And just when you thought you had this bird figured out, he throws a curve-ball at you. One of my other pet passions (besides anything to do with music, 60's Batman and owls) is partner dancing (for me, it's REAL dancing). And how, some may ask, would a person who practices a very complex, intense and cerebral art form like experimental and progressive music be able to turn around and quite comfortably lead a lady through a Foxtrot, Hustle, Swing, Cha-Cha or Rumba on a dance floor? Here, I'll attempt to answer that question and others. But let me start way back when.
AWKWARD BEGINNINGS (CUTTING THROUGH CONCRETE WITH A PLASTIC KNIFE)
I think back to my awkward, insecure teenage years (not uncommon for a lot of folks) in the 70's. Seeing other kids on dance floors was at once inspiring yet intimidating to me, being that I wasn't exactly "Mr. Popularity" in those days. I had a major roadblock of shyness to overcome. It was pretty obvious that women love men who can dance (or at least have the guts to try). I would occasionally venture out in my own awkward way (freestyle). Part of what stopped me was the fear I had of "not looking cool" or whatever. Fast forward to 1984. Now in my 20's, something gnawed at me inside (no, it wasn't an alien parasite, though some wondered LOL). I knew I had to conquer my shyness somehow, and what safer, more nurturing way to accomplish that end than taking dance lessons. Plus, long-term re[peated exposure to the original "Dance Fever" TV show went a long way to motivating me, it all looked like so much fun (and the women dancers were incredibly beautiful I have to admit). The benefits were far greater than I imagined.
THE WALL BEGINS TO CRUMBLE
I was very fortunate to have a very encouraging teacher named Kim Hayes, who not only got me grounded in the essentials of the major ballroom dances, but also helped me to see learning to dance as a way to build one's confidence around other people, especially with women. The benefits of dancing for me at that stage were: Physically loosening up, good exercise (cardiovascular especially) that was FUN! (Anyone that doesn't think partner dancing is a form of exertion should try doing a fast waltz, believe me, you WILL feel it! I once heard a competition dancer remark that ballroom dancing is like doing an 800 yard dash in dress shoes and evening wear) Socially, it helped me to start getting out of my shell, and learn to be comfortable in my own skin (or plumage in this case LOL) I actually remember my first lesson with Kim, and just how she was able to get me to talk and be more out of myself. In learning to lead steps, it got me to be more assertive. Contrary to what some folks might think, leading in partner dancing IS NOT pushing, shoving and the like. In reality, the leader simply signals and indicates direction through things like hand signals (not always obvious to the casual observer), changes of weight and direction and more. The follower simply reads those signals and moves accordingly. As one gets more comfortable on either end, one can start to improvise and inject one's own personality into the proceedings. sort of like jazz improvisation. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is when dancing with someone who not only follows your leads, but really puts their own heart and personality into it, which in turn inspires me to be even more creative. one more thing that makes this Owl hoot! Creatively, my learning to dance actually helped me as a musician. Not in the sense that I started writing dance music that sold zillions (I didn't), but rather, it helped me get a far more solid sense of rhythm, time and pacing, even phrasing.
BREAK ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE
As my ability and confidence grew, I started to figure out and narrow down what I really liked. Of all the dances I learned, Swing (East AND West Coast) Cha-Cha, Rumba, Hustle and Foxtrot came out the winners for me, and here's why:
Swing (East AND West Coast): For as long as I could remember, I always loved the sound and feel of blues, swing, jump blues, R&B and the like. The dancing was a logical extension of that passion and emotion that came out in the music. East Coast Swing (ECS) appeals to me because of its fun, playful energetic character that utilizes the whole floor (or as much space as allowed by the presence of other dancers). West Coast Swing (WCS) is a somewhat different animal. WCS is done to slower tempo music in a narrow slot. The character of WCS is more slinky and deliberate. Both types of swing are very syncopated, allowing for many cool variations. And contrary to popular belief, the average swing dancer (myself included) DOESN'T do a lot of those acrobatic tossing-the-lady up-in-the-air type moves*. *(STERN NOTE:These acrobatic moves should only be attempted by those who have been properly trained simply for the fact they are dangerous and can cause serious injury or worse if attempted by an amateur)
Cha-Cha: A very passionate, rhythm-heavy syncopated and playful Latin dance that allows one to be very expressive and once you have that rhythm so ingrained in you, it allows for some genuinely exciting creative moves
Hustle: Though big in the 70?s and then dying out for a while, it has made something of a comeback, minus the polyester (THANK GOD!!). One of the reasons it died out for a time was that all the 10-zillion variations that propagated confused people, plus the sadly elitist attitudes of a few kept others away. Secondly, the extreme dominance of disco music on the radio (and the narrow shortsighted thinking of the music biz in general, but I?ll save that for another rant) actually created a backlash that sent it underground for a time. I would call it a classic case of "Too Much Of A Good Thing" that went sour. When formula becomes the order of the day, it’s inevitable that people will grow sick of it and move on. One thing that actually helped gradually bring Hustle back was the rise of House music in the 80's, where that insistent beat was enhanced by some genuinely creative and risk-taking musical sounds, in addition to applying R&B songcraft in some instances. It still continues to this day. In the current landscape, Hustle has become more standardized in how it's taught, alleviating a lot of confusion for those who venture to try. A lot more cool moves have been added as well. Dancers are just as comfortable dancing to House music as much as the old disco classics of yore (also to note, a lot of people nowadays prefer ANYTHING to the same 10 or 15 songs that got played to death ad-nauseum back in the 70's) But to my original point. Why do I like Hustle? Very simply, its gliding soaring feel (should this bird-like attribute surprise you?) with all the fancy spins, wraps and twirls make it really fun for a guy to lead, and it gives the lady a chance to really shine as well (provided of course she isn’t prone to dizziness or needs a lot of Dramamine while dancing- LOL)
Rumba: A very expressive, romantic Latin dance. I tend to think of this as the Latin version of the Waltz. Characterized by a quick-quick-slow rhythm and undulating moves, this is a very well-loved dance for many.
Foxtrot: There must be a romantic fool in me somewhere. How many people can resist gliding around the floor leading a beautiful lady to the sounds of Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra as she looks at you adoringly. I most certainly cannot resist, not only the gliding aspect, (appealing to my inner-bird) but the grand sweeping variations that are possible are great fun as well!
I'm also occasionally prone to some Salsa (which is also great fun), and an occasional Tango or Waltz if I feel really adventurous and sufficiently persuaded by an understanding partner (this is a tough one to learn). I have to admit, I never much cared for Quickstep (just waaaayyyyy too corny and old-fashioned for me, and besides I NEVER liked 2/2 cut-time in music).
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS (WITH THE LADY DOING A COUNTERCLOCKWISE FREE-SPIN INTO A DIP)
As time went on and I became more confident and competent as a social dancer (I don’t compete), more thoughts occurred to me why I like it so much: It’s an established fact that for humans to be mentally and spiritually healthy, we need regular physical contact and touch. Social Dancing provides that for a lot of people in a safe non-threatening environment (Note: Asking someone to dance is NOT asking to have a serious relationship with the person, rather it is asking, "Would you spend a few moments on the dance floor with me in a spirit of fun, friendship and social interaction?") Dancing is known to be very healing emotionally and spiritually. I can speak from experience, dancing helped me stay emotionally and spiritually stable through some very challenging times in my life and lifted my spirits like nothing else could. The interaction with other people is just the most wonderful thing one can experience