Your Dancing Sucks But This Post Isn’t About That

I’m a big fan of Bug’s Question of The Day which is a Facebook page started by a dancer named Bug Brockway.  It’s a pretty simple concept: She poses a dance related question and people chime in.

A question from last weekend read:

Why is there such a resistance to fusion dancing and how can we fix the way fusion is perceived?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a variation of this question asked over the years, and the initial answers were pretty unsurprising. “Outsiders just don’t understand,” “Purists hate new innovations,” etc.  Pretty much par for the course for these kinds of discussions.

The main problem with these kinds of threads, is that they never cut to the heart of the matter.  They always dance around (hey yo!) by talking about peripheral issues: technical aspects of dance, semantic arguments about terms with no real consensus definitions among their supporters, or just straight up straw men arguments (Fusion dancers are free spirits and everyone else is an anal retentive asshole)

Probably the broadest definition of fusion dancing is combining different kinds of dancing to different kinds of songs.  Maybe someone has something more specific, but I kinda don’t care because that’s not what I believe is at issue here.  Although I will note the inherent contradiction of having a free spirited buffet style approach towards dance on one hand, while on the other, wondering why outsiders don’t “get it.”

Here’s an example that I’ve commonly seen people post as a good example of fusion dancing

I’m rarely negatively critical about dance on this blog, but I’m going to go out a limb and say that this is a terrible dance. I haven’t seen much better in terms of fusion videos, and I see a lot of video clips.  Even though I can spend an entire post pointing out every single flaw here, I’m not terribly interested in doing that. Nor am I interested in listening to a defense of this dance, because ultimately I really don’t care.

I do want to point out the reaction of the crowd which treats this like it’s the greatest dance ever performed on hardwood.  This is the reason why I can’t take the fusion community very seriously.

Just so I’m clear: I’m cool with people wanting to partner or solo dance to any kind of music.  Heck, just this past weekend I listened to Nina Gilkenson DJ a dance that was equal parts swing music, hot jazz, soul, and 80′s and 90′s pop tunes, and I had a damn good time flailing around.  Also, what I’m pointing out isn’t a difference in aesthetic taste.  Take this for example

I know lots of people who have posted this on Facebook and other places and love it.  I personally don’t care for it.  But at least I can acknowledge the effort and skill it takes to pull it off.  Also, I can appreciate other kinds of dancing without knowing very much about them like Belly Dance, Tap, Hip Hop, or even Martial Arts.

Check out these two videos and concentrate on Kevin St. Laurent in both.  The first is from the 2000 American Lindy Hop Championships.  The second is a year later from the same event.

What’s interesting to me is that Kevin & Maggie Moon won the World Lindy Hop Championships two months after that first clip.  Yet, despite that accomplishment, you can see Kevin make a huge improvement a year later.

Next up check out Skye Humphries at the North Atlantic Dance Championships in April of 2001 dancing with Jojo Jackson.  The second clip is him dancing with Carla Heiney at ALHC in October of that same year.

Skye has always been regarded as a kind of wunderkind in our scene ever since he started.  He and the other Moochers brought in a much different kind of energy and approach to the dance and they were all highly regarded even early on.  He once told me that one of the most important things that happened to him around this time was Steven Mitchell taking him aside and telling Skye that he really wasn’t that good, and that he should do something about that.

My point in bringing up these videos and stories is that even though these men were considered near the top of the scene, they didn’t stop learning or pushing themselves and the dance.

Here are the same two dancers from that first video less than a year later.

As far as I’ concerned, there is no discernible improvement here, yet the crowd still reacts just as strongly.  These aren’t just some random people; these are some of the headlining instructors at the event in this video.

Here’s the bottom line:  I don’t have an issue with someone wanting to create something new.  I think that’s great.  Go for it.  But if fusion dancers want to be taken seriously by other people, then they’re going to have to face the fact that most fusion dancing isn’t very good by any definition outside of their own.  I feel like there’s a distinct lack of self awareness or just complete denial of this within the fusion community.  Anything goes.  Nothing is bad. Everything is good.  That limits their ability to take any kind of criticism and progress.   It’s hard to have a productive conversation when one side wallows in such willful ignorance.

I would completely be supportive of the fusion community if someone, anyone, just admitted: “Yes fusion dancers aren’t very good now, but we’re still working on it.”  But I never hear that.  Not in Bug’s most recent question or in any other online conversation with outsiders.

I can sense all kinds of indignation building on keyboards out there.  If people want to expend energy coming after me, be my guest.  There’s plenty to make fun of.  Just remember this:  At the end of the day, A) you’re not going to change my mind about a dance with a comment on my blog, and B) your dancing will still suck.

Believe it or not, I’m not posting just to be antagonistic.  There’s a question of perception out there, and I’m providing as honest an answer as I can.  The funny thing is that we’ve seen this sort of thing play out before.

The hoary old expression in Lindy is that “There are no mistakes in Lindy, just new moves.”  Fusion dancers seemed to have adopted this creed with enthusiasm.  It’s an adaptation of a quote by Art Tatum “There’s no such thing as a wrong note,” but very few people quote the whole thing:

“Just remember that there’s no such thing as a wrong note; what makes it wrong is when you don’t know where to go after that one.”

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66 Comments

  1. Karen said,

    December 3, 2010 at 5:26 am

    I love Nina and Michael. “You did not really tape that, did you?”

