Category Archives: Hip Hop Dancing

An apology

This is a public apology to all the street dancers of Vancouver.

 

Feel free to share it or keep it to yourself. I just want this message to reach as many of the people that I may have affected as possible.

 

If you’re a Facebook friend who has been keeping up with my posts, I don’t take back anything I have said about the scene being less friendly, open, and welcoming than it likes to present itself and would like everyone to believe, but I am writing this to address an issue that I wasn’t fully aware of until this evening.

 

It’s so important to me that I address this that I am writing this at 2am in the morning even though I have to get up at 7am tomorrow for work. So please, read the whole thing and don’t just skim it. I have no idea how long this post is going to be, but here goes:

 

I’ve always known that I get abnormally, excessively frustrated when I don’t get/understand what is being taught in my dance classes. It’s like I turn into another person — my whole personality changes. I become irritated with myself, desperately grasping for a kernel of understanding, because I know that if I don’t find it during the class, I will not get it into my head at all.

 

I know this is the case because I have been this way my entire life, for everything I have had to learn. I am an AVK (audio-visual-kinesthetic learner). This means that the only way I will “get” (re. learn) anything is by having something explained to me while I see it (have a model to copy) and do it at the same time. If any of these elements are taken away, I simply don’t get it.

 

Some teachers teach by making students stand and watch first while they explain and demo a move before they let them try a move themselves. This is fine for 90% of learners, but impossible for me, because my mind does not retain images. It doesn’t matter how many times someone demos or explains something to me if they do not allow me to do it while the explanation and demo are happening. My body is my memory, and a teacher that forces me to stand still and not copy is essentially tying my hands behind my back, plugging my ears, and blindfolding me, because my mind will not retain anything if my body is not allowed to take part in the learning process. If you’ve ever seen me at partner dance lessons and wonder why I take notes on every single thing, it’s because the act of writing things down helps me remember them. The notes themselves don’t matter so much as the act of writing does.

 

Some teachers do moves while getting students to copy them, without explaining what they are doing. This also does not work for me, because, even if I can copy the move perfectly while the teacher is doing it, none of the move sticks because I need the explanation of what we are doing, while we are doing it, to bring everything together. If I don’t understand what I am doing even though I can copy it correctly, I will not be able to do it again later. And I need the explanation to happen right when I am seeing and doing the thing being taught/explained.

 

AVK learner is the fucking most frustrating kind of learning style a person can have, in my humble opinion, apart from having a actual learning disability. Because it is so rare to find someone who is so dependent on the presence of all three factors in order for learning to occur, there are very few people who teach to AVK learners. In fact, during my last year of university, I even went to one of the counselors at my school, telling them that I suspected that I had a learning disability, because my difficulty with learning things was that paralyzing. I had no life during school because ALL of it was spent studying. I would highlight every word in my textbooks, except for the “and”s, “the”s, and filler words, because it was the only way I could remember the information I read. I did not take down just the key points during lectures — instead, I took down every word the teacher said, because writing down their words was the only way my mind would retain what they said. I have always loved learning but hated school, because of the struggle I had to go through to learn things. To make matters worse, I am a legit perfectionist. I quit working in the field of writing because I was too much of a perfectionist, and it was killing me. I couldn’t settle for good — my work always had to be amazing, even if it meant spending hours writing one article.

 

I have worked harder than anyone I know my entire life. I’m used to it, because I know it’s what I have to do to learn things that would take any other person three to ten times less time to get. I know I will eventually get it, because I always do: I graduated with straight As in high school (from what I remember), and a 4.33 GPA (straight A+s) and 4.125 CGPA (~A cumulative GPA) in university, despite having a brain completely averse to school-taught learning, because I would not give up until I got everything, no matter how much of my time or life it took to do it. I have always said that school made me half-crazy, and I quit after I earned my BA, telling myself I would never go through it again (though I did, for a month, to earn my TESOL certificate). I am not citing these numbers to show off: I’m giving them to show that I have always known that I CAN get things if I try hard enough, which is the mentality with which I have approached my dancing from the very start.

