This is how I want my dancing to be.
Found and promptly stolen from dogpossum. Thank you!
Heroes can be lots of things. Sometimes they are close to you, sometimes you never meet them, and sometimes you can’t meet them because they exist in your mind. To me, Skye Humphries is all of the above at the same time.
My first swing dance teacher mentioned this crazy guy in DC who was doing amazing things in Lindy Hop. His name was Skye Humphries. This was the first time I had heard his name, not knowing that it would essentially change the course of my entire life. So being a dedicated student (or maybe an aspiring internet stalker) I typed his name into the YouTube search box. This was 2007 and I saw this:
I remember watching this clip for hours on repeat, trying to figure out exactly what was so mesmerizing about it. This started my two year YouTube binge. I couldn’t go out social dancing because I was still in high school, so instead, whenever I had free time I’d prowl YouTube for more videos. For two years my life was YouTube.
He makes the simplest movements look incredible. He is not hiding behind flash and trash. The level of perfection that must be reached in order to make a rock step look as inspiring as an aerial is mind blowing. But everyone already knows that Skye is an incredible dancer.
What really inspired me about Skye, is that he’s not embarrassed to be himself. Ever.
And that’s something that will always stay with me for as long as I’m alive.
I had some more thoughts to add to True Improvement post.
1) Andrew had an awesome post in which he talks about how he improves by dedicating practice time.
I think its important to set up your priorities. If your priority is to just have the most fun ever when you are dancing, then having fun should be what you focus on the most when you dance! If you feel that the most fulfilling way for you to exist is to constantly improve your dancing, then read on…
2) Daniel sent me this awesome video, which is just perfect:
I think when we say that practice makes perfect, it’s not entirely true. It’s practicing the right way. Knowing what you are not so good at, sucking it up, and honestly working on it. My first teacher used to say that it’s like eating your vegetables. IT SUCKS, I know. For me, that is focusing on one of the multitude of things I am not so good at and working on it anytime I’m dancing (class, practice, social dance) for however long (usually months) until it slowly creeps into my muscle memory.
I have this dichotomy that exists in my brain between wanting to have fun, just forgetting about everything, and enjoying dancing and while also wanting, SO desperately, to fix all those different parts of my dancing which are honestly terrible. Obviously there are times where I abandon my practice mindset for a few songs. But I know those few songs, or moments, I’m not actually improving my dancing at all. I’m just having fun. That’s cool too!
It’s important, at least for me it is, not to trick yourself into thinking that when you’re not thinking about your dancing critically (when you’re just having fun) that you are improving. You might be improving at having fun, but you won’t have any quantifiable improvement in your dancing. For me, the times when I feel like I’m improving the most is when it is the hardest for me focus on the thing I am working on. On that note…
3) A thought from Daniel and Dax Hock, who mentioned this in a conversation I was eavesdropping on, was that the closer we actually get to that threshold of progress the more discomfort we feel. And when we can stand that discomfort for just a moment longer is when we break that threshold and truly improve and progress.
Just something to think about.
In a recent and enlightening (as always) chat with Daniel Young, we realized something about true improvement.
Everyone has these waves where sometimes we feel amazing about our dancing and every night we go out we have an awesome time. But is this when we are truely getting better as dancers?
I know when I am working on something in my Lindy Hop I think about it every single dance I have. Right now one of the things I’m focusing on is keeping the pulse throughout my dancing, so every time I dance, this is all I think about. It sucks. It feels like I am not dancing. But this is the only time I feel that I improve in my dancing.
The most difficult part of this for me is keeping up with it until it is in my muscle memory and I don’t have to think about it. Then that’s when I can have my next wave of feeling awesome in my dancing. The problem is being honest with myself and focusing on that one thing I’m working on as much as I can. It is easy to forget about it and fall back into not caring and just dancing and having fun.
Having fun is important, but you have to be honest with yourself about what you want from the dance. If all you want is to have fun, that’s so awesome! Focus on that! If your goal is to make yourself the best dancer you can be, than keep your focus on that and you’ll be fulfilled beyond anything else you have ever done.
We have the most fun dancing is when we improve our abilities the least.
Andrew had an awesome comment last week:
“Being open minded is important and I agree with you on the point that it is always a good endeavor to expand ones horizons.