    • Tena Morales said,

      December 5, 2010 at 11:58 pm

      “Maybe”…. Jerry, my Jerry! How do I love thee…let me count the ways…

  2. angie said,

    December 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Jerry, can you come preach it in my hometown?
    thanks

    (miss you!)
    Angie

    • Jerry said,

      December 3, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      Sure. Just send viable dates to my assistant, and we’ll see what I have available. I can fly myself in but I will need private accommodations and be continuously escorted by a minimum of 7 vested virgins. Or 13 unvested ones.

      • angie said,

        December 5, 2010 at 1:24 pm

        dude, it’ll have to be 13 unvested ones. it’s portland.

  3. Joanna said,

    December 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I want to give you a big hug for this post. Thanks Jerry!

  4. dmitriy said,

    December 3, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    great post. +

    While i don’t agree with everything, the post is well written and I loved the way you used videos to illustrate your point.

    Thanks,

    Dmitriy

    • Jerry said,

      December 3, 2010 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks. I think videos are really important when trying to talk about dance. I think the main reason why all those style war discussions back in the day used to go round and round on Yehoodi and other message boards was because few people could really visualize what everyone else was talking about. You noticed everyone stopped talking about that stuff once Jenn, Justin, and Manu put together that video of Frankie & Dean dancing side by side to point out that they were doing the same damn thing, so everyone could move on to talk about how much groovy and vintage music sucked,

  5. Mike said,

    December 3, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Great post. This is exactly the kind of discussion that needs to be had in the Blues/Fusion world!

  6. Apache said,

    December 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Are you sure this is Baltimore? I don’t see any empty liquor bottles.

    But on a more serious note, great post. Every discussion I have tried to have about fusion dancing has ended with, “You just don’t understand because you are an outsider” implication.

  7. Sandy said,

    December 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    *STANDING OVATION*

  8. Kenny said,

    December 3, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    wonderful timing considered I received an email invite to Urban Blues Recess this morning. The whole fusion dance movement frustrates me to no end.

  9. Jessica said,

    December 3, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Is it possible to get some context on the Fusion videos? While I’m familiar with events such as ALHC, I’m not as familiar with the size or audience of the fusion exchanges.

    Where this matters is in terms of the reaction of the audience. For example, in the lindy hop world an audience of beginner dancers or an audience where the dancers have lots of friends in the crowd is likely to be very loud and appreciative, even if the performers are only intermediate/advanced.

    • Jerry said,

      December 3, 2010 at 5:13 pm

      The Fusion Exchange is a floating event. The first video was in Portland in 2009 and the next in San Diego in 2010. It’s in Boston next year. I think the first one was in Houston in 2008. It’s pretty much the main (maybe even only) fusion focused event out there since most dancers that actively practice fusion tend to be a subset of blues events.

      • Jessica said,

        December 6, 2010 at 10:02 am

        Thanks for the context!

  10. December 3, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I saw that question on Bug’s Question of the Day, and I was thinking the exact same thing when I read it! Thanks for writing this!

  11. Breanna said,

    December 4, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    You’re a genius, big surprise.

    If nothing else, I think everyone has to appreciate this post because of the first video of Kevin (THAT. SHIRT.) and the last video of Nina (Oh, Nina! Amazing.). Who else has the nerves and the goods to let us see this kind of thing?

  12. Stacia Martin said,

    December 5, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Dear Jerry Almonte,

    Be still my heart. This post is everything.

    Sincerely,
    Stacia

  13. Ann said,

    December 7, 2010 at 2:34 am

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate just for fun and say that I have seen one example of Blues/Tango (+ WCS?) fusion that I liked: Campbell Miller & Chris Mayer’s performance at Blues Shout 2010. http://youtu.be/6zktVBB9GfI Here’s hoping they get hired to teach a lot and thereby spread within the blues/fusion communities whatever personal philosophies have turned them into the dancers who could pull off that routine.

    • Jerry said,

      December 7, 2010 at 8:27 am

      I like this performance too. I didn’t think of it as fusion, but it looks good at least.

      • Damon said,

        December 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm

        It really isn’t Fusion the “dance”, it is fusion by inspiration, there are about half a dozen different places where they borrowed ideas/steps from other dancers. I would generally consider that just being good dancing myself, taking what you know and dancing it as the music inspires you to.

  14. Kevin said,

    December 7, 2010 at 3:28 am

    I think any examples of dancing in shirts THAT big are automatically disqualified. They could be hiding really bad/good dancers underneath their shirts and no-one would be the wiser…

  15. Jerry said,

    December 7, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Oddly enough, it seems that WordPress doesn’t process ping backs from Tumblr. Learning something new every day. Anyway, here’s a response I found to my post.

    http://lindyhopr.tumblr.com/post/2127356575/in-defense-of-fusion-and-all-dance-in-general

    • Jeff said,

      December 7, 2010 at 11:24 am

      Hahaha. Hey, how do you think I feel? Tumblr gives zero web analytics and statistics. I have no idea if people are even reading my stupid little blog, beyond the occasional “like” and “reblog” on the site (I was actually surprised the day you turned up and commented).

      Anyway, yes, it’s a response, and I really don’t think much debate is necessary beyond what’s already been said now. I don’t even do Fusion dancing! (Why am I defending it in the first place? Oh, the things I do when there’s time on my hands…) But anyway, I think we’re all rational adults with perfectly acceptable opinions, however much we’ll agree or disagree with each other.

