As I’m flying home from Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown 2007, I remember looking out over the balcony of the Cinema Ballroom and wondering why everybody else was there.
There were some people who appeared to have shown up only to compete. They stayed with their groups or cliques and didn’t pursue dancing with any other dancers.
There were some locals who just seemed to come out to take advantage of better dancers in a social venue than they normally encounter.
There were some people who seemed to have shown up without any idea of how poorly they fit into the crowd. The people who were furthest from Ultimate of any were these. They were dancers who moved at a beginner level, dressed strangely, and had a social awkwardness to their dance interactions that made me cringe. And I’m pretty socially retarded.
I don’t begrudge the Anti-Ultimates’ presence as I was like that not so long ago. Maybe last week. But my earliest forays into the Lindy Hop jungle spread slowly into nearby lame events, then nearby cool events, then cooler and more distant events as I grew more confident in my ability to hold my own out there. What sort of dancer would I be today if I had just jumped from my local social dances into something like ULHS at the beginning? I’m still not sure if that’s courageous or foolish. I choose to label it courageous and take some inspiration from them.
Then there were dancers who were like me: skilled, though perhaps not as full of awesome tricks as would be needed to win a competition, who love to dance socially at a high-level and to watch outstanding dancers breaking new ground in creativity and excellence. I love watching fantastic Lindy Hoppers like the Silver Shadows because it makes me strive. I steal their moves sometimes, sure, but I also watch their use of lines and the innovative ways they twist and turn themselves to show off just how amazing the human body can be. When I find myself wondering, ‘How did he do that?’ is when I know I’ve just had my notions shaken up about what my body can and cannot do. And I’m thankful!
I am not a choreographer and if I were to rattle off a list of characteristics for my fantasy perfect dancer partner, the ability to choreograph would certainly be near the top. I do, however, appreciate the skill with a narrow focus: I like choreography that looks like it was designed by the arranger of the song. There is genius in dancing, and it shines brightest when you cannot separate the dance from the music to which it is danced. I’m an avid watcher of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and there was a piece last season danced to Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten. The dance piece was a bit of a tribally-influenced lyrical choreography. And to this day, I cannot hear that song on the radio without immediately thinking of that dance. There’s a song by Ne-Yo that was danced by Ivan and Allison last year — same thing.
For reason of this preference of mine, I don’t always agree with judges who place competitors at most events. I usually agree at Showdown, and a perfect example can be seen in the Couples’ Performance awards this year. Max and Annie (sp?) did a fantastic and exciting dance. It was high-energy, it was well thought-out and well executed. It was big and it was fun and just Badass, to use Max’s own label. I think in the same field of competitors at another event, they would have won first place and I’d understand that…
But Skye and Frida won and that was Right.
Their moves were fun, but smaller. Their energy was high, but felt like it was intertwined with the music, not just being projected out at the crowd, though we certainly felt it. And their dance didn’t look like it contained a single gimmick. There was no fad move, though they may have started some. There was no jarring halt to their movements just because of a short silence in the music. And if the crowd had been provided with the arrangement of the music to see the notes and rests, it would have been obvious that this was right because composers and arrangers don’t just stop in their creation, either. Just as a brilliant painter chooses where his canvas contains no paints, a brilliant composer chooses where there are those pauses, not because he has run out of notes. Skye and Frida’s dance might as well have been in the arrangement because I can no longer separate their combination of moves from that music. They deserved their win.
For that matter, I’m not as impressed by choreography that tries to contain every possible move within a 3 minute presentation. There are plenty of musical phrasings that aren’t incorporated into an excellent song. There are innumerable colors that aren’t in a given masterpiece.
A great performance should contain the right moves and the right notes, no more and no less. Watching those top competitors at an event like Showdown reminds me of this. I’m not going to stop stealing moves and trying out the latest, greatest thing on the dance floor once in a while (like that twist-stop that Sean pointed out), but what I really want to do is dance the music in a right way. My right way won’t be the same as Andy Reid’s or Peter Strom’s, but it would still be right.
When I can accomplish that, and occasionally I do manage to have one of those epiphanies on the floor, then I feel joy. I’m always pretty happy when dancing and from Friday night at 9pm to Monday morning around 3am, every time I noticed my own facial expression, it contained a smile. But when I’m in the midst of a good dance, my world is right. I’m creating something better than me and the world around me for a second or two.
I am not a man of Faith. I don’t have family or many friends. I like my dog, my home, and my work. But I love the creation of right things. I believe that it is the purpose of man to create things in this world that are good and right. I believe that more than anything else, this can bring us to divinity and immortality of a sort. I’m not a painter, sculptor, engineer, architect, or designer. I might be a writer (I’m still working on that). I am, however, a dancer. And in dancing, I can create something good.
That is why I dance. Thank you, Showdown, for providing me with inspirations to draw upon in my quest for those right moments, yet again.