Rolfer, Dancer, Teacher

Posts tagged ‘Durham’

First On The Floor

The last two nights, I taught a pre-concert beginner lesson for Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra which was playing for a 2-night series of Duke Performances shows.  The band was fabulous, both nights were a packed house, and both nights the new dancers were enthusiastic, creative, and happily socializing with each other.  But a curious effect emerged the second night.  Where the floor had almost always had at least 2 or 3 couples on it Friday night, it ended up being completely empty of dancers for most of the Saturday show.

It got me thinking about the TED talk below from Derek Sivers.  One of the things I have been working on with beginners is how to present getting on the floor in a way that makes it easier to make that leap.  Particularly in a hall full of seated non-dancers, people can feel awfully intimidated stepping into the space between and audience and a band.  The Friday night dance had enough experienced dancers on hand that usually at least one or two couples were willing to brave the floor and others would follow.

On Saturday night, there were few experienced dancers on hand.  With the lack of experienced dancers to get the floor started, it never seemed to really build momentum.  It got me wondering if there are better ways to help new dancers feel comfortable enough to be the first on the floor.  I haven’t had a chance to try all of these ideas out yet, but I have a rare free morning, so I figured I’d write them down and see what people think.  I’d also be interested to hear other’s experience with getting dancers to brave the floor at not-exclusively-dance events.

Use the Buddy System

One thought that I haven’t tried yet is to suggest that several couples take to the floor at once.  It seems to me that being that it isn’t really until you’ve got 3 couples out on the floor that it gets easier for more people to go out.  So what if rather than trying to go out as a solo dancer or couple, one gathered a few people off the floor to go out at once.  Imagine it as the difference between someone trying to start a solo Charleston jam on their own versus putting on a T’aint What You Do and having multiple dancers descend on the floor at once for a Shim Sham.

Have the Band Invite People to Dance

Jazz musicians as a whole don’t always have the best reputation for liking dancers.  I’ve been a shows before where it wasn’t clear if a band was open to dancers or not and it definitely has opened the door when someone in the band says something like “the dance floor is open”.  My experience has been that lots of people are just waiting to be given permission to be creative, try something new, or just get on the floor.  I try to make this explicit in the beginner lessons, but I think permission from the band might carry more weight once the show starts.

Get Them Chair Dancing First

Perhaps another thing that keeps people off the floor is the way that they sit and watch a band.  I find most jazz concerts people sit very quietly as if listening to a lecture.  For me, if I’m feeling intimidated about getting out there or I’m not feeling terribly creative, sometimes it helps to just take a song or two first to bounce in my chair, let myself connect with the music, and let it draw me in more as I start to move in bits and pieces.  I haven’t tried this with a beginner class yet, but maybe it could help to have them sit and chair dance for a little bit before getting up to find a partner.

Ultimately, Let Whatever Happens Happen

In the end, I’m not going to try and force dancers on the floor.  I do think it is interesting though how people can be having a great time in a lesson and then never make it out for a dance that night.  I tend to think it is less an issue of desire and more one of confidence and the more I can lower that barrier for my students, the more they can enjoy the night and add something special that only that combination of music and dance can provide.  I’d love to hear about it if anyone tries any of the ideas above and I’d be grateful to hear anyone else’s thoughts on things they’ve tried to help new dancers get on the floor more easily at concerts like this.

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Losing My Collection

high_fidelity_rob_with_tapeTwo days ago while I was parked in downtown Durham for a show at a local bar when my car was broken into and my laptop was stolen, so I’m writing this from a friend’s laptop. While this loss is  distressing on a number of levels, it has been interesting to realize that the greatest feeling  of loss is for my collection of MP3s.  It has been approximately a 10 year project amassing my DJ collection of swing tunes and the amount of work that was just stolen in my cheap laptop is hitting me pretty hard.

My collection has been with me through 4 homes, 3 laptops, 3 cars, a radical career change, and a half dozen or more romantic relationships. I can remember when I first decided to convert my collection to  MP3 and after ripping everything at a lower quality, chose to start over and spend my free time for an entire week patiently sitting at my desktop transferring CD after CD in and out of the drive, hitting rip MP3s, and waiting to start the next disc.  Since then, I’ve spent countless hours acquiring music, ripping CDs, tapping out BPMs, and cataloging, tagging, and organizing my collection.  As much as I found the process tedious at times (and honestly, I think I had only managed to keep up with rating and tagging about 20-30% of my collection), I am realizing that it also created a bond that I didn’t fully recognize until now.

It has been a bit of a High Fidelity moment for me to realize how much of a role my music collection has played in my life.  If I hadn’t jumped into collecting music when I started, I’m not sure Rob Moreland would have ever asked me to start DJing so many years back.  When I was a year into dance and starry-eyed about Paul and Sharon’s dancing and teaching, my music collection was a way to connect with that and Sharon was the first DJ I emulated in style and collecting.  This lead to Chris Owens dubbing me “Bluesberry Muffin” when I DJ’d which lead to a great number of formative conversations about energy and drive in music.  Then there are forays into tango, getting deeper into vintage music, etc. etc.  I can effectively trace the 11 years of my dancing (even my burned out year) through my music collection.

And it’s not just a matter of my music mirroring my DJ trajectory, it has also driven my dancing.  As I found music I liked, I felt driven to learn to dance to it too.  It drove my dancing into trying to make my movements sharper or softer, helped me figure out pulse, and has recently been driving me to play with Charleston again.  My music (and a few excellent historians) have inspired me to learn more about the musicians who do these incredible recordings which in turn inspired me to start running RDU Rent Party dances with Laura Windley and to love just sitting and watching musicians play when I’m not dancing.  My music has shaped not just my movements, but where I have gone as a person.

In the last 2 days as I’ve shared my distress, a great number of DJs have offered to help by giving me music.  As much as I appreciate the support, it’s interesting to note how wrong it feels to think about accepting that help.  As much as I don’t relish the thought of re-ripping all the CDs I still have, that ritual seems like an important piece of rebuilding.  And the thought of DJing off someone else’s music seems akin to taking a friend’s girlfriend  to prom.  And while it’s nice to know I have the sort of friends who would make that offer, it occurs to me in a very visceral way that if I DJ with someone else’s music, then it’s no longer telling my story with my words (or songs, as it were).

At this point, I’m adjusting to the idea that I’ll have to redo all this work, that it won’t ever be the same, but I can rediscover myself and my music again.  I’ll plan better for backups and keep one in a separate place, get a chance to rethink how I organize things, and get to play things I may not have played in 8-10 years.  It’s a great loss in some ways, but it is also an opportunity to try new things and see what from my past fits me and what I have moved on from.  And it seems appropriate to end on a quote from High Fidelity:

Books, records, films — these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the fuckin’ truth

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