Be A Follower! Receive the Zen of Dance by Email

Thursday, December 24, 2009

New Year Goals

As the year draws to a close and the new year begins I always get a sense of excitment, a feeling of a new, clean slate upon which to create my year--a sense that I can do anything, start over, begin anew.

Last post I talked about the importance of looking back over the past year and creating goals for the new year. This post I want to share our goals with you.

Long-time readers will recall that a few years ago my personal goal was to perform. The problem was that I was terrified. Why? I am a perfectionist and I was afraid I would screw up.

But I wanted to conquer that fear and now after a good many years of performing with Chester's Cool Cats and Kittens, I have. I still make mistakes and forget pieces of choreography--we all do. But the important thing is that we have a blast. Focus on the fun and the fear resides. Plus I've found that challenge of learning new choreography helps me in all sorts of ways.

So what do I envision for 2010 in terms of dancing? I want our growing community to explode with even more fun and laughter and joy in dancing. We are making important changes to help facilitate that.

Here's what we're doing:
1. Expand the community of celebration.
Everyone has those friends with whom they would love to share the joy of dance. Now we're making it easy. Celebrate your birthday at our dance for free. And bring up to five of your friends who have never been to our dance to celebrate with you--also for free.

2. Expand learning opportunities.
We now have classes in Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Stone Ridge and Highland every night of the week! This allows maximum flexibility for all those who want to take classes but couldn't fit it into their schedule.

3. Offer free practice sessions.
We have a possible Kingston location for free practice sessions, now all we need is a team of volunteers to help run it. Contact us if you are interested and let's get this baby on the road.

4. Generate more excitement.
A successful dance is made up of great people and great music. We continue that pledge for our dances in 2010.

5. Offer the best.
We continually strive for the most satisfied students. 91% of our students reported they were highly satisfied last year. That's a statistic to be proud of.

What are your goals for dancing in 2010? And how can we help you achieve them?

Visit for our January schedule.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Goal Setting for the New Year: The Dance of Life

One of my long-time readers and dance students requested that I write my annual goal-setting issue this month. Over the years he has shared his goals and accomplishments with me. Since this blog allows comments, I invite each of you make a posted commitment to your goals this year.

Goals for the new year? Notice I didn't say resolutions. Resolutions are not goals. Goals are specific and measurable. Here's 10 steps to develop goals that you can and will want to live up to.

1. Work backwards first.
Take the time to reflect over the past year. Did you set goals? If so, what results did you achieve? As I look over my goals for 2009 I realize that I did very little toward accomplishing them. Does this mean I failed? No, it just means that 2009 sent some whoppers my way that I did not envision. So I need to acknowledge that 2009 was an off year, be thankful for the things that I did accomplish or start to put in motion, and recommit to the things I want to have happen in 2010.

2. Acknowledge the surprises good and bad.
2009 was not a healthy year for our families. We lost Chester's dad and my mom has been in a scary spiral since she broke her hip in August. Although I didn't achieve all my goals, I did take steps toward achieving them and that should be acknowledged. Half my house is painted. My yard is no longer choked by weeds and bushes. We had fantastic classes and workshops and were blessed by so many students and teaching opportunities. And we had some great surprises: Chester and Dorrie competed nationally and placed. We got to go to San Diego for the Balboa Rendezvous (which had been on my list for years). We taught an optional class at Swing Out New Hampshire. I reconnected with almost my entire elementary school class on Facebook. I fell in love with having a dog.

3. Acknowledge the gaps.
We don't want to live in the gap between what we have and what we want in our lives, but by acknowledging the gaps we create a tension that springs us toward what we want.

4. Believe that you can create the future in advance.
What do you want? You have the power to create the future of your dreams. But first you have to dream it and believe it before you can live it. Take a moment to envision the future you want, now make it real and write it down.

5. Create a goal list.
Base your list on your vision of the future and your gaps between what you have now and what you want. Be as specific as possible. (i.e. Lose 5lbs vs. lose weight).

