Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Into the Floor

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
- Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

This phrase gets thrown around a lot in the Lindy community. People love to talk about how great it is to dance "into the floor." Occasionally, someone will add the slightly more helpful "not up on your toes." I've even heard "under the floor," "on the floor" and "slightly below the floor."

Did this come from something like this?. It sounds a little like nonsense, doesn't it?
Most people can sort of agree on what "into the floor" means, even if not completely formally. The problem is that describing it is hard. Or, rather, it is hard when you don't have the proper background.

Now I don't know what tools those are for art; I'm not an artist. Such tools do exist within music theory (or perhaps more accurately, "music physics") Musicians, for some reason, like to use words that more accurately describe either peanut butter or chocolate - e.g."creamy," "chunky," "bright," "dark," "smooth."

Those *mostly* have formalized meanings because someone came up with two words that can be used to describe what the other words mean - "overtones" and "undertones." Nearly every word that describes the quality of a sound can be described in terms of how its overtones or undertones either interact with other tones, or what amplitudes they have. But that's a topic for another place.

How about we do the same thing? We just need some words that can formally and succinctly describe this portion of dance physics, and because I've never heard any for this, I'm going to go ahead and make some up.

The Tools I Need

Here's the terms I've come up with:
  1. % Foot contact
    Average percentage of your foot that is touching the floor
  2. On-beat contact
    Touching the floor during the beat
  3. Off-beat contact
    Touching the floor not during the beat
  4. Flat-footed
    Maximum possible floor contact - 100% of both feet are touching the ground.
  5. En Pointe
    Minimum possible foot contact without being in the air - only your toes are touching the ground
  6. Resting Weight
    Weight while standing at rest; the weight you get when you are on a scale.
  7. Dynamic Weight
    I imagine there's another name for this, but that's what I'm going to call it. According to me, dynamic weight is the force exerted into the ground at a particular moment in time taking into account current momentum. For example, if you jump into the air, and then land, at the moment of landing, you will exert force into the ground that is more than your current weight. Therefore, at that point, your dynamic weight is greater than your resting weight.
Note that "flat-footed" and "en pointe" are definitely not terms that I invented. They're also typically the least useful in describing "into the floor."

The Simple Definition

Sometimes this is taken to mean "opposite of up on your toes." In that case, "into the floor" may mean simply flat-footed, or at the very least, with a high % foot contact, and up on your toes means pointe, or low % foot contact. I am fairly certain that most people would agree that this is part of being into the floor no matter which case we're talking about. But I think that, for the most part, they'd think there's more to it than that.

The Complex Definition

To put it succinctly, changes or supplement of momentum happen when you have higher dynamic weight than resting weight if at all possible, and if this is not possible (such as during free spins, where you are changing momentum continuously), % foot contact is as high as possible. A few points:
  1. In order to have high dynamic weight on-beat, off-beat dynamic weight must be lower. You have to push off of the floor on beat, and be almost in the air during the off-beat.
  2. On beat refers to each beat in which a step is taken; in the case of triple steps, it does refer to the swung note (the middle step in a triple step) as well, not just the other two steps.
  3. Because momentum changes are not actually instantaneous, neither is the length of time that you are heavier than resting weight. This corresponds with changes in momentum in the dance as well - when you change direction, spin, etc., you are not doing so instantaneously, but ideally, responding along the same curve as your weight change - more at first, and less as your weight approaches and then passes resting weight.

I think I can elaborate on this further with pictures and graphs, but I will leave that for a bit until I have time to make some.

This clarifies some of the other definitions mentioned earlier:

On the Floor simply means "flat footed," with resting weight. Its a term used to convey the concept of resting weight into the "floor" concept without actually having that term.

Under the floor/slightly below the floor both try to convey the concept of higher dynamic weight than resting weight. If you were on a springy enough floor, you'd be going lower into it than if you were on "on the floor."

Easier to understand with actual terms, don't you think?

Biggest Conclusion of All

If I'm correct, then this explains something rather important about "into the floor": in order to do it, you need pulse. Pulsing up is what gets you up so that you can come down and be into the floor on beat. And it is why, I think, that if you're going to use that expression, you should probably also talk about pulse.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How to Use 30 minutes of time: distance running versus sprinting

There's a sad truth I realized a few years back that I hope you have realized as well. If not...well, I doubt I'll convince you until you've experienced the difference for yourself. What truth?

Swing dancing is not very much exercise. If you want to get better at the athletic aspects, you have to do something else.

