We Talkin about Practice {Revised}

Introduction

*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.

Beginners

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.

Intermediate

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.

Advance/Masters

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.

Conclusion

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

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At Home Strength Training Stabilization phase

One of my favorite follows in the whole wide world from one of my favorite scenes proposed a good question and scenario for me. After reading my post in regards to strength training, Rebecca Kilby out of Greenville, South Carolina, where if you ever get the chance you should check out the Greenville Lindy Exchange and discover the beautiful Greenville all their fantastic people and dancers in the Palmetto state. Ms. Kilby (as I call her affectionately) sent me this message on facebook. “I workout at home, not at a gym. So I don’t have access to fancy equipment. So what exercises you can do at home or on the go with minimal equipment? For example, I only have 5 lb., 8 lb., and 10 lb. weights, a chair, and the floor.”

So challenge accepted!!! As I know gym memberships are expensive so as much as I’d LOVE to say all ya’ll should join a Lifetime Fitness I understand budget comes into play you can join gyms for as low as 10 dollars a month and I slightly just vomited in my mouth advertising for another gym but do what’s best for the readers. Anyways you can get a pretty decent workout utilizing these pieces of equipment and I’m going to make suggestions of what you can add to this for minimal cost so you can get an all around workout.

Phase 1 Stabilization with dumbbells a chair and the floor.

This phase is circuit style training of 1 set 1-3 rounds which is a set of each all 8 exercises with 45 seconds between each round and 2 minutes between a set (1-2 completed rounds). Each exercise will be done for 12-15 reps at a tempo of 3-1-1 that means the 3 second lowering phase, 1 second lift and a 1 second squeeze at the end of the lift.

The Exercises

Body weight or Dumbbell Squats

Start with feet shoulder width apart with toes forward or turned out at 45 degrees. Have your hands on your hips or straight out in front of you, have your hips go back as if you were sitting down keep your chest up and head neutral (looking straight ahead). If you have difficulty with this I recommend getting a stability ball for a stability ball squat http://youtu.be/dxWQgMpEFjs  or use a chair to sit in and to stand back up or you can simply widen your stance as shared in this video. You can progress by making your stance more narrow or adding dumbbells.

Bent over row

For this exercise you’re gonna have a dumbbell in each hand bend over at the hips, have knees slightly bent. Keep your shoulders back, chest  up and have your upper torso parallel to the floor and pull the dumbbells till your elbows are at 90 degrees and slowly go back to starting position . If you need stability you can put your hand on the chair for balance but keep you back flat with shoulders back and chest up and just do a single arm bent over row.

Romanian Deadlift w/dumbbells or Single leg Romainian Deadlift

 Personally a favorite movement to teach if you’ve ever seen Legally Blonde a Romanian Deadlift is pretty much a “bend and snap” if you haven’t here’s the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-4tIs00NvM . I say this to for fun but also I seriously teach this movement this way. You’ll have your dumbbells in front of you bend over with your hips going back, keep your chest up and shoulders back and slightly bend the knees. Go down as far as you can and return to starting position. Here’s a more serious video that I love because it’s taught by British trainers and I just love the cues they use. You can do this movement on one leg with a single dumbbell or body weight to work on balance and stability http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSmhMKo6jV4 but I like to teach the move on two feet first. If you struggle with balance on the single keep your free leg toe on the ground so you can stabilize yourself when need be. If that doesn’t work do regular deadlifts till you’re strong enough to do single leg.

Chair bridge chest press

As you’ll see in the video demonstration from Hyper strike. This exercis is more commonly done with a stability ball but you can relax on the corner of the chair to give you free range of motion with the elbows and dumbbells. You’re going to want to use a towel or something to cushion the seat of the chair so you’re more comfortable. I’d recommend purchasing a swiss ball because it’s a versatile piece of equipment that is fairly inexpensive. Rest your shoulder blades on the chair, press heels firmly into the ground and raise hips to create a bridge with the body and keep abs tight. Start arms extended bring down slowly till elbows are 90 degrees then press upward.

Static Lunge/Split squats

You must always learn to produce strength from one leg. So I always recommend a single leg pushing exercise such as the step up to balance but knowing the fact that said chair maybe too high for most novice fitness trainees. We’re going to break down the static lung instead. You’ll start off one leg in front of the other weight loaded on the heel. Lower hips down to front knee being 90 degrees back knee slightly bent. Go down and push back up from the heels.

Renegade row

Awesome core and shoulder stability exercise with dumbbells. You’re going to start off in a push up position on dumbbells core drawn in (abs tight) back flat and straight. You’re going to pull one dumbbell towards you slightly turning the body place it on the ground then the other leading with the elbow of course.

Floor Bridge

Another bending movement to help strengthen the glutes, lower back and hamstrings. You lay flat on your back feet flat on the ground. Hands flat on the ground. You’re going to push your heels into the floor lifting your hips up till your back is straight and slowly bring your body back down.

Push ups

Help stabilize your shoulders strengthen you abs and lower back push ups are great you can. I’m not even really going to write much on this exercise because speaker Rachel Buschert Vaziralli does a great job breaking this down and give awesome regressions and progressions to make this exercise easier or more  challenging.

