Mixed Metaphors

This past Lindy Focus I took a private with Nathan Bugh.  During the private I finally processed a very simple concept that I am sure that I have heard a thousand times before but never truly listened to.  But before revealing my blind spot, a little context is needed to explain how big this blind spot was.


I have a number of analogies and metaphors which I pull out on occasion to describe leading and connection.  I’ll present 5 here.  Like all models they are conditionally useful, but incomplete.  Unsurprisingly all of mine missed the same basic idea I took away from the private.

1) A good leader is like the fixed spring from an oscillating block and spring physics problem.

A good connection stretches and compresses during the course of a dance.  Endpoints often have a hanging feeling, with potential energy ready to be released back into a dance (instead of being complete stops from which energy has to be added to get things moving again).

While it is true that both leaders and followers need to work together to create the right feeling, I’ve always felt that as a leader is usually more responsible for providing the structure of the dance, they are more the spring than the moving block.  The block never travels further than the spring allows it to.

2 A good leader is like a swing set 

Much like the spring and block, this analogy is chosen to illustrate the way energy hangs at endpoints while riding a swing.  A good leader, like a swing set, puts boundaries on movement and is responsible for supporting weight and momentum changes.  Unlike the fixed spring and block, this analogy accounts for the way a rider actively puts energy into the act of swinging and the swing set makes use of it.

3. A good leader is like a bouncy air castle.

Once again the idea behind this simile is that a leader provides boundaries and some basic structure to a dance.  There is support and compression for a follower at end points and at these end points a follower will get back just as much as they put in.  But in between theses endpoints is a lot of freedom for the follower to do what they want.  I find the bouncy air castle is a better analogy for getting across the idea of freedom despite boundaries than the spring block or swing set which operate on fixed tracks.

4. A good leader is like a jungle gym

This simile shares the boundary and space idea of the bouncy air castle but represents a slightly different way of approaching end points.  Where the air castle compresses and leaves a follower degree of choice on how to hit an ending, the jungle gym is more fixed and unyielding in its end points.  This firmness should never be uncomfortable, but there are obvious differences between the effect one gets pushing off a solid wall or an air mattress being used as a wall.

While the jungle gym and the air castle may seem to be contradictory models, it is important to understand that both are models of different approaches to leading that are meant to match different approaches to following.  In my experience, followers who identify themselves as “momentum junkies” respond better to jungle gym leading where the lead explicitly controls end points; the follower is then free to go go go until stopped.  On the flip side followers who like a lot more mutual or self control often respond better to the air castle, with end points being negotiated with the possibility of extension.

5. A good leader is like someone playing a marble wood labyrinth game
 

I like this analogy for getting across the finding the right actions to solve a puzzle aspect of dancing.  It also incorporates the idea that a leader is often indirect in steering a follower.  In playing the labyrinth game you never simply grab the ball and move it but instead change conditions so it will go where you want it to go.  Short of picking a follower up and placing them somewhere, leading often really is more about changing conditions in connection to get a follower to do something; good leading can make a follower feel they should go in a direction or that they should triple step.  Finally I like the analogy because it incorporates the way that a leader is often in charge of steering a follower away from danger since the leader has more structural control in the partnership.

Of course the big downside to this analogy is that it objectifies the heck out of followers and unfortunately implies that followers are a leader’s plaything.  I will explicitly say that objectifying followers is bad, that followers are not playthings, and I will remind everyone of the fact that analogies have limits and can go to bad places when extended too far.

What all these analogies share is my belief in the leader being largely responsible for structure in a dance.  Another commonality is my belief that a leader is responsible for accepting a follower’s weight/momentum and redirecting it.  The key words in that last sentence are accepting and redirecting.  Maybe a few readers have spotted the hole in my approach at this point.

While working on some concepts for dancing in small spaces, and again while working on a complicated traveling move with a direction change I’ve been trying to work a burr out of, Nathan had the following advice for me.

Find [your partner’s] weight and move it.

Such simple words and a simple concept.  But the key words are find and move.

The spring, the swing, the air castle, and the jungle gym are all passive.  They work with the follow to accept and redirect.  The labyrinth board player is active but is still largely reactive in approach.

Find and move is about being active as leader.  Proactive really.  Accepting and redirecting are fine ideas except for when you need to go out an find first as opposed to just accepting whatever comes to you and “finding” that way.  Redirecting is fine and good for conserving and maintaining energy but when you need to add energy or flat out start energy from a stop, well redirecting is not an option.  You need to move your partner.

The ideas can fit well together too.  Find then accept.  Move to redirect.

Now these ideas are not truly foreign to me.  There are things I lead which would be impossible without me being more proactive than passive.  But passive is my go to approach toward leading and usually the perspective I start to attack connection problems from.

To mix some metaphors, this lesson was mostly about reminding me that I have other tools in my tool box that I am passingly familiar with in using; and that I should use them.  If all I ever pull out of the tool box is the hammer, then all problems begin to look like nails.

On a random Lindy Focus note, the jungle book routine by Mikey, Gabby, Kevin, and Jo was amazing.
 

 
Years ago I had spotted the flying squirrel costume Jo is wearing, identified it as awesome, and included it in a Lindy related April fools gag.  Seeing it actually used in a good routine made me very happy.

Values and Validation

Right before the Austin Lindy Exchange took place two things happened in close proximity.  First Gina updated her blog with her first post about The Youtubification of the Lindy Hop.  Second I found something really old in one of the dance bags that I’ve had forever.

Now just about anytime Gina writes, it touches off a fit of introspection.  She reasons well, writes well, and I generally agree with 90% of everything she ever posts… which often makes figuring out what it is about that last 10% that doesn’t sound quite right to me so bothersome to find and understand.

You see, I started Lindy when the goals most people had were “To have great social dances with people of all levels” and not the pageantry goals of “To join a dance team/troupe,” or “To do a performance,” or “To win in a competition.”  And while I have had the occasional dalliance with those pageantry goals, my first and foremost goal has always been and continues to be to have great social dances with everyone.  So where and how did this transformation of goals for beginners and intermediates occur?

This brings me to what I found in my dance bag.  A silly laminated card from the only competition I ever won/placed in.

