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Posts Tagged ‘dancing’

Swing

One, two, three-and, one, two, three-and, one…  Right, left, rock-step, right, left, rock-step, right…  Some things, especially repetitive things requiring concentration, get stuck in my head.  When I learned chess, I started to count knight-moves on every grid I saw, including the patchwork quilt on my bed.  Now I’m thinking the rhythm and steps of swing dancing, actually trying to get the pattern so ingrained in my mind that it becomes subconscious, so that there is hope of doing any but the most basic steps. 

I learned swing dancing from a patient and delighted friend yesterday, but I’m still not very good.  Not learning something after one lesson is difficult for me.  My usual motto is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s: “If I had ever learnt, I should be a true proficient.”  Experience has taught me that I learn quickly, and can often self-teach (and if there’s a field in which I don’t excel, I “avoid those weaknesses which expose a good understanding to ridicule.”).  But though I have seen others taught to swing, and even snuck some Youtube tutorial video viewings in, I failed to teach myself and so applied to my friend, who was equally amazed that I did not just catch on. 

My sense of rhythm is horribly out of practice.  I think I used to do rather well, and be good at following music.  Lately, I can’t even clap to songs lest I land on the off-beat.  And in swing, apparently rhythm is essential.  First you have to be able to start on the beat, then keep your feet moving – no room for tripping or forgetting a step! – all to the big band beat.  Basic swing is probably a mere step above waltzing.  The box-step of a waltz, on even beats, is quite simple, leaving only the question of direction and (for a woman) following lead.  All the same, my unpracticed feet are quite lost. 

I’d say I went through all the stages and asked almost every question a person could – except I do k now my right from my left.  When we say “right step”, for example, no one expects you to step right; steps aren’t so much, then, about any horizontal motion as about vertical, and the noise made by tapping or stomping.  All this when I thought dancing had to do with smooth, graceful, whole-body lines.  It looks much more fun that way. 

For my entire childhood my favorite movies were the old musicals, not so much ballroom classical Fred Astaire as soft-shoe numbers by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.  I’d run about the room imitating the dancers, after carefully studying their feet for the moves.  (I should have known feet were the most important and sometimes the only part of dancing.)  Never mind matching the music the same way they did; I’d follow the melody my own way.  Sometimes I would even choreograph my own dances, scribbling out on notebook paper the steps with arrows and abbreviations, full of imaginative innovations all my own.  So I’ve thought about dancing, what goes into it.  I’m as close to being self-taught as possible. 

It was interesting, then, to be both self-teacher and thoroughly taught by another.  I did a bit of self-diagnosing yesterday, identifying areas of confusion and weakness and difficulty to which my obliging teacher applied herself.  There was quite a bit of watching my feet, watching hers, and of pressing my hands to my cheeks in embarrassed failure.  I don’t know that I stepped on any toes, but I caused my friend to step on mine!  When swing dancing, it is important to let knees and even elbows bend.  Otherwise, as my instructor was so flattering to point out, one moves like a slow penguin. 

Just when I was doing well without music, we tried it to a tune from Chocolat – the best swing my friend had, but a little fast for a beginner.  We each learned: she about teaching, and me about remembering which foot comes next.  It took several tries, but I got the hang of the beat, and improved in covering up my mistakes.  Even if I forgot to step with my left foot – which often happened since it never goes anywhere – I remembered where my right one went next, and generally kept up with the music.  If you can’t fake it when you forget a step, you’re doomed to start over.  There’s no getting back into synchronization without a restart.  Only once did we keep going when I lost the beat, and I ended up coming down half a step between hers.  Oops! 

I remember watching figure skating on ice when I was little, and as spectacular as were the triple axel jumps and amazing spins, the performances that moved me, ones I still remember, were beautifully artistic.  No rigid technicality there, the great skaters were so skilled in the difficult moves that they could add grace, training their arms to bend in just the right curve, and the jump to explode into the air just as the music would crescendo.  In competition, this beautiful side of the sport was balanced, in scoring, against the impressive.  As a dreaming girl I had imagined slipping on a pair of skates and gliding serenely across the ice – a dream that crashed with my derriere the first time I actually attempted to balance on that thin metal blade. 

Swing dancing is something like that – so much more romantic in imagination.  Also like ice-skating, there is a lot to be said for being sufficiently confident in the art that one can breathe and move and remember that it is an art, and not a mathematical equation.  “We’ve got to work on the stiffness,” my friend said with a small smile.  And she had warned me earlier in our lessons that eventually I’d have to look at my partner’s face instead of their feet – which I suppose is much more the point of dancing.  The stiffness is still an issue, but maybe I’ll come up with new words to say to the count, words like: point, bend, curtsy, elbows, bend, swing-tap, right, left, rock-step, right…  I made sufficient progress in the hallway of my friend’s house that she didn’t press me.