 

Learning to dance and taking dance classes was like going to school all over again. Except I had no experience in it at all and had to no idea how to go about it. I should mention that I have always been literally the worst player on any sports team I have ever been a part of (my entire team clapped the one time I got a serve over the net in volleyball when I was in Grade 7, because that was the first time that had ever happened), and I had ridiculously poor body awareness, coordination, and everything else that might have been useful for dancing. So anyways, I started out three to ten times worse than the average person, along with the most handicapping learning style possible. So, needless to say, starting out in street dancing was a very frustrating experience for me. I knew that if I didn’t at least get the feel of a move once in my body during a class that I could pretty much write off the class, because my body does not magically figure things out on its own through practice. Me practicing a move I don’t understand means my body getting used to doing a move wrong and incorporating the wrong feeling into my body. I fucked myself over for more than a year by drilling an arm wave incorrectly, because the wrong feeling wouldn’t go away, so that, for the longest time, I could not do an arm wave properly. I actually finally got the arm wave correctly for the first time yesterday, because it was the first time that a teacher has ever taught it the AVK way. Most teachers explain it once and then jump into doing waves quickly, but in the class I went to, we got to copy and drill for more than 40 min, and do the waves slowly. On top of that, the teacher was one known for being one of the best teachers in Vancouver for teaching and breaking things down. Thanks to the teacher’s teaching in a way that matched my learning style, I was able to learn not only how to wave, but to groove while waving, during that very class. The teacher even told me that my waving was good, when I had honestly wanted to give up on ever learning waving in the past.

 

I had not intended to write about any of that learning style stuff when I first started writing this post, but it was necessary, I suppose, to help you understand just how hard it is for me to learn anything, to hopefully help you begin to understand the frustration I feel.

 

Anyways, I am writing this post to apologize for the negative energy I have emitted as a part of my frustration. I did not now how strongly it came off and affected everyone.

 

I say things like, “I can’t….”, “I don’t get it”, etc. a lot. In my head, I have always meant these as “I can’t do this YET”, “I don’t get it, RIGHT NOW” even though I don’t say the words I bolded. A friend told me that, when I first started street dancing, he wondered why I didn’t just give up because I was so negative all the time. But I never had any intention of giving up, because my mentality was never about giving up. My words were me expressing my frustration over my learning style and how it was preventing me from learning like a normal person yet again. I knew what I intended when I made comments like I did, and it annoyed me when people told me to stop using such words as “can’t”, because I knew I wasn’t using them in a be-all-end-all sense.

 

But I never once stopped to consider the negative energy it was emitting to everyone else. And for that, I’m sorry.

 

During a dance class today, the teacher, who normally is pretty good about AVK teaching, taught in an audio-visual way – showing and explaining a move and then expecting us to do it afterward. None of the more experienced dancers who normally come to the class had shown up, and no one was getting the move that was taught properly, so I had no one to look to as a reference. Ironically, the move was one I already should have known how to do, but because of the way the move was taught today, my body fought against me doing the move properly.

 

I said, “I don’t get it. Can you let us copy you?” I elaborated, “I learn by copying,” wanting to explain the AVK thing, but my teacher told me I couldn’t copy because I had to figure out how to do it in my own body, so I did not get the kinesthetic opportunity I wanted. I apologized to the teacher at the end of the class, wanting to explain my “I don’t get it,” and learned that I had pissed the teacher off because, he explained, there was the whole class trying to get the move, and there was me already having given up on it, saying I didn’t get it. He told me he sometimes wondered why I continue to come if I always come thinking I’m not going to get it.

 

I had not at all been aware that that was the impression I had been giving off. In my head, I wanted to say, “I don’t get it – can you please explain it in a way I do get?” but it came across as “I’m never going to get this”, and this in turn pissed my teacher off.

 

I had a talk with a friend at Robson Square afterward, and he told me how my negative choice of words were viewed by others. It was eye-opening for me to hear, because people have always framed my choice of words as being about ME — how it will hinder my growth as a dancer, etc. (which I never paid attention to because I know how I intended to use the words. This was the first time anyone ever explained how my word choice affected other people’s perception of me (re. making them see me as someone who was always down on herself and believing she could never get anything). This was not how I viewed dancing at all, and I’m sorry to anyone I have pissed off/annoyed/frustrated/lessened the enjoyment of as a result of my frustration and careless word choice.