Conclusion

So here is a workout you can do circuit style to help you build up some stability for your joints and muscles to get you a good foundation before moving on to other exercises to challenge you while you’re at home. Hope this one helps. I apologize for the links that weren’t live totally copy and paste those into another tab so you can access they’re also very useful to watch. Thanks for reading  and feel free to ask me question. Love y’all and God Bless ^_^

Photo Credit to Jamie Lynn Photography Youtube channel credits to Howcast, The Fit Lab, HyperStrike and Well Fit

What happens when you have an energetic Lead, a Heart Rate Monitor and a near endless Resource of Follows?

Introduction

Years ago a friend of mine had a debate of how much of Lindy Hop was Aerobic cardiovascular training (low intensity with oxygen) or anaerobic cardiovascular exercise ( moderate to high intensity without oxygen). For years I always speculated because with a lot of the explosive movements utilized in the dance, I had my qualms with a utilization of ONLY low intensity aerobic training by dancers to improve endurance. Which led me to a pretty awesome and fun experiment utilizing a heart rate monitor and follows from all over the mid west.

The Experiment

When I became a Fitness Professional at Lifetime, we’re required to have our own heart rate monitor. Us wearing the watch is part of our uniform so we can show them off to the members and show them the different functions rather then just tell them about them. I was equipped to see how exactly the cardiovascular system functioned during a night of endless dancing. I wanted to figure 2 things from this experiment 1. How many calories do I burn in one night of dancing and 2. was Lindy Hop primarily aerobic or anaerobic.

With this in mind, I decided that one night I’d go to a dance with my heart rate monitor ready to track my heart rate through out the night and track the number of calories burned. After utilizing the information gathered from a peak VO2 treadmill test at Lifetime, I knew exactly when I’d be working aerobically and anaerobically based on my heart rate. I tracked calories burned and heart rate zones on my Polar RS300  (web link to see what it looks like). The watch breaks divides my heart rate into 5 Zones. Zone 1 is a warm up zone that teaches the body how to burn fat more efficiently, Zone 2 is where I build my aerobic endurance, Zone 3 is where I then start to become  more anaerobic utilizing more carbohydrates to function this is where anaerobic endurance is improved, Zone 4 is nearly “balls to the walls” this is how you improve your VO2  at this workload one can only last really a minute at best unless they’re an elite level endurance athlete. Zone 5 represents my absolute maximum and really I shouldn’t be getting that high honestly.

I conducted this experiment twice the first didn’t render enough data going to the  dance  BAM, which is a  dance that is focused on intermediate and advance dancers in Dallas takes place last Friday of every month. There were too few people and so I didn’t dance very frequently and other people weren’t dancing much as it was mostly a practice and experimentation kind of night. Due to that my heart kept plummeting out of my registered zones and I really never got my heart rate up above the bottom of my Zone 2. So the simple answer to this problem; go to a dance with more people and by more people I mean follows. What better event to go to then a workshop weekend that is follow focused!!

All Follow’s Eve Friday November 1st, 2013

Ok, so here’s the situation All Follows Eve was put on by the lovely ladies of the  Fort Worth Swing Dance Syndicate. There follows were able to get instruction from the fabulous Laura Glaess, Miranda Longaker and Joanna Lucero.  With that we had the pleasure to rocking out to the Solomon Douglass Quartet with Allyson Dreyfuss. Along with all follow performances from the Houston Hepcats (Houston, TX), Dallas Divas (Dallas, TX) and Shiny Stockings (Witchita, KS).

In short ya’ll should come dance in Fort Worth. Now I did the experiment on the Friday evening dance because I didn’t want my watch to clash with my threads Saturday evening. The rules were set, I was going to dance just about every song the only time I could miss was to change shirts and I’d get water while finding my next dance partner (I have this down to a science). This was easy to do as I attempted to dance with every follow at least once as the night went on but it was like they never stopped walking in. It literally seemed endless great classes and I ended up getting great results dancing with follows from Minnesota, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma, Kansas City, Wichita, Kansas and more. Learned a great deal from the classes on being more attentive as a lead and allowing my follow to shine as a dancer. Ok, back to the results and findings.

Results

Now I danced just all but 4 songs through out the entire dance missed 1 because I had to check in and put my shoes on and make sure they were tied tight enough. The other 3 were all for shirt changes with this minimal rest I succeeded in burning 1600 calories in that single dance. Now while looking down at my watch through out the night, I spent the night mostly in my Zone 2 heart rate zone, which makes a good claim that the dance is mostly aerobic cardiovascular training.

Conclusions

Based off the evidence presented you can conclude that low intensity cardiovascular training would be sufficient to help improve a dancers endurance to hold up for an entire night of endless dancing. Though 2 things that happened over the weekend that I know I need to take a look into again. I feel that training for a lead and for a follow may have to differ as they have different stresses on their bodies. I found when I followed my heart rate was higher then when I was leading but I didn’t start following till the end of the night and that could’ve been because of Cardiac Drift as I was able to keep my activity level the same and so my heart rate went up. So in the future this same experiment would need to be done with an experience follow or myself following for an entire night to see if cardiovascular training needs to be more intense for a follow then it would for a lead. Also, try a night where there is faster music overall, live bands tend to be faster then dj’s because while dancing to the Solomon Douglass Quartet, I realized I had more lactic acid building in my legs after dances, which side effect of anaerobic conditioning and the cause of that burning sensation with prolonged sprinting. So it leaves room in the future for this experiment to be done with a live band performing to see where my heart rate goes with overall faster music. So with this in mind you can plan out how you want to do your cardio and if you have any specific questions be sure to let me know because there is way more to cover on this subject. I just wanted to put out this experiment to get peoples wheels turning. Love ya’ll and God Bless 🙂