      Keep on bloggin’?

  16. Damon said,

    December 7, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I think the Defense of Fusion blog post is misguided. I think the entire reason for it being can be deduced form the first paragraph, it is someone who is friends with Lucky and disliked his being used to illustrate your points. His arguments don’t refute yours in any meaningful ways and too often provide proof of several of your points.

    There is no discernible improvement in the dancers in the two instances shown, and while some of the tricks are well executed most are poorly timed with the music, which makes them just that, tricks. I do agree with the point about applause though, the level or lack of it during a performance is not particularly revealing of motive from a video tape alone.

    • Jerry said,

      December 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm

      I’ll admit I’m a little harsh on the crowd reactions in those videos, but I singled those out mostly as a way segue to my point about the attitudes I’m talking about.

      • Damon said,

        December 8, 2010 at 5:46 pm

        Now I have seen those attitudes at the fusion events I’ve attended and among the fusion dancers during fusion demos. So it isn’t that I disagree with the statements just saying that the video is not indicative of that motivation.

  17. December 7, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    [...] reading the comments on Jerry Almonte’s latest post and the comments made by lindyhopr with mild interest. I have nothing to add to that discussion [...]

  18. anders said,

    December 8, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I dislike the whole ‘fusion’ thing became it pushes its way into the blues scene over here (scotland) … and while i accept that people are free to dance to whatever music they want to …. the opposite is also true

    not wanting to dance to shit pop music that doesn’t make me want to dance means that people moan at me about being a purist …

    which is irritating

  19. Adam said,

    December 14, 2010 at 4:39 am

    I think it comes down to a lack of an aesthetic quality in the example you used for fusion. When I think of dance, words or ideas that pop into my head are graceful, rhythmic, perform, and in time to music.

    I’m struggling to see any of those in the two fusion examples. For me I don’t think a dance has to have all of those things for me to appreciate it, but it needs to contain a stronger connection with the music. It reminds me of a jazz quote about solos that I don’t fully remember, basically if you don’t have anything to say, don’t take a solo.

    • Yonemoto said,

      December 24, 2010 at 4:47 am

      you mean like this?

  20. December 15, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Fusion and the idea therein bothers me to no end. While I would say that I do respect Lucky and Lessa’s dancing, and their teaching, I think its different philosophies that guide us all..

    I think a few things that have permeated the Lindy Hop scene, and a core part of the blues scene are the ideas of authenticity, drawing pictures of the music with your body that are consistent with historic or popular youtube imagery, and not adding movement that has no purpose. Fusion does the opposite on all three counts as far as I’ve ever seen.

    I also think “fusing” some styles does not work, especially when the two individual styles by themselves could take a lifetime to master… Particularly, I am frustrated trying to see resolution in fusing afro-influenced dance with a European dance tradition… the pulses never match and the music is frequently less than subtle.

    There are a lot of fusions that I don’t care for on a non dance level.. I see in life people trying to make things new again, make them pop, or make them more commercial…. commercial punk or ska music, overproduced rock opera neo musicals, those wierd hybrid motorcycles, sushi with cream cheese/hot dogs/chocolate syrup, leggings combined with jeans to name a few… All these fusions including multi-dance-disciplinary fusions are obviously all attracting a fan base, so I don’t want to take anyones fun away, I just want to be more of an innovative purist myself… trying to make the new fit with the old…. not mush it into something indiscernible.

    I think blues could learn a lot from tango,bal dancers can learn a lot from ballet, lindy hoppers (especially ones that like soul, such as myself) could take a few westie tips… competitive lindy hoppers can learn from acrobats, we can all learn from jazz/modern/tap/ballet… but that doesn’t mean we need to seek to always combine the two, or use them simultaneously…

    I seek to change my body to match the music, and not try to put something into the music that wasn’t there.

    I’m glad people are speaking up to give honest opinions. I do respect creativity… I just fell in love with the music at some point, and I don’t want to pollute the genre with pop music, loose aesthetics, or weirdness for the sake of being different….

    • dogpossum said,

      December 9, 2013 at 1:47 am

      “I also think “fusing” some styles does not work, especially when the two individual styles by themselves could take a lifetime to master…”

      I like this bit, Dan. And I think this is the part of dodgy fusion that bothers me most: peeps (improperly) learn some bits and pieces and squoosh them together (clumsily), then argue that the result is legit-good dancing because #fusion. When I’d be arguing that the result is clumsy mishmash rather than the result of extensive work in a couple of different styles.

  21. Melissa said,

    December 23, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Ok, I disagree. I’ll be the first to comment who does. I’m guessing you’re a guy who likes structure, no? You like to have a basic structure, for certain expectations to be followed, for there to be a lot of left-brain logic. The videos you showed that you liked had these components to them, and the progression of dancers in the videos also showed improvements that could be judged by a list of dance abilities and components that someone could only improve on through careful attention to detail, dedicated practice, and learning from more skilled dancers. I can definitely appreciate your method of analysis. It’s done well. But what I think is missing is more of a right-brained analysis (kind of an oxymoron, but humor me). I think dance also involves the creative expression of music that is more difficult to judge based off a checklist. I do think that the fusion dancers significantly improved between the two clips. For a couple things, I think Lessa improved on fluidity, and Lucky improved on leading more of a variety of moves with greater difficulty. But beyond the left-brained aspect of it, I think that fusion dancing can express more of a feeling. I’m much more moved by the second clip than the first. It’s certainly something subjective, but I guess my main point is to consider what your definition of dance is. I was very impressed by both fusion clips, and certainly have a lot of respect for Lessa and Lucky. I appreciate your opinion on the matter, and see where you’re coming from, but just wanted to throw another perspective out there.