 

In fact, dancing has made me far less of a perfectionist than I used to be. I don’t care about having perfect technique and getting every move anymore — I really don’t. When I realized my AVK needs were not going to be fulfilled during the class I mentioned, I told myself, “It’s okay — I’ve learned this move before, and I will get it again some other day when someone teaches it in a way that I will understand.” And I actually did remember how to do the move later on that night. It’s been a very long time since I’ve actually drilled something now, because I instead just incorporate what I have learned that day into my freestyle dancing once or twice, to remember it as a part of my actual dancing, rather than some drilled technique that I later have to add in.

 

When I write my blog posts and Facebook posts now (including this one), I don’t agonize over my word choice and about making my writing sound perfect. I just write, edit for typos, (add photos, a title, and conclusion, if writing a blog post) and hit post. In fact this blog post started off as a Facebook post, but I decided to post it here because it turned out to get so crazy long that I felt like I might as well.

 

My friend told me during our talk that facial expressions are an important part of dancing when dancing for an audience because your face needs to be seen for people to feel the vibe you are feeling. He told me that one of the things he has to work on the most is looking up when he dances, because he normally looks down all the time, so that no one can see his face. I told him that I had just been dancing with my eyes closed and not looking at anyone — which is something I often do — because I dance for myself and don’t care about dancing for other people. He told me that that was fine, and that it was good that I know who I am dancing for. I felt really happy after talking to him and deciding to write this post of apology.

 

I have recently been discovering how powerful my positive (happy) energy is, and the immediate effect it has on everyone I interact with. It got me thinking recently about how powerful my negative energy must be, and the things I learned today have confirmed it. I’ve noticed that people pick up on my happiness even before I do, and I guess it has always been the same with my negative, frustrated energy. Even when I’m not aware I’m emitting it, everyone else is. And I’m sorry about this.

 

To anyone who has ever experienced and felt the full extent of any negative energy I have ever given off, I am truly sorry.

 

I decided as soon as I learned about the power of my word choice that I am going to try my best to use more positive words and find better ways to phrase, “I don’t get it,” and “I can’t”.

 

I am grateful to the teachers and friends who have made an effort to better understand my learning style to better accommodate me in their classes, as well as to every teacher who has ever put in extra time to me understand something, and to everyone who has had to put up with me.

 

I don’t want anything out of this. It’s okay if you still don’t like me and still don’t think very highly of me. I have accepted the fact that I have haters in multiple dance scenes. and I’m okay with this.

 

I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for the negative energy I brought (and sometimes still bring) with me into our street dance community.

 

I consider Robson Square my second home, I see many of you as friends, acquaintances, and people I greatly admire. I chose street dance over blues dancing (my primary partner dance style) for the first time this week by choosing to cancel on an event in the States that I had really been looking forward to attending so that I could be in Vancouver for the Vancouver Street Dance Festival to support and cheer on all my friends.

 

The street dance community is something I consider to be a massive and massively-significant part of my life, even if I don’t battle or watch battles (because I am too busy trying to fit my other dances and life in general in). I will try my best to bring only positive energy with me from now on.

 

I honestly thought I was a happier person — I was already happy when I wrote the post How I Got Happy by Giving a Damn About Everyone over a month ago, and my happiness has grown like crazy since then. I’ve been hearing so many comments about how happy I am from other street dancers that I thought everyone could feel that I had changed, but clearly, I haven’t changed enough. I am going to keep working on this, because being a more positive person who brings others good, happy energy, is something I want to be. And I will work hard at this.

 

Thank you for hearing me out.

 

Yikes – finally done at 5am.

 

Yikes again — finally done reading for typos and editing at 5:30am.

 

So why did I sacrifice pretty much all my sleep to write this post? Because I decided to write it after I had my talk with my friend at Robson Square, and as soon as I made that decision, I felt happy — so happy! — and I could feel it radiating out of me in my dancing. So I knew it was something I had to do, and now I have done it.

