Swing Discussion Boards > w.c. swing, patterns versus musicality

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by Hank, Feb 26, 2004.

  1. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    I have a former professional dancer friend who refused to do WCS. She said she never has any idea what the guys were doing. Part of that is that most people (both men and women) aren't listening to the music. They are just doing their moves. Oh, once in a while they'll hit a break, etc, but in general...

    In order to improvise (to the music) you have to be able to communicate what you want to happen to your partner.
    Noodle arms? Maybe they are being taught to "lead with their center". That is a fine concept, but, just as in Argentine Tango, something gets lost in translation, and you end up with a weak lead, and woman who don't want to be "pulled" or "pushed".

    Meanwhile, last night, one of partners stopped me while I was on my way to dance the "Cha Cha Slide - Part II", a line dance with called moves. (You can find it on the web.) She asked if I wanted to do WCS to it. I thought WTF???? for about 2 seconds, and said yes. (She loves to just make stuff up as much as I do.)
    Now, I find it darn near impossible to "turn off the music" and just dance what's in my head. And this song changes a lot, calls for you to stomp two times, cha cha, go down low, do "Charlie Brown".
    Well, we winged the whole thing. There was some WCS in there, I guess, with me trying to "hop three times",etc while making it look and feel like West Coast. We may have looked completely goofy, but what the heck.
    And there is one key to improvising. If it doesn't work, so what? Wasn't it fun trying?
  2. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Steve . . . it sounds like a WCS to me . . . and a fun one at that!
  3. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Yea, it is like a musicality dot-to-dot complete with instructions like "Slide to the left", "ChaCha real smooth". How could you not have fun with that :) I'm all over hints like one hop or two hops!
  4. noobster

    noobster Member

    Gosh, really? I just started getting into WCS a few months ago but I am really loving it. I find people are paying so much more attention to the music than they do in the salsa scene.

    I am not sure whether this is because I happen to have found a great teacher or whether it is because the dancers can relate better to familiar music with lyrics they understand. Probably a bit of both.

    And something I have noticed about the WCS dancers around here is that the better ones are actually much more willing to take - even solicit - feedback from the follower and incorporate it into the dance. In salsa if I do something slightly unexpected I can often detect the hiccup as the guy backs up to Plan B. It's not usually a big problem - maybe not even detectable to an outsider - but it's not what I would call welcome.

    In WCS I find the guys take my little variations, expand on them, and turn things in an utterly new direction. But the cool thing is that they positively seem to welcome these digressions. They feed off of them. I love it.

    Regarding 'noodle arms,' maybe the perception depends on your dance background (or maybe it really is just the local dancers in your scene). I do notice a lot of change in the tension - unlike salsa, where there is a constant (hopefully light) connection that allows moment-to-moment changes in the lead, WCS seems to have a cycle of compression and release, where the 'lead' happens in the compression and the follower gets to use the 'release' sections to introduce new variables.
  5. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Certainly in the California style (the balance changes in other parts of the country). Of course, it's also quite likely that you in SF are getting a very different experience than a dancer in Mississippi.
  6. dancin/dj

    dancin/dj Member

    Hi hank i think most of the answers(as always) are on the money as in it takes different angles to get the whole answer, here one i believe is also correct(when teachers ACT strange as u said(different word was used by you), heres my take, its all about money(keep a student down-so they keep taking lessions) i"ve seen it in all kinds of dance forms, of course im not sayin all teachers do this, just some, a very old trick everywhere on earth in every trade etc......any teacher should give all information when asked no matter what-your paying.
  7. Hank

    Hank Member

    Although it’s been over 4 years since I first posted this topic, I still experience many of the same frustrations, despite having taken many more hours of private lessons. Although people tell me to react to the music, by the time I’ve heard the music, it’s too late to react to it.

    Several posts have mentioned the topic of tone in one’s dance frame, which is another example of teachers who teach one thing and dance another, which I find frustrating.

    I often hear teachers say (in a group class or to other students) “Don’t have noodle arms,” or “you need more tone in your arms,” but when I dance with them, feel their connection, and observe their musculature, their arms are clearly relaxed. Instead, their chest, shoulders, and back muscles are flexed, which anchors their arms to their body. This anchoring plus their weight shift forward and backward over their feet cause their dance partner to feel elastic tone, leverage, and compression.

