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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!

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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:
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(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! 

Popping Class #4 – April 27, 2009

April 28th, 2009 No comments

This is part of my ongoing series related to the popping classes that I’m taking at Vibestreet Dance studios, you can read last week’s entry here.  The most recent class focused almost purely on tutting, a style that I have never gotten into.

Before I get into the details of the class, I want to provide a quick update on myself, as I haven’t been able to sit down and write as much as I’d like to.  If you are hear to read only about the dance class, you can skip past this stuff.

This was the last week I had to occupy myself before Bay got back from Brazil, where she was taking part in the international emerging markets aspect of her MBA degree at UVic.  She has been gone for three weeks now, which is the longest her and I have been apart from each other in about four years.

The time apart has been very healthy.  When I say healthy, I don’t mean “Thank god we are away from each other!”.  What I mean is that it’s good for a couple to spend some time apart from one another now and then, remember who we are as individuals, spend some time recalibrating ourselves, and learning to appreciate each other and what our relationship means to us all over again.  I make a point of saying this every time we teach the marriage preparation course – it is imperative that the two people in a couple can function independently, if they’re going to be able to function together in a healthy relationship.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve accomplished a bunch of things.  Some of those are:

  • Started and finished some Spring cleaning, organizing our condo and storing some things that have been left out for far too long
  • Come up with a couple of new systems for managing my tasks (nerdy, but it does feel really good to come up with a new system that makes you more productive)
  • Officially resigned from the VEMF management team this year (a difficult decision to make – more on this later)
  • Hung out with good friends
  • Caught up with old friends
  • Started getting up early in the mornings to fit an hour bike ride in before work
  • Continued training hard for squash

In Bay’s absence, I’ve tried to treat the three weeks as something of a working vacation, starting with Easter weekend, and then taking the following two Monday’s off work as well.  This has given me more spare time than I would otherwise had, and given me some spare to let my mind be creative and wander.  Although this has been a bit of an experiment, I think that the results have been really good.

I really enjoyed watching Marc Lesser’s talk at Google about accomplishing more by doing less.  One thing he said that has stuck with me is his mantra that you should take time during the year to “retreat, in order to move forward”.  By retreat, he means remove yourself from your daily life and give yourself the opportunity to think about it from outside of the box (at least, this is how I interpreted his advice).  I look at the past three weeks as the first opportunity I’ve had to practice this advice, and will certainly be looking to continue this practice.

Now, isn’t it about time that we started talking about dance?

Tutting

At the start of this entry, I mentioned that in the past, tutting was never a style that I had pursued.  The reason for this is a simple one really: I just didn’t feel that I was anatomically capable of performing the dance.

Tutting, as a style, is all about moving your body in and out of positions that incorporate right angles.  Wrists bent at right angles, elbows bent at right angles, shoulders bent at right angles, etc.  The name derives from King Tut, and the stereotypical angles created by the body parts that mimic some hieroglyphs, and certainly Steve Martin and Bugs Bunny mimicing “walking like an Egyptian”.

The problem is, my wrists don’t bend back at a very sharp right angle.  With a lot of effort, I can get them bent back at about 80 degrees, but when I see this in the mirror, it just looks ugly.  I can take my hand and pull on the my other wrist and get a good sharp right angle, but surely this isn’t what the dance is about.

So, tutting was a style that I’d watched dancers like Tommy Boy do, and always appreciated, but had put a mental barrier in place and wasn’t going to bother trying to progress further with it.  It turns out, many of my concerns are fairly unfounded in the dance.

The most important thing to keep in mind with tutting is that you don’t need to be perfect. We should always aim to make sharper cleaner angles, and to be as tight as possible, but there are limits to what the human eye can perceive, and by and large, if you’re making an effort to keep the lines created by your hands parallel and tight, you should fare just fine.

Some basic positions

Unlike the rest of what we have worked on so far, tutting didn’t come with a set of fundamental moves that Dillon taught us.  However, I’ve tried to break out some of what I perceived are fundamental positions that you will find yourself moving in and out of frequently.

Prayer position

This is a very common position, and you’ll find yourself starting and ending a lot in this position (at least when you are beginning, as I am).  It is exactly as it sounds like.  Feet at shoulder width, arms in front of you and close to your stomach, with the palms of your hands pressed against each other as though you are praying.  Ideally you want to make an effort to bend your wrists back at 90 degree angles, and keep the line created by your forearms parallel with the ground.

You have now mastered your first tutting position!  Congratulations.

Variations on the prayer position

From the prayer position, there are a number of movements that you can make.

  • While maintaining the angle your wrists are bent at, you can slide one of your hands up one hand-length, so that you now have one hand in the previous position, and the heel of your other hand touching the fingertips of your bottom hand.
  • While maintaining the prayer position, move your hands over to the left or right side of your chest.  As always, try to maintain the angles created by your wrists, and keep the line created by your forearms parallel with the ground.
  • Pivot one of your hands downward, with the base of your wrist as the pivot point.  When you are finished, you should have one hand fixed in the same position it was at the start of the move (pointing upwards), and one hand pointing downwards.  The heel of both of your hands should be touching.
  • Do the same pivot as above, but at the end of the pivot, continue your movement to bring the back of one hand against the palm of the other hand.  One hand should remain as it was in the prayer position, with the other hand bent downwards at the wrist, with its back flat against the palm of your other hand.

