ILHC is rolling up pretty quick, so I haven't had too much time to develop any of the essays I've started in the past month as you can tell from my single post last week. So I'm going to bust something out of the archives for your amusement. This article is based off of my response to a question posted on Yehoodi back in early 2006 asking "What are the best follows good at?" It was one of my first attempts at some major dance geekery. Online at least. I think it also was one of the first times where people dissected footage available on the internet. This was just as YouTube was taking off, but the original clips discussed were off of the old poy.no servers. If you find this post interesting you may want to go check out the old thread since that had some good commentary from a bunch of different people back in the days when they actually talked about dancing on Yehoodi. Yes, such days existed once.
Anyway, everything that follows is based off of my edit to my re-posting on old MySpace blog. Yep, this is a re-post of a re-post. A summer re-run if you will. It starts in . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .
As I've noted previously, talking about music isn't as useful as listening to it when you want to convey certain concepts. The same applies to dancing. In fact I think one of the reasons that the so called "style wars" broke out on various Lindy Hop discussion boards was because people couldn't understand what everyone else was trying say, and what was said was usually worded very poorly. One of the reasons why people come into conflict is because of poor or a complete lack of communication.
If dance is a form of communication, then I think one of the least understood concepts, at least in the realm of Lindy Hop, is that of "clarity of communication" or simply the ability to be articulate. Beginners (and some veterans) tend to get caught up in the need to learn a variety of moves or patterns. I sometimes teach at a small dance studio, and I once overheard a great line from a hip hop teacher at the end of one of his classes while talking to one of his students. The kid was badgering him about learning new moves, and the teacher simply replied, "You don't need more moves, you need more movement!"
Rather than babble on, I think it would be more useful to illustrate what I'm talking about with a video clip. Another great line I recently discovered is by ballerina Anna Pavlova who upon being asked what one of her dance performances meant, retorted, "If I could say it, do you think I should have danced it?"
See Naomi Uyama dancing with Todd Yannacone in the medium division finals of the 2005 Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown. Todd usually gets a lot of credit/flak for his dazzling array of combinations, but here Naomi bears an equal amount of credit and responsibility for making the dance look good. She does this through the idea of continuity of movement: The concept where a follow will continue moving in the direction that she's directed in until led otherwise. Done well, it results in a very fluid motion from one pattern into the next, creating a very organic and natural look.
Right off the bat, at around 0:25 in you'll see Todd lead a Texas Tommy. Naomi carries the momentum of the turn all the way through to her leg on 7 & 8 which allows her to build up energy in her re-established connection with Todd who is then able to re-direct it to spin her the other way.
This movement has been mistaken for back leading, however it's a bit more complicated than that. Basically, Todd was just standing there not leading anything at that particular moment, but he changes his mind reacting to Naomi's continued motion (clockwise from the Texas Tommy) into his hand by letting her rebound back the other way. She's not really in a position to "back lead" because his hand is wrapped around her wrist, which most follows will say, doesn't give them many choices.
Another good example is at about 2:00 minutes in of the same contest with Giselle Anguizola dancing with Nick Williams. Nick does a nice hesitation step which is made possible by Giselle making an effort to sink into his hand in order to keep building energy for him to release her back the other way. If she stops short, she'll throw them both off balance. The move is dependent on the two of them moving away from each other, even in such a funky position.
A lot of this is depends on the follow trusting the lead. If she doesn't have that and decides to go into business on her own, she may do something that she likes, but leaves the lead hanging, taking the "partner" out of "partner dancing" with her. Such is the result of "micro musicality" where dancers will try to hit. every. little. note. in the music--breaking the flow of the partnership rather than embellishing movements as they take them to their logical end.
It may be frustrating at times for follows when they are with a lead who seems to be doing a lot of cool things independent of the follow, but good follows have patience to pick and choose their moments. There's a nice example where Laura Keat is dancing with Kevin St. Laurent in the above video at about 2:27 where Kevin does multiple underarm turns for himself. At the same time, Laura does some nice sliding footwork where most follows would either stand there and do nothing, or worse, do something to jank the leader off balance.
Also See Nina Gilkensen dancing with Peter Strom of the ULHS 2005 Pro Jack & Jill. Around 6:40 Peter leads a spin. Rather than stopping to face him directly at the end of the spin, she keeps moving in the original direction of the spin into a kick away from him to start off the next move. Note the control of her body as she's able to torque her lower body away from Peter, while keeping her upper half engaged and responsive to his lead.
Also, good follows don't necessarily have to wait for moments for them to shine. They make the most of what's given to them. Also in this contest, Frida Segerdahl is dancing with Peter Loggins and at about 4:12 in, during their second shine, Peter leads four consecutive swingouts and Frida does four different things at the beginning/end of each of those swingouts, not to mention some cool footwork during the side pass that kicks off that sequence.
For me, that's not even Frida's most admirable trait. She's one of the few dancers who not only has fun when she goes out there, but goes "all in" when she dances. If you're not familiar with that phrase, it's from poker where a player will bet all of their money and show their cards in one hand. In relation to dancing I mean that she just lets it all hang out. There's an awesome moment back in the medium finals video (the first one in this post) where Frida and Skye Humphries start their first shine at around 2:45. They put more energy and attitude into that simple act of walking onto the dance floor than some people will ever do during their entire lives dancing. Also around 3:20, Frida just lets loose with a primal scream that distracts Todd & Naomi as they enter for their shine. This goes beyond mere showmanship. It's the manifestation of a freedom that comes from an incredible amount of hard work.
I can talk about particular skills, but ultimately great dancers become that way through a lot of sheer effort. Check out Naomi dancing with Todd in the fast division finals of ULHS 2005. During their second shine, about 3 minutes in, they electrify the crowd doing fairly basic moves at 320+ bpm that most dancers can only do at half that speed. It should be noted that this song clocks in at around the speed as the music in the Hellzapoppin' clip with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.
What made Naomi and Todd's performance so exciting was that it looked so easy and effortless to music so fast that few people would even dare to think about dancing to it. Naomi and Todd live on opposite sides of the country, so they don't dance with each other all that often. But they have worked on their dancing individually to a point where they're able to internalize movements to such a degree that they don't have to think about doing them. You look at other competitors in the preliminary rounds of that division, and you can see the huge amount of mental effort on some of their faces just to complete a simple swingout.
I guess what I'm saying is that I think what separates some dancers from others, is about how they approach the dance more than anything else. I often tell my students that learning about frame, connection, musicality, patterns, or even the ability to dissect video clips is only the beginning. It takes a lot of effort to learn these things, but in the end they are only singular aspects of dancing. Once you have those things down, then you can start to learn how to dance.
"Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection within the soul."- Bruce Lee