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

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

  1. d nice

    d nice New Member

    Pretty much all the swing dances. It is one of the defining characteristics of the genre. In some it is greatly deemphasized (Carolina Shag) and in others it is part and parcel that almost no part of the dance can't be executed properly without it (Texas Push, Lindy Hop).
  2. noobster

    noobster Member

    I don't see how that works at all. It feels to me that the ebb and flow of the energy from my partner actually tells me when it's OK to insert stuff and when it's time to just follow.

    Not that I can 'choose to stop following' (obviously one can do that in any dance by walking off the floor), but that there are specified moments when the leader is leading and others when he's letting me do my thing.

    Certainly dancing by 'signals and intellectualized rules' can be a problem in any dance, but I don't at all see how the greater freedom accorded the follower in WCS contributes to this particular difficulty.
  3. d nice

    d nice New Member

    There isn't greater freedom accorded followers in WCS than any other dance, there has been a permissiveness that has developed because of some specific moves being taught by specific instructors that has lead to a split in the dance between those who do lead follow (which includes the follower improvising and styling within the space created for her by the leader) and those who think the follower can and should take responsibility for creating moves and altering moves mid lead to become something not led (this is either because the follower chooses to disconnect her frame and move her body independently of the lead that was given or because leaders are no longer attempting to create momentum in their partners bodies and instead choose to signal what they would like and allow the follower choose to execute it or something else entirely as they decide).

    If I lead a left side pass I move by body to initiate body movement within my follower bringing her down the slot, I move off-line, as she passes me our arms are "relaxed" but our torso muscles around the shoulder are engaged. This interaction of our frames will cause her body to begin to turn when the slack in our arms is taken out. Eventually the follower's body will be facing me again and she will not be able to travel any further down the slot because of the leveraged tension between our bodies.

    As long as the follower is not seeking to interpret the move and simply allow the momentum to play itself out she is free to do all the footwork, hip and body movement she wants, as long as she doesn't change the conditions set above.

    When a follower gets good she'll realize by changing the amount of activity (tone/muscular tension) in her frame (the muscles that encircle the shoulder) will make her turn earlier or later down the slot.

    When she gets VERY good she'll learn how to move her body in a way that will ask a leader to apply more tension or compression within the move, allowing the leader to choose to match it or neutralize it. Neutralizing it means the move happens as originally led. Matching it will change the way the followers body is following the move. This gives her opportunities to create even more varied improvisations and syncopations.

    The key to this last is that the leader is the one who is making the decision about moves, the follower responds to the moves led and interprets the music within that framework.

    IF the follower instead chose to reverse directions, halt, or move herself to my right rather than left she is hijacking the move. She has decided not to follower what I have led and substitute her own move in its place.

    So you are correct, that in the ebb and flow of tension, compression, and momentum the follower can insert syncopations and improvisations, but it must be WITHIN that ebb and flow, not replacing.

    The more of a breakdown there is between the roles of leader and follower, the more the dance does not work under the fundamentals of lead/follow. The more those fundamentals no longer seem to apply the more that the interaction between partners becomes a matter of rote, rules and signals and expectations. The more likely the roles further breakdown. It can become a circle which just feeds back on itself. The highest levels of dancers, Mario, John Festa, John Lindo, Bill Cameron,Sylvia Sykes etc. etc. are fighting this, but the dance seems as likely to fracture as correct itself. We already have people talking about West Coast versus West Coast Swing.
  4. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Argentine Tango is my touchstone as far as a mature, subtle, sophisticated partner dance. Here in the words of others who posted on a AT forum are thoughts that are in line with my own.

    "It was a true conversation, subtly nuanced give and take, suggestion and response in both directions. What we live for."

    "Product differentiation is an old trick to bring the worse in one area to the top on another."
  5. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    The AT concept of lead/follow would be much like D_nice's description of WCS lead follow and very different from a WCS hijack right?
  6. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    One caveat, however.
    In AT lots of people don't get beyound the "the man leads, the woman follows" concept.
    And, I can't say for sure that In Buenos Aires the "conversation" idea is very popluar.

