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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Dance Videos!!! Here’s what I’m practicing

I figured sense I’m taking a bit of time trying to figure out what my next Blog post will cover and I’ll still have to research it. I’m going to share some social dance videos and give a glimpse of what I’m working on in my dancing and maybe inspire your dancing in some way.

I’m constantly always looking at my footwork, movement and posture as a lead. Usually I try to address this in my resistance training and flexibility protocol

My first time having video of myself following and I was well pleased. I have some issues with connection still but I’m super proud of my swivels. Gonna need to stretch the hips more to get…him that sounds like a good blog idea. What say you readers?

I’ve been thinking about writing about flexibility anyways should I go into depth about how it effects certain fundamentals? Leave me comments please love y’all

How to Build and Maintain Confidence as a Dancer

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Glad to make it to 2015 and share another blog with you all and hope those who traveled to Lindy Focus or the SnowBall had a great time and were inspired. I hope whatever inspiration and progress that you took from those camps may continue with the article that I’m sharing with y’all today.

Introduction

Through out 2014 confidence and psychology probably had to be the biggest obstacle that I have come across not only within myself but with a few dancers around me. I’ve had conversations with dancers who were frustrated with how their development staggered in comparison with other dancers who were able to consistently travel and or practice their dancing. I’ve spoken to dancers who travel consistently and hit lows due to the feedback they have gotten from instructors and the number of dances they get at events. For myself getting into a masters track at an event and then not making finals in multiple competitions had me questioning a lot of my ideas I had in regards of my dancing but after ILHC specifically this dance from Jamin Jackson 

along with Pamela Gaizutyte they won 1st place in the All Star Jack and Jill. I had to go back and see where did I go wrong in my mental approach that left me to question my abilities as a dancer. Pretty much I found where I went wrong and during a conversation with a friend who’s in a rut herself I figured I’d dig in depth with my own advice a bit.

What is Confidence?

Before diving into the 4 things I recommend a dancer do to promote and maintain confidence we should define what confidence is. In a Ted Talk done by Dr. Ivan Joseph on “The Skill of Self Confidence”, Dr. Joseph defines Self-Confidence as “the ability or the belief, to believe in yourself, to accomplish any task, no matter the odds, no matter the difficulty,no matter the adversity.” I like this definition because it really covers a wide spectrum, taking into account things that can negatively affect ones confidence (ie. odds, difficulty and adversity). Similarly if you watch video presentations of Dr. Jeff Duke on 3Dimensional coaching from Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) he defines confidence as the belief that he/she has the skills to produce a desired outcome. This is similar to Dr. Joseph’s definition but he takes into account having that belief in spite of obstacles. Now that we have 2 working definitions, the next section is going to discuss how we build up these beliefs in ourselves and how these mind sets can help us maintain our belief when the going gets tough.

How to Build and Maintain Confidence

For this article I focused on 4 strategies that I’ve utilized to improve my confidence but also what I have spoken to other dancers to help them get out of a funk.

1. Avoid comparing,unless it’s to yourself

2. Define your own Success or what good dancing is through goal setting

3. Focus on what you can control

4. Disregard what you cannot control

Avoid comparing, unless it’s to yourself

Comparing is by far the biggest thing I’ve come across not only with myself but also other dancers. In competitions where I don’t make finals or don’t place, I tend to observe other dancers and wonder what it is that they’re doing that gets them these results. This really gets us nowhere because every dancer is their own and is exploring themselves within this dance. I feel to help you improve your skills. Jamin Jackson in his post entitled How to Dance “like” ANYONE hits on top of this phenomenon by stating this.” “Dang, I suck.” This is what the subconscious reenforces the moment you start comparing your present skill level to the culmination of an unsaid amount of work another dancer displays on the social dance floor. It’s an unfair comparison, but we all do it” Jamin Jackson. The simple solution to give to this is to stop comparing yourself to other dancers. Your response should rightfully be one of rolling the eyes and being upset on something lacking thought.