6. Choose goals you have control over.
You can't have a goal that is dependent on another person. For example, my goal for the last two years has been to have my house painted and it is getting painted. I wish very hard that the painting will be completed in 2010 but unless I am willing to pick up a brush myself, I can't make the completion of the project my goal (but it certainly can be my painter's goal--hint, hint).

7. Categorize your goals.
What goals fit under what categories of your life? For example, if you are a reader of this newsletter than you likely have a category called DANCE.

8. Write your action plan and outcomes.
It's not enough to just say you want to be a better dancer. You need to write down how you plan to become a better dancer (i.e. take more classes, practice more, etc), and write down how you know when you have achieved that goal (i.e. I danced with so and so and we had a great dance or I performed with Chester's Cool Cats and Kittens -- a great goal by the way).

9. Revisit your list throughout the year.
I admit, I forgot to revisit my list. Even though it was posted on my desk. So I never made time to focus on the things I wanted to achieve. No surprise I didn't achieve most of them. You need to take the time to focus and recommit weekly.

10. Live by my favorite couplet by Goethe
(which one of our students thoughtfully put on a sweatshirt for Chester's BD!)

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

PUT MORE DANCING ON YOUR GOAL LIST: January classes begin week of January 4. Second Saturday Swing Dance January 9.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Practice Good Habits--More Than Just Dancing

"Cover your mouth when you sneeze!"

We've been told this for as long as we can remember. So we automatically put our hand over our mouth when we sneeze. Problem is the germs are now on our hands, which we use to open doors, pull out chairs--and in dancing--offer to our partner.

So how do we continue to safely enjoy dancing in this coming flu season--especially with the spread of Swine Flu?

1. Sneeze into your arm, not your hand. This will contain the germs on a less-spreadable part of your body.

2. Sanitize your hands. Immediately after sneezing excuse yourself and wash your hands or use hand santizer. Do the same before and after class and periodically throughout the night at a dance. We have a big bottle of hand sanitizer available at all classes and dances.

3. If you don't feel well stay home, even if it's a class or dance you really want to take. There's no way around the fact that dancing is a contact sport. Another dance will come. If you're taking classes with Got2Lindy Dance Studios, we allow students to begin up to the second week and you have the opportunity to make up missed classes in our other locations (Stone Ridge, Kingston, Highland) at any time during the four-week series. And even if you can't make up the missed class, we always review to make sure you have the material.

4. Don't rotate. If you come to dance class with a partner and you suspect you might be coming down with something or just getting over something, stay with your partner for that night.

5. Read the article below, share it and follow it! It was emailed to me by one of our students.

PREVENT SWINE FLU--GOOD ADVICE based on an article by Dr. Vinay Goyal

The only portals of entry for the virus are the nostrils, mouth and throat. In a global epidemic, it is almost impossible to avoid coming into contact with H1N1 so in order to prevent proliferation practice the following good habits:
1. Frequent hand-washing.
2. Hands off the face approach. Once you become aware of how often you touch your face, you'll be amazed. Resist all temptations to touch any part of your face until you've cleaned your hands.
3. Gargle twice a day with warm salt water or Listerine. H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/nasal cavity to proliferate so gargling is a great preventive.
4. Clean your nostrils at least once a day with warm salt water. If you are not familiar with the yogic method of doing this using a Neti pot, you can simply blow your nose hard once a day and swab your nostrils with cotton balls dipped in warm salt water.
5. Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C or take a supplement that also contains Zinc to boost absorbtion.
6. Drink warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc). This has the same effect as gargling except the viruses are rinsed from the throat to the stomach where they cannot survive.

By following this good advice, and making the extra effort to protect yourself, you'll be protecting all your fellow dancers.

By the way, if you haven't already heard, Chester and Dorrie won 2nd Place at the American Lindy Hop Championships Pro/Am Division. Read about it in the Poughkeepsie Journal article.