King Tut

Although I’m not sure that it’s actually called this, I noticed that a lot of our movements tended to flow in and out of this position.

The king tut position is what I call the position where your arms are out, your elbows are bent upwards at 90 degrees, and your wrists are bent again at 90 degrees.

The most common position I found us moving into was done from the prayer position:

  • Start in prayer position
  • Moving your arms up and out, you want to end up with your elbow bent upwards at 90 degrees, and your wrists still bent back at 90 de
    grees.

That’s it.  The transition from prayer position to this one is simple, as you don’t actually have to move anything – you simply pivot around your elbows.  The hard part in this position is maintaining a 90 degree angle with your wrists.  When I asked about how on Earth this is possible, Dillon said that it’s most important to make sure that your hands remain parallel with the ground.  Imagine that you’ve got a heavy book resting flat on the palm of each hand when you’re doing this position.

Some transitions from the King Tut position

From this position, you can transition into a wide variety of other angles.

  • You can fold your wrists over and bend them from an outwards angle to an inwards angle.  In this position, your arms and elbows remaining the same, but your fingertips will go from pointing outwards to point inwards.  This is an easy one to make tight 90 degree angles with, so make sure you look in a mirror and get this right.
  • You can roll your wrists in a circle so that your fingertips remain pointing outwards, but your wrists are now bend forwards at a 90 degree angle, rather than backwards (again, a much easier angle to make)
  • You can pivot your arms around your elbows, so that your elbows now bend downwards at 90 degrees, and your wrists remain bent backwards, this time with your fingertips pointing inwards at roughly your stomach level

Head tuts

A number of angles we ended up working on were created by taking a tut and shifting it to the top of our head.  For example:

  • From the King Tut position, bring your left arm over top of your head.  Your wrist should now be resting on the right side of your head, pointing up like a horn.  Now bring your right arm over top of your head as well (you’ll have to put it either in front or behind your left arm), and make the same position with your right hand as you are with your left hand.  Ideally you want to maintain 90 degree angles with your wrists, so that both of your hands remain pointing straight up.
  • From the King Tut position, make a transition similar to the one above, but bring the palms of your hands together, and rest them together on the middle of your head, with your fingers pointing up (to my eyes, this position always makes me think of Indian dancing)

Box tuts

Box tuts are just the term I use to describe any tut that mimics the shape of a box.  The most common box tut is done by:

  • Take your right arm, and put your fingers just against the inside of the crook of your left elbow joint.  Use this elbow to bend back your wrist at a 90 degree angle
  • Take your left arm, and bend your left wrist downwards just above your right arm’s elbow, putting your fingers lightly touching your elbow.

In this position, your forearms and wrists should be forming a box.  From here, you can collapse and recreate the box by:

  • Straighten the wrists of both of your arms.  Your left arm should be resting flat on top of your right arm.
  • Smoothly slide your left arm behind your right arm and downwards.  As you do this, the fingers of your left arm need to sit just inside the crook of your right elbow joint – remember, this is how you are going to bend back your right wrist.
  • While you’re doing the above movement, simultaneously bring your right arm in front of your left arm and upwards.  As you do this, the fingers of your right arm should gently touch the elbow of your left arm.  Continue moving your arm smoothly upwards, bending your wrist to create a 90 degree angle.
  • You should now have a box tut again, but with your right arm on top instead of your left arm.

This motion in itself creates a nice visual, although doing it over and over again will get boring for the audience.  Nevertheless, you can see that you can do a lot with a little bit of movement.

Wrist twirls

Wrist twirls were a movement that Dillon showed us because he found them useful as a way of moving in and out of various tut positions.  Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to describe in writing the motion that is used for a good wrist twirl.  I know this, because I’ve just spent five minutes trying to get it down, and I haven’t really had much success.  However, the gist of the motion is:

  • Hold your hands out, with the inside of the wrists of your hands together
  • Pivot your hands in a circle, around the inside of the wrists. 
  • As you do this pivot, you want to make sure that the fingers on your left hand are always pointing away from the fingers on your right hand.

That’s it.  If it sounds easy because there’s so few steps mentioned, that’s because it is.  But it only becomes easy once you get the hang of it.  If there is anyone that wants me to show them this move, just ask me in person and I can give you the goods very quickly.

Another wrist twirl that we learned is to transition from the prayer position at your chest to the one on top of your head.  To do this, you:

  • Starting in prayer position, start raising your hands upwards.
  • As you move your hands upwards, slowly start to open up your hands, showing the backs of them to the audience (so you’re looking at the palms)
  • Press the backs of your hands together, and imagine that the back of your wrists are now glued together
  • Pivoting around the back of your wrists, rotate your hands inwards (towards you), then down, and then out and upwards.
  • When you are done this motion, you should have the backs of your hands stuck together, with your fingers pointing either outwards or upwards (depending on how far along you’ve moved them)
  • You can now continue moving your arms upwards and place your hands on top of your head.  The backs of your hands should be against each other, with your wrists bent backwards at 90 degrees angles to your forearm.  Done!

