big, long round up

To celebrate a return to blogdom….
That’s some mighty fine balboa right there. Bal is the ‘tighty whitey’ member of the swing dance family. Seriously popular, seriously cool and absolutely fabulous for really sweet leading and following. There’s less ‘room’ for the follow to improvise (though a decent follow can make it work), but that’s really the appeal – the lead has to not only listen to the music and make it work musically for both partners, they also have to be a really good lead to make the whole thing work. ‘Pure bal’ often refers to the stuff in ‘closed’ position – no open position here. But ‘bal-swing’ is often a term used to include all the other stuff going on in a dance like the one above. These terms are (of course) as contentious as you might expect.
I like it, though I rarely dance it. I can lead very little of it, though I really like the challenge. The bal crowd here are really friendly and fun, so it’s always nice to hang out. And because bal is a lot less physically intense than lindy hop (though the tempos are frequently super fast) you can wear nice clothes and avoid looking like a drowned rat at the end of the night. Having said that, I sweat like a fool when I’m leading anything so perhaps that comment is misleading.
In other news, I’m busily preparing for another semester of lecturing and tutoring (casual basis of course :( ) and work has long since begun on MLX8: the Exchange of the Living Dead. It’s big, it’s bold, it’ll be beautiful. If you like to dance de lindy hop (or blues or bal or whatever) you’ll like this year’s MLX. Winter has pretty much arrived here in the ‘wick, though it’s oscillating between heinous autumn and proper winter, really. Not much rain, over all, which is kind of crap, though it’s very misty and foggy and has been pretty bloody cold.
This past weekend I made a nice suit for interviews. It’s blue, made of some sort of stretch and has a sort of pale grey cross-hatch type pattern (very small and discrete). The suit itself includes a nice pencil skirt (tres chic, apparently) with a nice buttoned flap feature thing at the front. The skirt was originally just making use of some left over remnants, so it’s actually made of six panels – two large front and back pieces and a smaller, narrower rectangular strip down the centre front and back. The feature flap thing was also remnants. The buttons cost about $17 for both skirt and jacket, which is mad as the fabric itself was less than $10 a metre. The jacket is really quite pretty – Simplicity 4412 (pattern B, the green jacket in the bottom right hand corner):
jacket.JPG
I haven’t used contrasting fabric or buttons (just plain blue buttons) and I’ve folded up the wide sleeves to make three quarter sleeves (which looks a lot better than the big sacky ones in the photo. It’s not lined and there aren’t any shoulder pads, though the interfacing is quite stiff and the shoulders do fit quite nicely. I’ve also cut it a bit closer so it fits quite snugly. Overall, it’s very 1930s secretary and gives me the right type of curves. I’m very happy with it. I guess I’m going to have to match it with some sort of heel, as the skirt is over the knee and I want to avoid the frump. But I don’t think I’ll wear it with a shirt under neath as it doesn’t really need it. But perhaps a slip would be a good idea for the skirt.
I also returned to yoga a few weeks ago, after a year’s break. It was like being a complete bubb all over again. The hardest thing was relearning how to lie still and quiet for 10 minutes. But now I’m back to twice a week and I LOVE IT.

weekly round-up

Today is a kind of day out of time for me. The thesis is with the Supes, to be looked at later on (and to be talked about next Thursday). Next week I’m going to get into all the annoying administrative bits of submitting a thesis – cover sheets, descriptions, forms, etc. But this week (ie the last 2 or 3 days, incuding today) I’ve given myself leave to do whatever I like. That means:

