On East Coast Swing

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Click for some appropriate background music. Notice the beat – especially the percussion.

Swing Introduction

When one things of swing dancing and the accompanying music, many minds will go back to the music of the 1920s and 30s in the USA – a time known as the Big Band era (which continued into the 1950s).

From the likes of African-American giants as Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, and Louis Prima to Big Band icons as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman to the new generation of swing of Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, then onto the more contemporary sounds of Brian Setzer, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, swing has maintained a presence for many years.

Swing dancing goes back to New York City’s Harlem community as the Lindy Hop took hold. Life was buzzing due to Charles Lindbergh’s successful so transAtlantic flight. Because the Lindy Hop was fast and acrobatic, developed a different dance style for the music that would be simpler and danceable by more people. That was East Coast Swing, yet today we also have West Coast Swing, Jive, Shag, Boogie-Woogie, Jitterbug, and Lindy.

This post features East Coast Swing – also known as East Coast and Triple-Time Swing. Here’s my past post about a broad overview of Swing. East Coast Swing came about because Lindy Hop’s speed and acrobatic nature – so East Coast Swing is slow and not acrobatic. For those needing a refresher, here’s a classic Lindy Hop.

Introducing East Coast Swing

East Coast Swing – classified as a Rhythm Dance (not a Smooth Dance)

East Coast Swing – a spot dance (does not move around the floor in a circle or line)

East Coast Swing – one of the most versatile dances for many settings

East Coast Swing – a ballroom competition dance

East Coast Swing – a dance popularized by Arthur Murray Dance Studios

East Coast Swing – whose name refers to swinging hips

Basics Steps

East Coast Swing – a relatively fast dance at 145-170 beat per minute in 4-4 time

East Coast Swing – feature a basic pattern of 6 counts

East Coast Swing – featuring triple steps (3 steps over 2 counts) acting as the dance’s pulse

East Coast Swing – for triple steps, think side-together-side

East Coast Swing – the repeated six-count pattern of triple step (2 counts), triple step (2 counts), rock step (2 counts). (Note: Some teach the rock step begins the pattern)

Watch the video for East Coast Swing’s basic steps.

 

Suggestion: Now that you watched the basic steps, return to the music that opened this post to see if you can hear the pattern (triple step, triple step, rock step).

Other steps include Turning Basics, Open Breaks, Underarm Turns, Tucks, Sugar Push, Swivels, Peek-a-Boo, Kick Ball-Change, Shoulder Spin, Toe Heel Spin, Lindy variations, Promenade Walks, Whips, Kick Breaks, Pretzels, Cuddles, Tunnels, and more.

Other music to listen for the basic pattern: Michael Buble, Huey Lewis, Boz Scaggs, Fats Domino, Bobby Darin

Conclusion

As the opening pop song indicates, East Coast Swing music is lively, fun, and energetic – so dancing East Coast Swing should match that feeling. It’s music provides a bouncy feel, which can be found in a variety of music genre – including today’s pop music!

The closing video below is from a competition. A reminder: East Coast Swing is not acrobat as Lindy and what others may think as swing dancing. Because multiple couples are on the floor, you will see many variations – but all are dancing East Coast Swing. Enjoy!

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On Multiple Connections

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In November 2014 I posted this collaboration with a photographer around the word connection. Below are a few thoughts from that post.

Connection: A correspondence between two partially ordered sets
Connection: Causal or logical relation or sequence
Connection: A relation of personal intimacy
Connection: A means of communication or transportation
Connection: synonyms including coherence, continuity, link, affinity, association, kinship, liaison, linkage, relation, relationship, union

This past April I wrote a ballroom post about Lead and Follow. Since that post, I continued thinking about the role of connection in ballroom – especially in a social ballroom dance setting. After all, our instructor preaches it! The Lead and Follow post included the following paragraph:

Lead and Follow requires a connection between the partners because that connection is the communication line transmitting signals through a strong frame. With the goal of moving together as one, signals travel through any of the following (or combination of): whole body, core, shoulders, hips, back, elbows, arms, hands, legs, and feet, plus extensions and compressions.