 

Sorry for the crazy-long post. :/

 

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Filed under Hip Hop Dancing, Street Dancing

What Makes “the Best” Dancers?

There's a noticeable qualitative difference between people can dance, and people who can DANCE.

There’s a noticeable qualitative difference between people can dance, and people who can DANCE.

 

My concept of what makes a good dancer — of what separates a “wow” dancer from an excellent dancer — has changed a lot from when I started dancing to now.

Back when I didn’t know how to dance at all, I thought the best dancers were the ones who could make me do moves I didn’t even know how to do, because they were so skilled at leading moves that *anyone* could follow them. My goal as I became better at following was to be able to dance/keep up with the “best” dancers (re. the internationally famous teachers/anyone known to be exceptionally good): it was my gauge to tell how much my dancing was improving (being able to follow everything being led smoothly and “perfectly”) — having dancers who were previously disgusted dancing with me give sincere expressions of enjoyment.

It was when I attended the Denver Fusion Exchange (DFX) this January that my concept of a “good dancer” started to change. Nervous as hell, I asked two of the most well-known blues dancers/teachers in the world to dance, and was absolutely delighted when they agreed to dance with me again and again multiple times that weekend. From what I saw, they did not turn anyone down, regardless of whether they had danced with them before, and regardless of their dance level. If they were already supposed to dance the next song with someone else (which one pretty much always did), they would promise their next dance to the person who asked them, and would always go and find them and dance their promised dance with that person. These two dancers were a whole different class/level of dancer. Getting a, “That was awesome!” from either of them was enough to give me the biggest dance highs of my life up until that point — my next ten dances after my dances with them would be ridiculously, insanely good because of the elevated emotion I got from knowing they had enjoyed our dances as much as I had.

But I put them at another level not because they were pretty much the biggest names at the event, but because of their ability to dance with anyone. I don’t know if I’m 100% accurate in making this assumption, since I never actually asked them what they were thinking, but I believe that it didn’t matter to them who they said yes to, because they were/are such good dancers that they can have a good time dancing with anyone.

 

Are you a human or a dancer? I'm a human dancer. :)

Are you a human or a dancer? I’m a human dancer. 🙂

It’s this — this ability to dance and enjoy yourself regardless of your partner’s level or dance experience — that I think is the hallmark of “the best” dancer — what separates “wow” dancers from merely excellent dancers. So many of the dancers I know that are known for being “the best” in their scenes, or even in the international scene (although usually fewer in this case, in my experience) only dance with other awesome dancers. They ignore and turn down the beginners to intermediates for not being “good enough,” unless they are current or potential students. They like to stick out, show their stuff, and show off. Some won’t even dance with their own students.

To be frank, if the only way you can enjoy yourself while dancing is when dancing with high level dancers, then I honestly don’t consider you to be all that spectacular a dancer. To depend so much on the level of your partner to enjoy the dance itself is really rather ridiculous. You don’t have to be a good lead to lead a good follow — I know because I’ve led both highly skilled follows and ones who learned their salsa basic step through doing zumba. With advanced follows, you barely have to lead anything for them to know what they are doing and follow it perfectly (not in a backleading way, but in a hyper-observant and sensitive way). A tango friend even told me that one of the particularly cocky/bad-attitude leads isn’t even a great lead — but because he only chooses to dance with the better follows, he can delude himself into believing that he is actually one of the better leads.

I think it’s stupid to get to the point where you only dance with the best dancers and think no one else is worthy of dancing with you. When I was learning to lead salsa and practicing my leading on the social dance floor, I felt most accomplished when I led dances with absolute beginners and still made them follow the moves I was leading. While, of course, I would probably prefer to dance with more experienced leads for the most part, I can have incredible dances with beginners who only know a handful of moves, by adding my own grooves, styling, flavour, and personality to the dance. For example, two weeks ago, I ended up dancing with a lead who only appeared to know two Cuban salsa moves and was leading just them the entire dance. I started playing with the “out” parts of the basic (sorry, I don’t know how to spell the name and tried to Google it and couldn’t find it, so I’m not even going to attempt to), and by the end of the dance, I had the lead joining in on my made-up styling, sticking his tongue out at me in jest, pretending to kick me, and just having the best time ever. It was one of my most fun and playful dances. This week, I got another beginner, so I started playing more with my musicality and styling, and he gave me so much room to play that we both had an amazing dance.

