The Scientist, The Madman and The Mechanic.

As a professional dance instructor in the time of COVID-19, my income for at least the next three months has been erased. This post is composed with a suggested donation of $3. If you read it, especially if you found it thought-provoking, please donate! You will be *literally* helping support an artist, and have my sincerest gratitude. If you think someone else will enjoy it, I will also appreciate it greatly if you share it on social media. 

madman 4 shaded magic .jpgEvery time I step onto a dance floor, they’re with me. You can’t see them per se, but if you look closely, you can certainly tell when one of them isn’t doing their job, (or is trying to do the other’s job).

The Madman.   They are called the madman partly for lack of a better term. (Envision a person of whatever gender you prefer.) But, it is fitting in that madmen are not necessarily creatures of conscience — they go from their guts, their emotions. They have crazy ideas. They operate on a different plane. You don’t know what they are going to do next, because they are of the moment. They whoop and shoot from the hip.

The Mechanic. Brawny, covered in oil and grease, trustworthy. They are keeping an eye on the ship that is your body.  Like Scotty, or Kaylee, they are intimate with their ship — they know how it works, and how to keep it working, and they are aware when something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

The Scientist. Logical, reasonable, calm. Constantly keeping track of the captain’s choices and ideas, constantly learning new information about the ship. Knows that the knowledge we need is often just a few observations away.

These three are with me at all times in my dancing, but what’s important is which one is doing which job, and at which time.

The Right Job at the Right Time.

When it comes to social dancing or competing, The Madman is the captain of my ship. They are the spirit of the dance inside of us. The part we don’t think about consciously, because it comes from a deeper place. It’s a possession. It’s the reason why some dancers drink before a contest — it’s their attempt to pass the helm to The Madman (but as many others have shown, you don’t have to drink to pass the helm). Even if it’s choreography I’m dancing, I still want the Madman to take control of it — the way a step is taken, the energy that goes into the move, the look on the face when it happens — those should all be of the madman’s moment.

When your ship is in the hands of a madman, it’s going to go through some storms —  The Mechanic’s main job is to keep an eye on the all machinery, make repairs (correct your balance, slow down a turn), make sure the ship holds runs smoothly  (keep the technique working, keep the posture, keep breathing), and keep the ship and others holding together and not getting hurt (stopping you from running into other people).

During these instances, The Scientist is in the background, jotting down notes and records, but otherwise stays out of the way. They know a night of social dancing is for fun, and so they really try to remain present but invisible — they understand madmen having fun only want a scientist butting in if they are offering help with explosives.

During practices, The Scientist and The Mechanic are in charge, but they are almost always working with The Madman. They are trying to harness the power of The Madman and learn how to keep them from being a danger to themselves or the ship without interfering in their expression.

In practice, the Scientist is constantly running (harmless) experiments on The Madman, giving it ideas  — what if you move in this way? What if you try doing this? What happens if you go over here?  Data is collected, theories extrapolated, and tested. Videos are watched, research done.

The Mechanic spends that time working on the ship — the dancer’s body — making sure it moves in a healthy, desired way, leads/follows according to plan, making sure all the pieces are in good order, streamlining it, getting it used to all the wild things The Madman is going to ask it to do.

The part-timers.

Now that you have the basic idea, there are two more jobs we will add to the list, though these aren’t full-time. They are part-time assistants with full-time dedication. The Critic and The Hype-man.

The Critic is a very opinionated person, but one of your greatest allies. They shouldn’t be allowed the room at all of your practice time, and mark our words, some of you will have The Critic try to pull up a front seat and give feedback throughout the entire practice time. Instead, they should be trained to wait outside patiently until you call them for a consultation. Then they should leave afterwards, to leave The Mechanic, Scientist, and Madman to their work until called back again. The Critic should talk only to The Scientist or The Mechanic. It never goes well when they talk to a madman. And for me, The Critic is usually not consulted before or during  a contest — only afterwards do I call it in to offer a few (positively-worded) opinions about how things went, what went well, and some possible areas to work on.

