This is a guest post by the fabulous Mead McLean.
Are you a dancer living in the middle of nowhere? Perhaps your scene is so small, you may as well live in the mountains. Welcome to the club.
Here’s a picture of my dance reality:
I live and dance in Boone, NC, Lindy Hop population 1. The existence of our dance scene is tenuous. Once there was a lively group with beginning Lindy Hoppers who were gung-ho about travel, but they’ve left. Except for me.
Over the years, I figured out how to improve my dance skills while having little opportunity to social dance.
Here are my secrets:
1.) Listen, listen, listen. The more old-school, the better. The “Ultimate Jazz Archive” set is an overwhelmingly great place to start.
Do several types of listening:
- Listen for fun. Keep it in the background.
- Count of the 8’s. Figure out the structure, when the breaks happen. See if you can anticipate what’s coming next.
- Listen emotionally. Try to hear the attitude of the song. Dance in your imagination. Visualize the movement you’d want to do based on the mood of the tune.
- When you find a song you like, dig up a few more versions of it and compare. Hear the nuances, the different tempos or instruments. Listen for new ideas the band has added to the song.
2.) Re-watch videos and break stuff down. Hit up YouTube and search out your favorite dancers and events.
You can get great ideas from videos of people social dancing. The simplest ideas are often the best ones to implement. Maybe you haven’t tagged suzy-q’s onto a side-pass before, but it seems easy. Give it a shot with an imaginary follow a couple of times, then try it next time you dance.
You can learn all of these directly from video:
3.) Keep a dance notebook. Write down your favorite dance moments from each event or dance night you go to. Look back on them when you’re feeling bummed about dancing.
When you go to a workshop weekend, write down 2 or 3 things you learned when the weekend is over. If you write down everything from every class, you’ll never return to it. Spend your time right after class repeating the material so it’s in your body for good.
4.) Do all the solo jazz you know over and over and over, get really bored with it, then keep doing it.
Learn solo choreography from videos. Take one move, say the Suzie Q, and try out every possible variation to it. Try these:
- Start on down-beats, start on up-beats.
- Invent new rhythms (syncopation).
- Change the level of your body. Bend down low and stand up straight.
- Make sure you can do it equally well in both directions.
- Figure out what to do with your arms, your head, your expression.
Do all this while listening to music at different tempos. This will make sure you’re on beat and give you new musical ideas.
5.) Cross-train. Personally, I jump rope and do body-weight exercises I found on YouTube videos. Jumping rope is cheap. It keeps your calves and heart in shape, burns loads of calories, and can be done at home with little space.
Whatever you do, keep in shape. Even after dancing over 5 years, I still get excited and dance most of the songs at weekend workshops.
6.) Dance all the time at home. If you’re cooking, listen to some jazz and start dancing. Dance a phrase, stir pasta, dance a phrase, make some green beans. I mean, who doesn’t like dancing in the kitchen?
7.) Learn an instrument. The kazoo is a great one. Pick it up and start humming. Watch the Washboard Serenaders for some kazoo-filled inspiration. If the kazoo’s not your thing, try anything else—the washboard, drums, spoons, any jazz instrument. Play along with recorded music.
8.) Redefine your definition of “nearby”, and go visit some local dance scenes.
Two hours used to be a long drive for me, but now it’s almost nothing. Find someone to car-pool with. If you’re within driving distance of a few local scenes, change it up. It’ll feel like you’re going to mini-exchanges.
9.) Pick one thing to work on when you hit a local dance. Focus on that for a few songs, then just have fun.
Sometimes, I even work on having fun, or making the right eye contact, or focusing on my partner. Other times, I focus on one move I want to refine, or the way I’m phrasing a dance.
10.) Travel. It’s essential (but you knew that). Catch a private lesson every time you go to a dance weekend, if you can. I pick events that will have different classes than usual, or that will have plenty of people I’ve never danced with.
Sometimes, I’ll go to an event and do a private lesson instead of classes. Focusing on a few things in a private gets me really far and takes months to perfect.
Ready? Let’s go!
If you need more help getting your practice groove on, download the online course: Secrets of Better Dance Practice.
If you’ve got more to add, let me know. I’m always willing to try out new ideas!