Oh, the Dances You Will Have!
As always, I will add to this list as I think of new ones or as they are suggested.
“Good floor, good music, good partner, good dancing.”
–Willie Desatoff, original-era Southern California swing dancer, or Robert White, depending (see footnotes)***
The Fun Ones!
Those that can be fulfilling to both partners.
The Writing Team
A leader begins telling a story; the follower adds characters, drama, description, detail, (often going back and forth with the leader), and can even alter the plot, assuming the leader is listening to her. This is, I believe, a combination of two things: (1) The leader leading in ways that make the follower feel comfortable adding styling/variation and (2) the leader paying attention to what the follower is doing and allowing that to influence what he leads.
The Roller Coaster
When a leader leads a bunch of crazy moves on a follower, demanding so much attention on the lead/follow aspect of the dance that there’s not much room for followers to variate. Though this can be stifling to a follower’s artistic expression, it can also be fun, because it’s more or less an amusement ride. You know, as long as it’s comfortable.
On the other side, these are the dances where the leader gets an electric follower setting everything around them on fire. A smart leader just takes a back seat, becomes the dancing equivalent of a hype-man, and lets the magic happen. A few will understand exactly what I mean when I say “Nina Gilkenson Blue Dress Dance.”
The Pleasure Cruise
A old-timer’s social dance: a bunch of basic movements, maybe a fancy thing once or twice, but maybe not. A dance about just enjoying the music, the partner, and the way you feel together. Sailing lightly and politely.
The dance that happens at 2:37 a.m. at a Saturday Late Night when all the stars align and you are the greatest leader and follower who ever existed ever.
The Happy Exhibitionists
The all-skate song or spotlight in a competition that goes incredibly well, and you realize that there is a part of you that can dance well in front of people. If you haven’t had one yet, don’t worry. I promise it’s possible for you.
In honor of Jerry Almonte. The dance where, even though something or someone is attacking you, you rise above it and throw down on that dance floor. (The “bitch” in this equation can be many things, such as low self-esteem, or your dance nemesis, Steve.)
When you have a dance with someone and you were almost positive it was going to be a weird/bad experience going into it, but it turned out to be fun as hell.
The dance that happens when you dance with someone with the opposite dance personality that you have, and they bring out a new side of you. For instance, an “introverted” dancer dancing with someone very expressive might suddenly find themselves flinging their arms around, shouting at the top of their lungs, and might possibly end the night hanging from the chandeliers, naked, singing sea shanties. That’s an extreme example, though.
Taking the Exam
A dance with a much more advanced dancer than yourself that shows you what you are capable of.
Giving the Exam
A dance with a much less advanced dancer than yourself that shows you what you are capable of.
The “F___ It” Dance
Where you throw away everything but your gut reactions, (and, hopefully, attention to your partner’s comfort. That’s key.)
[By the way, several of the old-timer followers, like Norma Miller and Jean Veloz, reportedly had really bad sailor mouths. We bet Irine Thomas did, too. We could see that.]
The Down-The-Rabbit-Hole Dance
Dancing with the person doing the “f___ it” dance.
Paginini was a violinist who was so good he wrote pieces of music whose main goal was simply to show off what a badass he was with a violin. A Paginini dance is a dance where you simply show off/enjoy all the hard stuff you can perfectly lead/follow/style. Indulgent? Yes. But it can also be fun/fulfilling for both people involved, which is our only criterion on this list. (Bonus points for doing this to Benny Goodman’s “Caprice XXIV,” a swung version of a Paganini piece.) Am I a nerd? Yes.
When a person who can lead and follow finds another, and passes off the roles back and forth throughout the dance.
A dance with someone who is so comfortable and relaxed that it makes you realize how much you’ve been overworking lately.
The Renewal of Vows
The dance you have with your regular partner that just reminds you how much you love dancing with them.
When you dance with someone you used to dance with in your old home town years go and suddenly you start dancing the same way. And it feels a little bit like going home.
The Time Machine
When you dance with an old-timer, and realize how different it is than the way you dance, and perhaps certain things make even more sense than they did before.
The Mating Dance
The incredible dance you have with someone who can be the most mediocre leader/follower in the world, you don’t care, because you find that person extremely attractive and just enjoy being in their arms for three minutes.
The Dixieland Jam Session
Imagine a dixieland jazz band’s final climatic chorus—clarinets, trumpets, trombones all soloing, creating what should be white noise, but because it all soars around the same melody, ends up making sense. There is a similar effect when two or more people solo Charleston around each other and use each other to inspire one another.
Your Jam Dance
The dance you have to your favorite song that goes perfectly well. Triple points if it’s in a contest, with all that added pressure.
The Not-So-Fun Ones!
Those that can *easily* not be fun or fulfilling for one or both partners.
Remember the “conversation” we all hope to have in a dance? What if one person was the only one doing the talking, or allowed to do the talking? And what if they brought hand outs?
This is a specific form of the previous dance where the leader/follower shows off—the other partner is expected to hold them up, support them, and fix things, all to make the other dancer seem incredibly gifted, and make themselves look like ass. Worse: bored ass.
The Ironic Dance
Ever dance with someone who seems to be trying really hard not to care about the dance that’s happening?
The Ooompah Dance
This dance is a modern phenomenon (“mah na mah na”?) that happens when you’re dancing to a smoothed out late 1930s swing song, and your partner can’t get a Charleston pulse out of their dancing.
