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Seriously, the cha cha is so easy:

You go, Barack step back, cha cha cha, Barack step front, cha cha cha

If it’s too hard at first, just Biden’ your time, it will get easier!

This is one of the sillier photoshopped images of the politicians going around. It is nice to have some levity, not to mention some dancing in this ever more intense and dirty campaign season.

Early voting has started in many states. Here in Virginia, it began on the 15th. I cast my vote for Obama today, and it feels so good! If you need information about voting and early voting, go to Vote for Change and they’ll tell you when and where you can vote in your state.

Speaking of dancing with the candidates, I leave you with this now-classic clip of Barack Obama on Ellen:

From an article on “freaking” (grinding dancing favored by high school students) in yesterday’s Washington Post article “Two Types of Dirty Dancing”:

This is where, instead of shaking our head, we introduce them to the idea that dances can be highly erotic by delivering nothing while promising everything.

The title of this post is an age-old philosophical question, but I think it’s good to ask ourselves this question from time to time. Particularly as dance becomes a more common element in mass media, it’s important to think about what we value in dance and in art. Some might argue with even the practice of putting labels on things, but this is a blog about dance, I am passionate about dance, and given that, there are obviously some boundaries in my mind as to what constitutes dance and what does not.

I also ask, is all dance art? And if all dance is art, then how do we classify movement that is not art? What is art?

The source of all this soul-searching was this video that Loren sent me:

Without question, this is an incredible video. According to YouTube, these are the 100 dancers and acrobats of the Great Chinese State Circus; I believe the title for the work would be “Swan Lake on LSD.”

The ballet in this is not bad at all. Very technically proficient, and beautiful lines. I can’t fathom the amount of center and control it takes to dance en pointe on that guys’s head and shoulders while he is walking around. The frogs were very frog-like and very entertaining. But I ask, if all the acrobatics and head pointe dancing were taken out, would this video have had over 3.3 million hits on youtube? More importantly, would it be seen as anything special by dance and art lovers, other than another nice execution of swan lake?

Are acrobatics dance? Are acrobatics art? The following video of the Pilobolus “Dance Company” (I’ve added the quotation marks, more on that later) made me ask those two questions when I first saw it on Ariel’s blog:

For me, this is definitely art– a fantastically creative and sculptural treatment of the human body. But I’m not so sure that it’s dance. To me it falls more into the categories of acrobatics and contortionism.  Yes Pilobolus calls itself a dance company. Is that because it holds that movement + art = dance? Yet take some of the mindless pap you see on shows like Dancing With the Stars…it’s definitely dance, but it sure ain’t art. At least not in my book. Even on the shows I enjoy, such as So You Think You Can Dance, acrobatics are often thrown in the mix in order to pander to attention-deficient viewers who need explosive movements and crazy physical feats to hold their attention. The line between dance and acrobatics is often blurred, as is the line between what I consider art and what I would not consider art, but nonetheless find fun and entertaining.

I enjoy visiting The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks from time to time for a chuckle. Today, one of the featured offenders was none other than a certain local ballroom/salsa teacher who has long regaled us with his excessive and unnecessary use of punctuation. In fact, this particular ballroom studio is right across the hallway from the Joy of Motion location I visit every Tuesday for class. I always think it’s funny when non-dance blogs I follow suddenly veer into more familiar territory.

We’re headed into full-out wedding season, and the NYT has an article about couples going above and beyond the traditional ballroom dance at their wedding. In the case of dancer couples, this can come in the form of a dance choreographed as a gift to the spouse-to-be. There are also services which will choreograph interpretive wedding dances, incorporating the personalities and abilities of the betrothed.

The common theme seems to be that these are tongue-in-cheek elements of the wedding, with the idea that the occasion gives one license to be a little sillier and more uninhibited than in other venues.