CIMG0039

It was a small comp in Boston during a workshop Sommer and Dorry were running.  It also featured one of the most unusual judging formats for any competition I’ve ever heard of.  Jack and Jill partner switching heats but instead of outside judges or a final round, there were only the partner switches and every competitor ranked the people they danced with from first to last based on how much they enjoyed the dances they had.

I was not the best leader in the comp in a technical sense, nor was I the most popular from the social side of things, but I won because the followers I danced with decided I gave the competing followers of all skill levels the best dances.  As far as validating experiences during my time as a dancer go, that was a rather memorable one.

And validation is the key idea here.  An acquaintance of mine used to open up discussions with strangers at parties with “Who are you?  Justify your existence”.  It was kind of an assholishly awesome icebreaker.  Answering that question and demand is hard.  We often try not to think about doing so, but much of how we live our lives is shaped by how we deal with providing that answer.  I also believe answering that question is at play with  most dance goals.

Take a second look at the lovely quote Gina’s anonymous friend gave her.

“Yeah.  If you aren’t Youtube-able, no one really cares about your dancing.  Because who are you?”

That quote to me begs for “Justify your existence” to be added to the end of it.

Once again here are all the goals up above, old-school and pageantry based:  “To have great social dances with people of all levels,” “To join a dance team/troupe,”   “To do a performance,”  “To win in a competition.”  As far as I am concerned they all might as well read.  “To prove that my dancing is worthy.  To validate my existence as a Lindy Hopper.”

So once again the question of what prompted the change in goals.  Sure there is room for a little narcissism and group think to push things from the old goals to the new goals, but I think a bigger player in the shift is value.  We pick things that we perceive to have high value when setting up our criteria for self validation.  This implies that the community at large seems to believe that the pageantry objectives have more attractive values than the objective of being able to social dance with everyone.

There is little surprise there.  Being able to social dance with everyone of all levels has severely depreciated in value if you stop to think about it.  There is so much more instruction and available video (much of it youtube enabled) than there was years back.  It is so much easier to learn and get good really fast than it used to be.  Combine that with the group think homogenization of the dance (once again youtube enabled), and something really remarkable has happened to the scene.  Where before it might take years to be able to dance with just about everyone in your local scene and then even more time to learn to mesh your dance dialect with that danced by other people in other scenes (and heaven help you if you were learning during the style wars), now it is not unheard of for folks to go from beginner to advanced in a year or two and have the ability to have decent dances with just about every Lindy Hopper in the entire world.

In the entire world.  It is pretty amazing.

Now toss in the Lindy culture of “Yes”.  Yes I will dance with you no matter how good you are, is our community’s default position.  It has had many consequences both positive (inclusiveness) and negative (the pressure to say yes to people you want to say no to) but here is one of the subtle consequences of inclusiveness.  The barrier of entry to dancing with people of all levels is lowered.  Unlike in some other dance scenes, there is much less of an aspect of proving your worth to the advanced dancers before you get to dance with them.  But hand in hand with proving your worth to other dancers comes with the proving of worth to yourself and that entire validation concept.

I might even go so far as to suggest that our culture of Yes has improved and propagated over the years, (but that might also be individual experience and selective memory on my part of how the rockstars and local scene hotshots were when I started compared to what I see now)

Given these factors, it isn’t hard to see why being able to have good dances with people of all levels hardly seems to be as impressive anymore or to see why people may be looking at other ways to validate their Lindy Hop.  Win a competition or take place in worthy performance are both goals that are a lot harder than being able to dance with anyone is anymore.  And to wrap things up, I think that what I found missing in Gina’s blog post was some of this why to the value shift.

But I will let you in on a little secret and give a little brag.  Being able to have good dances with people at all levels, especially those very below your skill level, is a lot harder than many people realize.  When one of your non Lindy Hopping friends decides to attend a dance and try it out, I bet you have a small list of people you must get to dance with your friend for a fun, safe, encouraging dance that will make your friend want to come back.  I may never place at any standard comp again, but I rank high on lists like that.  That’s how I validate myself.

How About Some Vids With That

I’ve been following the recent drama unfolding at Dance World Takeover and been thinking that diving into that mess would be a really stupid thing to do.  After all, a couple years back I posted some thoughts on leading and following that some people liked, some people really hated, and which reminded me that I am often really bad at selecting the right words for talking about charged subjects that should be approached with respect.    But apparently I don’t learn my lessons very well and am going to stick my hand into this meat-grinder.

Prompting me to do so is a comment from Ann Mony in one of the latest DWT blog entries.

Could you please clarify more what you mean by equal-opportunity connection?

I have read your related posts and still don’t have a good sense of what it would feel like. Is it similar to contact improv?

Is it something that many advanced dancers currently use (you referred to teachers and some dancers by name like Frida) or is it something that only a handful of lindy hoppers currently use?

And that comment really got me to thinking, if Ann, who has done some serious thinking about connection and is a fairly proactive follower to boot, is having many of the same problems I am having conceptualizing things, perhaps something new needs to be added to the conversation to aid with understanding.  And since we can’t dance this out with each other over the internet, the next best thing to do is to illustrate with video.

One final bit of hemming and hawing before I begin.  I have no idea what Rebecca’s ideal connection looks like in Lindy Hop or any other dance so I can’t post videos of that.  What I can and will do is post videos illustrating what Lindy Hop and a few other dances look like now and offer some opinions on why Rebecca may be getting some of the push back she is receiving.

That said, on to the first vid, this one from Lindy Focus X.  Specifically focus on Todd and Jo on the right.

Todd and Jo placed first with this.  I think many people will agree that this was a good dance even if it is relatively clear that Todd doesn’t give Jo much room to add to the dance.  It looks to me that Jo gets in some finger snaps and a high kick near the end and that’s about it; otherwise it’s the Todd show with Jo along for the ride.  IMHO, this is perhaps about as near 100% pure lead and follow as things get at the upper tiers of Lindy.

But both of their dancing was excellent both individually and as a pair.  Moreover, (and this will become an important point in later clips) their dance appeared to have a unity of purpose between the two of them with both dancers moving towards the same end.

