Get Better Every Day
by Ben White from The Syncopation Foundation
Obviously in a dream world you’d get to take multiple dance classes per week, practice with a partner, and be out social dancing with your friends all the time.
But whether it’s “normal times” and you have a super busy work and social schedule, or pandemic times and there’s literally no classes to go to, it can be hard to carve space to upgrade your dancing.
With that in mind, here are some of my favorite things that anyone can do every day, even when you can’t make it to the studio.
There are SO many great reasons to be stretching every day, in addition to the fact that it just feels good when you’ve done it. Here are some key benefits:
Increased flexibility - Looking for that gooey connection in your dance? Want to make awesome, sharp shapes in your dancing? These things require a base level of flexibility, and the only way to get that safely is through consistent stretching.
Body Awareness - When you explore the comfortable limits of your movement everyday things in dance classes will just start to make more sense. Ever see that picture of yourself dancing and think, “What’s the deal with my free hand?” Stretching is a great way to hone your sense of what your body is doing, even when you can’t see the whole thing at once.
Injury Prevention - Ok, I saved the most important for last here. Healthy stretching daily can help prevent pulled muscles, reduce joint inflammation, and increase circulation. Plus, this kind of cross training can help us restore balance when our bodies get all lopsided from swinging out clockwise all night!
There are some brilliant stretching tutorials on youtube. Do you have a favorite guide to follow for daily stretching? We’d love to see it in the comments!
Watch and Learn
When I’m teaching at the university a lot of my students are surprised when one of their homework assignments is to follow the YouTube rabbit hole. Watching the best of the best at something can really help internalize the feel of the dancing.
When you’re watching dance videos it’s totally ok to just be wowed by the artistry the first time through, but then go back and look behind the smoke and mirrors for what’s really going on. Try to get inside the heads of the dancers and figure out how they’re thinking about the dance, not just what’s happening in a move.
And here’s a strong recommendation: Don’t just pay attention to the newest dance videos! Sometimes they can be easier for new dancers because video technology has come a long way since the 1930s, but we have an amazing opportunity to see some of the originators of our dance really throw down! Search for clips of folks like Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Josephine Baker, Al Minns & Leon James, Shorty George & Big Bea, and more!
Polish the Building Blocks
This one is huge, and it gets missed by so many social dancers! There’s no way you can master a skill in one hour-long dance class, but for many dancers that’s all the time they’ve spent on some really important basics!
Think back to the last time that you really drilled triple steps, for example. Traveling kick steps? How about this one: can you dance you favorite stylish swingout variation with no partner attached?
The only way to really gain mastery of these things is through consistent, targeted practice. Otherwise what we end up with isn’t a skill, it’s just a habit.
In good news, for most of this category you don’t need to go in to a studio or anything. You can just stand up from your work-from-home desk and give yourself a 10 minute triple step break!
REALLY Listen to the Music
When asked what dancers could do to get better at lindy hop as fast as possible, absolute LEGEND Frankie Manning just said to listen to more swing music. And it makes sense if you think about it. The things we hear at the grocery store or on the radio just don’t move the same way as swing music, so us modern day folks have an ingrained sense of music that doesn’t quite match the Sandra Gibson/Norma Miller/Irene Thomas movements that we’re pulling from the videos.
When you’re listening to swing music, a.) Do it often - like, every day, and b.) Really try to understand it. Look for patterns that occur in the melody for sure, but then listen for what’s going on in the rhythm section. That piano/guitar/bass/drum stuff is what dancers tend to really connect to on a physical level.
And of course there will be songs that just make you want to move! Save those to a playlist so you can come back to them. And there’s no shame in throwing your jam on repeat and dancing around the house!
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