Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hierarchy of dance needs/ what makes a good dance?

So this hasn't updated in a while in large part because it's been climbing season, and I haven't been thinking about dance as much because I've been doing less dancing.

But here is something I've been thinking about, and was talking with a friend about this morning: what makes a good dance? And here, as succinctly as possibly, is my hierarchy of dance needs:

1. Nobody gets hurt.
2. We are dancing TOGETHER.
3. We are dancing TO THE MUSIC.

Obviously violating point 1 makes for a bad dance.

With regards to point 2- I've had amazing dances with rank beginners who smiled at me and held me close and we swayed and stepped in no particular pattern. And I've had bad dances with very skilled pros who ignored me while they held my hand. I think this touches on some things I said in my post about "lindy hop as challenge," that the best moments of partner dancing are when I share something with my partner, and if we're not together, that can't occur.  An objectively skilled lead does not automatically make for a good dance because the quality of being "together" has an emotional as well as many physical components.  If I ask you "How do you think about this!" and you respond "Banana!!" that's gonna feel pretty weird, even if it's an awesome banana.

It's also relevant to the discussions of a follows "role" or "place" with regards to how much creative input a follow has in the direction of a dance, and some threads that have tried to approach that question recently about what kind of follow do you want to be, one that has lots of creative input but maybe disrupts what you're doing or one that "does what she's told"? Or what kind of follow do you want to dance with? These are ultimately questions of values, and different people value different things.  For me, I answered that I'd rather be the follow that "does what she's told," despite the terribly negative implications of phrasing it that way.  Because while an occasional hiccup (with everyone) or even totally not-working dance (with a friend, hopefully) is the expense of trying things, I don't feel that I can be creative if my partner and I are not together first.  I need to feel secure before I feel that I can take risks, and I'm not inspired to jump if I feel like I'm standing on vapor.

Plus, if I want to be in total creative control of what I'm doing, I can dance solo.

Point 3 relates to both the small details like "wheres the beat? are we dancing in a rhythm that has anything to do with the song?" and bigger stuff like mood and phrasing.  One of the best things about going further down the rabbit hole of lindy hop is that more muscle memory for movement vocabulary frees your brain up to pay more attention to the music.  And the music is the architect of the dance- it's kind of a big deal.

Some of the bigger questions: (mood and phrasing) Are we dancing like cracked-out  bounce-house neoswingers to a mellow song? Do we get to dance bigger and really let out our joy when the horns come in? If you do give me some space and leave me out at the end of a swingout and the phrase and my idea ends 4 beats later, do you bring me back in, or do you leave me hanging out there, dancing solo while I hold your hand?  Does our dance build with the music and have lulls as well as highs?

If we dance comfortably, together, and to the music? Oh man, that will be a great dance.


  1. I agree with your heirarchy.

    But I would add that when there is a live band, that I find the highest level is connecting in a real way with the musicians as well as with your partner can make the dance truly transcendent and glorious.

    Oh and if there is ice cream after. But maybe that's just me.

  2. It's funny... I was talking to the drummer from tonight, about a high moment at the dance for me: the violinist winked at me after I matched something to a phrase of his. Nick responded that when he sees good dancers really dancing with the musicians and the music, he loves to give it back and deliberately accent then, when the dancers do cool things.

    Which is a somewhat long-winded way, I guess, of saying I totally agree with you. And we should get ice cream tomorrow.