    I find referring to “arm tone,” “arm tension,” or “noodle arms” to be misleading because it implies that one needs to flex the biceps, triceps, or forearm muscles, which is false. The teachers who use those words aren’t flexing those muscles, and once I stopped flexing those muscles and started flexing my chest, shoulders, and back, no teacher ever complained about my dance frame again, despite the fact that my arms are completely relaxed.
  8. Peaches

    Peaches Well-Known Member

    Same here. It absolutely fascinates me as a dance, but I can't get to liking it. The playing intimidates me, the basics are kinda boring after a while, and the concept of the lead and timing just mystifies me. All in all, it's more stress than it's worth, to me. But all the same...I love watching other people dance it well. It just amazes me.

    Amen! I wish more guys would get that. There is one guy who I will dance WCS with--because I feel totally comfortable with him, he's a good leader, and I know that if I totally screw things up he's good enough (and has enough of a sense of humor) to get things back on track...and laugh about it and make me laugh at myself. And, he knows how I feel about being left alone to play. (Besides, I dance AT with him where the roles are kind of reversed, so we have sort of a tradition of putting up with, and laughing at, each other's mistakes.)
  9. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    OK, let's talk a bit of anatomy.
    Your biceps do one thing. They bring your hand/forearm closer to your shoulder.

    Your triceps do one thing. They move your hand/forearm away from your shoulder.

    If you are holding your arm at an angle, for instance your forearm is horizontal to the ground, your biceps is exerting enough force to counteract the force of gravity, which is pulling your forearm down. Call it what you will. But if your biceps is completely relaxed, exerting no force at all, your forearm will fall as it's pulled by gravity.

    Likewise, if your partner "pulls" on you, and you don't answer that pull with a like force, flexing, toning, whatever, of your biceps, your arm will be pulled straight.

    Noodle arms.

    Lots of inexperienced women get into trouble (ie run into other couples) when dancing in crowded conditions, or when someone moves into "our slot", because they aren't paying attention to the fact that the amount of tension I have in my arms, sholders, etc, has increased. In other words I am trying to tell them, "Hey, don't go there!" They let their arms go to full extension (again Noodle Arms), and boom, they smack into someone.

    I've learned to only dance with women I can trust when things are crowded (or too slow, or too fast, kinda limits the choices).

    This is not to say that the muscles in your back, shoulders, legs, etc, aren't contributing, too. They are of course. And you aren't just using your arms.

    It's just that the ways we have to talk about these things are very imprecise. Either that or way more complicated than most of us want to deal with.
  10. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Has anybody taught you that music has rules? That if you react to where the music is telling you to go, you can move quickly enough to meet it there?

    Yah, this is a bit of brain damage - the hardest part of lead follow is compression in open position, and what's the first pattern that we teach? Sugar push. Really bright. Especially since that pattern goes nowhere (consider - after you've been dancing for a few months, you've got a couple variations of whips, and side passes, and still have only one push break).

    But there are some interesting contradictions. Good instructors will lie to you if, in those circumstances, the lie will produce better progress than the truth. I've often gotten the impression that some very good instructors are lying to themselves, for similar reasons (otherwise, "things get more confusing for the student").

    For the most part, I'm willing to let it slide - as a rule, if you get a student to the point where they can recognize the lie, then the lesson has done its job.

    Steve, trusting to your description..., this indicates that you need to lead better. My guess is that you are leading in one spatial dimension, you should be using all three.
  11. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Think of a few songs that are played often where you dance. Get the music so you can listen to it over and over again. Listen to it over and over again. Listen for things such as when the breaks are going to happen. Listen for places where the music gets softer, or louder. Listen to the lyrics to see if there is anything in them you could work into your dance. For instance on my way to dance last night I heard a song with the oft repeated line "gonna kick up my heels". If you know when something is coming you stand a much better chance of reacting to it when it happens. And as you get to know the music better and better, you just KNOW when things arer going to happen.
    Until you get to that point, don't be afraid to pick tunes apart. All of that conscious knowledge will become something you use without even thinking if you keep working on it.
  12. d nice

    d nice New Member

    Yes... someone needs to go over the whole improvisation and communication thing with you. I'd suggest Sylvia or Mario. In the Lindy world there are dozens of instructors who could break this down, but I'm just not deep enough in the WCS world to tell you who specifically to go to.

