SwingDiego 2014 Update #7 – 12 Things You Didn’t Want To Know

Wanted to mention a couple of the great Showcase routines we saw this weekend (What a GREAT division this year! Even if Brennar and Crystal couldn’t dance due to sudden illness, hopefully all over by now, ugh, ask them about it)

I hope by now you have seen Robert and Nicola’s “Dock of The Bay” (Sara Bareilles)

We loved this beautiful routine at the Open and now, almost six months later, wow has it has blossomed! Choreography has been tweaked, their lines and shapes are beautiful, the energy ratcheted way up!

Here at SwingDiego they were simply radiant. More confident than we’ve ever seen them, relaxed, smiley – and all this while executing four overhead lifts, two snakes, numerous two-rhinestones-from-the-floor drops, multiple back-bends, a cartwheel, and that final death-drop where Nicola spins round and round, grinning like the happiest blonde on the merry-go-round.

And that final embrace and kiss! So sweet.  Either they’re really good fakers or they actually like each other.  Even though they’re married. With children. And do a Showcase routine. With each other.

Yeah, no.

They must be really good actors.

They’re doing so well with this routine! 1st Place wins in Chicago and Milwaukee, 2nd Place in Seattle and MadJam and now here at SwingDiego! YAAAAAY!

Greg and Lemery, “Trigger” (Kezwick and Mel Piesson)

Eye-candy couple! Gorgeous in those slinky black and silver costumes.

The version of Greg and Lemery’s latest venture that you see in this video  is quirky, dangerous, aggressive. What we saw at SwingDiego this weekend was changed a bit – much softer, rounder, twistier.

Maybe now they might not have to hear “dark” as much, as in, “It’s too dark. I like happy routines. It’s swing dancing! Swing is supposed to be happy, right?”

Well, no, maybe that’s not right.

It is supposed to have “swing content.” Which nobody knows exactly what that is.

But “happy” isn’t in the definition, at least not yet anyway.

Also “I have to like the music” isn’t in the definition.

Neither is “That isn’t swing music because, well, I don’t know why.” **

They’ve also heard “You guys are in love, can’t we have more of that? Like your last two routines?”

[Hint: “Last Two Routines”]

They also hear “What is it about? A routine’s got to have a story!”

Well no, it doesn’t have to have a story. The world is full of art that’s perfect without imposing a story on it. Flowers don’t have stories, neither do mountains or sunsets. Neither do “Beethoven’s Ninth,” the ballet “Les Sylphides,” or Picasso’s “Jeune Fille Endormie.”

** re: “That isn’t swing music (Don’t read this if you’re not a musician! You’ll fall asleep!) Swing music must be comprised of a number of beats per measure where the number is indivisible by 3 (so 2, 4, or 8 beats per measure.) In other words, not a waltz or polka, not 3 beats, or 6 beats, can’t go “OOM-pah-pah OOM-pah-pah.” People also used to say swing music has to have accented triplets. But most of what we dance to today doesn’t have accented triplets. So any music is swing music as long as it’s not 3/4 or 6/8 timing. That’s it right there, the full definition.

*** (Really don’t read this. You’ll fall into a coma) Actually it’s not just numbers divisible by 3 (like 3/4 or 6/8 timing) which are non-danceable. Other what are called “irregular” timings are not danceable either. Like Don Ellis’ “Upstart” in 3 2/3 / 4 timing or Conlon Nancarrow’s annoying “No. 41a,” in 1/vp : v2/3 (that’s the square root of pie over the square root of 2/3.) conlon I suppose you could swing dance to these pieces, but you’d have to have a good enough ear to hear – and good enough wcs muscle-memory to dance to – a regular 4/8 rhythm layered on top of these irregular meters.  Kind of like tapping a waltz with your left hand while tapping a march with your right. It’s possible, and could even be awesome in a non-traditional sort of way.

**** (Seriously! This footnote don’t read even if you are a musician.) We cannot dance to most of the fantastic dance rhythms of Cuban or African dance music because they do not have steady, regular beats, but instead have complex polyrhythmic structures which are not only based on 3-beat measures or phrases – triplets, in other words – but have, in addition, a contrasting 2 or 4 beat pulse on top. We do of course dance to Cha music, also Rumba (aka Nightclub Two Step.) But these are the Anglicized, Ballroom-ized versions, with steady beats, not the rich traditional ones. Cha, Rumba, and Salsa (aka fast Rumba) music – the sound of these dances where they originated in Cuba (via Africa) – and the way they’re still played and danced today in Cuba (and parts of Africa) – these songs are not wcs-friendly.