Now while I wouldn’t want every dance to be like this, I do consider this to be a viable approach to Lindy Hop with the provisos that both the leader and the follower want to have this sort of dance.  Whether Rebecca means to or not, (and I am guessing not) a lot of her rhetoric comes across as sounding like dancing like this is dated, wrong, and needs to go away.  So I think at least some of the push back she is receiving is from leaders and follower who want to be able to dance like this, even if just on an occasional basis, because this older approach is still relevant, conditionally good, and a lot of folks don’t want it to go anywhere.

Of course 100% pure lead follow is not the only approach and a lot of dancing leaves room for follower input.  Sometimes this is a result of a leader leaving space for the follower.  Sometimes this is the result of the follower using their connection with the leader to ask for space if the follower is not dictating an outright tempo change or break.  Generally speaking great leaders respond well to all these forms of follower input and more and incorporate it into the dance.

Case in point, another Jo 1st place invitational, this time from 2012’s ILHC where she was dancing with Peter.

Here Jo has a lot more freedom to express herself both within Peter’s framework but also in regard to Peter’s framework too.  She makes small rhythm changes that Peter adapts too.  She also occasionally extends momentum at times giving Peter the option to go with her idea or cut her off.

But make no mistake, while Peter is both open and respectful, there are still role divisions at play.  Peter as the leader still has primary override power which he does use to stop Jo on occasion.  A lot of the overall framework to the dance, is Peter’s.  While Jo may extend of modify paired movement, and initiates a lot of her individual movement, I’d be hard pressed to identify much paired movement that Jo initiates.

As modernly progressive as a dance like that was, I’d still say this was a 90:10 lead:follow balance of power dance.  80:20 tops.  I might find a slightly higher follower empowerment ratio in one of Frida or Bethany’s dances but I am not sure that even there we get anywhere near the 50:50 mark.  (At least in lindy hop).

Now before moving on I wish to point out two things.  First while Jo was more involved in shaping the dance with Peter, the two of them together looked like they shared a unity of purpose in the dance with both parties working towards one cohesive end.  There was communication and agreement on how the dance should go.  They also had a luxury that Todd didn’t have when dancing with Jo, time.  There was roughly a 70 bpm difference between the two songs.  Keeping communication clear to keep the dance cohesive is a lot tougher at higher speeds.  This is not to say that 80:20 or even Rebecca’s target 50:50 is not possible.  Just the nearer 100% lead follow is expedient.

Switching gears, I am going to explain why I have been harping on the idea of unity of purpose in the dance as I build up, illustrate, and then knock down one of the fears that I think is causing some of the other push back Rebecca has been receiving.  So here is a vid of some Jukin’ Blues with Joe and Mike.

As I am about to blunder through an entirely different thorny subject, here are some quick clarifications.  I consider Joe and Mike to be very talented and this demo to be good.  That however is very different from me saying I like it, which is a personal and subjective decision.

While I am not going to touch on all the reasons the Blues and Lindy Hop communities sometimes get snotty with each other, my hypothesis is that one very big reason comes down to Jukin and how it appears and feels at least from my novice perspective.

The unity of purpose I kept harping on above looks and often feels lost as the follower exerts their individuality on the dance.  Oftentimes I have heard this described as two people dancing at each other instead of with each other.  And a lot of lindy hoppers seem to dislike this in the abstract, tolerate it if it stays contained to blues, and hate it when it crosses back into lindy through the crossover lindy and blues dancing population.  (Strengthening my hypothesis is my observation that many people of this mindset also generally like Ballroomin Blues)

At any rate, a follow on second hypothesis is that some of the pushback Rebecca is seeing is from people imagining that the equal opportunity connection Rebecca is advocating is going to result in jukin lindy.  I am fairly sure that is not what Rebecca is advocating, but it is one of the first things that came to my mind when equal opportunity following was first brought up.

I think what Rebecca is advocating is more in line with this vid of Benji and Tatiana doing West Coast Swing.

Yes that actually is a strictly and not a classic…

At any rate, in this clip Tatiana has a lot of creative control.  I am not sure if it is 50:50 but it is miles ahead of most Lindy I can reference.  More importantly, she and Benji manage to maintain one purpose; two people one shared dance will.

Dances like this lead me to believe that the equal opportunity following Rebecca is describing is possible without the dance becoming jukin.  However this clip contains a second lesson.

West Coast Swing split off from Lindy years ago and kept changing to become a distinct dance.  Modern West Coast Swing, like in the clip above is radically different than the West Coast Swing of a few decades back and I have heard grumblings in the west coast community about the old dance being lost to the new guard who have replaced it with something else.

Nothing wrong with any of this.  We all know that dances change (hello groove era lindy, I am looking at you).   Sometimes they split and new dances are born.  Sometimes old ones die and sometimes they come back from near death.

There is nothing wrong with changing a dance.  But there is also nothing wrong with asking if the changed dance is still the same dance.  Until I get a clearer view of Rebecca’s vision I am not prepared to weigh in on that second sentence.  I also wish her luck in making that vision clearer for others, especially since what she is espousing seems to resonate with a number of people.  But if her vision does catch on, you can be sure the question of whether it is the same dance is one worth asking.

On a closing note though, here’s a reminder that at the end of the day great dancers can make things work out despite their differences with a little give and take.

Something Must Be Left To Chance

So far I have read two blog posts gushing about Michael Seguin and Frida Segerdahl’s dance at Lonestar, one by Gina and one by Cari.  While I largely agree with each of them, my conclusions differ from theirs enough that I felt the need to write.

I’ll start with Gina who beautifully says something I fully agree with.

Many years ago I came to the realization that “improvising” is very much about first teaching your body a variety of movements, and then later pulling out one of those movements on the spot.  So, whatever’s in your muscle memory is going to be what comes out in your improvisation.  Occasionally I get new or original ideas in my dancing that seem to come out of nowhere, but this is rare, and practically as soon as I’ve danced them I’ve forgotten what they were.  That tends to happen mostly on the social floor.  Then there are the handful of stale ideas I’ve stolen from other people or been taught in classes that made their way into my repertoire and stuck there.  (I know you know what I’m talking about… it’s when you’re dancing and you do a variation or a move and you think “there’s that thing I learned from so-and-so.”)  It’s in your muscle memory, so it comes out.  Having fresh ideas is really, really hard.