    • Jerry said,

      December 23, 2010 at 11:04 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. For me, it’s not about technique or musicality or aesthetics or any kind of artistic or creative issue can be analyzed subjectively or objectively. What it comes to, as far as I’m concerned, is that I don’t see these dancers reflect a sense of self awareness. Of their general ability or even of what they’re doing at any given moment. Nevermind that their dancing is or is not objectively good or that I can or cannot comprehend what they’re doing. It doesn’t seem like they know what they’re doing. Maybe they think they do, but it’s not reflected in their movements. That second dance is a frenetic jumble of ideas, like two kids with ADD on acid. Which would be fine if that’s what they were purposefully going for, but I don’t sense that. Because they have no sense of self, their dance has no purpose. They’re just stumbling over ideas that aren’t even well executed. Lucky for example is rushing his leads. Is he doing that on purpose to create a chaotic tension in counterpoint to her attempts to interject slower movements of intimacy or does he just have a terrible sense of rhythm? I’ve seen enough video clips to think that its the latter. But again, my ultimate argument is not about the dancing itself.

      We obviously disagree about what we’re looking at. I’m actually very sympathetic to your point of view, and I would suggest you check out this post which I cited in the blog above because I think it addresses the same issues you raise. http://jsalmonte.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/air-pt-15-yin-yang/

      • Yonemoto said,

        December 24, 2010 at 5:03 am

        I’m not really that deep into the fusion community but I know how you feel about the situation. But there really are some amazing fusion dancers… I tend to default to Shawn Hershey/Amanda Gruhl when I’m showing people what fusion is “about” or has the “potential to become”. I saw a few amazing performances at BamBloozled in DC earlier this month. I think part of it might be the really solid dancers draw inspiration to dance of the past while at the same time innovating. For example:

      • Jerry said,

        December 24, 2010 at 10:19 am

        One of the dangers of writing so broadly about a group is that I’ll sweep up exceptions into that description that I don’t mean to. I’ll readily admit that I do that here. I do agree with you and enjoy Amanda & Shawn’s dancing in general although I think the two performances you’ve linked are a little over choreographed for my tastes. I really like this demo they did to the same song you linked to earlier. It’s a little bit more relaxed and spontaneous than the routine.

      • Jamie said,

        December 28, 2010 at 4:28 pm

        Just as a correction. First video [Yonemoto said,
        December 24, 2010 at 5:03 am] is Paul and Amanda, not Shawn and Amanda. Go Boston.

  22. Yonemoto said,

    December 24, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Wow that video is great! Amanda’s fun to dance social with too =). Yeah, shawn and Amanda aren’t exactly huge huge names in the fusion scene (yet?) so it’s hard to track down videos of them and naturally the ones that are available are more likely to be choreographed videos.

    I happen to agree that the fusion community needs to get serious about having standards. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same for each person, especially since people are bringing ideas in from different places, but you really should be able to look at the video and say, “ok, that’s something that’s impressive about it”. I think you’re right, the dance was really horrible, and I can’t believe that people use it as an example of fusion. I also happen to strongly dislike the tango instructor demo from SDFX (was there live for that one), and when I tried to explain why I didn’t like it, I got a ton of flak. Shrug.

    Part of dancing though, and this should apply to fusion just as well as traditional dances (keeping in mind that Lindy was sort of an “original fusion” of western and african styles) – is that you have some constraints that you’re working in and improvising within those constraints. If you choose to break a constraint, in order for it to be great, you really ought to be aware that that was a choice. Or, if you’re making an ‘inspirational accident’, you should have the presence of mind that what you did worked for reason X, and that there is an exploration of that space you just created.

  23. Jamie said,

    December 26, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Social Dancing is about fun.

    If you and your lead/follow are having fun then who the F cares whether it’s good dancing by someone’s judgement??? People are clapping and hooting at Lucky and Lessa because above all else they have having a LOT of fun and the crowd knows that (and I was there).

    So I hate to be a little harsh here, but you need to stop judging people from a pulpit about technique, and look at the goal of social dancing. If you aren’t having fun then don’t do it. Don’t come to fusion events and don’t dance to stuff that you don’t already know how to dance to before hand. We do fusion dancing because its fun, its fun to dance to different music in different ways. I will admit you are right in a few things, which is that the clips you presented here aren’t the best examples of musicality. Lets also look at something else Lucky and Lessa don’t even live on the same coast so they don’t get to practice together as maybe some of the other couples you showed. I also don’t know if you have ever done a demo in front of a whole audience, but improvising a dance and putting all those elements in while under the pressure of a crowd is very very hard. Try it sometime, un-choreographed.

    We don’t have fusion competitions, there isn’t a fusion championship because this isn’t dance to be competed, this is dancing to have fun.

    • Jerry said,

      December 26, 2010 at 11:51 am

      I’m shocked; shocked and awed that the people social dance for fun. Never in 11 years have I considered that people social dance just for reasons other than refining their technique. I’m glad I don’t ever go to events that play non-traditional lindy music or that I would be caught dead dancing to something other than classic vintage jazz. And you’re right about performing improvised in front of a crowd, I’ve never seen that done well, and as such I don’t know anything about it. I might as well pack it in and delete this blog.

