Busy Hamface, busies herself

You’d think nothing had been happening round here.
But everything has been happening.

Firstly, we had to finish off classes for the year. We were so tired out, it was a relief, and yet it’s a poo to interrupt the learnz. But knowing when to rest is important.

Secondly, we had MLX. The biggest event in Australia. I was coordinating the DJs. I got into bed at 6am on Saturday and Sunday because I was having so much fun DANCING. Pilates has made masses of difference to my stamina – dancing is just so much less work because I use my body more efficiently. The music – live and DJed – was beyond compare. It was a massive weekend, and all the organisers and DJs should be very, very proud of themselves.

Thirdly, I arrived home on Monday, utterly shagged, my knees destroyed, and had to get shit together for the Little Big Weekend with Ramona, which started that Thursday. I was running this one on my own, and it was pretty much 100% sorted. Except for those little things I discovered on about, oh SUNDAY. But that’s how running events works – you discover little errors or mistakes or problems, you solve them, you rock.
I have to say, this was a seriously successful weekend.
Ramona did the Ramona thing: she was ridiculously professional and excellent company. Being in a range of classes with her, it was made very clear that there’s a real difference between being a regular teacher and being a world class teacher with ten years of teaching under your belt. The classes were fantastically structured and executed, and Ramona’s physical abilities were so far beyond what I’ve seen in workshops with other international teachers this year, I was blown away. And then, the class content!
I asked Ramona to teach things that I was really interested in, and then she DID. A class in soft shoe, a class in blackbottom, a class focussing on three different character dancers (Snake Hips, Josephine Baker and… mental blank). It was a solo weekend (!!), and the material was really quite eccentric. The classes sold out in 48 hours, we opened new spaces, the classes sold out again. And then to see a large group of people just lapping up this strange, bizarro wonderment, working hard, laughing and just relishing the Ramonaness…. it was a real delight.
After the workshop day, we had a christmas party (I didn’t run that one), then a late night party (I didn’t run that one either), and the late night party was A M A Z I N G. My standards were high after MLX. But I would even say that this was better than the late nights there. That could just be local pride. But, seriously, it was just fabulous.
There were a few other sessions on the weekend – a training session for a performance troupe, a ‘masters’ private class (masters = hardcore solo jazz nerds) and a small teacher training session – and Ramona was a real trooper. The work load must have been so tiring, but she kept rocking. And I’ve heard report after report from attendees gushing about the classes. I myself feel so inspired and invigorated. We taught on the Monday immediately after the weekend and got to test some things from the teacher training. It was exciting and inspiring and satisfying!

So, the Little Big Weekend with Ramona: wonderful.

Thirdly, Alice and I had two classes to teach on the Monday after the weekend, as part one of a three night block at a larger venue. We did a 1920s partner session (boy we wanted to do blackbottom!), then the first in a series we’re calling ‘beautiful basics’. This first basics class was looking at rhythm in lindy hop. It was a really nice coincidence to see Ramona emphasising rhythm so fiercely in her classes. We’d planned this class ages ago because we’re really into rhythm in our solo and lindy hop dancing, so Ramona’s approach helped confirm our feelings.