Where I disagree with her is later on in the blog where she thinks that Michael is some genius at having fresh ideas.  The much less glamorous truth is that Michael is just like the rest of us, he has a handful of go to moves that he will recycle over and over.  I see them often enough when dancing in Baltimore to recognize a number of them.  What Michael benefits from though is that many of his go to ideas are original to him and are neither overexposed nor wildly copied.  This keeps them looking fresh to people who have seen Skye or Peter do their original things for the umpteenth time as well as all their imitators who are doing them for the umpteenth +1 time.

Don’t believe me? Lets go to the video.

Turn into an over the shoulder look at Lonestar 2013 near 1:22

Turn into an over the shoulder at Lindy Focus IX with Ann Mony near 0:35

Turn into an over the shoulder at ILHC 2012 with Nelle Cherry near 0:38.  He holds on to her hands in this one though.

You’ll have to take my word that a couple of the other things Michael does in Lonestar get repeated a lot in jams at Mobtown though.  I don’t have good video examples for things like his and Frida’s spins near 0:50 but I do recognize it.

That is not to say he doesn’t have fresh original ideas.  I have never seen him do that ridiculous awesomeness with Frida near 1:06 before.  And here is where I give Michael his due and have my minor quibble with Cari.

Cari claims that

at first glance, the dancing has moments of “they totally missed that.” But look again! Even when the lead or follow didn’t seem to match up, Frida and Michael were both completely in tune with the other.

to which I have to say no.  Over and over again Michael and Frida mostly missed things because they were not in tune with each other.  But Michael is excellent at rolling with these misses and turning the mistake of the present into the start of something new.  And if Michael is excellent at that, well Frida possesses that same ability to an even greater degree.

I might even go so far as to say that Michael to a certain degree courts that uncertainty.  Returning to that over the shoulder turn in the videos above, that’s about as open a lead as things get and no class really teaches a follower what to do when they get presented something like that.  His follow will have to come up with something on the spot.  And whatever his follower does, Michael will need to respond to it equally as cold.

I can think of a few other leads who take a similar approach.  I distinctly remember classes at the Jam Cellar with Jeff Booth where he purposely taught moves with muddied uncertain endings specifically to generate this on the spot creativity to make things work.  (If you don’t recognize the name, he was a part of the group in which Andy, Nina, Naomi, etc all self taught each other when they were starting… he just didn’t go pro)

So with the necessity of getting out of constant trouble providing the catalyst for invention, there was a good combination of Michael old hat and on the spot make it work dancing.

And how do you make things work?  Well Gina and Cari have that covered.  Having the practice and the muscle memory to pull both variations or simple weight shifting footwork out of a hat.  Being in tune with the music so that when you reach into your toolbox of tricks, you grab something appropriate.

I’ve saved talking about the jump at 1:15 for last because this is where it all comes together.  Michael and Frida needed a reset at that point but had time to burn until a clear reset on a 1.  They both happened to decide that a jump up was the way to go.  (Jo in the competitors’ line behind them also reached the same solution)

A jump like that makes sense in that context for it is a part of the lindy hop background we all share.  So it was in the realm of probable for them to hit it together.

But it is also like a grapevine, or kick away, or scissors kick variation on a swingout.  There is practically no beginner swingout variation class where someone doesn’t ask, “well how do you know that you both should do it?”  The answer always is you don’t know, at least not without repeating it.  If the stars align maybe you and your partner will both do it together at the same time the first time, but it may as well be magic for that to happen.

That jump was that kind of magic.  Don’t believe me?  Watch what Seguin says to Frida seconds after during the sugar push.  My lip reading may not be perfect but here’s what I see:

“I have no idea how that happened”

Once a Pun a Time

As I tried to go to sleep last night, my brain decided that it was not going to cooperate.  Instead it filled my head with half formed ideas for a micro-story collection and then proceeded to bat those ideas around.  So tonight I am writing, but first I must give credit where credit is due.

Neil Gaiman is a fantastic writer.  If you are not familiar with his work you should remedy this deficiency in your literary knowledge at your earliest convenience.  If you are familiar with his writing, you will know that in addition to his comics, novels, tv scripts, illustrated stories, and children’s tales, he also writes some truly weird and wonderful short stories.  Now as a part of a promotion with BlackBerry, he has produced a new micro-story collection which you can read here for free.

So thoughts of creating a similar collection were what kept me up and have me writing now. Short stories, micro-stories, and vignettes about the fantastic and the bizarre rubbing shoulders with reality.  As a framing device, puns, word play, and literal readings of idioms.  A few examples follow.

An Ice Guy – The story of a woman’s blind date with self described “nice guy” Jack Frost

Franken Sense – A reflection by The Creature on the secret behind Frankenstein’s unreproducable experiment.

The Whee Hours – The tale of a man who stumbles upon a fairy revel late one night.

And one idea that was more of a short story than a micro story.  I hope you enjoy it.

Stolen Kisses

July 1981

Rob watched the toddlers playing with their toys and read his orders again.

Girl with sparkling blue eyes and golden curls.  Boy with dark brown eyes and strait black hair.  Trip the girl.  Intercept and ruin.

Rob looked at the kids again and saw two likely candidates for the girl, one in a green jumper and the other in a flower dress.  Unable to determine which of the two he was about to screw over, he glanced at their fates and immediately wished he hadn’t.

The blue eyed girl in the jumper looked up from the blocks she was playing with and her eyes lit up as she spied something she liked.  She picked herself up and began to toddle over to a dark haired boy in an oversized maroon shirt who was playing with a stuffed bear.

Why did I look, Rob thought to himself as he ghosted along behind the girl.

The girl finished making her way to the boy and leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek.

Rob tripped her and made the theft.  As she fell, her head hit the boy’s with a thunk.  They both began to cry.  Only Rob could hear the sound of their fate tearing apart as adults rushed over.

At the hand off, Rob voiced his displeasure.

“This kiss should have been the start of a best friendship that would have followed two kids out of daycare and through elementary school.  This better be worth it.”

“It is,” Hood replied.  “A little girl who just lost her parents is about to meet her godfather.  He doesn’t want kids and agreed to be her emergency guardian just to be polite.  He never dreamed this might happen.  This kiss is going to change everything.  They will both gain a family.”