    What can I say, you have finally seen through veil. Welcome. A LOT of teachers talk about something in terms that make sense to them but which don't really have the meaning for those listening. Demonstration and exercises are very much needed to ensure that what we as teachers say is heard by you the student the way we mean it.

    The muscles in your arms should not be purposefully engaged. If you are trying to stiffen or tone your arm muscles I'd bet dollars to donuts that you are doing it wrong (as in too much). Concentrate on the tension of the muscles that connect the arm to the torso. Those are the ones which will have the biggest impact on how movement of your body will translate into movement of your followers body. It is dancing/leading from your center and it is the best way. Dancing arms, pulling and pushing with your arm rather than moving your body is going to take your follower out of sync with you. You'll speed up, slow down, or change the angle of movement of your follower in relation to your own body.

    There are always exceptions, but generally speaking making your follower move AHEAD of your lead and your body rather than after it is asking for problems.
  13. d nice

    d nice New Member


    Here is the beginning of your probelm. You are isolating the body and muscles. You have to look at the bigger picture, how the arms work in relation to what the rest of the body is doing and what THAT is in context of dancing.

    Holding hands with my partner will keep the forearm from being perpendicular to the floor and the further away our bodies are from each other the more parallel to the floor our forearms are going to be, despite the amount of muscular tension there is or is not in our biceps.

    Overly simplified. Simply tightening your chest and back muscles will prevent this from happening. Give it a try. Roll your shoulders forward, up, back and down, and visualize trying to put your shoulder-blade into your back pocket. Then have someone pull (strongly) on your arm. Try to keep the arm muscles as relaxed as possible. See what I mean?

    This has nothing to do with the other per se. Someone could be dancing your way simply not be paying attention to the lead. As a matter of fact the more tense the arm muscles are the more difficult it is for your follower to feel the change in tone and tension of your body and the more difficult it is to follow you.
  14. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Especially if you've got the engineering head, Mario is going to be the best choice. In however many years I've been at this, he's the only one I've seen who teaches musicality by talking about music - at least in a public setting (group classes, workshops, and the like).

    Agreeing with this, I've come to express the "why" somewhat differently.

    For the arms, softer is quicker than firm; a clean lead of a "ropey" patterns calls for being able to move the arms without the muscles getting in the way (yes, that's a physiologically cheesy explanation, as the muscles of the arms are doing the work. This is a case where physiologically cheesy also seems to be effective).

    Similarly, one of the tricky leads to learn are those cases, like head loops and face loops, where you want to be able to change the relative location of the followers hand without changing her momentum. It's a lot easier to isolate the movement of the hand when the arm muscles aren't being used to lead.
  15. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "the arms in lindy hop should be as relaxed as possible. The bicep, tricep, and deltoids will engage as needed to keep the arms toned while executing moves"
    from an earlier post by d nice
  16. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Please, address Me's concern, posted earlier in this thread.

    "I am very interested in WC Swing but it is my least favorite to dance. I always feel a fool. Most men give me noodle arms and verbally coach me through convoluted patterns that do not work, yet they insist on trying them over and over again. It is not enjoyable at all."

    Specifically address her concern about noodle-arms.

    My take on it is that it is an outgrowth of the "no push, no pull" "lead with your center" way of teaching WCS. Which BTW someone whose experience with teaching WCS goes back to the 50s did not encounter until about 7 years ago, and I hadn't encountered until I heard it from a few of the women in Skippy Blair's class last year (although I didn't hear Skippy say it). Although, I, as well as others, have noted the demise of the Sugar Push, which seems to be turning into a pattern that the women step through, rather than an exchange of energy bewteen partners.
    And the exchange of energy bewteen partners is what makes partner dance so enjoyable. Without it, it feels like a listless walking through steps. Which sort of brings us back to patterns vs musicality.