Footwork

One thing I was curious about was what kind of footwork we would use to complement tutting.  Back from my earlier days of liquid dancing, one of the things that always drove me nuts were dancers that stood in place with their feet fixed on the floor, and then proceeded to totally trip people out (their own words).  I found this annoying for a couple of reasons – One, it’s contrived and obnoxious to make the assumption that you’re totally tripping people out, and two, standing fixed on the dance floor for an entire song is not dancing.

Dillon commented that tuts do not have a specific style of footwork that is used with them, though some dancers will raise their feet off the ground to create angles that complement those being done with their hands.  The main footwork to use with tutting is the same as that which we have learned previously.  Gliding will complement tutting, and the Sac-step will as well.  On that note, I noticed that in spite of all of the good foundation we’ve covered so far, Dillon has not broken down the Sac-step for anyone, so…

Sac-step

The Sac-step is a very simple motion, but allows you to fill a few beats with your feet.  The name is derived from Sacramento, where Boogaloo Sam (the creator of boogaloo) was from (I believe).  The motion works as follows:

  • Start with left foot slightly in front of the other
  • Take your left foot, lift it up, and then put it down beside your right foot
  • When you touch the ball of your left foot down, shift your weight to this foot, and then
  • Take your right foot, lift it up, and then put it down in front, r
    oughly at the same distance that your left foot was at the start of this move

That’s it.  The step isn’t complicated, and it certainly won’t trip people out!!  However, this is a valuable step to learn, and lets you add in additional footwork while you’re doing something more complex with your upper body.

Practicing

This session left me with a lot of things to practice.  One of the things I was most interested in finding out was how Dillon went from this very rough set of fundamentals to actually being able to use tutting as a dance.  The main suggestion that Dillon offered was to start in any one position, keep one hand fixed, and then practice as many transitions and angles as you can with the other hand.

The main art of tutting is maintaining clean angles and transitioning in and out of various positions.  Once you’ve developed the muscle memory for these positions and transitions, it becomes fairly easily to string them together into a dance.

Conclusion

Towards the end of the session, we went into a bit of liquid, as all of us had aching shoulders and wrists from holding the tuts for so long.  Liquid was the first style of dance that I ever really got into, so most of what we were working on came fairly easily.  However, I did notice that I am a bit rusty at this style, and my liquid isn’t quite as smooth as I would have liked to see.  I’m alright with that though, as there’s simply too much other stuff that I want to practice right now.

I believe that the remaining two classes will be devoted to reviewing of what we’ve picked up so far, which is good.  There’s been so much material that we’ve covered that an opportunity to go back and solidify it will be a very good thing.

More updates to come!

Popping Class #3 – April 20, 2009

April 21st, 2009 No comments

It’s another Tuesday, which means another popping class has passed.  This past class was related to glides, slides, and floats – essentially all different ways of moving yourself around the dance floor.  I’ll dive right in to the material we covered, adding my own thoughts throughout.

Floats

Dillon started out by showing us the most basic piece of foundation for gliding: the heel-toe pivot. This is a very simple movement (in theory), and forms the basis from which the glide flows out of.  To do this move, the motion is:

  • Start with both toes pointing inwards, almost, but not quite, touching
  • Pivot on the toe of your left foot, bringing its heel around so that it is now pointing to the right (and your toe will now be pointing to the left).  While you do this, you also:
  • Pivot on the heel of your right foot, bringing its toe around so that it is now pointing to the right (and your heel will now be pointing to the left).
  • When you have completed this motion, both of your toes should now be pointing out
  • Repeat this process, this time pivot on the heel of your left foot, and bring its toe around so that it is pointing inwards (and your heel pointing outwards), and, simultaneously:
  • Pivot on the toe of your right foot, and bring its heel out so that it is pointing outwards (and the toes pointing inwards).
  • At this point, you should have your feet in the same position that you initially started in, but be a few feet to the right of where you started.

As you can see, this is a fairly simple movement. I have been shown this motion a couple of times, not just from watching popping instructional videos, but also in a few workshops that I’ve been fortunate enough to take.  However, I’ve never really gotten it to stick.  What I mean by this, I guess, is that I’ve been lazy and neglected to practice the move.  I suspect that this is because when I first started teaching myself, I didn’t realize this was the foundation upon which glides were built, and just started right into actually working on the glide.  My glides aren’t horrible, but they could certainly be better if I put in some time to practice proper floats.

This is really pretty unacceptable.  Since this is the foundation upon which gliding is based, I’m making a mental note to make sure that I get this down.

As we were going through this, I noticed that a couple of people were having trouble alternating where they were placing their weight on their feet.  Having worked with a couple of friends to try and help then get this motion down, I can totally appreciate this difficulty.  One of the techniques I would recommend is a good starting point is to get the first pivot setup (so raise up on the ball of your left foot and the heel of your right foot) and then just pivot back and forth, into and out of, the first and second position.  Don’t worry about changing where you’ve got your weight positioned for now.  Just practice going back and forth between these two positions.  After you’ve put some time in to that, work on the pivot from the second position back into the starting position (but this time continuing in the direction you started, rather than back to the original position).