Finally, there’s the The Hype-man, who talks to the entire team before any contest, performance, or when a team member is feeling low.  The hype man is there to remind your mechanic they have what it takes to make a ship that can brave any storm.  They are there to remind your madman that craziness is often confused with genius. They are there to remind your scientist that proving negatives, and learning what doesn’t work over and over again, is how you climb the ladder to get to what does work. They are there to remind your Critic that nothing can rise if they always keep bringing it down.  They are there to remind you that simply by being a human being, you’re worthy of expressing yourself, and there’s nothing else to do but go out there and have a great time.

You might think that is the main point of this essay. But there’s another main point. What if you have the wrong people in the wrong job at the wrong time?

The Wrong Job at the Wrong Time.

What happens if you put The Madman in control of practices? You spend all practice just letting your subconscious do whatever comes to mind through song after song, never stopping to see how something truly felt, how it looked, whether it’s making your body move in unhealthy ways, or how many people around you were hurt. You might have a lot of fun at first, but you might not actually improve near as quickly as you could.

Or let’s say we let The Mechanic in charge of a social dance — the entire time, just making sure everything is lead/followed absolutely correctly, that we do moves in a “correct” way, but never once expressing the music, or trying to have a dance conversation with your partner. Never allowing ideas to spark, never putting the ship to the test.

Or allow The Scientist to be in charge of a competition — they would attempt to logically construct a “winning” dance. (They’d have to also calculate not looking calculating when they do it. Yes, people have done this. But they never are as fun to watch as someone who truly lets their madman take over.)

Or, imagine hiring The Critic or The Hype-man as full-time employees, around all the time. A critical voice in your mind constantly could easily destroy your self esteem, and being miserable is no way to spend your swing dance life. A hype-man telling you how great you are in all the time could easily keep you from pushing yourself to be better and lead to disappointment when you don’t dance as well as you had hoped.

In conclusion, this was a pretty silly post. But, I think you will get a lot out of trying out this mentality for a few practices and dances, and it can be very inspiring. Sure, ultimately it may or may not be for you. But at the very least, I hope it will make you think of what part of you is getting involved in your dancing at what times, and whether or not those are the healthiest and most fulfilling choices.

  • Want more Practice Advice? Check out my book Practice Swing. Proceeds go *directly* to supporting an artist (me).
  • This post was inspired by an essay by poet and educator Betty Sue Flowers, who wrote in 1997 an essay for creative writing called the Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process.
  • You may have noticed that the overall point of the essay is to consider thinking of your dancing like you’re a ship piloted by a go-from-the-gut captain whose best friend is a stoic logic-driven scientist, and a mechanic always attempting to work miracles to keep everything in shape. Er, sound familiar? I didn’t realize this classic Star Trek nod until after it was written.

4 responses to “The Scientist, The Madman and The Mechanic.”

  1. Bobby, you star – cogitating away and then managing to get down in eloquent words what I would struggle to achieve, for sure!

    Can I plug my site? No, oh OK then, if you insist.

    It was just something I knocked up to collate in one place all of the amazing and innovative ways that teachers, bands and DJs have decided to continue to entertain, glue and inform the wonderful community in their homes. It strikes me that we are now all much more connected than ever before, and will now remain that way.

    I won’t plug it though…

  2. Not a silly post at all! What you are naming here are Jungian archetypes. It takes a great deal of self reflection and knowledge to identify your own unique archetypes and how they function within the space of your craft. I got a few books that are pretty good on the topic if you are interested!

  3. “They are called the madman partly for lack of a better term.”

    How about Maverick? (The term “madman” and the straitjacket reference in the illustration aren’t the best look in modern times. Also, “maverick” is such a cool word–seriously, say it out loud–and it means everything you’ve defined “madman” to mean.)

  4. Mate Have been trying to get your book but the Blurb web page is a nightmare to use so given up Sorry Will

    Sent from my iPad


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