People have suggested though (and I agree) in certain situations sometimes being creative comes easier when one has limitations to work within.
My question would be how does one find balance among these two ideas? I feel if you choose one exclusively you end up with the extreme of the dancer that just looks like a caricature of the person or idea they are trying to emulate or on the other hand a person who goes on all these tangents that lack context.”
This is an idea I’ve also been thinking about for a long time.
One of my absolute favorite movies is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). When I first saw this movie I was so intrigued by how the movie is filmed. It stand out from all of Hitchcock’s other films. Why? Because pretty much the whole film is shot from the window of the lead character’s apartment. The lead character is in a wheelchair, because he broke his leg, and he spends all his time looking out into the other apartments from his own window. Hitchcock put a limit on himself by only shooting from one point of view. Of course it was much harder to do, and obviously doesn’t have these incredible long shots (like in North by Northwest (1959)), however this forced Hitch to be much more creative in his filming and in the end delivered the emotions to the audience that the story called for perfectly.
Okay so done with the film-nerd-dom, but that the heck does that all mean to Lindy Hoppers?
So a while back Jerry posted this incredible interview with Skye Humphries (who will be teaching in Pasadena next weekend at Harvest Moon Swingout, come out and dance with him because he’s never on the west coast!) in which Skye talks about structure in Lindy Hop:
“I think the great appeal of Lindy Hop is not it’s lack of right and wrong, but instead is this simplicity of structure. By having [a] clear structure the dance allows [for] great improvisation and communication.
Improvisation isn’t about doing away without all rules or all structures or all forms. It is about subverting those rules, reworking the structures from the inside, allowing one’s self to fill the form of the dance and then refashioning it. Improvisation comes from mastery of structure not its dissolution, and this is one of the real beauties of Lindy Hop. Its form is an incredible achievement. Its basic step is a complex negotiation between the couple and the individual. It leaves so much space.
To me the only mistake is to approach Lindy Hop as formless or structure-less [by] ignoring the rhythm, ignoring ones partner, ignoring the music, [or] ignoring how the dance has been done in the past.”
We can think about the swing out as a limit. Lindy Hop is also a limit, why do you chose Lindy Hop above ballroom, or hip hop, or modern? For me, there are an enormous amount of reasons, but the main one is perhaps this simple structure that if both partners understand thoroughly they can create something that is bigger than the sum of it’s parts. They can create a dance that could not have been created by any one dancer alone. I believe that no other dance out there can offer this. (If you disagree, challenge me!)
In last weeks post I asked you all to open your mind and find music that you liked that was not something you would dance to. The important part of that was not to listen to every song out there and say that you liked it, but listen to songs that you like. It’s to find or create your own simple structure to be inspired from. You may as well find that you don’t like anything else except for Cats and the Fiddle, but make sure that you know why.
To answer Andrew, I do not think that being open minded and having limits are two different ends of one stick. I think you cannot have one without the other. Being open minded helps you understand your limits, or this structure to an incredible degree. It helps you question why this structure works and why it works so well for you.
I think in the end it’s important to keep an open mind and be receptive to all ideas around you, however it is also equally important to develop your own taste, your own point of view, and your ability to think critically.
See you next week!
I’m back. Things have slightly settled in my life for the moment and I have time for blogging again! I’m challenging myself to post once a week. You can help keep me honest by spamming me with hate mail or lovely comments.
So onto the meat and potatoes.
When I first started dancing, maybe for the first year or two, I went into this “I LOVE LINDY HOP SO MUCH!OMFG!!” spiral and ended up only listening to swing music. It definitely made me a better dancer and helped me a lot to define what I liked and didn’t like dancing to. But it also made me a more boring person and therefore a more boring dancer.
When we put ourselves in boxes or align ourselves with only one way of thinking about something we put limits on our thoughts and therefore our actions. It’s so important to be open minded, but it’s also very difficult.
So I give you this little challenge for the week, listen to music you loved in high school. I suggest getting Spotify. You can find every song on there (even ones you never bought on CD, or tape, or… whatever else I’m to young to know about) and have a little nostalgia party with your self. It’s amazing how much our tastes change yet stay the same. I challenge you to discover and explore the music that you might have forgotten about. You gain a new appreciation for your own taste in music. If you want to dive further: look up sound tracks to movies you love, find friend’s playlists with Spotify Social and see what they are listening to, type in random words in the search and listen to the first song you think looks interesting.
