Swing Discussion Boards > Lindy Hop: Improving the "Swingout"

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by Apache, Jan 15, 2009.

  1. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Fair enough.
  2. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Your posts are usually quite good. So I would love to hear your descriptions. There is usually something worth chewing on in them :)
  3. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Not sure if this will be as extensive as a planned this afternoon, when I was thinking about it in the context of avoiding work, but let's see how we do.

    Your steps and your body are, of course, connected. Your steps and your lead are not necessarily connected - you can step without leading, you can lead without stepping. The two actions are coincident in many cases, but that coincidence is not at all necessary.

    Drill #1. Open a convenient door to a 45 degree angle; wrap a bungee cord around the door knob, making a loop that you can grasp. Position your hand so that there is just a little bit of stretch in the cord. Now, without disturbing the cord or the door, move your feet to different places on the floor. With practice, you should be able to move toward and away from the door knob, to the left and right of it, without (a) the door swinging (b) the angle of the cord changing (c) the cord stretching or contracting.

    Drill #1a. Same idea, except that you use a follower instead of a door. You should be able to move around on the floor without disturbing the connection.

    Drill #2. Stand just off one side of the slot, parallel to it, with your feet wide (more than shoulder distance apart). From that position, practice leading partner through a series of side passes, turns, rolls, etc, without moving your feet. As you start to get the hang of it, start moving your feet closer together.

    What we are really experimenting with here are the spacial relationships between the connection (where we are touching partner), our centers (center of mass - although Skippy Blair will instead use center point of balance, which is located above center of mass), and our support. If the connection is above the line that connects your support and her support on the floor, then you can create an extension lead by simply moving your center so that it is on the same line, but further from the connection than your support (if partner matches you, you get a W shape), and a compression lead by moving your center closer to the connection than your support (producing an inverted W, or a weird looking M).

    You may hear these shapes described as V's and A's. Same animal, different spots.

    Warning: in more than one venue, I've heard instructors (even good ones) relate the different leads to the direction that the follower is going, which is entirely satisfactory until you find yourself in the middle of a basket/lock whip, and you suddenly find yourself wishing that the labels were thisway/thatway rather than forward/back.

    In addition to direction and timing, the lead is responsible for communicating size/velocity of the movement to the follower. If the speed of the followers movement and or the size of the pattern is going to be independent of our movement (and why on earth wouldn't you want to have that option), then there must necessarily be more going on than the leader's step. (And there is - that dial is controlled by how far we move our center from the neutral position above support).

    That would be me (and also others). There are a couple of different rationales at work here.

    The verb push (and it's companion, pull) are going to be understood by your beginning students as bracing, and then using the strength of their arms to communicate the desired action to their partners.

    First, it produces a jerky/uncomfortable/painful lead. Following is not automatic - the signal travels across the connection very quickly, but the muscles used to respond to the signal are voluntary. The mass of the arm is much less than the mass of the body, so it is very easy to get the arm moving faster than the body, producing a jerk in the follower's shoulder that really sucks.

    On the other hand, the center, which effectively carries with it the head, torso, hips, and a fair share of the legs, is much higher in mass. Therefore, it's got a lot more inertia. As a result, pushing the body around is much smoother than pushing the hand around; you get a leading action that gives the followers muscles the time they need to initiate the movement of her center.

    This is the prime point, and it is especially important because the illusion that we create looks like a braced push or pull - the follower is going that way, and the joints in the elbow are extending as they would were we doing all the work with the arm muscles. Now the follower is coming this way, and the angle of the elbows is collapsing....

    Second, because the muscles in the arm are being used to create the movement, they sacrifice the flexibility necessary to change shape. Consequently, the leads to create rotation in the follower are late. (Argument: open hand combat. Counter argument: those people aren't trying to make their sparring partner's feel good or look pretty).

    Taking this a notch further, it is very effective to distinguish between body leads (used to change the followers linear momentum), and arm leads (used to change the follower's angular momentum). Rotational leads depend a lot - a whole lot - on relative body position, and you can simplify things considerably by simplifying when arms are used: "only when leading her to turn right in front of you"

    From what I recall of studying American smooth, the basic principles of leading with the body are precisely the same (not a surprise - human physiology doesn't change that much). There, the immediate concerns were more closely related to the mass difference between the body and the free foot, trying to elevate the lead to reinforce frame, and to lay the ground work for later attention on the standing leg.

    Lead follow is supposed to feel effortless - it's a hug with your loved one swaying in the same time you are, except in open position with more spins. The fastest way I know to get people to discover and recognize that feeling is to take them through body leads - getting arm leads to produce the same result is soooo much harder.