We worked very carefully on a class that began with a strong solo component (looking at the ‘step step triple step, step step triple step’ lindy hop rhythm, gradually adding in new fundamental rhythms – stomp off, kick ball change, hold), getting the students to dance out those rhythms in combinations. The goals were to work on bounce, on timing (syncopation, swing, etc) and on combining and changing rhythms.
We spent about three quarters of the class on that, and the students worked very hard – we were so impressed. Then we had them partner up, and we worked on putting those rhythms into swing outs. Swing out after swing out. The goal was to show how rhythms can be the core part of a swing out, and that shapes or ‘moves’ aren’t necessarily the most important part (though of course that’s fun stuff too).
It was really thrilling to see them suddenly go “Ah-ha!” when they understood how working on the rhythms on their own were an essential part of rocking their partner stuff. And their swing outs! It was really inspiring. So that class was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.
Next week we’re expanding that concept of ‘beautiful basics’ with a class looking at ‘making space for rhythm in lindy hop’. In that class we’ll take some basic steps or shapes (swing outs, under arm turns, etc) in a very basic ‘routine’, and then look at how we can make those basic steps a framework for rhythm or jazz steps. So the goal is to create swing outs or shapes that are flexible and relaxed, and to help students figure out how their connection with their partner can be open to improvisation.
I was quite struck by how this week’s class, which was quite simple in concept (make your swing out a jazz step and dance on your own, then rhythm-it-up, then make it into partner work again) could be so useful. The key was the practice and experimentation. And it was really nice to see the students then taking each of those rhythms and varying their shapes or emphases. Hopefully this next class will be just as useful. The goal with this one is to help students see how the most basic lindy hop ‘moves’ can be frameworks or outlines for more complex, textured dancing. The key is to be relaxed and self-reflexive, understanding how your own movements affect your partner’s, and how to be open to invention and improvisation.

Fourthly, I had pilates last night, after a day of busy appointments. I love pilates. It feels like a nice, gentle, low-impact, relaxing workout. My knees don’t hurt, I don’t sweat that much, I can be calm and properly mindful and in my body. And by GEEZ the work has improved my lindy hop.

And now it’s Wednesday, and I have no obligations! Well, I have stacks of post-event admin to do, but I’m giving myself a break, as I’m totally buggered. So of course I’m taking this time to write and write, rather than going out and doing something calming and non-dance related.

Tomorrow, of course, it’s on again. There’s a GREAT gig featuring three bands on tomorrow night at 505. The New Sheiks are from Melbourne (I squeed about their latest album here), and I’m really looking forward to hearing them. Then there are the Finer Cuts, who are from Sydney, and who played the christmas party. Most of their band members also played the late night Speakeasy party and were fabulous. And the final name on that bill is Pugsley Buzzard, who used to live in Sydney, but is now Melbourne based.
I’m really looking forward to the gig. I’m totally and completely over DJs (sorry, DJs) – live music is rocking my boat.

But, now, I have to add a caveat. The DJs at MLX made me realise that it’s really only ordinary DJs that I’m tired of. The quality of DJing at MLX was so vastly far beyond the ordinary DJs I hear, and have heard at other events during the year, it makes it clear that skillz are not universal. My own DJing, sadly, was not really up to snuff. I think I did an ok, job, but I definitely wasn’t up to my past standards. Assessing my own work, particularly on the Friday late night in the lindy hop room, I think I’d put me on the non-crucial sets next year.
In retrospect… heck, thinking about my DJing now, the problems are: I don’t DJ hardcore events enough these days, so I’m out of practice; I spend more time thinking about dancing than DJing, and am not on top of my own music; I’m not inspired, and I’m not nerding up my way through vast quantities of music each week. Basically, teaching and my own dance work have pushed DJing to the back of my mind. For now. I think this is a good thing. I’d much rather use band than DJs, and I’d much rather be dancing than sitting on my clack watching other people dancing. I’m also 38 now, so I reckon I should do the hardcore dancing now before my body totally asplodes. Time enough for DJing later.

So I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks. It’s been really, really great. I had a massage when I got back from MLX, which really helped, but I do feel as though I’ve pushed my dodgy knees a bit further than I should have. Curse you genetics! Now I’m thinking about next year, and about events in the future. I have some schemes, and some ideas for other events. I’d like to do something completely different and unusual. Something that we don’t see in Australian jazz dance. Now I just need some funding (to the arts grants!), some business skills (to the TAFE!) and a crack team of people to help me pull these things off. I love having the chance to combine my academic experience with my dance love. I figure all that time applying for and getting grants and scholarships during my postgrad years is going to be very useful in the near future.

Dancing, you are the finest. Organising and planning, you are the equal-finest.

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