soft like thin, perfectly kneaded out dough

It’s funny how when people get older their muscles seems to disappear. So when you hug them, you can feel their bones through their flesh, and the flesh is softer than it was before. Like their bodies have given up on muscle and started concentrating on other things. And their skin has gotten soft, soft like thin, perfectly kneaded out dough.

But when you’re just new, when you’re a baby, you don’t have muscle either. You’re just flesh and new. And then you learn how to use your muscles, and suddenly you’re learning how to sit up or to roll over. Things that are really complicated and take months to learn how to do if you’ve had an accident or been injured. But when you’re a baby, and your muscles and body are just new, you learn how to do these things, each new thing, every week. Just by doing.

When you’re in the middle of your life, or later on, it’s difficult to learn new ways of using your muscles. Especially if you’ve never used them in a mindful way. That means that you really only use the muscles in your arms or your legs or your body to carry yourself around. You don’t stop and think about how you lift yourself up onto your feet, or how you bend to pick something up from the floor. When you use your muscles mindfully – when you understand how to lift your arm up over your head in the most economical way, not also lifting your shoulder or dropping your opposite hip – you are more in your body. You’re not thinking your way through the movement, you are in the movement, with each muscle group as it engages and releases.

When I am caught up in being anxious, I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop and make myself be right there in whatever it is I’m doing. I eventually end up trying to slow my brain down with repetitive, mindless movement. I do mindless things, repetitive things, over and over and over. Pegging out laundry. Folding sheets.

Sometimes I try to haul myself out of the rushing thoughts – all that anxiety – by doing something with just a little complexity. Crocheting the same basic stitches, around and around in a pattern that requires just enough thinking to keep me interested, but doesn’t let me get caught up in worry-thoughts. Or I sew. I make garments that are just complicated enough to make me concentrate. And the process requires careful planning – find the fabric, preshrink the fabric, cut out the pattern, mark the notches, pin it, stitch it, press it, stitch it, alter it. I listen to the radio with talking to take up any spare thinking. Each step slows me down, makes me pay attention, concentrate on what’s happening right then.

But nothing really helps me stop all that worrying like really pushing my body, physically, to the point where I’m too tired or adrenaline charged to think. And I have to really be there instead, making my legs lift and pound down, or my arms pull through the water. After that, I’m so tired I can’t worry. And after a few days of this, I’m calmed down again, and I’m not worrying. I’m really in my body again, and not cut off, rushed off in anxiety. I feel calmer, and happier, and I can enjoy the running or swimming or training in a more present way, that makes it easier for me to engage with the people and things around me.

Sometimes I worry that this obsessive exercising is unhealthy. But then, I think, other people have used simple, repetitive exercise – mindful movement for centuries, forever as a way of being calm. Of being present. It’s not really a surprise that repetitive movements, strengthening muscles and breathe, gaining understanding of how our bodies work is a key part of spiritual and religious experience as well as martial arts.

It’s not at all spiritual for me. These sorts of things are talked about in yoga, and I find it uncomfortably hippy or mystical. But the same discipline – being present – is central to learning to dance or performing an exercise prescribed by a physiotherapist. You cannot make a dance step really work until you have tried it a hundred different ways, both right and wrong. And understood the difference. Strengthening an injured muscle requires constant, repetitive and yet also mindfully correct and aware repetition.

Being in your body – being present and moving mindfully – is about paying attention. It’s about stopping up all the runaway thoughts about what you’ll be doing later or what you think you should be worrying about. When you move mindfully, or more importantly, when you prepare to move, you are right there in your body at that moment. You are drawing your attention to the muscles you need for the task at hand. And you’re letting the others rest or lie ready for the next task.

Following is about always being read to move, moving mindfully and always being in your body, in the movement, with the rest of your brain at rest, not thinking or worrying or rushing ahead. Following is about turning off muscles, letting them sink back to waiting or readiness, without tightening and working too soon or in the wrong way. Both following and leading are about turning off thinking, and about sinking into your body in a conscious, aware way. It’s not mindless exercise; it’s mindful movement.

