The Dancing Bug

Confession time. I spent most of the first half-century of my life sitting around in chairs reading books.

Well, I love books. My only regret, really, is that thanks to all the sitting I’ve done over the years, my quads have become totally jacked, my glutes are retarded, and my pelvis is virtually frozen in an anterior tilt. Arg! This rotten movement pattern screws with my dancing and gives me a sore back, so I’m trying to fix it.

And I’ve come up with this plan. I call it “Burn Before Reading.” Because you see, while I regret that my rear end has become developmentally-delayed, I’m not willing to give up on reading altogether. Not hardly. So I have this little deal with myself. Whenever I want to sit down and read a book, I earn it by doing a behind-friendly workout first. Then when I do sit down, I try to adopt reading positions that don’t reinforce my crummy alignment patterns. That seems fair, right?

(Clearly, I’m not a doctor or trainer or anything, so I accept no responsibility if you follow my plan here and end up hurting yourself. Maybe you can just use my idea to come up with your own plan.)

Required for this workout: some lightly weighted object, a chair or wall to hang onto for balance if necessary, stretchy pants, and about 10 extra minutes before you want to sit down and read. Come on, doesn’t your behind deserve 10 minutes of your time? Oh, and also the book you want to read and some sort of book holder (I can recommend a good one if you don’t have this.)

In the interest of brevity I’m not going to go into detail about each of these exercises, I think they’re pretty straightforward, but if any are mysterious to you, by all means comment and I’ll explain further.

Warmup

  • Forward and back leg swings with each leg
  • Side to side leg swings with each leg
  • Forward hip rotations with each leg
  • Backward hip rotations with each leg
  • Jog in place
  • Hamstring stretches (gently!)
  • Alternating side lunges
  • Wide plies
  • Any other stretches that feel nice

Strengthen – 10 or so each, 2 or 3 times through series

  • Wide weighted squats
  • Weighted side lunges
  • Weighted rear lunges (be sure to lift front toes and contract glutes)
  • Rear leg raises
  • Side leg raises

Now you get to read! BUT you have to sit on the floor with your book in a book holder. Fidget through the following stretches and other postures, moving your book holder around as necessary. Only do the ones that feel nice, stay in each position only as long as you want to, and repeat until you find out whodunnit.

(If you think this is a really weird way to read, remember that the following “stretches” are just how we all used to sit around playing, coloring and reading when we were little. Your body knows how to do this.)

Seated Stretches

  • Butterfly
  • Half forward bend with each leg
  • Half straddle stretch with each leg
  • Full straddle stretch
  • Firelog pose with each leg
  • Pigeon pose on each side
  • Lizard pose on each side
  • Frog pose or wide child’s pose
  • Half frog pose on each side

Other Postures

  • Lie on stomach
  • Lie on one side
  • Lie on the other side
  • Lie on back
  • Full seiza
  • Half seiza on each side with other knee up
  • Criss-cross applesauce on each side
  • Mermaid on each side
  • Full hero
  • Half hero on each side with other knee up
  • Make up some pose that’s totally crazy
  • Make up another one
  • Make up another one

Bonus Points: If you fill a water bottle when you sit down to read, and keep guzzling on it, you’ll probably have to jump up a million times to go to the bathroom, and this is very good exercise as well:) When you do get up, try to do it a different way each time.

Let me know how this works for you!

I’m toying with the idea of resurrecting this blog. Do I have any followers left?  Anybody out there? If you are, yay! Sorry I neglected you so long.

This started out four years ago as a swing dancing blog. But a couple of years ago a series of unpleasant experiences in the swing dancing community made me seriously reevaluate what I was doing with my life. Don’t worry, I wasn’t assaulted or anything; if anyone wants the story I can try to work through it in writing for you. But I lost my love for swing dancing practically overnight.

Not my love for dancing in general, though. I still do lots of dancing, just other kinds. And today it occurred to me that The Dancing Bug can be about other kinds of dancing. Duh!

Should I do this?

Part of what’s going on with me is that I’ve been trying to fix my wonky alignment and my diastasis recti and back pain. My latest dance craze is hoop dancing, you know, like with a hula hoop? I’ve actually come up with a hooper name for myself, Flowdacious, and started a hooping blog, flowdacioushooping.com, but there’s nothing there yet. So there’s those two things to talk about for starters. Is it time for the new Dancing Bug?

 

Okay, so awhile back I mentioned how I decided that whenever I was dancing with someone who made me feel intimidated, instead of trying my hardest to dance perfectly, I was going to try to dance badly. Remember that? The idea being that at least I wouldn’t be all tense and stressed out and overthinking, and maybe, just maybe, I’d relax enough to actually dance okay.

This has turned out to be the best idea I ever had for my dancing. I swear, since I decided this, I have not had a bad dance. Seriously!

So what’s going on here?

