As per the request of one of the DanceNet readers, here are copies of the past ramblings of the DanceNet Webmaster.
I've been asked many times if I was a dance teacher, but no, I'm not (but my ego says thank you. :-) ) I would rather be a decent amateur than a bad professional which would probably be how I would have turned out. As a dance amateur I don't have to be as careful about expressing an opinion that might help my fellow dancers. Professionals, on the other hand, have a higher standard against which the rest of us measure them. It can be a pain to have to think about who they might offend with their spoken or published word, whether it be the amateurs or other professionals. Because they might be involved with other dance professionals on a business basis, they have to be careful about how they treat each other (even if they completely disliked someone) unlike us amateurs who can walk away from a venue/person we don't like and go elsewhere. I'm glad I'm still an amateur.
In the article in this month's GQ magazine, Frankie Manning keeps telling every guy that his partner is "a Queen". He repeats that statement constantly. Pay attention and treat her as if she's the most important person in the world.
Oh no! I can't help myself! I must type...
Stop me before I...
A certain dancer who shall remain nameless because I'm trying to stop picking on him told some young thing, "Don't take lessons; it'll ruin your natural style!" I suppose not having any style can be considered as having a style.
While most experienced dancers will gladly dance with beginners, the term "beginner" assumes that the dancer is taking lessons and working to improve. There comes a point when lack of dance instruction will impede the enjoyment of the dance. Some men weren't taught how hard *not* to push their partner through a figure. Some women weren't shown what a proper lead feels like so they just accept whatever is led and try to muddle through the figure. It's painful to dance with a follower who has "spagetti" arms or with a leader who's not on the same beat as everyone else. Both dancers in a couple must understand the basic requirements for lead/follow in order to complete any dance figure. Beginners tend to be happy without knowing much beyond the basics and fundamentals. Intermediate dancers know what a good lead or a good follow feels like as they work to improve the musicality of their dance. Advanced dancers have seen a glimpse of the perfect dance and they pursue it; they look for other good dancers in hopes of having one really great dance that night. You can go out dancing many times a week to practice, but training with an experienced teacher must be an important part of that learning experience. That teacher does not have to be a professional; he or she just must know the difference between good and bad dancing habits so they can catch the problems before they hurt your dancing. The good dancers did not get good by dancing in a vacuum.
A dj friend of mine (and a truly wonderful dancer) told me that she has been increasing approached and asked to play "faster music". One particular customer said, "Why can't you play something faster!?!?" As a former dj, I remembered looking out over the dance floor and paying attention to the danceability of the crowd and I would adjust the music according to who was out there and how they were dancing. That's the job of the disc jockey: playing whatever's appropriate for the crowd. If the dance floor is full of beginners, it's ridiculous to play only faster music; that would be a terrible way of getting beginners to realize that the beat is there to dance to and a good way to get hurt. A dj will select appropriate tunes to match the abilities of the dancers so they'll have a good time and not die of exhaustion or leave in frustration. Also, playing very fast music for a crowded dance floor (and it was very crowded) is very irresponsible because someone will get hurt as they rush to keep up with the beat.
I think that dancing to slow(er) music is what truly separates the real dancers from the hackers. Beginner dancers (leaders) will dance those fixed figures that they learned in class, regardless of the tempo of the music or whatever the music is trying to tell them; they haven't learned how to dance and play with the music. Fast music also allows some dancers to excuse their sloppiness or to hide their mistakes. I remember seeing a certain talented Lindy Hopper try to dance to Indigo Swing's My Baby Just Cares for Me and watching him take single steps instead of "playing" and making up the movement with however many steps would fit between the beats; he was using the exact same steps dancing at 114 bpm as he did dancing at 190 bpm, just slower. Beginners should appreciate the slower music (and I'm only talking about 130-150 bpm here) so they can make sure they're doing their dance figures correctly and advanced dancers should take the opportunity to "play" and have fun. Slow music gives me the chance to play and show off so I like it; also in my "advanced" age, I don't get as tired as fast.
Naturally, some "teachers" are at fault. I heard about one teacher, who shall remain nameless, who teaches swing in a public environment and told students not to do triple-step swing because "only Lindy Hoppers do triple-step". What a long line of BS! What do you do to slow music? There isn't time to do a real triple-step to very fast music! It's teachers like that who give students the wrong messages (which is why I'm going to hold a "Break Bad Habits & Make Good Ones" workshop at some point). Ever hear of the "Ferengi Rules of Acquisition" from Deep Space Nine? I'm coming up with "Benson's Rules of Dance". Stay tuned.
