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On dance breakthroughs.. (mine this weekend was gliding)

March 13th, 2011 2 comments

 

I had an excellent weekend.  After spending all of last weekend with a significant portion of the charter members of the OMC, I had all of this weekend with Bay.  I won’t go into the stuff that you didn’t come here to read, but I highly recommend meeting someone that makes you a better person and marrying their ass (and the rest of them too).  Your life continues to get better the more work you’re willing to put in to a relationship like this – win/win!

We hosted my parents on Saturday night to cook them dinner, play crokinole, and slice off a portion of my finger.  My finger didn’t ruin the night, and fortunately it didn’t affect my crokinole playing.  I also successfully managed to raise my Dad’s blood pressure by playing my shots before he had the time to tell me “aim for my finger Adam!”.  I’m pretty sure my Mum had the exact same look on her face that she did over 15 years ago in Majorca when he did the same thing at the pool table.  Ah.. fond memories.

Before that, however, I took the afternoon for myself to go down to Centenniel Square and dance.  I didn’t start with this intention, but no one else was available given the short notice I had provided, and it had been too long since I’d danced in my hometown.  I wasn’t going to let anyone else’s lack of availability affect my need to get some creative release.  I gathered up my stuff and headed down.

Centenniel Square is actually a pretty great spot to go and share some culture.  The main part of the square has been fixed and is much more open than it once way.  While there was an event happening (and I heard at least one deep house song that I like playing), there was plenty of room further back and closer to the road.  One of the great parts about this area is that there are a number of businesses along one side, and all of the glass there is one-way mirror.  Not only that – it’s covered.  No issues with weather.

For a good solo session, having a reflection can go a long way to making you more comfortable dancing in public.  And that’s the other great benefit about the Square – it’s got a steady stream of foot traffic, but enough open area that no one ever has to feel about having their space violated.

One of the biggest things I’ve been working on this term has been opening myself up more when I’m dancing.  Not just physically, but emotionally and, if you can handle this, spiritually (it probably doesn’t mean the same thing to you that it does to me).  Having a consistent flow of foot-traffic offers plenty of opportunities for an audience, and if you can’t be comfortable with an audience, you’re never going to be able to achieve what you’re fully capable of.  If you have trouble getting yourself to this point, check out my post about opening yourself up more – it’s a great starting point that will naturally lead you to what I’m describing.

I was practicing in front of the windows (after being told,  bemusedly, by two commissionaires that there were people that could see me on the other side and were watching me), and taking a break from really dancing (when the goes off, I have to too!) and sat there grooving.  I made a surprising discovery – I figured out how I could teach gliding.

The problem

Gliding has always been an elusive technique for me.  I’ve never really felt how it connects to the music.  When I first started trying to to learn, it was by watching Graham.  Graham’s an amazing dancer and a great glider, but he is highly intuitive.  Without anything technical to grab on to, I was never really able to pick up the foundation.  Graham picked the technique up so quickly and seamlessly that I couldn’t find a space in his movement to pick apart and build on my own understanding.

With a lot of time, practice and classes, I was able to slowly pick up the technique.  But I never really learned how it connected to the actually dancing that I was meant to do.  Without an ability to ground the technique in the dance, it was a very dead move that I had taught myself to do.  Don’t kid yourself – anyone that is actually listening to the music will notice straight away if you’re just doing technique without any dancing.  Without an ability to dance with the technique, I could never really figure it out.  The way I taught the class was the same way I felt about learning the technique myself: it was slow, arduous.. it was frustrating.

The seed

The seed for my own epiphany was initially planted by Jamieson – a good friend, dancer and teacher.  In Jamieson’s class, he had us performing the stationary front glide (almost a forced walk) to the beat of the music.  This was the first time that I had actually seen a glide properly connected to the music.  (Much to Jamieson’s credit, I have never seen him teach anything that wasn’t connected with the music).

Ready for the music to pick me back up, I stood in front of the mirror doing the following to the beat playing in my ears:

  • Simultaneously raise my left toe and my right heel (1st beat).
  • Simultaneously lower my left toe and right heel, and then raise my right toe and my left heel (2nd beat).
  • Repeat

This is a simple motion, but it’s rhythmic, and that means that it’s a way to keep time with the music.  You should always strive to have part of your body moving to the music – this is how you stay connected to your dance, the rhythm, and the feel.  It’s how you know you’re actually dancing.  Have you ever watched a great dancer and seen them move like they had already heard the song before?  They haven’t – they’re just feeling music to the extent that they know where it’s going to go next.

The epiphany

Standing in place, rocking my feet up and down to the beat, I let my mind wander and focused on the music.  Rather than trying to think of what to do next, I allowed myself to sit in the groove.  I let myself know that it was okay to not do something new – I could do this for as long as it felt good.  This might sound trite to those that don’t understand, but this is the most fundamental principle of dancing that I can conceive at the moment.  If you can do this, you can dance.  If you can give yourself permission to enjoy a groove you’re sitting in, you don’t have to worry about how you look to anyone.

Reaching this conclusion is part of the greater (and ongoing) epiphany I’ve been having this term, thanks in part to the talented influences of my friends and teachers Dennis, Kyle, Kim, Johnnii and Jamieson.  Sitting with the groove in this position, I suddenly felt the tumblers in my brain fall into place.  I had gotten inside the glide!

Moving my feet up and down rhythmically, I was able to do the same while floating (the first is a foundation for the second), and almost magically felt everything snap into place.  If I could float to the rhythm, I could glide to the rhythm.  If I could glide to the rhythm… I could dance.

At the moment, I can’t provide any greater a breakdown of the technique I’m describing.  I need to teach it in order to understand it better myself.  What’s that?  You shouldn’t teach something that you don’t understand completely?  Why not?  Shouldn’t the teacher be allowed to learn with the students as well?  Surely this is teaching at it’s finest.  This is part of my process, and it’s part of why teaching, for me, is never just a one-way – it’s a two-way interaction.  Articulating an idea for someone should be a learning experience for both of you.

The good news is that I can promise more articulation in the summer months, for those of you that will be taking classes with me.  I’m looking forward to sharing what have been some profound changes in me as a dancer, and mutually working through those discoveries together in classes.  I have not yet found the right space for what I want to do, but that is currently in the works and once settled, I will be posting more information right here.  Suffice to say for now that I’m really excited about what is in the works.

TLDR

 

While the audience for this post may be different than some of the others I have written, I still think summaries are a good practice.  If not for you, certainly for me.  Here we go:

  • If you want to excel as a dancer, you need to be open to your audience, whoever and wherever they may be (don’t be selective)
  • If you’re nervous about dancing in public, find a place with a reflection.  Make sure you spend time facing away from it, but it can act as a security blanket when you’re feeling intimidated by those around you.  If you insist on staring at the mirror, make eye contact with your audience through it (it’ll catch them off-guard, I guarantee!)
  • If you can give yourself permission to sit in a groove, you can dance (yup, step-touch and two-stepping counts – don’t move on until you’re ready to).
  • No matter what you’re doing, try to keep some part of your body connected to he music (if you’re not sure why, see the point above)

And of course – I’m going to be teaching this summer somewhere in town, and it’s going to be awesome.  (and you should be there too!).

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Turning a corner

January 31st, 2011 No comments

I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut lately.  Work is good (great, even), I’ve adjusted to living in another city, and I’m starting to form a bit of routine.  But creatively, I just haven’t felt engaged or energized.  The result of that is little energy to actually create something like a blog post, and less energy overall (the more you can put out, the more you receive – it’s funny that way).  In the process of the last few days, this has meant that I’ve had an abundance of time to sit with nothing to do but meditate and reflect.

Spending time in this state is valuable, but it can be tiresome too.  As a driven person, I reach the point where I’m once again ready (eager, even) to feel traction under my wheels and start driving myself forward.

One of the aims I have this Spring is to continue my growth as a dancer.  This process has been ongoing for years, but recently I have taken note of three specific landmarks.  The first was during the Summer of 2009.  I was still working in software, and took a week-long trip over to Vancouver for the opportunity to dance and train with some of the originators of Popping, House, Locking, and HipHop.  It was an amazing opportunity, and was the first time I had been exposed to this depth of knowledge.  I left this week feeling like I had been shown what I needed to know, rather than what I had wanted to know.  This feeling was a bit disconcerting at first, but is ultimately an indication that you have learned something deep, and fundamental; something that will stay with you for the rest your creative pursuit.

The second milestone occurred this Summer, and culminated with the second Get Down workshop.  I was opened up to the social element of dancing, thanks to the fantastic teachers that I got to train with and the warm and welcoming people that make up Vancouver’s dance scene.  This too was an experience that caught me off guard, as up until this point, most of my dancing had been at home or doing drills with friends in front of a mirror.  I had been opened up to a side of dancing that I had been sheltered from for the better part of my first ten years spent dancing.

The third milestone was this Fall.  I returned to Victoria with a greater sense of what I wanted to have exist on our own island, and took steps to plant the seeds that would hopefully develop into something greater as time went on.  I also came back with a wealth of knowledge that I hadn’t been able to articulate, let alone been truly aware of for the first part of my time spent teaching dancing.  This time I had worked with better teachers than I, and been shown so much more that I wanted to share.  Although my classes were smaller this term, I felt like it was the best set that I have taught since I’ve begun teaching.

Now I’m back in Vancouver for another term, and the creative rut that I’m determined to climb out of has lead me to consider what some of my personal projects should be.  I’m talking about dancing, so it’s obvious that that’s the goal I’m going to be talking about today.

Before we go any further, “dancing”, by itself, is not a goal.  How do I know when that goal has been accomplished?  How do I gauge if I have made any progress in that goal?  Does doing anything related to dancing qualify?  If I think about dancing for ten minutes tomorrow, does that count?

