Hey yo. You can be fat and happy. Once you turn 40, you can do whatever you like because you are pretty much invisible. So you can be such a heinous bitch, you can eat ALL the best food, you can tell the worst jokes, you can laugh your arse off at serious young men (because goddess knows you’ve finally figured their shit out), you can exercise like a crazy person and revel in the sweat and the muscle and the endorphines, you can stay up ALL NIGHT LONG, you can go to bed at 9pm with a book and a box of chocolates, you can wear whatever sort of swimming costume you like, because no one is looking at you any more, you can swear such dirty swears, you can sit at a table in a restaurant with your friends ALL DAY and drink only cups of tea and no one will give a shit.
And also you can do this when you are less than 40. I mean, fuck, who gives a shit, right? Just fucking do this shit. And if anyone tries to tell you shouldn’t ‘let yourself go’ or even talks about carbs as anything other than energy for all the arse kicking you have to do that day, say, “Fuck that shit! Let’s talk about something fun!” And if your girl friends try to have a conversation near you about how fat they are and how they are really ‘bad’ for eating that one thing, interrupt rudely and say “Hey, bitches! Come on! Let’s go to the art gallery and strike poses like those chicks in the old paintings!”
You know you can just go and get what you want. You can just get it.
Fuck that shit.
Two other myths that shit me: ‘right brain/left brain’ and ‘muscle memory’. The second is particularly irritating. Your muscles do not have memory. They are _muscles_, not brains. So when you are learning a new dance step (for example) you don’t repeat it a heap of times to fix it in your ‘muscle memory’. You repeat it a million times* to improve fitness, balance (core stability), even to make your muscles stronger. But they don’t remember anything. Your brain does that.
*We could also argue that repeating anything a million times without some degree of mindfulness** isn’t terribly helpful. Like those jocks in the gym using momentum to lug weights into the air, rather than recruiting the right muscles, you can do something a million times and still not be achieving your goals.
**By mindfulness, of course, I mean an awareness of what you are doing with your body in that moment. And by awareness I mean knowledgeable awareness.
It maps the walking time between London tube spots, and notes the landmarks that you’d see on that walking route. The goal was to get people walking instead of freaking out during a tube strike.
It’s interesting because it shows just how dependent people are on set routes in their commute, particularly people who use public transport or drive. I clearly remember my first trip to London, realising that it was quicker and more interesting to walk between stops instead of catching trains.
I guess, that while one of the original intentions of this project was to ameliorate the effects of a tube strike a consequence would also be increasing people’s incidental fitness.
But I’m more interested in it as an aspect of the everyday lived spaces, in the way they’re talked about by people like William H. Whyte in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Whyte is kind of old hat these days, and has been superseded by more recent, more nuanced work, but this little film ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1988)/ is pretty interesting if you’ve not come across this sort of work before:
I’m very interested in the ordinary ways people use public space, and I’ve been really keen to do some sort of project using sound, music, video and images in a map of urban jazz cultures. But you know, not enough time, and not enough money to get access to the right material.
I’m working on a new project at the moment. Or rather, I started working on this project years ago. It’s still not finished, as you’ll see. But I figure: get it up now, or it’ll never see the light of day.
It began with my Women’s History Month posts in 2011 and has been sloooowly, sloooowly proceeding from there. Eek. Now I look at it, this is three years’ worth of work. Not consistent work, by any means, though. But work, none the less.
In March 2011 I started posting a different woman jazz dancer every day on facebook, and then cross-posted them to my blog each day as well. People dug them, and I found I was learning a LOT about jazz dancers.
The next year, I decided to do the same for the 2012 Women’s History Month. Except this time I posted a different woman jazz musician every day of the month.
In 2013 I went back to women jazz dancers, posting a different woman every day for Women’s History Month in March 2013, some repeats from 2011, some new.
All these women jazz dancers posts took quite a bit of research. I started with the obvious ones, but as the month progressed, I needed more. So I hassled my jazz researcher friends (people like Peter Loggins), and I started hunting down women in film clips.
Well, I built a website to showcase all my Women’s History Month posts, but it was a bit rubbish. For a start, it wasn’t using responsive design, so you couldn’t look at it on a mobile. But that wasn’t really my fault – it predated my experimentation with responsive design.