    Now, if you squint at that paragraph, and connect it with some of the previous ideas, you'll recognize that it is an admission that body leads aren't necessary. And this is a true statement - though I don't promise indisputable truth.

    Let's walk through the program again, and notice that (a) in open position, the tactile connection is created entirely with the hand - let go of the hand, and the connection is lost. (b) that after doing sufficient repetitions of the bungee drill, you should be able to move your body around on the floor without disturbing the connection. If we can learn to move our body without disturbing the hand in that one location, can we not learn to move our body without disturbing the hand in any location. And if that's so, can we not learn to move our body without disturbing the hand as it moves from one location to the next.

    And all of that is so - with sufficient practice, and attention to detail, you can get there.

    Classic demonstration of this is the old drill where you and partner hold onto different ends of a scarf/handkerchief/tissue, and try to lead. Now the drill is normally taught to emphasize the body lead (if you jerk the lead, the tissue will tear), but when you squint it should be clear that she really has no way of feeling what's going on beyond her end of the tissue - you can do anything you want so long as the result is to move the tissue the way it is "supposed" to go.

    Now, that test can run into an additional problem, which is that you are duplicating the lead on two of her three sensory channels (feeling, listening because you are still in time with the music, but not seeing - you are in the wrong place. If she's using smell to follow you, you've bigger problems, and if she's using taste then you certainly don't need my help.) If you've ever lead a right outside turn from the "other" side of the slot, you'll recognize this problem - her eyes start lying to her, and what follow you get turns into a tossup. In short, you need to learn to give the lead perfectly AND to not make any movements with contradict the lead. Not easy.

    There's also an interesting contradiction: with practice, you can learn to identify where your partner's feet are from the signal that comes through the connection.... unless partner is better at isolating her hand than you are at finding her feet. And vice versa. So if you and partner are sufficiently competitive, you can improve a lot by playing lots of hide and seek.

    In conclusion, "you have to lead with your body" is a really useful and productive lie to believe, because it is the fastest way to get to the desired result - a lead that "feels right".

    However, "leading from center", or worse "moving from center", is a completely self contradictory crock that has no effectiveness on its own that's not better communicated discussing the body as a whole. Not that I have a strong opinion - it's just wrong.

    Many moons past, Mario Robau taught me to tune out the explanations for the lead when attempting a new pattern - "listen to the description of the follower's footwork, then make her do that". Beyond that, there's not much more than some general principles about relative body position. Oh, and actually executing.

    Essentially true - there's a little bit of a dial there depending on how "tight" the connection has been up to that point. The lag is all follower's reaction time.

    I'm agreeing with Steve here as a launching point to address some points raised by Albanaich. First, we should all agree that the reaction time, which can be very very short with a well tuned follower, is non zero. Second, that if we begin in a static position, we cannot create a lead without changing our geometry in some way.

    In other words, yes - to lead, we have to move, and that movement is necessarily going to come before the follower responds to the signal our movement produces.

    The contradiction arises only in the implication that the signal has some fixed relationship to the music. It doesn't - we advance or retard that signal as necessary to get the movement we want at the right time.

    That's why I propose the drill I did. The conclusion you should realize (after trying the drill, if not before) is that if your partner is dancing on time, and you want to lead that movement, then the right answer is to make the lead half a snap earlier than the music, so that her following movement continues to match the music precisely as it did when she was dancing on her own.

    Anything else is off time....

    I don't think you are taking the right ideas and getting to the right conclusion here. My own experience is that musicality in the rhythm dances is not fundamentally different from musicality in the smooth dances. The rule is still "change your dance to match the music that you hear".

    Part of the problem is that "the beat" is a term that needs context for mutual understanding, because it can mean a particular moment, or a particular duration. In other words, sometimes we say the beat when we mean at precisely 2.0s, and sometimes we instead mean everything from [2.0s,2.5s). Dividing "the beat" into counts clearly doesn't work with the first definition, yet there's clearly something worth talking about that's happening at 2.0s which isn't happening at 2.01s.

    Just to add further confusion, Skippy's standard terminology turns the beat backwards - "the beat" that she divides isn't [2.0s,2.5s) but instead (1.5s,2.0s]. This has lots of interesting consequences to it. However, to get anywhere with it, you either need to be oblivious to the contradictions, or have enough context to separate this meaning of beat from the other ones.

    Beyond that, we westies are dancing to swing anyway (well, except when we are dancing to contemporary. or hustle. or waltz. or windshield wipers.) Swung eighth notes are swung anyway - the timing of our movements necessarily needs to be flexible if we want those movements to match the flexibility expressed by the musicians.