The Escaped Gorilla
You’re dancing with someone who seems to lead by yanking things with their furry bicep.
The Traffic Accident
A dance to a fast song where the leader and follower have different ideas of how to dance to uptempo music, or perhaps no idea how to dance to uptempo music.
The Wrong Time Machine
When you dance with an old-timer man and he says something to you like “Thanks for the dance. You can follow pretty well for a big girl.”
The Broken Dance
The dance (or night of dancing) (or year of dancing?) you have, where, despite years of doing them, you suddenly can’t do a swing out anymore. Or lead/follow. Or dance. Period. You’re just broken.
The Skunk Dance
The dance with the person who wears perfume, lotion, Axe body spray, or any other fragrant substance in bulk that rubs off on you and makes your next partner look strangely at you throughout the dance. Or, worse, the person who doesn’t wear deodorant, and the scent that rubs off on you is not manufactured at Chanel. It’s straight up B.O.
The Giraffe and the Penguin
Pulling off severe height differences effortlessly is (sadly) most often an advanced dancers skill, especially in Pure Balboa. It can lead to some uncomfortable dances if both partners aren’t doing their parts to make it work (and, ironically, not trying too hard to change their fundamental dancing is one of the best ways to make it work).
The Existential Dilemma Dance
The dance that happens when a leader gives a follower so much open room and time, with no direction, (and possibly even occasionally points to the follower with a look that says “Do something! It’s your time to shine!”) that the pressure makes it annoying, rather than inspiring, for the follower to add anything.
(Obviously, not all followers are this way, but many of them find a lot of space/time without direction to be not as helpful as space/time with some direction. After all, a leader doesn’t have this problem often–the moves a leader leads gives direction on what footwork can be added styling-wise. This is why leaders don’t necessarily understand the existential dilemma followers have when a leader just stands there, pulses and looks at them, waiting for them to do something amazing.)
The Possible Felony
The dance that happens with the sketchy person in the Blues room who takes advantage of the sensual nature of the dance. You can try to shower afterwards, but you may never feel clean again. The great blues dancer is one who respects both the sensual nature of the dance and one’s partner in that dance. Great blues dances only happen if both partners are comfortable expressing themselves.
The dance with someone (often teachers or advanced dancers in the scene) who, for various reasons, only give about 50% effort. Sometimes it’s straight up condescension, other times, it’s legit, like it’s the fiftieth dance the teacher has had in a row, and they know you probably won’t have a chance to dance with them if they don’t at that moment, and they feel that maybe you’ll at least enjoy the feeling of their leading/following, even if they have the vague look on their face of herring. Still though, it’s not necessarily satisfying.
The Black Ice Dance
The dance you have when you suddenly hit an invisible patch of dance wax or otherwise slicky part of the floor, and thus spend more time looking out for yourself and partner rather than actually expressing yourselves to the music. This is just a more specific example of any dance where the floor conditions keep you from getting the most out of a dance. Which brings us to:
Trying to dance in a space full of kicks, rapid-fire swing-outs in your direction, and overall people “feeling it”, saying they’re sorry over their shoulder, and then kicking you again.
The Jacked Jill
(Or, to be fair, the Jacked Jack.) The dance with a Jack and Jill partner who is trying way too hard to win this contest.
The dance with the partner who just isn’t leading/following—like, at all. And so you do twice as much work to make it all happen.
The Ex Dance
The awkward dance with a recent ex done mostly to assure each other that you’re civil with one another and that there are no hard feelings, at least on the dance floor. Also sometimes to assure that guilty feet do have rhythm. (I know, right?)
The Greased-Watermelon Dance
Sweat is a natural part of swing dancing, more so for some than for others. So, the existence of sweat should not make or break a dance (Though, this one time, I think it was Nina, got a drop of some guy’s sweat right in her open mouth. True story.) However, the clothing choices one makes when one does sweat a lot is what’s important. Women should not wear open-backed shirts if they sweat a lot, and everyone who sweats should monitor their shirts and change into dry ones, and bring a hand towel to a dance.
The Root Canal Dance
The dance you have where you’ve just accepted a dance and then it turns out the song is one that gives you the same feeling of enjoyment as a root canal.
The Paddy Wagon
The dance where you haul around a drunkard for three minutes. (Or get hauled by).
What have I missed?
Let me know in the comments section below. Also, I’ll admit some of these analogies are just goofy—I’m open to better ones (and, some of the above aren’t even analogies.)
** — Only because a “conversation,” though one way of describing what happens sometimes when a leader and follower play off of each other, has perhaps become too much of a go-to word to describe dynamics that are slightly more complicated.
It’s still perfectly applicable in certain situations, and I’ll still probably use it in class, I just wanted to challenge myself.
***–A clarification: (Just to be precise.) So, the quote as we have it on video is “Good floor, good music, good dancing. Bad floor, bad music, bad dancing.” However, this was a common quote from him, and for Bal Jam one year I interviewed him and Lila and seem to recall “partner” was part of the picture. In hindsight, I may be remembering wrong. However, now it’s a philosophical dilemma–because I believe the addition of “good partner” is an even greater truth than the original. So maybe I should just add my name to the quote and take credit for an incredible dance quote, Duchamp style?
If so, then the epigram should go like this:
“Good floor, good music, good dancing.”–Willie Desatoff.
“Willie forgot one key ingredient. It should go ‘Good floor, good music, good partner, good dancing.’ There, that’s it.”