A quick review of how EPIC 2013 was for me. In chronological order, I present to you:
1. Attending my first Viennese Ball at the Philharmonic in Vienna, Austria.
I wore a vintage 1930s gown, my Remix shoes, and a feather fascinator from Etsy. What a gorgeous facility! Kevin and I waltzed a few times and stayed awake until the wee hours of the morning. De.lightful!!
2. The best birthday party EVER!!
The theme: Thrift Store. Instead of getting presents, I asked everyone to bring $29, come down to the thrift store with me and the gang, and buy clothes for someone else. After that, it was fashion show time. And beer.
3. My younger brother got married
4. Dancing on the Great Wall of China
5. Outrageously good time at The Mooche in Cork, Ireland. Thanks Daragh!!
Kevin and I stayed in a fabulous B&B, ate a proper “British Breakfast”, hung out with some fabulous misfits, taught some super fun classes, and hung out with One Horse Pony – some fabulous local musicians.
Rising Star – The Rising Star is a Champion that has been around from ten to twenty years. It strives to make its place in the Swing Dance Heavens through its ongoing participation within the Milky Way of Competition.
Couples – Couples stands out with special brilliance among other swing partnerships.
10. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – samba, Copacabana, Ipanema, and amazing people
11. Dancing my ass off at Lindy Shock in Budapest, Hungary.
Countless nights I was up until 5am dancing. Mostly I’d go home because I had work in the morning and my feet were on fire. Some of my most memorable dances from the weekend were with Dax Hock. Thanks man!
12. Performing the Jungle Book number with my new team at Lindy Focus: ‘Monkey’ Mikey, ‘Lioness’ Gaby, and ‘White Tiger’ Kevin.
It’s that time of year again, when many of the instructors at Lindy Focus are working on choreography either for an evening performance or the grand New Years Eve show. Since I, too, am working on learning choreography, I figured I’d share my process with you.
Check us out! Alice was a freaking champ at learning all of the details! We probably got 4-5 hours of rehearsal time in together before our performance, but that is rather unusual. Honestly, if you can get a full hour with your partner before performance time, it’s a blessing!
So moving along. The wonderful, marvelous, and effervescent Evita Arce sent me a piece of choreography to learn and it’s a really fun number. The song is New Orleans Bump by Wynton Marsalis and the dancers in the video are trained, New-York-dancers. What this means is that I have my work cut out for me!
To be specific, I have been sent a rehearsal video that is done to music; I didn’t get any prior notes or counts or explanations or anything of the sort. The reason this might be on interest is that I’m going to learn exactly what’s on the video, including any mistakes the dancers made in the video. Since I don’t have confirmation on the movement, I sometimes have to find the common denominator between the dancers when their timing isn’t together. Fun times!
I’m going to give a rundown of my process learning choreography. This isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s how I am best able to learn/visualize the choreo on a number of different levels.
Download the video so I can watch it forwards and backwards. This helps me break down transitions, tricky timing, or something much-too-fancy to see at realtime. I’m on a mac and I prefer using Quicktime over a different player because I can comb through the video second by second. Suuuuuuuuuper important!
Get a hold of the song. Check Spotify, buy it on Itunes, check your personal music library, or get it from the choreographer.
Breakdown the song. I first break it down into eight-counts so I can see how long it is. I go through it again and put in time codes. I go through it one more time and put in musical cues that can help me identify what is where. Here’s a screenshot of what that might look like.
So what are we looking at?
I have my downloaded Quicktime video (upper left), I’m playing the song off of Spotify (lower left), and I’m writing my choreo down in Evernote (righthand side).
Now here comes the (potentially) difficult part: breaking down the movement 8-count by 8-count. What is helpful for me to know is what foot my weight is on (if you’ve taken classes from me you know how important this is), what my arms are doing, and what count something happens on. I don’t need all of that information on every 8ct, but I need at least one of those three things.
After I annotate a few phrases, I’ll go back through the video and do the choreography with my body. I go through the sections slowly. First I need to know where my body is going, and then I need to learn to string it together with the movement on either side of it.
Once I have a decent idea of where my body is going, I then put the video on and try to dance that section with the music at full tempo.
