It's Not Just About The Cardio

07 Dec 2017 - by Graham

When you think of the fitness benefits of dance you immediately think of the cardio work-out that you get on the dance floor, and the way that we keep getting told that we need to do something that "raises our heart rate several times a week". Gym instructors, personal trainers, and doctors are always telling us to do something we enjoy that gets our blood pumping and that's the key to fitness, but is that all there is to it? Not that there would be anything wrong with that of course, but does dancing have any benefits over and above a run or a session on the work-out bikes?

Perhaps surprisingly, research shows that it does.

Over the past few years, a number of scientific studies (you can read one here) have been performed that link regular and frequent dancing to improved brain function and a delay in the onset or progression of neurological conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Where people with these conditions have continued to dance or have taken up regular dancing for the first time the early symptoms have been noticeably reduced, and progression through the stages has been significantly delayed. This is of tremendous benefit to people with these conditions, as quality of life can suffer very early and anything that helps delay their onset is worth trying. But why does it work? And does it have the same effect on people without these conditions?

Improvised dances such as Argentine Tango force us to "think on our feet", and this requirement to constantly adapt to the situation around us helps form new neural pathways in our brain. This neuroplasticity as it's called is critical as it allows our brains to form connections that bypass the areas affected by conditions such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. It's like getting faster broadband at home... you can do more at once even if things are getting a bit clogged up because there are more connections, more routes for the signals to travel. But the additional pathways form even if we don't have these neurological conditions, so alertness, concentration, and problem-solving may also benefit from regular improvised dancing.

Most of these studies have concentrated on the relative neurological benefits of dancing Argentine Tango when compared against ballroom dancing, ballet, or similar choreographed dance styles. Very little has been said about LeRoc, but this seems to be primarily because comparatively little LeRoc / Modern Jive is danced in the USA and as that is where the majority of the research has been carried out it did not feature in the study. It is however clear from the description of the processes involved that Jivebeat LeRoc would likely be just as beneficial in the prevention and inhibition of certain neurological conditions as Argentine Tango.

In the next couple of posts I will be looking at the detail of how Tango and LeRoc give their benefits, and what you can do to take advantage of them.

For more information about Parkinson's, please see the Parkinson's UK website.

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Fitness  Cardio  Neurological  Health  

The First Steps

22 Nov 2017 - by Graham

Getting onto the dance floor that first time can be daunting. Whether your friend says "Hey, let's go to a dance class this Thursday. You coming?" and drags you along for the ride, or even if you make the decision all on your own, that first time of walking through the door to give it a go can be a scary experience. You just know that everyone else will be better at it than you, that you have two left feet and no sense of rhythm, that you're too tall / short / fat / thin to look right on a dance floor, and that you're not sure you really see the point of it all anyway. You might glance at the advert for the local dance club every week thinking that it looks fun, but move on because it's "not for you". Or maybe you signed up for a class once because it seemed like a good idea at the time but, when it actually comes to heading out in the evening and trying the class you can't quite make that step. Some people even pay for the classes in advance and turn up, but when they look through the door they see a lot of "experienced dancers" (who are probably only on week one or two themselves), decide they can't possibly do that, and they go away again without coming in.

The thing is though, we've all been there. Every single person in a dance club had a "first night". My own first time dancing was a while ago now, but I still clearly remember walking through that door and feeling like everyone in the room stopped what they were doing to watch me walk across the floor to a spare seat. Obviously no-one actually did that and I doubt anyone other than the lady on the door knew I was even there, but I felt like I was under a microscope. But I had decided that I'd give it a go, so I sat down, did the class, and went home again as soon as possible after the teaching had finished! But something had clicked, and I was back again the following week to give it another go. And eventually... well here I am.

For men in particular there's also peer-pressure to contend with, and the reaction you're likely to get if you tell people you dance or that you're thinking of learning to dance. Dancing isn't seen as "manly" these days (whatever that's supposed to mean), and mockery from friends and colleagues can be difficult to deal with. If you told them that you went out on a Friday night to drink 17 pints and passed out in a taxi they'd slap you on the back and say "Well done!", but tell them you go dancing and they'll laugh and ask "Why?". This says a lot more about society than it does about dancing, but whatever the cause the pressure is real, and so even if you overcome the fear of walking through the door that first time, unless you keep your dancing life completely secret you still have to deal with what happens when you walk back out again.

But if it's that scary, why does anyone ever do it? If everyone feels like that when they turn up at their first class then why do they ever come back? And what even gets them through the door in the first place?

There are a lot of health benefits to regular dancing and I'll be talking about those on here in the next couple of weeks, but if it was only about fitness and health then we could all just go to the gym. There must be more to it than that. So what is it about dance that makes it special? Why do some people - quite a lot of people if you look at it nationally - choose to push through that initial fear and carry on dancing? I could get all scientific and start talking about endorphins and the psychology of dance (I'll touch on some of that in the next few posts), but most people don't worry about all of that; they just know it makes them feel good.