When you find yourself comparing your dancing to someone else use a technique I learned from sport psychology classes called thought stopping. This is pretty much a technique where you stop a negative thought and replace it with a positive one. I use a variation of this when I’m watching others dance and start comparing, rather then be like “man I’ll never be able do what *random dancer* does.” instead I find a concept that I like and implement into my dancing one of my dance mentors calls this copycatting. The only time I feel comparing is ok is if you’re comparing yourself with yourself. Now we have to be realistic when we do this because we can be too hard on ourselves but we must do this within reason. This is why I learned to watch myself objectively on video.  I video tape myself dancing frequently and I enjoy seeing how my dancing has grown from video to video. Especially videos I have of me dancing over a year ago, you can’t gauge your progress by watching someone else but you can gauge it by watching yourself. 

I usually take at least one video of myself at practice or have a friend video tape me while at a dance like the video below. You maybe shocked at how you look the first time you watch yourself on video but stop the thoughts of “O MY GOSH I’M TERRIBLE I QUIT!!” tell yourself top and say “my dancing doesn’t look the way that I want it to but I know what I can do to get to that point which leads us into the next section

Define your own Success or what Good Dancing is through Goal Setting

During my schooling in my undergraduate and graduate studies in sports coaching a big factor that came up in regards to promoting confidence in athletes was to define what success is to your team or program .Within 3Dimensional coaching this is huge to not let success be defined totally by the scoreboard because within a game there are so many things that are out of your control, so if you set your confidence off those outcomes, you’re setting yourself up for an emotional roller coaster. With that you’ll most likely be spending more time being dissatisfied rather then being satisfied and could potentially lead to giving up. Defining your own success can best be done by setting goals for yourself that’ll bring you satisfaction and confidence. That way if you’re a competition dancer like myself you don’t rely on your placing or whether you make finals or not be the source of your confidence. While I had to define my success as me conveying what my interpretation and philosophy of what Lindy Hop is to me to the audience and the judges. I had to really set goals that would allow me to work out what my philosophy is. This section is going to dive into the dynamics of goal setting to keep this from getting super abstract and out there.

Normally people would define their success by whether they satisfy goals they set or not, but what if I told you that those goals could be a big part of why you end up having your confidence take a hit. An article on breaking muscle.com discussed how a lot of successful people and companies don’t set goals. The reason behind this being that goals tend to set us up for limitations and also there are so many unknown factors (market change, injury etc.). Rather then setting no goals as you look at my Lindy Hop Resolutions post for 2015. You’ll see the goals I have are to commit myself to task that’ll aid me to some type of improvement or give me a new experience of some kind. So if factors out of my control were to arise, I can still achieve that task and improve. Then I can’t allow myself to beat my own brains out if I don’t achieve a particular outcome.

So rather than defining your own limitations through long-term goals, perhaps just make a commitment to continual improvement.” Breaking muscle.com‘s above statement pretty much touches on the advantage of setting process goals as opposed to outcome goals. A process goal is setting a goal to perform a task to work towards a particular event “I’m going to practice at least 3 times a week”. That is a process goal, a outcome goal is what we hear the most and that is a goal that focuses on the outcome of an event

“I want to make the Masters Track at Lindy Fest again this year.” That’s an outcome goal possibly me practicing at least 3 times a week can create the outcome of me making Masters track at Lindy Fest again. Ultimately all of these tricks in goal setting can help you take steps to achieving what you feel good dancing is and be able to have more control over gaining success within your dance philosophy. As I said earlier the outcome goal is completely out of my control, while the process goals are more in my control. By having goals that are in your control your odds of success increase a bunch. The next two sections will go more into depth with controllable and non controllable circumstances.

Focus on what you can Control

As we introduced this point towards the end of the previous section, process goals are the things we want to keep in mind to keep up our belief in ourselves as dancers. To focus on the process of improvement rather then an outcome that’ll show us that we improved that has a lot more chance played in. A TedTalk titled If you want to Achieve your Goals,Don’t Focus on them  coves this quite well. This feels contradictory after going over setting goals to begin with but the speaker Reggie Rivers talks about a time how when he focused on the actions needed to get him to a desired outcome, he had the belief in himself to take care of those particular tasks. Rather then focus on achieving a goal he was more occupied with completing the process for him to get there and this allowed him to be more confident and focused. 