Next, I break down a few more phrases, dance it, and put it to music. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but something that looks similar to the video
Once I make it to the end of the choreography, I then try to run the routine while watching the video. I’m not worried if it’s a disaster. Again, I just want to be able to get through it.
DAY TWO: Yup, this takes me more than one day if I’m really going to perform it. I put the video on and try dancing it again. This shows me what solidified and what didn’t.
Go back to the sections that I can’t remember or suck at. I go through them slowly to build the muscle memory I am lacking. When I do this, I take my time.
Once I can do it all the way through (again, it doesn’t need to be perfect), I turn off the video and do it just to music. When I find the next set of glitches I work through those (I’m always surprised how many visual cues I’m taking). This is helpful in order to attach the movement to the music. Again, I rework the sections I can’t remember or suck at.
Almost there! Now I need to try it facing the other way! What?? Yes-sir-ree! I have found I can learn choreography faster when I keep myself positioned in one direction in a room. I know at certain points in the music I should be facing a certain direction. If you can get through your piece of choreo while doing the routine facing a different direction, you should be fiiiiiiine.
Last step!! Dancing it in costume!! Perhaps that seems silly, but it makes a HUGE different. Every – do you hear me? – everyprofessional knows they should run their routines in the costume before taking the stage. If you learn the routine in flats but have to perform in heels, you’ll probably be surprised with where you balance is. If you’ve been practicing in one skirt but performing in another, you might not know how slippery the material is (that’s terrifying while doing aerials). That fun thing you’re planning on wearing in your hair? Yeah, that might get knocked off, stab you in the eye, or stab your partner in the eye. The thing is, you’ll never know unless you’ve had at least one run. So do it. Full costume. Underwear and hair pieces. Do it.
So there you have it! What do you think? Ridiculous? Amazing? Unnecessary? Fun?
ADVICE IF YOU’RE CREATING CHOREOGRAPHY TO SEND TO OTHER PEOPLE:
Send the song along with the videos (yes, plural)
Make a video with you performing the piece full out to music (don’t mark it, do it)
If you’re feeling extra generous, do it again but facing away from the camera so someone doesn’t have to transpose
Make a video with you walking through the movement with counts. Remember to say things like “the weight is on the right”, “left arm on 7″, “move downstage starting count 5″, etc.
I’ve you’ve broken down the song, send that as well
Is this overkill? Yeah, maybe, but it’s almost everything someone would need in order to learn somebody else’s choreography. I don’t often have the time to put this much together when I’ve sent videos in the past, but I’m also working with other professionals and can get by with less information. That being said, if I had more videos from the back (or even side view), it would help me out
Karen Turman was gracious enough to share her place with me while I was in town. Just check out the view out of my living room window. Isn’t it gorgeous?! Within 10 minutes of getting to her place, we were off to grab a decadent bite to eat. Later that evening, we went out with one of Karen’s classmates, argued in French with the waiter, got drunk, and stumbled home. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better first day.
The following day, Karen and I headed off to go get our hair layered at Espace Coiffure Paris. Seriously, it was the best hair cut I’ve ever had. Just check out Karen and my sexy layers!!! After an extended afternoon at the hairdressers, we swung by a market, grabbed some veggies, and then headed back to Karen’s fabulous apartment for some home cooking! Alex Dryer whipped up something delish while Fancy Dougherty entertained us with stories. Again, another delightful day in Paris.
My last full Parisian day was quite the adventure. Alex, Fancy, and I went to the Champagne Region and toured 4 champagne-eries. Needless to say, I was drunk by 11am and loving life.
Here’s a fun little story for ya: In case you didn’t know, the French are very…. French. What does that mean? Let’s take “customer service” as an example. In the States, there is an attitude of “the customer is always right” and will be accommodated in some way, shape, or form. In France, however, that is not the case. We, the group we were on tour with, had our first tour of the Champagne Region all in French. That in it of itself isn’t bad, shocking, or in anyway noteworthy other than the fact that everyone on the tour spoke English, and maybe half spoke some French. Yes, the tour guide knew that. And yes, her boss who was overseeing the tour knew that. And yet….that still wasn’t enough reason to do the tour in English. “What was the reason for that?” you ask. It was because the Tour Guide lady was in training and the boss had to check and see her performance. Yeah…. *sigh* Just as a bonus: Alex and Fancy took turns translating for me, and if the “boss” could hear something was left out, she would explain the details in (perfect) English.