I’m of course using hyperbole to make my point here, but I think that what I’m describing makes intuitive sense.  A lot of times, we tell ourselves we’re making a goal, and then leave it utterly vague.  “Budget more”, “Eat out less”, and “Save” are goals that I’m sure more than a few of us can relate to.  However, no one ever teaches us that a goal needs to be broken down to be meaningful.  Until we have a handle on something like this, our goal is nothing more than an abstract desire to do something differently.  Most importantly, it’s no help.

My goal is ultimately continue to improve as a dancer.  Now, while this is already a violation of what I’ve described above, I’m deciding up front that the means by which I will accomplish this more abstract goal is to take efforts to put myself in situations where I’m not the best dancer.

Let’s talk about that.  This does not mean that I think I am a fantastic dancer (But I do know that I love it and work at it), nor that other people dancing with me are bad.  This goal is purely an articulation of my desire to train with the people that are best going to be able to pull me up in terms of my skill level.  Truly talented people can be intimidating, but the key is to replace that intimidation with an awe and a genuine desire to soak up what you can from them.  The more often you can surround yourself with talented people, the more their particular talents and way of looking at the world will rub off on you (genuinely a positive thing).  Of course, the opposite is true as well: the more time you spend with people that are narrow-minded and have a cynical view of the world, the more that will wear off on you.

So the goal here is actually quite simple: seek out those that are better than I, and spend time dancing with them in whatever capacity I can.  Taking classes is one way that I can ensure that I achieve this aim.  Actually committing to going out to practice with other dancers at any jam-times available is another way.  If I only ever dance by myself or in front of a mirror, I will only be able to improve within the confines of the box that currently defines my working set of creative knowledge.  If we want to truly achieve greatness, we need to ensure that we associate with people that help us continually push at the boundaries of our own knowledge and conceptions about how the world works.  (Incidentally, one of the tragedies of ignorance is that it causes people to turn inwards and get defensive toward the very type of personalities and concepts that would help shed them of that very ignorance).

I have another goal this term.  I intend to teach my own classes somewhere downtown in Victoria.  I have already been teaching classes, but up until now have been doing it for Vibestreet Dance (big ups to VSD).  However, VSD does not have classes this Summer, and it seems like an excellent time and opportunity to begin putting my own thing together.  I’ll be working with my friend Jesse to put something together, and we’re also planning to teach a Soul class together, focusing on grooving, feeling the music, and ultimately, just learning how to get down and be funky.  Jesse is one of the most creative people I know, and I think the opportunity to work with him will be fruitful.  I’m excited to see what our synergy will result in.

Time, weather, and city permitting, I’m going to be giving very informal classes at Centenniel Square, right downtown.  These classes will be very cheap (probably no more than $5 to drop-in), and are basically a way for people to continue to grow as a dancer.  Focus will be on fundamentals, and this kind of class is an excellent way to get more comfortable dancing where people can see you.  This is one of the biggest challenges that many dancers have to face (I certainly put myself in that category), and it’s hard to get much more legit than getting down, outside, in an urban setting.

If you’re interested in hearing more about these classes, join my group on Facebook here.

So, it’s back to Vancouver that I go, now with a new goal, and some personal projects to work on over the coming term.  I sense that I’m starting to move out of my creative rut, and can begin to apply some focus in a direction that I’m excited about.  Stay tuned as I will continue to blog about my progress, anything new that I learn, and the status of the projects I’m working on.

Lastly, I want to give someshout-outs to the great teachers that I get to work with in Vancouver: Johnni, Jamieson, Kim, and Dennis are all contributing significantly to my growth while I spend time in Vancouver, and it’s a honour to get to work with people that share their passion and talent for dancing so generously.  These guys help me become not only a better dancer, but a better teacher.  Thanks guys!

The art of managing a creative process

June 12th, 2010 1 comment

The title is a bit of a paradox.  Creative processes are typically those that fare and progress best when left to their own devices and are free of the encumbrances that attempting to manage them can impose.  However, as with everything in life, I believe that certain guidelines help, rather than hinder these types of processes.  A significant portion of my spare time living in Vancouver so far has been dedicated to improving my own abilities in the styles of dance that interest me most.  I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on this process, and have received some excellent advice from some newly made friends about this ongoing process of improvement.  This post represents the culmination of these thoughts and tidbits of advice after the first month of the Summer.

Let’s get it out of the way, because if I don’t, someone will mention it.  “You shouldn’t spend time thinking about dancing, you should just do it”.  This is a blanket statement that I have heard more times that I care to think about.  There’s certainly some truth in it, because at the end of the day, the most fundamental thing you need to do when you’re dancing is listen to the music, shut off your brain, and do what your body tells you to do.  If you aren’t doing this, and your goal is to dance, you have failed at your goal.  Beyond that though, this super-general statement will lead you astray.

You do need to put some time and thought into your creative processes if you want to progress in them.  Simply doing whatever you feel like doing, without ever providing yourself with guidelines, goals, and benchmarks, will hinder, rather than aid, your own progress.  It’s important to pursue a direction.  If you want to be a great photographer (as some of my friends are), you take classes to learn how to do that.  If you want to be a great painter, you take classes to learn how to properly paint.  Dancing is no different, nor are other creative processes.  If nothing else, education and thought devoted to your pursuit will vest you with new ideas, inspirations, and an understanding of what has been done, and how you can either build on that, or avoid making the same mistakes.

Okay, it’s out of the way.  I feel like I should just create a boilerplate disclaimer that states that so that I can dump it at the bottom of every post tagged “dance” and save us all a bunch of time.  I’m not going to though because I’m waiting for the ferry and typing that out helps make the time go by a little faster.  Let’s get to the meat of this post.

The Theory

At the core of almost any creative process are two facets: theory and application.  These are just abstract terms that I’m using, and may not bear any actual relevance to the way they’re described in any particular pursuit.  Further, these concepts exist outside of merely creative processes, and apply in a lot of other settings.  In Math, you begin by learning the theory of numbers.  How operations work on constants and variables, how a derivative is performed (ugh), etc.  Once you know that, you need to actually apply these concepts to proper problems.  You can’t apply anything if you haven’t learned the theory beforehand, but if all you’ve done is learn the theory, you’ll be unable to apply it to anything other than the most contrived circumstances that generally exist in laboratory or classroom settings.

This is a common critique that is levelled from both sides of the fence in the ivory tower/real-world debate.  People working in the industry, in various professions, lob criticism at pure academics, claiming that they exist only in the world of theory, and never have their theories and ideas tempered with the versatility and complications of application to real-world problems.  The academics riposte that industry professionals are hopelessly mired in the here-and-now and the application of existing principles to the problems in the real world, and are never able to advance their ideas at any significant rate (thinking outside of the box, so to speak).

They’re actually both right.  It’s important to take time to step back from the real world and analyze and assess our knowledge as it currently stands, and reflect on how we are currently achieving our aims (and whether or not those aims are even still reasonable).  This can be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve if you are constantly confronted with the next emergency.  Equally important, if all you ever do is consider theory and never apply it, you’ll never really ground yourself in reality, nor learn the ability to apply your theory with the fluidity and flexibility that is important to any successful endeavour.

The application

The point of this long-winded metaphor is to state the realization that I’ve reached regarding myself and dance: I’ve been sitting in the ivory tower.

This realization has dawned slowly on me over the last couple of weeks.  Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, many of the street dancers (so that includes poppers, lockers, house dancers, whackers, and b-boys) head out to Robson Square and get down.  On each of these nights, you can usually find at least 10-20 dancers practicing and getting down (which is super awesome).  This was a pretty intimidating scene for me to plug in to.  A week ago this past Wednesday was the first time I’d gone out purely to practice.  Before that, I had been to the square to take some classes that were being taught there (also awesome), but nothing else.  I arrived early and practiced technique for about an hour before someone I’d met recently, named Boris, showed up, and then we started practicing in front of the many windows that surround the now ice-free skating rink that is downstairs.

I asked Boris for some advice, mentioning the frustration I feel every time I try to dance outside of purely doing drills.  Boris’s advice was simple, but profound:

“I’ve been there.  You need to practice freestyling and cyphering* more.  Freestyling is a skill, just like any particular technique is.  If you don’t practice that skill, you won’t be able to improve in it”.

We spent the next thirty minutes taking turns locking in front of each other.  It felt supremely awkward.  The truth is that I’ve never really danced in front of someone else, while they stood their watching.  Sure, I’ve danced at the bar plenty of times, but that’s a different thing altogether.  People at the bar blend into an anonymous crowd.  There’s individual faces, but it’s easy to ignore them.  Plus, at the bar, there’s other people on the dance floor.  I’m sure that being a person that has devoted time to the pursuit of dancing, people notice me when I’m dancing next to people that have not, but it’s easy enough to ignore.

When you’re in a situation like this, you start to fall back on the same things pretty quickly.  I’d come out with a sequence that I had thought up, and then fall right back to the fundamentals and have trouble moving beyond them.  But that’s okay, because this was the first time I’d ever actually tried to move beyond the realm of pure theory into the realm of application.  David and Michael, two twins that I’ve seen dancing at Get Down last year, and at some of the classes I’ve been taking this Summer, showed up later, but I needed some time to reflect, eat dinner, and stretch.  The next night, I repeated this process for popping, forcing myself to get into the cypher and do something – anything.  Dancing first – once that was happening, the technique could flow from it.

The result

I’ve often drawn parallels between squash and dancing.  If you look hard enough, you can find meaningful parallels between almost any two pursuits.  After the second cypher I danced in, I wondered to myself why I hadn’t felt like this was as big of an issue with squash as it was with dancing.  I believe that this is because squash is already set up to impose these two types of learning on your process.  You don’t have to pursue both the laboratory work (drills and working on movement) and the application in the real world (games and tournaments), and many people are content to simply play games.  In fact, squash is probably more likely to lead to people that have the opposite kind of problem to that which I’ve experienced with dancing.  Rather than spending all of their time in the lab working on theory, they spend all of their time playing games, applying what they know (again, this isn’t a criticism – if you’re content doing that, then by all means, continue to do so).