Saturday, Nov 7 Alzheimer's Benefit Dance with Swingin' Jive Patrol
Monday, Nov 9 New Kingston Series begins (FINAL FOR 2009)
Wednesday, Nov 11 (my birthday!) New Highland Series begins (FINAL FOR 2009)
Saturday, Nov 14 Swing Out Intensive Technique Clinic 5:30-7pm
Saturday, Nov 14 Second Saturday Swing Dance Port Ewen 7-10:30pm
with New Paltz Food Pantry Drive (bring a can of food to donate)
Sunday, Nov 15 & 29 Balboa Sunday, Poughkeepsie 3-5pm
Saturday, Nov 21 Fill-in-the-Memory-Blanks Workshop 2-4pm for 2009 Got2 Lindy Students
Tuesday, Nov 24 New Stone Ridge Series begins (FINAL FOR 2009)
Friday, Dec 4 Capital Swing Dance, Albany with Cool Cats & Kittens & Dorrie & Chester performances
Saturday, Dec 5 & Sunday, Dec 6 Big Apple Lindy Hoppers Weekend Worshop, Dance, Performance Extravaganza
Saturday, Dec 12 Second Saturday Swings Port Ewen Holiday Swing Dance & Performance
Saturday, Dec 12 Technique Clinic 5:30-7pm (FINAL FOR 2009)
Classes begin week of January 4
First dance of the year January 9

Friday, October 9, 2009

How to Lead & Follow with Confidence

"What's the signal for that move?"

"So, if he lifts his arm that's my cue to go under it, right?"

Our students know that we cringe when we hear the words "Signal" or "Cue" in relation to leading and following. Why? Because we believe that there are no signals or cues, only clear leading and following.

For instance, if the leader lifts his arm and the follower interprets this as the signal to go under it there might be a collision if he goes under it at the same time she decides to. Signals and cues are open to interpretation and, therefore, misinterpretation.

My favorite comment a follower once made in class was: "I know when he's going to lead the move because he makes this I'm concentrating really hard face so I know it's coming."

From my personal experience, you cannot read minds or faces accurately. Years ago when I was just starting out and dancing with a very good dancer he shook his head the entire time we were dancing together, which I interpreted as "everything I'm doing is wrong," when in fact, that's how this particular dancer got into the groove of the music.

So what is the difference between signals and cues and true leading and following?
1. Signals and cues are filtered through your mind.
2. Leading and following comes from your body.

Since we want our dancing to be a zen-like experience, we want most of our leading and following to be kinestetic. In order for that to work you must depend on your frame and connection, not on your mind.

Depending on your mind leads to anticipation. But using your frame and connection allows followers to dance to moves they don't even know. And since there are as many moves and variations as there are leaders, this is crucial to the enjoyment of both the leaders and followers.

What Makes a GOOD Lead?

LEAD verb 1. to guide someone or something along a way.

A good lead GUIDES the follower through the move. When we say use your body to lead, we mean your frame not your muscles. This ensures you are guiding and not pushing, shoving or jerking. A good lead/follow is like a good converstation, you don't need to yell. If you move from your center to engage your arms, instead of moving your arms independent of the rest of your body you will offer a smooth and clear lead. Just remember that leads start in the body, not just the arm.

Be aware of your follower. Where is her weight? What foot is she on?

Be aware of your hand connection. Are you clasping her hands? Are your thumbs pressing down on her delicate flesh?

Be aware of your follower's dance experience. Partner dancing is not about showing off all your cool moves in two minutes. It's about having a great dance. So always be aware of your follower's level of experience and dance accordingly to ensure that both of you have a great time.

What Makes a GOOD Follow?

FOLLOW verb 1. to go, proceed, or come after.

Just as a good lead guides, a good follow is always slightly behind not ON TOP OF the lead. Not anticipating a move is probably the most difficult skill to build for followers, but the more you learn to improve your frame and connection, the better your ability to follow will become.

Be aware of where you keep your free hands. If you drop your hands to your side or hold them near your chest they are going to be difficult for your leader to use.

Don't hold on, don't let go. Dance frame extends to the fingertips. Don't grasp or clutch your partner's hand. At the same time, don't straighten or relax your fingers. Don't reach for your partner. If your arms are extended and you are using your frame, you will always be available.