    Beyond that, the music we are dancing to is much richer than a metronome (yes, even the windshield wipers. I might be lying about hustle, though.) We can play with timing all over the place to better express the entire song, sacrificing if necessary the strict timing of the clock.

    Beyond that... we're doing a street dance, here.

    However, I'll note here that my latin dancing (yeah, I fake both of those dances), which I fundamentally approach the same way I dance swing, gets essentially the same reaction "wow, you really hear the music!". Now, I'm not going to claim that a Latin adjudicator would let me out of the qualifying rounds of a comp, but on a social floor, defying the music to maintain a strict staccato timing with your footwork is not your best bet.

    Can't help you much there, beyond the observation that if the bulk of the class gets the right idea out of the explanation, and the smart people can figure it out in spite of the explanation, then that's probably the right explanation to give. Horses for Courses.

    whew, glad I didn't write this up at work.
  4. Albanaich

    Albanaich New Member

    Yes but what is 'the right time'

    Is it when the lead steps of in time to the music, when the follower does, or when both do.

    The 'connection' is the mid point between the action of sending the signal and acting on the signal. This is where the rhythm of swing is held, not in the movement of the individual dancers, but in their movement as a pair, which is in the nature of the lead and follow process,

    The connection point is only point where the pair are in time - that's why it is so important in Swing.
  5. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Actually, that's not quite fair. There are some benefits to posture that follow from thinking about center point of balance that do not follow from body leads alone. The management apologizes for any misunderstandings.
  6. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    See, I knew someone much better at describing dance than me would come along :)

    Cool, I will think about this idea and where it leads me. Using your 1.5, 2, 2.5 concepts, I think my training in smooth dancing would place movement over the whole 1.5-2.5 range. My swing dance training would place more emphasis on moving just at the 2 area.

    I think I am understanding what your getting at, but we probably haven't described it exactly the same way. Pretty consistently, I have been taught to prep turns at 1.5 so they are initiated from 2.0-2.5.

    I am not quite sure how you would describe just a closed basic? Would you say the body lead starts at 1.9 with the foot moving at 2.0 or the body lead starts at 2.0 and the foot follows at 2.1?

    This is true, but I don't think you couldn't sacrifice the strict timing throughout a whole dance? Even a playful pro takes clear steps on the beat most of the time.
  7. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    OK, it sounds like you have adapted my idea to beats, rather than time. Nothing wrong with that, except the potential for confusion. But let me translate:

    If we adopt the same notation to beats, we can think of the attack of the first beat happening on 1.0, and the attack of the second beat happening on count 2.0. Dancing a straight triple would be keying on 1.0, 1.5, 2.0; a swung triple would be more like 1.0, 1.7, 2.0.

    If you were to compare this to the sheet music, then 1.0 (were it the first beat of the measure) would happen at the very beginning of the measure, and the end of the measure would be just a fraction of an instant before 5.0. Were the music written in 4/4 time, the tone of an initial quarter note would be heard from 1.0 to an instant before 2.0. [1.0,2.0) is how I would write this, and the middle step of the triple would clearly be part of the first beat.

    Dancers who use rolling count turn these endpoints around - the first beat ENDS at 1.0, which I would express as (0.0,1.0], and the middle step in the triple is clearly part of the second beat.

    Mind you - even though these two different schools are counting differently, they are still doing everything at the same time. These are merely different conventions for thinking and discussing the continuum.

    I don't know of anyone who teaches that the attack falls in the middle of the beat: (0.5,1.5). My gut instinct is that loses some advantages from each of the other two interpretations without gaining anything back.

    (My previous example included more fractions because I was thinking about swing in time - 120bpm)

    My own preference, rather than talking about an entire movement being smeared over a time interval, is to speak in terms of specific instants of the idealized movement occurring at specific instants in the music. So while in the smooth dances we can talk about the step being spread across the entire two beat spread, it's more useful to speak in terms like "the center is directly over the landing foot on 2.0 (or 1.98, or whenever that happens".

    For swing dancers doing rolling count, you can say that the center is directly over the supporting foot, with the body pulse at its peak, on 2.0.

    Neither - the feet are not the dance. In most idealized cases, I would say that the body arrives at 2.0 (or 3.0, if you are thinking of the next beat).