As a dancer we must put more focus on our processes to become better. Find ways to practice, things to work on in our dancing, try doing another dance to improve a particular skill, attend classes or teach classes. If it’s a task that can help you improve and build confidence in yourself then keep your eyes on that. I spend lots of my spare time trying to come up with drills to work on a particular dance skill, also this is how I prep for teaching classes.

In Rebecca Brightly’s blog post titled When Lindy Hop isn’t Fun Anymore she has a list of concrete actions to take to break dance stagnation. A lot of these can help you maintain confidence in yourself. The 4 that stand out the most is learning better practice skills giving you a renewed and revamped process to continue forward. Another action is to deepen relationships with those who support you, the best thing is having that little team who you can celebrate your triumphs and your blunders with.

Also, if you want good honest feedback from somebody you’ll get it. The same goes for having a mentor as I danced in Orlando, Fl, I could always count on Blake Wilkinson to give some moves to try to add to my dancing and honest feedback. Though at that time I didn’t really take workshops that really helped my dancing. I also had the benefit of International Instructor Joel Green to tell me that my hold step in a Balboa class was and I quote “Effed up” lol. The last and most important thing is always focus on the positive, always be proud to take a lesson away from anything. Anytime you can learn something new consider that a victory. In short make sure to be process focused and positive in all that you do. You can never control your circumstances but you can control your attitude.

Disregard what’s out of your Control

“But I have no partner! I have no money! I have no time! I’m not creative enough…” This is the opening to Jamin Jackson’s blog post titled But I don’t Have you want to know about how to disregard what’s out of your control this blog will show you. I really want people to read this blog so I’m not going to spoil it. Due to circumstances out of Jamin’s control he’s not always able to practice with his principle partner but in spite of that he didn’t let that hold him back. He was able to overcome the circumstance and end up placing 3rd with her at ILHC. Through out this year I realized I hit a slump in my dancing, a big part of it was I had a partner I practiced with but we mutually split up after Lindy Fest in March. After that I made no effort to practice at all but seeing Jamin’s example made me realize that I can overcome my circumstances of not being able to travel as much as I would like or not having a practice/competition partner.

Going back to Rebecca Brightly’s blog on dance slumps she touches on 5 things that can cause a dance slump and in turn a drop in confidence. One thing that I find compelling that I see a lot of dancers get caught up in is the fear of missing out. In every scene there are dancers who don’t get to travel very often if at all. In my 3 years of Lindy Hop thus far I’d put myself in that category actually. I can’t control the many factors that have kept me from traveling to events (ie. injuries, money, schedule, emergencies) though I’m not traveling I still have been able to improve my dancing. Grant it traveling is a great way to improve so if you can travel to an event do it but if you can’t don’t feel like you’re missing out. I’ve never been to a Lindy Focus but in past years that time period is where I’ve made most of my progress mentally as a dancer. Anytime a situation comes about like this you have to make a conscious decision “am I going to sit and complain about my circumstances or am I gonna find a way to get better today.” If you’re a beginner or someone who finds themselves in this situation but have no ideas on how take make lemonade out of the lemons you have, check out the recommendations I have at the bottom. Also, just hit me with a question in the comments or on Lindy Fitness Facebook page and we can make the best of your circumstances.

Conclusion

I had to realize those things I can’t control, so I must remain resilient and continue to practice even if that means that 99% of my practices are by myself.This comes down to the old saying, you can’t control your circumstances but you can control your effort. If improving as a dancer really means a good deal to you, why let obstacles stand in your way of what you really want. Jamin has a lot of great advice in his post How to master lindy hop as a part time dancer this advice works and it just isn’t just relevant to leads it works for follows as well if you don’t have a partner. I dance both roles and use this philosophy for both and it has helped me SO much. Follows if you want more information on how to take control of your dancing check out Swungovers The proactive Follower to get ideas on what things to focus on. Like my Facebook page I’ll be posting fitness articles along with Lindy Hop ones between posts to help y’all train to be better Lindy Hoppers. Feel free to check out my other posts.

Love y’all and God Bless remember to be inspired and to dance inspired.

Photo Credit to Ashleigh Beckman from Dallas, Texas