Breaking the move down into these two steps will help you solidify it in your head and ensure that they can happen without you thinking about it, and this is really the key goal to establish when we’re learning new techniques.

Glides

Okay, on to the meat of what everyone has been waiting for.  First, a quick note on glides.  This is, hands down, the single technique that I get asked about the most.  Gliding is a simple movement, but is very visually confusing.  People always want me to show them how to do it, but don’t realize that it only becomes a natural movement with a little bit of practice.  Not a ton, but some, definitely.  I noticed in class that some people were getting a little discouraged as we went through the various techniques, and I got worried.  I have a vested interest in seeing people getting stoked about popping (and the rest of the funk styles as well), so I want people to be pumped on these techniques.  Hopefully some group practice sessions will help with that – more on this later.

Before going any further, there is an important point to make that Dillon didn’t cover in class.  The key, in my opinion, to the glide’s visual effectiveness, is making sure that the foot that is raised up on the ball of its foot is not the one that is moving.  The movement will always happen with the foot whose sole is flat to the floor.  There is a good reason for this:

Imagine someone walking, running, moving normally.  Which foot is doing the movement?  It is always the foot that is raised.  During normal locomotion, the foot that is flat on the ground remains stationary (and is being used to push off forwards with), while the raised foot travels forward, then gets placed flat on the ground, and is then used to push forward (and the back foot is now raised and moved through the air). Our brains are trained to understand this kind of motion, and to expect it.

A glide works by flipping this rule on its head.  The raised foot never does any movement, and the flat foot does all of the movement.  When the brain tries to parse this visual input, the viewer focuses on the raised foot expecting movement.  However, no movement ever happens, and before you know it, the dancer has moved halfway across the dance floor.

When practicing glides, keep this cardinal rule in mind:  The raised foot does not move.

Side-Glide

The side-glide is the second most well-known type of glide, after the back-glide (popularized by Michael Jackson, incorrectly, as the moon-walk).  This glide is actually much simpler than it looks, though it does require some training to understand exactly what is going on.

Dillon indicated that the motion for the side-glide flows directly out of the floating technique we covered earlier, and as soon as we started working on the glide, I was surprised how closely it really does.  The motion is broken down as follows:

  • Start, again, with your toes pointing inwards, and your heels outwards
  • Raise up (and put your weight on) on the toes of your left foot, and the heel of your right foot
  • Pivot on the toes of your left foot, and the heel of your right foot, so that your toes are now both pointing outwards.

So far, this is identical to the float.  Here’s where the change comes in:

  • At the end of the last pivot, you need to shift all of your weight to your left foot (which remains up on its ball), because…  As you drop the heel of your left foot down to the ground, you want to slide your right foot away from you.  I find that the hardest part most people (including myself) have to deal with is getting their right foot to remain as flat to the ground as possible, but without it touching.  You want to avoid generating any friction between your foot and the ground.
  • At this point, you should have both your toes pointed out, with your feet about two feet apart (or shoulder-width).
  • Now, again, as with the float before, put your weight on the ball of your right foot, and the heel of your left foot.  Pivot to bring your toes pointing inwards again, then shift all of the weight onto your right foot and slide your left foot back in towards your right foot.  At the end of this motion your toes should just about be touching each other, and you’re back at the position you started in.

Another aspect of this glide that people have trouble with is the weight transfer.  Ideally you want to do both the weight transfer AND the pivots at the same time, in one smooth motion.  However, I’ve always found this fairly tricky (possibly because I ne
ver learned to float properly).  I would recommend just taking things slowly for now, and focusing on the individual steps.  If you have trouble with the weight transfer and the pivot, then just repeat that motion over and over, until you get it right.

One other thing that we worked on that was helpful was simply going up on the ball of your one foot, and sliding your other foot away from it as you brought the heel of the raised foot back down to the ground.  This is a great way of developing the muscle memory for half of the motion for the glide.  You could apply this same principle to the second half of the glide, ensuring that you get these two aspects down tight.

One last principle that is very important here.  Ultimately, you want to learn to do this motion smoothly that you can carry it out without making any movement in your upper body.  Initially, you will find it difficult to maintain the balance required to stop yourself from moving around, but with practice, you should be able to glide while keeping your upper body perfectly still (and then once you’ve got that down, you can start doing contrasting movements like waves through your upper body while gliding.  But save that for later).

Cross-over Glides

Next up, we focused on cross-over glides.  These are done identical to the side glide, with the exception that your trailing foot either crosses in front of, or behind, your lead foot.  This glide is definitely more advanced than the side-glide, due to the high level of balance that is required to sustain the isolation that you need.

As soon as you cross your feet, it becomes much more difficult to maintain balance and keep your upper body stationary.  At this point, the class was starting to get frustrated, as we were nowhere near getting the regular side-glide down.  Adding in this additional step was simply too much to handle at that point.

Circular Glide

The circular glide is based on the same principle as the standard side glide (most of the more advanced techniques are), and as always, the cardinal rule continues to apply: The raised foot does not move, while the flat foot does.