Perhaps the execution is more charming than the idea, but it just seems to fit the whole syndrome that one’s wedding is one’s special day upon which one must be the focus of attention and one can do whatever one wishes and the assembled guests are obliged to express their delight at it. I like the idea of presenting a gift of ones own choreography to one’s fiance, because it is eminently personal. However, shelling out [a minimum of] $1500 to a company called MatriMony Mony to explore one’s own performance fantasies seems highly self-indulgent and more than your average wedding guest might be able to bear. Or would it be a welcome break from the monotony of tradition?

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Kind of reminds me of this video that I posted a couple months ago:

I find that I’m often apologizing for not having posted in a while. My general goal is to post at least three times a week and to stay up-to-date with a core group of dance blogs on my feed. But that can’t always happen. I travel quite a bit for my job, and two thirds of the places I go are small and rural towns. Internet access can be iffy there and my days are so long that there’s no time for writing.

Then there’s the fact that I tend to be more inspired to write when I am surrounded by dance. I seek out dance opportunities on the road when I can (more on that later), but I am missing out on my normal classes on rehearsals. I was on an airplane during the last episode of Step It Up and Dance and anyway, it seems most hotels I stay in do not carry Bravo tv in their lineup.

Then there is my at-home routine. Missed classes mean that I’m constantly struggling to get my body back into top dance shape, and missed rehearsals can mean missed performance and casting opportunities. My family and friends are important to me, and being away so much means that I may miss additional classes and practices to spend quality time with them.

If you are like me, just trying to balance (as the subtitle of this blog says) a passion for dance with real life, I’ve put together a list of some of my own strategies for balancing your traveling lifestyle with your love for dance.  Even if you don’t travel too much, some of these things can apply to you whenever you travel.

  1. Take care of your body. Just about every hotel these days has a gym, and if they don’t they usually have an agreement with a local gym. Going for a run on the treadmill will help you maintain cardiovascular endurance, and it also helps me be wide awake for those early morning meetings. As for stretching, I try to do short yoga sequence before bed, maintaining flexibility and centering me before bed. I’m not so good about working out at home, but I find that the close proximity of the hotel gym (or a yoga studio: see my post Keeping Balance on the Road) motivates me to work out every day.
  2. Travel can be a minefield of junk food– acknowledge it and do what you can to minimize the damage. I was going to entitle this one “watch what you eat” but I wanted to practice what I preach. Sometimes it can be impossible to avoid eating fatty simple carbs when that is your only option, and the cookie tray/candy dish that comes out mid-afternoon can be hard to resist. Acknowledge that this is a challenge and try to load up on fruit and other healthy options when the opportunity arises. Even in the most rural haven of fried food, there is usually a salad and a vegetable side dish on the menu. If you don’t follow this one, at least you’re working out every day at the gym! It behooves all of us to eat healthy for a variety of reasons, but mine is seeing my bloated, lethargic self wearing nothing but a spandex leotard in the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the next ballet class.
  3. Take advantage of the alone time to practice. Usually all I want to do when I get back to my room is conk out on the bed and turn on the boob tube, but taking even just 10 minutes to go over some complicated steps or practice a barre sequence can make a big difference and will make you feel like you did something. I hardly ever have time to practice at home. Even if I’m alone at home, I feel guilty about laundry or dishes (or writing in my blog!) but you don’t have those pressures in the hotel room. Take advantage of this precious time.
  4. Go to class. Although I said 2/3 of the time I’m in small, rural towns, I didn’t mention that the other 1/3 I go to large cities. Chances are, any city with a population over 100,000 is going to have some opportunities for dance. Do your research before you leave so you can schedule appropriately. For classes, a google search for “[city name] adult dance classes” will pull up some local dance schools offering evening classes for adults. Make sure you call ahead to make sure they take students on a drop-in basis, and that classes will be offered the dates you’re there. It is often hard to make this work, but doing your research in advance will at least keep your options open. It is also great for your development to study with different instructors in different cities.
  5. Social dancers: this is your golden opportunity! If you are a social dancer– salsa, swing, etc, travel may be one of the very best things for your growth and confidence as a dancer. Most large cities have at least one opportunity each night of the week for social dancing. Here again, google is your friend (i.e., “detroit salsa”). My strategy when I walk in the door is to ask the organizers where the serious dancers hang out. More often than not, they will introduce you to the best dancers, who in turn will be excited to dance with someone outside of the same old group. Living in a city with a large a vibrant salsa scene (DC), it is fun and confidence-boosting for me to travel to smaller cities where I can be a big fish in a small pond. Every city has its own distinct style of social dancing, and exposing yourself to new styles and new partners will help you improve by leaps and bounds. See my account of Salsa in Seattle for an example of this.
  6. About 4 and 5: bring some extra cash and a shot of courage. Getting out there to find classes and clubs in an unfamiliar city is not always easy. It may entail a pricey cab ride and you have no idea once you get there if it was worth the trip (see The $52 cha cha cha). Obviously, have your wits about you and ask around about the neighborhoods you are going to to make sure it is a safe place to go on your own. But don’t let being alone be your only excuse. Chances are, if you show up and put yourself out there, you are going to be glad you did.