    I DO enjoy hearing from both of you.
  17. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    I'm not really sure that there's much to address - yup, most leaders don't use their arms correctly. And the other complaints are valid. I'd say blame the dancers instead of the dance - the scene sucks for beginners, and hasn't gotten any better in a long time.

    I don't buy that even for a minute "no push, no pull" and "lead with your center" are true in every other partner dance I've experienced. It's going to require extraordinary evidence to persuade me that there is a relationship between actually teaching this, and poor execution by the students.

    Furthermore, while ideas about lead and follow have been changing for... well, a while ago (I first heard about 1 beat leads about 9 years ago), but noodle arms have been around for a lot longer than that.

    If I were to try to tie the problem to a single phenomenon in the dance, I would blame the dancers (and instructors) for drinking the "it's a learned dance" kool-ade. Yes, it's true that raw beginners can't enjoy dancing with other raw beginners AND more advanced dancers after an hour, as they can in other dances like east coast or salsa. This doesn't excuse the westies from dropping "learning how to dance with a beginner" completely out of their curriculum.

    Demise would be a shame, but I happily defend the notion that it should be deemphasized in the dance (see my earlier remarks). Question: are there any other dances that, in their beginner syllabus, include a pattern where compression from open position is used to initiate travel?
  18. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Not that I know of, but there is an analogy in Argentine Tango.
    And that would be the cruzada, or cross. It's actually a pretty complicated series of movements, that is difficult to learn to lead. I think people teach it because it is such a big part of Argentine Tango, at least in the minds of many teachers. (Some people report that you just don't see this move much at all in Buenos Aires.) So, it is taught as "this is what the woman does, and this is what the man does" with minimal or no physical interaction between the partners.

    At least we agree (I think) that the Sugar Push (aka the Push Break) is not really a basic step.
    When I learned we started from a closed position, then went to open slotted position traveling back and forth in the slot. That in itself was too much at the time.
    Then there was the Sugar Push. The instructions for the woman were pretty simple. The woman owns the slot, so walk forward as if you are going to walk over or through the guy. Both partners then have to keep their hands and arms in front of themselves to keep from colliding.
    Sometimes I read about the "correct" way to do the Sugar Push, and I wonder who decided what is "correct"?
    Somewhere recently a teacher was sort of bemoaning the fact that he was often asked how many pounds of pressure should there be when...
    I have been doing my best to learn as much as I can about the physics of dance, etc, just because I want to try to understand it. In the same way. I've been trying to learn about music.
    The problem is in being able to talk or write about some of this stuff without getting caught up in endless parsing of things.
    As someone wrote in one of the AT threads (with a smiley face), "Shut up and dance." Which is exactly what I did last night, and what I will do again this afternoon (if anyone shows up at the Sunday practica on such a nice day).
  19. d nice

    d nice New Member

    Right... the arm muscles will "engage themselves" as needed, not that you should be trying to use your arm muscles or make them more "tone." 'That way lies madness' as the saying goes. It may seem like semantics but that turn of phrase is worlds apart.
  20. d nice

    d nice New Member

    That is post hoc ergo propter hoc. I can clearly demonstrate that using my body as my lead ("leading from the center") allows my arms to remain loose, relaxed and provide a more clear lead than using my arm muscles to generate or primarily direct momentum (aka the lead).

    I could just as easily say dancing to pop music caused this lead/follow problem as you could say that it is from using a body lead. As a matter of fact I could make a better argument.

    I do believe that the real problem lies in things more like "flashlighting" the idea of the follower facing the leader rather than allowing the frame to creat turns and facing, coupled with the focus in the last decade of followers having more "freedom" and being taught hijacking.

    As soon as a follower believes she is responsible for the moves that happen, that she can choose to stop following a lead and supply her own ideas in its stead she ceases to worry about her primary responsibility... following. This leads to leaders feeling that every thing should be a suggestion and this leads to dancing by signals and following intellectualized rules rather than actual shifting and sharing of energy between partners.

    Too much emphases on learning your part in a pattern and not enough emphases on what partner interaction creates the pattern.

Share This Page