    Until very recently I never heard anyone use the term "hijack" when discussing AT. That would be for about 5 years that I've been paying attention.

    In a "conversation" your partner suggests something, or brings it up. If she's really good, she can get you to do something without you even being conscious of it.
    Many AT teachers say flat out that the lead is a suggestion that the woman is free to change or reject.

    The deal is, though, that you are in a partnership, with the man having the resposibilty to lead, and together are creating something you can't do alone. But if the woman has "something to say" doesn't it make sense to listen and respond to it?
    If you are "listening", and responding, or if she was really skillful at changing the direction, momentum, etc of the partnership, why would she blatantly "steal the lead" so much that people would talk about it being a different dance?

    GSTDA's web site states that Both partners have the freedom to “play” as long as they do not interfere with their partner's dance.

    This is how most instructors approach what are called "embelishments" in AT.
    Some of us even understand that the woman can take extra stpes without being led to do so, without disturbing the lead. But there is some techincal stuff that has to go along with it in AT.
    And, some guys don't much like it.

    But, the more you dance, and the more you feel comfortable with your own role, the more open you can become to your partner's input, and just working it out.

    In WCS you are often connected by only one hand/arm, so the dance is in some ways is very different than AT. But, one thing they DO have in common is that your partner has a mind of her own. One thing you both have in common is the music. So if you are both tuned in, and she does something you didn't lead, it should make sense.

    So, I guess I just think that the use of the term "hijack" is not very productive. Rather than lead to a discussion about the dance being a conversation, it stigmatizes the women that do it.

    OK, well, now you can see why I used someone else's pithy statment(s).
  7. RickRS

    RickRS Member


    A quick question off topic - could you spell out what GSTDA is? Google returns nothing dance related and this is the first time I ran into the term.
  8. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Golden State Dance Teachers Association
  9. d nice

    d nice New Member

    The problem is that a hijack is just that. Your own statement is that a partner does not interfere with the other partners dance... If I am the leader, I have specific things I am supposed to do, part of "my dance" that is to direct our bodies through space traveling on the floor, executing moves. When a follower hijacks she ceases to be the follower she is either leading herself through moves she chooses or she is leading herself and the person who was formerly the leader.

    I have never liked statements like this
    it predisposes that there is literally only one way to do everything and that the priorities of one dacne must be adhered to by every other.

    In short it is absolute crap. Any examination of African diaspora dances and how they were danced by the originators and how dances from the Western European diaspora and how they were danced by the originators will reveal huge differences not in just technique but in values. Because of the cultural domination of Western Europeans throughout much of the world the values of those peoples are often seen as "correct" and anything different is seen as the other, often painted with a broad brush of savagery, exoticism, overt sexuality, and generally speaking without technique.

    This has generally lessened over time, but the general sentiments are still present in various amounts, and because it tends to be subconscious, it can be even worse.

    Product differentiation is a fact. You only have to look at the aesthetic and methodology of Canyengue to the Salon and look back into the history of tango and how it came from the barrios and was transported into high society... once it had been suitably changed (read had the moves and movements reinterpreted through new values).
  10. Me

    Me New Member

    So much discussion has been going on here! I'm really enjoying the read.

    I do think I presented a bit of a problem when I used the words "noodle arms." I'll try to present an example of what bothers me when dancing WC swing with a typical stranger. Let's say, we're looking at the WC basic as a forward/backward EC pattern (humor me, LOL). So I go, walk walk. So far, so good. Instead of giving me a "sugar push" the gentleman steps out of my path. I think, "Ah, okay. I keep going forward." I go, triple step... and then, NOTHING. Do I... turn to face him? Do I... wait? What do I DO? I have no idea because the lead is giving me nothing and my back is to him. My default is to try to turn to face my partner. So, I turn... oh, but that's "wrong"! I was supposed to wait with my back to him, shake my tush, walk backwards, execute five pivots, UAT and wrap around to sweetheart, throw in some Lindy rhythm... AHHHHH!!!!!! What happened to the music? What foot am I on? Where did my partner go? Oh no, he's doing it again because I didn't get it the first time. HELP!!!!
  11. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    What you describe is a bit different than what we read, or at least what I read, but no problem. I look at this as a discussion, and I obviously enjoy bouncing ideas and concepts around.
    Before going back to what you are describing...

