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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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Get Down!

August 13th, 2010 1 comment

I’m so exhausted that I can barely focus.  My hips are killing me.  My hands are hurt from giving high-fives to someone else for 30 minutes straight.  I can’t stop smiling.

These are all symptoms of the fact that Get Down 2010 is currently ongoing in Vancouver, and I’ve just finished the second day of three days that I’ll be attending workshops.  As the preceding paragraph suggests, the workshop is a deeply rewarding experience, and the opportunity to dance with the some of the founders of the funk styles that I dance and teach is a rare treat.

I cannot go into too much depth, because I just don’t have the energy right now.  That’s not a complaint – it feels incredible to leave everything you have on the dance floor at the end of the day.  I do, however, want to capture some of what we’ve learned today.

One of the first things you learn training with the creators is that dancing is a social activity.  Before there was popping, before there was locking, before there was hiphop, there were people getting together and dancing.  Social dances have evolved as time has gone on because they allow people to get together and share in a groove.  It gives you an opportunity to mutually experience the physicality of music with someone, and that is an amazing feeling.

Social dances aren’t a style – they’re just dancing.  While any one particular social dance (eg, the Bart Simpson*) can be attributed to the genre that inspired it, there’s nothing stopping someone from taking that social dance and interpreting it to a different style of music.

*yes, there is a social dance called the Bart Simpson, and yes, it is awesome.

The more I dance with the originators, the more I see how much influence this social aspect of dancing has, and by that virtue, how much influence social dances have had.  You see them everywhere.

My theory is that these dances teach you how to move a certain way with your body.  Think of them as little programs that you can install into Neo’s brain in the Matrix (“I know how to move my hips this way now Morpheus!”).  Once you’ve learned a particular social dance, that movement becomes inherent to you, and it starts to influence and inspire the rest of the way you dance.

Anyhow, enough about this epiphany I’m having, I want to document the social dances that Sugarpop and Lockadelic taught us today, and you want to hear their silly (awesome) names:

  • The Stevie Lock

Throw away your ab machines, this dance is the new way to blast your abs.  Sitting up and down has never been such an ordeal.  I imagine that Sugarpop has abs that can stop bullets based on the ease with which he can move his body and perform this dance.

  • The Texas Hop

I told you right – dope names!  After breaking down the parts of this dance for us, Sugarpop lined us up and had us do a Soul Train line.  Class cut down the middle, and everyone repeatedly does part of the dance.  The two people at the end then do the full social dance down the line, then join the line at the bottom.  I’m sure that this may sound intimidating to a lot of people (myself included!), but the truth is that after standing in that line, surrounded by people doing the same simple part of the dance as you, enjoying the same groove that you are, it feels completely natural to just let it out and bust your way down.

  • Cha-cha-cha

Sugarpop and Lockadelic had awesome synergy together, and I’m really glad that I got the opportunity to take the classes today with both of them teaching.  Sugarpop handed over the reins to Lockadelic this afternoon, who taught us this funky dance.  Once we’d learned it?  Back to the Soul Train line!  This time, instead of going down the line, two at a time, we went back and forth across the line with whoever was in front of us.  Again, it may sound intimidating, but when you’re in that groove with someone, you learn so much faster.  Sharing that moment is what dancing is about!

  • The Funky Chicken

One of things that I really appreciated about Lockadelic was that she would teach us a social dance, and then we would just spend time moving around in it.  I never realized what the Funky Chicken actually looks like; it’s not the dance done at weddings, although this is a perfect example of a social dance.  And hey, we all have fun doing that right?

Unfortunately, I can feel my concentration losing, and the desire to play video games and let my mind regenerate is overwhelming.  I will sign-off on that note, but there’s certainly more to come – the challenge during this week is always absorbing and recalling as much knowledge as possible!

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.

Vibestreet Dance end-of-year wrap-up

June 16th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a little longer than normal since my last entry.  That’s mostly because I’ve been keeping myself fairly busy.  The stuff that is keeping me busy is stuff that I don’t really want to set down only to come home and spend even more time writing about (don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely passionate about dancing, I just haven’t felt inclined to write about it lately), and I haven’t really felt inspired to write beyond that.

