I’ve been a bit meh about the dancing I’ve seen around the place lately. Same old, same old. And then
Bethany and Stefan.
The remainder of this post is 100% fan squee. While I might have big love for dancers like Skye, Bethany and Stefan are my most favourite favourites. They are utterly unique. They are jazz dancing. It’s like they’ve watched all the vintage clips, understood the whole point of it all, then did it. Not by copying anyone with painstaking detail, but by doing their own thing, in the truest spirit of the dance. So you know how I talked about copying in that other post? Bethany and Stefan are the opposite of that. It’s as though they’re not afraid at all to be different. They risk looking foolish. In fact, you get the feeling that they’d quite like to be foolish. Because the fooling, after all, is where the wisdom is at.
I love Bethany for offering another example of femininity, I love Stefan for another example of masculinity. There’s no simpering girliness here, no posturing bravado. Stuff is waaaay more complicated than that. And at the same time, it’s far simpler. That moment in the jack and jill where Bethany is dancing with Andy, I’m utterly convinced that she’s lost herself in the music and in her dance partner. Not in a wistful, hair-flicking tippy-toe way, but in a ‘oh, sorry, what did you say?’ moment of complete distraction. I could go on and on and on. Ok, I will.
I’ve seen a few odd moments of interesting stuff lately, but Bethany and Stefan routines are by far the ones I hang out for. These are the clips I watch over and over again, just trying to figure out how they work. How does Bethany look so utterly floppy, and yet be core of steal woman? How does Stefan manage to be so busy, and yet leave Bethany with so much time and space?
Ok, so here, look at these clips.
This first one is the most conventional lindy hop they do in this series of clips. And it’s still one hundred times more unusual than anything else you’ll see anywhere in lindy hop at the moment.
This second one they’re doing a ‘teachers’ intro’ type performance. It starts at 11min 35 seconds. You know all that ‘fusion’ rubbish talk that’s getting about? It’s like all those people are still trying to figure out how lindy hop or blues or whatEVER work, while Bethany and Stefan have just extracted the point of jazz dance and soul and whatever and sort of just smooshed them together. They’re just dancing, the way the music says they should.
This next clip is Bethany in a jack and jill competition with Andy Reid. They were partnered in another J&J a little while ago. In this clip, there’s that moment or two where Bethany seems to just forget she’s doing anything other than dancing with Andy, to this wonderful songs she’s just heard. I like the way he tries out things to see what works, kind of figures out where she’s at.
And in this last one Stefan dances with Naomi, generally acknowledged as extreme uber follow. Watching this, it’s like you suddenly realise that every other clip you’ve seen her in, with every other lead, has been ordinary. Not ordinary in the sense that her dancing is pedestrian or dull or ordinary, but ordinary in the sense that they were all kind of the same. Suddenly she’s working in all new territory, and she has to work with what Stefan brings.
Stefan’s rhythms are unusual. His connection is different. He leaves her masses of time and space, but is so busy busy busy with the music, you wonder how she has time to breathe. My favourite part is at 1.14 where she shouts out with delight and excitement. It’s the centrifugal force, the most excellent timing and rhythm, the sheer fun that makes her yell out like that. When I see a follow respond to a lead like that, I put the lead right at the top of my must-dance-with list. Especially when I see him grin at her reaction. That’s my type of man, right there.
Mostly, my favourite part is from about 0.16 to 0.26. I like the way he listens to the music, catches the rhythm, then folds himself up into this ridiculous, hunched over shape before peckityhopping around the floor. It’s just brilliant timing and framing – he sets it all up so perfectly with that slow assumption of the position (folding his tall, skinny body down to rest his head near Naomi’s ear, to peer over her shoulder at the dance floor behind her). It’s excellent because she keeps her lovely, clear, straight posture, which emphasises his excellent contortions. And of course, he’s actually leading her so that she stays there while he does the wickedy wacked action.
My other favourite part is at 0.59 to 1.04 where he goes all deadpanned, straight-faced. It’s a brilliant preparation for his huge, crazy, arm swinging swingouts a moment later. And it suits the music perfectly.
I think that’s why I like these two so much. They can do contrasts – emotional and movement-wise – and they use those gaps, the spaces or pauses to perfect comic effect.
Some other links:
Bethany Powell in a Jack and Jill with Andy Reid again, at ILHC in 2010
Do a search for Bethany Powell and/or Stefan Durham and you’ll find lots more lovely clips. This one of them in the Camp Jitterbug Show in 2010 is probably my favourite.
[EDIT: thanks to Jerry for hooking me up with the videos. Dood’s FB page is all the useful]