And that's the most important part of it all. If you talk to anyone who dances regularly and ask them why they do it they'll start off by telling you "because it's fun". They might then go on to tell you about the challenge or the exercise or any number of other technical aspects, but look into their eyes whilst they are talking and you will know that what really drives them is "fun". We need fun. We need to be able to let off steam for a while or we go crazy. We need to be able to relax and do something a bit different.

So what conclusion can we take from all this? That your first time dancing is going to be scary? Yes, it will, but it was just as scary for everyone else in the room when they first started as they had exactly the same insecurities and fears as you. But the other conclusion is that you will never know if you really love it until you try, and in order to find that out you have to take the First Steps into the room and give it a go.

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: First Time  Dance  

Modern Jive... with Footwork?

09 Nov 2017 - by Graham

Something that I've heard said a lot at our fairs and events this summer is "I can't stand Modern Jive; it's got no footwork. All you do is stay still and wave your arms about." This tends to come from people who dance traditional Jive or Lindy Hop as they like the fast stepping 'bounce' of those dances, but is it really true to say that Modern Jive - LeRoc - has no footwork at all? At Jivebeat, we say "No!"

Since it's evolution from Swing, BeBop, and Jazz Jive in the 1970s, LeRoc has constantly been changing to follow the latest social dance fashions. It began as a bouncy high-energy dance that fitted with the Rock and Roll music of the time, but as popular music began to slow down in tempo over the years, so did LeRoc. The original basic step sequence was simplified from a double step to a single, the hand-hold was smoothed out so dancers no longer bounced their arms to the beat, and everything became a lot slower.

During that evolution it is true to say that some teachers and clubs began to emphasise the 'armography' of the dance over the footwork, leaving out the detail of where and how you step in favour of letting the dancers work it out for themselves. Concepts like body-lead, weight transfer, and even frame were downplayed as routines were taught in terms of 'moves' rather than lead & follow, and in some places LeRoc did indeed begin to look more and more like an upper-body dance with nothing really going on below the waistline. But this was by no means universal, and many teachers continued to emphasise the more traditional form of LeRoc without sacrificing the evolution of the dance to match the newer popular music.

When I first began to dance I was unusual, in that very soon after I started I was dancing at multiple venues. And not just venues run by the same organiser. I was dancing with Ceroc, Dance Yourself Dizzy, MJ's, and at least one other that I can't remember now, so from the very beginning I was exposed to a wide variety of teaching styles. Some taught a very frame-based style of dance whilst others based their classes purely on routines and sequences; some spoke a lot about footwork and where your weight should be, and others never mentioned it at all. I had a mix of male and female teachers too so I heard about Modern Jive from both the leader's and the follower's perspective.

At the time it seemed perfectly normal to me. There were different teachers, so obviously there were different styles. But later on when I started to hear people talking about Modern Jive being the "dance with no footwork", I was confused. The LeRoc / Modern Jive / Ceroc / etc. that I was dancing definitely had footwork in it, so why were people so insistent that it wasn't there?

When I did my teacher training and exam through the LeRoc Federation, by far the largest amount of time was spent working on the footwork. Did I understand weight transfer? Could I explain timing and positioning? How would I teach the various moves so the leader and follower were on the correct foot at all times? If the footwork was so important a part of my teacher training, how could Modern Jive be a "dance with no footwork"?

Simply put, it can't. Teachers who ignore the footwork (or positioning for wheelchair dancers) aspect of Modern Jive are ignoring the most important part of the dance, and are doing their students a great disservice. 

Whatever you might think of Modern Jive from anywhere else you've learned it or danced it, at Jivebeat we teach it with footwork. We ensure your weight is in the right place, and give you opportunities to add in any decorations, embellishments, or double-time steps you like. Modern Jive has taken many of its moves and sequences from other dances as it evolved, and with the right footwork it can keep some of their character as well. But that doesn't make it harder to learn. Knowing where your feet are and how your weight moves around throughout the steps makes it easier, not harder, and lets you concentrate on the creativity and the connection to your partner without having to worry about running to catch up with them every few bars.

LeRoc has footwork. You can make it simple or you can make it complex, but to say it doesn't exist is to ignore at least half of this fun and creative dance style. 

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: LeRoc  Footwork  

What Makes a Tango Teacher

05 Nov 2017 - by Graham

In my last post I wrote about how I accidentally became a tango teacher and turned Jivebeat from being a Modern Jive club into a Modern Jive and Argentine Tango club. But there has to be more to becoming a tango teacher than standing up and teaching your first class, doesn't there? There must surely be a process to follow or an exam to take? Or is there?

Unike LeRoc which has a recognised path to training as a teacher and obtaining a teaching qualification, there is no equivalent qualification available in the UK for Argentine Tango. You can train and qualify as a ballroom tango teacher through the IDTA or other similar bodies, but ballroom tango is not the same as Argentine Tango, and as there are more differences than there are similarities between the two dances a qualification in ballroom tango would be of no real use. So how do people make that jump from learning the dance to teaching it, and how do they know they are ready to do so?