      In all seriousness, you’re obviously new here. If thinking that I’m some sort of technique nazi will help you sleep well at night, then I advise you to stop reading. Otherwise make yourself at home, and take a look around. You may find my views on dancing are a little more nuanced than you want them to be.

      Thanks for reading. Tell your friends.

      • Kevin said,

        December 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm

        I love this blog.

      • Jamie said,

        December 28, 2010 at 10:52 am

        So having read your satire, and read this post. I come down to wondering what you are actually saying. I see a bunch of analysis and videos but no discernible ideas or conclusion. So therefore I must conclude that this entry is just a jumble of half formed ideas like a blogger on ADD. Perhaps even a lack of self-awareness in argumentation or editing. I’m not really sure which, and honestly don’t really care that much.

        Now I’m not as good at you at linking so I don’t know how to link in all the comments that the above satire comes from. But what I do know is that dancing to Fusion is fun, its also rare since there are only a few dance events per year (unlike Lindy where good scenes can dance every day). And like you also said, we’re human and we don’t like being judged on things we enjoy doing. However if you have any actually constructive feedback(and I don’t currently see any), that may be welcomed with a more open attitude.

      • Jerry said,

        December 28, 2010 at 11:59 am

        Well played. Jonathan Swift would be proud. Too bad he’s dead because he’d enjoy the irony here.

      • Damon said,

        December 28, 2010 at 2:15 pm

        If you missed it try reading Bug’s QoD at the top and then pass all the videos to Jerry’s “Bottom Line” statement in that first post. That sums it up all right there. The question and the answer as he sees it.

    • Damon said,

      December 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      Jaime your post completely misses the point. By miles. As soon as someone starts charging someone else for lessons in dancing, and workshops were those who are already dancers are intended to go to become even better critique becomes something you MUST accept as part of doing business.

      Anyone seeking to become better at a dance is best served with teachers who understand what makes the dance function from a technical side as well as what creates the aesthetics of the style, and how it is tied to the the music. These should be things we all agree on. If we don’t there is no point in having this discussion.

      Jerry used Lucky and Lessa because they have video clips publicly available and have at various points had these specific clips pointed out as a good example of fusion.

      If you don’t want your dancing commented upon keep it off Youtube. Don’t perform or give public demos. Again no one should expect anything else than comments when they put themselves in public in this way, positive and/or negative.

      So to get to your other specifics -

      “Who the F cares if it is good dancing by someone else’s judgments?”
      Anyone who wants to hire teachers, hire performers, take classes from teachers, or generally not look or feel good on the floor.

      “They don’t even live on the same coast”
      Professionals doing the same dance get together and dance in competitions and demonstrations all around the world every weekend, and many look simply amazing while doing so, entirely with the music and each other. I can provide examples and clips if you’d like but YouTube is chock full of them and you can use its search functions as well as I.

      Many of the people posting here have performed, unchoreographed, in front of a sizable audience on multiple occasions, even with people we don’t get to dance with frequently (and in some cases only met an hour or so before).

      Rather than trying (unsuccessfully I might add) at defending the dance and the dancers used to illustrate Jerry’s points, how about acknowledging that he is mostly right and work on improving those areas that matter to you. If what he says is fundamentally misguided because Fusion is somehow different than every other form of social dance (no requirement for musicality or smooth transitions, or desire for instructors to strive for continued growth and improvement) then simply say so and ignore the blog post as a bunch of people who “don’t get it.”

      • Jamie said,

        December 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm

        You’re right there was a lot of indignance in the first response I made.

        And maybe he’s right that we all suck and should just admit that we all suck and are working on it. BUT it still hurts to have that be judged without any real constructive criticism, and comparing one of the more junior instructor pairs at the only national Fusion event to a set of world class lindy dancers, and saying “See they suck!” Well duh. And also judged by someone who doesn’t feel that its his type of dance. That’s a lot like me going to a experimental Salsa weekend and poking fun at instructors there, knowing little about Salsa.

        How long as the FX been going on? 3 years. How long has I/ULHC been going on? Or any of the big Lindy Hop events.

        I will also admit that you are correct, putting videos up on Youtube invites criticism of all kinds, good and bad. Same is true with Blogs btw, and I disagree with this persons post about Fusion being terrible. A bunch of people tacked on and said, Halleluja Jerry. I’m saying his analysis is invalid.

        Finally as I’m sure you are aware Damon, most of the instructors in the Blues Scene, and especially the very small number of Fusion events, are very young relative to their dancing careers. Probably too few of them (and I’m going to include myself in this because of my earlier response) have the developed diplomatic skills to take an attack like this blog post and not get defensive about a new art form that they enjoy.

      • Jamie said,

        December 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm

        Finally, I want to recognize your historical knowledge and basis in Blues and its documented aesthetic and style.

        But I also want to point out that dances evolve, and Fusion did mostly evolve from the Blues dancing community as a response to new/different styles of music. Even Blues as a dance form is evolving with the younger generation that is now dancing it. In some analogous way that I’m very very sure that it was evolving back in the days when it was a young set of mostly black communities that played it, danced it and made it up as they went.

      • Damon said,

        December 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

        I think the biggest problem is that people keep insisting that Fusion is a dance… and it most certainly is not. It is not a dance, it is not a music style, it is a concept, one which I may add is as old as dance itself.