However, this Saturday was the end-of-year wrap-up for Vibestreet Dance, and so it seems a good time to reflect a little bit on how things have gone.  When I look back to only two months ago, when I first started taking popping classes from Dillon, I can barely fathom how much things have changed.

The Show

Before I talk about my own thoughts, it’s probably worth talking about our end-of-year show.
  Three weeks before the show, Brooke mentioned that our breaking instructor would be putting together a routine for it, and it would be great if I could as well.  This would pretty much be the first time I’d ever done any choreography, so I was a little bit nervous – I spent about a week putting things together, and then went over it with the class.

In retrospect, I over-simplified certain parts, as I wasn’t sure how quickly the class would pick things up.  It turned out, really quickly!  All of the kids were great, but I was obviously especially proud of the kids that I had been working with, and was really happy to see how well things went.  I think that in the next year, they’re going to start to really take off.

Although it’s nice to pretend that the instructor gets a lot of the credit for the progression of the students, I think most of that credit belongs to Guillaume, Jack, Max and Vincent (along with Olivier and Sean, who weren’t able to come to the later classes, and thus participate in the portion I put together) for being such great students.  Kids like these guys don’t come easily, and their dedication and hard work make everything easier.

I also bumped in to two other guys that had been popping for about a year as well, got them out into one of our cyphers, and then got their information and told them to come out to the jam sessions I’m trying to get going.  All in all, the show was awesome.

Instruction

The biggest change that has occurred since starting at Vibestreet has obviously been that I’ve moved into the role of teaching, from that of a student.  Teaching is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and that I’ve always enjoyed.  My own experience has been that teaching people the art that I am interested in is one of the best ways for me to gain a better understanding of it myself.  Breaking techniques down requires thinking about each part of the technique and understanding it at a very fundamental level.  I’ve always felt this way, and indeed, studying calculus with friends in University, I always appreciated being asked for help with various questions.  My friends would apologize for bugging me with another question, but I was secretly being selfish and gaining from the questions they were asking me.

Back in the very early days of the world wide web, a friend and I ran a dance website called “Shaddup and Dance”.  It was a piece of garbage, and would make web browsers explode from having to render the sheer ugliness of colours that we jammed onto that page.  Not only that, but there was also negative feedback from the original gangsters that took exception to my tutorial videos (many of them were indeed quite poor), or our attitude that just because you’d been around for a while didn’t mean that you were above critique.  Still, there was an awful lot of positive feedback that accompanied the negative, and the opportunity to provide some advice and direction to other dancers that were attempting to learn the same techniques I had was one that I relished.

The first day that I started teaching was with the junior class.  I hadn’t met any of the kids before, and I had no idea what they had learned up to that point.  Brooke told me that they were passionate about popping, which was promising, but I didn’t realize how accurate she was.  These kids have been awesome, and really stuck it out with me.  They were patient with my fumbling starts, and have given me lots of inadvertent advice that I have taken to heart.  The opportunity to work with them (and hopefully to continue to do so), has been really great and has provided ample opportunities to learn myself.

Working with the adults has been slightly easier, though no less of a learning experience.  It’s been easier because adults are generally more willing to focus on the foundation, and because I had the benefit of being attending the four classes previous to my taking it over.

When Brooke asked if I wanted to keep teaching, I didn’t even have to think about the answer.

Choreography

Starting to think about choreography, and to actually apply that to the lessons I’m teaching, has been a completely new experience for me.  In the ten years that I have been dancing, I have always focused on building and practicing foundation movement.  No fancy moves, no fancy vocabulary of choreographed moves to draw from, just foundation.  Personally, I like this, as it means that I can very quickly adapt my dancing to work with whatever the music is asking of me, and when I focus on foundation, it is much easier to take in new influences and apply those to the existing foundation.

