Acres of Diamonds

My dad told me a story as a kid (after he finished the book) that applies to swing on many levels. The story begins with a man and his unhealthy obsession with diamonds. Traveling his whole life searching for the mother load of on the surface diamonds, he searched where they where often found. In and around streams that flowed through grassy fields where the ground was made up of just the right mixture of sand and clay. If one were to sift through the sandy banks of just such a location and find just one diamond they could just as easily find millions of the crystal clear little gems. 

  

It turns out that after a life time of world travel the man who lived his life in search of riches died penniless. As the man’s son walked his ashes out to the back yard to his final resting place, the young man was struck by a tiny beam of light. Upon further investigation it turned out to be a diamond the size of cherry pit. 

  

Had the man ever gone for a thoughtful walk out back…Had he sifted through the banks of his own stream…Had he just once taken the time to check the sand and clay content of his own back yard…He would have found the mother load of on the surface diamonds.

  

Our acres of diamonds can be fond in our basics. We spend so much of our time in dance, trying to level up with cool looking moves that we rarely consider the diamond mind in our own back yard…Good Triple Steps take practice, Solid Connection takes time, and Dancing to the Music is a true art form that one could spend a lifetime perfecting. The only way to improve anything is to break it down into its smallest parts and drill those parts until they are second nature. 

This Friday is Basics Broken down into the smallest parts so they are easier to understand, quicker to master, and that much quicker to level up!

September 14th and 28th

$20

7-10:30pm

DNE School of Dance

78 Princeton St

N. Chelmsford, Ma

Black Light Ball and Beginner Swing Intensive

This weekend is the unveiling of my latest break through in teaching swing. So much is missing from our first year of classes, as dancers, because of how much information there is to channel through our brains and into our bodies. Add to that the fact that everyone starts at different levels of athletic understanding and you have a situation.

This Weekend will find us breaking the basics down into smaller parts so that they are easier to digest. A process that seems obvious at first but what parts of swing are more important to take from the class and which ones can be learned later? The truth is, until you learn them all, the dance will be a struggle. 

Come learn them all Friday or Saturday!

Leverage, Compression, Frame, Partnering, Knowing Your Roll, Who does What…When…and Why

This will be the most dynamic lesson that you will ever take!

Friday night you will want to wear clothing that will glow under black lights because I am bringing mine to the dance!

 Black Light Ball Beginner Swing Intensive

Friday, August 24, 2012 

$20

7-10:30pm

DNE School of Dance

78 Princeton St 

N. Chelmsford, MA

Pizza, Lesson, and Dancing included

Beginner Swing and Live Band Country Dancing

Saturday, August 25, 2012

$25

7-9:30 at Queen City

9:45-12:30am at Midnight Rodeo Bar

Pizza, Lesson, Dancing, admission into MRB

Essence of Swing w/John Festa

One of my teachers, mentors, and good friends wrote the following essay and it struck such a chord with me. So many of my students ask (some during class) why am I teaching the pattern “this way” when everyone would get the results quicker by just showing the steps. John Festa is a world champion in swing back when a routine song was often twice the speed of what we dance now. He was notorious for fancy and fast footwork even at those blistering speeds. Please take the time to read his brief essay on the essence of swing and see swing through the eyes of someone who “gets it” on a level that we could only hope to see inperson let alone reproduce.

essence:(noun)   the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character.   

  Every dance that has evolved has done so because of a specific characteristic in music. Mambo for its clave, waltz for its 3/4 time, hustle for the driving beat, swing for the syncopated rhythm and so on. Their movements are a response to something very particular and distinct in the music. The omnipresent debate over whether the music we dance to swings or not continues ad infinitum. 

We no longer dance exclusively to blues and R&B with a syncopated back beat. We now dance to pop, hip-hop, ballads, latin, smooth/not so smooth jazz, Rock ‘n Roll, top 40, alternative, new wave, urban r&b and on and on. The only musical requirement is that the music be in 4/4 time. We will dance to the sound of windshield wipers. The pros and cons have been enumerated endlessly: the dance has evolved. We are not swinging. A modern sound will bring the young people in, ect. We sold our souls years ago. Where are the young people? But this essay is not about the modern musical diversity in WCS. This essay is about the physicality of today’s dance.

What is its essence? One would be hard pressed to name the one quality that determines its character. Ask 5 WCS teachers to define our dance and you will get as many different answers. In my mind, the one quality that that makes swing swing is the center to center connection and elasticity of tention and release between two moving bodies. That a leader can anchor and the follower sit into that anchor while both expressing rhythm, only to realease all that stored energy, is one of the most glorious of all kinetic actions. I portend this is lost. As I travel around the country and dance with many different people I become more and more aware of this.

There are 2 or more generations of dancers that have never experienced this. Few Teachers teach this. It is the highest order to do so. It is one of the most difficult feelings to teach. It is intangible. Like trying to teach riding a bicycle. Words are useless until you feel it. Then all the words make perfect sense. It is much easier to teach “put your right foot her on 2, hand here on 3. Plus there are teachers that have never experienced this feeling/movement themselves. But I say this is the essence of swing. And I say this is gone from our dance. West Coast Swing today has no essence, no single indispensable characteristic that defines it and delineates it from what is not WCS.