  • obsessing about the MLX6 site. I have some neat stuff from our Arty Team (ie Kylee and Scotti – designer and scribbler respectively), and a good plan for the site. But this week was all about designy stuff – trying to make the logo work with the practical functions of the site. Or, in other words, laying it all out on the page in a pretty and yet usable way. Eek.
  • finishing off some sewing jobs that really needed doing (PJs for The Squeeze – bad wobot, altering my lovely plum stretch needle cord trousers so they’re not mega bags, finishing off a neat black (with white arm-stripes, red wrist-cuffs and big red cross on the front) fleece jumper – fleece is neat. I promise to post some sort of pictures at some point. This last jumper was black, white and red in an attempt to be Serious and Grown Up (esp after my pink and red fleece hello-kitty lined hood fleecy cardigan thing), but ended up looking like something Dennis teh Menace would wear:
    dtm.jpg
    I like to imagine that I am, in fact, a comic book hero when I’m burning down Sydney Rd, dodging cars and yelling “BAM!” under my breath* like Frida: Frida.jpgShe does actually yell “BAM!” and she’s probably shouting “YEAH!” in a loud, Swedish-American accent in that photo.
  • discovering last-minute thesis jobs and FREAKING out about them
  • actually submitting my Intention to Submit form (yes, I know – it’s madness. But you have to give them 3 months to find you 3 markers or else you delay the return of your thesis post-marking), with abstract, thesis title (what? you mean I have to name this thing before it’s even finished gestating? what?!). I can’t remember what that was. No, wait, I’ve found it:
    Hepfidelity: Swing dance and the role of digital media in embodied practice
    Ta-DA!
  • And… what else have I done? Oh, I went to see Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, where there were 4 of us in the cinema – me and 3 teenage/first year boys. I laughed at the Huxtable jokes, they laughed at the hip hop references. Cultural capital for all.

So it’s been an ok week. I feel a bit lost, but still. I’ve also been looking for work. Yeah, right. Let’s not talk about THAT.
Anyhoo** here are two interesting things to read:

  • this blog called avant game, which is a far more interesting games studies blog than any I’ve ever read before
  • and B’s entries on meditation, starting here which are quite a lovely read.

I especially like this bit:

Upon returning to Alice Springs, I kept up my practice, and found other people to meditate with from time to time. One group that met on Sunday afternoons was a small Sangha group. It was held in the artist’s workshop out back of the house of one of the members. Although I was not really studying Buddhism, they were always welcoming, and it was a pleasure to sit with them for a half hour in that quiet room, and feel their energy.

I really like this idea of being part of a group while meditating. Meditationg, martial arts and other inwards-looking practices like yoga or Thi Chi can often be seriously inward-looking, or in-the-body. To such an extent that they can affect your outward-looking interactions with others***. I am really interested in the idea of being-in-the-body and inward-focussed, and yet to still be aware of and part of a group or partnership. It’s an idea I’d like to explore a little more. Particularly when you keep in mind that African American vernacular dance – vernacular dance is about being part of a group, about social context, and about call-and-response between dance partners, between dancers on the floor, between musicians and dancers, and between dancers and audiences. Being seriously inwards-looking is kind of not so great in a social dance situation where the dance is all about conversations with others…
* I’m brave, but not that brave.
**that was for you, Galaxy – I’m crazily aware of it now. But I think of a friend called Dave who says it a lot. He’s probably referencing the Simpsons, but I’m referencing an insanely good dancer who’s also a Thai Chi master country boy.
***it’s not uncommon for hardcore martial arts people or yogis to be quite terrible partner dancers because they’re so focussed internally, they are so good at responding with their bodies, they’re not so good at responding with their bodies in relation to others, as a partnership.

