Friday, April 08, 2011

Old Dance Today Cover Shot

I noticed a little while ago that the link to the Dance Today cover which features Hanna Haarala and Andrew Cuerden and which I happen to have shot was no longer working! To make up for that, I recently took some shots of one of the copies and attach the photos here for you.

All shots are copyright Sheard Photography and cannot be used without express written consent.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Reduce the Validity of Your Argument by Refusing Debate!

After writing my last post on the benefits that I have seen from initiating heels into my dance repertoire, I was drawn to a post that a friend linked to from someone with a very contrasting view. As someone who was obviously interested in the subject I wanted to engage in some debate or at least discussion about the issues we both recently had written about. I wrote a considered response and was shocked to find that a day later, my comment was not approved. On top of that, her reasoning for refusing to display it was as follows: "Remember, please: this is my blog. I’ll just delete your comment if you give me the shits. Hellz, even if you disagree with me! I encourage you to write your own blog posts or FB notes or whatevs if you’re cranky with that."

Now she has every right to moderate her blog as she sees fit. And as I feel that my comments deserve a forum as much as hers do, I am being "cranky" with that and writing here. But I have to say that when someone who sees themselves outside the societal norms petitions to stretch those norms or conventions so that they can be heard, taken seriously, and potentially change aspects of the society they see then turns around and so blatantly refuses to even discuss anything.... it doesnt lend me to to taking them seriously in the future.

The post can be found here and my deleted response to it is below:

I posted most of this as a comment on someone’s link on facebook, but I think it is only right that I post it here as well.

I don’t feel Sarah’s post was about the gender of the person in the footwear. If you look closer at Sarah and Dax’s site, there is also a post explaining why Dax feels that guys should wear heels too! So they were in no way claiming this was purely a female thing.

The point of Sarah’s article was to emphasise the benefits that she has had from dancing in heels and the issues she was able to flag because of it. Nor does it assume that “heels” means 4” stilettos… all she was saying is that by wearing a heel you become more aware of your posture, balance, connection with the floor, and the connection with your partner – none of which are a bad thing! Personally, I prefer to dance in a bit of a heel. I don’t do it because of what it looks like, I do it because it is the way I am most comfortable and where I feel the most secure. I have trained in heels and all sorts of dance styles for a long time and don’t think you should be limited to just one type of footwear – for dance or societal reasons! Yes, core strength should be encouraged and developed. But starting to “learn to dance in heels by dancing in heels” does not mean jumping straight in at high high heels. Like with any strengthening or fitness based training, you don't jump in the deep end before you can swim – that Would be dangerous.

I also have a bit of an issue with saying that someone cannot be “badass” in heels. Not only don’t I agree with that statement, but I also vehemently disagree with the statement that “[i]t stops you being totally badass (ie you can’t dance hardcore or do scary aerials or otherwise rock ON).” Besides the fact that “scary aerials” should NOT be done socially, in my opinion, surely dancing hardcore or rocking on depends on each dancer… and personally, I feel I can do those things in heels. If you don’t, that’s fine but don’t say it isn’t possible. I also don’t accept that you are any more badass because you flagrantly do the opposite of whatever you think society expects of you. (And frankly, wearing heels to Lindy is NOT the norm… so if you are trying to go against type then maybe you Should be wearing them.)

As for the claims that wearing heels is akin to societally imposed suffering or as in the comment above, Chinese foot binding… I am sorry, but I just don’t buy it. If you take care of your body (warm it up and cool it down, stretch and massage) then the shoes you are wearing shouldn’t make much of a difference as long as they fit properly and give you the necessary support. You can have just as many foot problems from cheap flat shoes as you can from heels if you don’t look after yourself.

I respect that everyone should be allowed their opinion and have the right to express it in the way that they please….. and the vehemence in this post makes it a very compelling read…. But I think that the core idea jumps to conclusions and the profanity isn’t really necessary. Make your point. If strong enough, it will stand without the swearing.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

To Heel or Not To Heel - That is the Question

I was reading a blog post recently which was about the effect that your wardrobe has on your dancing as well as on the dance scene as a whole. This was on a blog written by brilliant Lindy dancers Dax Hock and Sarah Breck... so I decided to have a peek around and see what else I could find. The very next article I stumbled upon, was one that addressed the idea of wearing heels when dancing. (Why Women Should Wear Heels) I was really surprised by the vehemence with which some of the people responded to this post and the refusal by some to accept that there could be any benefit to wearing heels whatsoever.

All through my training and in many different shows, I have had to get used to the idea of wearing heels to dance. In fact, when it came time to do my showcase at college, my 3 inch character shoes were deemed too small a heel for my height and foot size and so I was sent on a mission to find 4.5inch heels that I could wear instead. I then not only had to do the show and all rehearsals in these new shoes, but also all my Jazz classes as well. From beginning warm-ups to turns and big jumps, my high heels were there. Though the reason for the boost in heel hight was initially a cosmetic one, I very quickly found certain things out about my dancing which I was then able to address both when wearing heels and not. It made me a stronger dancer and  I became very comfortable in my heels. To this day, I prefer to dance in at least a bit of a heel for most styles.

Dancers in the Ballroom world also have the issue to heel or not to heel. Both guys and girls have the choice between different heel heights and the difference between Ballroom and Latin shoes can be extreme. Everyone has their preference and many people remain at the lower end, especially when learning, in order to maximise stability and control.This is sensible and heels also shouldn't be worn purely to prove that you Can.

In the Lindy scene, heels are far less common and I know a lot of people that flat out hate to dance in them. But I think that Sarah's article has a point. Although postures are very different between Ballroom and Lindy, there is something to be said about being placed in a situation which forces you to evaluate exactly how much of your core you really do activate or how you use your contact with the floor to provide momentum and impetus.

