Connection Collision

I’m going to start off with this new clip because it amuses me to no end.  All building on a point I was making last week.

Nina Gilkenson & Nick Williams at a recent workshop in Kansas

Two of the best dancers in the world, not necessarily used to dancing with each other and showing it.  The story is all on Nina’s face.

Just for comparison’s sake, here are a few recent examples of them dancing with more regular partners.

Here’s Nina with Todd Yannacone at the Grenoble Dance Festival just a week before the above clip.

And this is Carla Heiney social dancing with Nick at another French Lindy event, The Crepe Swing Festival, a few months earlier.

Alright, let’s stop for a second and process this.

Nina is what I refer to as a “passive” follower while Carla is more “active.”  Nina can take almost anything you give her and make it pretty.  She’s probably the best in the whole damn world at that.  Carla is a lot more “vocal” in her following and more apt to take the initiative to extend or even change a lead.

Hijack is not the word.  Let’s say you lead a swingout. Nina will make that sucker  pretty from counts 1 through 8.  Carla will do the same, but will also be ready to continue another idea, based on yours, for maybe another two or four beats after that swingout while still being ready to respond to changes in your lead.

Notice that Nick is pretty micro musical with his movements, but does not always micro-lead.  (I’m makin’ up all kinds of terms today.)  Often times he’s actually pretty open with his lead, but since he does so many unusual movements, Nina is left hanging quite a bit in that first dance wondering what is supposed to be happening.

Todd usually gets credit/criticism for leading these massively complicated patterns. But outside of that, notice in his dance that he is always leading something.  When it’s not super complicated, it’s pretty simple (e.g. swingout, underarm turn), but he’s always leading.  But they’re not dogmatic in that mind set.  Notice at the end of Nina & Todd’s dance where Nina basically takes over while Todd finds a way to adjust even if somewhat awkwardly.

With Carla dancing with Nick, she’ll often find a way to fill in those open moments he leaves for her, partly because she’s already on the move in that direction; figuratively speaking if not actually physically.

But wait.  Maybe you’re thinking Nina is just thrown by unusual movements by the lead.  She’s not, most of the time.  This is her dancing with Mike Faltesek the Quebec Swing Rendez-Vous in 2007.

Less this leaves you thinking that different kinds of leading and following are incompatible, let’s look at a couple more examples.

Marie Mattson & Skye Humphries at the same Crepe Swing Festival.

Marie & Nick in the Invitational Jack & Jill from this past International Lindy Hop Championships.

Despite their very different dance styles, Skye shares Todd’s general leading philosophy of constant leading.  The difference is that while Todd will come up with out of the blue freak patterns, Skye does more to embellish his own movements, but he never stops leading basic things such as swingouts and pass bys and underarm turns. There are very few times where he stops and leaves the follow to her own devices.

Marie is a more “passive” follow similar to Nina. However, she does a better job of complimenting Nick I think mostly because she’s just used to dancing with him regularly due to the number of gigs they share over the course of a year.

So what we see here is that differences in approaches to leading and following matter less than how well you know the other person.

Take the following with a grain of salt since I never heard it first hand, but when asked the secret to enjoying dancing for so long, one particular old timer used to reply that you should find ten people that you love dancing with, and just dance with them.  Dance promoters all around the world are cringing at that piece of advice, but stick with me here.

You dance with the same person all the time, you  get to know their little quirks and tendencies.  Assuming you’re both good dancers and are willing to take some risks, that should make it easier to create new things and keep the dances interesting.

Going back to the in joke analogy I made last week.  Meeting new people is great, but you always have to go through that ritual of introducing yourself, asking where the other person is from, what they do for a living, etc.  before you can have a really nuanced and in depth discussion with that person.  A common ground needs to be established so you both know that you are using the same words in the same way or if they are different, figure out why they are different.

Go back to that Nina & Todd video above and check out Todd busting out a Dean Collins “quote” with Dean’s Cuddle starting at 0:26 and Nina responding with the apropos Jewel-like swivels.  They’re both referencing Dean and Jewel McGowan dancing in the 1941 film Buck Privates, starting at 1:57 of the clip below.

With old friends, you can have complicated conversations about quantum physics and Zen Buddhism in relation to that drunken bender in Vegas over spring break 10 years ago because you have a minimal need to explain why and how you’re making those connections.  You can do the same with strangers, but it’ll take longer, and some moments you just have to be there for to fully understand.

It’s like the way people of the same race can use an epithet with each other without taking offense.  They have a common understanding and relationship to that word.  If someone else from a different ethnicity uses it, then there are all kinds of questions of intent that need to be answered before you know that they are at least not hostile.

Lesson for today: Keep it simple with people you don’t know, or at least try to save the racial slurs for around the forth or fifth dance.

p.s. Just so you don’t think that Nina and Nick don’t dance well together, or have the impression that I don’t think they do, here’s a better dance between them from last year’s Barswingona in Spain.


  1. November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    […] is the one written by Jerry Almonte.  Jerry’s two latest posts, Connection Through Culture and Connection Collision, touch upon a few themes similar nature to those I brought up in my post Matching Frustrations.  […]

  2. Tena Morales said,

    November 24, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Nina is a bad mamajamma! God I love to watch her dance.

  3. Karen said,

    November 26, 2010 at 6:04 am

    I hear that, Tena.

    PS, speaking of Nick and Nina dancing together, I hear there’s this super awesome dance competition coming up in Austin called Lonestar that they won last year:

  4. Michael Seguin said,

    December 14, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    I don’t think epitaph means what you think it means.

    • Jerry said,

      December 14, 2010 at 9:54 pm

      Of course, you would be the person to catch that. Bastard.

  5. December 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    […] to Jerry Almonte’s post Connection Collision and the bit where he’s comparing the way Nick Williams and Todd Yannacone lead (there’s […]

  6. January 5, 2011 at 12:36 am

    […] Connection Collision […]

  7. Megan Damon said,

    April 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Jerry – this is a great freaking post. To me, nothing will ever look better than the type of dances that Nina and Todd can create. I just love the flow that is created between them and I suspect that comes from what you call constant leading and passive following. The other dances in this post are also wonderful, but look ever so slightly busy and choppy in comparison. It’s so slight that I feel bad even saying it. Anyways, this post is helping me come to terms with some of my own dance preferences. Thanks!

    Oh, and I totally get that I appear to have missed your concluding point. I promise I did not. 🙂

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