However, choreography is a very important aspect of dancing, and freestyle dancing is essentially coming up with choreography in real-time.  Taking on the role of teaching has required me to re-evaluate my relationship with choreography (a sentence that sounds exceptionally lame).  Seriously though, while working on foundation is essential for anyone that really wants to become a great dancer, not everyone is geared the way I am, and most people want to actually do something cool as they’re learning.

Choreography provides students with a direct relationship between the foundation that you have them working on and actually dancing (honestly, it’s difficult to understand how you are going to turn a chest hit until a dance until you’ve practiced it enough).  With a little bit of choreography, it is easy to take some basic foundation and put them together to make something that looks kind of cool, and provides a direction to train towards.  This should be one of the key goals of anyone attempting to teach – to instill in students not only the value of foundation, but also some ideas for the direction that they can take those foundations.

Friends

Finding Vibestreet Dance has been a lot like finding Victoria Squash Club – a whole new community of people to meet and interact with, and that share interests similar to mine.  Although finding people that shared my interest in squash was a bit of a challenge, I have literally been searching for ten years for people that are as passionate as I am about the styles of dance that I love.  It’s not that those people don’t exist, it’s just that the hiphop scene in Victoria is so dry, and it’s very difficult to find events that support maintaining that kind of culture.

In all of the people that I’ve trained with and taught, I’ve discovered new inspiration, and it really is extremely energizing.  Nothing inspires creativity like being exposed to more creative people.  In Brooke, especially, I’ve found a
new friend with which I can talk about new observations, epiphanies I’ve had while practicing, and complain about the things that have bothered me in dancing culture for as long as I’ve been a part of it. 

I can (and do) share many of these things with Bay on a more abstract level (as we can discuss dance with each other at a level above any particular style), but it is refreshing to be able to talk to someone else about things that have, up until now, existed solely in my own head for the last decade.

Dancing

Although I started to develop a love for popping from watching hiphop videos and tapes put out by Mr Wiggles, it was raving that actually really got the ball rolling.  For all of the negative stereotypes (many of them accurate to some extent) present at raves, good dancing is appreciated, and if that’s what you’re into, there’s space to do it.

Not only that, but every party, I would run into the same people that were there to dance.  We knew each other, and it presented a constant drive to keep improving.  I really wanted to rise to the top, and to bring something new to the table everytime that we met.  There were many days of the summers that Graham and I would spend alternating between playing Tekken and practicing dancing.

However, raving is not really a sustainable activity, and as time went on, going out to clubs stopped being one as well.  Without either of these options, there really wasn’t any outlet to fuel my desire to improve.  I would practice from time to time, but to what end?  My friend Michi can apparently derive his motivation out of thin air, but I’m not that way.

Teaching is exactly the factor that I have been missing for so long.  Having students that are thirsty for new knowledge presents an incredible amount of motivation.  With other people to be accountable to, my drive to continue progressing is stronger than ever before.  This doesn’t surprise me, but it is extremely rewarding to feel that way again.

With Brooke being gracious enough to let me use the studio for practice when it’s not in use, I find myself heading there at least twice weekly to work on new ideas.  Although I am still at the stage where I am planting a lot of seeds, I really feel that the coming year will mark a huge wave of progression on my part.

On top of that, I’m taking hiphop classes, a style of dance that I’ve never really had any exposure to aside from watching it being performed.  These classes have given me an opportunity to appreciate new ways of moving around the dance floor, new postures, and a greater appreciation for choreography in general.  Watching Brooke teach the class has given me a chance to glean as much knowledge as I can from her own wealth of experience.

Summer and the Future

It is difficult to know exactly what the future will hold, but now that I’ve found a dance culture that I can partake in, I will hang on to it like grim death.  The summer is already filling up with exciting opportunities, including dance camps and workshops that I am planning to take, which will really open my eyes up to new ways of moving and keep the ball rolling (I just hope I can keep pace!).

I’ll be posting updates as we move further into the Summer.  Until then, stay tuned!

Dance notes

May 16th, 2009 No comments
Since starting to teach classes, opportunities to come up with new ideas and techniques to teach in class are something I have been trying to keep on top of.  Well, actually, it’s not really an option; I simply have to find those opportunities, because otherwise the classes will get boring and dull (and I don’t want that).