Now, no one is saying that every person needs to dance in extremely high heels. Even though I did manage to get through every aspect of my 4.5inch heel experience, I could still jump far higher and with more control when I wasn't wearing them. (The landings were always a little tentative in them... and rightly so!)

And I do recognise that the long term damage of wearing very high heels has been shown in society in general. However, all too often it is the shoes which get the blame when, ultimately, it is the wearer that could have prevented a large part of the problem in the first place. If you know that you are spending a night dancing, a day walking around, or a long work day in heels and don't stretch out your calves afterwards... then I wouldn't blame the shoes when you are a bit sore the next morning! And on a long term basis, preventative maintenance to your feet and calves (as well as lower back) can do a lot to combat the negative effects of high heels AND flat shoes that simply aren't supportive or well made. (High heels aren't the only culprit of damaged tootsies!) As with all dancing, you need to know how what you are doing is affecting your body and take action to prevent injury or long term damage. Warm-ups and cool downs can help tremendously, but how many of us honestly do them to the extent that we know we should?

So Sarah, I have to say, I am on your side. Even if it feels initially a little uncomfortable or tentative - sometimes downright scary - the benefits of working through that process and getting to know yourself and your dancing better is one that I believe is truly worth it.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Value of Musicality in Choreography

I had the privilege the other night of attending the Ballet. It has been a really long time since I have gone to see a ballet and I left feeling generally inspired and suitably cultured. The dancers' technique was impeccable and the visual presentation of the piece on the whole was stunning, but I have to admit that I was occasionally slightly disappointed with one thing: the musicality of the the choreography.

Working with the swing performance group that I both organise and am a part of, I have also had a series of conversations lately about the importance of creating pieces that are highly musical and which use the whole song as an arc to present one coherent entity: the combination of music, dance, and performance.

Now, most people will think that what I am saying is a fairly logical thing. Of course the music should be reflected in the choreography, right? I guess, the issue is, to what extent?

We all hear different things in music: different accents, different highlights, and even sometimes different melodic tracks. And most songs have a lot of these things layered within them. When social dancing, strong dancers do their best to anticipate the music and utilise these layers of interest. Breaks, accents, and musical qualities that are used in the social 'choreography' show that the dancers are thinking about more than just which step they can think of to do next. But when doing a piece of set choreography, how many levels are enough?

Obviously, because set choreography is not impulsive it is expected to have a better understanding of the music it is using. But at what point do you have to stop dissecting the music and just allow the dance to happen?

I find myself caught in the middle at  the moment. I was disappointed that the Ballet I viewed didn't use the amazing music as well as it could have. Accents were missed or subverted and sometimes beautiful choreography was being done to music that just didn't seem to fit. And yet, when choreographing myself, I pick out the main highlights I hear and want to emphasise and then can sometimes neglect (purposefully or not) to hear the other lines around those. I don't think that every line can be played to within choreography, and attempting to do so can sometimes lessen the impact of really hitting an accent or musical element. But how much is enough... and where do you draw the line?

Rumba - Rumba Walks

Rumba walks are one of the things which when done well seem effortless but which in reality require a lot of practice and more multi tasking than you may have thought!

The technique is the same regardless of whether you are the leader or the follower and I will build it up step by step as I would if teaching it for the first time.

Because of the slow speed of the Rumba, one of the main things that you need to have to dance it well is control. I would recommend remaining within the rhythm of the Rumba when practising your walks and take two steps on the beat and then one step which holds the movement for two counts. (As you would if dancing..... counts 2, 3, 4-1.)

In a space where you can string quite a few steps together, begin by simply walking across the floor and back. Notice how you will normally walk with your heel hitting the floor first and often a relaxed centre. These are the first things that we are going to change.

The next time you walk, change the way that you hold yourself and lift out of your hips. Feel as though you have a big hook through your collar bone which is pulling you forward and slightly up.

After you get the feel of that, change the way that your feet contact the floor. Instead of stepping forward with a heel and allowing your feet to leave the floor, pretend that you have a large bill (£50 or $50 is usually sufficient) underneath the ball of each foot. The moment you lift your foot off the ground, you lose the money.

As you work with the "money" under your feet, think about the foot that you are bringing forward. Make sure it is extending out in front of you before you transfer your weight - pushing off the back foot, which then collects itself underneath you as you move your body weight forward. Stability will be helped if you turn out the foot you are stepping onto. (That means that you show the inside of the heel to the direction you are moving which points your toe diagonally out.)

Chances are, buy this point, you may have forgotten to think about your core and the fish hook through your collar bone. Whilst maintaining your footwork, try to feel the lift of your upper body out of your waist and hips. You should also attempt to keep your shoulders straight towards the direction you are walking and allow all of the work to be done below.... when done properly, this will be something you really feel in your stomach muscles! (It may help to put your arms out to the sides and then raise your hands 90 degrees to emphasise the necessity of keeping your upper body straight towards your LOD. You will be able to tell a lot easier if you are letting your shoulders move with your legs.)

So now, you have footwork that is pressing down into the floor (to keep your money under your toes) as your upper body lifts up and resists the natural movement that moving your legs causes in your shoulders. There should be a lot of resistance in your body as you walk - as though you are walking through treacle - and every single movement should be intentional and controlled.

Once you feel you have this under control, you can begin to work the hip movement into the walk. As you step forward onto the leg, your hip will move forward, to the side, and then settle slightly back - the way a lot of people naturally stand, with one hip pushed out slightly back. As you step forward onto the next foot, you repeat the process with the other hip. The total movement is a little like a figure 8. I will stress though, that this hip movement comes from the natural body movement and should not be forced. The more comfortable you are with the rest of the walk, the easier the hip movement will be to add.