The good news is that that isn't actually something that's impossible. I've got a lunch break. Or I just got off work. Or maybe I just realized that exercising more than around 40 minutes at a time gets you less benefit than those first 30 minutes give you. Whatever your reason, I have about 30 minutes to exercise, no equipment, and no real good spot to get down on the ground. I do, however, live and work in a place with abundant sidewalks and roads. I can run, and can do so safely. So what should I do? I could run the entire time. Or I could try and push myself a little harder some of the time, and take it easier some of the time. Will one of them make me better at dancing than the other?

The Pros and Cons

Thing added/increasedRunning Sprinting
Cardiovascular endurance
Muscular endurance (slow twitch muscle)
Cardiovascular efficiency
Strength (fast/medium twitch muscle)
2-4 hours of increased metabolic rate
24 hours of increased metabolic rate
Low risk of injury
Low risk of fatigue
Little to no pain
Can make large strides to improve running form
Energy (more central nervous system endurance)
Toughness (shields against injury)

So What Do I Do?

I do both. They're both good. However, I do sprinting more than I do flat-out running because, as you can see, it looks like it does more for more in the timeframe that I give to it. And this is the main meat of what I do so that I can dance for as long as I want to without having my body give out on me.

I encourage you to do the same, but this is only one route. What do you do to stay fit to dance?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Shaping Your Swing World

Last time I wrote roughly about how movement works when you're relaxed.  In fact, other than my first one, I've mostly addressed physics.  So I thought I'd take a crack at philosophy for a moment.

Submitted for your approval

I'm gonna be honest with you. I'm a little nervous about this one. You don't say something about how to change or shape the world without presenting something that resembles some form of moralism, but I don't want to preach at you. I think of this as just as practical and operational as learning to swingout, and just as important.
So, please take this as that: a view on something that I think is important and has helped me in my dancing which I think will also help you. This isn't rocket science. I suspect that most of this will be obvious. I just want you to think about it with me.
So what is it that I'm talking about? I'm talking about how you interact with other dancers. Part of that is asking them to dance. Part of it is other things.

I was inspired by this and this, both of which got me thinking about it.

Now I think it's telling that both of these dancers are women, and traditionally, women have been asked more than they have asked. So they have had many more experiences upon which to form opinions that answer the question "what do I do when someone asks me to dance?" So I will not touch on that one. I'm going to try to generalize. I encourage you to read both of these articles and come up with an opinion on the subject. Mine, in general, is that honesty and kindness should be your main staples.

I'd generalize with two questions:

What is My Role?

Are you thinking that you don't have a role? That you're just there to try things? Humans are social animals. If your scene is between 100 and 230 people, you are probably a part of the social group that includes your entire scene. You might be an advanced dancer, a beginner, someone who just likes to listen to the music, or someone who watches, someone who reaches out to beginners, someone who teaches, someone who goes to dance with their friends.

In any case, you are part of the group. Your actions within the group have some affect - however small - on the whole. Some of you, I know, would just like to go out and have a good time and be anonymous like you would at a club. This isn't just a club, though. People don't meet anonymously and then vanish.

So what is your role? I don't know what it is for sure, but I know what it isn't. It isn't your title. You might be president of your local swing club, but that might or might not mean that you're the one leading people to dance. Your role may be other than you think. It's worth considering.

What if everyone did what I did?

Here's where I can't be as specific in all cases. I will simply go over a few of my thought processes:
  1. I have worked to learn how to dance with newer dancers because experienced dancers are constantly leaving, and I want to be able to dance with experienced dancers because it's fantastic.
  2. It is not at all apparent who or when someone is going to strive to become a better dancer, so I can't be sure who to focus on.
    Case in point, actually, are two of my favorite dancers now. Both had to stop for a while due to injury, and weren't as serious as they became when they returned after dealing with the injury.
  3. Therefore, I behave in as encouraging manner as possible toward as many people in the scene as possible
This means that I actively seek out and dance with beginners. It means that I say "no" very, very rarely to any dances - and when I do, I find a way to connect with the person that I didn't dance with to encourage them. It means that I invite lots of people of every level of experience to as many events as possible. It means that I attend as many different kinds of events as I can, travel regularly, and train to make myself an enticing dance partner.

I do these things not because I feel obligation to do them, but because I believe that my actions will shape my scene in the way that I want it to be shaped, and I believe that not doing these things will have a negative impact on that shape - and that not doing them will mean that someone else must carry the burden of doing these things to shape the scene for me.

