Category Archives: Dance Tips

The Limitation Game

We played some fun games with our Swing 2 students last week and I’d like to share what we did. There’s a demonstration of some options here:

Our plan was to limit them to 8-count patterns, then 6-count, X role can only use right hand or left hand, breaks on 7, no triple steps. In the past, I’ve found that limiting what I can do can expand my vocabulary if given creative tools, expose vocabulary and technique issues, and spark questions. You should give it a go!

Emphasizing the 2&4

Have you ever seen this video before?

This is the breakdown of this video here where Harry Connick, Jr adjusted for the crowd’s offbeat 1, 3 clapping to bring them to the 2 & 4. If you look closely in the original video, you’ll also notice a brief moment where the drummer cheers him!

As The Andrew Sisters sing “If you want to keep the rhythm pumpin’, Bounce me brother with a solid four,” you’ll want that solid four as a dancer. Clapping on the 2 & 4, emphasizing the 2 & 4, etc.

Juan Villafane even went into further detail when teaching a Fast Charleston class at Stompology one year. He had working on dropping into the 2 & 4 more during our Charleston basics and then our Squat Charleston. He really wanted that emphasis to connect us into the music and our roots.

This also means that us teachers, bringing up the next generation of dancers, should also be emphasizing the 2 & 4. This could be through clapping out the rhythm. We can make sure we’re fully scatting the rhythm and emphasizing the 2 & 4 vocally. We also need to be picking appropriate swing tunes that swing hard and answer “yes” when you ask “would I dance to this on the social floor?”

SWING KIDS, Robert Sean Leonard, Tushka Bergen, 1993
SWING KIDS, Robert Sean Leonard, Tushka Bergen, 1993

The Expert Witness

back-to-backOn January 13, 2014, I was asked to be an expert witness for a personal injury case concerning a man who flipped a woman and grievously injured her. The lawyers found my aerial recap videos on YouTube, looked me up via my website, and emailed me. We talked that day and the next morning at 7am I sent them questions for their upcoming deposition.

Over the next 16 days, I spent 25+ hours on this project. I analyzed the written deposition, picking apart the defendant’s language; critiqued the video deposition where the defendant demonstrated how he performed the back-to-back aerial; videotaped the aerials using his technique and mine, comparing and contrasting the two through captured stills; and writing a best practices document along with my deposition analysis.

It was intense. We even discussed that they might need me and an aerial partner at the hearing to demonstrate. That was to happen the day I was supposed to fly to Grenoble. Fortunately, this case never went to trial. They settled out of court thanks mainly to my work.

Here are some takeaways from this case:

  • If you’re inebriated, don’t do aerials. Don’t offer, don’t suggest, don’t accept.
  • If you’ve never done aerials before with this person and you’re both sober, do preps before going over. Build trust.
  • If the trust isn’t there and you’re compromised in some manner, do not fly and do not throw.
  • If you’re wearing compromising clothing or footwear, do not fly or throw. This could be a tight shirt limiting arm movement or stiletto heels.
  • If you successfully threw a gymnast for your first aerial, it’s totally them and not you. Same thing goes for tiny children. In the scheme of things, doing an aerial successfully with gymnasts and tiny children doesn’t count.
  • As a base, you should always have a sense (visual or physical) where your flyer is. If you don’t, re-establish it quickly and get ready to become a landing pad.
  • As a flyer when doing connected throws and landing, you should also have a physical sense where your base is. If you don’t, re-establish quickly or get your arms out quickly for a crash landing.

Straight Leg Challenge

The number one goal during my ACL rehab is getting my leg straight. It’s looking better when lying down, but as soon as I start walking, I’m a bit more bent due to my hamstring muscles seizing and tightening up. So I do my exercises and every time I step, I’m supposed to be consciously pushing through my right leg for extension. If I’m to move on to more physical activities (like dancing, perhaps), that straight leg is required.
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How To Be A Good Spotter

How To Be A Good Spotter by Chelsea Rothschild

At my team’s practice this week, I got a compliment from our coach for good spotting. I’ve also had the honor of being specifically requested as a spotter by teammates and friends, because they feel especially safe with me. I take a lot of pride in that ability to make people feel safe, and I thought it might benefit the community if I shared three foundational principles I’ve learned/developed over my 25+years as a spotter. (I started waaay back when I was just a little girl in gymnastics classes.)

 1) Know for sure how to spot the trick. It’s not enough to vaguely plan to grab someone’s shoulders if you see them taking a headfirst dive. Think about the trick, decide where you can provide the most help as a spotter (it usually involves contact around the hips and/or shoulders), and test your spotting technique on an experienced acrobat. Whenever possible, learn the proper spot technique from someone who’s successful at it, rather than coming up with your own.