In ballroom there are other connections beyond the physical connection between the dancers:

  • the physical connection between two dancers
  • the connection between dancers and the craft
  • the connection between the dancers and the music
  • the mental connection that some partners have with each other
  • the connections between friends
  • the connection between instructor and students
  • the connection between the feet and the floor – and I imagine a few more.

The music is part of the setting. The music can be traditional ballroom, contemporary, and from a variety of genre. In general, I see three key factors from the music affecting ballroom dance: timing, tempo, and rhythm.

Timing: Whereas waltz music is in 3-4 time (3 beats per measure), the other ballroom dance are in 4-4 time (4 beats per measure.

Tempo: How fast/slow is the music? For instance, Rumba and Bolero music are similar, but Bolero is slower. Viennese Waltz is faster than Ballroom Waltz. Three-count Hustle music is slower than Four-count Hustle. East Coast Swing is faster than West Coast Swing, but not as fast as Lindy.

Rhythm: The background rhythms supporting the music provide the musicality and the feel for the dance. Whereas a friend would say one can dance Tango to Foxtrot music (and vise versa), I say that would be a mismatch between the music and the dance because the background rhythms supporting the music are vastly different – therefore not even close.

Regardless of the place, the music sets a tone – a mood for the dancers to explore. Therefore, different dances provide different moods: Cha cha is playful and sharp. Foxtrot is smooth and classy. Waltz is grace and elegance. Rumba is rhythmic and sultry. Bolero is fluid and romantic. Salsa is lively and party-time. Quickstep is exuberant and glamorous. East Coast Swing is fun and energetic, but West Coast Swing is bluesy and slinky. Tango is strong and edgy, but Argentine Tango is personal and intricate.

Different songs provide different moods. For instance, the elegance of waltz serves to transport the mind to a beautiful place. The beauty of the dance fits with the beauty the music provides. Music comes from many sources – including popular songs. However, not all danceable waltzes set the same mood. Yes, I’m picky on that count – for instance, many country waltzes are for a bar or a barn – not a ballroom.

So to put the two thoughts together. Two dancers with a strong physical connection in their frame and contact points in the presence of the right music, the dance can be special. The dance can be a moment that one may never forget. At the end, the dancers may look into each other’s eyes with special admiration and gratitude for the moment. Now that’s what connection can do in a social ballroom setting.

“Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” (Brené Brown, author)

Below are two scenes from popular movies that you may have seen … and these scenes are about important aspects of connection – well, at least to me. Enjoy, and thanks for reading. Does this make any sense?

On a Midnight Bolero

Click the video above for background music that is appropriate for this post.

 

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Stars filled the night sky. A gentle cool breeze from the sea tempers the warm air. The outdoor patio at Cafe Romantico, which overlooking the city and the sea below. Rhythms of Spanish guitars fitting fill the air for this place by the sea.

The small audience remains as the night nears its end. He – a blonde, blue-eyed American in the area for business. She – a lady of the region with olive skin and long, straight, dark hair.

As a dancer knowing the rhythm, the slower-paced song speaks to him He approaches her, “Un Bolero, Señora por favor.”

She nods while offering her hand. They walk onto the dance floor of beautiful tile displaying the region’s intricate designs.

Their hands join. Their thighs touch. Her left hand goes to his shoulder. His right arm embraces her to complete the frame. They don’t know each other, yet they are one.

As a dancer, he is wise. Initial patterns are easy as each acclimates to the other. Each notices the skill level of the other. He smiles to her and she senses the simplicity is about to change.

Bolero is long and stretchy. They are close, then apart, then close. Low, then high, then low. She sends him messages through her slinky frame, moving arms, and sensual face with dark eyes. He attempts to remain unflappable, yet she motivates him.

They are close, she whispers to him in his native language. He responds by leading everything he knows. Walks, turns, contras, rondes, sweethearts, moons, sways, passes, checks, syncopated, and switches – and she answers his lead every time while continually speaking to him through her nonverbal cues as if she’s drawing him into her web.

He tries to ignore, but he can’t help notice her sensuality. Her movements speak to him – but that’s Bolero – let alone the setting.