———

March 1985

Rob arrived at the party just in time to see the end of the fight.  A little blond girl in a green shirt managed to land one last punch on a dark haired little boy in a maroon sweater before the birthday girl’s parents pulled them apart.  Rob read his orders again.

Girl with sparkling blue eyes and golden curls.  Boy with dark brown eyes and strait black hair.  Trip the boy.  Intercept and ruin.

Something tugged at Rob’s memory and he looked closer at the two kids as nearby parental figures read them the riot act.  Surely this couldn’t be …

Rob glanced at their fates and wished he hadn’t.  It was the toddlers from a few years back.

Meanwhile the lecture the birthday girl’s mother had been delivering to her daughter’s guests was coming to a close.

“You two are going to kiss and make up now.”

Dark brown eyes glared at blue one that still sparkled with anger.

“Now!”

With a harrumph the boy walked over and said “I’m sorry”.  The boy began to lean in when Rob tripped him and made the theft.  The boy’s forehead hit the girl’s nose and blood splattered.  Amidst the yelling and screaming that followed, Rob clearly heard the fate that should have bound the two kids together tearing further.

At the hand off, Rob was uneasy.

“Hood, I think I did a bad thing today.  That’s a kiss that could have set a great many wrongs right.”

“I hope it still might,” replied Hood.  “The situation this one is headed toward is a mess.  Feuding families and an arranged marriage with a pair of kids being forced on each other.  Several other redistributers from the other lines are joining me on this delivery and someone from over at Death is riding along if our work doesn’t take.”

“Death too?  Good luck buddy”

———

December 1992

Rob wandered through a Christmas party until he spotted a knot of teens clustered around a closet.

“Do you think they’ve done it?”  one of the boys whispered to the girl next to him.

“They have to.  They knew the rules!”  the girl whispered back.

“But they hate each other!” said another girl.  “When they come out of there and the blindfolds come off this is going to get ugly.”

“Maybe not” said another boy.  “You know what they say about love and hate…”

Rob had a pretty good idea where things were headed and checked his orders again.

Boy and girl in a closet.  Trip the boy.  Intercept and ruin.

Rob walked through the closet door and found he was nearly too late.  He gave the boy’s shoe a sharp kick and made the theft. The boy hit the closet door hard, knocking it open.  He tumbled out into the room as his friends scrambled out of his way.

As Rob made ready to leave, he looked in sympathy at the poor kid he’d tripped.  A boy with strait black hair removed a maroon blindfold.  Dark eyes looked at the teens around him and then squinted at the closet.  Rage blossomed on his face.

Rob had a terrible suspicion that was confirmed when he turned to get a look at the person standing next to him.  A girl with golden blond curls unwrapped a green blindfold to reveal blue eyes that sparkled with curiosity concerning what had happened to her kiss.  The sparkle quickly changed into an angry glitter when she spotted the boy holding a blindfold outside.

Rob looked on in horror as torn threads of fate that were reaching towards each other whipped apart again.  He left as the shouting started.

At the hand off, Rob was very unhappy.

“You aren’t going to believe this Hood.  This is the third time I’ve hit those kids.  They should have come out of that closet with a love that would have lasted them through high school.  Maybe a year or two of college.”

“Closet you say?  Funny you should mention that.  This kiss is going to help a pair of boys figure out some important things about themselves.  Give each of them another person who will love them during some truly unpleasant highschool years.”

———

May 1997

Rob sat in the back seat of a car next to a passed out young man in a white tux.  He reeked of liquor.

In the front of the car a dark haired young man in a black tux with a maroon vest drove.  A young woman in a green dress sat in stony silence beside him in the passenger seat.  Her hair was a styled mass of golden curls.

This can’t be happening, thought Rob.  Not again.  He looked at his orders one more time.

Girl with sparkling blue eyes and golden curls.  Boy with dark brown eyes and strait black hair.  Trip the girl.  Intercept and ruin.

The car stopped in front of a warm yellow house and the man and the woman in the front got out.  Rob followed the two of them onto the porch and watched as they looked awkwardly at each other.  Between the two, he saw severed threads of fate begin to reach longingly towards their other halves.

The girl spoke first.  “Thank you for getting me home.  You didn’t have to.”

“Think nothing of it.  What sort of friend would I be if I didn’t get Jarred and his girl home, regardless of what I might think of her.”

“Not his girl.  Not after what he and Becky did tonight.”

The boy winced and the girl belatedly remembered who the boy had shown up to prom with.

“Sorry” she said.

“It’s alright, I….”  The boy trailed off and the two stood in silence.

The girl took a step towards the boy.  “Well.  Thank you.  Again.”  She decided to kiss him on the cheek and took another step.  Her blue eyes sparkled.  The boy held very still.

As her foot came down, Rob broke the heel of her shoe.  Her ankle rolled and she went down crying out in pain.

Rob wept as he left, kiss in hand.  Behind him strands of fate gave up and stilled themselves.

Rob still felt terrible when he met Hood for the hand off.

“Please tell me this one is also going to make a difference.  No one deserves what I’ve done to those two over the years.  This kiss may have only led to a summer romance before they left for college, but it would have been something!”

Hood checked his instructions and shrugged.  “I don’t know what to tell you, Rob.  This one is marked for storage.”

“Flag it Hood.  Flag it and when it gets used you let me know.  This had better be worth it.”

———

June 2002

Rob and Hood sat in a park watching a picnic below them.  A nearby sign read Emmets High Class of 97 – Five Year Reunion.

“What am I doing here?” Rob complained.  “It’s my day off.”

“You remember that kiss you had me flag a few years back?  The one that went in storage?  I’m delivering it today.  Thought you’d like to see it.”

“Here?  Who does it help?  How?”

“Dunno.  All I know about this one is that this one’s supposed to lead to a ‘Happily Ever After’.  I don’t hand these out all to often.”

“Hope they deserve it,” said Rob a little bitterly.

“Find out in a minute” said Hood as he looked at his orders.  Hood read them again, grunted, and passed them over to Rob.

“What are you doing?  You know I’m not supposed to read that.”

“Apparently you are supposed to today.”

Hood hand the orders to Rob, he is making delivery today.

