Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mile High Blues 2011, Denver


Something Mike Falsek said when we were in Seattle for Roots: "If you're not making strange noises in your head while you do it, you're doin' it wrong." 

We went to Denver for Mile High Blues, and once again I found that missing the parts of the exchange that I wanted to miss made the parts I attended much more worthwhile. I missed the Friday night dance (due to getting up a 4:30am EST to fly to MST), one of the Saturday afternoon lessons (to read The Neverending Story and eat a red velvet cookie), and Sunday's classes (to soak in the Denver sunshine - of which there was much).  And in return, I didn't find myself wishing I wasn't in class, everytime I was around people I enjoyed being with people, I had two fabulous nights of dancing, and I learned a new game, courtesy of David, Clyde, and Ruth, all of whom were convinced I could be converted.

The lesson learned: be who you are.  If you are an extrovert who recharges by constantly being with others, or a type-A who wants to "do the whole program," or the sort of dancer who gains energy from dancing (even at 4:00 in the morning) -- then do so.  I am none of those things.  I need to take time for myself, break the schedule, and rest when I need to rest. And I have a richer experience when I do so.

Moving on from what I didn't do to what I did do, I'll go over the highlights.


We stayed in Golden, CO, a small, pedestrian-friendly town in the foothills, about 20 minutes west of Denver.  To the west was Lookout Mountain, and to the northeast and southeast, respectively, were North Table Mountain and South Table Mountain.  Saturday afternoon our hostess, Steph, drove us up Lookout Mt. so that we could see the surrounding area.



The event was entirely blues (YES!  It had been since BamBLOOZled in December and I was a little lindy hopped-out.)  To start with they did level testing for the two top levels - masters and advanced.  For the very first time, I placed into the advanced.  The green wristband indicates my superiority over all creatures and superb wonderfulness. 


The classes (that I attended) were well taught.  I was particularly pleased to have a good experience with Joe and Nelle's class.  They are very widely liked in the dance community, but through a series of unfortunate events, until MHB I had not had a good experience with them.  I took classes from them when I attended an event that was very poorly organized and another at which I severely lacked sleep and generally had a not good experience, and while I thought the problem wasn't them, it was very good this weekend to have evidence in their favor.  I also attended classes by Dexter & Michelle and Chris & Campbell.

The dances were excellent. I had a surprisingly high number of dances with other women. It's a fun way for same-sex friends to spend some time together at a dance, since most of the night is spent with the opposite sex in the traditionally-gendered lead-follow roles. I am finding that the more time I spend in this community, the more I realize that these are fabulous people with whom I want to be friends. And while dancing is great by way of introduction, talking and doing something that is non-dancing (a meal, a game, coffee) helps to grow the friendship.


Which brings me to the final note of the trip - an excellent lunch spent at Jelly - with David, Clyde, and Ruth.  The four of us ate really wonderful food, talked, and played a game called Dixit, which I will forevermore love. Many, many thanks to the three of you!

These are some of the cards - aren't you just dying to play?

Photo Credit:  I actually took some pictures for this trip, but as I wrote this, Doug Sutton posted the pictures he took of the weekend, and they are so much better than mine (very nice Nikon SLR vs. camera phone), that I have to use his.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I've been busy.  Since I last wrote, I found employment as an administrative staff member at a local marketing company.  On top of that, I went to visit my family down near Columbus one weekend, we had a group of friends in town another weekend, and David and I took a joint private dance lesson from Mike "the Girl" Legett and Dan Rosenthal.  Also, this coming weekend we are attending Mile High Blues in Denver.

The job is going well.  The people I work with are really fun and the office is very open and surrounded by windows, so there's lots of sunlight.  I feel pretty comfortable with my work; it's similar to my last job in a lot of ways, and I'm getting a fair hand on the parts that are new and different.

Visiting my family was really nice.  I went down to volunteer for Rick and Rose's Destination Imagination competition. DI is a creative problem-solving competition that helps kids develop skills in creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, time management, and project management.  Rick's team placed first in their division, and will be going on to the state tournament next month.

Elizabeth also volunteered for the tournament (every team had to bring a volunteer).  She and I got to spend that evening back at her place where we curled up with some cups of tea and pretended for a couple of hours like we still get to live near each other.  It was so wonderful to see her; it makes me sad that we don't see each other as often now that I'm in Cleveland.

And we celebrated Rose's ninth birthday at Coco Key - the local indoor water park.  Elizabeth joined us for the party as well. The party was on Sunday night, so the girls were able to have the place mostly to themselves.  (It is so incredibly weird to realize that Rose is nine.  And Rick is nearly eleven!  When did they get to be so old?!) 