The song ends. They silently stare into each others eyes. Seemingly eternity passes. And …. this was his night to remember on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

On Bolero

For appropriate background music, click the video above for. You will have to stop it for the other videos.

 

Bolero – a style of music that is not music for Bolero the dance. For instance, Ravel’s Boléro is not meant for dancing a Bolero

Bolero – a slow dance to Latin music

Bolero – a dance with expressions through the arms, hands, legs, feet and face

Bolero – a fluid, slinky dance with rise-and-fall plus contra body movement (the upper and lower body slighting twisting in opposite directions)

If Cha-Cha is the tease and Rumba is foreplay, Bolero is the act of love

Image from ballroomdancers.com

 

History
Dance historians credit Spanish dancer Sebastian Cereza for creating Bolero in 1780

Bolero originally danced in 3/4 time

When Bolero music reached Cuba in the mid-1800s, it fused with African music and the timing changed to 2/4 or 4/4

Bolero originally a dance for a couple, but later adapted for large group choreography (which helped spread its popularity)

Bolero introduced America in the mid-1930s

Spanish and Cuban Bolero forms still exist today

Cuban Bolero (aka Bolero Son and International Rumba) is similar to American Ballroom Rumba, that is slightly faster than Bolero

 

Basic Steps
Bolero – a popular social ballroom dance, but also a competitive dance in American Rhythm ballroom

Bolero – danced in 4/4 time, usually at 96-104 beats per minute (slow than the Cuban Bolero in the previous video)

Basic pattern consists of six steps over two measures of music (eight beats)

Bolero’s basic pattern is as follows: (Note: Slow = two beats, Quick = one beat) Slow-Quick-Quick-Slow-Quick-Quick … (repeat)

1) Partners facing each other in standard ballroom hold

2) Bodies lower before a large, lunging step to the side (lead to the left, follower to the right), then raising on the second beat after the weight transfer (2 counts, slow)

3) Two rock steps follow (1 count each, quick-quick) that are smaller than the large side step. (Lead goes back then forward, the follower forward then back). Lowering for the next sequence occurs on the second small step.

4) Repeat the large, side step in the opposite direction.

5) Repeat the two rock steps (also opposite as below).

Watching this video will make more sense to the abbreviated written instructions.

 

When danced well, Bolero is a beautiful dance. With its long, fluid motions to go along with the music’s slow tempo, Bolero is full of expression, drama, and passion. The smooth, gliding, twisting actions, and accompanying rise and fall help make Bolero the beautiful dance of love. Enjoy the high-quality Bolero in the video below.

On Lead and Follow

A search for quotes about “lead and follow” provides many references to leadership friendship, and other relationships. Although they are very applicable, Lead and Follow is also about ballroom dance.

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When starting to learn ballroom dance, the focus is on hold and basic feet movements. At that stage, Lead and Follow is more like memorizing: Lead does this, then the follower does that. More steps means more memorizing. However, in time, Lead and Follow becomes very important – and it’s not easy. So what is Lead and Follow?

Lead and Follow is the essence of social ballroom dance, which is not choreographed. Lead and Follow is an interaction between two people that allows them to synchronize motions to compliment each other and the music. Lead and Follow is about dancing together and enjoying each other with the Lead being responsible for initiating steps and patterns while navigating the floor and planning ahead while the Follower interprets and executes the signals from the Lead.

Given a variety of skill levels present in a social ballroom dance setting, it is paramount the Lead recognizes their partner’s ability level and leads within that level. I frequently see the following at social dance: A lead is given, but the follower didn’t respond with the expected step. The Lead then goes into instructional mode of “When I do this, you do that.” That is not Lead and Follow! Yes, some of their problems may be due to skill level differences, but most is due to the lack of connection between the dancers; therefore poor directions delivers poor results.

I still recall one particular lesson we had with an instructor who wasn’t our regular one. (It probably was within the first or second year of our lessons). Her points were simple: Leads should be subtle, but clear; Followers needs to tune in to detect the subtle signal, and then respond accordingly. Both leading and following are difficult skills, but can come with experience.