        As such the idea of Fusion dancers being young in their dance career is not particularly true, since anyone who does an improvisational street dance is a fusion dancer. I honestly think Jerry has touched on what lies at the heart of problem, that Fusion dancers in an effort to identify themselves as something new and unique, have also cut themselves off from a rich history that they could learn from. Which is ironic.

        IF Fusion wants to improve as a dance, then I suggest hiring people who are experts in the fields the community wants to fuse. Harsh criticism sucks, but it is how we grow. How we improve. I see people wanting Fusion to be accepted and taken seriously, but it won’t take itself seriously. How can you expect anyone else to do differently?

        The harshest criticisms I have ever heard about my dancing were from my mentors, friends and family members all. Being told something I did sucked was a wake up call, because my peers loved what I did… of course they knew no more than I did.

        Have you ever watched American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance? Do you see when the judges tell the mediocre to bad performers that they aren’t good enough, to out right terrible? Do you see how those people respond? Some get angry and others accept it. Some use that coming back having worked harder to be better.

        Think of Jerry as Simon/Nigel. Get angry. Don’t defend the indefensible, get better and make him acknowledge that the points he raised are no longer true.

        This is the kind of thing that makes me want to start a small fusion event. Just so people can see what you dancers are capable of when someone demands excellence out of you rather than celebrating your uniqueness.

  24. Jamie said,

    December 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I like your response, and I think every dancer can understand this kind of response well and respond to it. I’m also encouraged by the instructor line up at BFX because some of them really are headlining instructors in their fields. I also agree with you that getting good at Fusing say Ar Tango with Blues, necessarily requires becoming good at Tango, and getting good at Blues.

    So perhaps then the constructive thing to do is to have classes that are Tango classes by Tango instructors for blues dancers. And Blues classes, by Blues Instructors, for Tango dancers. Firmly rooted then in the two forms they can go off and create their own fusion. Instead of teaching “Fusion.”

    I think one of the frustrations expressed by Fusion dancers is that many classes in dance forms don’t address what previous dancers need to know. A reasonably advanced blues dancer going to a beginner Tango class is going to feel bored 80% of the time because the teacher is busy talking about how to move your legs and create partner connection. An area where blues and tango have a lot of overlap. So how do Instructors be specific about targeting classes to other dance form dancers? A challenge no doubt, but one that frustrates probably all of us, and probably draws us to a Fusion Specific Event. (Which probably is an amusing oxymoron)

    Finally to respond to one other comment. What do you call it? Yes you may be correct Fusion is a description/modifier, not a name. I have occasionally jokingly called Blues Tango Fusion ‘Blango’. Nuevo Tango actually isn’t too far off, but the Tanguero’s in the crowd would say still that its different. But what do you call a dance that really does combine a bunch of different dance styles? I’m open to suggestions. If Blues Tango WCS HipHop fusion really is a new dance form then it hasn’t settled enough to have a name. What would you call any of those dance pairs.

    • Jamie said,

      December 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm

      This was in response to what Damon said,
      December 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm, I mis-threaded it.

    • Damon said,

      January 9, 2011 at 2:30 am

      I would call it freestyle because that is what it is.

      A dance form has a discernible aesthetic, something that is carried across from dance to dance, and when applicable, partner to partner. When you can outline an aesthetic that “fusion” dancers adhere to and how it is related to the music they dance too, then fusion will be a dance unto itself.

      The problem with teaching tango for blues dancers, or blues for tango dancers is that while there are some superficial similarities the manner in which they are expressed is almost entirely different technically and musically.

      It requires a teacher who is observant enough to figure out when to move on and what needs to be stressed when there is a conflict and students with enough self-awareness and a critical eye to know when they are not achieving what is being shown, and then ask for clarification.

  25. Damon said,

    December 28, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Gah. I hate the word “evolve” when it comes to dance. There is the implication that the new is better than the old, and that is demonstrably not true.

    Fusion didn’t evolve out of blues, it evolved out of dancers who wanted to dance to familiar contemporary music in ways that were familiar. Nothing wrong with that, but a large portion of the people who self-identified as blues dancers never danced in the blues aesthetic, and a large amount rarely danced to actual blues music.

    Until about 2004 most blues rooms played at best 20% blues music and most of the dancing was without the defining characteristics of Blues. Fusion is actually a continued outgrowth of the freestyle/groove and slow lindy crowd, but without the restrictions about the music being “bluesy.”

    I quite enjoy dancing to contemporary music using the solo and partner dance skills I have developed. The movement being slow, very connected, and in close embrace does not equate to blues. Body Rolls does not equate to blues. Small weight shifts does not equate to blues. This is why I point out that so many people claiming to do a fusion of blues with other stuff, or blues to non-blues music are just wrong. No blues content, no blues music, no blues aesthetic, no blues musicality, no blues technique, means no blues involved in the fusion.

    That does not mean the dancing can’t be fun, compelling, or good, it just means that the person is wrong about the blues component. Just like when someone is dancing in open position it does not immediately qualify as west coast or lindy hop being involved in the fusion.

    Just wanted to clarify that.

    And yes, blues dance (traditional) is a constantly changing and growing thing. It has been since the very beginning. The question we have to ask ourselves is, when does the change explore the space within the aesthetic bounds and step outside of the aesthetic bounds? Right now at the major blues dance events it is clearly in the bounds. Most of the recognized top instructors in Blues are well within those bounds. They are part of a living tradition.