Happy Trails!

I haven’t done a Dance on the Web in a really long time. I’ve been pretty out of touch with the blogosphere over the last month or so for various reasons, so this is me attempting to get caught up with what’s out there, including exploring some new dance blogs. A lot of them seem to have popped up recently.

From Dance Metro/DC:

Dance/MetroDC is proud to present our second annual Dance Is The Answer event! During National Dance Week 2008, area nonprofit dance organizations have united to introduce, energize and excite the public to the benefits of dance. From April 25-May 4, 2008, over 120 free classes, performances, workshops and open rehearsals will be available from over 30 organizations to help you experience that Dance Is The Answer.

Dance Is The Answer to achieving and maintaining good health
Dance Is The Answer to reaching weight management goals
Dance Is The Answer to finding an inspiring creative outlet
Dance Is The Answer to enriching your social life
Dance Is The Answer to deepening your connection to community


For listings of Free Classes and Workshops, click here.
For listings of Free Performances and Open Rehearsals, click
here.


A special thank you to all our participating organizations:

American Dance Institute, Rockville, MD
AVAdance, Washington, DC
Bowen McCauley Dance, Arlington, VA
BlackRock Center for the Arts,
Germantown, MD
Capitol Movement Inc., Washington, DC
CityDance Ensemble,
Washington, DC and N. Bethesda, MD
ClancyWorks Dance Company, Silver Spring, MD
Capitol Region Educators of Dance Organization,
Washington, DC
Dance Place,
Washington, DC

DC Dance Collective, Washington, DC
Dhoonya Dance, Arlington, VA
Expressions Dance Theatre,
Clinton, MD
Dream in Color Dance Studio,
Alexandria, VA
Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, DC
Indian Dance Educators Association,
Washington, DC
Jane Franklin Dance,
Arlington, VA

Joe’s Movement Emporium, Mt. Rainier, MD
Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC and Bethesda, MD

Kathy Harty Gray Dance Theatre, Alexandria, VA
Knock on Wood Tap Studio,
Silver Spring, MD
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Takoma Park, MD
Maryland Youth Ballet, Silver Spring, MD
Mason/Rhynes Productions, Washington, DC
Momentum Dance Theatre, Washington, DC
National Dance Educators Organization,
Washington, DC
Publick Playhouse,
Cheverly, MD

Sitar Arts Center, Washington, DC
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
The Washington Ballet, Washington, DC

We have a question from a reader, Maria (great name, btw!) who points out that the tango shoes she’s seeing are a lot sexier than salsa shoes. She wants to know if she could use tango shoes for salsa.

I have a tanguera friend who does wear her tango shoes to the salsa club sometime, so I know it’s possible.