Perhaps these kinds of thoughts don't apply to your scene. If, for example, you live in a scene steeped in a long tradition of dancing that doesn't regularly see people come and go, your ambition might be to raise the quality of dance much more, and your actions may reflect this. Perhaps you'd feel, for example, that you'd want to turn down more dances to motivate people to get better in order to earn the right to dance with you, or you'd not attend certain venues because of the level of dance.

So Where Are You?

I have a feeling that most people who might read this long string of text are close to where I am; have roles similar to mine - that they attend dances at a scene that has a regular influx of beginners and outflux of older members and are gradually moving towards being one of those older members themselves. How do you want that to go?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Five Things About How Dance Movement Can Work

How do I hand?

I think it involves muscles
Do you know how your hands work?  Do you understand the complex interplay of muscles that happens when you lift your arm?

I certainly don't.  There are a few things I can say, though.

First, it's more complicated than you think. proprioception involves not only an intuitive understanding of how the muscles need to move, but also the momentum built up in moving them.
There's also a matter of leverage.  What does the moving is far away from the actual movement.
Your shoulders are involved in moving your hands to the right spot by first positioning your upper arm.  Your legs may move your torso to the right spot, and your torso can lean on your body to go to the right spot.
The muscles that move your hands in the most complicated, intricate movements are in your forearms.

That is all a preface to these important facts:
  1. Larger muscles act as guide muscles to move smaller muscles - imbuing momentum that can then be fine tuned to get to the right spot.  How this works is not even close to intuitively obvious. You can, for example, use the quadriceps in your legs to initiate shoulder movement.

    This is very different from actually doing all of the moving as a rigid body and then acting upon the moving separately.  I can, for example, run really fast and then stop my body while letting my arms swing.  That would *not* be an example of using my quadriceps in concert with my arms.
    A better example of that is what happens when you lift something from the ground to over your head.  Somewhere in the middle of that is a point where your shoulder muscles are depending upon your leg muscles to make sure that the thing keeps moves upward, and are only helping the movement along.

  2. The trick exploited by partner dancing is that it doesn't have to be your muscles that are the guide muscles.  That can be done by someone else's.
    Sometimes being rigid is a bit too easy.

    There are, however, some caveats to that.  First, muscles can typically only move other muscles when those other muscles are relaxed.  I cannot guide where my arm is going with my leg muscles if my leg muscles are rigid.  The movement needs to be able to translate up my legs and into my arms, and all the muscles in between need to be relaxed enough for that to translate.  The smaller the movement, the more relaxed.

  3. The same is true with my partner.  For a guide movement to transfer to my partner, all of the muscles that run between the muscle that I want my partner to move and the muscle that I'm moving must be relaxed.

    Secondly, the natural way of doing this is to move muscles that match.  E.g., my shoulder movement moves my arm, so my partner's shoulder movement can also move my arm.  The easiest way?  If I actually move my shoulder using my arm, my partner mirrors that.
    As said, it is not at all intuitively obvious how this works.  It is possible for my legs to help move my arms, so it is possible for my legs to help move my partner's arms.

  4. With all of the different potential joints involved, everyone has an intuitive grasp of more than one way to move any given body part from a fixed point in space to a different fixed point in space.  With a nearly infinite number of possible ways to get from place to place, you will naturally learn a much smaller number of ways that you'll do most of the time.

  5. You will not naturally learn the same way of moving from place to place that everyone does.  In other words, everyone will have their own ways of doing that.
    This is, I think, what actually makes this hard.  You don't move exactly the same way that everybody else does, so you need a common set of movements that you can do.  It also means that you'll find people who naturally move similarly to the way you do.  You'll have "dance chemistry."

    Alternatively, you can learn to move all your muscles any which way and stay completely relaxed so that any movement will translate from your partner's body into yours.  If you can do that (which you actually can't entirely, but you can get close enough for dancing), the kind of dance chemistry that you get from moving similarly is gone.  You'll have that particular variety of chemistry with everybody (yay!  Right?  I think that's one that we would all like to have).

    Flexibility helps with that, as does practicing lots of kinds of movement (which is why I dance as both a lead and a follow, dance with lots of people, and practice with a mirror).

    Sadly, it seems that adding extra muscle hurts that, as the more you have the easier it is for it to become rigid (as near as I can tell, anyway - this has been my experience having doubled my strength over the course of about a year).