Continuing on my nostalgia mood, back in the 30's and 40's when the full-suited look with the hat was the clothing style of the day, I know that taking off a hat when entering a building was considered proper ettiquette. Taking off the hat when in the presence of a lady was required, and they were all ladies in those days. For some reason, when I see these guys who wear hats at dances, I can't but feel that they are showing disrespect for their dance partners, even if they don't have a clue as to the proper behavior in the presence of a lady or the reason. Do manners still have a place in our society?
"'thoughts for the week' [i.e., this column] were incredibly arrogant and thoughtless this week...heard from at least 5 people...that want you dead because of those comments."With more important things to worry about like global warming, world hunger, crime, terrorism, my [lack of a] love life, and so on, I'm flattered that they even noticed my editorial.
Much of the thinking that goes into these editorials comes from having been in the Boston swing dance community for 8 years now, including dancing in the Rugcutters Dance Company and running the Boston Swing Dance Society as well as interacting with many of the dancing personalities in Boston, New England, and around the country. I've taken lessons from Ron Gursky, Roger Weiss, and Kate Ford, and workshops by a variety of national and world-class dance teachers. I've survived three of Bob Thomas' Dance Technique classes. I've also been (physically) assaulted by one prominent dance teacher and verbally abused for years and threatened by a certain dance personality. In spite of that, I send out the DanceNet email newsletter each week (since 1991) and the DanceNet website gets updated every Sunday with the latest information on swing dancing in Boston (since 1995). I spend a lot of time consulting for various dance professionals and clubs in New England to improve their dance venues to attract more customers and, in turn, help the dancers with better places to go dancing. I support all the swing dance venues in Boston, all this for free.
The issues that my readers bring to me are very important to me because these dancers see this website as a means to voice their concerns about what they see on the dance floor. I might write a short paragraph on this page or I might get motivated to write a full-length article, like the time a woman complained to me about guys who grope women on the dance floor. Certainly my article on Dance Ettiquette is a work of which I am proud as I've listened to fellow dancers over the years.
I really don't expect anyone to change their behavior based on anything I have to say. I'm just one of the amateur dancers who happens to have a forum in which to express his opinion. The intent of these editorials is to make people *think*, not to fix anything. Each week I get mail thanking me for making their concerns visible. I also get people asking if they're the subjects of my editorials; this is good because good dancing and ettiquette are important to these dancers. One dancer who is working hard to be a better dancer liked the discussion about "swing dancing" versus "dancing swing".
I do like thoughtful discussion; however, being accused of arrogance and thoughtlessness without supporting information is not a dialogue. Some people also take themselves and my editorials way too seriously. Dancing is suppose to be fun; I write here to try to keep it that way. If I get a good reason why I should change my mind about what I write, I just might. I want to note that my editorials are definitely *not* thoughtless. I usually write it on Mondays or Tuesdays and then I think about it all week and end up rewriting it about five times before you readers actually see it. I certainly spend a lot of time thinking about what and how I want to say. As for arrogance, I don't have any control over how any particular reader interprets my articles if they're in the wrong mood to hear it. I did notice one trend: The people who liked my editorial appreciated the content of the writing. The people who got mad at me got upset about the alledged tone of the message and completely ignored the message or didn't want to hear it. I can't make everyone happy and I know *I'm* alot happier since I stopped trying.
On the other hand, thanks, man, for giving me my topic for the week. I was really concerned that I had nothing to write about.
PS: I still think men should take off their hats in the presence of any ladies...and they're all Ladies.
I don't remember seeing any evaluation forms for the 1998 event, but I know that there were comments that some of you had on that event. If you have any ideas that you want to share with the organizers of that event, feel free to send them to me and I'll type them up. Did you go in 1998? If not, let me know why.
The White Heat Swing Orchestra, under the directorship of Craig Ball, was the house band at the Roxy in Boston back in 1990 when I first started going there and was the first band to which I tried swing dancing (before taking lessons, that is). The band has a reputation of playing fast music, but I think that's not true (anymore) as I got to dance to their music at a corporate function last week where they showed the wide range of tempoes of which they are capable.
Dom Valarioti is a rarity: a band leader who dances! Dom V and the Swing Out Big Band knows what the dancers want and they play for their audience. Dom V hosts swing dances in Shrewsbury and Winchester every month and his Swingout Productions is the organizer for the annual New England Swing Dance Championships.
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