The motion for this glide is performed as follows:

  • Start in the same position as the side glide, toes inwards
  • Raise up on the ball of your left foot, the heel of your right foot, and pivot your toes outwards
  • Slide your right foot away as you lower the heel of your left foot
  • Now, pivot your toes inwards, and raise up on the ball of your right foot
  • This time, you pivot around your right foot, in a semi-circle.  Your left foot traces this semi-circle and remains flat to the ground
  • Your back should now be to the front of the room, and your toes should be facing inwards.
  • You can now carry on the glide as you normally would for a side-glide, or continue to rotate in another semi-circle.  The motion is the same, raising up on the ball of your lead foot, pivoting your toes outwards, and pivoting around the lead foot in another semi-circle

You can vary this glide by see-sawing back and forth as well if you like, always leading the turn with your front, or, with your back.

Snake Glide

The snake glide is one of the glides that does not actually move forwards directly from the side glide.  All of the movement is produced by one foot, while the other foot simply traces out a path beside it as you travel along.

The motion for this glide can be broken up into two distinct movements.  For the first part, your back foot will be doing the moving.

  • Start with the toes of your left foot pointing to the left, and your right foot held up off the ground
  • Put all of your weight on the heel of your left foot
  • Pivot on your heel to move your the toes to the right
  • Now shift your weight to the toes and ball of your left foot, and pivot on them to move your heel pointing to the right
  • Repeat

This is the half of the motion that will actually move you across the dance floor.  The second half of the motion is should initially be practiced with all of your weight on your left foot, and leaving that foot stationary:

  • Start with your right foot beside your left foot, with your toe pointing forwards
  • Slide your right foot (flat against the ground) forwards
  • As you the heel of your right foot reaches roughly your the toe of your left foot, rotate your foot around your ankle as much as you can, so that your toe is now pointing to the right (and hopefully somewhat to the back).  Then start to slide it backwards
  • Slide your right foot backwards (attempting to lead with your toe as best you can), and when the heel of your right foot roughly reaches the heel of your left foot, rotate your foot again around your ankle, bringing your toes around so that they are again pointing forwards.

To bring everything together, you combine the pivots of the first motion with the slide on your right foot.  The visual you are aiming to produce is that your right foot is snaking along the ground, and your left foot follows along.

I’ve practiced this motion in the past, but I find it very difficult to get the balance correct that is necessary in order to avoid lurching your upper body all over the place.  Still, this is an excellent candidate to practice, and something that I will make a point of spending some time on, along with the floats.

Wiggles glide

The Wiggles glide is a glide created by Mr. Wiggles, of the Electric Boogaloos.  I remember the first time I saw this glide in my Mr. Wiggles 2 VHS tape, and not being able to comprehend what was going on.  The confusing part about this move is that the main amount of motion that is generated happens from a left-to-right (and vice versa) direction, while the dancer actually moves forward along the dance floor.  This makes it really confusing for someone watching to figure out how they are actually accomplishing this.

The glide is composed of a set of pivots on your heels and toes, and the rest flows from that.  First, the most important motion to train:

  • Put the heel of your right foot directly in front of your left foot
  • Pivot on the toe of your left foot, swinging your heel out to the left.  At the same time that you do this:
  • Pivot on the heel of your right foot, swinging your toe out to the left.  Next, you pivot on the same body parts, and reverse the direction, so..
  • Pivot on the toe of your left foot, swinging your heel in, through the center, and then out to the right.  While you do this, simultaneously:
  • Pivot on the heel of your right foot, swinging your heel in, through the center, and to the left.

You’ll notice that you can get your heel and toes out much further for the second part of the pivot than the first.  This is okay, it’s just a limitation of your anatomy and the way our ankles bend.

Once you have this motion down, you’re ready for the more complicated part.

  • Start with your feet as before, with the heel of your right foot directly in front of your left foot
  • Pivot on the toe of your left foot, swinging your heel out to the left, and on the heel of your right foot, swinging your toes out to left.
  • Now pivot again, swinging the heel of your left foot in, through the center, and out to the right.  Do the same for the toes of your right foot.  Now comes the new movement:
  • Place all of your weight on the heel of your right (front) foot.  Leave this foot positioned as it is
  • Take your left (back) foot, and slide it out to your side, and around in front of your right foot.  While you’re doing this, you want to pivot on the heel of your right foot, so that its toes swi
    ng out to the right.  This pivot should complete right as the heel of your left foot comes into position right in front of your right foot’s toes.
  • Transfer your weight onto the heel of your right foot, and the toes of your left foot.
  • At this point, you should be back in a familiar position – with one foot in front of the other, the toes of your left (front) foot pointing to the right, and the heel of your right (back) foot pointing to the right.
  • Perform the pivot you practiced above, pivoting on the front left foot’s heel and swinging your toes to the left, and pivoting on the back right foot’s toes, swinging your heel out to the left.  Now repeat these steps as much as you like to continue moving forwards.

Dillon mentioned that this appears and sounds like a complicated movement, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually quite simple.  I can attest that this is the case, having practiced this glide a fair bit.  It takes a little bit of time to figure everything out, but once you have it, it creates a very pleasing visual without a lot of effort.  This is, however, one of the more difficult glides to perform on “sticky” ground, as the heel of my shoes always gets caught and throws off my pivots.

