dancing is a 50/50 connection between partners where both dancers play off one another and are in tune with the music. So though both dancers can be dancing independently, they’re able to hit the same points in the music with identical or contrasting flair. This has led me to reading articles like Bobby White’s Proactive Follow and Rebecca Brightly’s series on Equal-Opportunity connection. I take the concepts I’ve been studying into my practice.
General House Keeping
In this last part I want to just cover pretty much some general things to consider when you practice.
1. Have a plan for your practice
Determine ahead of time what the goal of your session is and get a bit of organization what you want to do Rebecca Brightly created this cool practice template that I’ve utilized in the past and deviated into my own version.
2. Always do a warm up and always stretch
Make sure to always do some type of warm up before you practice. This will prep your body for movement and loosen up muscles to prevent you from sustaining any types of injuries. I’m a huge fan of jump roping or using some type of solo jazz routine to get you moving and going.
3. Always have a mirror to check your posture
Posture and body lines are important during dance. So the best thing you can have for that fast and instant feed back is a mirror. I do not have mirror at my disposal where I practice mostly so I use my laptop. Sense it has a built in camera for using skype and other instant messenger programs like that. I set the camera up and watch myself on screen from time to time when dancing or I film myself and watch the video right after dancing a sequence. So if your excuse for not practicing is “I don’t have a mirror” bull crap. I’m sure you have a laptop or a camera you can use to tape yourself.
So with that or some of my thoughts on practice I know, that there could’ve been more stuff that I could’ve covered but these are all the things that seem imperative. I urge you to film yourself semi regularly so that way you can see if you have any bad habits that you should just make yourself conscious of to correct or if there is anything you hate about your dancing. My last piece of advice was handed down to me by a mentor and that was to do something simple and consistent each and everyday and that will put you on the fast track to Mastering this dance. Feel free to comment or ask questions, until next time love y’all and God Bless 🙂
*indicated a revision or addition from when it was originally published