This makes me wonder how it is when people do get older. And they’ve spent their life in mindful movement. When the muscles slowly shift from being active and present, to something else or not there at all. What is it like to try to engage them? Does making the movement become completely absorbing? I have heard that if you spend time working your muscles when you’re younger, you maintain better muscle tone when you’re older. This makes sense to me. And the idea of gradually losing that sense of embodied self is a little too frightening.

lots of talk about exercise

Another long post!
I’m making sure there’s more talk about feelings and gender and power in DJing and dance. Even if they’re just mine. :D

I’ve been doing some pretty hard core exercise lately, which you’d know if a) you follow me on twitter, b) are a real live hooman friend of mine, c) I’d kept up with posting my dailymile posts here.
I guess I’ll get on that last one soon.

So what’s the deal? I started running in March or so this year, loved it, and used to run three times a week and go social dancing once. But that hurt my knees. So I dropped one run and added in yoga. Didn’t help. I went to see my podiatrist/physio (bless his blessed cotton socks), he gave me some exercises to toughen up my knee, and I started back at running twice a week with an aim for three. Sore knees. I started doing dance work on night a week, properly, in a hall and everything. Then I started swimming laps twice a week at the pool to complement my two runs per week, my one social dancing night and my one night of dance work.

It’s gold.

I love swimming. I used to swim a lot, doing swimming club in school until puberty put a stop to that, we grew up swimming a lot, and I’ve done laps at various points. But this is different. It’s so wonderful. I love the way it’s not impact exercise – no knee or joint pain. Just lovely stretches and a serious arse-kicking. Right now I’m running Mondays and Fridays, swimming Tuesdays and Thursdays, dance work Wednesdays and social dancing Friday or Saturday night (with the odd Sunday session) and lots of incidental walking and the odd long walk in between. It’s perfect. I love it.

It’s the perfect balance, so long as I don’t push the swimming too much. Right now I’m really not swimming as hard as I could. I do 1km in 30minutes and I could do more. I did more on Tuesday and ended up with a sore shoulderback (I think it was my trapezium, on the left side) on Wednesday. So I’m taking it easy, working up to more laps gradually. Unlike running, I have some swimming Skillz, what with that swimming club work as a youngun and some sort of bizarre genetic predisposition towards it (I think it’s actually the strength in my shoulders). So I feel good about swimming.

I still love running. I love the way it seriously kicks my arse and leaves me all tremble-muscles and sweaty. But it’s rough on my joints at the moment. I have added in lots of stretches and strengthening exercises, but I’m not quite there yet with those. I don’t want to suggest that running itself is bad for you or your joints. The issue is that it’s a repetitive exercise – you do the same exact movements – over and over again. And gravity is involved. And if you’re heavier, and without proper muscle tone, you tend to just flop down into your joints. That’s me. I’m pretty fit from dancing, but I’m not running fit. And you do need to strengthen your muscles for running.

Hellz, you should really be doing lots of stretches and strengthening exercises for sitting on your arse all day. I’m 36, so I’m not at my prime, running wise. But that’s ok. I think it’s a good idea to work up to being a ninja runner. I’m gradually strengthening my muscles so that I am more efficient. That means making sure the muscles in my legs work properly, so I’m not knock-kneed any more.

That’s a real issue for a lot of women, especially ones who don’t do much exercise – arses out, no core strength, knees falling in towards each other. The opposite is often true of many men – crotch forwards (so it looks like they have no arse), no core strength (but too much upper body strength), knees opening out like bow-legged cowboys. These sorts of physiological (should that be biomechanical?) issues are party socialised, but also to do with the physiological differences between men and women. And you do get men with the ‘female’ issues and vice versa.

I’m focussed on getting good at running because running is really good for basic aerobic fitness, and also for being efficient when you’re moving quickly. Which is perfect for cross-training for lindy hopping. Which is really just lots of running. With lots of jumping and leaping and bending and stretching and…
I love swimming because it makes me apply the same principles of biomechanics I use in dancing and running, but to my body while it’s suspended in a resistant environment. Gravity doesn’t kick my arse (especially not mine – I’m still ridiculously buoyant), so I’m free to experiment with movement in new ways. It’s kind of like yoga – when you’re inverted, you get to see how your everyday movements and muscle use are shaped by gravity and habit. Tipping all that upside down, literally, helps you become aware of your habits and also more aware of how your body works. Swimming is kind of like that. But you’re in WATER.

As per usual, I’ve thrown myself into this routine with somewhat obsessive enthusiasm. I am a little ob-con, which means I’m good at things like PhDs, exercise programs and other tedious tasks with perceivable goals. You usually see the results of a new regular exercise routine at six weeks or so. Provided you’re actually doing the exercise regularly and with some sort of discipline. And I am.