make-room-i-gotta-dance

In contrast, my dance with a more advanced lead that followed was absolute crap. He grabbed my hand as soon as my dance with the beginner lead ended, and I was getting a strong vibe from him that he wanted me to show off and make him look good, since I had been doing a lot of fun stuff with my arms and the music during my previous dance. I felt incredibly annoyed by this, and so I didn’t style at all during that dance. He styled all of his own movements, throwing in so many rondes, sweeps, etc., and leading me in the sharp style of a performance lead, and I gave him absolutely nothing to work with. 😀 I had to pull my hands out of his at the end of the dance, because I think he expected me to want to dance with him again, but I hate dancing with people who dance to show off. I don’t mind complex moves and hyper-speed dances — in fact, I can really enjoy them — but only when it’s what the lead is feeling in the music, not because he wants to perform/show off for his imaginary audience. I also hate it when people ask me to teach them on the dance floor, because my dance time is my time to let my mind go, not to think for my dance partner’s benefit.

For almost all my dances now, I can have enjoyable dances with even the most beginner leads because I have learned to dance within my own body, so that, even if the lead is leading nothing but a forward and backward basic step in salsa or step-touch in blues or absolute basic walk and ochos in tango, I can still enjoy myself, rather than being bored out of my mind and just waiting for the song to end so that I can run away. (Tango is the worst for this — just this week, a new lead who moved here from another country pretty much ran away (sped-walked) when I tried to talk to him and later approached him (so, two times), because I was dressed uber-casually and I bet he thought I was the most terrible dancer ever and just didn’t want to even give me a chance.) True, I don’t want to dance an entire afternoon/night of dances with beginners, but I also won’t make pained faces and noises and make my dance partner feel like a terrible person for eating my time. As long as I’m dancing and feeling the music in my own body, it doesn’t matter what my lead is doing. Every beginner I have danced with lately has gone away extremely happy. The cuban salsa lead who stuck his tongue at me even said I was “a delight to dance with.” 🙂

There are two follows in our blues dance scene who are considered the best dancers, both with incredibly different dance styles, and I remember every lead describing one as incredible because she was always moving, always dancing, and making every move and lead look good regardless of what was being led. I never full understood what they meant, but now I am beginning to. When you love the music so much and feel the music so much that that you never stop dancing and making the dance your own, no matter who is leading it, is what I think is the mark of the very best follow (and lead). There’s really no such thing as a bad dance when you can dance like that. I have my moments of pure following and moments of letting my personality really shine. I wish the follow were still living in Vancouver (I’m pretty sure she moved away) so that I could observe more closely what the leads were talking about now that I am starting to understand it, but I’m thankful to have learned from her anyway, even through word of mouth.

I’ve been dancing with a lot of advanced salsa dancers lately, and have been finding that the best dancers are the ones grooving to, feeling, and loving the music, and are also the ones who put me in break-away (blues term) the most, to give me time to do shines (salsa term) and just do my own thing. They can do crazy moves, but also know when it is appropriate to just chill and feel the music together.

inspirational-dance-quotes-kobi-yamada

I have the same philosophy for solo dancing. I recently had to name my favourite dancers for a dance audition I attended last weekend, and I had never really thought about this before and so just wrote the names that came to my head. I wrote down three local street dancers and two west coast swing follows (one local and one international). The quality they all had in common was that they were all 100% about the feeling, the music, and the enjoyment of dancing. They’re the ones you know are losing themselves in the music, letting themselves go, letting themselves be outrageous, letting their personalities shine through. I dislike cyphers because they make most people put their game faces on and try too hard, looking to really shine and impress others when their turn comes. So they dance too big and it looks a bit off, because they care too much about doing tricks and showing people how good they are. The people I wrote down as my favourite dancers are already so good that they don’t need to try too hard and just dance like themselves. As a result, they are more interesting for me to watch than the people throwing down the massive moves.