So my eager and confident teacher decided to drag me into the next level of swing dancing.  Not only must I know the direction of the steps, be able to keep myself up on sore legs unused to such exercise, keep the rhythm, and match the music – I had to learn a special step or two.  Arms pull out, drawing the dancers closer, but askew, begging the step to come across.  I’m so technical.  From which step do we move into a special move?  Which foot comes forward in a cross step, and wait! – to which side does it go?  Does it then go back, or straight into the other side of the X formation?  With much additional thought and practice, including some stepping back and thinking it through with my own feet, deciding I rather needed to tie the left foot to the floor, I correctly danced that step a couple times, too.  But I wouldn’t risk being surprised into a move just yet.  I need to know the schedule, or I’ll be kicking partners, a prospect I find rather embarrassing.

And partners – real ones, not instructors – are really the most frightening things about the whole business.  Aside from the emotional impact of physical contact and eye-gazing, he’s going to have to be forgiving.  The men are also supposed to lead, and they won’t necessarily tell me a schedule of how many steps before a fancy one, or which fancy one.  Am I too afraid to follow, or too desperate to follow, preferring to be carried? 

Wow.  All these childhood experiences are coming back to illustrate.  When I was five or six, I was taking swimming lessons.  Being rather independent, I decided holding my breath was much easier than turning my ear to the side to breathe.  Over short distances my little lungs could handle it until I stood in the shallow end or grabbed the side of the pool.  But during lessons, we in the class were required to swim out into the deep end, around an instructor, and back to the wall.  And the path was too long for me to hold my breath.  I got to the teacher standing in the “deep end” and clung desperately to his shoulders, hoping not to drown and gasping for air.  Happily, now I am much better at breathing as I go, but I remember that helplessly immobile feeling of just needing to survive.  Forget form, forget everything, and just hold on to something or someone you can trust! 

On the few occasions when my friend tried to teach me something new, I flew into that same mode, gripping her hand and falling back into walking or just standing, unable to keep with the dance, trying only to survive until craziness stopped happening and the routine step settled back in.  I’ve already mentioned this is a doomed tactic.  But there are ways to survive, a lot like the regular turn of the head to catch a breath while I swim. 

Earlier this year life was like a brand new, confusing, and even painful dance move.  I was cast into it with plenty of warning, and even with direction, but felt my emotions and mind wavering on the edge of peace and self-control.  In a world whirling around me, each word and decision critical, I walked exercises in sanity by doing things routine, or even by naming everything that caught my eye.  “Door.  Fence.  Bird.  Sidewalk.  Shoe.”  You may think that in itself is crazy, but I was reminding myself of reality, that some things were stable and unchanging. 

In swing dancing, there is a stable reality to which I can cling.  That original pattern of steps never changes.  I may place my right foot in a different direction, be swung up and over heads and spun across the floor, but while all of it is happening, I can think to the beat: right, left, rock-step, right.  And even if I have to wait a bit to get my footing, I can hold onto the dance and come in as soon as possible.  Or at least my friend can.  She demonstrated.  That’s survival in swing dancing. 

I’ve got the concept wrapped into my brain.  Now it’s just a matter of rote practice.  “Count with me.  Don’t try to move your feet.  Just get the feel of the count.” 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Marriage is like dancing with no music.  There is still an art, and still the beauty; there is also that dimension of more going on that you have in dancing.  But instead of the music being enough to give a girl an idea of where life is going, there is none; she must simply follow.  Give and take, go and come.  Trust.  Responsibility.  Cry for help.  Confidence.  Smile her delight.  Swing out, spin in.  Submit.  Dance. 
 
The hobbits watch in dreamlike fixation as a woman beautiful beyond their experience weaves her way around the table, in and out of the kitchen, gracefully dodging a man equally unique to the hobbits: big, clumpy, capering and energetic.  Styles so different, the two manage to make a fascinating dance of contrast and complement. How do they make it work?  What force prevents collision? 
 
Tom Bombadil sang about his lady when he thought no one was listening, and when he knew they were following, straining for his every word.  He praised her as beautiful and trusted her to be ready with hospitality.  Brave and free, each with few friends, the couple shared life and interests with each other.  Perhaps many nights were spent crafting a tale to spell his lady.  He gave her gifts and she did the washing.  They each remained who they had been before they met, but they sacrificed things and changed also, making a brand new life together.  When the hobbits asked Goldberry about her husband, she spoke with quiet respect, “He is the master.”  Perhaps there is no satisfying explanation of Tom Bombadil because he was a man who needed to be known rather than described.  There are no memorized steps of the dance with him.  Their house is full of the comforts of community: ready beds, generous tables, and long conversation by the fire.  Goldberry and Tom knew the value of relationship. 
 
Main characters in Lord of the Rings are unmarried.  Nine companions, the fellowship of the Ring, had the freedom to risk their lives and tramp across the world because they were not married.  A man or two was moving towards marriage, dreaming of the woman he’d left behind.  Tolkien was a real romantic, the kind who understood the pull of adventure and of chivalry, as well as of courting and of marriage.  This last is not too common in literature, that real married couples would be glimpsed in story and lifted up for their simple virtue and hard submission.  Immensely happy in marriage to Edith himself, this author did not shy away from representing marriage in his stories. 
 