Hey, Listen!

Yes.  I went there.
Now, having said all of that, I'm not a personal trainer, not a doctor, not a yoga guru or anyone that should have any kind of knowledge of how the body works (at least not as much as I do). I'm just a dancer that pays attention. I might be wrong about anything! Unfortunately, so might any of those other of those kinds people that I mentioned.  Institutional knowledge can be a blessing if you learn it, but a curse if you don't question it.

Have you learned something that I haven't?

Also, this is discussing one way for how movement works.  This is how "body leading" mostly works.  There's also rigid movement (e.g. "arm leading").  In reality, you probably need to do some of both.  But I am of the opinion that for the most part, this is the best way to do things.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Hips (Arms, and Shoulders) Lie

For the sake of connection, it's quite helpful to keep no tension in my body (I'll talk more about that later, but for more on that, I'll refer you to Jo Hoffberg, who has mentioned it during classes enough times for me to think of it as the central theme of her teaching). So I relax. I do that despite how tense I might be inside.  And I dance every day, or at least every week, and relaxing the tension while dancing becomes second nature.

So I become unlike normal folks.  No one can tell how stressed out I am by how tense I am.  I can't tell with quite a lot of my friends either, because they are also dancers who have, over a long, long time, learned to suppress their inner animal and not tense when they are stressed.

This focus on tension, and feeling for its lack, however, gives me an opportunity.  For because I am no longer tense, I can feel through the connection exactly how tense my partner is, and where that tension resides.  Not everyone I dance with is advanced enough to not be tense.

This is the single most relevant example, but it points to something that I find to be more or less the case through this and other body cues:

Experienced dancers are more adept at reading the body language of inexperienced ones, and masking or altering their own natural body language.

Has this been your experience?  And if you've gotten natural, inadvertent body language cues from someone during a dance, how do you use that information?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rules and Guidelines to Dance By

Da Rules

I pretty much don't break my rules.  They're too important to go by the wayside.
  1. Do everything in my power to keep the follow that I am dancing with safe. Don't hurt them, and don't let anyone else hurt them. This is rule #1 because it is the most important thing. IT IS BY FAR THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
  2. Dance with everyone, and enjoy dancing with everyone. It's not easy to have fun with every single partner, but I think that it is part of what makes dancing fulfilling for a lifetime rather than a year or two (this rule is a carry-over of my "rules to sing by that I've had for most of my life").  I'll write more on that later.
  3. Care, and show and say that I care. Show my partners that I like dancing with them. Tell them. Encourage partners who have learned something new, or do something that I like about them.If there are too few leads, ask the follow who hasn't danced in a while. Heck, if I see that there is such a follow no matter if there are enough leads, I ask them.
  4. Make friends as much as possible. Dancing only with acquaintances isn't as fulfilling.  Part of dancing is sharing with someone else emotionally.  You will do that more with a friend than with an acquaintance.  Also, those compliments mean a lot more from a friend than from a stranger.
  5. Workout really hard at least three times a week.  That includes, most especially, weight lifting and endurance training.

Da Guidelines

I break these some of the time.  If I'm too tired, or there's some unusual circumstance, I might not follow these rules.
  1. Be about to die before I say no to someone who asks me to dance who I don't know (who may therefore be a beginner), and if so, ask them later. #5 from the previous list means I'm tough enough to take anybody on.
  2. Take extra effort in making beginners feel happy. If I can't get 'em to smile because they're worried about being bad at it, try for more than one dance at different times in the night. Try talking.
  3. Give no advice unless I'm worried about safety.The only one I've actually given without asking is "please don't grip my arm like that, because a lead might accidentally dislocate your shoulder or you might dislocate theirs doing that."
  4. Always ask to dance, never expect, never drag someone onto the floor - even with friends who have never said no. No one should be taken for granted.
I think that most everything else is subject to change.

Why do I have these?

I suspect that everybody has their own set, but doesn't actually put them into words. But putting into words I can know what I expect of myself, and of other people.

Now, I think I should point out that these are my rules and guidelines.  They don't necessarily apply to you.  A friend of mine over at LindyHopProblems has her own view of guideline #1.  And I personally know people for whom I would say that they shouldn't dance with everyone for safety reasons (in other words, they're fragile, and some potential partners are big and dangerous).

I believe that it is to your benefit, however, for as many of these rules as you can apply to be your rules as well.

What about you? How do you choose to behave when you dance?