    The music is with the beat most of the time. Watch what the playful pro does when the music and the beat diverge.
  8. Albanaich

    Albanaich New Member

    Why thank you dancelf - isn't this

    The same as this. . . .
  9. Flat Shoes

    Flat Shoes New Member

    You're talking about the beat not being a moment, but a time interval. A lead (in a certain direction) is also goin on over a time interval. A smooth pleasent lead will take time to build, a slow (relatively) acceleration. This is one of the reasons, as you talked about, we lead from (I like 'from' better than 'with') our bodies and not only our arms.

    A prep, as used in many patterns (for example tuck turn), are just a preparation for this, you move to one side so that the transition in direction before leading fastert in the other direction has more time to build up.

    The lead is an "ongoing process" in every pattern lead.

    There is a lot of timing going on to fit the patterns to the music and the rhythm, but even though Lindy/Swing is a rhythm dance, there is no reason to be a "slave to the rhythm".

    As I've become a more experienced dancer, I am more and more often off the beat both in leading and steps. Especially if there is an advanced singer with a lot of stuff going on in the melody. When dancing we are not, and should not try to be, human metronomes.

    But it is till important to pay attention to the rhythm and not travel too far away for too long time. And long in this sense is for me usually only a handful of beats. What I am trying to say is that the beat and the melody gives us frames to play within. We can and should explore the borders, but still respect these frames and of course our partner.

    Is what I'm writing understandable, or does it come across as complete nonsense? :D

    Anyway, the point is, I find it hard to say that a lead should be on a certain beat. As I wrote in an earlier post, the lead should be when the relative positions and body weight distirbutions are right, and we should try to time that to fit with the music as best as our abilities to move and interpet music allow us.
  10. Albanaich

    Albanaich New Member

    Yeah - this is my take on things too, and what you say makes perfect sense to me, though I think our view is a minority one
  11. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Ah, I didn't think of your 1s and 2s as being time over a 120 bpm song. From a descriptive point of view, what difference would you say there is by describing being centered over the foot at the second second vs the idea of moving with your center on the beat?
  12. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Speaking of these as descriptions, I would argue that the first is testable, and the second is not.

    All of the movements in the dance are continuous (we don't teleport from one position to the next). Going a little bit overboard, we can say that the movement spans an interval in space, much the same way that a note of music spans an interval of time.

    When we say that a dancer is off time, what we are usually describing is a situation where the dancer's span of movement doesn't match the span of music. "he's late". "he's early". "he's rushing".

    Our problem right now is trying to figure out if the way you think those two spans line up matches the way I think you think those two spans line up. In other words, you've told me of an span of music (the beat), and a span of movement, so I know that you think the movement overlaps the span in some way, but you haven't given me the information I need to align the two the same way you do.

    Phrasing the example another way: suppose you and I each have a camera, and take a picture of someone "moving with [their] center on the beat". How much confidence do you have that the picture I take will look like the picture you take?
  13. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    I've got clips from various dance movies, "swing" mostly, and one of my projects is ananlyzing the elapsed time between "steps" using Movie Maker. I'm looking for "basic step" timing in "Lindy Hop", among other things. What you find is that dvds produce a series of frames, just like film does, and that is the limitation for parsing music. Then there's the issue of "the beat", as you two have been so articulately discussing.

    Anyhow, though I'd chime in here with material from Lauré Haile's "I Love to Dance". Haven't found the book yet, but "Dance Teacher Now" ran an expert in their Nov - Dec 1986 issue.

    The article is titled "Teaching a Class in Weight Change". I don't want to type the whole thing, and I have a photocopy, so exerpts... And remember there is lots more between these two sentences.

    "Next, to take the left walking step, think of this: Get off the right foot. Immediately as the left foot touches the floor, the entire body wieght should be over that foot."

    "It is best to mater this like a robot until one can exactly time the weight change on the 1st beat, and the follow-through on the 2nd beat."

    DanceElf is right that we don't move instantaneously, but I think the more we parse tiny time intervals like 1 sec, the less helpful it becomes. And, of course, we can vary things as musicians frequently do.
  14. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Perhaps. Skippy et al swear by Rolling Count, which calls for chopping beats into thirds, which is to say time in 6ths of seconds (at 120 bpm). The musicians can clearly make distinctions at that speed, but they aren't pushing as much mass as the dancers are (as a rule).
  15. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Rollin Count is useful, I think, because it helps people think of "steps" in distinct phases, which they decribe. Skippy has written that there is more analysis and knowledge to pass on now.
    But... In making Western Swing/West Coast Swing more accessable by, for instance, by starting with the walking part rather than the "rock apart" then Throwout then do the walking part, the dance became divorced from its roots in Lindy Hop/Jitterbug.

