running -> exercise -> dancing -> jazz history

There’s a man upstairs in our bathroom banging and hammering and sawing. It’s really loud. Bathing without a shower is difficult, but not that bad. It’ll be nice when we get our shower back, though.
Meanwhile, I’m still on the c25k, and did the first run of week 5 today. It’s a nine week program, so I’m over half way. This is the point, though, where most people tend to give up. I actually feel quite good. It’s not as difficult as I thought, probably because it starts so gradually and then builds progressively. Today’s program involved:
a 5 minute warm up walk
5 minute run
3 minute walk
5 minute run
3 minute walk
5 minute run
5 minute cool down walk
I was surprised that I could do all the running bits without having to stop, and I remember thinking as I finished the first run ‘Woah, I just ran five minutes without stopping. Haven’t been able to do that in years.’ I still breathe really loudly (though not as loudly as I used to) and I certainly couldn’t hold a conversation at the same time (which is the ideal running pace). But I didn’t have to walk during any of the running bits and I felt pretty ok the whole way.
I actually quite like the sessions. Thirty minutes of exercise is a tiny amount, but it’s time well spent – no dilly dallying about – and it leaves me feeling really good. I have pretty bad snots at the moment because our bathroom is being ripped to bits, but that’s not affecting my running the way it used to. I have some new aches in my left foot, under the arch, but that feels like a hamstring issue, and I have very tight calves, so I always need to stretch my hamstrings. So, generally, I feel pretty good. I’m knocking on wood as I type, as I can’t really believe this is going so well.
There are a few things that seem key to the usefulness of this approach to training. Firstly, the audio cues on the ipod are essential. It tells me when to start running, when to start walking, when I’m half way. Secondly, the music is really good. I choose songs that either pump me up, or warm me up (or down) gently. I might end up using spoken podcasts later, as they distract me from the exercise and make the going easier. After this, the steady progress, with a structure to the sessions that changes weekly (and more frequently as you progress) makes the sessions more interesting. And I think the most important part is having clear goals.
One of the things that’s made it difficult to stick to a serious exercise program in the past is the lack of goals. Learning tranky doo is fun, but once you have that under control, it’s difficult to feel motivate. One routine after another is also kind of dull. Working on dance stuff with a partner is nice, but I think that without clear goals you tend to get a bit distracted and demotivated. I guess that’s why competitions are so useful.
So I really like the couch to 5k program. I’m especially happy with the fact that I can run five minutes without stopping. No pain in my feet, and I can actually breathe. It’s very satisfying. To think that I’ll be running half an hour without stopping soon is almost beyond the imagining.
One of the other things I like about it, is feeling my muscles toning up. I feel as though my jubbly bits are kind of being compressed and firmed up into muscle. The muscles I have underneath the jubbly are slowly being revealed. I’m fascinated by my arm muscles, which are entirely the result of cycling. I can’t believe cycling gives you arm muscles. But then cycling in a hilly city is challenging – you work harder. You use your arms to control your bike, and you tend to overwork your arms if you’re too tight in your shoulders and too weak in your core. But I’m also beginning to feel stronger and more stable in my core, which is fab. I’m also finding it easier to activate my lats (so important for dancing) and other individual muscle (and groups) which in turn makes it easier to reduce the energy I spend. Using the right muscles for the job means that I become more efficient in my movement – less flobbering about out of control, less overusing the wrong muscle.
So while I’m muscling up, I’m also finding that other, tighter muscle groups (my lower back, my shoulders) are loosening up. As the rest of my body steps up and starts doing its job, those places can relax and stop doing more than their fair share. It’s all very interesting. I’m especially exploring the way these changes affect my dancing and other activities. I can feel myself becoming more stable. I have more energy and greater stamina.
This is also making me the most annoying student in classes on Tuesday night. Hollywood style lindy hop (as in west coast not east, centred on dancers like Dean Collins rather than the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers) is a foreign country. It’s fascinatingly technical, using the same principles as the lindy I’m used to, but in different ways. It’s complex, and yet when it’s done right, it’s very energy efficient.
I’m particularly fascinated by the swingout. This type of swingout uses much the same principles of momentum and dynamic energy, but in a very different way. The thing that makes a swingout so amazing is that the follow moves towards the lead, then turns and changes direction, moving away from him. This simple process is actually really complex, in terms of energy and momentum. It’s too easy to lose all your energy and momentum when you change direction, so the challenge is keeping that energy in your bodies, and yet still changing direction.