One amusing note to mention – I can remember just throwing out this glide when I was taking the Funky Stepping workshop a couple of years back, and Jake, the instructor, jokingly called me a biter.  Fair enough, I suppose.  This is a very distinctive glide that is absolutely the domain of Wiggles.  Having said that, I still think it’s valid to use a move that you’ve seen someone else doing.  Just make sure that you give credit when it’s due, and apply your own style and attitude to the move.  It’s okay to derive inspiration from other dancers – just take what you like and make it your own.

Practice

So that’s the whole of the class.  Dillon took things a little bit slower this class, which was good (perhaps part of that was due to my insistent prodding), but I definitely noticed that there were at least a couple of people that were getting exasperated as we went into more complicated glides.  This is definitely not what I want to see, because I have a vested interest in seeing people get enthusiastic about Popping (it means I’ll have more motivation to keep at it myself).

I’ve been talking with Brooke about the potential to set up a practice session at the studio, and I feel more strongly than ever that this is really something we should get going.  I was originally waiting to hear back from Dillon on this, but I get the impression from him that he has too many other things currently commanding his focus, which is fair enough.  However, I’ll see what can be done to take the lead on this and see if we can get something going (provided there’s some interest).

Next class is apparently about tutting.  This should be an interesting class, as I’ve always shunned tutting due to the fact that my wrists simply don’t bend back at 90 degree angles, and thus my tuts look like ass.  However, I’m sure there are a lot of techniques that I can take away from the class, regardless of how clean my angles end up looking.  I’m looking forward to the next session.

Popping Class #1 – April 6, 2009

April 7th, 2009 3 comments

Alright,

As promised, this is the first entry for the popping class that I’ve started taking.  I’ve been popping for around ten years, but I have never had the benefit of any formal education or training on the subject.  There is certainly something to be said for someone that is self-taught, but, without the benefit of instruction, there is the unavoidable consequence of taking many wrong-turns before you finally find the correct path for each new technique you wish to learn.

As my friend Dave (currently taking a photography class) and I discussed the matter last night, we both reached the same conclusion: If you want to continue to progress and improve, it is imperative that you find a mentor to help you do that.  Mentorship doesn’t have to mean something like a life-coach.  It can be as simple as a teacher, or a peer with a little more experience.  The key element here is having someone that has been down the path before you, and can help you avoid the same mistakes that they made, and stay on the one “true” path to improvement. 

Although there are many different ways to accomplish something (and finding them is absolutely imperative in dancing), there is always the most efficient and correct way to apply your foundations, and this is where a mentor will help you in a way that self-teaching can never quite achieve.

The class is being taught through Vibestreet Dance Studio, a studio run by Brooke Kilgore – a pretty cool girl that I started talking to about a year ago when I was looking for popping classes.  Onwards with the first lesson.

Oh yeah, one last thing before I go any further – the class is all about fundamentals.  If anyone has any interest in learning something like this, take it with me!

Popping

I showed up a little bit late, and the class had already started
underway.  I hadn’t missed much though, as our instructor, Dillon, was
just beginning to explain the process for creating a pop.  The warm up
exercises we did were simply holding our arm out, gently resting our
other hand on the forearm, and flexing.  Flex, hold for three seconds,
release.  Then, flex and hold for two seconds, release.  And lastly,
flex and hold for a second, release.

After the warm-up and brief explanation of what a pop actually is (a muscle flex), we started to move into different kinds of hits.  I’ve been popping for many years, but never had formal instruction or a mentor, both of which are key elements to consistent and sustainable growth over the long term.  Although I’ve done plenty of reading, I was glad to see that even at this stage of the basics, there were new things for me to learn.

The main hits that we covered were:

  • Arm hits

This is simply the initial hit that we practiced while warming up.  Additionally, you want to do your best to maintain a relaxed wrist and set of fingers on your hit, so that you can isolate the hit to your forearm

  • Chest hits

You hit with your chest by flexing the muscles in your chest, tightening and pulling in your abs, and opening up your shoulders.  You don’t want to go crazy with your shoulders, as a little will go a long way.  However, pulling them back only slightly will add to the visual strength of the chest hit

  • Ab hits

I’d never even considered hitting with my abs before, so this was something new (and awkward) for me to work on.  The ab hit is a lot like a standing crunch, though much more subtle and faster than the exercise.  The muscle contraction is the same.  Dillon advocated adding a very slight twist to the motion, rather than moving your torso in a straight up-down orientation (as you would with a standard crunch).

  • Neck hits

Although I never knew it, there are two ways you can hit your neck.  The first is done by using the muscles that attach your chin to your neck (doing this hit will naturally cause your Adam’s apple to bob a little bit).  The second way to hit your neck is by using the muscles at the back of your neck.  In both cases, Dillon mentioned that he doesn’t use these hits because he thinks they look a little goofy, but acknowledged that learning and using them properly will add one more dimension to your popping. I made a mental note to keep on practicing neck hits.

