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  

Tango - A Dance Without Steps.

24 Oct 2017 - by Graham

Whenever you think about dance, you think of footwork. There are basic steps that define the character of every type of dance, from the simple “step back, then in” of LeRoc, to the “forward, side, together” of waltz or the “one, two, three-and-four” of latin. The steps are the first stage in learning a new dance. You begin by learning the timing and how to position your feet in the correct places, then when you’ve got the hang of that you start to concentrate on where to put your body to improve balance, posture, and styling and make the dance begin to flow.

But Argentine Tango doesn’t have any of that. It is that strangest of things, a dance without steps.

When you first start to learn the tango the temptation is to follow the steps that the teacher is doing and try to copy the way his or her feet are moving around the floor. This is a natural way of looking at it especially if you have done any other dancing before, but it is not how tango works. With tango the most important element is the upper body connection, the invisible link between the leader’s and follower’s chests that - if done correctly - means the feet will move in the right direction as a consequence of the movement. It is this chest connection that most new tango dancers find the hardest to master, partly because the isolation or dissociation needed to be able to rotate your upper body independently of your hips is not something we naturally do and needs to be learned, but mostly because they spend all their time trying to work out where the feet should go and try to dance whilst looking down.

Tango is a dance of connection, not of steps. It is a bit of an over-simplification, but you could start by picturing all of the dance happening from the waist-upwards, and the feet just moving around to keep you from falling over. The lead in tango comes not from the feet but from the chest, with the leader moving his or her chest in the direction they want the follower to go, and the follower responding by moving their chest in the same direction whilst maintaining as close a connection to their leader as is physically possible.

This is easy to say, but it can be confusing. When you watch tango danced by experienced dancers, whether on the stage or just at a local social dance event, you will see a lot of footwork. Small detailed rock-steps, sweeps and pushes of all sizes, the famous tango hook or ‘gancho’, and many other classic elements all make an appearance somewhere in the dance, and beginners point and say “See… footwork! I told you there were steps…”

But all of those things happen as a consequence of the chest connection. The leader is not thinking about where his or her partner’s feet are going to be, but where their weight, balance, and chest must be to maintain the connection. Yes, there are rules and styling techniques involved for both leader and follower to make the dance look like a dance rather than just two people wandering around the floor, but the position of the feet and the centre of balance is all controlled by the upper body connection.

So how does this affect you in your class? Tango is usually taught using short sequences of movements that include elements with steps in them, and beginners (and some more experienced dancers) often make the mistake of thinking of them as steps that need to be learned. But these are just ways of teaching you about the chest connection, they are tools for you to learn how weight, connection, and balance all affect you and your partner’s position.

Learn the sequences and practise the routines, but remember that their real purpose is to show you how the chest connection makes the dance, and how the feet are just a consequence of where your bodies are and where your weight is at any moment.

When you’ve got the hang of that, then you can add the styling!

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Argentine Tango  Nuevo  Neotango  

New Venue!

18 Oct 2017 - by Graham

Jivebeat Hurst Green is moving!!

As many of you already know, we have been talking for a while now about finding a new venue for Thursdays, and this week - after a weirdly coincidental series of very unlikely events - we found one! So from the 23rd November, Jivebeat Hurst Green will become...

Jivebeat Edenbridge!

Yes, we are excited to announce that from Thursday the 23rd November we will be starting classes in the Eden Centre, Edenbridge. We will be keeping to the same class format, so we will start with a LeRoc class, followed by our Tango Nuevo class, then freestyle through to 11pm with our unique mix of music. We will even keep our "Tuck Shop"!

Edenbridge is less than 15 mins from Hurst Green by car (I timed it - that's not just a Google estimate) so it's easy to get to if you are coming from the Oxted direction, and many of you will find that it's closer.

Classes at Hurst Green will continue until we make the move, but check the diary as there may be last minute schedule or timing changes as we begin to get ready.

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Edenbridge    

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