yoga fc

It’s world cup time in Melbourne, and even I’m getting a little bit excited. SBS is the world cup channel, with stacks of neat little films on the soccer theme, games, and novelty shows like the one about the socceroos theme song, and of course, Nerds FC. Tonight was the final show (though you can catch it repeated every night at 8pm on SBS from Thursday on), and it was so exciting!
But perhaps my favourite soccer story is actually another yoga story.
My Wednesday morning class is really fun – I’m the youngest yogi there by about 30 years, and usually the least rowdy. We’re not just talking silly jokes and heckling. We’re talking people physically jumping on each other and doing physical comedy (isn’t yoga wonderful?).
One of my favourite people is Rosa, who’s pretty much representative of half the nannas in Brunswick – short, Italian, pushy, friendly and fun. Our teacher Frank is Italian as well, and excellently wicked. Rosa is just a noob yogi, but as per Frank’s general approach to yoga (whether you’re the 10 year old daughter or the 90 year old nanna) is ‘have a go’. It’s nice because he’s careful to work with you if you’re a little bit fragile or scared or cranky.
Last time I was in the class Frank took care to tease Rosa. With one leg up on a table, Frank exclaims “Rosa! You’re not swearing at me in Italian are you?” and she wasn’t – but Frank can lip read.
Then, as we did the kneeling thing (which I don’t like at all), she exclaims “Ah! I don’t even kneel down in church!” and we laughed and Frank responded “bit stiff there, Rosa? Too much world movies” and she swore at him again.
This week, once he had her balanced upside down on a pair of chairs in a headstand (truly amazing – Rosa isn’t young, and she’s pretty round – we were all suitably admiring and she was justifiably proud), Frank declared “now she’s up there, she’s going to make us all spaghetti” and we laughed, because none of us doubted she could.
And later again, doing the kneeling thing again,
“There Rosa, now you’ll be able to stay up later watching World Movies”
and Rosa said “if I can’t sleep tonight because it hurts…”
“ah, no, Rosa, we’re getting you into practice for when the World Cup starts – it doesn’t start til 1am you know.”
And more laughing.
I love that yoga class, because it’s not all quiet meditation and seriousness. It’s fun and friendly and with lots of laughing. So we all feel comfortable and brave enough to do stuff that scared us.
There are quiet times for being in our bodies, but there are also silly, laughing bits. And lots of partner work and hands-on stuff from Frank. There’s also only a small number of poses, but we make sure to do them properly and then hold them for ages.
… the only thing better than my yoga classes would be going to the kids yoga classes. Can you imagine?
and i’m not the only one who likes silly yoga jokes – so do the patriarchy and fussy

taking a cat for a walk: DJing and phenomenological media studies

I’m addressing some interesting points Brian raise in the comments to the unexpectedly entry from a couple entries ago.
Brian writes in that comment:

That of course leads on to the big question is: “Is playing a small amount of non-swing music at a swing event a major problem.” The smarty pants answer would be, just play some Neo. My real answer is I don’t know. What I to know is that to put a non-swing song in your set and for it to go down will with all the dancers takes a lot of skill. I find you must first make sure all the classic hard core dancers are happy and maybe even some of them left (gone outside) the room. Play some hardcore classic songs in a row of upper tempo and you should achieve this. Then it’s a matter is checking if those “non-swing mood group are in the room and ready to dance. You then need to make the transition and then comes the non-swing song. And hey the songs selection is like bringing a cat for a walk.

This section really interested me. That’s a really clever approach. I’d been thinking “there’s no way I’m every playing neo because I hate it”. But this scheme offers me a new approach. It reminds me of Trev’s comment here on Swing Talk where he says:

Yes, the ‘wave’!
I was using it last night (will post set soon) – although lately i’ve been more brutal with my tempo changes – it’s great for shaking things up, and avoids things “sounding all the same”.
Don’t be afraid to drop in a fast, high energy one when you have the floor full at medium. I’m not talking crazy fast, but something around 190-210bpm. The folks that are into it will be hanging out for it, and if you keep the tempos too low (to keep the floor full) they will get bored/lazy. Even if you only get 2 couples dancing to a fast song, you get the benefits of:
a) lifting the energy/enthusiasm of the room even if they don’t dance; b) inspiring others to get better go they can do it too. It’s not the same for everyone, but when I was new watching a high-energy dance motivated me to keep at;
c) sending people to the bar to spend their $ on the venue!
If you do it right, the room will be buzzing, and you can follow up with something at around 150 and everyone will be right back into it.
I generally wouldn’t play more that 2 fast tempo songs in a row. People start getting pissed if they don’t want to/can’t dance fast, and tired if they’ve been dancing to it.

