Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bluesalicious Retrospective

I snapped out of my Saturday evening funk and had a very nice time for the rest of Bluesalicious. I was much more “on” the second night, which was nice. I finally figured out the disparity between my dancing experience this year and last year. Last year I felt like every dance was a life-changing experience – I learned something every single time I went out on the dance floor. This year I didn’t have that… and I realized it’s because I’ve become a better dancer since last year. When the only place you have to go is up, of course you can learn from everything.

Anyway, it was a good weekend. In addition to dancing I did a bit of geocaching, which was fun. One of these years maybe I’ll manage to find a Memphis hotel that isn’t god awful.

Notable leads: anyone from Austin, Texas. In particular: Reed, who I danced probably 15 songs with and who had a super fun relaxed lead with room to play. Also Clint, who is still fun to dance with even if his body rolls aren’t quite as smooth as last year (or maybe that’s just my back?). Matthew, from who knows where, but I had a super fun side-walk dance with him. Same guy who made me blush with micro blues last year, but he didn’t remember me and I didn’t remind him. Tyler (and the entire Purdue group) was great as well – I realized that last year he was the first guy shorter than I am that I danced with confidently. All 3 Jeffs that I danced with were great fun, as well. I definitely got lead in some dips and drags that were totally new to me this year.

Continuing to work on lead matching and turns. Need to smooth my doubles out a bit, as they’re hitching in the middle at the moment. Also need to figure out what’s wrong with my pirouettes with regards to balance – I’ve been trying to keep my free leg up longer so I can kick through the end of the turn, but it’s proving difficult. Back and knees behaved in a so-so fashion – some pain, but no swelling, which is a plus.

This weekend is the ATLX late night and Boulevard Blues in Macon, both of which I am anticipating greatly. Also, need to wrap up a quick Sweet Molasses Blues post, as I’ve been putting it off. My next big event isn’t until Show Me Blues in June, but I have 2 Soul Shakers shows and 2 Boulevard Blues to tide me over until then!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bluesalicious 2010 Interlude

I'm trying to get a nap in before the Bluesalicious evening and late night, but instead I'm laying awake thinking about dancing. What makes an "on" night versus and "off" night? What causes variations in my quality of movement? Why do I inherently trust some leads, but others I dance too carefully with, as though I'm afraid I'll break them, or knock them over, or something?

Just a few of the questions floating around in my brain. I had an excellent night of dancing last night, but I just didn't quite feel like I was "on." I felt like I was using the same movements and tricks in a lot of my dances, and with the exception of one or two notable leads, didn't feel like every dance was broadening my blues experience. Have I finally hit a plateau in my upward momentum? For a long time I felt like every single dance made me a better dancer - I suppose it had to end sometime.

Hmm. Words. Don't get me wrong - I'm having a great weekend and there are great leads here... I'm just feeling a bit pensive. I suppose we'll see how tonight goes. After that - I think I need to go to a workshop weekend where I actually attend the classes instead of dancing myself to death during the social dances. Anything to get myself up and moving again. BluesShout, perhaps?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Enter the Blues: Do it Yourself Weekend 2010

Late last year the coordinators for Enter the Blues announced that this year there would be not one, but TWO Enter The Blues(es). Numero Uno would focus on dances and mini-classes with an emphasis on setting up your own private lesson, while Numero Dos would be the full on, blow out weekend. I shan’t speculate too hard on whether the February date just crept up on them too quickly, so they knew they needed to throw something together fast to appease their fans.

Anywho, as usual my body wasn’t willing to dance 7 hours a night on top of classes, so I skipped classes and just stuck to dancing. My knees and back behaved better than they have… basically ever, since all my aches and pains started. I’m getting stronger, hooray! The weekend itself was a bit of a blur – I housed 9 people, including Seattle Josh and Patrick & Beth from Macon. It was fantastic, and lots of excellent conversation occurred in addition to the dancing.

The other notable lead for the weekend (outside of the obvious choices of Patrick and Josh) was Chris from Florida, who I originally met at Blues and Soul 2. Gods, such a blues crush do I have on him. We probably danced 6 dances Saturday night; we just move so incredibly well together. Heavenly.