Don't anticipate. Don't anticipate. Don't anticipate. Wait until you feel the lead.

Go in the direction you are sent until redirected. Don't hit a spot on the floor and stop or turn yourself. Keep going until your combined frame redirects you.

Having good frame and connection will greatly enhance your ability to lead and follow anyone. But developing good frame and connection is certainly a "Goldilocks" experience. What's too rigid? What's too soft? What's just right? To help you experience it for yourself, we'll be offering a Frame & Connection Technique Clinic from 5:30-7:00 before our next dance on Oct 10 at the Reformed Church of Port Ewen.

Technique Clinic: THE POWER OF FRAME & CONNECTION, Saturday, Oct 10

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Feedback: Helpful or Harmful?

Welcome to my first BLOG post. After a number of years of publishing ZEN OF DANCE as a monthly newsletter, I am now converting it into this ongoing blog.

I just got back from Swing Out New Hampshire a five-day dance camp that Chester and I have attended for six years now. We -- along with a bunch of our students (the Hudson Valley was well-represented with 12 campers!)-- had a great time social dancing and attending classes...(yes, the best teachers continue to learn and remind themselves what it feels like to confront new material) and this year we were thrilled to teach one of the optional classes as well.

This issue of ZEN OF DANCE I want to talk about something that happened to me--and likely to too many others--while I was there.

NIGHTMARE ROTATION. Every time I got to a particular leader in the class rotation he would say, "May I make an Observation?" and then, without waiting for my reply, would proceed to tell me everything he deemed I was doing wrong. He did this every time we rotated together for three classes a day for five days. Did I want to kill him? Yes. Did I hate rotating to him? Yes. Did I appreciate or learn from his feedback? No. Did it seem odd that I could do any move with all the other leaders? Not really. Between his picking apart everything I did (I could do nothing right) and my tensing up everytime I got him as a partner, things couldn't get any better.

FEEDBACK: HURTFUL OR HARMFUL? As all of our students know, Chester and I have five commandments that we ask our students to follow during dance class. Commandment #1 is: Thy shall not blame nor cast stones at thy partner. This experience in dance camp reminded me why we instituted that rule. No one can learn in an atmosphere of blame.

Someone who would never think of saying to a complete stranger something as awful as: "You're fat" doesn't think twice about saying, "You're doing this wrong." But really, to the recipient the words are just as harmful.

YOU'RE BOTH LEARNING. When an instructor shows a new move, students usually don't already know it, which means they have to learn how to do it, which means that unless they are brilliant or lucky, they probably won't get it right for a while. To complicate matters, in a swing dance partnership, both of you are learning the move at the same time so neither of you knows how to lead it or follow it. And the only way you are going to learn is to keep trying it with each new partner in the rotation--working it out together and focusing on doing your part the best you can.

DOING YOUR PART. For the follower, doing your part means really trying to follow what he is leading, even if you think it's wrong. It doesn't help him if you backlead yourself to where you think you're supposed to be. He'll never learn how to lead it if he never gets a clue as to how you are responding to what he is doing.

For the leader, it means focusing on doing the move while trying to remember that you have someone attached to your arm. In other words, it helps to look at her. I've seen so many leads who are so focused on where they are putting their arms and feet that they never even look at their partner.

COLLABORATIVE FEEDBACK. Does this mean you must remain mute during the learning process? Not at all. Collaborative feedback is always welcome. Colloborative feedback comes from the attitude of working out the move together. "That feels right" or "That feels great!" Or even, "That feels wrong" is fine because that is not blame. It could feel wrong because of something you are doing and then you can work it out together. Learning to dance together is a colloborative process and it should be approached as a partnership. If you are starting your sentence with YOU it's blame.

SWING DANCE Saturday, Sept 12
KINGSTON CLASSES Mondays starting Sept 14
HIGHLAND CLASSES Wednesdays starting Sept 16
BALBOA Sunday, Sept 20
STONE RIDGE CLASSES Tuesdays starting Sept 22
KIDS CLASSES Tuesday starting Sept 22