Building a Rhythmic Personality

I had a private lesson with an amazing dancer Adam yesterday. This page is going to serve as both a collection of my notes from it.

First off, some bullet notes so I don't forget later:

  1. Always connect to the music -- warm up emotionally just like you warm up physically
  2. Don't just "try to do the thing" -- respond genuinely to the music and release your focus so it can be responsive to your partner as well. For example, don't just swivel to swivel, swivel because you feel like swiveling.
  3. Have a rhythmic personality -- your body is the instrument in dance. Pay attention to the rhythm you create, which means focusing on the foot that's actually on the ground creating rhythm. For example, if you're doing a kick-ball-change it's not about the foot kicking as much as the foot hitting the floor. Same goes for swoops and turns and, well, everything.
  4. Slow down your rhythmic momentum when you want to say something -- Create space to punctuate. For example, if you want to slide out, move it first to create the space.
  5. Related to the above, this dance is down and grounded. Even when I jocky, I tend to suck up and in (same goes for a lot of pass-through movements and swooping). Owning the rhythm should help with this.
  6. Rhythm again -- take a video of you dancing and watch it on silent. Could you tell that it was swing dancing? Pulse with your whole body and really feel the rhythm. It's particularly easy to forget to include your upper body. Also remember that for most of the dance you're only connected with your arm to your partner; you need to pulse so fully that it can be felt through your arm. (This isn't to say pulse with your arm, but rather stay loose in the upper body to transmit your rhythm and show your partner where you're at).
  7. Hold the grounded position -- hip crease. Do this on mid tempo songs to build up strength.
  8. Fast dancing -- take away beats if you can't hit them with rhythmic/pulse integrity. Right now, I need this. Focus on being DOWN on beats 1, 3, 5, 7 and have the attitude of "bitch I'm gonna get where I need to go". Look at Norma Miller's swingouts in Hellzapoppin. For leads, jocky on just the 1, 3, 5, 7 if it's too fast to jocky every beat.
Overall, this lesson hit me hard. I feel like Adam saw through to some of my core issues (and fears) about my dancing. Namely, that I'm trying to "do the thing" without actually feeling the thing and expressing myself authentically. This whole dance is about the music, the rhythm, the swing, the interaction between partners and I often forget about these elements while focusing on trying to get a certain look or to progress in a more superficial way or because I'm concerned with "getting it right". While I took away a bunch of technical learnings from this, I think my most important take away is that it's ultimately the feeling we're dancing for; technique is one of the many the means, and definitely not to be confused with the end.