Can we hear from anyone with experience in this? What are the characteristics of tango shoes? When I think of good salsa shoes, I think flexible suede sole, reinforced heel, and an ankle strap that holds the shoe securely to the foot. Does your average pair of comme il fauts come close to this?

patrick swayze dancingThose first actors a girl gets a crush on early in life will always have a special place in her heart. Thanks to his amazing role in Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze was one of my first silver screen loves, and may have contributed to my preference for bad boy types. Thus, the news that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer saddens me.

The vast majority of my traffic over the past week or two has been generated by people looking for pictures and news of Patrick (via this post)– so to all my new readers that found their way here thanks to him, and of course, for Johnny Castle himself, here is a little compilation of some of his finest dance moments.

One Last Dance: I haven’t seen this one but it looks like it’s got some great dance scenes in it, and of course, Patrick…

Patrick’s cameo in Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights. His dance partner, Joann Jansen is also making a cameo– she is actually the film’s choreographer and the story line was based on her own life.

I could only find a crappy quality one but I could not omit the Silvia and Mickey scene from Dirty Dancing.

And of course, the Dirty Dancing finale, the scene we’ll never forget…

Finally, no dancing here, but I had to end with the most deliciously crappy scene in the history of cinema, co-starring Patrick and the stupidest, most beautiful man on earth (and my other first love, ever since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), Keanu Reeves. I give you the final scene from Point Break

Vaya con dios, Patrick; may you get well soon!

I haven’t seen this show because I don’t get cable (except I still get Bravo for some reason… shhh, don’t tell the cable company!), but here’s another dance-centered show on TV: MTV’s Made. Say what you will about these shows, but if I have a choice between watching a crappy show about dance and a crappy show not about dance, I’d rather watch the crappy show about dance. Unless that show is Dancing With the Stars. But I digress.

MTV sent out a press release that there will be some new episodes starting January 7th. The premise of the show is that they transform someone who wants to break out of their shell and learn a new skill or assume a new identity. Several involve dreams of being dancers, including a “bookworm” who wants to be a ballerina, a “clumsy goofball” who learns to ballroom dance, and “the town tomboy” who dreams of becoming a “graceful, girly figure skater.”

If you have seen this show, let me know what you think.

Click “read more” for the full press release, containing episode summaries and air times.

Read the rest of this entry »

I had a total “duh” moment in salsa practice tonight.

There’s a move in the choreography where you drop down in a wide stance (grand plie in 2nd position), drop your head and torso over the left knee while straightening the right leg, and the shift your weight, lunging over to the other side. Think Pussycat Dolls. However, I had been feeling decidedly un-sexy when trying to execute this move.

When I asked the director what was going on, it turns out I was staying too tucked in. SALSA POSTUREIn translation, with my knees bent, I needed to be sticking out my butt out and arching my back. As soon as I realized this was the problem, I was able to revert back and the whole choreography felt more fluid. This is correct salsa posture. It’s something that felt very natural to me when I first started dancing, and it’s something I taught my students when I was teaching. Yet in the year that I have been devoting myself to the study of modern dance, I have lost the instinctive placement of my body into a posture that used to come so naturally to me.

correct ballet postureA year ago, it was so hard for me to get that tucked-in, tight core, straight spine posture required in my modern dance class. Now it seems that I have re-molded my body to instinctively put itself into the opposite of what had come naturally. On the upside, it means the modern training has been working. It also explains all the comments I’ve been getting while social dancing salsa about how I must do ballroom (I don’t. Never have.).

I hadn’t been to a formal salsa class/practice in about two years. As of last week I’m doing modern Sunday/Tuesday and Salsa Monday/Wednesday. I have to figure out how to “flip the switch” each day. I actually view this as an excellent opportunity.

My director likened it to switching between dancing salsa on 1 and on 2. In the beginning it’s very challenging and you need to focus on one, but with time you are able to easily switch between the two (as I do).