As a late dancer, pursuing a style of dance that requires a good deal of technique, it’s been easy to neglect the importance of real world application, and to simply work on theory, theory, theory.  The more I thought about these changes to my own pursuit, the more I realized that I may very well be passing along the same habits to my students.  Not once have we cyphered in one of my classes.  Why not?  Probably because I’d never done it myself.  Maybe because I was a little bit afraid to dance in front of people when the focus was exclusively on me.

But if I really care about dancing, how is this a sustainable approach?  It isn’t, unless I’m willing to forever remain a laboratory dancer (I’m not).  This point was actually driven home during the first class I took in Vancouver – a locking class with an incredible dancer named Kim Sato.  At the start and end of the class, everyone got together in a circle, and rather than facing the front and the mirrors, where we could focus exclusively on ourselves, we faced in towards each other and danced that way.  At the end of the class, Kim announced that we would be following the leader, and each took turns doing something that everyone else had to repeat for a number of beats before moving on to the next person.  It was intimidating, and I loved it.

Truthfully, the hardest cypher you ever enter will be your first one, and, parallel to that, the hardest time to get into any particular cypher will be the first time.  Each time after that, it gets easier and easier.  I found myself walking to Robson square this past Thursday excited about the opportunity to get down with other dancers, and to work on my freestyle skills.  I knew that I would be intimidated all over again, and that I would find it hard to keep coming up with new things, but I didn’t let that bother me.  I just wanted to get better at the application of my technique.

You…

So what does this mean to you, the non-dancer that has stumbled across my blog because I keep publishing my notes to Facebook, or because you’re bored at work and I was the first thing that popped up on your RSS-reader?

It means that if your aim is continual, optimized improvement in a given pursuit, you too must be spend time reflecting on whether or not you’re spending enough time in the lab, and enough time in the real-world.  If you find yourself plateau’d and unable to break out and experience a new bout of improvement, assess whether or not you’ve been spending too much time, or too little time, working in the lab, honing your skills.

Bonus

Okay.  The theory for today is out of the way.  The other thing that I promised last time I posted was an update on what I’ve been learning.  That list is perpetually growing, and never-ending, and I feel like everytime I spend an hour in a class, it dovetails into me learning about seven other new things related (and sometimes unrelated) to what we were working on.  Maybe I learned a single boogaloo technique, but also picked up new ways to approach teaching, learned about a weakness that I need to work on, and learned that I don’t like dancing on a certain side.  Notwithstanding that, I will try to summarize some of the more salient points, because otherwise this blog amounts to nothing more than verbal masturbation, and that’s not really my steeze.

Up to this point, I’ve been taking three classes each week: One hiphop class, one locking class, and one popping class.  I started taking a hiphop class because it’s taught by someone that I have a great deal of respect for: Liz Vaesen (Please someone correct me if I spelled her name wrong).  Brooke and I first heard of Liz when we took a popping workshop that she was bringing over to Victoria (she brings about four classes over each year), and were both immediately inspired and identified with her approach and view on hiphop, and dancing in general.  An excellent teacher is a better predictor of my growth than anything else about a given class (which may sound trite, but that includes subject matter and many other factors;  I feel like I would learn taking a ballet class with a great teacher than I would a popping class with a bad teacher, all other things being considered equal).

Liz’s class is everything I love about hiphop.  It focuses purely on social grooves, is done in Robson Square (urban!), and it’s not about flashy moves or fancy choreography.  I never really grew up “plugged in” to hiphop.  I knew that I wanted to dance from a fairly young age (though was never able to find teachers for it when I was a kid, and was probably also too intimidated), but never really identified with rap music when I heard it on Much (it turns out I’m just a snob and, like all forms of music that is broadcast, like only a few of the songs that are put out at any given time).  It wasn’t until I met Brooke and started to talk with her about dancing and hiphop that I realized that many of the elements and feelings that exist in HipHop are elements that I identify strongly with.  Individualism, creativity, honest self-expression, and self-awareness (both individual and cultural) are all key aspects of my identity.

Although I struggle to reflect these virtues at times (as do we all), they are all aims that I pursue throughout my day.

Bay’s cousin, Michael (who I like and enjoy chatting with), said something to me the last time that I saw him that really put me off.  He was playing me some music from a group called Bass Nectar (who are pretty good, though not really my top choice), and as we were listening, he commented that “If not for these guys and this kind of music, rap would be dead”.  I smiled and let him know that I couldn’t disagree with him more.  To the outsider, rap, and by association, hiphop, is nothing more than the superficial parts of it that we see co-opted and projected to us through a TV screen, endorsement deals, and product placement.  To most of the public, hiphop is artists like Puff Daddy wearing flashy suits, or Soulja Boy making a catchy hook and posting videos of himself displaying his vast ignorance and the unfortunate arrogance that comes with youth (nothing wrong with that arrogance, as we all have to move through it – it’s just too bad that he’s chosen to have a camera focused on him as he completes that journey).

But hiphop is so much more than these superficial elements.  In truth, these elements are probably so distorted as to have become the antithesis of hiphop.  Michael’s statement that rap would be dead if not for artists like Bass Nectar displays the ignorance that most people have of what hiphop is.  Hiphop is a cultural movement.  A way of feeling, thinking, obeserving, reflecting, and creating.  Hiphop wouldn’t die simply because the mainstream lost interest in the superficial and  overly-refined products that the music and fashion industry have distilled from the movement.  By the same token, a movement that is about culture wouldn’t simply be rejuvenated because a new set of artists have adopted a new interpretation of that culture.  Cultural movements don’t die, or get reborn.  Cultural movements like hiphop are reflections of our society, and they morph and evolve, just like our societies do.

Sorry about that, I didn’t even notice that soapbox I was standing on.  Anyhow, let’s get back on track.  The things we learn in Liz’s class are social dances.  Grooves and dances that have evolved as new music has come out and people have interpreted that into simple movements.  The Humpty dance, the Roger Rabbit, the Bart Simpson, the Steve Martin, the Cabbage Patch, and yes, even the Running Man, are all social dances that have evolved and become a part of hiphop.  These grooves and the music provide a simple pallette for the dancer to paint with.  Their interpretation and creativity in how they use those grooves, and add their own flare, are what leads to a creative process.

I’ve already mentioned the locking class that I take with Kim, and that’s also an excellent class.  Kim’s one of those ridiculously talented dancers, accomplished in ballet, tap, hiphop, locking, and several billion other styles (from what I’ve been told).  I always finish her class exhausted, drenched in sweat, humbled, and with a greater awareness of what it means to dance, rather than simply to lock.

Lastly, I take a popping class with Jamieson, one of the member’s of the Groovy G’s – a very talented popping crew in Vancouver.  Jamieson, like the other two teachers I’ve mentioned, does an excellent job of focusing on the dancing aspect of popping, and is excellent at teaching you without you realizing that you’re being taught.  We usually start out with very basic dance movements, and by the end of the class that has evolved into several popping techniques.  The only thing that I find frustrating about the class is that I am having trouble figuring out how to take his manner of teaching and adapt it into something that I could share with my own students.

Before I left, Brooke and I had discussed teaching two popping classes – one beginner, and one advanced. However, in Vancouver, there’s only one open class for popping, and one for locking.  Furthermore, Jamieson isn’t teaching “advanced” techniques.  He’s just teaching movement, and layering that with technique.  Likewise, Kim isn’t teaching complicated choreography – she’s teaching dancing, and layering that with locking techniques.  I’ve had students come up to me and ask if I was going to teach a more advanced popping class, but I was never able to really understand what that class would look like, nor what I would be teaching them.  I’m more convinced than ever that this isn’t the right approach – I think that what would be better is to have a class once a week, and a cypher once a week.  If the advanced dancers aren’t happy reviewing fundamentals, focusing on dancing, and spending some of that time learning new techniques, they can come to the cyphers and practice applying the techniques they’ve learned.

I’m happy with the length of this post, so I’ll cut it off here.  I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to audiobooks and podcasts on my commute to work, so I’ll aim to focus on reviewing some of the ones that I think are most worthwhile next blog post.  Until then…

* Cyphers are a little bit like a battle.  You have a bunch of dancers in a circle, and take turns going into the centre of the circle and getting down, one after another.  The aim isn’t to out-do one another (though playful one-ups-manship is fun), but simply to come together and create something, with the music, as a group.  The feeling is one of encouragement and creativity, rather than aggression and competition.

Country boy in a big city

May 29th, 2010 1 comment

I’ve lived in Vancouver for about a month now.  I’m working here for the Summer on a co-op placement with WorkSafeBC, and living with my brother and his girlfriend Willough.

My brother and his girlfriend are being amazing hosts, and it’s making everything a lot easier than it might otherwise have been.  I haven’t had to worry about finding a place to rent during the Summer and I’ve been living ridiculously close to downtown for rent that is affordable.  Me paying rent helps out Brendan and Willough, so all in all, I think things are working out pretty good.

This is the first weekend that I haven’t travelled back home to Victoria (to spend time with Bay, friends, and family), or had someone coming here, so it’s really the first decent duration of time that I’ve had to sit down and reflect.  The first couple of weeks have been a process of acclimatizing for me.  Learning the ropes at a new job, figuring out where things are in the city, getting over the initial inertia that I experience when I want to start something new (in this case, taking dance classes).  Today I’m planning solely to reflect on that experience, and what it’s telling me about myself.

Dancing

The dance culture in Vancouver is incredible.  There isn’t a single night that goes by where I don’t find myself wishing that we had anything comparable to what I see here.  Every single night I can walk down to Robson square and find someone to practice with.  All of the dancer’s I’ve met have been really friendly, and the quantity of talent is leaps and bounds ahead of what we have in Victoria.  Note that the quality is about the same – in Victoria we have some excellent dancers (I don’t include myself in that category), it’s just that Vancouver has more excellent dancers.

As far as classes are concerned, the options that are available are almost overwhelming.  I’m taking three classes a week, and if I had more time, there are certainly more classes available that I could be taking.  More popping classes, more locking classes, more hiphop classes, and more house classes.