  • Leg hits

Last up were the leg hits – a hit that Dillon made a special note to point out was one of the most important foundations of good popping.  I found it mildly ironic that I had been popping for over nine years, but only using my legs for the last three or so, given how fundamental these hits are.  Oh well

There are again two ways that you can hit your legs (unbeknownst to me).  The first is the technique that I’ve trained myself to use – hitting with the back of your leg.  You bend your one knee gently in, and then snap it back.  IN order to avoid over-extending your leg, it’s important to start this technique off gently until you have a feel for how much motion you need to generate the look of a hit (hint: It’s not much).  Dillon also mentioned that it was important to generate some additional power by slamming your heel down at the same time as your knee hits back into place.  It became immediately obvious to me that I had been neglecting this aspect of the hit as soon as I tried to get my heel to stamp down – the motion was completely foreign to me.

The second leg hit is a front hit, and is done by very quickly and ever so slightly bending your knees, then stopping.  The analogy I’ve been using to help myself is that which you make when you’re trying to get your cat (or someone) to flinch.  IT’s almost like you’re getting ready to pounce, except you never follow-through with the pounce. 

As we went through these, I noticed that although each of these hits will look better when you integrate them with the other hitting techniques, it’s important to practice each one individually first so that you can learn to isolate correctly.  Once you’ve done that, then (and only then), you can put them together.  The end result will be that your hits will look much cleaner and more precise.

We finished up the popping with an introduction to the Fresno.  Dillon confirmed a lot of what I thought I already knew (but was never 100% sure of, due to lacking any mentorship as I’ve progressed), and re-iterated the fact that the Fresno itself is a great dance to start off with, giving you a firm base from which to improvise upon.  Nothing new was taught regarding the Fresno, just that the key is to isolate and hit into each step back and forth.  I was really impressed with Dillon’s fresno and his ability to improvise in and around each hit and beat.  I made a mental note to practice this more at home.

Walk-out

We finished up the popping segment with a move that I’ve always seen performed, but never realized that it was even something you would consider “a move”.  The move is called a walk-out and learning about it excited me.  I got excited because it meant that there was an actual technique involved that I could make greater use of.

The walk-out is a fairly simply (in theory) means of moving around the dance floor.  The effect that it generates arises more out of the contrast with the rest of the motions that you’re doing, than out of the movement itself, since you are essentially just walking to a new spot on the dance floor, then starting up again with articulated and isolated movement.

The technique we learned for the walk-out was as follows:

  • Start with the Fresno.  Fresno to your right side, and hit.
  • Fresno to your left side and hit.
  • Take your right foot and slightly cross it over your left foot.  Raise your left foot up on its toes, as if you’re going to take the next step with your left foot.  Be careful – you don’t move anything else here.  Even your body stays in the same position.
  • Take your right foot and move it back across your body, so that it is now on your right side.  Your left foot should still be facing to the left (in the same position as when you started the Fresno) and with the heel slightly raised
  • Pivot on the toes of your left foot, and turn your body and head, so that you’re toes are now both aligned and your body is facing in the direction they are pointing.
  • Step forward with your left foot, and bring it together with your right foot.  Stamp it down at the end to generate the hit to complete the movement.

This is not a complicated series of steps, but generates a striking effect due to the fact that people don’t expect to see you suddenly break out of one style of movement into this.  The change of direction thrown in by the third to fourth step above also generates some visual confusion for the viewer.  Very good stuff to learn.

Boogaloo

Next up was some work on Boogaloo techniques.  We started off warming up our legs and knees by doing some gentle rotations.  We followed this with the actual goods – leg rolls.

Although I’ve practiced leg rolls to some extent in the past, I’ve never really felt motivated to push the technique anywhere, nor had any inspiration to add it into my dancing.  Hopefully actually working on them in class will change this.

Leg Rolls

Leg rolls were every bit as annoying to work on as I remember – a clear sign that this is a technique I need to put some focus on practicing.  One point that Dillon made that I hadn’t heard articulated in the past was that you generally want to aim to have your toe and your knee pointing in the same direction throughout the role.  The biggest implication here is that you can’t just leave your foot stationary while you wrench your knee around (worst-case
scenario, this would probably cause some damage if you went at it too vigorously).  The key to a good leg roll is to raise up the heel of the foot, and pivot the knee in a nice circle, using your toe as the the pivot point.  The part I had the most trouble with was hitting the leg at the completion of the leg roll, as you’re meant to finish the roll with your toe pointing slightly away from your body (the same orientation you began in) – however, this resulted in me trying to hit the leg in a direction that was opposite the one it was moving in to complete the circle.  I’m going to get to class early next week and ask Dillon about this.

The last set of leg rolls were double leg rolls, which require a good sense of balance.  The goal here is to rise up on the toes of both feet, pivot your knees in a nice circle, and then come back to the previous position with a hit.  A good leg roll means that you’re not moving your upper body at all, ideally completely isolating your upper body from your lower body.

Body Rolls

The next move we worked on was a popular one, called the Old Man.  I’d seen this move in many popping tutorials and videos that I’ve worked through, but never got the motion quite right, nor really felt enamoured with the movement (a common theme for me and most of the Boogaloo techniques).  The motion is as follows:

  • Kick out your right leg (leading with your foot) in a wide circle.  The rest of your body stays motionless
  • Now your upper body follows the same circle that your right leg moved in
  • Lastly, move your hips through this same circle.  As your hips pull away from your left leg, bring it around and together with your right foot.  Hit your legs or stamp your heel into this final position.