Well, first of all, it should go without saying that my A-number-one rule is that I don’t dance badly in a way that might physically hurt the other person. So no dragging or pulling or throwing myself around.

But see, that wasn’t the stuff that was stressing me out before. No, I was stressed out about things like this: Did I do that turn fast enough? Am I doing my swivels correctly? Isn’t there cuter styling I should be doing? Oh no, he was trying to lead a move, did I follow it right? It was this kind of thing that made me sort of hate dancing with “good” dancers.

What I finally had to realize was this: There are always going to be better dancers than me. And no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to dance better than the best dancers. I’m never going to impress a really great dancer with my amazing dance skills, because I haven’t got any. And besides, to a really accomplished dancer, everybody dances worse than them anyway, so they’re used to it.

I figure my dancing is just another aspect of my personality, like my laugh. Chances are, most people don’t find my laugh too annoying, but I imagine there are some people who do. Do I work really hard to make my laugh like the perfect tolling of bells on a distant hillside when I’m in the presence of someone important? Of course not, I just laugh how I laugh. If someone hates my laugh, they can avoid telling me a joke or simply avoid me altogether, and that’s just how it goes.

Same thing for my dancing. Most people think my dancing is totally fine; I know this because they keep asking me to dance, and they don’t run away when I ask them. And I’m sure there are people who can’t stand the way I dance, and that’s great. Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion.

Obviously this doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on trying to learn to dance better. Of course I want to dance as well as possible, and I work on it obsessively. All it means is that when I’m out on the social floor, dancing with people, I no longer worry about whether I’m dancing “right” or not. I just dance and have a good time, and give myself a break. Workshops and lessons and practice time are where I do my worrying and trying and stressing, but when I’m out dancing I just say to hell with it and dance. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, everything else is just what it is. And that’s the best decision I ever made for my dancing.

So I’m in DC for the Lindy Exchange, and perversely, this post isn’t going to be about the exchange at all. Isn’t that just like me?

See, my sister is a local resident, and since I’m staying with her, I figured it was only right I let her talk me into checking out her preferred form of dancing while I was in town. My sister is addicted to salsa dancing, so on Thursday night we dropped in on salsa night at Dance King Studio in Leesburg.

Now, I’ve done a little bit of salsa, just like I’ve done a little bit of practically every other dance that’s going these days. I’ve even had a little zydeco led on me. Never tried contra, but whatever. I figure if you can follow at all, you can pretty much follow anything.

And that’s generally true. Following is following. You may not follow pretty or look like you know what you’re doing, but at least you won’t get your arm broke off or do anything really embarrassing.

Which pretty much sums up what was happening for me Thursday night. I was managing to get through most of the turns and make it from point A to point B in one piece.

But you know what completely eluded me? The aesthetics of the thing.

First of all, as a lindy hopper, dressing up to go out dancing means something different to me than it does to a salsa dancer. I wore the only heels I had with me, a pair of black Aris Allens that are vintagy-funky-cool at a swing dance, but at a salsa dance they could not have appeared dorkier. Girls dressed up for salsa wear tall, tall spindly spiky things on their feet. Salsa dancers cover the stylistic range between elegant and slutty, but they all appear to be aiming for sexy. This is in no way the aesthetic for swing dancing. And even though I wore the closest equivalent outfit I could throw together, I’m sure people were wondering why I was dressed like someone’s grandma. I felt like a total doofus.

Secondly, there’s the music. Oh, the music. I think that in order to be able to dance convincingly, you need to be moved by the music. And salsa music does not move me, unless it’s out the door. It sounds like circus music to me, and it was way too loud. But my sister, and here’s the important point, my sister listens to that stuff IN HER CAR. Enough said?

Finally, though, salsa dancers just seem to have a different idea of what dancing is actually FOR. As an outsider, it appears to me that they’re really hung up on the whole gender-role difference thing. The men are really manly, and the girls are over-the-top girly. And when a lead approaches me with that Magnificent Beast look on his face, well, it just makes me want to laugh.

Which I actually did, periodically throughout the night. I laughed. Swing dancing makes me laugh a lot, which is why I do it. But salsa dancers don’t seem to like that so much. As a matter of fact, the highlight of my evening was when one of these magnificent beasts led a turn on me, and accidentally smacked me right in the forehead. I about died laughing. I had to stop and have a short fit of hysterics. And the man just stood there, wearing that Mask of Zorro look, not even cracking a grin. Just stood there waiting until I had recovered and could proceed with the serious business at hand. If you don’t think that made me feel like the Special Child, think again.

So basically, salsa dancing, blech.

But I will say that salsa dancers do seem to be enjoying themselves every bit as much as I do when I’m at a swing dance. So I’m not disrespecting the dance itself. It may very well be that I am just way too awkward and unwieldy for this much more adult-seeming form of dancing.