    When you compare their movement and musicality, and the technique that makes it all happen with the old timers and the historical dances and steps and see no technical or aesthetic conflicts, that is how we can look at them and say they are blues dancing. When there are conflicts, contradictions someone has stepped outside of blues. They may be creating a fusion, they may be creating something new. They may inspire more exploration and development within the blues aesthetic, but that dance or those dancers in that moment are outside of it.

    I can look at a color chart and see a large number of shades of blue… but eventually I get to the point where the other colors added to the blue transform it into another color. Too much Yellow and the Blue becomes a shade of Green. Too much Red and it becomes a shade of Purple.

    • August 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      This discussion between Jamie and Damon is far more persuasive and nuanced than the post that generated it. I finally feel I have a good handle on the arguments on both sides of the fusion debate (a debate in which I have no personal investment).

  26. Devona said,

    January 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    “I think one of the frustrations expressed by Fusion dancers is that many classes in dance forms don’t address what previous dancers need to know. A reasonably advanced blues dancer going to a beginner Tango class is going to feel bored 80% of the time because the teacher is busy talking about how to move your legs and create partner connection. An area where blues and tango have a lot of overlap. So how do Instructors be specific about targeting classes to other dance form dancers? A challenge no doubt, but one that frustrates probably all of us, and probably draws us to a Fusion Specific Event. (Which probably is an amusing oxymoron)”.

    um.. actually that is exactly the class you should take as one dancer trying on another dance. the details of how the legs use the floor, how the posture changes, and how the connection is made are extremely important in being able switch dances. The fact that you think that there is enough of an overlap between tango and blues, that that class would be worthless shows that you either dont understand tango, or dont understand blues, or both. Because they are QUITE different in how they use their legs and create their connection.

    • Jon said,

      January 13, 2011 at 2:01 am

      My thoughts exactly. I haven’t met a trad blues dancer with no real experience in tango who can do even basic tango steps well.

    • Rachael said,

      August 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      I completely agree – I have tried to stand on a soap box for this SO many times – the two dances are NOT the same… the connection/technique is actually very different. I am a blues dancer, but my tango sucks. period. I am very aware of that fact thus I take beginner tango lessons, and if that means all I do is relearn how to walk for 4 months… bring it on!! :) The people who skip right into intermediate make me crazy – I feel it is incredibly disrespectful to the dance style that you think you are too good to learn the basics and develop and in-depth knowledge and appreciation… they just want to be “good” and are defining “good” by what level of class they take. I define “good” very differently.

  27. Rachel Green said,

    January 9, 2011 at 3:30 am

    I love this blog

  28. Jon said,

    January 13, 2011 at 2:19 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this. My main frustration with the fusion scene is that 90% of my dances suck. This percentage gets better when I narrow my partner selection down to the people who can actually dance some established form well. Most of the time it’s with another tango dancer and I dick around trying to maintain musicality on a floor not moving like a tango floor and I feel it looks ridiculous, but still fun.

    The real problem with the fusion scene is that they claim it’s fusion when really it’s just sloppy blues. I know this has been said before, but before you can fuse anything you’ve gotta be gold at at least two things. As far as I’m concerned, with musicality and adaptability as the most important thing, those two things oughta be tango and blues or Lindy. Only problem is you’ve gotta dance tango a lot and push yourself a lot for at least 5 years to be good and I’m sure the same goes for blues and lindy.

    Then these people come in wanting to teach fusion or whatever the hell to people with no dance background and 95 % of the time it’s a gigantic shit show. I grant the small percentage of people who are just naturally talented and can make even the most ambiguous slurry of movements elegant and the connection good.

    Anyway, keep up the good fight for what’s worth fighting for, with words, or dance battles.

  29. Shawn said,

    January 16, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    I’ve ended up on this blog on multiple occasions and always find it really interesting. Thanks for all the excellent posts!

    I felt like responding since Amanda and I were mentioned (thankfully mostly positively).

    Although I understand and agree with a lot of the main points of this post, I have to say that I loved SDFX and BFX (the last two big fusion exchanges). I really enjoyed exploring partner dancing to styles of music that I rarely get to dance to (a lot of electronic, hip hop, and pop). There are plenty of excellent dancers at these events for me to have a great time social dancing. So even if there are negative things about “Fusion”, I personally have had a great time at two of the main “Fusion” events.

    I’ll certainly agree that the kick ass dancers (by my standard/tastes) at the Fusion event are kick ass in Blues, Lindy, West Coast or something else. I haven’t yet seen a kick ass “Fusion” dancer that doesn’t know another dance form really well.

    And to second what Jamie said, the instructors for the Boston Fusion Exchange were, for the most part, very solid instructors and dancers of their respective disciplines. I almost wish I had been teaching fewer classes so I could have taken some of the others.

    Some other random thoughts:
    I totally agree that any blues dancer has to start from the basics when studying Tango. That being said, anyone who’s truly advanced in one form of movement will learn faster than a person with average movement training. It can therefore be more time efficient to take a few private lessons rather than a Tango class for rank beginners. Amanda and I took many private lessons and started social dancing before going into classes. It was way more fun than taking beginner classes. Carlos and Tova gave us a really good base on which to build. That being said, we’re still beginners at Tango compared to Blues and Lindy Hop.

