The Value of Flyin’ Solo (Jazz)

Music City Shake really threw me for a loop this last weekend in Nashville. While not confident in my (very) humble vocabulary in solo jazz, I hoped to at least demonstrate some sort of competency come auditions. Suffice to say, I was wrong. Under pressure and the watchful eyes of Nathan Bugh and Jon Tigert, I goofed on the new break step they taught us. My counting rushed as I panicked, and my improv kept starting the same way. Further, I forgot to come in on the standard Kick Charleston after the chorus. What an eye-opening experience. Still, the auditions were fun, as was the rest of the weekend. No, I didn’t dance with any expert leads or shock-and-awe with lindy talent. This was more of a redemption weekend, teaching me to be more in tune with my own musicality.

1929 studios

Image via 1929 Studios

Our teachers were really quite fantastic, from the graceful Ramona Staffeld to the footwork-finesse of Nathan Bugh to the stylings of Jon Tigert, you really can’t go wrong. I really enjoyed how sensitive each teacher was to the needs of the students, especially during frustrating sequences or moments of sheer panic (or maybe that was just me?). I haven’t really enjoyed dancing this much in a while. True, I did spend a lot more time on the sidelines during social dances than I used to, but I feel remnants and steps of the past coming back. It feels almost like a recovery from dance fugue as things come back to you slowly.

Photograph via Hot Mess Jazz Fest.

I’m so excited to be back in Lindyland. It’s been a harrowing journey from personal disappointments, semi-serious injuries, and developing an authentic connection to the dance. I couldn’t have asked for a better intro back into the dance. So, just a few tings I learned from the fringes of swing dance world:

  1. Ditch vanity. Specifically, don’t wear shorts that are too tight for you. Seriously. I spent the majority of my time Saturday tugging at a pair of high-waisted shorts which refused to stay in place, and it was such a pain to dance in. Comfort is key when stepping, especially if you miss watching a complex sequence due to a wedgie. Not cool or cool looking. :/
  2. Come with a dose of humility…but don’t mistake it for lack of confidence. There is a way to showcase without looking smug. Perhaps it manifests in your dancing as a bunch of coagulated, larger-than-life footwork without attention to form. Perhaps it’s selectivity of dance partners. Either or, I think this weekend was fun just because it felt more like a community.
  3. Raise your eyebrows. This one comes from Nathan Bugh, but it really works, I promise! When you can make faces and amuse yourself during a solo jazz jam, everything becomes so much more entertaining. That, and complementary arm movements.
  4. Embellish adventurously. This is something that came to mind (again via Nathan circa Lindy Focus XIIish) during my fumbles this weekend. Don’t be afraid to get outside your comfort zone and experiment. Slide, add weird flourishes, add weird faces. Combine, remix, and repeat. It’s a way of finding your voice.
  5. Encourage everyone. While it may seem like fun to ridicule someone’s dancing, it’s way more fun to admire. You might get some laughs at the time, but people are going to remember a streak of cruelty when they see one.

Photograph via Jon Tigert, pictured here with the amazing Jenna Applegarth.

Music City Shake really reminded me how much I value local scenes and the organizers. It’s been far too long since I’ve felt this at ease with a dance scene. No, I’m not fully integrated yet. I spend a lot of time just sitting on the side, but it’s been such a pleasure to watch people dance and learn how everyone moves in their own way.

These days, I’m practicing the routines I learned while brushing my teeth or during lulls in class. It feels so good to get back into a groove.

Wishing you happy feet, from the bottom of my heart. 🙂

~S.

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