Rob, woman with sparkling blue eyes and golden curls.  Man with dark brown eyes and strait black hair.  Trip the man.  Bestow and forge.

Rob looked down at the picnic again and spotted them chatting with each other in the line for the burgers, a woman in a green blouse and a man in a maroon long sleeved shirt.  He hurried toward them to deliver a kiss.

An “Original”

Last Tuesday something truly rare and remarkable happened for me, an “original” lead I had been working on finally came together.

What is an “original” lead?  Well here’s what it isn’t.  It isn’t something I learned in a class.  It isn’t a lead I saw someone else do and that I decided to reverse engineer.  It isn’t a move that I’ve taken and simply mashed up with another, or tweaked in a way to personalize, or fit to whatever music I am dancing to.

One analogy for dancing is that we know a bunch of connection feelings and momentum movers that are like building blocks.  We put these blocks together to make a cohesive whole of a dance.

An original lead for me often starts as a I stumble upon a momentum mover that is unlike anything in my current repertoire.  And it’s like finding a block from a puzzle cube.

Image

My discovery is too perfect not to be a block, but darned if I know how it fits with all the other blocks I have.  Heck I might not even possess a block my new puzzle piece fits with and I may have to create or find connecting pieces from scratch.

So I play around with my problem for a while until I can link up that nice momentum mover to something(s) before it and something(s) after it.  Then I play with it some more until I find a definitive something before and something after that work together so well that when I lead that combination, a follower with basic connection skills can be led through it as easily as I may lead a tuck turn or a side pass.  And that completed easy move is what I term an “original” lead.

I use the quotations on “original” because there are very few true original movements in dance.  The human body moves and connects in only so many ways and I am sure someone somewhere has done what I have done before and I am just rediscovering the wheel.  Heck I’ve seen one of my few “original”s used in an improved manner in a contest a mere 2 weeks after I had become happy with it.


Between seconds 4 and 6 Jean Baptiste leads Tatiana through some closed position alternations of who is in front before swinging her out.

But even if Jean Baptiste leads those alternations where he dances (and better than I do… darn it), that particular movement is not common in the DC or Baltimore region.  So while that movement or my other “original” leads may not truly be one of a kind in the big wide world, at least in the little ponds I dance in they are unique and something I take pride in for working out on my own.

Writing Challenge

An acquaintance of mine who has aspirations of making it as an author recently entered a writing challenge/contest in which contestants entered the first 150-200 words of their YA sci-fi/fantasy book to some editors.  The prize was some free editing and feedback on a larger portion of their story plus the possibility of more if the larger sample editing turned out to be spectacular.

I have no completed story, just a handful of story ideas that I keep meaning to flesh out some day.  So I wasn’t in any position to enter.  But it did give me a nice little challenge.  What could I do with 200 words.

The break marks the 200 word cut off point.  Below the break is me finishing the prologue chapter that sets up the book I will probably never finish.

———

I sat in a fancy kitchen.  Surrounding me was plenty of wood and counters with a lot of stone.  Even the chairs were ornate.  They weren’t very comfortable.

To my right a girl about my age, 17 tops, sat on a matching hard chair.  Her hair was a riot of short brown curls.  Below the curls she wore an expression that mixed curiosity and hesitation.  The shouting coming from the living room made it obvious that something bad had happened, but she did not yet know the details or how I fit into them.

Her mouth pursed as she prepared to ask me a question, but smoothed again as she chose to focus on the shouting instead.

“AND WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO MY APPRENTICE?”

I didn’t know the man yelling, but Mr. Falsworth did.  Mr. F. was slightly quieter but there was heat in his voice when he replied. “I didn’t do it!  The Boy did!”

Thank you Mr. F.

I’d never heard Mr. F. raise his voice before, but the last couple of days had been rough on us both.

“YOU BROUGHT HIM HERE.  NOW WHAT DID HE DO TO HER, SHE IS MISSING A SOUL.”

———

My sitting companion drew away from me sharply and focused her attention in my direction.  Worry joined the other expressions on her face as her right hand began to trace patterns in the air.  I tried to look as nonthreatening as possible.

Her soul is fine.  It’s just hidden.  The Boy aligned it without meaning to.

“THERE’S NO ALIGNMENT THAT… WHAT THE HELL DID YOU BRING TO MY DOOR?  NO.  WHY ARE YOU HERE AT ALL?  I MADE IT CLEAR THAT I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE YOU, THE ORDER, OR ELLEN EVER AGAIN.”

ELLIE IS DEAD.

In the silence that followed, my companion shifted in her seat and appeared to consider several questions.  When the silence continued she finally asked me “Who was Ellen.”

“His wife.”

She glanced towards the living room and then back at me, more questions on her lips.  They went unasked as Mr. F. began to speak again at a conversational volume and we both had to strain to hear him.

“Robert, there is a new alignment in play.  The Order is broken and gone to ground.  Ellie’s dying instructions were to bring the boy here for protection and training.  And whether you like it or not, your apprentice is now a part of this too.”

A pause, before my unknown host responded.  “If what you claim is true I would be a fool to harbor you.  But for my apprentice’s sake I will listen.  I’ll have the story from the boy though.  Seeing you brings up to many bad memories and I suspect I will want a clear head as I hear this.”

“Jon will you come in here please?” Called Mr. F.

“Coming”  I called back.  “Should I bring…”  I turned to my right and realized I still didn’t know my companion’s name.

“Mara”

“Should I bring Mara with me?”

“Mara’s in there with you?”  Neither of us heard him sigh, but we heard the space it occupied “Mara head upstairs this instant.  You know what you are supposed to be doing in emergencies and staying in reach of unknown quantities is not any of those things.”

Mara frowned but did not reply.  We both rose and she made her way out a side door as I passed Mr. F on my way to the living room.  I crossed the room and took a seat on an uncomfortable brown couch across from a man with dark hair, a trim beard, and an intense gaze.

He looked me over before finally speaking.  “Alright kid, why don’t you tell me what is going on.”

The What Filled Up When?