Whatever.

In fact, I’m just perverse enough that I might for the hell of it buy myself a pair of those spiky things and give it a try again next year.

(P.S. Had the honor of meeting fellow dance-blogger Jason from “Dancing Past the Godzilla Threshold” at the lindy exchange last night, and if he’s reading this, he better get ready because I intend to ask him for a lotta more dances tonight!)

Real quick, here’s a fun exercise you can try…

Stick on your music, and then proceed to make the following into an eight-count footwork pattern for yourself:

  • One rock step
  • One triple step
  • One kick ball change
  • One kick step

But here’s the thing: you mix up the order. So for example, you might do a kick ball change, triple step, rock step, kick step. Or then again, you might do a rock step, kick ball change, kick step, triple step.

Anyway, mix those four things up in any order you choose. Every combination will work out to be an eight-count pattern that lands you on the opposite foot, ready to start over from the top. Theoretically, you could use any of these patterns as a lindy basic.

Try one combination, and as soon as that’s easy, mix them up again and dance out the new combination.

I strongly suggest doing this with both lead and follow-style footwork, i.e. practice starting with both the left foot and with the right foot.

Kick it up a notch by adding an “and” anywhere in there, and you’ll have a pattern that alternates the starting foot. Know what I mean? Just go kick ball change, triple step, rock step AND kick step. Move that “and” around and you have like a million more combinations to play with.

Have fun, and stay hydrated!

Here are some of the best things that can happen while you’re out swing dancing:

  • Practically your favorite lead in the whole wide world is visiting from out of town to teach a workshop, and you get to reconnect and have some amazing dances together.
  • Two crazy leads get into a stealing war over you, giving you your very own birthday jam when it isn’t even your birthday.
  • You share some soul-healing dances with a lead who has the good sense and taste to know that a really yummy Balboa basic is worth ten times its weight in tricky moves.
  • You have a crazy lead-and-follow switching dance with some giant moose of a guy, and you grab him and execute a dip right on the last beat of the song, and onlookers applaud.
  • You’re waiting for the perfect song to come on so that you can ask that really special person to dance, and then the song comes on, and you look around the room for that person, only to find them pointing at you and asking you for a dance.
  • About nine people tell you they love your outfit.

All those things happened to me at the dance last night. Thank you, Mindy Hazeltine and Stumptown Dance, for the night. Thank you, friends and neighbors all, for being an awesome swing dancing community.

And a special mention to the impossibly swoony Peter Flahiff: Thank you for being wonderful. L.A.’s gain is the Pacific Northwest’s loss, and I shall miss you piteously. See you next year at the California Balboa Classic!

One of my dearest friends in the whole wide world has an interesting job. She’s an actual, authentic, professional, jet-setting rock-star dance instructor.

This is a woman with whom I’ve shared laughter and tears, good times and bad, and all the ups and downs of being a human being on this planet. She’s the sweetest, dearest person imaginable. I’ve taken dozens of classes with her, and from her, and danced with her hundreds of times.

And still, every time I dance with her, I’m terrified.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that no matter how much I think my dancing has improved and how pleased with myself I might be because of this, every time I dance with her I still get incredibly intimidated. As a result I end up dancing like one of Santa’s reindeer with a Duplo block stuck in his hoof.

I admitted as much to her recently. We were out dancing one night, and she was actually getting a little discouraged with me. “Why is your arm so tense?” she asked. “What’s wrong?” I confessed to being intimidated at dancing with her, and she was frankly amazed. “You’re scared of ME?” she asked. “Why??”

Well, let’s see (I think to myself): you’re famous. People pay you to travel all over the world and teach them how to dance. You have more dance expression in your left clavicle than I’ve got in my whole body. No special reason.

So then and there I decided that from now on, when I dance with her, or with any other dancer I’m especially nervous about, I’m going to take a new approach. I’m just going to TRY to dance bad.

See, back when I used to have to work in offices and go to meetings and such, I learned that in the business world, people expect you to be businesslike. Above all, this means that you can’t ever cry at work. And sometimes I’d be at work and I’d start thinking about my kids and how much I missed them while I was at work and they were at daycare, and I’d start to tear up. You know, hormones. It happens.

Anyway, I hit on this strategy. If you ever start crying and really really need to not cry at that exact moment, here’s what you do. You TRY to cry. It will totally derail you and completely confuse your tear ducts and they’ll dry up immediately.

So I figure the same thing might work with dancing. If you’re dancing, and you start to feel like you’re dancing badly just at the exact moment when you really need to be dancing well, like say if you’re dancing with your rock star BFF, then just try to intentionally dance as badly as possible. It very well might trick your body out of being able to dance bad.

It’s actually just a theory. But so far it’s working: I haven’t had a really horrible dance since I started using this system. Of course, that might be a coincidence. I don’t know. What do you think?

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