    Product differentiation is a marketing term that was probably made up in a business school. It is different than music or dance evolving into a different form then given a name at some point in that, to me, it is done very consciously.
    It turns out that there is lots of historical precedent, in some respects. W.C. Handy Father of the Blues" renamed his "Yellow Dog Rag" to "Yellow Dog Blues" (and didn't change anything else), just so it would sell better (as sheet music). So, even in 1914 smart people were aware of the power of "branding".
    You may be aware of Kurt Litchman's use of the term "jump swing", which became an entry to itself in Wikipedia. Editors eventually deleted the article when they agreed that "jump swing" was not really any different than other forms of swing.
    And, BTW, the bolded quote was from GSTDA, rather than being my words. GSTDA could refine that statement to be more inculsive of give and take "conversation" in WCS, which is my hope "for the future'.
  12. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Back to Me's post...
    I would say that you "should" feel a slight "tug" somewhere in your connection to your partner, if he wants you to turn one direction or the other.
    Or, you should feel his "other" hand on your shoulder keeping you from moving that shoulder back to turn that direction.
    Or, you could do the default, and turn on your next triple, completing a "basic pattern".

    WCS was very difficult for me to learn. I always felt like I was on the stop and responsible for leading something, and something was always just a few steps away and I didn't know that many somethings. So I appreciated the fact that I could rely on my partner to fill in the blanks sometimes. Well, lots of the times at the beginning.

    One criticism I have of most instruction to this day is that patterns are taught rather than lead an follow. To me that means what each partner can do to make the lead easier to understand, and beign aware of "feedback" from your partner, and, on the other side, what can the follower do to be easier to lead.

    In AT, which I found even more challenging than WCS, you are in a closed position. In AT, when you eliminate the arms and/or frame, you cut out a lot the the things that make lead/follow, connection, frame/embrace, forward energy, etc so confusing to talk about. Everything becomes pretty clear when you are chest to chest with your partner. In some ways not any easier, but the issues are minimized.

    In WCS, even if you "lead from your center", your connection is still through your arms and hands. And look at what fun we have writing about that!

    I always tell people to learn other dances before trying WCS, because I still think it difficult to learn.

    Are there any guys where you dance that at least are dancing in time to the music? If they are, you would at least have that understanding in common. What a concept!

    I am now able to tell my partners to take their steps in time to the music, always. Stick with that slow, slow, tri ple step tri ple step, always. (unless it's an "eight count", sorry!) I make sure that, although I am not manhandling them, they have a clear indication of where I want them to go.

    But, again, this is after many lessons, and much dancing over a number of years. I was like a deer in the head lights when I started. Same way with AT. So I kept taking lessons.

    Surely, there is someone in your community????
  13. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    I would have to say that "the African diaspora" is hardly monolithic in its attitudes.

    When the "Slow Drag" was used in the play "Harlem" in 1929, "Many members of the black community were incensed by this picture of the underside of black urban life."

    Meanwhile, Scott Joplin included the "Slow Drag" in his opera Treemonisha, choreographing the dance with explicit directions which include the words "hop and skip", "prancing", "marching", and "Double the Schottische step to fit the slow music."
  14. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Ah... that. In my circles, "noodle arms" usually means something else, hence my confusion.

    Yup - for a number of reasons it takes guys a long time to discover that they *still* aren't leading. And nobody ever bothers to teach how to dance with beginners, so that part of things isn't going to improve any time soon. That's becoming my favorite windmill to tilt against.