My results? Dancing is much easier – I can breathe and jump and leap with more energy and control. But my improved fitness and muscle and control means that I can actually do more while I’m dancing. I can experiment with new ways of moving. Which was one of my main reasons for doing this in the first place: decreased fitness and increased physical girth (as in not-muscle but just generous flesh…ooo, I do like that thought – generous, bountiful flesh!) make it difficult to do some movements. They also prevent you doing movements for longer periods of time with more repetitions. Which is what you need to practice something. I find my decreased size means I have a greater range of movement – I can move my legs at the hip within a greater range, I can bend further, extend further and jump higher. It’s quite exciting. It’s also very interesting.

I want to make it clear. I’m not rushing this. We started changing our lifestyle a couple of years ago. I don’t want to ‘drop a lot of weight’ or suddenly get really fit really quickly. I wanted to make slow, gradual changes so that they could be sustainable. It is nice to be slimmer – it simply feels better to be able to do more exercise with this increased fitness and smaller physical size. It’s less weight on my poor foot and joints, and it means I do have that greater range of movement and flexibility and strength in my joints.

I also want to be clear: you can carry lots of flesh and be fit and healthy. But you can’t be fit and healthy if you don’t do at least five 30minute blocks of sustained exercise per week. That means a brisk walk (not a slow stroll) FIVE times a week. One of the consequences of this exercise, though, is that your muscles develop. That means you get stronger, not just in the muscles your body is using to move you around, but also in other systems – respiratory, digestive, pulmonary. You also use food more efficiently – you use food. So you’re less likely to ‘put on weight’ because your body isn’t storing as much ‘excess’ calorie as it was when you were spending your whole day on the couch.

And – best of all – exercise fires up your body-chemicals, and improves your mood. Exercising regularly just makes you feel good. It’s really hard when you’re weighed down with depression or caged in by anxiety to get out there and walk or run or swim or cycle or dance or stretch or tai chi or yoga or whatever. But once you do get out to it regularly, your general mental wellbeing improves. I find I have far less trouble with anxiety when I’m exercising regularly. Without it I can find it difficult to leave the house, to go do social situations, to even catch a godDAMN bus without freaking about missing it.

Exercise sort of dissolves those feelings. It lets me out. I think that this is the part I like the most. It’s like exercise makes me strong enough to do things I can find very difficult. It makes me strong, emotionally, but also socially. It helps me free my sense of humour and my wit. I make better jokes when I’m exercising regularly. It also lets me do creative things like dancing or telling stories or whatevs.

For me, this is where exercise becomes a feminist issue. Because happy, healthy women with confidence and creativity and happy, healthy bodies are in a very good position for fucking up the patriarchy. And because happy, healthy men with confidence and creativity and happy, healthy bodies are also in a very good position for fucking up the patriarchy.

At this point I want to write about wellness and (dis)ability and health and feminism, but I don’t have the space. I have a post brewing, though. But let me state this, very very clearly:

The ‘right’ amount and type of exercise for YOU is determined by your body and by your self. There is no point whatsoever in comparing your exercise with someone else’s because:

  • you are unique;
  • you have a unique genetic makeup, therefore your physical/emotional/mental potential is unique.
  • your lifestyle is unique – you might be a mother like other people, but you are mother to your children, living your lives, not someone else’s; you might be a student like other people, but you are student in your body, not their’s;
  • Your body and your brain – the way they work together – is unique.
  • You are the sum of your life to this point, and that means you have to take that into account. You might have had some troubles with alcohol or with depression or with your parents. You might have been a hardcore sprinter as a teenager. You might be wondering where your gender is at, and what or who you are. You might have broken a bone years ago and have it left more fragile. You might have some serious long-term illness. All this stuff comes with you on every run and every swim and every walk. So you have to be gentle with yourself.
  • You’re here for your whole life, not just a weekend of it, so you have to plan your exercise for your whole life. Don’t think “I have to lose weight for my wedding” or “I have to get fit by christmas”. Think “I deserve to feel really good, and I deserve to feel better every single day” and work on that. Long term goals, short term pay-offs.