At Lindy Focus I was surprised to learn that two separate dance acquaintances considered my classic routine at ILHC to be their favorite non-Todd and Ramona routine of ILHC 2012.  This surprised everyone else hearing such a sentiment expressed, on both occasions, as I had not competed at ILHC at all.  My first name might begin with a J- and my last name might end with an -er but I really do not look much like Joshua Welter and certainly don’t dance as well as he does.  Yay sleep deprived name conflation.  But Joshua’s classic routine with Melanie Huot-Lavoie is one of my favorites from ILHC 2012.

While I have never competed in a classic at ILHC, doing so is one of those ideas that I contemplate every year.  The thinking being, well if I want something to really light a fire under my rear to get my dancing in shape, its a partner routine at ILHC.  No facelessness as part of a team, no luck of the draw in catching a judges eye in a gigantic prelim, just strait to finals where all eyes would be on me guaranteed.  So my theoretical partner and I better be up to snuff.

Now normally I get to indulge in the fantasy that this will be the year that I get off my tubby butt and enter the classic for a few months before those dreams go the way of all too many New Years weight loss resolutions… but the Classic for this year’s ILHC filled up on opening registration night.  (So did the showcase).  Holy crap.  There appears to be some serious desire for lindy hoppers to perform.

It also got me thinking, well if not ILHC then where?  Is the reason that these comps filled up so quickly this year that there is more demand for this format than supply?  So here’s a (probably incomplete) list of alternative options.

Full length Classic Choreo at major Lindy events

The Canadian Swing Dance Championships
May 2013.  No separation of the classic division into a pro-level and a general level so bring your A game.

The European Swing Dance Championships
Presumably June 2013.  No separation of the classic division into a pro-level and a general level so bring your A game.

Camp Hollywood
August-September 2013.  Like ILHC the classic is a 2 division contest.  This is the entry point I probably should have been looking at instead of ILHC in my dreaming.  It is also still open.

Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown
October 2013.  1 division shared with showcase and team to live music so bring your A+ game.

Short Length Choreo at Lindy Events

Inspiration Weekend
March 2013. 30-45 second showcase format

Savoy Swing Jam
March 2013.  30-45 second showcase format

Montreal Swing Riot
Presumably October 2013 1 minute showcase format

Full length Classic Choreo at other events

The American Lindy Hop Championships
May-June 2013.  No separation of the classic division into a pro-level and a general level… but ALHC has fallen out of popularity with most Lindy Hoppers.

DC Swing Experience (Formerly the Virginia State Open)
November 2013.  Contains a “Rising Star” (read amateur) contest open to all forms of swing.  Other primarily West Coast events may have similar competitions.

Online Choreo

Jazz Dance Film Fest
Presumably August 2013. A strait filmed classic isn’t likely to do well and will look dowdy compared to other entries… but the option exists.

Miscellaneous Options

Convince local/regional event to include a short showcase event.

Convince local/regional event to allow a demo performance.

Go strait to youtube.

There Are Rights and Wrongs and In-Betweens

So as I come out of this year’s Lindy Focus, I find myself trying to reconcile conflicting ideas on universal technique vs technique that works for me.

On the one hand, one of my overarching goals as a dancer is to be able to dance with anyone and have it feel good.  I do know that a number of high level follows have similarities in their following technique… and that I do not match it well.  Driving the point home this year at Focus was a “taxi dance” to raise money for instructors who had their cash stolen from their rooms.  I figured I’d add my money to the collection and use it as an excuse to dance with one of the follows who I have always been in awe of but never have had the courage to ask for a dance.  About the best that I can say is that we didn’t hit anyone and a friend of mine thought we looked good.  But it did not feel good.  While being in a hero worship/’don’t fuck this up’ frame of mind didn’t help matters any, there were bigger connection problems.  I mean I led perhaps 1 in 5 things that did not have a hiccup requiring her to finish things on her own with the aid of visual input.  I can’t help but think that if my technique was better, it could have been a better dance.

On the other hand, I do have some degree of technique.  I had some wonderful dances with friends both old and new.  The fact that one of my favorite follows, who learned clear across the country and sees me once a year, can just close her eyes as we travel all over the floor suggests that whatever I am doing makes sense to her at least.  (Yay space at Focus after people go to sleep).

But a lot of my technique is what I call personal and social technique.  My leads are based off of what is comfortable for me to do, what doesn’t hurt my follows and appears comfortable for them, and what seems to work in general situations.  This does not always match up with more universal technique.

A perfect example is my sugar push.  During one of the field day talks, Nina mentioned how astounded she is when traveling to find so many people doing sugar pushes wrong.  I smiled sheepishly at that because I know I am one of the people who does them oh so wrong.

Text book sugar pushes should be even with a timing of 1-2 in-in-out out-out-out, my left foot stepping forward to lead the push on the last step of the first triple step.  I do them 1-2 in-in-in out-out-out, my right foot stepping forward to lead the push on the first step of the second triple step.  I also frequently collapse my right side on the in to exaggerate a prep for the out.

I got to discussing the differences between my leading and the more universal standards with the once a year favorite follower mentioned above.  Leading her through the sugar push both done right and my modified social sugar push she said words to the effect that she took what I did as a stylistic difference and that she liked my push because it just felt nice.  We also went over tucks, which I keep in and high, vs low and out.  That also earned a whatever, it felt nice.*

The Lindy instructors I respect the most encourage people to dance like themselves and help people to develop their own style.  However the one thing that I rarely if ever hear is how to evaluate if your style is any good.  So I guess that really is at the heart of the questions I am struggling to answer.

Is what I am doing even a style or just laziness?  Is it any good?  Does it matter that how I lead makes some people really happy but doesn’t seem to mesh with what some of the follows highly regarded by the community do?  If I can’t please everyone and have to settle for pleasing myself, is it alright to write people off or do I continue to reach for the one world one dance ideal?

———

*We then shared a laugh at my attempts to lead her through a pop turn.  I’ve never been able to make those feel comfortable and look halfway decent.  My flub turn actually earned an incredulous “Wow.  That was bad.” from her followed by my replying “And that’s why I never lead them”.  So at least with pop turns, it’s just personal laziness of never getting them right.

A World Building Exercise

I had one of the longest and most vivid dreams I’ve had in a while last night.  Several days of subjective dream time with a story.  When I woke up I decided that I should put some of what I remembered down on paper and use it as a leaping off point for a world building exercise since I haven’t engaged in one of those for a while.