I’ve had to make some adjustments.  One of those adjustments has just been pushing myself out of my bubble.  I generally avoid social situations until I’m tight with people.  Even though I can do it pretty well, I hate small talk.  I spend too much time in my head, thinking about how awkward it will be going up to some random people dancing and saying “Hey, I’m new in town, what’s up?”.  Getting over that hasn’t been super difficult, but it has been something I’ve had to push myself to overcome.

As with many anxieties, once I just made the decision to do it, it was easy.  Things have been helped by the fact that I’ve met a few of the dancers here before, either from classes, or from mutual friends, or workshops that I’ve taken.  I recognize a lot of them from Get Down, which I came over to Vancouver for last Summer.  Even better, doing exactly what I stated above turned out to not be awkward at all.  Everyone has been super friendly, and the culture here is really welcoming and inviting.  Big kudos to the street dancers in Vancouver.  If I can help bring back even 10% of that with me to Victoria, I’ll consider it a success.

The other big adjustment has been accepting that I really do have a long way to go.  I’ve always known that I’m not a phenomenal dancer – just someone that loves doing it.  When I’m in Victoria, it’s easy to forget this sometimes.  Since there are very few people that pop or lock in Victoria, the opportunities to see direct evidence of that reality are rare.  I’m a big fish in a small pond, but do everything I can to stay humble and continue driving myself to improve.

However, in Vancouver, every single day I see someone that is able to prove that point, quite effectively.  Because of the effort I make to remain humble, I can accept how great these dancers are without it affecting my own identity to too great an extent.  However, I do face an ongoing challenge to avoid falling into the “pit of despair”, or even to just become overly intimidated by the calibre of talent that surrounds me.  It’s easy to see someone wrecking shop and think to yourself “Man, these people are so good… what’s the point of even trying?”.

One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed in my popping classes is that I just am not feeling funky.  I feel like I’ve got good technique, because that’s what I’ve been able to watch on TV and replicate.  But as soon as the music starts and it’s time to cypher, I feel like I’ve got about seven techniques I can rely on and nothing else.  I feel dead on the dance floor, or like I’m hiding behind the technique.  This is one of my biggest goals this Summer: to understand how I can get funkier, and try and become more creative.  That might be an impossible goal to accomplish – how do you become more creative?  I don’t know if it’s something that can actually be done, but nevertheless, every time I step on the dance floor, I will be doing it with that thought in the back of my head.

Squash

When in school this past year, I had to come to a difficult conclusion.  That conclusion was that I wouldn’t have time for both dancing and squash.  I needed to make a decision between the two.  I love squash; but I double-plus-love dancing.  The decision between the two wasn’t difficult, but letting go of something that I loved was.  However, I knew that if I didn’t make the decision myself, it would end up happening anyhow, and I would simply become more and more frustrated as I felt the skill I had built slipping away.  Sometimes in life, it is better to accept that we need to change in order to grow, than to try to divide ourselves between too many things to the detriment of all of them.

Throughout the year, I knew in the back of my head that I would return to squash again once the year was finished.  What I didn’t realize was that that wasn’t true.  I hadn’t really sat down and planned out my weeknights, and I hadn’t thought about what it would mean to pursue dancing to the extent that I wanted to.  Without sitting down and thinking about the amount of time that would need to be devoted, it was easy to believe that I would be able to fit both squash and dancing in, and devote myself fully to both pursuits.  After my first dance class in Vancouver, I overheard Boris and Ed (two obnoxiously good lockers) talking to each other, and Boris stating that he had been at Robson square practicing every night that week.  It wasn’t until I was back in Victoria that weekend that it dawned on me that if I really wanted to make the most of the Summer, I too needed to be putting an equivalent amount of time in.  The sacrifice that I would need to make didn’t fully dawn on me until I found myself talking about it with Bay and my friends, but it makes sense.  When I first started playing squash, I was at the courts about four to five times a week.  Improvement doesn’t come without dedication.

And so it is – I have a regular drill session and match with my buddy Bevan, who I first started training with, but aside from that, my time is devoted to dancing.  It’s a decision that was hard to confront, but ultimately for the best.  I’d feel worse if I didn’t feel like I was trading something I like a lot for something that I love.  If I were to take a fatalistic approach, I would still be able to look back proudly on the time that I spent honing a skill and achieving the level that I did.  If I take a more positive approach, I know that squash will never truly leave me, and will always be there in some capacity or another.

Zooming out

This whole process has really gotten me thinking about growth.  In the last year, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in all aspects of my life.  Not just in myself, but in my wife, my friends, and my family.  Growth can sometimes be hard.  It’s not always easy to let things go that we care about, but sometimes you have to be willing to do that if you want to progress as a person.  Some people never fully embrace change in this manner, and forever restrict their own progression.  If that is the decision that they choose to make, then I salute that decision and hope for them the best.  If it’s something that they are unaware of, I hope that they’re happy.  For myself, I know that this will never be acceptable.

As an agnostic, I don’t generally believe in a god.  This doesn’t mean that I believe that there is not a god, nor that I believe there is not a higher power, intelligence, or order in our universe.  It simply means that I have not yet been given convincing evidence to support me changing my view in this manner.  I try to approach life with as open a mind as possible, while maintaining a critical outlook in order to protect myself from being taken advantage of.  As a Bertrand Russell once said, “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out”.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, one of the things that I often hear many religious scholars stating is that without a belief in god and an afterlife, our lives are meaningless (just because I’m not religious doesn’t mean that I don’t find Theology fascinating).  Perhaps to some people they are, but to me, it grants me the freedom to dictate my own terms with which I ascribe value to my life.  My own personal growth and progression, and contributing to the same in other people’s lives, are two things which create incredible meaning and purpose in my life.

How high can I reach?  If perfection, as an ultimate ideal, is theoretically impossible, how close to perfection (again, on my own terms), can I come?  The only way I will ever find out the answer to this is to push myself to achieve as much as I can.  To some, the fact that this motivation is intrinsic, rather than extrinsic (comes from within, rather than from something outside of me) makes it less meaningful.  To me, it makes it more meaningful.  If uncovering the deep inner workings of sociology and psychology, through my study of our legal system, is fulfilling and meaningful to me, then that is a victory in terms of my life.  Now, that goal, or end result, may very well be meaningless to someone else; but that’s okay – they need to set their own goals and pursuits that are specific to themselves.  These are part of what make life meaningful to me.  They’re part of the core of what makes me who I am.

Part of pushing forward for that growth means that life is always going to be about embracing change.  Sometimes that change will lead to short-term loss in order to make long-term gains.  Actually, it’s most likely that most of that change will lead to short-term loss.  Any change in your life is generally going to cause you some stress (most change is stressful, be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual stress), and require that you adjust in order to accommodate and figure it out.  Not only that, but not every change will necessarily be for the best.  Sometimes I make changes, only to realize that it’s not the change that I wanted.  These changes aren’t a failure – they’re simply more data points from which to evaluate where I am.

Learn to embrace change in your life, and to recognize that change in and of itself is a rewarding and positive part of life.

I think that’s it for now – the next post will be about some of the techniques and choreography that I’ve been learning in the classes I’m taking, so fairly dance heavy.  As always, I’ll attempt to analogize those things to the more abstract challenges and things happening in my life.  Until then.

Update, pure and simple

November 15th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and that is a tough thing to feel slipping.  When the crunch periods are on, it’s hard to find the time or mental energy to think about subjects that I want to expand upon; when the crunch periods are off, it’s hard to motivate myself to do even more writing.  As you can see, it can be a challenge trying to find a place to write creatively in there.  When time is a scarce commodity, the best approach for me is usually to go back to the basics, so that’s how this post rolls.  Just an update for you, and an opportunity to do some writing that isn’t schoolwork for me.

School..

has been going really well.

This past week, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve felt like the material has been starting to sink in, and the landscape is a little bit more clear to me.  We also got our first midterm grades back, which was a welcome piece of feedback that I think we were all ready for.  I did better than my expectations, and so that made the pill a lot easier to swallow, but I think that most of us were really just happy for the opportunity to be given a benchmark.  Our professor sagely commented “for those of you who did well..  Don’t fall in love with it”, and so I will be making an effort to remain vigilant as we continue onward.  I don’t know what other option I really have.

After the last couple of weeks, the remembrance day holiday was a welcome reprieve, and even though one I had a make-up class scheduled on Friday, the workload has been a little bit lighter this week.  I think that I’m also starting to gain a better understanding of how I can best absorb the material, which is making me a little more efficient.  That’s the hope, anyway – I won’t be able to tell anything for sure until I have the means to test that: time passing and more data.  So, we’ll see.  If nothing else, I have certainly been trying out a number of different means for approaching this material.  On that note…

Habits and productivity..

are a mandatory topic in any blog post.

This wouldn’t feel like a blog entry if I didn’t include some notes about productivity or habits of mine, as of late.  In the process of training myself better moderation, I’ve had some minor epiphanies, which has been exciting.  The opportunities in life for growth are really a significant aspect of what makes me tick, and so it’s always exciting when I’m lucky enough to reflect on one of those opportunities as it’s occurring.

The first thing I’ve noticed about my own habits, and I suspect, many others, is that training moderation is easier when we give ourselves the opportunity for flexibility.  When it isn’t absolutely necessary (it rarely should be) to abstain from something, a flexible system with clear boundaries will provide you with a habit that has a greater chance of sticking for the longterm.  Abstinence does not provide you with any opportunity to adapt to new circumstances, and is not really a practice in moderation at all.  Some people may tell you that abstinence is a virtue, but my own belief will always be that life and happiness are about balance, and part of that balance is the skill of moderation.

The most significant thing about that has come out of this process has been my growing understanding and ability to articulate the concept that moderation is a skill.  The significance of this discovery is that I can now begin to approach this skill with the wisdom and hindsight that I’ve gained in the past, trying to train other skills.  Never mind that – the fact that moderation is a skill at all means that it’s not just some innate ability that someone is born with, but rather something that you can make better, over time, if you wish.