So my fitness and exercise plans aren’t ones that will work for everyone. You have to find your own balance point. That might mean yoga once a week or it might mean cycling to work every day. This brings me to my other serious point:

Exercise should be fun. If it’s not, change what you’re doing. Really, seriously, it should make you feel fucking AMAZING. It might pound and pummel you, but not in a bad way. It might leave you buggered and breathless, but it should also leave you thinking “YES! I am doing that again tomorrow/next week!” You mightn’t have any interest in exercise that’s hardcore – that’s also cool. It might be the way your gentle yoga leaves you feeling light and calm and centred and full of happiness. But it should be good feelings, not guilt or frustration or shame or anger or unhappiness.
For me, dancing is the very finest thing on earth. When I’m dancing, when the music is good, and I’m feeling good, it is the best feeling I’ve ever felt. It can be any music and any dancing. But the way I feel at that moment is beyond words.That’s why I run and swim and stretch – because it improves that. Sure, I enjoy running and swimming and cycling for their own sakes as well, but dancing gives me direction. It’s the payoff. I also find that fostering that part of my life – with its creativity and physical challenge and partnership with other dancers – fosters the other parts of my life which are about stillness and calm and quiet.

So I think we should all seek out exercise that pleases us. Running isn’t for everyone. You mightn’t be a runner or swimmer. You might be a trapeze artist or a juggler or a ninja or a climber or a hiker or a gardener. Keep looking until you find that thing that makes you feel that good. And the best part is that the more exercises you try, the better able you are to try more exercises, and more things generally!

For me, that’s the other best bit. Hurting my foot made me suddenly think “oh shit, I might never be able to run/dance/garden/hike again!” so when I did get some mobility and freedom from pain I was NOT going to put off trying new things. No fucking way. Our bodies are phenomenal things – there is no way I’m going to miss out on trying as much as I can.

This is another thing that makes exercise feminist. It makes us strong and convinces us to seek out good stuff. Good stuff that mightn’t have anything to do with heterosexual monogamy or buying shit.

Here’s another thing I want to mention. Being fat does not equate to being unhealthy. I actually don’t like to use the expression ‘being fat’, because it’s meaningless – it’s relative and requires comparison with other bodies. And that way leads bullshit self-loathing and division between women. Not to mention paranoia, depression and unhappiness. Exercise is about being strong – physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s about feeling good. It is NOT about comparing yourself with other people. So you can have lots of lovely booty – you can be a lushly fleshy creature – and still be fit and healthy. But not if you don’t get your heart rate up, work your lungs and muscles and sweat a little. Sorry, sex, heavy drinking and sixteen course banquets do not qualify. :D

I want to end with another point. One that’s really at the heart of this. Simply ‘being skinny’ – ie just some bones covered in skin – is not a good goal. Aim to be ‘healthy’, and aim to be well. I wish some of the women I know would realise that muscle tone is the sign of good health. Every now and then I see a sister cringe when I talk about my muscles. It’s not ‘mannish’ to have muscles. And, to be honest, ladies, you’re going to have to work really hard, for a really long time to even approach a man’s musculature.

I really think of my muscles as proof of my strength. Not just of my physical strength, but of myself. I’m strong enough to get out the house, or to make a joke or to tell a story or to manage a relationship or to run my household or hold down a job. I’m strong enough to know how to ask for help, and I’m strong enough to help other people. I think this idea of strength is the opposite of what a lot of women are raised to think. We’re raised to think – constantly told by telly and advertising and almost every single relationship we have with other people – that women are physically weaker than men, and that we aren’t strong enough to make decisions or to run our own lives.

I also see a lot of women using ill health or physical weakness – pain in particular – to gain control of their lives or relationships. If you have a headache you don’t have to go to work/deal with that conflict/solve that problem. You have permission to go to bed or to be looked after. I mean – most women I know carry pain killers in their bag. How many men have pain killers on them all the time?

This was a big one for me, because I used to get horrid headaches which were stress related. I find exercise keeps anxiety and stress headaches at bay. I’ve also learnt that when I feel a headache brewing I can reach for a painkiller (because sometimes you just need to), or I can go for a walk or get a massage or choose to let go of that trigger point (saying ‘no’ to a responsibility, for example).

I think that my relationship with medical professionals is a good example of this. Pain in my foot or knee? I could take a bunch of pain killers or stop running. Or I could go see my physio, who then works with me to set up a strengthening program where I work to manage my pain. This is the sort of pro-active, empowering relationship many men have with their sports coaches, but which women don’t have because they don’t do sport, competitive or otherwise. For me, this is the most exciting part of all. Having a ‘bung foot’ doesn’t mean not dancing or not walking or taking lots of pain killers. It means getting orthotics, doing an hour of strengthening and releasing exercises per day and managing the amount and type of sport I do.