Dream

In my dream I was cursed.  I had a demon living inside me that was currently under control but which wanted out in the worst possible way.  At an ILHC like event, I came into touch contact with a woman similarly cursed.  Upon contact there was a flare of recognition between us of what the other person was.  Arrangements to meet and talk later were made.

At the meet up time the woman was a no show, but another woman under a similar curse did show up and offered apologies for the first woman.  New woman and I hit it off well due to instant personality chemistry, but she pushed for intimacy before I was ready.  Despite the rebuff, a chaste night was spent together in a shared bed.  My hesitance turned out to be an excellent idea because upon waking the next (dream) morning, I found myself beside the original woman I had met.  The second woman was nowhere to be seen.

The story I got from the original woman was that her curse was a bit more complicated than my own.  In addition to keeping her demon, she also had a Jekyll and Hyde sort of body time share with the woman who first trapped the demon.   (The personality switch included a body shift, original woman was vaguely English, second woman was vaguely Mediterranean.)  She and the other woman only got fragments of memory from what the other person did, but based off what they saw of each other and limited communication between them, their hatred for each other was mutual.  While we tried to be civil, original woman had a chip on her shoulder due to assumptions of what I and her Hyde personality had done last night.  On top of that our personalities just grated on each other.

My dream then consisted of a couple of days of drama.  Both of us were the first cursed person besides ourselves that either I or original woman had met so there was a need to talk about it with someone who didn’t treat us as crazy, regardless of our growing dislike for each other.  In the meantime, her Hyde second woman self and I continued to hit it off in a newly in love fashion and the Hyde personality was a source of more information.

But during one of my dates with the second woman, we were abducted by an unknown organization.  Our captors revealed they were after our demons and acted in ways suggesting that several of their members carried their own demons.  During an escape attempt, my companion was killed and our captors removed a bracelet from her body.  As I prepared to make a deal with my personal demon to break free and collect terrible vengeance… I woke up for real.

World Building

So with a goal of perhaps turning that dream into a complete and cogent story, some world building needs to be done.

The setting of my dream was modern, so a present day urban fantasy is the simplest setting choice.  This in turn begs the question of why magic and cursed people are limited and why the world at large doesn’t notice anything.

My answer to that is a “the magic faded” scenario.  In the past magic was real.  Magic emanated from beings of great power that once roamed the Earth.  Over time magicians and heroes tricked, captured, or destroyed these beings.  With the magic emitting entities dead or locked up, the magic faded, and all that remains are artifacts of monster in a bottle variety.

There is no uniformity to these demon sealing objects.  I envision some of them being well constructed prisons like djinn bottles.  Others I imagine as more complex, like the bracelet I dreamed of which sealed both a demon and the heroine who fought the demon.  (An interesting character design question is whether the heroine was seeking immortality or not while doing the sealing).   What my dream self had was yet another version, a ring that let the wearer draw power from the demon within in return for a contest of will with the demon.  The more power drawn, the more of its will the demon could bring to bear in the contest.  The ring’s secondary function was to kill its wearer if the demon ever won.

These magic prison artifacts are the emerging world’s great phlebotinum and MacGuffin.  Populate the world with factions that want to free the contained beings, factions that want to keep the beings sealed, and factions that merely want to use the varied artifacts for their own personal gain and many storylines are at the ready.  Add in to this mix the people who blunder onto these artifacts on their own and the story ideas multiply again.

Further Design

Each of these prison artifacts and the monsters contained within should ideally have their own stories behind them, many of them based on real myths.  For example my dream self knew the demon that he carried was Grendel of the Beowulf Legend.

The trick then is to play some of these myths strait and to give others a spin.  Using Grendel as an example, a way to play it straight is for the ring to be a very minor relic.  Worked from the remains of Grendel’s arm, the wearer of the ring in this example gains may draw upon the strength of a mountain troll along with Grendel’s imperviousness to weapons.

But how is this for a spin.  Let’s say Grendel was a juvenile form of a greater being.  The life cycle of one of these beings is infancy as one of the fire snakes beneath the mountain, youth as a mountain troll, adolescence as a fire drake, and then something truly mighty in adult hood.  The Beowulf legend now becomes something like this.  A young Grendel is a late developer amongst his fire snake littermates.  This is not a good thing for him.  So he tears off his arm to gift a human patsy, Beowulf, with power enough to kill his bigger and stronger littermates.  The plan works and a cautious Grendel is free from competition to grow into adolescence.  As the fire drake he decides to reclaim his arm from an elderly Beowulf, but here he miscalculates and Beowulf manages to seal Grendel away by using Grendel’s own power against him.

In this version the ring containing Grendel is a much stronger relic and the question of how much of Grendel to employ gains added weight.  Reaching for mountain troll strength might be a dangerous but doable thing.  However reaching for fire drake strength now becomes fodder for Godzilla threshold situations.  It also leaves open the questions of what comes next in the life cycle after fire drake, do any of the other relics hold one of those, and did Grendel keep growing in his prison leaving the ring with more power to give?

(It also leaves me with a delightful idea of a recurring scenario where people learning of the fire snake, mountain troll, fire drake life cycle complain about it not making any biological sense)

Influences to Consider

I’ll close this session up by listing works that may or may not be responsible for some of my dreaming insanity.  If I develop this idea I need to take care to make sure I am not copying any of the following too closely.

The Dresden Files – Jim Butcher (Specifically the Denarians)

Grendel – John Gardner (Specifically a thinking Grendel)

The Legacy of Heorot – Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barns (Specifically the Grendel life cycle)

The Sandman – Neil Gaiman (Specifically the issue “Ramadan”)

Usagi Yojimbo – Stan Sakai (Specifically the Jei chacter)

The Avengers – Joss Whedon (Specifically Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk)

Jekyll – The BBC production (Embarrassingly I’ve never read the original Dr.  Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Naruto – Masashi Kishimoto (Specifically the Bijou)

PS238 – Aaron Williams (Specifically the issue “Medieval Mayhem”)

Girl Genius – Phil and Kaja Foglio (Specifically the Other)

Fables – Bill Willingham (Too many fables to credit)

Harry Potter – JK Rowling (Specifically the Horcruxes)

Warcraft – Blizzard Entertainment (Specifically the Lich King)