Fortunately, I had a super productive night at Steve’s place, practicing dancing while Graham and Steve played video games.  The night was so productive that I actually ended up with 7 pages of dance notes.  Although these notes contain a fair deal of shorthand, I thought it would make for an interesting blog entry to replicate those notes here (naturally a scanned them in after getting home, as I try to move away from having any straggling paper as much as possible), and go over them, explaining some of my methodology behind how I took the notes, what I was thinking, and how I capture stuff onto paper.  Even if you don’t care about dancing, it may be interesting to see the process by which I go from capturing a visual thought (dancing is highly visual) into paper, and then into the digital world.

First up, the notes:
Dance_Notes_Page 1.png
Dance_Notes_Page 2.png
Dance_Notes_Page 3.png
Dance_Notes_Page 4.png
Dance_Notes_Page 5.png
Dance_Notes_Page 6.png
Dance_Notes_Page 7.png
(You can click on each of the notes to see a full-size version of it)
The first thing worth talking about is the way I’ve laid out the notes.  Each note is numbered at the bottom, so that I can keep track of the sequence with which I thought up these notes.  This might seem like a waste of time to put together, but doing it when it’s fresh in my mind will save me time.  It’ll definitely longer to try and figure out which p
age comes first after the fact.
Important ideas that I want to make a point of going over again later get a box drawn around them.  When I’ve finished writing about a specific idea, I draw a line across the page to make sure I have a clean break – visually and mentally.
So far, none of this stuff is groundbreaking, but that’s okay, this is my chance to talk about my process, not an opportunity for me to split the metaphorical atom of taking notes.
Use Cases

One interesting thing to note is that peppered throughout these notes are the words “Use Case

As I went through the process of writing out these notes, two main thoughts crossed my mind.

  1. Surely someone has done this before me and thought up notation to support this
  2. Why isn’t there software to do this?

Coming up with my own notation will work, but if someone has already spent time doing it and has created a system that works, I would like to hop on board that and start evolving from that jumping off point, rather than rebuilding the wheel.

More importantly though, why hasn’t any software been created to support this need?  There are plenty of dance choreographers out there, and it just seems like having software that supported them is a no-brainer.

When going through and taking notes, this was something that stuck in the back of my mind.  A use case is something that we capture when gathering requirements for a piece of software.  More specifically, it indicates a specific way in which a piece of software would be used.  Typically use cases are as simple as writing out:

As a user, I would like to be able to login to the system.

My notes are less formalized than even that, but you can see the places in which I’ve noticed a particular use case that a piece of software like this would need to support.  On the first page, one of the use cases I thought of is that to effectively capture choreography, you need to capture not just the main body position, but also to add notation and indicate which way various body parts are oriented (fingertips pointing up, for example).

Naming Stances

As I took notes, I noticed immediately that there was value in naming each new tutting stance that I came up with.  The stance may already be named by someone else, but having a name that I can use to quickly refer to a stance I’d written down previously saves me a lot of time.  Throughout the notes you can see that I’ve peppered names for various stances (and left one of them unnamed because I couldn’t think of an intuitive name for it).

More Use Cases

Some more use cases that struck me as being potentially relevant:

  1. Give users the ability to indicate the transitions to and from a given stance (eg, you can transition from this the box stance into the wall stance)
  2. Give users the ability to indicate the lines that the dancer’s body creates (and extend those outwards).  Better yet, automatically determine what the lines are, and possibly display the mid-line that exists between those.

Lines and body-geometry are an important part of good aesthetics when dancing, and providing a choreographer with an immediate representation of what lines are being created would be a nice touch.

Some other ideas

Some other ideas that I would like to see integrated into a choreography software would be allowing the user to quickly put together their own set of “body positions”, and then slide those positions in and out of a sequence of moves.  Eg, I create one position to show my left arm being in the air, and one position to show my right arm in the air.  I can then create a sequence of moves that goes from the one position to the other, simply by dragging and dropping those positions into place.

