Naomi Uyama once told me that she sees two different kinds of performances. Those that ask questions and those that make statements.
I thought of that when after I told I Karen and Andrew that I thought (and still do think) that the routine that they performed in the Lindy Hop Showcase earlier this week at Lindy Focus should win. Andrew responded that they didn’t perform to win. They just wanted to say something to their friends and anyone else that would see them. I really think that’s why I love watching them dance.
I’m afraid of a lot of things in life, but I’m comfortable enough with my masculinity to admit that my crush on both of them got that much bigger because of that.
A friend of mine, Ann Mony, posted this on my Facebook wall not too long ago:
“Everyone says, Be ‘creative.’ / Invent something new and they’ll buy it. / But I’ve just invented this mustard ice cream, / And nobody here wants to try it!” – Shel Silverstein
Another person I know, Nick Olinger, also recently brought up the question of achieving individuality in dance in a Facebook note. He expressed the frustration that it’s something many instructors talk about, but hardly know how to actually teach.
This is a topic that fascinates me to no end, and was one of the reasons for me to get this site started. I’m supposed to be writing about a bunch of things, but dance, and the Lindy Hop community specifically, provides all kinds of food for thought in this regard.
I’ve noticed that most of the Lindy Hoppers that I know who are known for their individual styles seem to have come to it on their own. There are a few common traits. Just the other day, I had lunch with a a few friends who noted the streak of obsessive compulsiveness that runs through many great dancers.
I hung out with Karen Turman and Andrew Thigpen towards the end of a late night here at Lindy Focus, watching a video of their performance from earlier that evening. Same video, over and over again. For 30 minutes. And they had started a half an hour before I showed up.
They picked out little details to improve and maybe change for later performances. They explained the background of various sequences which provided more examples of their own OCD. They took sequences from a few different places; sometimes from performances by other Lindy Hoppers, and even at least one instance from America’s Best Dance Crew.
Copying is something that many dancers do to learn something, but the really amorphous line is the one people cross over from mere mimicry to owning their movement; to make it something personal and unique to that person, and not someone else.
The swingout is the most basic movement in Lindy Hop, yet some people do it so distinctly that they have versions that everyone else knows an dissects. The differences between Frankie’s swingout vs. Dean’s were thought to be so significant and even incompatible that the ensuing debates created huge rifts our scene many years ago. On the follows’ side, there’s a noticeable link but great difference between Nina Gilkenson’s swivels to Sylvia Skylar’s to Jewel McGowen’s.
The really great dancers I know have a keen awareness of their bodies; their strengths and their limitations and what they need to do in order to achieve certain looks.
But how does one learn that? That question only seems slightly less mysterious than figuring out how to teach it.
At a certain point, you have to accept that there is just so much researching, analyzing and practicing that you can do before you decide to do something for real like performing a routine, asking a person out to dinner, or rescuing the Kobayashi Maru.
But reaching that point is not the same for everyone. Another problem is that you won’t know you’re successful until after you’re done; sometimes not until long after it’s over and maybe not before you think you’re a complete failure.
You have to believe that what you’re doing is going to be worthwhile, but there’s a thin line between faith and ignorance. Either can fuel you to set the world on fire, or burn it down.