Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trust is a complicated thing. (Bambloozled class and current dance ruminations. Also... words are hard.)

So yeah. Trust.  It's a thing you need to have with someone you're dancing with... only sometimes you don't have it.

It's a thing you have to have with yourself to dance with, only sometimes you don't have it.

There are a few emotional/meta themes that I have been chewing on in my brain for a while now (my brain chews, apparently? yes, it does.), as they relate to my dancing.  One of them (obviously from the opening of this post) is trust.  Another could be called "confidence."  This post is going to be some of my thoughts, as best as I can articulate them, about trust in partnership and connection, and manifestations of that, physically, with respect to attitude and posture and counterbalance.

I'm going to start by attempting to describe some things about the classes last weekend at Bambloozled, especially picking out the things that I really want to dig into, and circle back around with some things that I have been working on in my lindy, both long-term and more recently.

Saturday, as I mentioned before, morning classes in DC were taught by Brenda Russell of Portland and Chris Härm of Australia by way of Europe.  First thing in the morning, we worked on a fundamental tool in blues dancing, the way we connect in close embrace*.  

Close embrace is an interesting choice in the dance arsenal, because it's so... optional.  You can, and often do, go entire dances without it.  Some partners you may choose to never use it.  And yet it is so integral to what I think of as blues dancing.  

So Saturday during the tracked/blocked class with Brenda and Chris, they had us practicing connecting in close embrace with various partners**. The observation that they started with went something like, "We see a lot of the leaders working very hard to keep their follows close to them.  We'd like to see the follows taking more responsibility for remaining with the leaders, and the leaders to use somewhat less tone/force as the default for keeping the follows near. " And I'm thinking, 'the leader's arm should be guardrail and not a cage.'  

The most interesting physical detail of this to me at the time was the request that the leaders re-evaluate where they were placing their right arm.  They requested that the leaders consider the natural curve of the follows, and connect with their arm low across the back of the ribcage, in the curve of her natural waist, rather than across her back, near the tips of the scapulae, which restricts the movement of her chest.  It's cool how much different this feels.  It makes it much easier to slide into the "pocket" of the leader's arm and connect core to core.  As far as taking responsibility for connecting to the leader, I endeavored to do this conscientiously while we practiced but I sort of thought I already was? Isn't it cute when I think I know things? 

Sunday, during the critique class, I was excited about multiple things. The format of the class was half open practice, half line up for feedback from the instructors.  Everybody was in a room, with instructors (about half a dozen of them?) scattered around the perimeter at station.  Music was played, and we were free to dance with each other, or the instructors, or with each other in front of the instructors, and give or solicit feedback as negotiated between ourselves and our partners.  We were reminded at the beginning to basically be sensitive, positive, and constructive, and I think it set a good tone. 

I was excited about both avenues for feedback, both the instructors and some of my preferred social partners who were also in the class. Amazingly, considering the number of different dance philosophies present in the room, the feedback that I got was very coherent. 
- I feel that you have a lot of tension in your right arm when we are connected in open position.  
- You still have tension across the middle of your back (ohh, there!) when we connect in close embrace, and it's preventing me from moving your hips as much as I would like.  Also, try to stay more connected, I'm having to use my arm a lot to hold you in.  
- You tend to be very centered in your space. (aha!)  (Back=weight on heels, forward=weight forward and on balls, centered= balanced in equilibrium, weight slightly on balls).  Partially related and partially as a consequence [and partially because I want to be following "correctly,"] you're lighter than you need be, and farther away.  You can be closer to me.  You can be... drapey-er, and a bit heavier, and both will be easier if you come forward in your space/balance.   
- I'm seeing a lot of, "yep. yep. yep. I got that. uh-huh. yep." in your following.  Can I get some "hells yes! oh! and this." as well? Can you relax a bit, and be willing to make mistakes? {A frequent comment about my lindy, as well. Uptight white kid, represent.}

We're going to time travel every so slightly in this narrative and bring in two other things.  The first is another lightbulb from Bambloozled, but it's not necessarily specific to blues.  