The weekend David and I hosted a group of friends who are also local-ish dancers was bucket-loads of fun. We hung out at our apartment and talked, drank, and watched movies (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and Despicable Me), which is something we don't often get to do since we are typically too busy dancing. We also went to Wooster's new monthly dance, which was particularly neat for me because I went to school there (when there was no swing club and definitely no blues dancing).  Fenna also attended the dance and took some incredible pictures.



And she took photos at a dance that David and I attended in February.  


 Which brings us to David and I taking a lesson together.  It may have been the best thing that's ever happened to our dancing as a couple.  Something about the way we danced was fighting each other, and Mike and Dan worked with us both separately and together. We started out with David and I working with both Mike and Dan, and then I went with Mike and David worked with Dan.  Then we switched instructor/student pairs so that I was working with Dan and David with Mike. At the end, we came back together and worked as four again. The result is a clearer connection that is more comfortable for both of us.

I have a theory, of which I am rapidly growing more and more fond, that the key to improving your dancing is direct feedback and an open mind.  Because I am about to slam large group workshops, I want to be very clear that I am NOT saying that private lessons are necessary.  All you need is someone or someones to work with, with an open, stated understanding that constructive criticism will be given and received.  There are a lot of ways to achieve this, but I am very certain that workshop classes don't cut it.  Instructors cannot (or will not) say to a specific person that they are or are not doing something, and group criticism generally won't do the trick.  More often than not the result of a mass correction is that people who needed the criticism think they're doing it right and don't correct it and people who were doing fine start to over-correct.

BUT - if you take what you learned in said workshop and bring it to your friends with a "let's see if we're doing this right" approach, you can work through it and make sure that the move/ connection exercise/ stylization/ alignment/ whatever is turning out correctly (or at least in a way that is not uncomfortable for anyone involved).

This, then, is why David and I had such an incredible lesson.  We gave each other feedback, Mike and Dan gave us feedback (both from watching us dance and from dancing with us), and between the four of us we worked through several major issues in our dance. 

On that fabulous note, David and I are going to head out this weekend to Denver for the Mile High Blues exchange.  More words when I return.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Roots 2011, Seattle


Roots: A Solo Movement Workshop was, in fact, a workshop for solo movement, particularly swing and blues solo movement.  The idea behind the workshop title is that swing and blues came from the African American community, with roots in African dance.  So we took classes from African dance instructors in the morning, had a class designed to bridge African and swing/Charleston/blues together after lunch, and then swing solo or blues solo classes in the afternoon. Social dances in the evenings were not scheduled by the workshop organizers because the focus of the weekend was on the classes, and we needed to get a reasonable amount of sleep.  However, there were plenty of events going on in the city over the weekend, and we attended dance events both Saturday and Sunday evenings.


The classes were really interesting and well taught.  Of the African classes, I think my favorite was the second (and slower) class taught by Sarah Lee.  At the end of each class during the weekend, the instructor did a demonstration that we could video.  Here's the video from the end of Sarah Lee's class.  No, no one but her looked this good.  But we tried.

video

She brought drummers with her. They were awesome.  Actually, that may have been the most interesting part of the lesson -- Sarah Lee talked about how the drummers signal when she moves on to a different part of the dance; it's an interaction between dancers and drummers. And she never just started dancing; she always waited until the music indicated she should begin.  It was really hard for us to pick out the break indicated by the drumming, even though they played it for us several times.

The African instructor on Saturday, Etienne, is from Benin, and taught by showing, rather than telling. While it was definitely a different way for most of us to learn, it was interesting because it's how blues and swing used to be taught/learned (according to Mike Falsek, our Saturday afternoon swing solo movement instructor.)

Mike's classes were well taught and interesting.  The first class broke down different movements: boogie back, boogie forward, Charleston, Susie Qs, falling off the log, etc.  The second class was a vintage solo routine that incorporated some of those moves and some additional moves (and transitions).  

video

There was also a raffle for charity that had some serious prizes (tickets to upcoming events) and some fun prizes (a shimmy from Joy, a "sexy dance" from John).  David was the winner of several of these, including tickets to an event in December and Miles juggling five balls.  Another girl won a shoulder ride from Miles.


I seriously regret to say that I cannot post the video of John doing his sexy dance as I promised him that I would not.  Once I figure out how to send it to him, I will try to obtain his permission to post it.

I also am unable to post Joy's shimmy (David won this, too, and was beet red throughout), because I mis-filmed it and only captured the applause at the end.
We did also manage to see a number of the sights in Seattle while we were there.  David and I visited the Seattle Space Needle on Friday evening, where, in addition to taking some neat photos (see the opening photo of the Needle), I bought Ted for David - a posable, break-dancing fusion robot.


And John, David, and I visited Pike Place Market and the first Starbucks.