I have a few dancing things I was working on over the weekend.
• About a month ago at Northside I started a dance with John and his light flowy frame made me realize that I’ve been getting really tight and heavy the last few months. This is mostly due to dancing with Bert – we dance amazingly together, but the thing that allows us to do Cool Stuff ™ is a connection largely based on counter-balance. I realized that over the months my frame has gotten tighter and tighter to accommodate that… even when I’m not dancing with Bert nor asking for counterbalance. I corrected the problem right away – so abruptly that after the dance John remarked that it was the most relaxed he’s ever felt me. It was like flipping a switch… and I spent a lot of the weekend making sure that flip stayed switched.
• In addition to keeping my frame lighter, I’ve started focusing on lead matching again. So hard. So worth it.
• Dancing with Patrick at Statesboro Blues made me realize I’ve been playing grabby-hands, often coming back into a close closed position when I haven’t been asked. I’m not sure what cause that habit to develop, but I imagine it has something to do with trying to stay clear of drunks at Northside. I manage not to do it if I’m paying attention, but it will take a few weeks to really break the habit.
• The bit of Westie I’ve been dancing has made me realize a few things about turning. First of all – I basically always pirouette, and maybe ¾ of the time I style by crossing my feet. I almost never step through my turns, and when I do I always travel. I haven’t been taking the opportunity to do doubles when they’re offered. That’s a big pile of stuff to work through. For now I’m just trying to pay attention when I turn so I don’t always default to crossed-pirouette, and also to take doubles more often on free turns when I have the momentum. Patrick was very obliging on the latter item, occasionally refusing to take me back until I had turned twice. Bastard.

I had planned to list a few things that I want to start working on going forward, but that’s kind of a big pile already. Maybe I won’t add branches to an already blazing fire… I’ll just keep working these things. I’ll have lots of opportunity this weekend at Sweet Molasses Blues in Boston!

Statesboro Blues 2010

After taking most of January off to let my back recover and settle down, I kicked off the 2010 blues event calendar with a trip down to Statesboro. The Swing Cat Society affiliated with Georgia Southern University put together a 2 day event – Friday night dances, 5 hours of classes on Saturday, and Saturday evening dances. The classes were specifically geared towards blues beginners, taught by Evin and Huy.

Originally I was dithering about whether to go down. Though I love Evin dearly, I’ve done beginning blues with her a few times now and wasn’t really interested in a long drive for another repeat class. Eventually Bert convinced me to go, since he was DJing and it sounded like a few ATL folks would make it. I set about pestering a few non-dancer friends about going, and managed to sucker both RJ and Ross to accompany me. Seeing as how I’ve been trying to get basically any of my non-dancer friends to get into blues for a while, this was a big win.

I could ramble on, but the short of it is that I had a blast. The level of dancing was a little on the low side (surprise, surprise, beginner workshop!) but there were plenty of more advanced leads to keep things interesting. Many of the beginning dancers were also very fun to dance with – a lot of folks had lindy background and strong fundamentals, and therefore took to blues like fishees to water.

Notable leads:

• Steve from Florida made it up, and he’s always fabulous to dance with. He makes me move in ways that I didn’t actually know I could move – sometimes I’ll be dancing with him and all of the sudden be dipped in a direction I’ve never dipped before. Never had a dance with him that wasn’t excellent. I repaid him for his awesomeness by clocking him in the face during a dance where he and Bert were trading me off… but it serves them right for using me so cruelly.
• Cole was probably the best “beginner” blues dancer I met. His drag blues were fucking incredible, even though he swore it was his first time doing any blues at all. I felt like we moved around the floor like one person – it was wonderful.
• Patrick from Macon was my other pleasant surprise of the weekend. It sounds like we’ve been to a few of the same events but never managed to intersect until this time around. He’s been trying to put together a monthly blues dance in his hometown, and after meeting him this weekend I’ll definitely be trying to make it as often as possible. Not only is he a super-fun guy whose tastes parallel mine (blues varietals, scotch, women…) but we also have great dance-chemistry. I can’t really point to one single thing that make our dances together awesome, but as a whole we just “click.”
• So I don’t forget again: Charlie is Megan’s husband who I met a Christabel for the first time. Very very impressed by how fast he’s coming along, and he’s a nice guy to boot.

So much for not rambling! Phew! Anyway, the weekend was phenomenal. My knees and back behaved fairly well, though I kept myself dosed with advil most of the time. Megan & Emily did a stellar job putting it together the event, and everything went smoothly. Hooray first blues event of the year!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nemoe's West Coast Swing Night

Ok, I'll admit it. I've always through WCS was a little creepy. Maybe it's just because the few WCS leads I've danced with have been on the skeezy side. There was one guy at Buenos Aires Blues 08 that was just... eugh. I now take it back and forever repent my stereotyping ways.

Bert has been bugging me for a while to check out the WCS night at Nemoe's. It's right next to my house, so I pretty much have no excuse. Sunday I went and checked it out - and had a freaking blast. The beginner class got me in the groove of the step pattern, and from there my lindy-background took over. Once I got out on the dance floor I was prefacing my dances with "I warn you - this is the first time I've done West Coast" but I quickly discovered that this wasn't really necessary. Several of the leaders gave me shit for it, too (or called me a natural, which seems like cheating on my part)!

Anyway, I had a great time. Dancing WCS is a nice step back from lindy - I really like the relaxed feeling and the welcoming environment. The music is fun, ranging from swing and blues to pop and funk. The biggest challenge so far is stylistic - WCS is smooth and slotted, where Lindy is bouncy and round. Damn if it's not hard to keep the bounce out of my step, even in blues-mode.