(NB the setlist he’s referring to is here, though I’m not sure which setlist he means)). For a description of ‘the wave’ check out this thread on swingdjs.
… ok, so now to address the point.
Basically, both Trev and Brian are suggesting that the DJ use the ‘wave’ – which is a way of describing the general ‘flow’ of mood in the room, to provoke a particular response from dancers. It’s hard to explain how it works with dancers, but
I’ve just been reading some fascinating articles referring to David Seamon’s book A Geography of the Lifeworld where he describes exactly this phenomeon – people making a space ‘place’ by repeated actions and social interaction. So, everyday a man makes a coffee shop ‘place’ by rising at 8, walking to the coffee shop, buying a paper, ordering a poached egg and coffee, eating and reading til 9 when he walks on to work. The man comments that he is only made aware of how ‘comforting’ and ‘warm’ this cafe space is when the series of actions is interrupted by something like the paper being sold out.
Seamon talks about this as people becoming aware of their ‘precognitive’ behaviour only when it’s interrupted. In other words, he’s interested in what happens when people are made conscious of the stuff they do habitually in particular spaces to make those spaces a ‘place’.
This phenomenological stuff really makes me laugh, because they write like no one has ever thought to investigate what happens when you make people aware of their unconscous habits. When of course, any physiotherapist, yoga instructor or dance teacher spends all their working hours helping people develop a ‘body awareness’, where they become conscious of the things they do habitually with their bodies and muscles.
but anyway…
That theory seems particularly relevent to this discussion of DJing, because DJs are basically people who develop the skills to manipulate the mood of a room full of dancers so as to get them all dancing. I’ve been absolutely fascinated, as a noob DJ, by the way the choices I make in playing songs and combining songs can affect the mood of a crowded room. While, as a dancer, I respond unconsciously to the music, either getting really ‘high’ with uptempo, upenergy music, or getting really ‘low’, and moderating my dancing (my unconscious movements and social behaviour), as a DJ, I’ve had to become conscious of this process and figure out how it works.
It’s important to note that ‘precognitive’ behaviour is essential to skilled partner dancing. I’m frequently reminding myself ‘stop thinking!’ and ‘just follow!’. It’s like driving a manual car – you suddenly reach a point when you’re learning where the combination of accelerator, clutch, gear stick, etc becomes unconscious. And when you’re suddenly made conscious of this process, it often stuffs up.
Leading, however, can be more comfortably ‘cognitive’ than following as you are planning and determining the course of the dance. I have found, though, that the best dances, the most effective ones, where I really use my centre to move their centre, are the ones where I relax and ‘just move my body’ naturally, rather than ‘trying to lead’ in order to effect weight changes which in turn move the follow’s weight – effecting their weigh changes.
So when Trev talks about manipulating the wave (ie developing a ‘mood’ or ‘vibe’ in the room, or, to use Seamon’s approach, making a space ‘place’ through playing music which will provoke particular social responses through dance), Brian talks about exploiting the wave/dancers’ response to the wave to sneak in songs which are potentially going to ‘break’ the wave. So he plays ‘risky’ songs (like neo) after a couple of faster, old school swinging jazz traacks, so that he can exploit the old school fans’ taking time out for a break to slip in some neo. So the potential ‘risk’ of playing the neo stuff is ameliorated.
Trev also talks about ‘breaking’ the wave constructively by making quicker transitions between tempos – dropping in a fast one, even if the floor was full at slower tempos, then dropping the tempo down again to ‘recover’ and pick up the dancers who’ve stepped off the floor for that fast song. And, incidentally, giving those who danced the faster song a break.