Some of my own thoughts as I’ve begun to think more about this notion are that:

  • Moderation works best in a framework
A framework provides you with some kind of boundary.  It gives you a benchmark from which to practice moderation.  If you take away these boundaries or benchmarks, then you will fall into the trap of shifting baselines, a concept pioneered (I believe) by the thoughtful Randy Olsen (his movie Flock of Dodos is excellent).  The longer you spend doing something a certain way, the more natural that way feels, and the more difficult it becomes to objectively assess where you sit. (Randy applied this concept to the Great Barrier Reef, I believe, noting that the baseline for what the reef looked like when it was healthy shifted dramatically between his time as a student, and when he took his own students to see it.  The reef had shrunk and withered significantly, but to the class, this was the baseline that they would be acquainted with, and see as natural, dulling the sense of urgency to do something to maintain its health as an entity).

With a clear framework, you have an objective baseline to which you will always be able to look and ascertain if you’re moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

  • Moderation and Willpower hang out together

The more you practice moderation, the greater your willpower becomes.  Moderation, over time, means becoming adept at following through with something when you desire, but doing so in a manner that looks ahead to the future.  It requires exercising a degree of restraint and willpower, but in a manner that leaves you with reserves.

Willpower, then, can be thought of as our energy to moderate.  For your muscles, you have a finite amount of energy that you can expend before you need to back off and give them a rest.  For the practice of moderation, you have willpower.

Make no doubt about it, willpower is a finite commodity.  We all have some measure of willpower that we are able to exercise when we need to.  But once that willpower is expended, it is like any other muscle or mental quality that can be trained; we need to give it time to recharge.  The more that you practice and exercise moderation, the greater your reserves of willpower will become.  When you practice abstinence, you make decisions rarely.  You are not exercising moderation or your willpower, because you are rarely exposing yourself to the situations that would allow for it.

  • Moderation works best with flexibility

By providing yourself with a flexible framework, you give yourself a clear, objective boundary within which to work, but allow yourself some flexibility within that boundary.  Setting yourself up in this manner gives you the opportunity to adapt to circumstances as needed, and allows you to exercise an element of control at multiple points.  Part of the key to moderation is actually providing yourself with the ability to make decisions at multiple tiers of willpower.  When you practice abstinence, you train only one level of willpower – never doing something ever.  However, what about if/when that level of willpower fails you (and let’s be honest here: nothing is truly failsafe; especially our willpower)?  You haven’t trained any other aspect of your willpower.  That one level fails, and you cave with no more defences.

Flexibility gives you the power to exercise your willpower on multiple levels, and on a continual basis.  Doing so allows you to check in with yourself more frequently, and see how you’re doing.  It gives you many small victories, which encourage the growth of your self-esteem, and a few small losses, or failures.  But failure is an essential part of life; it’s better to have a small failure, with small victories surrounding it to ground your perspective, than one big failure, with the last success far enough of back in time to be fading from your memory.

Flexibility lends itself to iterative change and continual feedback, two qualities that lead to greater success in many of the endeavours that we choose to pursue.

  • Moderation can be applied to anything (it is worth practicing)

Some people will think that talking about moderation means that I’m talking about either alcohol abuse or drug abuse.  But moderation is a skill that we practice in everyday of our lives, though much of it is beneath our level of awareness.  It isn’t until you start to think about moderation as an independent skill unto itself that you begin to see its presence constantly.

Injured yourself playing a sport, but want to keep playing?  Want to stay up, but know that you should go to bed?  Know that you should be working on an assignment, but procrastinating instead?  All of these are examples of situations in which we are aware of what the correct decision is, but must exercise our willpower to overcome our short-term impulses.  In most cases, we don’t even contemplate the reserves that we are or are not exercising, make a decision, and get on with our lives.  Wouldn’t you like to have a little more willpower?

  • Moderation itself requires moderation (it is reflexive!)

Moderation really does apply to everything, including itself.  It’s important to find times when you allow yourself a little bit of excess.  Remember, the act of practicing moderation is one that uses up willpower.  The difference to be aware of is that the moments of excess you allow should be ones of which you are cognisant, rather than simple lapses in judgment.  By mentally allow yourselves these breaks, you will ensure that you keep an eye on your baseline and prevent it from becoming a habit.  You keep your goals in sight and stay true to them in the longterm.

Okay, I’ve covered off the productivity update, if that’s all you’re here for, see ya!

Dancing..

is made better by having awesome students.

Our studio has been doing well, and the classes continue to be enjoyable.  My own growth has come in the form of improving my ability to choreograph, and working on technique when I can find the time (not as often as I’d like).  My class’s progression has been rapid and fun, which is great – I’m enjoying the process of learning along with everyone.

I finished off the last term with some more work on popping and a little bit of waving.  In order to do some work on gliding, I decided that we would work on a little bit of gliding at the start of two or three of our classes.  Partially to warm the class up, and partially because gliding can be a very disheartening skill to learn when you first tackle it: the balance required is slow to build, and it can be painful on your calf muscles.  Additionally, it’s just not a way that we’re normally geared to move, so there’s a reasonable amount of muscle memory that needs to be trained.  We also added in some new fundamental techniques, some of which I’d just been shown this summer, like the popcorn.

Two of my friends from school came and checked out my first class of the new term, which was a lot of fun.  Because we hadn’t done it much last term, and because I love it so much, I started the first term off with some locking.  I went through some fundamentals with the class, and then began putting some choreography toward the end.  We went considerably far back, starting with the Watergate, a social dance that Sugarpop taught me this Summer, and that ties in directly with the lock from which the dance gets its name.  The fundamental movements that we went over this class included:

  • The pace
  • Uncle Sam point
  • Giving yourself five
  • The lock
  • The pimp walk
  • The scoobot

I have never taught some of these before, so it was a lot of fun figuring out how best to convey this information to the class, and seeing how people handled learning some of the new movements (some of them much better than I did when I was learning!)

The next class I reviewed the choreography that we had learned so far and we then moved to tutting.  The class all groaned when I announced that this was what we would be doing next class, so I was happy to see that most people seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Tutting can be a frustrating art to learn; it requires moves that demand a good deal of flexibility in your fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders.  Though lots of people work on flexibility in their lower body, it is less-often exercised from the forearms down.

I was disappointed to see that one of the students that had shown considerable promise last term didn’t return, but I saw some other new students in his place, so things balance out, as they usually do.

Squash..

still rules.

But I’m not getting to play it as much as I’d like.  I have been biking to school, and teaching dance classes, so my fitness and flexibility have not suffered to a great extent, but my touch is starting to fade as time goes on and I don’t have the opportunity to hit the ball as often as I’d like.  I have been playing on the squash ladder at school, which is a lot of fun and a good way to meet new friends, but the level of play isn’t equivalent to that which you would find at a club that is dedicated to squash.  Still, it does give me an opportunity to work on my length, and it’s a lot of fun.  I’ll take squash wherever and whenever I can get it!

And that..

is it.

That’s the end of the update for now.  Although my updates will continue to be sparse while I’m in school, I absolutely intend to continue writing.  If I stopped doing this, I think that I would have lost a significant aid to my own growth and potential.  Thanks for continuing to read, and stay tuned!  Please leave me a comment if you have any questions related to the content I post, or the subjects I write about.  I’m always looking for more inspiration to fuel writing, and if it comes from without, it saves me some of the mental energy required to come up with new ideas.

GET DOWN!

August 6th, 2009 8 comments

Man oh man, what a week!

I gave my notice three weeks ago.  I had a week of vacation time left over, so I worked two weeks, had a week of vacation, and then will work one more week starting Monday.  We had some money that I had been given for contract work that I’d done, and Bay got to go to Brazil this year, so we agreed that it would be cool for me to attend a dance camp being offered in Vancouver (for the first time ever).

The dance camp was called Get Down.  Get Down represents a unique and rare opportunity: a chance to learn and train with the founders of some of the styles I’m into, such as popping and locking.  Let me repeat that: the founders of those styles.  It’s a little surreal being in class and having the teacher tell you “Now, this move is called the Romeo-twist, because my brother was wearing these shoes called Romeos, and we used to say ‘Yo, twist those Romeos!'”.

The instructors teaching are:

  • Greg Campbellock Jr
    • Greg did most of the choreography for the original lockers (back in the day when they were on Soul Train).  You can see some of that original footage below.  Cheesy?  Yah, a little.  But it’s also way funky.
  • Popping Pete
    • Popping Pete (who’s actually named Timothy) is Boogaloo Sam’s brother.  Boogaloo Sam, created popping and boogaloo.  Popping Pete has been heavily influential in the creation and evolution of those styles.
  • Sugar Pop
    • Sugar Pop is one of the members of the Electric Boogaloos, and someone who has come from the start of locking and popping to its current state.
    • You can see Sugar Pop and Poppin Pete both getting down here (Mr. Wiggles is in grey, Sugar Pop is in brown, and Shonn Boog is in black and red):

 

  • Caleaf
    • One of the founders of House dancing.  You can watch Caleaf dancing here (sound quality is terrible):

 

So, now you’ve got an idea of the caliber of talent that we’ve been fortunate enough to train with.  The best part is that all of these guys are really cool, and really good teachers.  On the first day, I was a little worried.

Suga Pop went right into teaching us choreography, and I find that I generally prefer to learn technique so that I can then take that and use it in my own freestyle dancing.  However, as the days have passed, I started to gain a real appreciation for the fact that all of these guys are really teaching us that what these styles are really about is dancing.

If you’re not dancing, you’re not doing the style, and it’s that simple.  You can sit there and hit the hardest pops anyone has ever seen in their life, but if you aren’t dancing, it doesn’t matter – you’re holding the music hostage, and that’s not what it’s about.  Dancing is a visual representation (and interpretation) of a given piece of music.

I’ve been reflecting on the experience over the course of the weekend whenever I find myself with a few spare cycles for thought.  When I went into the camp, I had a set of expectations and thoughts about what it was that I needed to learn.  I left the camp having learned something quite different, but far more valuable.

