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?