In September, I wrote a post about how I was able to devote myself to my two “dance addictions.” Everything I wrote still holds true, but I must add to the list this more specific point about differences in posture between the two styles. At the time, I wrote “I am not sure if I am sacrificing one technique for another by doing both salsa and modern simultaneously.” I think that up until this point, the answer has been “yes,” but from here on out, I believe that I’ve reached a moment in my development where that can change.

My “duh” moment gives me the knowledge I need to be intentional in the placement of my body. I don’t think it’s at all an insurmountable challenge, and I look forward to applying my new intention to my dancing.

Century Ballroom websiteWhen I was in Seattle, I had to check out the local salsa scene. Thanks to a tip from fluvial, I learned that the Century Ballroom is the best place to go on Saturday nights. A description of the place said it was more elegant. I was a bit worried because all I had for dancing attire was jeans and a cute top. Luckily, the definition of “elegant” in the Pacific Northwest is exactly what I had packed!

There’s always the fear when you go out alone to an unknown place in a new city that the scene will be cliquish or there will not be enough partners. Not to worry. Before I even had a chance to finish buckling up the Salma Hayeks, I was in business. There’s nothing like saying to the world “I bring special shoes to dance my salsa in,” to communicate that you are a serious dancer.

A big thank-you to the salseros of Seattle, because I hardly made it off the dance floor the whole night!

I was trying to get a feel for the local style and after a couple dances it was clear to me that Seattle salseros are big on connection. I have never had so many strong, immediate dance connections with so many different partners in one night. There was one very notable exception– a tall guy, er, prick in a striped button-down shirt who looked everywhere but at me for the entire song and seemed incredibly bored– possibly the worst connection ever in the history of my life and not for my lack of trying. But I digress…

Pretty much every other guy that I danced with, regardless of their level or technical ability, seemed really into trying to be the best leader he could be. I’m guessing that whomever is teaching most of the dancers in Seattle emphasizes connection, and to that teacher I say, “well done!” It was incredibly refreshing. There were few dancers who did fancy turn patters or inventive moves or whatnot (or dance on 2– only one person I danced with knew how to dance on 2), but who cares when you have a good connection.

As for the venue, the Century Ballroom is gorgeous. It is an old-style ballroom in a historic building with beautiful, perfect-for-dancing-on wood floors, a balcony around three sides of the room, tables and chairs lining the edge of the large dance floor and a small stage in front. The size was perfect, not overwhelming. The lighting was good, and the cover and drinks quite reasonably priced. Just as I was thinking how lucky Seattle is to have a venue like the Century Ballroom, the owner made an announcement that the building had been bought and their future is up in the air. She said they may be forced out or they may have to pay much higher rent, which would of course affect the prices at the door and the bar. It is such a pity because that same building houses other dance and arts organizations, such as the Velocity dance center where I took a modern dance class the following day.

The night I was there, there were two performances of companies who were about to go to the San Francisco Salsa Congress. The names of the groups escape me, but I enjoyed their performances. I thought they were sharp, very much in-synch, and technically talented. You may know how I feel about club performances– a pesky interruption to social dancing, which is why I came– but the interruption was brief, I enjoyed the performances and I actually welcomed the rest.

Related: Pictures from my Seattle Trip

 

Last night, I went to the only night of Ballet Hispanico‘s engagement at the Kennedy Center

 

Palladium Nights is what I would describe as a full-length salsa ballet. The stage was set up like an old-time nightclub (i.e., the Palladium) with risers for the 18-piece, white tux-clad orchestra, and tables and chairs surrounding the dancefloor where the 10 clubgoers danced out the little dramas that occur in the course of a night out in the club.