This type of swingout involves a more thorough ‘leading’ of the follow, but it also seems to use a less ‘natural’ approach to movement… that statement could perhaps be the product of ignorance, but it seems as though the lead has to be more aware of energy and where the follow is and also where he is. I use a gendered pronoun deliberately. I’m the only female lead in the class, and I’m finding the gender stuff is quite different in this type of scene. An emphasis on vintage dressing seems to reflect a more conservative approach to gender roles. Women follow, men lead. There’s also been less emphasis on improvisation within the swingout.
For me, improvisation (within the swingout and elsewhere) is the follow’s opportunity to ‘speak.’ A decent lead doesn’t ‘allow’ the follow time to speak, but actually incorporates these contributions into their leading. So the two really do function as a team. The more comprehensive leading seems to micromanage the follow’s movement, and it’s been tricky figuring out where and how I should add in my jazz steps (I follow in the second class and usually socially – I rarely lead socially these days, which I am about to change).
The classes this week did look at variations on the swingout, and this was really interesting. It also meant that I had to stop and learn the basic footwork and shape of this type of swingout properly. I’m also wondering whether I should adopt this type of swingout when leading in class. That’s the sensible thing to do, but I worry that it will mean I’ll lose all memory of any other swingout completely. Which is kind of bullshitty, as any swingout I have now is no doubt so riddled with personal habits and problems it’s already kind of broke. Learning a new swingout will make me conscious of all these idiosyncrasies and make it possible to rebuild a stronger swingout.
At any rate, I’m thoroughly enjoying being in classes again. It’s so new, it’s challenging. I’m also out of practice, in terms of knowing how to learn in class, and I’m quite enjoying the way this makes everything more difficult. I am also the type of student who asks questions and really likes to get things right, so I’m annoying everyone. I still find leading makes more sense. I just have no sense of what my body is doing when I’m following. I’m really not aware of my body and muscles and so on when I’m following. I think it’s because when I’m leading I not only have to understand what I’m doing, but also be aware of my follow and what’s happening in their body, so understanding my own body becomes the first part of understanding momentum and how we make it work between us. What I don’t understand is why I can’t figure this out when I’m following.
This stuff makes it really difficult to follow in class. I can look at the moves and understand how they work, and I can also figure out how I’d lead it, but the lead I’m working with mightn’t, so I have to let them figure it out. But because I can’t feel the follow (because that’s me), I don’t really understand what’s going wrong/right in our partnership at that moment. Meanwhile, I find it really difficult to stop concentrating on the lead and to start engaging with following. Part of me wonders if I should just give up on following altogether. But then the rest of me refuses to be beaten.
I still haven’t found a good yoga class. Sigh.
But I have spent some lovely time in the library this week, reading some really good stuff on Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke and Jack Teagarden and listening along to my music as I go. I’ve also been digging into the library’s music collection, listening to some of their neat stuff as I read. It’s all been really really interesting. These guys are interesting because they were white, very popular and also totally top notch. And there these moments where they recorded with African American musicians in the 20s and 30s and I think ‘how the fuck did this happen in segregated America?’ I’ve also come across interesting references to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a band popularly considered a crappy novelty band who claimed they invented jazz. They didn’t. But while they weren’t the most awesome band, they were very influential, and I keep coming across musicians and bands they worked with who were very good. This stuff is also interesting because Bix, Tram and Teagarden worked in Paul Whiteman’s band. I generally think of Whiteman’s stuff as a sort of wet, watered down jazz with strings and sweet arrangements. But this sort of dance music was super popular. And while I don’t like it much at all, the sales of this stuff bolstered the recorded music industry generally, which in turn made it possible for artists I do to have recorded. I don’t think it’s actually that simple a connection, but there’s definitely a complex relationship between class, race, musical aesthetics (sweet or hot?) live performances, venue ownership and management, radio broadcasting and recorded music during this period.
I don’t know that much about this yet, but it’s definitely caught my eye. I hope I’ll have time during the semester to chase these thoughts down. Probably not. Classes start next week, and I’m going to have to do some clever catching up after BBS.
Right, that’s enough of that.

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