    There are some defensive measures that you can learn - they take your head from "what do I DO?" to "I do X unless I get a lead that tells me differently". There are a number of different answers for X, the best fit for you will depend on the community where you dance most often. This doesn't really fix anything except the confusion - but it will fool the guys who were expecting X into believing that they actually lead the pattern (and hey, if it avoids the explanation of what you were "supposed" to do from someone who has no clue themselves, that's a small win too).

    No "tugging". No "pulling". No "pushing". "Lead". Verbs matter, especially in the inferences that people take from them.
  15. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Well, you are free to write and say anything you want.
    I have lots of happy partners who have no problems following what I lead. You can call it "lead" rather than slight "tug" if you wish, but I'm not sure how "lead" fits in with basic physics and such, so excuse me while I stick with the terms that have some analogue in the physical world.
  16. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Hi Me,

    I was just going to add that the type of pattern differentiation you are describing has to be one of the hardest leads for me personally. Leading a right side pass was pretty easy to learn. However, when all the variations and walks and whips all facing down the slot are thrown in, the subtleness of the leads took a while to learn.

    For me, leading a lady so that she doesn't complete the right side pass and instead we turn it into a locked whip without the lock is a delicate balance of leading early and setting up a strong enough block that she can not mistake my intent to bring her back all while being smooth and gentle. If I am a little late, the ladies complete the right side pass. If my block isn't firm enough, we extend the 8 count to a 10 or 12 count. Making it even more difficult, there are a bunch of fun turn combinations to lead from this "opened" locked whip. Somebody probably has a cool name for this whip?

    Anyway, since it takes a subtle touch for the guy to lead it, I imagine a lady has to have just as subtle a feel? I have really been working on trying to imagine my patterns as combinations of two beats instead of 6, 8 or more. That seems to be helping me keep track of where I am and what is possible from that point.
  17. noobster

    noobster Member

    Yeah, that's not what I think of when I hear "noodle arms" either.

    But interestingly, it turns out that I can relate to your experience as described - except that I actually *like* it.

    It is true that in WCS - unlike any other dance I've tried - there are times when I just do not really feel a lead. Though our hands are still touching, the leader drops the tension for a couple of beats. I tend to take this as an invitation to do *whatever I want.* Maybe he did expect me to shake my tush and do five pivots or maybe not, but in practice I do whatever I feel like doing based on the music and the momentum I had at the last moment when I was feeling a lead.

    The guys don't seem to have any problem with this, and when they're ready to lead again (typically two triples later) they are quite adept at channeling the momentum from whatever I chose to do into an appropriate and musical led move.

    This is what I mean when I say the follower seems to have more freedom in WCS. It's of course possible that the leaders view it differently; but the ones I dance with seem to enjoy it enormously from what I can tell. More importantly, if they don't like it they're perfectly free to lead continuously, rather than affording me the opportunity to extemporize, and hence turn the dance from a one-way to a two-way conversation.
  18. RickRS

    RickRS Member

    Another aside... what exactly is "lead from your center"? I heard the term but I don't understand what people mean by this.
  19. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Yea, I think Noobster is dead on. The best ladies I dance with are so smooth about asking to add an extra few beats that if I choose not to give it, they are instantly back on track with my lead. I'm never very fond of a true Hijack where I lead something and the lady does something totally different. However, I find the asking for extra space or beats to be really fun.
  20. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Imagine your arms forming a relaxed but firm L out from you body. If you don't let your arms extend and step back with your whole body, the lady instantly knows you are leading her to step forward. If I was to the stop and step forward, she instantly knows to go backward.

    I think the advantage is the lead is much earlier and earlier makes life easier on the ladies. If I was to take two steps back, let my arms extend a lot and then pull her towards me, she has almost no time to react to the lead. So the cool pattern I would have led breaks down.

    The idea of leading with my center seems to come up in almost every dance type. I'm always trying to be polite. So one of the hardest things for me to learn about leading with my center is stepping right through the lady is usually the best lead. It always seems counter intuitive to me, but it sure does work.

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