Mike Reardon bat-hang.
Jim Thornburg photo,
Climbing Magazine
Later  Sunday in the tricks class, we were doing something that ended with an optional low dip.  To recover from it, you basically need to be able to do an inverted sit-up, no big deal (but a big deal for some people.)  I thought I was doing it more or less correctly when Brenda came over to give me some pointers, with regardes to my shoulders.  Which should actually not be hunched into my chest when I do this.  She had my leader and I strike the low point of the dip, and then began to help my lengthen my chest by bringing my shoulder back... and back.. and down and back and a little bit ow! I am not totally certain I'm currently capable of getting my shoulders where they need to be, actually.  But the major point was: 
- I need to go to the point at which I'm comfortable with this... and then further.  And at that further point, if I am dropped, I will hit the floor.  At the comfortable point, I could probably still be 100% responsible for my own weight; as long as the base/leader remains standing, I will recover. (am I strong enough to do a fully inverted situp or recover from a bat-hang? sure. ) At the uncomfortable point... which makes the nicest lines... I really need my base/leader.  oooh. squirmy.  
Let's take another hop into my narrative time machine and travel total to a place where we talk about my lindy hop, and how I've been paranoid-afraid of counterbalance for a while.  

When I first got back into dancing a couple of years ago, I was both incredibly tense and incredibly heavy. Not that I had any idea what that would have meant if anyone had said it to me.  And I suspect it mostly passed unremarked because I weighed about 115 lbs, and physics dictates that as hard as it might be to move me, it's still easier than moving an equally resistant someone with greater mass.  Also/as part of this, I tended to default to a great deal of counter in my lindy.  Some of that is like a fetish, causes unknowable, and some of that is, I suspect, is a result of the dance partnership I had in college and the neo-swing, ska and pop punk we liked to throw ourselves around to***, and the fact that he weighed 170% of what I did.  (Alternately, I weighed ~58% of what he did. Math problem!) 

And then I realized that I was like that (heavy as fuck and unsubtle), and reactionarily pulled way back.  I have tried so very hard not to be that follow pulling on people's arms, because I've become aware that I have done that and it is uncomfortable,  that I sometimes struggle with matching my leader appropriately, in the opposite direction.  But still the thought of giving too much and being an imposition on my leaders is horrible to me.  

Which is where we hop out of the time machine and come full circle back to, "You can be closer to me, when we're in close embrace."  

All of these things are trust issues, and it would be equally true to say that all of them stem from my emotional reserve and how it manifests itself in my dancing.  I don't want to be an imposition on my leader,  so I hang forward in lindy and back in blues, I try and keep my own weight exclusively at all times and I follow literally rather than imaginatively.  I don't trust that my leader "wants" me (countered in lindy, forward in blues without offense for personal space, to share weight in tricks), or "has" me, or will forgive me.  I still don't trust myself to be sufficient, and to have interpreted and matched my leader correctly.  

How many times will I come back to learning these same things?  Repetitively, I suspect.  And each time, it feels like a new revelation.  I feel energized by this, rather than discouraged.  So I will go back to the floor, and try and learn new physical and technical tools for my dancing that will allow fuller expression within the dance.  And I will try to break out of my shell, again.  I'm sure there's probably another shell behind this one, too, but it's gotta be a bigger shell than the one before so each time I'm expanding my possibilities. And that is enough for progress.  And that is enough.     


Dear Bobby White, thank you for pioneering the ways of footnoting blogs. 

* Blues dancing has three major positions, not counting breakaway (not touching).  "Open" and "closed" are similar to the positions of the same names in lindy, while "close embrace" is what the closer, body-to-body position is generally referred to as.  

**Another huge concept we worked on Saturday, which was something that I had not really seen broken down in a class before (or if it was, did not understand at all), but found very illuminating, was the concept of each movement having component vectors of translational and rotational motion, not just on the floor but within your own body.  {Brenda called it linear and rotational motion, and I'm not sure if she used the phrase "component vectors" but this how it comes back out of my brain.} And how the conscious, temporal separation of these component vectors creates the aspect of "lag" that one both feels and sees in blues.  This is mostly a mental note to myself, since it's perfectly impossible for me to say anything meaningful about this with text alone.  