When the first couple of classes didn’t meet my initial expectations, I was a little bit disappointed.  “Why aren’t they teaching us technique?”, I thought to myself.  Actually, they were teaching us technique — they were just doing it within the framework of teaching us to dance.  You can’t have all technique and no dance, because that’s not…. dancing.

One of the things that Suga pop stressed a number of times was that popping is a style of dance that it is very easy to hide behind.  What he meant is that it is very easy to use good technique in popping and simply do that without having any groove or dance behind it.  Because of the illusions that the technique in popping creates, people watching will be dazzled, and the person can get away without actually doing any real dancing underneath.

The more we worked throughout the week, the more I realized I’ve been focusing on technique to the detriment of my ability to progress as a dancer.  Only time will tell where the correct balance lies, but it’s certainly something for me to keep in mind.

Know your history

This week was a lot of history.  I’ve always known a good amount of the history surrounding popping and locking, but none of that knowledge contained an understanding of the social dances that went into creating these styles.  Every time we’d learn a new dance from hiphop’s roots (and often dances that I’ve seen people at weddings do (poorly) just for fun), sure enough, there’d be some element or technique in popping or locking that had integrated that original dance in some capacity.

Learning these original dances really helped provide a greater understanding of the context surrounding the styles that I love, and also provided a really solid foundation to grab onto whenever unsure of what to do next.  Unsure of what your next move is?  No problem, just drop down into the original dance and get back into the groove.

Find.  Your.  Groove.

This was really one of the biggest things we had hammered into us this  week.  Don’t go out there and dive into moves.  Even though moves and tricks are cool, they can never be allowed to supercede just getting down.

It is challenging to articulate beyond these points.  I suspect this is because it is fairly orthogonal to the way in which I’m used to being taught.  The next couple of weeks will likely lead to a number of revelations on my part. The trickiest part about this experience has simply been that there was so much knowledge to absorb.  You do your best to pick up everything, but it’s just impossible to fully retain all of the information passed my way.  It’s even more difficult when I’m trying to parse that knowledge and understand what it means to me as both a dancer and a teacher.

Regardless of what I end up pulling away from the experience, I can absolutely attest to the fact that it has been one of the most significant periods of growth to date in my journey as a dancer.  There’s really not much more that can top that, is there?

Frustration

July 24th, 2009 3 comments

Argh.

You ever have those periods of time when you feel like there are things you should be doing, and you’re not doing them?  Or where you can tell there’s something intangible pulling at the back of your head, but you just can’t place your finger on it?  Or maybe you come home from work and feel like you should actually be doing something, but instead you just sit in front of the TV?

I’m sure you have, because we’re all human, and this is just a natural part of the cycle we go through on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis (the frequency is different for everybody).

The more I learn to practice GTD effectively, the less often I feel this way, as I can allow my brain to embrace the mind like water ideal, and return to old ideas when I see fit.  Still, it is impossible to feel and act productively one hundred percent of our time, and so the goal must be to maximize the amount of time we can exist in this state, and learn to accept (and yes, minimize, though this is less important than acceptance) the times when we do need to feel the way I currently do.

As an exercise to break out of this mental state, I write.  As of late, two things have been on my mind more anything else: squash and dancing.

I hav been dancing a lot lately, as we are running two jam sessions a week at Vibestreet Dance, and that requires that I come up with something to teach twice a week.  I can’t even rely on teaching the same thing twice, as the same students may show up, and I end up feeling guilty about not being able to provide something new to them.  Maybe this is just something that I need to get over, as part of this whole exercise should be of benefit to myself, not just my students. A teacher that is not gaining something from each lesson that they teach is not missing out on part of the teaching experience, as are their students.

I have taken a couple of workshops lately, and they have been very helpful in showing me new ways of teaching something, as well as many new techniques that I would like to work on and incorporate into my own styles of movement.  Recently, I’ve been given lessons in breaking, locking, popping, and house dancing.  That’s a lot of stuff!  Getting lessons in these new styles of dance is awesome, and is opening up my awareness and broadening my own inspiration to a great extent. However, this only results in frustration if I can’t find the time to actually practice what I’m learning.  House, locking, and breaking are all very new styles to me, and really require that I take the time to sit down by myself and practice the basics. This is hard to do at home because of the way I have been feeling.

Even though I’m a reasonably experienced popper, I will never be fully satisfied with my level of skill (this is kind of a general theme for my approach to things I’m truly passionate about).  I often hesitate to teach something in class that I haven’t had the time to sit down with and internalize. Part of the solution here, I suppose, is just accept that nobody’s perfect, and that even if I’m still learning something, I can help the class with it.  One of the things that I really want to avoid is attempting to show my students something that I’m still learning myself, and in doing so, teach them bad habits, or end up getting them frustrated as I cannot break it down very well.

If you’ve read through the paragraph above, you’ve just seen me provide myself with some therapy, as I think I’ve come up with the solution to my first problem – just do it, and don’t worry about whether or not the class is disappointed that I’m not perfect at a move.  We all need to learn, and there’s nothing wrong with learning along with the rest of the class. Even better if I can provide a tiny bit of direction to help them along the right path.

The other thing that I think I probably need is a couple of sessions in the park with my ipod to just go over the techniques that I’ve been taught lately and internalize those. In GTD we have the concept of an open loop – something that requires action and is tugging at our mind.  Everything that I’ve learned lately is sitting in that same space.  It’s occupying space in my head, saying “You should put some time into working on me, otherwise you’ll lose this knowledge”.

The other thing tugging at my mind has been squash. Although my opportunity to increase the amount of time and effort I’m putting into dancing has been incredible, and something that I’ve wanted to do for a looooong time, it’s taken away from my ability to play squash. Although I’ve certainly been keeping myself fit (dancing requires a lot of energy, and I’m riding my bike as often as possible), I can feel the rust starting to creep up on my squash game, and this drives me nuts.  Part of the reason for that is because I trained so hard this past season, and was really feeling good about where my efforts had led me. 

Although all of our hobbies should be things that we do for fun, and don’t become a burden on our mind, it’s difficult for someone like me to make that leap and just let something be.  That’s the nature of life though – if you want to do more of one thing, you are going to have to sacrifice something else.

In an effort to have my cake and eat it to, one of the projects I have set aside for myself to take on once I end my tenure at work, is biphasic sleep.  The notion of biphasic sleep sounds extremely silly when you initially hear about it: go to sleep more frequently in order to sleep less overall.  With one single phase of sleep during a twenty-four hour period, our body generally requires eight hours of sleep.  However, by breaking our sleep up, we are able to train our body to fall into REM sleep more quickly (which is the part of sleep that is evidently important), and thus require less sleep overall.

Although some people are absolutely insane and have managed to function quite effectively (arguably more effectively, if some of the blogs out there are to be believed) on as little as six twenty-minute naps a day (that’s a mere two hours of sleep in a twenty-four hour period!), the goal I’m setting for myself is quite a bit more modest, and is based on the Hispanic tradition of siesta. The aim is to reduce my core sleep period to about five or six hours, and supplement that with a twenty-minute nap in the evening.  In doing so, I will be able to create (as though by magic) an extra two hours of spare time, everyday.

This almost sounds too good to be true, and it very well may be.  However, I enjoy an experiment as much as the next guy, so we’ll see how things go.  I could end up with an extra two hours of spare time every night (which may also be essential, if the workload required for Law is what I’m told it is), or I could fail spectacularly, in which case I will have spent a couple of weeks deprived of sleep, and return to my normal monophasic sleeping schedule.  The worse-case scenario doesn’t strike me as that bad, so why not try it right?

Anyhow, I think that’s a sufficient ramble.  Our drop-in sessions at Vibestreet have been growing steadily, and last Monday we had about twelve people in attendance to learn some popping from myself, and some breaking from Steve (good strength training!).  If you’re interested in learning more about any of this, drop a comment and I can blog and elaborate further.

Still here…

July 5th, 2009 1 comment

I’m still here, there just hasn’t been much recently inspiring me to write.  In the meantime, here are some excellent dance videos to entertain yourself with:

  • Crazy Scandinavian’s

These guys may look goofy, but they’ve definitely put some work into their isolations.  Although I think there’s room for them to work on their technique, this video’s giving me a few ideas for what I’ll go over next drop-in class.

  • Hilty and Bosch, Featuring Co-Thkoo

This is an excellent video to see the difference between popping and locking.  Most people that don’t have any experience with the different styles think that they are the same thing.  Locking is actually the older dance (and was created before hiphop, breaking, and popping), and is based more on funkiness and a limited move set.  The guys wearing black shirts are two of my favorite lockers from Japan (a country with a lot of incredible lockers). 

The guys in the white vests are performing popping.  You can tell the difference if you look closely.  The poppers movements are punctuated with sharp hits, and are generally more angular in appearance.  The lockers movements are defined by faster movements with more flair and funk.  Wrist rolls, arm rolls, knee drops, and and points are all some of the locking techniques to look out for.

One very cool thing that my friend Jesse pointed out in this video is the symmetry of the choreography.  Although the two dance styles are often quite disimilar, the choreography that these guys are doing has been put together such that one group of dancers will perform a movement, and then the next group will perform similar movements and angles, but using the techniques associated with their respective styles.

  • JRock and Pandora, Tutting

This is a very coo
l routine showing the technique of tutting.  You can tell just from the YouTube preview what the general idea is: assume geometric shapes with your body and arms that are reminiscent of egyptian hieroglyphics, and the way Bugs Bunny used to move when he would mimic egyptians in those corny cartoons.

This routine is especially cool because they’ve choreographed it to use two people.  However, this isn’t a necessary aspect of tutting, and it works just as well (well, maybe not quite as striking, but still cool) with one person.

Tutting is a technique that I have only been working on for about two months, as I was always averse to trying to learn it because of the problem I had getting my wrist to make some of the angles.  While you can train your wrist by stretching it out each day, you can also eliminate the need to hit certain angles through creativity.