Image from Microsoft Office

Lead and Follow requires a connection between the partners because that connection is the communication line transmitting signals through a strong frame. With the goal of moving together as one, signals travel through any of the following (or combination of): whole body, core, shoulders, hips, back, elbows, arms, hands, legs, and feet, plus extensions and compressions.

For me, my dance frame has been strong for much of my dance journey. Therefore, I notice when my partner’s frame is weak – which makes communication difficult. No wonder dancers struggle when both frames are weak because the communication line is (at best) on life support. I also know why ladies with good frames who struggle when they dance with men with poor frames.

Developing clear and subtle leads is a never-ending journey – and I admit that I haven’t always been subtle. Even though my frame, connection, and subtlety have improved with time, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Yet, I now know that Lead and Follow is more like a series of act-and-react actions. After all, what if my partner does something different from I anticipated? It could mean my lead wasn’t clear – but it also means I have to react by keeping the time and adjusting my next movement while disbanding my anticipated plan – and then my partner must react to my adjusted signal – and then it’s back to me. This act-react cycle is ongoing throughout the entire dance until the music stops.

When things get out of whack, I admit to enjoying the maddening flurry of steps with a skilled partner to get us back in sync. Fortunately, I possess an ability to do that much of the time – although I may never duplicate the series again because I don’t know what I did. On the other hand, I also enjoy leading a less-experienced dancer to do steps they didn’t know.

There are numerous analogies for Lead and Follow. Lead is speaking while Follow is listening. Lead is communication while Follow is translating. Lead is the driver while Follow is the passenger. Lead is the offense while Follow is the patient defense. I’m sure there are more, but hopefully these analogies make sense.

No matter the ability, Lead and Follow is about the connection between the partners on two levels: with each other and with the music. My favorite dance partners are the ones with good frames that serve as the foundation of a good connection and they know how to follow.

On the other hand, two people who have never danced together can have a magical first dance – a dance that is socially flawless – well, as long as they have a strong connection with each other.

Recently, I have had some remarkable dancing with people I’ve never danced with before. The reasons are simple – a strong connection between two people, the ability to read each other, and comparable skills levels. For me, those times are euphoric – and at the end of the dance, two people can smile, look into each others eyes with amazement and appreciation, and thank each other for a wonderful dance.

Enjoy this video. Although this couple practiced this routine, the majority of the steps/patterns in their routine can be done with Lead and Follow in a social ballroom dance setting – well, assuming the dancers know the dance – in this case, Bolero.

On The Room

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The moon is bright in the night sky while casting shadows into the room. A beam illuminates a floor vase containing several rose stems – yet the floor was open.

They lock eyes. He gives a slight nod and extends his hand as he hears the music. She glances down, then slowly raises her head displaying her coy face. She gently touches his hand. Without words, he slowly leads her to the floor.

They stop. Without connecting their eyes she accepts by moving closer to him. He gently embraces her and awaits the right beat while slowly lowering their joint grasp nearer to them.

He moves is a subtle way. She responds to the signals as a language. She moves her legs indicating her presence and interest.

He slowly walks. Their heads are close, but their eyes do not connect. She wants to see him, but her eyes remain closed. Without sight, she responds. Their legs touch; sometimes as a slow caress. Other times as a sharp flick. He gently guides her sleek frame to swivel – sometimes slow – other than quick.

Their arms and the embrace physically connect their bodies as one. The music connects their souls. Although their mental images are different, their thoughts are the same – yet they move as one.

Their embrace strengthens – but not physically. They transport each other. He continues leading to the rhythms and images in his mind. She responds with her desires.

He slows – leading to a gradual stop. The music ends. They pause.

The room is empty. There is no music. The moon shines on them casting a shadow of one onto the floor. They stare into each others eyes … and a rose blooms.

 

Full Disclosure: As the Categories in the sidebar indicates, writing fiction is not my forte. Once I saw this video, a story unfolded in my mind, which led to another meager attempt at fiction. Even though fiction is outside my comfort zone, I appreciate your feedback. For those who don’t know, the dance is Argentine Tango. Thanks for reading the 282-word story.

On a Box Now Checked

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Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

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Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

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Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

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We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom