muddling through dance advice, part one

A couple weeks ago, Atlanta hosted one of my favorite workshops ever conceived: Hop Shop. I love this event because it is such a different approach to workshops – it’s small, it’s intimate, and it’s almost personalized. The tiny class size (6-12 people) makes it easy for teachers to give individualized advice; conversely, it makes it easy for students to make sure they understand the material being discussed.

To top it all off, Atlanta also hosted Evita Arce for her Artist in Residency, and I took a private. It was the first private lesson I’ve taken (after four and a half years of dancing, it was about time), and it was completely worth the money. But now… now I am a bit overwhelmed with all the information roiling around in my head.

I’ve been trying to attack all the advice and suggestions one at a time, but there is so much in my head that it’s hard to focus.

So, in an attempt to purge what’s in my head so I can look at everything, and the hopefully focus on the more important things, I have written out a recap of both Hop Shop and Evita’s private. The first part is here, and all the detailed information from Evita will be posted tomorrow.

Maybe, if you’re looking for something to work on, you can find it here.


  • With Mike Faltesek, we worked on utting various jazz moves on any and every step of the swingout, with any foot (the most natural one and the opposite). Let me give you an example: as a follow, imagine doing a Suzy Q on the 3-4 with your left foot forward. (Suzy-Q-ing to the right). Now switch feet and do it the other way as well. Now do that a separate time on every count of the swingout. Now do an entire swingout of Suzy-Qs using both leading feet. This might be the best class I’ve taken in my life for learning new variations. Because it means that everything can be a variation, and it makes variations so much easier…
  • From the same class, we learned it’s also quite fun to do low-down swingouts, where every count switches low-downs. You can even do a sort-of chase with it, where one person sticks their low-down foot (the extended one) between the feet of the other person, and then you switch. You gotta see it, I think…


  • “YOUR TRIPLE STEPS ARE SOGGY.” – Evita. In fact, mine are a little slow on the first step. I’m working on springing off the floor on the first triple.
  • Exercise to fix: Jump off the floor repeatedly. As you’re comfortable with jumping, start working in your triple steps in both directions. It gives lift and momentum to the first step.

Evita & Jaya (a bit of overlap from the two classes)

  • Be neutral / don’t hang back on 1&2 (a lesson combined between Evita and Jaya): otherwise known as not hanging back on your 1-2 when the lead is asking you to come in. Staying back to milk your swivels 1) makes you a heavy follow and 2) slows down your dancing. And technically, 3) it’s not actually following.
  • This includes being neutral on your variations, butespecially your swivels. They should not affect the lead. In fact, try to get to a point where he cannot feel your variations at all; then, if you don’t like that feeling of neutrality (see next bit), come back to a middle point, where they do not affect the lead but he knows they’re happening – this will at least train you to hold your own weight.


  • Be neutral on 3&4 (mostly a lesson from Jaya): make sure you are propelling yourself through 3&4 so that you do not slow down the swingout or create unnecessary drag for your lead.
  • A good thing to think about to help be more neutral on 3&4: make sure your shoulders are over your knees, which are over your toes – really think about having good posture. At first, this feels like being very forward on your 3&4; with more practice, though, it helps create a very natural swingout and improves the speed of your swingout for fast dancing.
  • Potential controversy in self:I’m not sure I like the idea of feeling or being 100% neutral, which is what I feel Jaya was saying (whether or not that was her intention). In fact, when I danced with her, I’m not sure I liked the connection, which felt as if she almost wasn’t there; I like knowing I’m dancing with someone, instead of dancing with air. I do, however, believe that follows can often be dead weight on 3&4, where they rely too heavily on the lead to complete the swingout.
  • Interesting note: there is one lead with whom I always have trouble dancing in Atlanta. When I thought a lot about this bullet and the previous bullet, the dancing was significantly more enjoyable. Coincidence? I think not.

Andy Reid:

  • Quote of the hour: “Sometimes you can find something useful with a floppy ass.”
  • We don’t use our upper bodies enough in dancing, and it’s a shame. Sit in a chair: do exercises, dance, practice your shimmies — do anything to loosen up your body and learn to utilize it more.
  • Think less about frame and more about a comfortable posture — your frame is not made of steel. It is moveable, and to dance without moving your upper body is to limit yourself.
  • Instead of having a rigid frame, think of having an adjustable, comfortable posture.

Michael Gamble (such a hard class):

  • Adding nearly un-detectable heel-drops and rhythm variations on the “y-and-a” beat (the preceding eighth note) of any step you want. These little half-steps should work smoothly into your pulse. A friend called these “heartbeats in your feet.” I found it to be an accurate description.
  • Anticipating a step by stepping early (on the “and” beat). This does affect your partner, but it can be a cool effect.

3 thoughts on “muddling through dance advice, part one

  1. If you haven’t taken Falty’s class before, so glad you took it. I’ve taken variations of that class twice and I’ve loved it. If you remember me forcing ESC to learn suzy-qs both directions, that would have been the motivation.

    Re: how you like your follows to feel, yeah, I went through that same dilemma in 2009 after taking a lesson from Kevin St. Laurent. Here’s my take: it is incredibly useful to be able to take the feel of your swivels out of your dancing, especially at tempo (my lesson was about cleaning up my dancing so I could dance faster and more cleanly). It frees up your lead – he doesn’t have to compensate, which slows him down – and you don’t have to take your swivels out, which was previously how I dealt with swinging out above 220 or so bpm. (Actually, at that time, I was doing so much bal that I’m not sure I COULD swing out above 220 bpm).

    I also like to be able to feel my follows when I lead – call it the Rachael factor – and I prefer to dance with follows whom I can feel their swivels and variations. However, I can really appreciate follows who don’t hang back (which is kind of what you’re doing when you let your lead feel your swivels, even without milking them) for fast dancing. Not sure the best way to word this – you can still have your lead feel your core movement while moving forward – but I hope you get what I mean.

    Interesting stuff re: 3&4 – I’ve been wanting to fix my 3&4 for a while now. Also, glad Michael’s talking about the “a” beat – not totally surprised, but glad.

  2. I had the opportunity to dance with Jaya Friday night of Hop Shop and definitely noticed the lightness. But there is also something else there. The floor was pretty crowded, so we weren’t doing anything crazy, but I had the feeling that if I asked her for something more, she’d be right there. Something else caught me when we were just doing basic side-by-side Charleston – I had to lead all the way through. It made me have to think hard about what is actually involved in leading that move, rather than just starting it and going on autopilot.

  3. Pingback: dance posts: reference / archive | The Lindy Affair

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