Expand your mind, and you’ll find your ability expands as well.
I’m finishing up school this month and it’s a doozy. I’m working on answering all those questions in the Creativity post too!
I found this poem and just wanted to share it with all of you. I think it goes hand in hand with a previous post, Loving ’till it Hurts. Take what you’d like from it.
so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
I am starting to offer private, one on one lessons at LindyGroove, on Thursday nights in Pasadena!
Private lessons are available at the following rates:
$20 per half hour
$30 per hour
Inquire about student and other discounts 🙂
If you would like to schedule one with me please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to put Private Lessons in the subject!
You can also click on Classes above to find out where I’ll be teaching group lessons next.
PS: Click on Photos to see more photos!
Sometimes it’s hard to be creative. Sometimes it’s easy.
But what does it mean to be truly creative? Can you be creative while doing someone else’s choreography? Is it creative to practice or learn the Shim Sham, the Big Apple, the Trankey Doo, etc.? Is it more creative to have confines and limitation? Or is it more creative to have a blank slate? And how does this all fit in to Lindy Hop?
I’ve been thinking about creativity and what it means to me recently so I was wondering what it means to all of you out there.
Check out the following posts for more brain stirring:
What are all your ideas?
(Yes, that’s what she said.)
Today I was reminded of a post in Naomi Uyama’s old MySpace blog. Even though this was written 4 years ago, it is still so very very true today.
“When I started dancing almost 10 years ago I didn’t have a goal to get where I’m at now really. I don’t know what I would have said if you’d told me then I’d be making a living from it. I just enjoyed it so much I wanted to do it as much as I could, I soaked up any and all information like a little sponge, and my greatest dream was to someday be in a jam. I see some newbies with these goals of winning big contests and becoming big names and I wonder how much they genuinely enjoy lindy hop itself. Like they could substitute squash, or tiddly winks, or tetris for it if those could give them the same returns they believe they can get from the dance world.”
I feel like more and more nowadays people are becoming obsessed with winning and titles and social status. Are they trying to find validation for themselves? For their dancing? Is this how they think they will feel fulfilled? If so, what they seek is futile. They won’t find their fulfillment in these places. In fact they probably won’t ever find fulfillment.
For me, fulfillment comes from just dancing. Every second I get to dance I value and cherish deeply. Fulfillment for me is loving the dance so much you can barely stand it, till it hurts. And it’s frustrating, and lovely, and fantastic, and heartbreaking, and exhilarating, and addicting, and enthralling, and life sucking, and so many more other things you feel all at once.
For me dancing is communicating. Communicating how much I love this dance, what my ideas are about the dance, about the music being played at that moment. And I’m not just communicating these things to my partner, I’m communicating these things to anyone who glances at me as the pass by, or whoever happens to catch a glimpse of me in a jack and jill prelim. That is why competitions are such powerful experiences for me.
Naomi writes that her ability to make a living from this dance is just a bonus of her loving the dance so much. It’s just a side benefit, it’s not something she’s climbing towards. She’s happy just to be able to dance. And that’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read.
Another quote from Naomi for the road which has also affected me deeply:
“I am a lover of analogies, it can get a little ridiculous, but here is one of my faves. Imagine that all the lindy hoppers out there are people running in a pack. There are all kinds of runners, some faster, some slower. Though they move together they are running for different reasons. Some run like it is a race, they are moving forward to be first, to be faster than others, to win. Others run towards the horizon, a distant, beautiful, point that cannot be reached. They move forward so that we all may move forward, they know the secret lies in the exhilaration of running itself.
So here is the funny thing about “racers”. They stare at the backs of the people in front of them and and toil to beat them, but if they ever did pull ahead to the very front of the pack guess what would happen- they would stop dead in their tracks. Their goal would be achieved, they would stop running, the dance would stop moving forward. It is the ones who see the horizon, the runners who are in for the journey and not the destination that will always continue. They feel less the work of it and more the joy in it. Those are the dancers that inspire me.”