We also worked on spinning.  Oh, spins: I slowly get better at you.  And then the idea of leading with tension and compression but without, necessarily, a change of position in the leader's hand.   See also, not really helpful to describe in text except as a note to myself that we did these things, since I already know what I'm talking about.  

***I sincerely and un-ironically enjoyed dancing to Fall Out Boy in college (in addition to real swing music).  Nothing you can say or do will ever take that away from me. 

****This isn't a real footnote, because it's not referenced above, but I totally neglected to include a story that is so relevant to the topic of this post. Last year at Bambloozled, I had the temerity to ask one of the very good follows to dance with me, and she was gracious enough to accept my lead.  As I started the dance with her in closed position, she molded into my embrace with such ingenuous trust and benefit of the doubt that I was memorably affected.  "I accept you and believe in you," her embrace seemed to say. There was no hesitation, despite me being A) a girl and B) not a terribly skilled leader. But I think she brought out the best of my leading.  I remember thinking that, "Oh man, I want to dance like that." Just another thing for me to reference and keep in mind... 


  1. Argentine Tango is very much about close embrace connection so I found this an interesting read. While I agree there is a good deal of trust involved, in general I think there are some mechanics involved that need to be sorted out first. Many (most?) dancers aren't really physically capable of engaging and maintaining a proper close embrace but I would imagine with your core strength from climbing that wouldn't be the case with you. Scientifically, I like to think of a "connection vector", which is simply the amount of horizontal force the follower is generating into the connection point. Standing up straight it is zero; this is the worst feeling for a leader because without connection there is no communication and without communication there is no dance. Actually a negative connection vector is worse: chasing around after people. So how to generate a non-zero, non-negative CV? You would think the leaning, draping thing is the way to go but that sucks too. You are a little thing so you can get away with it but ideally you should be self-contained and not dependent on the leader to hold you up. So it comes from posture (hence the core physical requirements). The ability to transmit your grounding in the floor through your quadriceps and pelvis and into a firm but supple trunk.

    As you point out, the ideal connection is not too light, not too heavy. But for me personally I would take too heavy over too light all night long.

  2. "You would think the leaning, draping thing is the way to go but that sucks too. You are a little thing so you can get away with it but ideally you should be self-contained and not dependent on the leader to hold you up."

    You're the second person to take exception to the "drapey" word, and my only defense is that words are hard. It's also entirely possible that I'm not really qualified to be running my mouth about this, so I've tried to frame this as "my impression" as much as possible. That being said...

    I didn't mean "drapey" as in "actually draped on/ leaning on/relying on for support." I meant "drapey" as in "if you hang a piece of corduroy and a piece of silk from a curtain rod, and have a beautiful, curvy, naked woman back up into the fabric as it hangs, you're gonna notice a lot more *detail* in the backside of the woman covered by the silk than the corduroy, because the fabric is "drapey"-er." Both fabrics hanging from a curtain rod, woman in the same place both times, the silk will hang closer to her body, because of properties of the fabric. Both pieces of fabric will keep hanging where they're hanging, regardless, because they're not supported by the woman, they're supported by the curtain rod. But one will conform to her shape much better.

    To be slightly less metaphoric- there *ought* to be a range of attitudes that I can affect with respect to being forward/centered/back in my space, without any actually putting weight on my leader, and I'm not really thinking of that as being the same variable as the "drapey" thing. I don't know that I was clear about that.

    In other news, this post is kind of a mess.

    As for the connection stuff... you and I need to nerd out a little more, but from what little I know, and from what you've written here, the idea of connection in AT is very different than in lindy or blues. In both, there is the idea that even if we're not transmitting any force through the connection point at the moment, we wouldn't call that "zero" connection, because if we're holding hands, and both have proper posture and core engagement, I'll still know as soon as you move, because I'll feel it. Do you need to be looking to know when your climber moves, or is your hand on the rope above the device sufficient? And even with just fingertips on 20 meters of rope, can't you tell the difference between chalking up and moving up?