***** (This part is just for masochists) The reason no one can define “swing music” is because that “lilt” or “accented triple” or “the limp” as Mario calls it, or “the swing” as jazz-era musicians used to say – that sound – is based on something called “clave” which even the pickiest mathematician-musician freaks can’t agree on or describe accurately, because not only is the beat based on an irregular rhythm and barely-perceptible dotted sixteenth note accents and rests – but – most importantly – it fluctuates, moving this side and that of the beat, like the sound of wind in trees. Read about clave. You’ll love it. If you gotten this far I promise you will love reading about clave.

****** (If you’ve disregarded the warnings and read anyway I’m sure you now have a splitting headache) Tempo is different from rhythm, as of course you know. Tempo just means fast or slow (or “bpm” as Itunes likes to call it.) Some people feel swing music must be fast enough to not look like Rumba or Argentine Tango. But these days we dance to music so slow you can power nap between footsteps because with a good ear you can feel a west coast rhythm in much of today’s slow contemporary music. And you can always put fast dancing into slow music (much easier than putting slow dancing into fast music, right?)  And, going the other way, some people feel the tempo should be slow enough to not look like Lindy, or make people my age lose their false teeth, toupées and bra inserts.

Anyway, so far, at least, Greg and Lemery’s new new piece has been getting a rawther chilly reception.

But Greg and Lemery are no dummies. Both are veteran competitors – Greg since way back in the Paleolithic era – competing in ballroom, country, ballet, jazz, and hip-hop. And Lemery is an ex-Ballroom/Latin Champion.

So they know their way around a competition floor and are neither surprised nor discouraged by the response so far. They knew this routine is not your ordinary Applebee’s friendly neighborhood fare.

Tonight’s version felt different, like I said. I hope they keep at it, and I hope they do well with it.  Because I for one love this routine. I love the quirky music; the disturbed, futuristic, jagged choreography; love the 80’s punk-rock fingerless gloves. I love that they chose “risk” over “strategic.” I guess I just love the creativity.

Then again …  I loved “Muse.” So what do I know.

Luis and Jennifer, “Wicked Game” (James Vincent McMorrow)

Gorgeous atmospheric song, rueful, melancholy, sometimes almost silent.

[I’m a big fan of silences in music.  That’s from my music background where “rests” (silences) were just as important as “notes” (sounds.)  You counted rests, experienced them as part of the music.

[Also, not that this has anything to do with Luis and Jen or anything else I just thought I’d mention that I’m also a big fan of screaming with is why Lonnie Gordon’s “Bad Mood” –    that yell at :30 – omg I love that yell.  Any song with yelling and screaming.  But that’s not from my music background. That’s from my family background.]

Anyway, I am really loving Luis and Jen’s routine. Just the quiet drama of it is so beautiful.

And I love how Jen accelerates an exit and is then so still and quiet immediately after. And the barely perceptible accelerations and slowing down’s just this side of the melody.  Love how the choreography swells and falls with the music. Just beautiful choreography.

And her costume! Dazzling craftsmanship! It’s all Jen’s handiwork! She designs and constructs by hand all her costumes. The detail is simply stunning – you can’t see it well in this video so go take a look at the detail if you get the chance to see them live. Jen has an eye for gorgeous color, shape and texture in clothing – all her outfits, on the floor and off, are a pleasure (both she and Luis have this talent – Jen and Taletha told me at the 2011 Open that Luis is the designer of all routine outfits, and non-dance outfits, too. (I can understand this because Genieboy is the designer of mine. If GB hadn’t been creating buildings he would have been creating women’s clothes.)

Oh SwingDiego.  Last night (Monday night) was the final closing dance – people were still limp-dancing at 10am this morning (Tuesday), 90 degree blazing sun outside and these bent-over hobbling zombie people come staggering out into the light, squinting at Life Outside Of A Ballroom, trying to grapple with the meaning of it all.

So much more to tell about SwingDiego omgawd! So much happened. Some good, some not so good, just so much – such a rich weekend in every way.

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6 responses to “SwingDiego 2014 Update #7 – 12 Things You Didn’t Want To Know

  1. Greetings! I’ve been reading your web site for a long
    time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx!

    Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  2. Here’s another, complementary perspective on the music question.