Perhaps todays WCS lives in competition, but thats another essay. It is a distinct possibility that the divergent music has lead to this end. We used to dance to faster syncopated tempi. At these tempi, an astute connection between partners was essential. The dance would not work without it. The Laws of Physics are perfect. Dancing to 80 beats per week does not require this connection. When we WCS dancers, years back, began dancing to “other than” music, we brought with us that connection that was engrained. It was in our bodies. We were swinging to non-swing music even at slow tempi. Because thats how we danced. Now, a few generations later, where students are taught by teachers, themselves from one generation prior, who learned to dance to slower or groove music…how will anyone learn this swing connection? It is not essential at these tempi or to these sounds. Physics does not require it. Nothing has replaced it. Our dance has become amorphous.

My recent experiences lead me to believe that many dancers feel this loss. I am one of them. Projection? Perhaps. But as I play music across the country I hear plenty to support this theory. I in no way mean to point fingers or position blame It is just time to call a spade a spade. I enjoyed and helped pioneer the diversity of sounds years back and loved dancing to slower groovy and basically “other than” music. But I feel our dance has, as an art form, explored different options, traveled down a few roads and the original plan was the best. That which can deliver the essence of swing. 

Perhaps simply everything old is new again and this is the freshest sound. I do not forsee us dancing to the tempi of the mid 90’s during the white hot phase of WCS. but I think a more traditional sound will again garner respect and be added to today’s mix of music. I, for one, could not be happier. I signed on for swing dancing for its gloriousness in feeling, in sound, in purity, and love.

John Festa

I was so happy to come across this essay and re-affirm my goals when it comes to my classes, students, and own personal development in swing. My Passion renewed I am bringing connection back to the basics in these 2 intensives:

 Black Light Ball Beginner Swing Intensive

Friday, August 24, 2012 

$20

7-10:30pm

DNE School of Dance

78 Princeton St 

N. Chelmsford, MA

Pizza, Lesson, and Dancing included

Beginner Swing and Live Band Country Dancing

Saturday, August 25, 2012

$25

7-9:30 at Queen City

9:45-12:30am at Midnight Rodeo Bar

Pizza, Lesson, Dancing, admission into MRB

Why Swing Music?

Why Swing Music?

Swing dances all used to have something in common…Triple Foot rhythm. In West Cost Swing we walk walk then triple triple. In East Coast Swing they Triple Triple before the Rock Step. In Lindy Hop there is Walk Walk Triple Walk Walk Triple. With patterns, dancers, and music that cross over from one to the other, it seemed that region was the only separating characteristic  between all of the different swing dances in the 60’s. 1970 brought with it a shift in music and along with it a shift in West Coast Swing. The other dances relied so heavily on the swing rhythm in the music and as such only could work if danced  to popular music that swung i.e. had a triple rhythm build in to the beat (like the Elvis song “All Shook Up”). When disco hit, the music that spawned Hustle, it drew WCS dancers out to the clubs where a new cross over began to happen. 

WCS absorbed quite a bit of Hustle into its movements and Hustle music began being played at WCS events. This was where WCS showed both its weakness and its strength. The strength was that the movements of WCS proved adaptable to other styles of music which open things up big time for DJs and Swing promoters. 70’s Hustle Bands played music that sounded “Swung” (see video on the difference between swung and unsung music). Although the drummers were not giving Swing dancers swung eighth notes  but there were  straight eighth notes and therefore swing could be faked to those songs. This new found strength made a lot of people a lot of money because without limitations on music more people could be included into the dance. If you danced Swing, Cha-Cha, Rumba, Foxtrot, Hustle, Lindy, East Coast Swing, or just enjoyed shaking your booty in the corner with your friends, you could be marketed to and made to feel at home. This time period in swing focused more on the fun side of dancing by way of filling the club with bodies and less on actual technique. As a dance WCS suffered greatly by losing its identifying music but gained a much larger and more loyal following in the process.

By finding place to triple in music that does not swing and by adapting it self to so many different styles of music West Coast Swing lost its identity there by exposing its weakness. Ballroom Studios stopped taking the dance seriously as it quickly became a non-syllabus  red headed step child in the world of dance. As WCS grew in “Street Cred” to those who danced it week in and week out, it lost its appeal to the more trained dancers. The line used by promoters and teachers “You can dance “West Coast” to any music accept for waltz” did even more damage. DJs and dancers alike took this mantra  to heart and began experimenting with different beats, rhythms, and genres creeping closer and closer to the straight “4 on the floor” dance music of today’s conventions. 

Without a musical guiding light West Coast Swing is lost. In the same way that Waltz dancing needs Waltz music, Swing dancing needs Swing music. Its fun to play around with other genres and push your self once in a while. I for one enjoy doing waltz patterns in my Two-Step. When I waltz for real…When technique matters…and When I am trying to be the best Waltzer that I can be…I need the right music!

This Friday is a brand new Intermediate Intensive called “Tuck You!” We are going to explore the many options and variations of the tuck turn. You won’t do them the same afterward once you learn some of the key secrets that bring them from good to damn near perfect!

$20

7-10:30pm

DNE School of Dance

78 Princeton St 

N. Chelmsford, MA

Pizza, Lesson, and Dancing included

Swung vs not swung http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLzYw9hcQFQ