This past month (December 2014), I decided to update the website, make it properly responsive. This overhaul was inspired by workshops and conversations with Marie N’Diaye over the Jazz BANG weekend. Marie’s chorus line project in Stockholm is really exciting. She really opened my mind about women chorus line dancers, and I decided I needed to share the research I’d put into this project.
And I had put a lot of research into this. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste.
Women Dancers From Jazz to Bebop is a reference tool. It’s not an exhaustive biographical tool. It really just provides the names, birth dates, and any film and stage show appearances I could confirm. If I could find a photo, I’d include that too. I cross-checked all the details as thoroughly as I could, and if I couldn’t confirm something by double-checking it, I made that clear.
I found quite a few errors in references like the internet Movie Database, and found new uses for my music discographies. Fully nerd. But I wasn’t alone – I really did irritate all my dance historian friends, chasing down names and asking them who such and such is blah blah film was. I couldn’t have pulled this off without their help. You can read all my thank yous on the ‘About’ page of the website, but once again, I have to give Peter Loggins mad props: he has endless patience, and just gives and gives and gives.
The updated Women Dancers website has a better colour scheme, and you can actually read it on a mobile. Or a desktop. Or an ipad.
Why doesn’t this site host film footage itself?
One basic reason: too resource hungry. It takes too much room and time to host footage. And it’s a copyright nightmare. I’ve crossed some lines using photos, but it’s hard to make this site useful without pictures of the dancers – you have to know who you’re looking for when you start looking at archival footage.
How could you use this site?
Take a name from the index page, see what films she appeared in, then do a search for it on youtube. Then watch her dance, and teach yourself the steps she’s doing. You will probably suck a bit, but everybody sucks at first. Don’t stop there – practice, practice, practice. Get your learn on.
How will I use this site?
If you have a look through the index page, you’ll see that quite a small proportion of the dancers actually have live pages in their name.
This is because it takes aaaages to
a) research each woman, and then
b) code up a page for each woman.
I know, I know, I should have used a blogging tool for this bit, but I didn’t. I fail.
I’d like to use the sources in this site to do more research on good solo dancing. I’d like to get a bit more involved in some sort of chorus line project, and I’d like to put the research to practical use in our weekly solo jazz classes.
I had planned to build the database myself, as I was learning how to make databases in the postgraduate diploma of information management that I was enrolled in at the time (yes, another postgraduate degree – a grad dip in info mgmt, completed December 2011 or 2010 – I can’t remember which.) But I didn’t. The site itself really reflects the sort of site and reference tool design that dominated that course. A bit too much under-funded, ugly public service website design.
I’ll probably continue to tinker with the site, adding names and pages as I get time and inspiration. Do feel free – please do! – to send me new names and details. But I’ll need some sort of references or sources to cite before I add them to the site, I’m afraid.
In the mean time, I hope you find this site useful – get dancing, you women!
I’m very late on this one. So very late. But this has been a very busy year for me, and sadly, recorded music has had to take a bit of a back seat while I get on with things like live music.
Earlier this year Leigh Barker and his New Sheiks released a new album.
Flow Like Wine is pretty damn good. You can buy it here on CDbaby. Here is my disclaimer: I was approached by Leigh to write the liner notes, and sent a copy of the album to listen to before I wrote about it. Luckily (for me :D ) it’s a great album, and I had lots of nice things to say about it.
The New Sheiks have actually released three albums, now. The first one was Sales Tax, which I wrote about when I first heard it in 2012. That’s the sort of album that has things dancers would like to dance to on it. The second one was Australiana, which isn’t so much a dancing album, but is perhaps more a listening album. Both are great.
It’s important to point out that the New Sheiks are part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project, a collaboration with tap dancers, lindy hoppers, and solo jazz dancers. This group does the sort of cooperative work that’s relevant to lindy hoppers, but also to jazz musicians and fans.