We touched briefly on head rolls, which I’ve never thought about incorporating, mostly because it feels awkward.  However, the motion is fairly simple – just let your head fall to the side as though it’s been pushed, and then roll down and back up to the other side of your body.  This provides one more point of articulation and isolation for your dancing.

The last roll we did was a full body roll, which works as follows:

  • Push out your right shoulder
  • Follow the motion with your chest by rolling through your chest, from the right side to the left
  • Follow the motion with your hips, rolling in a circle, out to the right, through the center, and then finishing the circle by moving your hips to the left, then back
  • Follow the motion with your knees, rolling in the same manner as your hips – out to the right, through the center, left, and then back in place.  Stamp heels down at the end to complete this motion with a hit.

This roll was very tough for me, requiring multiple isolated body parts to work in unison.  Definitely one that I will be practicing.

Flexes

The next thing we worked on were the twist-o-flex, the master-flex, and the neck-o-flex.  I remember when I ran Shaddup and Dance, I put an absolutely humiliating (in retrospect) video of myself showing how to do a twist-o-flex.  It was awful.  My heart was in the right place, but I didn’t even know what a twist-o-flex was, and I simply didn’t have any of the foundation.  I’ve never really taken the time to properly learn flexes since then, so it was good to actually have some specific instruction in this domain.

Flexes, in general, are a set of segmented and isolated rotations of your body.  Think of how you might see a robot re-orient itself in a new direction, moving each of its main body segments in isolation (head, then torso, then hips, then legs, etc.).

Twist-o-flex

The twist-o-flex works is broken down like this:

  • Take a step back with both feet (one foot at a time, but a quick step back).  As you do this, raise both arms up, bent at ninety-degrees at your elbows.
  • Bring your arms down and place them akimbo on your hips.  As you do this, raise up on the toes of your left foot, bending your knee to do so.
  • Pivot to the right, on your feet.  The only things that should pivot are your torso, your hips, your legs and your feet.  Stay on the heel of your right foot and the toe of your left foot.  Make sure that your head and your arms stay oriented in the same direction (since your arms won’t have moved, you’ll be holding them akimbo, with one hand on your stomach, and the other on the small of your back)
  • Rotate your head and your arms, in line with the rest of your body.  Bring your arms to rest at your side, and as you complete the rotation, step with your left foot (still on its toes up to this point) to bring it into alignment with your right foot.  Stamp the left foot into position to generate a hit at the end of the movement

That’s a lot of writing.  The movement isn’t technically that complicated, but it generates a very pleasing visual effect when done correctly.  I’m very excited to practice this move.  As I suggested, the motion isn’t complicated, and it’s always been there for me to practice.  But now, I’ve got motivation to improve – I’m going to a dance class every week, and I really want to see some improvement. 

Master-flex

The master-flex sounds intimidating, but is actually quite a simple set of movement:

  • Raise your arms up, bent at ninety-degree angles at your elbows, just like you the start of the twist-o-flex.  As you do this, drop your left knee down to the ground (gently!), with your right knee bent and raised (imagine the position someone takes when being knighted or proposing).  You should be on the toes of your left foot.
  • Now you rotate your body around your hips.  Your upper body will turn and face the other direction, and at the same time, pivot on your left foot.  Bring your left knee up, and drop your right knee down to the ground.  If you’ve done this correctly, you will now be facing 180-degrees to your starting position, in the mirror image of the position above (hands still up in the air, left knee raised up, right knee lowered to the ground)
  • Step up and forward with your right leg.  As you do this, bring your arms back down to your sides (for optimal effect, put them in the mirror image of the position you starting them in prior to going into the master-flex.  Bring your right foot together with your left foot, and stamp it into position to generate the hit to finish the movement.

This move generated some sore knees for me.  I’m going to practice it, but I may consider buying knee pads first – Squash already leads to some sore knees when I lunge a bit too far for a ball, and I don’t want to develop knee injuries.

Neck-flex

The neck-flex is probably the closest thing to my early abortive attempt at a twist-o-flex.  The movement is quite simple:

  • Turn your head to the left, and look over your left shoulder
  • Pivot your body on your feet, around to the left.  The pivot ca be tricky for a lot of people.  What you’re doing is taking your left foot, turning it and placing it so that your left toe is now facing behind you, and then rotating around that pivot point.  At the end of this movement, your body should be facing 180-degrees from your starting position, and your head should now be looking over your right shoulder
  • Rotate your head to the left, so that you’re once again looking over your left shoulder

Conclusion

So, that’s what we learned in our first day of class.  That’s an awful lot of stuff to pack into
one hour, and I’m left with not just a large number of steps and moves to go away and practice, but also the motivation to actually do that practice.

I’m thrilled that after only the first day of class, I’ve discovered a ton of flaws that currently exist in my technique.  Flaws and bad habits are really annoying to work out, but they’re also milestones and things that engender more motivation when you finally do overcome them.  It’s the challenges that keep things interesting and worthwhile, so that’s really the only way to look at these opportunities.

I’ll aim to keep updating this blog each Tuesday with a summary of the previous night’s class, along with any other thoughts I have on the topic.