 

I’ve never seen a full-length salsa ballet before and didn’t quite know what to expect. What I did know was that I was incredibly excited about seeing two hours of live salsa music and dancing. When I think salsa performance, I think 5-minute cabaret style routine. I think matching outfits, synchronized dancing, part couples, part shines, and always within the basic structure of the salsa step and turn pattern, with perhaps some shines or a hip-hop interval thrown in.

 

While Palladium Nights was not earth shattering for me in every way, it brought me a long way in rethinking new modes of salsa performance. Choreographer Willie Rosario did a nice job at times of incorporating the beauty, grace, and technique of contemporary ballet and modern dance in a harmonious and cohesive way. And there was also some pretty great dancing, choreography, and live music thrown in to boot.

 

To keep a full-length ballet engaging, it’s usually necessary to bind it together with a plot (yes, I found it hard to sit through Balanchine’s Jewels). As for the plot of Palladium Nights—well, to paraphrase a friend—it just got in the way of the dancing at times. It was a pretty simple plot, yet difficult to follow at the same time. That was because there seemed to be different, mostly unconnected dramas that played out between various subgroups of the dancers and it was hard to keep track of them or figure out what was going on.

 

Honestly, I think they just used the ‘plot’ as a way to keep us on the edge of our seats till the next time we could see the heavenly dance pairing that was Candice Monet McCall and Rodney Hamilton (playing the parts of ‘The Palladium’s Own Lovebirds,’ the performance act of Veronique and Anotonio). At some point after their second piece, they seem to have gotten in a fight and wouldn’t dance with each other for a couple songs, so I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see when they would reconcile and dance together again. Hands down, the most memorable moment of the night was Trumpet Fantasy—Veronique and Antonio’s Nightclub Act. They danced barefoot, a modern/afro-cuban cha cha cha pas de deux (wow, that’s a lot of languages in one sentence) that respected the musical phrasing and rhythmic structure of the music. The lines, the grace, the connection, the choreography—it was all perfect. When it was all over, I rapturously sighed, “I want to dance like her.” My friend said, “I want to be her.” Yeah.

 

One charming story line that I was actually able to follow was that of Lola, the flapper-esque vamp danced by Irene Hogarth-Cimino (whose legs seem to go on for about 10 miles), complete with a bob, a boa and a long cigarette holder. She finds romance with Buster (Nicholas Velleneuve) a sailor in the Navy. But when she catches him kissing another woman, she endeavors to dance with all the men in the club to make him regret his actions. All of them together, at the same time, that is. And I’m not talking about a salsa tag team. The most amusing moment was when her 4 partners, all stacked up one behind the other, led her through a samba-esque reverse roll .

 

One good function of the plot I will concede was that it allowed each dancer to dance in character without appearing out of sync with the others, even when the whole corps danced in unison. This expectation of being totally the same and in unison is of course the product of the salsa performance group box I’ve been thinking and performing inside of (and also, the corps de ballet). By having each dancer dance within their own character’s style and costuming, even the moments of unison seemed like organic spontaneous dance scenes in a nightclub—just like in the movies! So the plot was a necessary mechanism, but I wish it had been better integrated into a cohesive whole.

 

Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra was just as important a character in Palladium Nights. I loved seeing the band up there on the stage with the dancers. The dancers interacted with the band and the music, just as salseros do when they dance to live music. It simply would not have been the same if they were in the orchestra pit. The musicians were masterful, with many memorable solos—particularly the trumpet in Trumpet Fantasy. The band also had its moments to shine alone, when the dancers sat at the tables, shimmying, bopping, and even “air saxophoning” to the music.

 

Palladium Nights really spoke to me in that it put into a “higher art” this style of club dancing that I love so much. Technically, not everything was perfect, and I did have some qualms about the cohesiveness of the plot and the dancing, but overall this was a lovely elevation of salsa to a level I have not seen before. Personally, it’s helped me to think about the box when I think of salsa choreography and has also validated to me the beauty of combining some of the structure, passion and tradition of salsa with the grace, technique, and more rhythmic fluidity of modern dance.

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