As you can tell, this is far from an exact science, and mainly an idea in progress.  Still, it would be really nice to see something like this put together, if only because then I wouldn’t need to resort to scrawling notes on paper and making a mess of things.

Still, in the meantime, my workflow continues along the following lines:

  1. Write out dance notes whenever practicing
  2. Get home, scan dance notes in
  3. Add dance notes to Evernote, so that I can access them from anywhere

As I continue to use this method, I’ll continue to evolve my notation so that I can improve its efficiency.

Teaching better…

May 12th, 2009 No comments

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently took over teaching the popping classes put on at Vibestreet Dance.  The story behind this is that our existing instructor fell into a wormhole and is now selling potted meat at Zarglon-7.  Or something to this effect.  Whatever he ended up doing, he sent Brooke a text message saying “Sorry, I can’t teach any more.  Good luck”, and that was the last we heard of him.  Pretty flakey.

Taking over for Dillon is/was pretty intimidating.  Dillon is, by my standards, a pretty good dancer.  His technique is simply much cleaner and refined than my own.  Although I believe that I have a lot of innate dance talent, I’ve struggled to motivate myself to practice, because Victoria has never had a culture surrounding the styles (we’re working to change that).

While Dillon’s ability on the dance floor certainly surpasses my own, it’s my own belief that his teaching ability is severely lacking.  This isn’t a diss on Dillon or anything, as I’ve already stated that I have great respect for his ability to bust out; It’s simply an observation.  Some people are good at breaking things down and explaining them, and some people understand things on an intuitive level but are unable to share that knowledge with others.

The main thought I try to hold in my head each time I start to doubt my own ability to teach is to remind myself that while I may not be a super advanced dancer, I do spend a lot of time thinking about dancing, and I am naturally inclined to break things down and think about the fundamental units that make up each technique.

Yesterday marked the last of the six classes that I initially signed up for this term, and the last of two lessons that I was due to teach after taking over for Dillon.  This term, I’ve taught a total of four classes: two of them to teens, and two of them to adults.  The adult class is the one that I was previously taking, but both classes are roughly operating on the same skill level.

This post is simply an opportunity for me to reflect on the experience so far, talk about some of the things that I’ve learned, challenges I’ve had to overcome, mountains I’ve had to climb, and other clichés too numerous to mention.

Taking on the role of an instructor instead of an annoying student that asks too many questions has not been without challenges.  The least of which simply having the confidence in myself to accept the fact that I know enough to break down and teach the styles of dance I’ve been pursuing casually for all these years.

Fortunately, I’ve got some experience to draw upon, mostly from teaching friends tricks here and there.  Teaching Michi to pop when we first met has given me valuable experience to draw upon, and helped me appreciate the fact that everyone learn things at their own pace and in their own manner.  Incidentally, be sure to check out some of Michi’s videos – the student has truly become the master!

Lesson Plans

Putting together lesson plans has been another challenge to overcome.  Figuring out the right number of exercises to review with a class is something that I think will only come with experience.  The first class I completely underestimated how much time we would need to take to review the Fresno.  As an example, I started off with the assumption that we could go right into covering both leg and upper body hits.  However, as we started this, I realized that we would probably be better served breaking things down even further, focusing first only on leg hits, then on upper body hits, and then bringing them both together into the Fresno.

The second class, I had put together some more work for our Fresno, but this time overestimated the amount of time that we would end up spending working on this (based on my observations from the previous class).  After covering off the basics thoroughly the previous class, we blew through the other stuff I’d put together, and sticking to it for longer seemed like it would only frustrate students who wanted to progress and tackle something new.

What’s the lesson here?  I think basically the best approach is to underestimate how much time will be required to cover each technique, and plan more stuff than will likely be needed for each lesson.  I can then move anything in excess over into next week’s lesson, and will have ample material to iterate over if the class progresses faster than I anticipate.

Quantity over Quality

Another item that I’m still learning is how much should be covered in a class (quantity), versus how much time we should spend on drilling each technique (quality).  The longer we spend practicing each step, the better the class will grasp the concept and technique, and the easier it will be for them to practice that technique later on their own.  However, the longer we spend, the less new material the class are given to work on, and the more likely they are to become bored with the class and what we’re working on.