I’m glad I am surrounded by such good role models guiding me in the right direction during my dance journey.

I know some people are going to interpret this post the wrong way or try to use it against me by saying I am a cocky dancer who thinks I am so great (heck, a salsa dancer did that [spread rumours about me to salsa girls he went out with, and maybe other dancers, saying I thought I was such a great dancer when I wasn’t] two years ago when I did nothing to him but simply acted uninterested in dating him, when his primary purpose in the dance scene was to score dates). In fact, I know I have a long way to go as a dancer, and I never plan to stop learning and growing, because I see dance as part of my life, now, rather than a mere hobby and something I do purely for fun.

I can’t wait for my attitude to evolve even more, with the goal of having a fantastic time dancing with anyone and everyone! 🙂

dancing

 

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Filed under Argentine Tango, Blues Dancing, Dance attitudes, Dance Progess, Dance Tips, Hip Hop Dancing, musicality, Salsa Dancing

What Blues Dancers Can Learn From Hip Hop Dancing

hip hop and blues dancing

Huh? Hip hop can help blues dancing? Yep.

Whoda thunk that doing hip hop would help my blues/fusion dancing so much?

In one week, I have been able to “get” blues concepts I could never fully understand by having them broken down for me from a hip hop perspective. Through hip hop, I have discovered strategies to keep my body grounded and attuned to the music, and I finally realize how musicality and solo dancing fit in to partner dancing.

Here’s how hip hop helped my partner dancing (and can hopefully help yours as well!):

Getting grounded with grooving

Hip hop is all about the groove. Fancy moves are cool, but when you take them all away, the body still needs to be grooving for you to rightfully claim to be doing “hip hop.” Some styles work with an “up” groove (which keeps your body pulsing upward toward a happy, upbeat “up” beat), and some follow a “down” groove (which keeps your body thinking “down” and “heavy”).

I have mostly been drilling the up groove for funk, locking, waacking, and top rock, but this Monday was the first time I started taking the down groove seriously in a hip hop class. The hip hop groove is “heavy” in the same way that blues dancing is heavy and grounded.

On Tuesday, I drilled the hip hop down groove for an hour to make it feel more natural to my body. Because the hour of drilling made me conscious of the differences between the “up” and “down” (“heavy” and “light”) feelings, I was a lot more conscious of keeping my steps down and “heavy” when blues dancing, and started being able to catch myself whenever I’d start veering toward lighter steps.

Making magic with musicality

A popping session on Wednesday reinforced and let me practice concepts introduced in a series of blues workshops I attended last Saturday and Sunday. I learned to listen to different elements in the music and pick out individual ones and dance to them specifically — and then put everything together by dancing to all of the elements. By training my ear to become aware of the many intricacies in the music, I learned how to better anticipate when a lead was working up to something big, when he might pause for effect, repeat a move, and more.

It was kind of like gaining the power to tell predict the future – not enough to cause me to back lead, but enough to better prepare me for what a lead might be planning. When you know which dance elements your lead is listening and dancing to, it takes some of the guesswork out of what he might possibly do, thereby making you appear to be a follow who can magically follow and mirror complex movements. Really neat, actually.

Sensing spots for styling

The musicality and practice with solo dancing I gained through hip hop freestyling taught me how to insert grooving and styling naturally into my dancing. Because I was no longer fixated on following my lead’s every move, I learned to move my body whenever there were moments when something was not being led. Because hip hop taught me to constantly keep my body grooving, applying this to blues ensured I always felt the music in my body and danced it, even without a lead to tell me how to feel and interpret it. I was able to insert more of myself and my own style to the dance, rather than remain confined to the view of styling as a series of moves you have to learn and throw in during specific moments. Now, I can essentially turn every moment into an opportunity for styling.

So you don’t need to devote all your time to one dance to see big improvements in it. Sometimes, making connections between different dances is just what you need to make things start to make sense!

blues dancing connection

When you learn to see partner dancing as more than just connecting with your partner… the connection just gets that much stronger.

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Filed under Blues Dancing, Hip Hop Dancing