  • Poppin’ John

An excellent video submitted by Poppin’ John for Mr. Wiggles internet video contest (correct me if I’m wrong).  Poppin’ John does awesome things with waves, and is always frustrating for me to watch and try to fathom how the hell he’s come up with his vocabulary.

I especially like his technique of putting one hand over the back of his head, and then using that hand to push waves down and out his other arm.  Very cool.

Anyhow, that’s all I’ve got for today.  If any of these videos or techniques interest you and you’d like to learn more, come check out one of my classes at Vibestreet Dance.  The techniques look complicated, but with practice, you can master them and trip out your friends too!  Seriously though, popping is an awesome style of dance to learn, and a ton of fun to play around with.  It’s never too late to learn..

Workshops, Community, and Collaboration

June 28th, 2009 No comments

Last night, I took the second popping workshop I’ve been aware of ever being offered in Victoria.  While I know that there have been other workshops offered between this one and the last one I took (Jake Evans, from Nova Scotia, about three years ago), these are the only two that I have been aware of.  This is an indication (to me), that there is a real lack of means to get in touch with other dancers, and the Victoria hiphop community in general, and share this kind of thing.

After meeting and talking, last night, with other people that are passionate about popping in Victoria, I feel that I have at least one small purpose to contribute towards our small but growing hiphop community, and that is to help the network grow.  But enough about that, let’s talk about the workshop.

The Groovy G’s

The workshop was taught by two members of the Groovy G’s, a popping crew based out of Vancouver.  The first time I heard about the Groovy G’s was when I started searching the net for popping classes being taught in Vancouver.  I wanted popping lessons, but since we didn’t have any classes in Victoria at the time, my only option was to head over to Vancouver.  I talked briefly with Jamieson, one of the two guys that taught the classes, but aside from subscribing to their blog, things didn’t get much further (I really wanted to take classes, but that didn’t change the fact that the only thing in my wallet was a gaping hole – it’s not cheap to take repeated trips to Vancouver).

I actually heard about last night’s workshop in a very round-about manner.  The Groovy G’s posted a note about a funk theory workshop that they had just finished giving.  “Whoa”, I thought, “I could easily make it over for one day-long workshop, provided I budgeted for it”.  I wrote the G’s to ask them if they could give me some advance notice the next time they were planning something like this, and whether or not they would be having another one any time soon.  From there, things just exploded.  Hector (I believe), wrote me back to let me know that Jamieson and Trevor were apparently teaching a workshop in Victoria in a few weeks.  I added Trevor and Jamieson on Facebook, started talking to the people over here that were putting on the event, and couldn’t believe that I almost missed this.

Arrival

Brooke managed to drum up some good interest, and a number of familiar (and friendly) faces showed up at the workshop with us, including Jo, Guillaume, Vincent, Sean, Jack, and Max.  As soon as we entered the studio, I recognized one guy from VEMF last year that Graham and I had seen tutting, and a few people I’d seen on the ol’ Facebook.

It’s funny to see that a dance workshop is really no different from any other kind of culture.  As soon as we sat down,I commented to Brooke that there were three evident cliques: The Vibestreet Dance clique, the Boston Dance Company clique, and ..  one more (which I didn’t know enough about to provide a label).  It’s not that any of us are elitists or anything like that – it’s just human nature to be apprehensive when in new social settings.

Cody Campbell had put some music on so I practiced a little bit with the kids while we waited.  The mood was very much that of everyone sussing each other out.  “Who’s that over there?”, “Hmm, I wonder if that guy’s a good dancer”, “Hmm, don’t know them”, etc.  Brooke pointed out various people that were prominent in our small but growing dance community and then it was time to start.

Intros

After we paid and I met some of the people I’d been chatting with on Facebook, Liz came out and did a quick intro of the two guys that were teaching us: Jamieson de Guzman and Trevor Chung.  I had talked to Liz over e-mail a few weeks prior, and she was awesome.  Super passionate, and really keen to help hiphop grow here in Victoria.

Once we got past the intros, Jamieson talked a bit about what popping is, and how it relates to dancing.  I’ve heard this many times before, and always attempt to imbue the same thing in my own students, but it’s always good to have it repeated and internalized.  Time to start!

Popping

The first hour of the workshop, we spent on popping.  It’s always interesting to attend different workshops with different instructors, as they have different fundamentals that they are teaching, and different approaches.  Jamieson stressed that three things you should work to pop are your arms, your legs, and your neck (yup, your neck).  Personally, I think that popping your chest and tightening your abs is also important and will further the power of your hits.  It could be that Jamieson was just providing the basic building blocks, and those last two sets of muscles can be added in later.

We drilled the basics for a while, focusing on the fresno, and mixing it up between singles and doubles (shift your weight on every beat, or every second beat).  Some people get impatient revisiting their foundation like this, but I can never get enough, and I was content to take it as an opportunity to tighten things up.  I actually felt pretty good about my hits from these basic positions – the work I’ve been putting in has helped keep things clean and tight.

I noticed things started to fall apart when we started moving into positions that I haven’t trained at all.  Getting my legs to hit when I’m in poses that are new is quite difficult when I don’t yet have the muscle memory in place.  Jamieson let us know that the general rule to follow was that you pop whichever leg has the most weight on it, and whichever leg you can straighten most easily.  That’s a good general rule to have, but I still need to practice hits in various positions, like during walkouts.

As we went through the choreography, one move I had never seen before came up, called the popcorn.  You do the following:

  1. Raise up one leg and hit
  2. Lower your leg in front of you, place your weight on it, and raise your back leg (essentially taking half a step forward).  Hit.
  3. Reverse the motion you just did so that you are now in the same position as in 1, and hit.
  4. Put your feet back together, and hit.

Pretty simple really, but it creates a neat visual that I haven’t seen broken down before.  I quickly realized that I needed to work on hits when I’m balanced on one leg – these are especially challenging, and the illusion is instantly broken if you don’t maintain your balance throughout.

Likewise, while practicing walkouts, I realized that although I’ve drilled the movement, I haven’t touched on actually hitting throughout it.  Another thing to work on…

Tutting

After Jamieson finished, Trevor took over the class, and we started focusing on tutting and waving.  The segment related to tutting was actually quite short.  Trevor mentioned the basics of tutting, although he didn’t get as explicit as I would have (which is cool, all teachers are different) about what makes a tight angle, and things to watch out for.  He did only have so much time though, so it’s possible he was just trying to cram as much in as he could.

Trevor showed us a bit about how he practiced (come up with a set of angles and transitions, and then drill that set), and went over some basic poses (like prayer stance).  After that, Trevor went through two different routines with us, and included some footwork.  I’ve been feeling pretty good about my tuts lately, as I’ve been working a fair bit on developing the discipline and mus
cle memory to keep clean angles.  The footwork was brand new to me though, and I had to keep myself from falling right over a couple of times.

Waving

After tutting we moved on to waving.  I’ve been putting a lot of work into waves lately, and I’m pretty happy with the progress.  There’s infinitely more room for progress, but at least I’m seeing some changes that I’m happy with.  Trevor went over the details of what makes a good wave versus a bad wave, and what it is that leads towards an aesthetically-pleasing wave (the secret is that wherever the wave is not, remains stationary.  This is the real key to a good wave).

I noticed that the one thing Trevor did not teach was the isolations of a wave.  His approach was more intuitive than mine, using techniques like visualizing the path that your hands and arms are taking, imagining there is a bar that your hands are travelling over, and so forth.  I made a mental note to incorporate these kinds of visual metaphors in my teaching as well, so that both types of learners can benefit.

Trevor provided some names for a few types of waves that I’ve been working on lately, but haven’t had a name for them.  The main one was a track wave, wherein you move your hands and arms as though they are travelling along a rollercoaster track (or any kind of path really).  Once you’ve done this, you can reverse the wave and travel back in the opposite direction – the key is that you travel back along the same imaginary path.

One of the most helpful ideas that Trevor put in my head was the notion of setting up a specific geometry with your body, and then waving within that geometry.  Eg, put your arms up in some kind of shape.  Then, run a wave through that shape.  Think about the way a wave might travel through that geometry, and mimic this path.  The example Trevor provided in class was holding your arms out in front of you, with your right arm pointing straight up, and your left arm held out so that it is parallel to the ground, with its fingertips touching the elbow of your right arm.  In this position, a wave will travel:

  • Down from the fingertips of your right arm to your elbow
  • From your right arm’s elbow through to the fingertips of your left arm
  • From the fingertips of your left arm up to your left shoulder
  • From your left shoulder, through your head/chest, to your right shoulder
  • Out your right shoulder, to your elbow, then back up and out the fingertips of your right arm

It’s not necessarily complicated, but setting up various positions like these and then waving through them is part of how you turn waving from a simple technique into an actual dance that you can innovate and improvise using.

Putting it all together

The last hour of the class was devoted towards putting everything we’d learned together into a set of choreography that Jamieson and Trevor made up on the spot as we went along. Before we started this though, we drilled our hits a bit by doing something Jamieson called “copy cat”.

Copy cat is fairly easy – the leader starts by taking a pose and hitting on it for four beats.  Then the class does the same thing.  Then the leader takes a new pose, and the class then repeats that pose. It’s not complicated (but then, most of this stuff isn’t – it just requires dedication), but it’s a great way to work with the class.  Ironically, I’d been planning something very similar out in my head for when our classes start again in Fall, so it was really nice to see that this is a valid approach that works well.

Once we’d finished this, we got going on actual choreography.  I struggled a bit with this, as I have some difficulty remembering all of the parts of choreography when you’re putting it together quickly.  I was definitely getting frustrated by the end of the class.

The other thing that I would have liked a little more would have been to spend more time on some of the additional techniques that they were including in the choreography.  We ended up including some techniques like boogaloo that I would definitely have appreciated getting more time to work on.  But that’s the way things go when you only have three short hours to work with a group of people.