    For me, that "old fashion" style of starting from closed was a brain killer, just like Skippy had figures out by 1958, or earlier. (It took me YEARS to figure out what was going on there, although I could dance it without thinking!)
    What has been lost, though, is that "Western Swing", which is, or was, considered to be for advanced swing dancers (Haile started you out with all 3 rhythms, which pretty obviously, I would think, you would have to be familiar with already. I can name two other books that state that WS/WCS is the most difficult swing dance .)

    Haile's approach is strikingly similar to that used by some Argentine Tango instructors who emphasize weight changes as the basis of the dance. Too much talk about division into smaller segments of the step produces (sometimes I would think) people who "muddle" their steps, just like "no push no pull" produces people who dance without compression or resistence.

    One step forward, how many back?

    Regarding time duration, I thought it was vey interesting to read in the book "Early Jazz" that African master drummers think in terms of 1/8 notes rather than 1/4 notes as most Western musicians do.

    I'd say "rolling count" is a useful concept for people who have "mastered the basics", and want to advance.
  16. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    sorry but i gotta object to the generalization. i'm not necessarily world class, but most folks would categorize me as being musically gifted: strings, brass, woodwinds, keyboards, vocals, conducting and arranging background, and when i hear a song, the first thing i do is decide what i'd dance to it, and i've never had problems figuring out timing, etc.

    in teaching, the trick IMO is find a way to say the same things in different ways because everyone has a different experience set and processes things differently. so in the course of a lesson i might say it in the following different ways:

    rumba/box step/salsa/mambo timing
    1) quick quick slow / slow quick quick
    2) 1-2-3 (hold on 4) /1 (2) 3 4
    3) quarter quarter half note (or quarter quarter quarter, quarter rest if i want to emphasize a completion of motion by count three), or half note, quarter quarter

    cha cha - breaking on 2
    1) listen for the cha cha cha in the music, and put the breaks in between
    2) just like the theme from addams family - the finger clicks are on counts 2 and 3
    3a) (starting on the break) quarter rest, quarter quarter eighth-eighth quarter
    3b) (starting on the cha-cha-cha)... four and one, two three.

    so on and so forth

    to explain prepping, if somebody plays baseball: "windup before the pitch"; if they play tennis: "backswing";

    IMO, a musician can easily figure out how to derive the type of dance best suited for the music in question - if it's explained in nomenclature within a construct that the musician is already comfortable with.

    as such, i submit that whenever a student has problems assimilating a subject, maybe it's due to a *teaching method* that is not as robust as it could be.
  17. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    this is great stuff.

    now, speaking to WCS, may i offer the following analogy to explain WCS as how it was explained to me:

    ever watch a train at a stockyard? the engineer will attach the engine to its construct (cargo), and then slowly go into reverse, pushing the lead car backwards into the car behind it, until *that* car moves backwards into the car behind it, continuing the process until the end car is moved slightly by the car in front of it.

    that's essentially what compression should feel like, there's a certain amount of absorption of compression that is continuous yet exponential.

    now, the engineer changes gears and moves forward. because slack is at a maximum, the only car that moves is the lead car in the construct - until all the slack is taken up between the lead car and the car behind it. that second car now has the acceleration of the engine PLUS the momentum of the lead car as an active force working on it. the nth car will have the pull of the engine AND all the momentum of (n-1) cars working on it and will be brought up to speed more quickly as n gets larger.

    the engine can pull the entire construct because it only needs to be able to pull the weight of the first car - and the last car doesn't move until all the other cars in front of it move first and reaches speed more quickly than any car in front of it.

    this is how a follow responds to a body lead that initiates a new figure in WCS. as such, the follow's response will always be slightly behind the lead timing-wise and the feel will be somewhat bungie-cord-like.

    or you could try and describe it stylistically - WCS is a flirty dance - the term sugar push reflects that - you try and bring your sugar in, and she pushes you away. the follow's delayed response reflects the reluctance of the follow to be drawn in to the lead's flirtateous advances.

    this is very different from dancing standard (ballroom) where the timing is almost anticipatory.
  18. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    other exceptions would include the deliberate delay of weight change using kick-ball change styling on counts 1 & 2. if you deliberately delayed your lead to reflect that, the follow would be way behind in her response.
  19. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Kind of funny, but I am pretty confident that both descriptions would get us to about the same place. I hadn't really though in terms of seconds, but it works. What do you do for your description to make it adjust to say a 90 bpm song instead of 120 bpm?

    I like your descriptions. They have a lot of good stuff in them.
  20. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    I'm not so sure, precisely because of the ambiguity of "the beat" as an interval and "the beat" as a moment.

    Change the example to a tuck.

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