This was a question that I spent some time trying to answer when I first realised that I would be teaching Tango on a regular basis. I asked around a few of the dance teachers that I knew, spoke to my accrediting body for LeRoc (the UKA), and hunted high and low across the internet, and the only answer that I could come up with was... you are ready to teach Tango when you think you are ready.

Wait... so the only person who gets to decide if I'm ready to be a tango teacher is me? That can't be right. There has to be more to it than that!

Before I try to answer that question, let's take a look at what we really mean by "Argentine Tango". This dance we think of as Tango has many different styles - Salon, Villa Urquiza, Milonguero, Club, Nuevo, Show, to name but a few - and yet they are all still Tango. They are defined by the approach of the person teaching them and the places where they are likely to be danced, and although they can look very different at first glance, they all use basically the same steps determined by the same lead and follow techniques expressed in slightly different ways. Tango is constantly evolving with new teaching styles and more scientific approaches to teaching being introduced, so the Tango world is already starting to move away from the traditional "do what I do" method of instruction, particularly here in Europe. So with all these styles and all these teaching methods, what is the 'correct' way to teach?

It turns out that the only way you can really say if a teaching method is 'correct' or not is whether your class enjoys the lessons and shows improvement or progression in their dancing after coming for a while. And the only way to find that out is to start teaching.

This has some advantages and disadvantages over a formal teaching qualification process. On the one hand it does mean that teaching styles and approaches can be very variable with no guarantee of quality, or that anything they teach you would be recognised as Tango outside of their classes. On the other hand it does mean that if you don't like a class or feel that you want a change, you can simply go to the next Tango teacher you can find, and the chances are that they will do things a little differently. You might prefer it... or you might prefer your original class... but either way you get the choice.

So whilst I would rather have done some sort of training or qualification before calling myself a Tango teacher, it turns out that things don't work that way in the world of Argentine Tango. I have started teaching Tango, therefore I am now a Tango teacher, and I am just as qualified to be one as 95% of all the other Tango teachers out there.

I continue to learn as much and as often as I can, attending regular weekly classes and going to milongas whenever possible. Tango is not a dance that you learn once and then just dance socially; it is an ongoing learning experience where no matter how good you get you will always meet someone inspirational and better. My aim therefore is to continue to learn and to continue to improve for as long as possible, and hopefully I can pass some of that on to my students.

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Tango  Argentine Tango  Teaching    

The Accidental Tango Teacher

02 Nov 2017 - by Graham

Not many people can say that they became a tango teacher entirely by accident, but that's definitely how it happened in my case. When I first started Jivebeat, I assumed it would always be predominantly about Modern Jive, with maybe a few guest teachers brought in from time to time to demonstrate other dance styles or maybe teach a 'fusion' class. I had qualified as a Modern Jive instructor, and all my efforts were going into developing that style and working out our curriculum.

But then one evening in Sevenoaks after a fun but small beginners' class, I asked everyone what they would like to do next. I offered them a more advanced Modern Jive routine, maybe some dips and leans, styling or musicality tops, or perhaps they'd like to try some Argentine Tango. And unanimously they all decided they wanted to try some tango.

I had been learning the Tango for some years at that point, having started in 2010 in a class down in Southampton and then finding new classes and teachers when my job brought me back up to Kent. There had been a few gaps as Tango classes can be hard to find, but I had always loved the dance since first discovering it, and at that time I was going to a class in Dartford after just having moved up from one in Canterbury for logistics reasons. I had no formal teaching qualification in Tango (read more about that in my next blog post), but I knew how to teach dance in general so I just used the same techniques I had been taught for Modern Jive and applied them to Tango.

It was a good fun class and everyone enjoyed themselves, but I assumed that would be the end of it and so I prepared the next week's Modern Jive class as normal. Except that when I got back to Sevenoaks a week later the class all asked me if they could do Tango again as they had really enjoyed it the previous week.

Okay... that was unexpected, but not really a problem. There is plenty of Tango to go around, and even without a lesson plan there were a lot of things I had wanted to mention the week before but didn't have the time, so that's what we did. And once again I went home assuming that would be the end of Tango at Jivebeat.

But then the following week, two people arrived at the class to sign up because they "had heard we do tango in our classes and had been looking for somewhere to learn for ages".

I knew that Tango classes were a bit thin on the ground in the area so the fact that they hadn't found one didn't surprise me, but it did surprise me that word was getting out that we taught Tango. Jivebeat was a Modern Jive club - the clue is in the name - so how come people were hearing about us in the context of Tango?

It didn't matter. Since then we have become known for being the local Tango class despite me giving it almost no advertising (more about the reasons for that later), and people have started coming along purely to learn the tango in preference to Modern Jive. I had become the Accidental Tango Teacher, and Jivebeat had become as well known for its Tango as its Modern Jive.

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Tango  Argentine Tango  Teaching  Beginnings  

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