    My concern with Liza’s brave attempt to delve into swing dance music theory is that her readers will be inclined to interpret the following statement as a validation of the new normal:
    “most of what we dance to today doesn’t have accented triplets.”
    This would drive even more swinging music selections out of the mix.

    The problem is that “on the circuit” the mix is out of balance and reinforces the rejection of music that swings as being old school. There are other communities, however, that still dance to mostly music that does swing.

    Also, saying that “any music is swing music as long as it’s not 3/4 or 6/8 timing” is repeating an urban myth born out of an incomplete thought. Fortunately and perhaps unwittingly, Liza contradicts that myth in the next paragraph by completing that thought and elaborating some of the rhythmic and structural characteristics that challenge the dancer, making such songs “not WCS-friendly.” (Therefore, any music is *not* necessarily swing music…)

    Complex/irregular rhythms/syncopations/phrasings, the absence of a rhythm section, a weak rhythm instrument, or “music so slow you can power nap between footsteps” (especially tempo rubato) can cause the dancer to lose track of the downbeat. Also, a strong downbeat pulse in the music, as in Foxtrot, is at odds with the upbeat pulse of swing dance. Therefore, such interfering, or challenging, characteristics make such music less suitable, if not unsuitable, for WCS, even if it is in 4/4 time and swung.

    Liza’s reference to clave unnecessarily complicates the issue. The simpler and more relevant explanation is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_(jazz_performance_style)

    Repeating the idea that “no one can define ‘swing music'” also misleads the swing dance community. Educated swing musicians can define it. Liza correctly stated, however, that the offset of the swung note does vary with tempo and the artist’s discretion.

    Some characteristics that contribute to, or support, swing dance are an accented upbeat, or backbeat, and the swung note, as described in the above reference.

    For a couple of years, a DJ-musician friend (also a Skippy graduate) and I have been discussing how the swung note supports WCS. One obvious connection is to Skippy’s “rolling count” (‘&a1’ ‘&a2’) which synchronizes to eighth note triplets. (To be precise, Skippy’s notation is offset from, or anticipates, the musical measure by two, triplet eighth notes.)

    Although Skippy’s dance theory is built on a foundation of music theory, she doesn’t like to talk about “swung notes” or “shuffle rhythm,” because she doesn’t want to confuse her dance students with too much music theory. Rolling count is one of her dance concepts that directs body movement in a way that facilitates critical timing. She has, however, written several articles in which she mentions both rolling count and how swing musicians “roll the count,” or “swing it.”

    The other connection is how the swung note supports the WCS follower’s acceleration out of the anchor onto the downbeat of the next pattern:
    a.) A swung note is effectively a delayed, straight eighth note, where the time from the beginning of the beat to that swung note has been stretched (from 1/2 to about 2/3 of the beat). This supports the timing of the couple’s stretch (from the ‘6’ to the ‘-a’).
    b.) The time from the swung note to the next beat has been correspondingly shortened (from 1/2 to about 1/3 of the beat). That relatively shorter time helps the follower to accelerate, or spring back (from the ‘a’ to the ‘1’), onto the next beat with the momentum to travel forward.

    Musically, that same accelerated timing helps to accent the ‘2’ and ‘4’ (backbeats) by “resolving” from a shorter note to a longer note (‘1-a 2– 3-a 4–‘). This, in turn, supports the upbeat pulse of the dancer’s triple step.

    This is why swing/swung music is the best fit for swing dance.

    • Larry, I am so glad to read that some one else has noticed this discrepancy and has the musical and swing dance knowledge to prove it. The fact that the upper level of dancers (pro and wanna be pro) seem to embrace this change reinforced by the musical adaptations of our current DJs has really changed the swing dance floor. West Coast Swing dancers are now learning basics that don’t take into account the fact that the dance has been divided into two dances.

  3. I, too, laugh and like the playful way you dance with the issues and events in your writings. I know what you mean too about people not necessarily wanting to hear about the technical. Eyes roll. One question I was hoping to hear you address is the continuing sound system problem with loudness at SwingDiego. As a hearing impaired dancer I found myself moving all the way to the back of the room just to watch the comps and Robert’s MC voice barked out so loud that it really did fit the definition of a hearing spike. I talked to the DJ and Earl about it two years ago, we, my wife and I, skipped last year because of it, and I mostly danced on the DJ end of the floor this year because the other side speaker was so loud and out of balance.

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