Boston Pizza

After the workshop was finished, I met up with the Jamieson, Liz, Trevor and a few other people that had taken the workshop.  I was a little bit hesitant to do this initially, as I generally don’t like just diving into a group of strangers, but I was glad I did.  It was a little weird because noone but me was drinking beer (I stopped after the first one once I noticed that), so things were slightly awkward (bunch of strangers, but no social lubricant).  However, I met some new people, got some e-mail, and got a chance to chat a little more with Trevor and Jamieson (interestingly enough, they started the same way I did – through raves).

Take-aways

So, what did I take away from the experience?  I learned a good deal about teaching and some exercises and techniques that can be used, and I definitely picked up some new moves to practice on.

One thing that was interesting was talking to the other people that were in the workshop, afterwards.  My friend Jo mentioned that she found Trevor’s more visual and intuitive approach easier to work with.  So rather than breaking up an arm wave into the various isolations, just visualize your hands travelling up, over, and around a metal bar.

Unlike some of the classes I’ve had, most of the knowledge that I gained from these three hours came from taking what we were shown during workshop and reflecting on it.  I’m cool with that – I love spending time reflecting about new knowledge, and figuring out where it fits into my existing understanding of the way things work.

All in all this was a really great workshop and I’m really glad to see these kind of things happening in Victoria.  I came away with a few new friends, some more ideas to work towards, and inspiration.

Practice Routine

June 23rd, 2009 No comments

A Border Collie With Nothing to Do

I’ve been off of the squash courts for just shy of a month now.  I’m meeting up with Rob to do some light training for the first time in what feels like ever, so I anticipate some frustration due to seeing the skill I trained so hard this Winter to acquire slipping through my fingers.

Not playing squash has been very frustrating, as I really love the sport, and I do things because I want to improve.  Being removed from that element means that I have to watch that improvement slip away and a heap of rust develop in place of the game I’m used to having at my disposal.  It’s especially hard because I trained very hard this Winter and Spring, and really felt like I’d reached a new level in my game.  Oh well – all things come to pass, and it is the fool that doesn’t listen to what their body is telling them.

In order to avoid going completely bucknuts-mental, I’ve been spending most of my time biking, working out, and dancing, in order to stay in shape and keep myself occupied (ever seen a border collie without anything to do?  That’s a pretty good analogy to the way I operate).  Additionally, for the previous three weeks, I’ve had access to the dance studio whenever needed, which makes the act of practicing vastly superior to my other options.

About eight years ago, near the very start of my degree, I took it upon myself to practice dancing for thirty minutes everyday.  Even before that, Graham and I would practice whenever the whim struck us.  Lately, I’ve had more motivation than ever before to get down and actually put in some serious practice time, but as soon as I started, I noticed that my practices felt very unstructured.  I would skim from technique to technique, getting distracted and never spending enough time on any one thing.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it’s an indication that there are a lot of ideas that I have in my head that can legitimately evolve into dance moves and techniques.  However, if I want to see and feel real improvement, it’s important to be able to focus when I set out to practice.  More for the sake of posterity than anything else, here is the practice routine that I came up with, along with a few notes describing why each part is there.

Routine vs Innovation

Before I go further, I think it’s important to mention that routine and innovation are both important in any practice regimen.  Innovation is an opportunity to let yourself do whatever your body and the music are telling you to do, and is where you’re going to find the most creativity.  Routine is where you will practice the fundamental movements that are core to the style of dance that you are pursuing (or even any activity in particular – scales for a piano player, for example).  Routine provides you with a solid set of fundamentals upon which you are able to actually create and innovate.  A good dancer needs to have a significant amount of both of these elements, so be sure not to neglect either of them when practicing.

Brainstorming

Before starting to plan out my routine, I wanted to do a braindump and get everything in my head out onto paper.  There’s no magic to this technique – you just sit down with a pencil and paper, and write.  Don’t question anything, just write.  After you’ve sat there for three or four minutes without writing anything, you can be reasonably assured that you’ve gotten everything immediate down.


The results of my brainstorm look like this:

  • Waving
  • Tutting
  • Popping
  • Fresno
  • Choreography
  • Glides
  • Floats
  • Flexes
  • Foundations
  • Experiments

So, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but I have an idea of the kind of stuff that I want to fit in to a standard ninety minute practice session.

Note also that I wrote down Experiments.  This is the placeholder for setting aside some time specifically to work on experimentation.  Not practicing anything in particular, probably just ten minutes or so doing whatever.  I may end up hating everything that I come up with in those ten minutes, but, on the other hand, I may discover a new type of movement that I hadn’t considered before.

Practice Routine

The total amount of time I felt was reasonable for practicing was around ninety minutes.  Anything more and I’m devoting more time than I have available.  Anything less and I really don’t give myself much time to innovate.  When I first started practicing, I figured that it would be a stretch to get through forty-five minutes, however, once I actually force myself to overcome the inertia and actually get started, time seems to fly by pretty quickly.

So, what do I have planned?

  • Fresno and Variations (15 minutes)

This one is a natural starting place.  The Fresno is the technique upon which everything else in popping builds, and is the starting point for the dance itself.  Practicing the Fresno provides the opportunity to practice good isolation, good hits, getting funky, and being creative.  No matter how good I get, I will always be able to practice the Fresno, come up with new variations and tightening it up.

Some specifics I want to practice are:

  • Tight, crisp hits and isolations
  • Walkouts
  • Broken walks and hits into and out of the Fresno
  • Transitions from the Fresno into other techniques (waves, tuts, etc.)

  • Tutting (15 minutes)

Tutting is the newest technique I’ve worked on, and as such, there is a lot of room for me to improve.  I need to practice not only transitions to and from various poses, but also just making the poses themselves clean and tight.  Nothing looks worse than going into a box stance and having the box look more like a shitty oval.  Don’t settle for a shitty oval.  Go for a nice clean box!

Specifics I need to work on:

  • Tightening up poses
  • New poses
  • Transitions to and from various poses
  • Footwork throughout

(I have learned most of my tutting so far without footwork, but you’re not dancing if you’re only moving half of your body – I need to work on this)

  • Waves (15 minutes)

Waving is one of the trickier techniques for me, in terms of practice.  I have a fairly good grasp of the fundamental concepts for good waves, and I’ve practiced arm and body waves quite a bit.  However, I feel that I’m really letting myself down when it comes to actually being innovative with waving, and having a deeper understanding of the techniques.

For example, I know enough about waving to be able to use it when I’m freestyling, sending a wave up from my feet through my body and out my arms, but that’s as far as it goes.  I’ve never taken the time to sit down and practice sending waves in specific directions, or as specific transitions.

So, that’s part of what I’m aiming to do here.  Some specifics:

  • Foundations (practice the individual isolations)
  • Body wave (focus on isolating the hips)
  • Waves through my legs and feet
  • Waving into and out of various poses (eg, into King Tut pose), and transitions from waves to various other techniques
  • Kick wave
  • One-sided body waves (wave travels only down one side of the body)
  • Variations on Phil Chbeeb’s wave (view here at 34 seconds)

  • Glides and Floats (15 minutes)

I’ve never really put enough time into learning to glide well.  Part of that is because until recently, my practice sessions have been exclusively on carpet, arguably the worst surface to practice gliding on.  They’re also been inside, which means I can’t practice with shoes on, which makes it that much harder (less support for the toes).

Gliding is a very frustrating and tedious technique to work on.  Having the correct floor and footwear makes things a little easier.  Specific things I intend to work on:

  • Sideglide (specifically from left to right)
  • Basic float (the foundation for most gliding)
  • Snake glide
  • Box glide (but work on side glide first)
  • Forward glide
  • Stationary glide

Nothing much to elaborate on here.  Gliding is the technique I’d like to see the most progression on – there’s a lot of stuff I could be doing that I don’t because I’ve never focused on this technique.

  • Flexes (15 minutes)

Flexes are a technique that I never really learned properly the first time around.  After Dillon covered them in one of our classes, it dawned on me how valuable it was to correctly learn these fundamental ways of segmenting and turning your body.  A twist-o-flex may not look astonishing when done at normal speed, but the foundation can fit in with almost everything else that you do.

Specific flexes I want to work on:

  • Standard twist-o-flex (with 4 pivots)
  • Twist-o-flex with 5 pivots (add an additional head pivot in)
  • Twist-o-flex shown here at 4:50 (thanks Guillaume!)
  • Neck-o-flex
  • Master-flex (I need knee pads to work on this one)
  • Standard twist-o-flex, done backwards.
  • Choreography (15 minutes)

Although choreography could technically fall as a sub-item into each of the above categories, I made a point of devoting at least 15 minutes in my routine purely to practicing this skill.  If I don’t, I end up spending all of my time working on fundamental movements.  It’s never a bad thing to have a really strong foundation (and there’s ALWAYS things that I can find that need improving), but the only way to improve at choreography (and realistically, a complete dancer) is to spend some time working specifically on this skill.

One of the things that I’ve been working to appreciate is that choreography doesn’t need to be something complicated. It can be as simple as putting together some Fresno movement, and then sending a wave through my arms, down one side of my body, up the other, and lastly, out my other arm.  This isn’t difficult choreography, but until I actually put it together and practice the sequence, it will never be as tight as it needs to be.  And therein lies a small part of why choreography matters to me.  Freestyling, to me, is the opportunity is to make use of anything that I have come up with in the past.  Choreography is the opportunity to tread new ground.  Once I’ve done that enough, it can become part of my freestyling repertoire, but not until.

Specific things I want to work on:

  • Various routines from the Fresno
  • Waving choreography
  • Tutting choreography
  • Some choreography including glides
  • Some choreography including footwork for both tuts and waves

So that’s basically my practice routine for the summer.  If I get tired of working on things in this manner, I can always mix it u
p and change.  That is the power of my mind – look upon its works and despair!

I’m attending a popping workshop here in Victoria put on the Groovy Gs (of Vancouver) this coming Saturday.  I’ll definitely have some thoughts to post at that point, so check back soon.