    Another thing, Amanda pointed out something interesting. Only a few years ago, people were saying very similar things about the traditional blues scene and the blues scene has grown, the dancers have improved, and the scene has gained some respect. It’s possible that something similar could happen in the Fusion world. I can see it happening because the Fusion events certainly offer music that isn’t offered at other dance events and people like me love that.

    And finally, although it can seem silly for an audience to go crazy for things that are not super complex or amazing, it sure feels good as a performer or competitor to have tons of audience appreciation. I think both the Blues scene and the Fusion scene do an excellent job of encouraging performs, no matter how good they are. That being said, I do think blues audiences and fusion audiences can recognize excellence. I think the BFX demos this year had a varied level of excellence and the applause reflected that.

  30. January 25, 2011 at 1:05 am

    [...] reality hanging around, so I think I’ll keep it up.  I really admire Jerry Almonte for telling the truth on his blog and not shying away from the consequences, good or bad.  What I have in mind today is [...]

  31. Jo Hoffberg said,

    February 19, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Dang. You threw down. Thank you for this. I think the world is better because of this article.

    Thanks for the video clips. I didn’t really know there was a fusion scene out there, nor would I have guessed that’s what it looked like. I also am very amused with the videos you chose of Kevin.

    Good on ya!!

  32. July 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    The reason fusion doesn’t work is because it has nothing to do with Fusion music. It has to do with people doing dance ‘X’ to music ‘Y’ which, last I checked, was being anti-musical.

    Perhaps I am nitpicking, they are having fun after all. ;-)

    *ahem*

    Back to dancing ‘X’ to music ‘X’.. enjoy!

  33. Tom said,

    March 31, 2012 at 11:56 am

    How many dance styles are pure vs having in some sense a level of fusion in them? Geneaology of dance if you will?

    Fusion dancing: ” combining different kinds of dancing to different kinds of songs”.
    In Salsa say, you could have different styles according to the song.
    In Tango, different styles, according to the song.
    In Blues, different styles, according to the song.

    In a sense, is the issue more mixing genres rather than subgenres?

    I guess we have to say what criteria we’re looking at “good/bad” and from what perspective – as a follow/lead of the dance itself, as an audience member, or an observer outside of the scene.

    Good/bad technique wise – now is that good/bad technique for the dance style itself or the criteria of good technique for the fused styles?

    I guess what may rile some, is basically saying a dance is terrible, but then stating you’re not going to say why, and I don’t care to hear you disagree with that.

    Just stating valid arguments help – and you do –
    “if fusion dancers want to be taken seriously by other people, then they’re going to have to face the fact that most fusion dancing isn’t very good by any definition outside of their own. ”

    But then, how many dances hold up against the definition of dancing of another dance?

    Where’s the hip action says the latin dancer to the Argentian Tango dancer.
    Where’s the energy and showmanship says the lindy hopper to the microblues dancer.
    Where’s the close hold and heart to heart connection says the AT dancer to the line dancer?

    In most dances though across genres, making your dance partner have a good dance, making them look good, and having a good time are pretty big things to achieve.

    Fusion by necessity seems to be freestyling – and it’s a lot more sifting of wheat from chaff to see what moves from different dances work (subjectively) and how to adapt the ones that could.

    How do you judge a mix DJ like DJ Shadow, or say DJ Yoda, against a DJ that just plays tracks? It seems fusion dance’s area of possiblity, can be seen also as it’s limitation.

    But that shouldn’t let fusion off the hook, right? The dancers can or should know what they’re going after, and the dancers, audience, onlookers, critics can hold them to that.
    Is Lucky going after a more showy dance? How do you judge Blues dancing? Should it be showy, how can you measure or take into account the connection of the dancers, when you’re not the ones dancing? (how sharp they are with moves, synchronicity, smoothness, technique/range of movement, how in touch with the music…)

    If you’re a stickler against fusion dance – do you have to dance a style compatible, or true to the song’s style? If not, isn’t every dance that you’re not dancing the specific style to, a fusion dance?
    Slow MJ to a blues track, WCS to Hip hop. Salsa to R&B or Pop.

    Maybe the crowd were appreciative of a show dance of something that isn’t that easy to do, let alone half decently?

  34. Rachael said,

    August 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Love this. Thank you for posting/writing it. Personally, I can’t stand most fusion, period. I don’t dance fusion with self-identified fusion dancers because, well, most of the dances suck (yes, yes, of course there are exceptions… calm yourself). If you want to fuse dance styles I am SO down with that, being cross trained in 10 different dance styles (waltz to salsa to lindy hop to wcs to blues to many many others) and having taught dance for 8 years, I can probably handle whatever you throw at me. But when you suck at the dance you are throwing at me… It makes it feel like crap, and then I don’t have any fun, and then I get grumpy. Especially when you are experimenting with rhythms and styles that just really feel crappy to the song we are dancing to. If you want to fuse dances… then at least attempt to be good enough at them to know what you are doing – if that’s not possible, consider holding off on trying them till you are good enough. Now if you are fantastic at certain dance styles, understand connection, and have some technique under your belt…. bring it on baby! Music style is irrelevant to me as I can usually find a dance style I am trained in to dance to most music, and can pretty easily flow between dance styles…. it is actual ability and technique that is lacking in most “fusion” dancers. I just want to have good dances. “Blind leading the blind” comes to mind. (as a side note – xo to Shawn Hershey, love dancing with you darlin!! – oh and you too Damon ;)…)


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