Yoga taught me: you don’t skip yoga because you’re injured. That’s when you most need to go to yoga. So exercise has taught me that your physical (dis)ability is not about opting out. My physical limitations aren’t actually limitations – they’re just part of how my body works. So I need to work with that, rather than in spite or or around that. Dancing helps with that thought too – an unusual body shape is a very useful and creative thing.

I’m not really sure how to end this, other than to say that I think it’s a very great shame I didn’t do much exercise between 15 and 25. A very great shame.

fitness: yoga

duration: 01:15
Vetoed the kneeling poses and had much less pain afterwards. But discovered that the salute to the sun motions are actually really rough on my knee.
Will these aches and pains never end?

fitness: yoga

duration: 1hr, effort: 4/5 feeling: great
Lovely yoga. Dealt with some incipient knee ache. Going to aim for 2 yogas and 2 runs this week. Because I love yoga a lot. Next week we’ll see if I’m ready for 3 runs and 2 yogas.

fitness: yoga

feeling: great, effort: 3/5, time: 1:00
Lovely. It’s so good for my sore joints. I avoided the scary shoulder stands for a session of getting-things-right and aiming for perfect alignment.

fitness: yoga

time: 01:00, feeling: good, effort: 4/5
Great! Yoga is really helping my post-running aches.
Serious groin stretches in this class were a little intense, though.

fitness: yoga

time: 1hr, effort: 4/5 feeling: great
Great! Yoga is really helping my post-running aches.
Serious groin stretches in this class were a little intense, though.

fitness: yoga

time: 1.10, effort: 4/5, feeling: bloody excellent.
omg. I have _missed_ yoga. All those lovely endorphines, all that stretching and strengthening, but without the harsh impact, aching joints and aggressive motorists.
I am BACK on the yoga wagon.

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.

more pakour

Watching this (occasionally annoying) video about pakour/freerunning, I was struck by the similarities between these jumps and lindy hop.

I’m most interested in the landings, and in the way momentum or velocity are managed. I don’t know a whole lot about the science of this stuff, so my comments are purely ill-informed conjecture.
When this guy lands, he tends to land with his feet shoulder width apart and his knees bent. This makes for stable landings – this distance between your feet is optimal for a nice, stable landing. The bent knees are also very stable – straight legs are unsteady and tend to lift your centre. When your centre is lower, you have more stability. But you don’t want to be too low – it’s harder to recover from a very low pose. The bent knees function a bit like springs or suspension on a car – they absorb the energy of your fall, but they also allow you to store the energy to use it again for another movement. Landing with straight legs and close together feet makes for a) jarring and b) instability.
These are all things that are really important in lindy hop. Because lindy (in the old school sense) is fast, and, essentially, like playing a basketball game within a two meter square space, you need to be able to move quickly, to make quick turns, to not lose your momentum. This makes bent knees and shoulder-width apart feet very useful. Old school lindy hoppers like Frankie Manning, who was known for his air steps, would also lean forward, bending at the hips and putting their hips back. This added ‘hinge’ gives greater stability and also adds another layer of ‘stored energy’. It also requires your activating the layers of muscles in your torso that keep you stable and also allow you to respond quickly with turns and twists.
Here, have a look a this iconic footage (Manning is in the overalls):

I’m interested in the way these practical mechanics have been translated into bodily aesthetics. The straight leg and pointed toe are classic markers of ballet and of feminine beauty – the longer-seeming leg, the tinier foot.
It’s also interesting to watch the first clip and see how this guy uses the energy from a drop or jump to move immediately into another jump (so it looks like he’s springing up), or how he translates that energy into a roll. How are his feet positioned then?
Of course, all this contrasts really nicely with yoga, where you move between poses very slowly – you don’t bleed off momentum with bounces or other movements. Your muscles have to be strong enough to move you through poses (and to hold you in them) without losing energy. And you hold poses for a longer time.
NB I think the reason I’m so aware of this stuff is that quite a few leads have a tendency to stop the follow during a faster dance. When you’re moving at speed, it’s less work to maintain the momentum than to stop and have to start again. This means that sequences of moves which use larger movements are easier on the follow than a combination of (for example) swing outs and (to be ridiculous) body rolls. It’s also a reason why it’s important to not stop your swingout half way through (on ‘4’ or so); you want to keep the movement happening.