As a teacher, I quickly realized the advice “just follow” is almost never helpful. As far as teaching advice goes, it’s vague and doesn’t give the follower an action to do, which is exactly what a student needs in order to get better.
But more importantly, it’s wrong.
Great followers never “just follow.” They are constantly being proactive in many different ways in order to make the dance successful and contribute their voice to what is being created.
Let’s talk with a few of the world’s greatest followers to find out how they do that.
Great followers are…
Proactive in their RHYTHM
Followers should always strive to have good rhythm and be proactive about keeping that good rhythm. Followers should also be proactive about keeping that solid rhythm and pulse in non-closed positions, during turns, traveling — well, all the time. (Sometimes you’ll see followers who grow timid in their rhythm the more disconnected they are from their leaders or if they are in the middle of turns.)
“Follows tend to wait for the leader to ‘set the beat’ and they follow his rhythm,” says Laura Keat. “I think that follows need to be more responsible for demonstrating the rhythm and ‘dancing’ in every dance. Therefore if the leader makes a mistake or is off, the follow can still dance rhythmically. We, follows, can still follow the leader’s timing and shapes, but the beat/rhythm/flow of the music is carried in each of our minds and is each of our responsibility to represent through dance.”
Recently on Facebook the Lindy Hop community has been engaging in a large discussion hashtagged #improvrespect. (The discussion was going pretty strongly but was then overshadowed by a different discussion on offensive gestures.)
The #improvrespect discussion arose following some of the ILHC strictly contests where many competitors appeared to have danced already-set choreographed jams to the music, not altering their dancing to anything happening in the music. (They could very well have altered their dancing to the music, but it didn’t look that way to many high-level dancers.)
Dancing that appears to be completely choreographed has happened often in previous strictlies and is a topic that fellow professional dancers have been talking about for years — I think recently it just became more obvious it needed to be addressed on a larger scale.
And, of course, this discussion is not about just one thing. There are several aspects to the problem, like what is expressed explicitly in contest rules, the use of choreography in an improvised dance, and who’s responsible for making the appropriate changes if we wish to change. And at the root of the discussion is exploring all the factors that have brought out, and continue to bring out, phrased-but-otherwise-unmusical choreographed jam-dancing. And it isn’t just “jam dancers tend to win”; it’s why they tend to win.
Most people are in agreement that yes, the music is there for a reason, and if competitors aren’t *really* dancing to it, then those hard-working (sometimes even live) musicians are wasting their effort, and the event should instead just mic a metronome. Read more…
This is a version with very little text, where a reader can watch the clips without a lot of input. For a geek-out version with more thoughts and information, check out this one.
Recently it has dawned on me how much of our focus (including mine) regarding classic Black Lindy Hoppers goes towards the Savoy Ballroom’s famous performance group, The Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. And yet there are films of many non-Whitey’s Black dancers from the 1930s and 40s.
So here’s several examples of non-Whitey’s groups to get a broader understanding of what Lindy Hop meant to other Black dancers during the swing era. Watch and enjoy.
All of the following clips are from the Bill Green Collection on YouTube. More on Bill Green coming soon to Swungover.
“Rubberneck” Holmes & Others, Spirit of Youth (1938)
Someone in the comments of the video has reason to believe this group was from Chicago, and Bill Green himself found information that they called themselves the Big Apple Dancers. Guess which one is Rubberneck.
Recently it has dawned on me how much of our focus (including mine) regarding classic Black Lindy Hoppers comes from the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. And yet there are films of many non-Whitey’s Black dancers from the 1930s and 40s.
So let’s take a look at several examples of non-Whitey’s groups to get a broader understanding of what Black Lindy Hop was like during the swing-era, and perhaps pick up some new inspiration along the way.
(Another thing we’ll find is that my historian cred is so much based on Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers that I have almost no information on most of these dancers.)
All of the following clips are from the Bill Green Collection on YouTube. Bill Green has one of the most extensive collections of swing dance in film, and he puts them up in fantastic quality on You Tube. I have an entire post coming up soon about Bill Green and his wonderful YouTube page. For now though, I just wanted to give him props.
“Rubberneck” Holmes & Others, Spirit of Youth (1938)
Someone in the comments of the video has reason to believe this group was from Chicago, and Bill Green himself found information that they called themselves the Big Apple Dancers. (The Big Apple was the big dance craze of the year, hence Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers also calling themselves “Whitey’s Big Apple Dancers” at the time.)
Frankie Manning is widely considered to be the greatest Lindy Hopper of all time. But dancers who have only recently started dancing might not understand the complexity of what that means.
Here are a few reasons:
Incredible dancer in his day
Frankie Manning was clearly a great dancer in the original swing era. His role in the climax of Hellzapoppin’ alone shows a combination of skill, flow, power, personality, and humor unrivaled in other dancers. A look at his autobiography shows how creative and productive he was, inventing many moves, aerial steps, and choreographies like the Big Apple.
But also I’d like to point out what an inspiring young man he was in many ways: He forged his own way in a highly competitive dance environment and never stopped creating and striving for excellence. Read more…
Over the years I’ve been honored to have Swungover posts translated into different languages. And now a recent Swing 101 etiquette post has officially inspired a large graphic poster in English and Hebrew.
Holy Lindy Land created these beautiful designs. They were put together by Ilya Grig and designed by Ron Dobrovinsky
As a student of teaching, coaching, and practice method, I often hear the name John Wooden, usually followed by some of his famous sayings.
Wooden (1910-2010) was an UCLA basketball coach who, among many things, won seven NCAA championships in a row. However, such results were merely a reflection of his much greater accomplishment: an incredible understanding of coaching (and, arguably, living). In 2003 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the government awards a civilian.
He’s a hero and a great inspiration in my practice, and living. Here is a list of some of the Wooden-isms that can easily apply to getting more out of swing dancing.
(A note on the source: This list was sent to me a long time ago, and I have not been able to confirm that all are Wooden-isms. Most of them are, according to Wooden’s website or books.)
“Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.”
A fancy-pants move will look good only if its rhythm, balance, and traveling distances are precise. Getting an extra six inches in height on that aerial doesn’t take more muscle and strength, but perhaps just focusing on popping the hips at the precise time. A great choreography is honed by focusing and perfecting several counts at a time.