I think it’s unique because it at once celebrates the history of jazz music and dance collaboration, but also looks forward to new types of creative work. That means, in simpler terms, that some of what they do looks and sounds like lindy hop, but some of it looks and sounds like ‘new stuff’. Which I think is what makes it so interesting. A lot of the dancer/musician projects in the modern lindy hop world tend to be intractably recreationist, which is nice and all (and important), but not so great if you’re looking for funding. Or for the new. Jazz wasn’t meant to stand still. It is improvisation, and it’s meant to change.
If you get a chance, you should see the MRP in action – it’s great dancing, and great musicianship. Truly great, not just talented amateurs; this is professional dance and music. This group are focussed on this idea of ‘rhythm first’ dancing, which I’ve discussed in this post ‘Sea of Rhythm Rambling’, and which is super chic in the international lindy hop scene at the moment. Incidentally, Sea of Rhythm is run by tap dancers who’ve worked with the Melbourne Rhythm Project in the past.
I think this is very important: collaborations between dancers and musicians has led not only to some good shows by the MRP, but to a whole series of other projects which have influenced the wider Australian lindy hop scene. Many of these projects have been entirely unrelated to the MRP (eg the session we did at Jazz BANG), but I think it’s fair to say that there’s something of general trend in the lindy hop world to approach dance events with closer relationships with musicians.
Back to Flow Like Wine.
The New Sheiks are made up of some very good musicians, people who, while relatively young in jazz terms, have some pretty serious chops. IF you chase down their bios, you’ll see they’ve won all sorts of awards and prizes, played in all sorts of bands, run all sorts of projects of their own.
The dancers reading this will be asking “So what do they know about dance music?” and I’d answer, “Heaps.” I’ve been dancing to bands including Eamon McNelis and Don Stewart since 2001. Leigh Barker’s been playing some very excellent bands for dancers (including a hot combo that blew my brain at MSF in 2013, and included people like Mike McQuaid, Jason Downes, Andy Swann and other Melbourne guns).
The MRP have featured some Sydney musicians too. Ben Panucci and Justin Fermino are part of the Basement Big Band, the Finer Cuts, the Cope Street Parade, and the Corridors. And all of these bands are custom built for dancing. As I write this now, I’m struck by just how motivated and energetic these people are: such exciting projects! …heck, I could go on and on.
Can you just trust me when I say that these musicians are a) good, and b), have been playing for dancers and paying attention? And they’ve been talking to dancers about music, which is something quite a lot of jazz musicians don’t do. I think the New Sheiks understand that jazz – olden days jazz – was dance music first. That means it has to make people want to get up and move their bodies. And if it’s really good, those people up on their feet will stop, and turn to stare at the band, because it’s just that good.
The thing I like about Flow Like Wine, is that it gives us some very good blues music. Or music you might dance slowly to. There are some more moderate tempo songs on here, and yes, they are great, but I want to talk about the slower songs.
There are some really shitty bands being hired for blues dancing gigs in Australia (and around the world, I suspect). I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because there are a lot more ‘blues’ bands than there are ‘swinging jazz’ bands out in the world, and these blues bands can be cheaper. Maybe the people hiring them don’t know much about music. Maybe the scene is more tolerant of less excellent bands, or perhaps they’re more open-minded about musical styles. I don’t know.
But the music on this New Sheiks’ album makes me want to run a blues dance weekend. And I’ve never had this urge. I don’t think I’d even dance at this weekend – I’d just sit and watch the bands. So long as I could include this band in the line up. I think that you can’t really play good jazz, swinging jazz, if you don’t understand how blues music works. Not an original idea, I know, but I think that the lindy hop scene tends to schism a little bit when it comes to blues and lindy hop. Though the two dance scenes may be slipping apart, the music can’t.
The musicianship on Flow Like Wine is really top shelf. I’m kind of a nut for Matt Boden‘s piano. And I tend to gush about Eamon’s trumpet. But it’s more that the musicians in this group have a rapport that really makes for wonderful dancing. I think that this album is so good because the band have been working together for much longer than they had when they recorded the first one. They are a band, and this coherency makes for just lovely listening.
I’m sorry this post is so rambly. It’s new year’s eve, and I’m a little distracted :D
I do recommend this album. You should probably buy it.
[EDIT] That song ‘come on in my kitchen’ is a massive ear worm. I can never get rid of it.[/]