So. Fucking. French. *smile
The next morning, Karen took me on a bike riding adventure around the city just moments before leaving for the airport. It was slightly stressful getting a hold of the bikes, but it was soooooooo worth it. To top it off, it was one of the few moments it wasn’t raining; the sun never seemed so glorious as the day I rode around Paris on a grey, city bicycle.
In short, I had a delightful time and I can’t wait to go back. Sure, it was super rainy and Paris is full of French people, but those things only add to the charm of the city. If you’ve been debating about going – go! Watch Midnight in Paris before you go, bring someone you can cuddle with, and wander through the city with your umbrella in tow.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve tied a bow and then had a friend retie it. Honestly (*nods head). I’m not even upset by it, just slightly befuddled. Until now (*valiantly thrusts arm into the air)!
Thank you Modcloth for showing me how to be a better woman (*hint of sarcasm there – did you catch the whiff?)! Favorite part of the video: the awkward shuffle-away at 0:45 sec. Second favorite part: learning to tie a bow.
This summer has been a tough summer of questions. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about my future and what I want it to look like, and frankly, I’m a little lost. I know I have a great life – and for that I am grateful – and I am content with what I am doing, but I am now facing significantly more questions than I have answer and it makes me … anxious and uncertain.
One of the “issues” I have been contemplating recently – and regularly – is in regards to my status. As many of you know, I currently work in a field where I am arguably in the top 10% and this makes me feel as if I should be immune to the feelings of “status anxiety”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Am I proud to call myself a lindy hopper? Yes. Am I proud of my accomplishment? Yes, absolutely. Do I get a sense of fulfillment working with the lindy hop community? Yes. Is there any other job I would like to be doing rather than the one I have? At the moment, no not at all. Do I feel like my opinion is valued? You bet. So what’s the problem?
I remember when I started traveling a few years ago, I was on a plane heading back to Pittsburgh and I somehow fell into conversation with the other two passengers in my row. They politely asked if I was headed home, was I from Pittsburgh, what did I do for a living, and so on. After the couple was finished inquiring about my life, I asked them the same questions. Low and behold, Janet* was a psychologist and her husband Mark* was in banking. Janet talked to me about a number of studies she was doing and I drew comparisons to a number of the ones I remembered from my time in uni. After a very fun conversation, Janet looked at me and told me something to the effect: “Wow, you’re really smart. I assumed when you said you were a dancer that you didn’t have an education. I’m pleasantly surprised! But I must ask, if you have a degree, why aren’t you using it?”
I wish I could say I was shocked, but in all honesty I wasn’t. I think at the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a “professional lindy hopper” so I wasn’t offended – I was still trying on the idea. Keep in mind, this was also at the time where, I believe, my parents thought I was going through a phase and was eventually going to move on and get “a real job.” (In fairness to them, I assume the way I spoke about being a full-time lindy hopper left them wondering.) So…..I told Janet something along the lines of: these are the years to chase my dreams, I’ll go back to school later, I’ll eventually get a “real job”, blah blah blah….
Here’s what that moment did for me: the seeds of “status anxiety” had been planted long before and that particular comment had just watered them! The seeds had been planted by the community I grew up in. I came from a community where many of my peers went to ivy league schools; they became doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and bankers; they drove BMW in high school. It was a community where parents didn’t dream of their kids becoming “dance teachers”, but powerful, high-earning members of society. I remember growing up thinking I’d be an accountant, or at a minimum be on a five-year, six-figure earning path. Clearly, that is not the path I followed.
In a way, one could say my fears had been confirmed that day on the plane – being a dance teacher wasn’t as prestigious as being anything that directly used my degree. I kind of felt like I had failed, like I had made the wrong choice, that I was choosing a lesser life. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself, “even an outside source, one that is in no way connected to me or my life, has just invalidating me being a dance teacher. Now what?” I don’t believe that is what Janet was intending, but that is the message I took away from that encounter. I felt like it would have made sense to her that I would be a dancer because I didn’t have an education, but since I had a BA, she was surprised that I chose to dance.