Bad spotting can happen, even when everyone involved knows better.
2) Communicate with your acrobat. If it’s your first time spotting this person doing this trick, be explicit about how you’re going to spot them. Demonstrate the spot while they just stand there, eg, “I’ll have your right shoulder like this, and my other hand will be here, on the back of your hips.” If you’ve spotted this person doing this trick a thousand times, at the very least verbally confirm whether they want an aggressive spot, a passive spot, or just a reassuring presence. Here’s how I define those options:
  • Aggressive Spot: I will place my hands firmly on the acrobat, whether they appears to need help or not. I will base with my own body, expecting to take  a significant amount of the acrobat’s weight. I will expect to help them complete any necessary rotation, achieve necessary height, etc. If the trick goes wrong, I should be able to keep the acrobat from falling quickly to the ground. They may fall, but they’ll fall slowly and be at minimal risk for injury.

Fantastic Aggressive Spot: The two primary spotters have the acrobat’s shoulders, with one more spotter available to stop her from over-rotating and sitting the landing.

  • Passive Spot: I will place my hands lightly on the acrobat, whether they appears to need help or not. I will be prepared to take on some of their weight, but I won’t presume that will happen. I expect the acrobat will provide all the necessary height, speed, rotation, etc. If the trick goes wrong, I should be able to protect the acrobat’s head, neck and spine. If they fall, they may get bruised, twist an ankle, etc., but should be protected from serious injury.

Both Passive Spotters make brief contact with the acrobat; they’re prepared to intervene or let the trick succeed as necessary.

  • Reassuring Presence: I will not touch the acrobat unless I see they’re in danger. I will plan to have my hands and arms within their field of vision and within their reach, so that they may reach for me if they need a little stability. If the trick goes wrong, I’ll do what I can to protect the acrobat’s head an neck.  

Here the spotter keeps her hands available to the acrobat, without touching her unnecessarily.

3) Prioritize what you protect. Even after establishing proper technique and communicating with your acrobat, it’s challenging to make smart choices in the chaos of a failing trick. So remember, it doesn’t really help the person you’re spotting if you prevent a sprained ankle at the expense of a broken neck. Your top priorities should be the head, neck, and spine. It bears repeating that this is usually best accomplished by supporting shoulders and/or hips. Conversely, it’s almost never a good idea to grab someone’s arms, legs, feet, or hands, all of which they can instinctively use to break a fall or even pull off a weird-yet-safe landing.

Great spotting technique has almost as much nuance and difficulty as great acrobatics, so I could go on at length! But with these three principles, anyone should be able to contribute to a safer environment for their friends and teammates. Happy spotting, everyone!

Get Listening

I’m listening to some great blues music right now on Spotify and I’m started to wonder why people have to dance every single song at a social dance night. Shouldn’t your dance music also be great listening music? How many of us strongly listen to the same music we enjoy dancing to?

I, for one, rarely listen to jazz music. When I’m driving around town, I’m usually listening to NPR, alternative rock or Top 40 charts. I’ve also never been one to carry around an mp3 player, curate my own personal playlists, follow bands, or go to concerts. According to a co-worker, I’m a little strange and probably missing out on a lot of good music. I get it. That’s my confession. Continue reading

Unstack Yourself

Over the summer, a couple from Italy, a gentlemen from Lindy Hop Portugal, and most recently, a couple from Barcelona has discovered us online and come to our local events. We are truly fortunate to reach such far away visitors via internet searches. And the couple from Barcelona are here for 4-5 weeks and started learning swing dancing from us! I can’t wait for them to return to Barcelona and continue learning.

After yesterday’s class, the Barcelona woman was mentioning that she felt seized (held tightly) during class with some leaders – that they didn’t have looseness in their upper bodies, that they felt stacked. And I honed in on this word “stacked” because I even see this in more advanced dancers. Heather Ballew and I briefly addressed this in an advanced lindy hop class back in 2011:

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When They Change The Competition On You

andy-dwyer-fearsThis past Wednesday I was talking to a dancer who was nervous about competing at an upcoming competition. Understandably so – they changed the strictly competitions relatively recently by combining what were originally two competitions into one.  Unfortunately this sometimes happens when an event can’t fill their competition. Some others just let the divisions run straight to finals. Different events have their approaches.

He was now competing against more experienced dancers, some his teachers. That would make me nervous, too, especially if I hadn’t prepared or, at the very least, taken the time to mentally prepare myself.

As a competitor, you enter certain divisions because A) you want to compete against your peers, B) it’s mandatory (If you’ve won X, you enter Y or westie points system), C) you want a challenge by competing at a higher level, et cetera.  Your reasons are your own. We just discourage cherry picking.

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Giving The Band Appreciation

I recently read an article where someone was encouraging swing dancers to thank the band before thanking their partner. This was on my mind last night especially when we hosted the Paul Asaro Quartet at The Arvada Tavern. I thought it about so much I accidentally faked Jesse into thinking I was giving her a high five when really I was preparing some awesome clapping.

Anyway, I liked what they said about thanking the band first by clapping or exulting them with a “yeah!”

Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five at DCLX
Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five at DCLX

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