If You Want To Be A Better Dancer, Read

“If you want to be a better dancer, read” by Jami Good.

I experienced an epiphany on a Lyft home from dance practice some nights ago. My driver, married to a dance teacher, talked about how one time he’d given his wife dance shoes one year for Christmas. Any of you who have purchased dance shoes for yourself or another person may already know what happened…this gift was not a success. Correct brand, correct size, correct style – but the shoes did not suit his beloved’s feet. Though the thought was magnificent, she needed to try them on for herself in person.  Now, he gives books, and I imagine that harmony reigns in their household. Epiphany: Dancers read.

The obvious lesson is that dancers need to try on their own clothes and shoes to know if their attire will work for their needs. Tools tend to be designed for specific tasks, and for dancers, tools include what a person wears.  Another lesson is that dancers also need to try on knowledge. Dance comes from the brain as well as the feet.

If you are a swing dancer who feels a little dance plateau coming on, or is feeling lackluster about lindy hop at the moment, here is my recommendation: read something.  Since I believe a recommendation should come with suggestions, I offer the following:

What are the lyrics to “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen?” What do they mean? How is Yiddish different from German?

Check out Frankie Manning’s autobiography “Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop.” Consider “Jazz Dance: The Story Of American Vernacular Dance” by Marshall Stearns and Jean Stearns. For some more opinions, read “Jazz: A History of America’s Music” by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns. Perhaps any of the books on this list: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/may/18/reggie-nadelson-top-10-jazz-books

Bobby White’s blog is full of quality posts, but maybe go here, first: https://swungover.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/swing-101-8-ways-you-can-get-better-at-swing-dancing/

Forrest Outman is an excellent dance historian whose “Ragtime Dance History” Facebook group I really admire: https://www.facebook.com/groups/191123230936394/

When I read, then I think about ways to apply what I’ve read to my life. Since a large part of my life involves dancing, I feel that what I read inevitably adds to my dance. Learning about Yiddish gives me a greater appreciation for Jewish musicians in Germany during WWII. Reading about how Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were allowed to perform but not allowed to watch the rest of the show from the audience helped me better understand (in small measure) the bigotry against black performers. Finding out the meaning of “vernacular jazz” inspired me to learn more about modern vernacular jazz. As a result of this knowledge, I’ve taken more classes, watched more videos, listened to old time dancers and current dancers, visited more museums, taught more classes, and gained a greater respect for the legacy of swing dance, particularly lindy hop.  After all, lindy hop isn’t just America’s dance, created to America’s music, it’s also America’s history, which is tightly bound with black history in America. I seek to honor that history as I participate in moving vernacular jazz forward. By using my brain, I’ve learned to dance more with my soul and my heart and my humor.  I wish the same for you.

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