One of the main social/psychological ills Alain de Botton, author of Religion for Atheistsand The Consolations of Philosophy is seeking to remedy is what he calls “status anxiety.” In capitalist cultures, he says, […] the first thing we ask someone is “what do you do [for a living].” It’s like that sniffing ritual when two dogs meet: “Sniff. Sniff. Aha. Gotcha.”
Typically, says de Botton, depending on the response to the job question, our interest in the other person rises or drops sharply off. This, he points out, is terribly sad, misleading, and productive of all kinds of harmful social division and personal suffering. Why should we be tribalized or ostracized on the basis of one (admittedly time-consuming) aspect of our lives, our deeper (and, de Botton argues, more important) human traits invisible until/unless we’ve passed the sniff test?
“Job snobbery – what is on your business card determines your identity.” Well, shit. This finally helps me put words to the feelings/fears I’ve had surrounding this issue.n But how do I fix this?
Why do I care what non-artist think about me? Do I see myself being a “professional lindy hopper” when I’m 38? If so, what will that look like? If not, what do I want to do instead? Will I have a family? If so, what I am doing to work towards having a life that supports having a “traditional family?” Do I want to have a “traditional family?” And so on….
Clearly this is an internal struggle I have to deal with. At some core level, I question the prestige connected to being a dance teacher. I further wonder at what age do I think that degree of prestige – assuming I think there some – levels off or bottoms out? Do I really feel that way, or is what society has told me? If I am happy with my life, who gives a shit what “society” told me? What makes you happy (or is this the wrong question to be asking)?
How about you – have you experienced this? When you tell someone about what you do for a job, do you feel like you’ve been judged? Do you care? If you used to care but now don’t, what changed?
Ahhhh, yes, the game of question. I’m pretty sure I’ve had these questions for sometime now, but I’m finally brave enough to think about them and try to address them.
Walter Mosley is famous for his mystery and crime fiction. But there is very little mystery behind the secret to his success. First, writing takes practice. Mosley has been writing every day for the last 27 years. Then, he says, he writes without regard for acceptance or success.
“Some of my stories work, some of them don’t work,” said the 60-year-old. “Some of them are like, you know, fit perfectly into you know, like a structure that somebody would want to publish and deal with. It doesn’t matter to me because I’m writing, I’m using language and I’m using that language to tell stories and even more so to get ideas across.”
Mosley writes because he loves it, and not because he needs fame or recognition. His passion and willingness to fail may be the source of his award-winning career as a novelist. He is the author of more than 37 books, which have been translated into 23 languages.
“I never really thought I’d be successful,” he said. “I never thought I’d get books published, but this was something completely beyond me. You know, the fact that it happened is wonderful, but it is not something that I was aiming for.”
What is the Significance?
Failure is a daunting concept in this competitive economy, where job seekers and employees are expected to outshine their peers in order to rise to the top. But whether you’re attempting to write your first crime novel or start your own company, trying and failing is much more interesting that playing it safe and consistently succeeding.
Growth and learning happens when you fail, says Mosley.
“In art and in science it’s failure that teaches you,” he said. “Doing something right never teaches you. It’s only failure that you learn from.”
Watch Walter Mosley talk about the role of failure in a successful career:
I personally couldn’t agree more. I think it’s important to fail so that you truly understand why something works.
One place Kevin and I have experienced this with aerials. On countless occasions, Kev and I have seen aerials, tried them, and found immediate success. As time continued, the aerial(s) would stop working for one reason or another. As we fixed one problem, we then were introduced to another problem. After about a 6 month period, anything that could go wrong had, but we were back to the beginning when the aerial worked and this time with a much greater understanding why we were successful. Once we have come full circle, then we start teaching the aerials.
So students, if you are working on your dancing, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t get something right away. Fellow instructors, please don’t be afraid to refrain from giving your students “the answers” immediately. The process of discovery why things work is actually a lot of fun and can be incredibly satisfying.