This too feels like something that will come with experience.  I have a reasonably good grasp of how the class is responding to what we are working on, but I would really like to tighten this up.  I suppose my desire is the same as most teachers – I want to see my students get stoked, really improve, and become great dancers.  Finding a balance between drilling good technique and keeping things fun is going to be one of my main goals throughout this summer.

Tediousness

One of the things that has always been challenging for me, and for people that I have attempted to teach, is the fact that some of the techniques in popping are difficult and take time to learn.  And when I mean they take time, I mean they require putting some effort into drilling basic movements that initially will not immediately be obvious as to how they connect with the end result.

The most prominent example of this occurred last night when I was teaching the class gliding.  Gliding is a very popular technique, and for a number of reasons.  First, it looks ridiculously cool when it’s done well.  Second, gliding is a technique that is easy to integrate into whatever other techniques you are doing.  You can Fresno for a while, glide over to a new space on the dance floor, and then start your Fresno up again.  Lastly, when done well, gliding appears effortless and graceful.  The dancer just stands there and moves gracefully around the room.

These three elements combine to make the perfect storm. The student sees how smooth and graceful the glide looks, and immediately wants these results.  Unfortunately, gliding is not a technique that comes easily, and it requires practicing some basic drills and honing your balance before you are able to see the results that you want.

The biggest problem I felt I was encountering was taking the class through the fundamentals and the basics while maintaining their interest and avoiding discouraging them.  Becoming discouraged means that the student gives up hope that they will be able to glide with practice, and that puts an end to their progression.  A discouraged student is always going to be a signal to myself that I have failed in some way and need to adapt my learning plan.

I have not yet figured out the best way to work with the class towards learning gliding, but this is something I will definitely be working towards.  It may be the case that it is better digested in small chunks, having the class learn only floating in one class, then moving on to the sliding transition the n
ext class, then the transfer of weight the following class, and so on.

Planning

For both classes, I’ve put a fair amount of preparation in beforehand.  When I am anxious about taking on something new, my experience has shown me that the best way to calm those nerves is to spend time preparing. The more I think about something, the better I can wrap my head around it and don’t have to worry about unknowns popping up and turning everything on its head.

However, preparation is an iterative art, and preparing to give lessons is something new that I haven’t done in the past. In the past two weeks, a couple of events have popped up and thrown me off. 

Last Saturday, our studio’s amp/stereo died on us, meaning that I had to play music out of my laptop’s speakers, or not at all.  Popping without music is akin to simply doing moves (thanks for the feedback Graham!).  If you’re not moving to the music, you’re not dancing.  Without music, it’s much more difficult for student’s to connect what they’re doing to form an actual dance, and doing drills starts to feel like only that – just doing drills, rather than building up a foundation from which you’ll drawn upon when it’s time to get out there and dance.

As a result of the faulty stereo, I didn’t put as much time as I should have into the music I’d pulled out for our class on Monday.  The first class was easier, as I simply searched through my playlist and found good hiphop with slow beats.  However, given that I couldn’t really roll with music on Saturday, I neglected to find new appropriate music for what we were going to work on this Monday. As a result, I had to forego the music and stick to counting out beats.  This is okay at first, but it rapidly gets old, and it’s not really dancing, it’s doing drills.

To accommodate for better planning, I’ve started booking time off each week to sit down and plan things out.  With the time slotted off in my calendar, I’ll make a point of doing the work and ensuring that everything is up to shape.

Next Term

So that’s it!  The end of our Spring term at VSD, and the end of the first series of classes that I’ve taught.  Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like we have enough students to keep a kid’s class going, but I’m hoping that we get enough together to maintain adult classes.  We’re working towards some other ideas as well, and those will get posted on the VSD website (here), as well as here.  If you’re interested in any kind of popping instruction, write me a comment, send me an e-mail, or sign up for a class!

Keep it locked, and get out and start dancing!