This is fascinating shit, because it all reveals how important it is as a DJ to be a dancer, but perhaps more importantly, to consciously recognise how dancers respond to combinations of songs and musical moods to manipulate the mood of the room, but also to ‘please everyone’. I adore this approach because of the way it contrasts with the comment “you can’t please everyone” a DJ (whose work doesn’t impress me at all) said to me recently. This comment ‘you can’t please everyone’ seems (in the case of this DJ) to serve as justification for not attempting to work the room and ‘wave’. Or rather, to me it seems like this DJ made this comment because they are simply unaware of these issues. Which holds true with their dancing, where they are similarly ‘unaware’ of other dancers in the immediate vicinity, unable to ‘feel’ their partners’ weight changes, and have a propensity for rough leads.
In my own DJing, however, I’ve recently discovered that I can actually keep the floor full for the entire set, at a 100% strike rate. This usually means playing mid-tempo songs, and not taking any ‘risks’. Yet one of the results of this approach is that some of the dancers (mostly that hardcore, experienced group), while they’re dancing every song and enjoying themselves, really want me to play some faster songs as well.
I’ve been a bit tentative about doing this, as the numbers on the floor immediately drop when faster songs are played (though I have noticed that they pick up or don’t drop if the song is very swingy and good quality). One thing I have learnt, as Trev has pointed out, is that it’s ok to drop the numbers for a song or two. I’ve also found that if the floor does empty (for any reason, whether the song was fast, or you’ve played a dud) there are ways to fill it again – I have a few ‘safety songs’ which will always fill the floor. So it’s ok to play fast songs, empty the floor, and then fill it again. As Trev has pointed out, playing the odd faster song will, while people stand out for a song or too, actually pump up the energy in the room. And, as Brian points out, it also gives you an opportunity to play something that group of experienced, old school faster dancers wouldn’t dance to anyway, even if they weren’t standing on the sidelines strugging to breathe.
Another trick that Brian has noted before, is that if you do take the tempos up really high, you can actually raise the overall tempos when you play the next song. So if you find the room is stuck at about 140bpm, playing something at 200, while it may clear the room for those 3 minutes, will actually make it possible for you to follow up with something at 160 or 180, because it feels so much slower, comparatively, people get out there and dance. So allowing you to up the general tempo of the room, and change the overall wave.
I have noticed, however, that while you can raise the tempos generally, you will have to bring them down again eventually, as people’s energy and stamina wears out. I had previously been obsessed with getting tempos up and keeping there, as if 200bpm was my ultimate goal. Now I realise that it’s about varying tempos over the course of the night – the wave is a wave, and not just an incline. The trick is, of course, managing these crests and troughs without dropping the energy and tempos prematurely.
So DJing is a really interesting way of putting into practice that phenomenological approach to media use in everyday spaces.
NB when we say ‘bpm’, we mean ‘beats per minute’. The average speed of house or ‘dance’ music is 120bpm. The average tempo for dancing lindy in the 1930s was 180bpm. I can follow comfortably up to 180bpm, then I have to work harder. I can lead comfortably up to about 160. 20s Charleston, however, requires faster tempos – over 200 is average. Over 300 is ‘fast’. We can dance to such high tempos in lindy because the music ‘swings’ – it doesn’t feel like you’re rushing, and in fact really swinging songs feel slower than they are. Which helps to keep you relaxed, as you can’t dance fast if you’re freaking. 20s charleston, however, is usually danced to ‘dixie’ or jazz from the 20s, which predates swing, and has a different timing – 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 rather than 1-2-3-4, 5-6-7-8.
FYI: 180bpm is more than 3 steps per second, as we actually make 10 weight changes (or steps) in the basic lindy rhythm and Swing Out (fundamental step of lindy).

post-yoga lassitude

We’ve begun level one yoga – this is week 2. Level Bubs was proving to basic for us, but level Ones… is proving a little draining.
Last night I rode home and Crinks caught the bus/tram to my place, and we had to lie on the bed and eat because we were so buggered. Note bent legs to relieve lower-back fatigue. Also note the take-away menus in hand and Crinks’ obvious interest in said menus – we had to eat, but Goddess knows we didn’t have the energy to cook.