I think I can say my Sunday evenings are spoken for in the foreseeable future.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Swing at the Speakeasy

The directions are oblique. The venue doesn’t really have a name. The approach is sketchy – go to a busy street corner, through a squeaky metal gate, and walk down a dingy flight of stairs. Knock 3 times on a nondescript metal door. Give the doorkeeper the password, and if you’re on the guest list he’ll let you in. Step inside from the dark stairwell… and enter a long low room, paneled in dark wood, draped with red velvet curtains, and stuffed with plush, dark leather chairs.

Sure, it’s not a “real” speakeasy – there’s no prohibition, the venue doesn’t change, and there’s really no reason to keep the place hidden – but it’s fun to have a secret. And the venue is well worth keeping all to ourselves; the decor and ambiance are absolutely stellar. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band that played the first week (lots and lots of songs that were faster than I wanted to dance) but the last two weeks a blues group called Tin Pan has played. While they do throw in some faster songs to appease the lindyfolks, they also play some damn fine blues.

Other highlights include the fact that the bar has the Ron Zacapa 23 as well as a couple of varieties of Glenmorangie, and the adorable girl behind the bar remembers me every week and pour generously just for me. My one complaint for the venue overall is that because it is small it gets very, very crowded and very, very hot. Still, it’s definitely worth it for the ambiance.

I was bad and didn’t write down notable leads the first two trips, but this time I want to make sure to remember Charles (slightly older gent with a wonderful springy lead and a penchant for leading convoluted but strangely easy to execute turns and swingout variations) and Kevin (mid-twenties, quite tall, big guy – doesn’t look like he’d be an amazing dancer but damn if he doesn’t have a wonderful light, flowy, effortless lead). There was also a guy all dappered out who I had a fabulous blues dance with – he was a big fan of tango-inspired dips, which made for a very intense song.

Anyway, hooray for awesome venues! With the little taste of New York Blues that I’ve gotten at this event, I can’t wait to see what Blues Blaze is like.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blues N Soul 2 - June 19th-21st 2009

I very nearly didn't make it down for Blues N Soul in Orlando, FL. After paying way too much money for a shiny StarFire sword at the Renaissance Festival, I was thinking I might take it easy on my bank account for a while. Luckily, a combination of awesome dancing with the organizer, Steve (who I met at CHEX) and the fact that Blues N Soul fell on my birthday weekend convinced me that I should say "fuck it!" and spring for the trip.

Bert went down with me so that I'd have some company, and we arrived Friday night in time to get changed, locate booze, and head to the first dance at UCF, less than a mile from the hotel I booked. Verra nice.

I don't feel the urge to go into all of the dances, so I'll hit the themes and highlights of the weekend.

The exchange was small, only 40 people pre-registered, though I'd estimate that the evening dances had close to 100 people, and the late nights 50 or 60. The Orlando scene was very friendly and inviting to the few out-of-towners, though I was glad that I hosted Sheila and Austin during ATLX so that I knew a few people. Elizabeth, an awesome chick I met at Bluesalicious also came down, as well as Jonathan and Stefanie from Macon, so between those people, Steve, and Bert I never really ran low on company.

The dancing was good, and I found it was generally of a high level. Notable dancers included Chris (massively skinny, gangly, adorable boy) who I had a bit of trouble getting connected with at first, but once we hit the right spot we really were on, and Jim who danced with me quite a lot throughout the weekend and is one of the few dancers who is much shorter than me but still fun to dance with. Austin was wonderful and light and bouncy as always - his connection is such a dream! I didn't get to dance quite as many with Steve as I would have liked, since he spent a lot of time running around organizing and I spent a lot of time taking pictures.

Other highlights: my birthday jam, which was way too lindy and way too nerve-wracking. Center of attention at dancing (which I stopped for 4 years specifically because I -didn't- want to be the center of attention) equals equals bad. Luckily I made it through without too much anxiety. The other amusing time involved me trying to leave the Saturday night late-night… I quite literally had my keys in hand, and every time I grabbed a boy to hug them goodbye, they wouldn't let me go until we had danced a song. One-handed blues isn't so hard after all.

The only bad thing I have to say about the event is that they needed some goddamn signage. Bert and I got turned around going to every single venue - UCF and The Zebra room each took us 30+ minutes to find. The person checking us in also didn't give us the exchange brochure, so we didn't have an physical copy of schedule and locations, which was sucked.

Also, not the exchange's fault, but fuck florida and all of it's toll roads!

Bottom line: I had a great time! Next year Steve plans to hold the exchange in the fall so that we won't be swimming in sweat at the less-well-air-conditioned venues - I approve! I'll definitely look to make a return trip next year!