Another example is found in The Fellowship of the Ring before the hobbits encounter Tom Bombadil.  Still in the Shire, they meet a hobbit couple, the honored Mrs. Maggot and her intimidating husband, Farmer Maggot.  It’s a dreadful name to inherit, let alone acquire, so Mrs. Maggot must have loved her husband, and made the most of it.  She too embodied hospitality.  Spin in.  Feeding a large working farm and family of sons and daughters, she didn’t mind at all to include three hungry strangers at her table, presenting them with heaping helpings of farm fare, mushrooms, and good homebrew.  Farmer Maggot was a good provider, a defender of his property – maybe less because of what it grew than of whom it harbored.  And when in the service of doing what was right he risked his own safety for newfound friends – this round hobbit reminiscent of the American rednecks – his wife stood at the door and cried out for her husband to be careful.  Swing out.  This isn’t just something people say.  Do you see women encouraging their husbands to do the right thing even though it is dangerous?  Do you hear people in unhappy marriages nervous about the other’s safety?  No, it comes from a heart of love, natural – yes, and common but only because the simple heart of marriage is common.  Isn’t that how it should be? 
 
There are other examples, men and women whose wedded bliss was interrupted by wars, disease, or accident.  Take Frodo’s parents.  Rumors ran wild that Drogo didn’t get along with his wife, and that she thought his girth was too large even for a hobbit.  They died together, though, out boating – and as far as the Gaffer was concerned, that was their only crime.  It left Frodo to the wildness of youth, an orphaned rascal living with an extended family too big to take good care of him and to teach him responsibility.  This again was the implication given by the sturdy gardener, who had carefully raised his own son under his eye and apprenticeship.  What an unlikely beginning for the Ringbearer, whose sense of responsibility called him into the darkness, surrendering forever the possibility of home!
 
Elrond’s marriage does not appear to have been happy.  His wife early (well, thousands of years into their relationship) grew weary of their home and left.  Why didn’t she stay for him?  Why didn’t he go with her?  Should he have gone, the Halfelven whose work was so large in preserving the Middle Earth for which his father had risked much more than happiness and comfort?  Should she have stayed, enduring without music, just for the following?
 
Many characters seem to have lost their mothers or fathers early, including Samwise, Frodo, Aragorn, Boromir & Faramir, and Eowyn & Eomer.  It was a hard time, and even marriage did not guard against sorrow and loss.  This is evidence that Tolkien’s ideal of marriage was not unrelated to the real world in which he moved.  His stories exemplify love and commitment in the midst of the hard times to which we can relate. 
 
Another splendid example of the exertions of marital love and the roles each person takes is the marriage of Earendil and Elwing.  Earendil, on behalf of his people, sought to reach the undying lands and plead for the help of the Valar.  He was lost at sea, hopeless, when his elven wife flew to him in the form of a white bird with a silmaril at her breast, and, lighting the way to Valinor, saved her husband and delivered his mission from doom.  He initiated risk, and she accepted the separation and the danger.  In this story the husband led the way on a mission to save the world (as all husbands should), and she supported him with strength of her own and encouragement.  I believe the story goes that the couple now above Middle Earth sails till time ends, in the heavens, her silmaril doomed to light the way for all men as the evening star. 
 
Many people in Tolkien’s tales are related to Luthien and Beren, who stole that silmaril from the crown of Morgoth.  Luthien was the daughter of Thingol (a high elf, one of the first to see Valinor) and Melian (a Maia).  Their marriage is another inspiration.  King Thingol loved Melian and worked his whole life to make her happy.  But he also respected his bride and took her advice.  This position Melian wielded to moderate her husband’s temper, thereby making him the best man, father, and king that he could be.  Ruling together, they preserved and protected a kingdom of peace, beauty, and, until fate started to unravel the spell of protection Melian had woven around Doriath, of justice. 
 
Thingol and Melian’s marriage is somewhat reminiscent of Celeborn and Galadriel, both strong and wise, with strong claims to the leadership of their people.  Yet they ruled peacefully side by side, together attending councils of the wise.  Again they both offer hospitality, but are cautious to protect their country against harm, for love both of land and of friends inside.  All the wives in Tolkien are beautiful, and all the husbands are valiant.  But not all the men are wise, nor are all women hospitable.  Celeborn and Galadriel represent together the best of Tolkien’s ideal.  They are happy and sad, serious and celebratory.  They are wise and strong, beautiful and kind.  People love them and follow them, not only in war, but also in peace.  Memory is important, and yet there is always curiosity to meet new things.  And so it ought to be in marriage.  Such I believe was Tolkien’s experience. 
 
My favorite marriage in Tolkien is one that hadn’t yet taken place.  Eowyn was independent; she was not free – not because she was a woman at home, but because she wanted things impossible for her to have.  Faramir pushed, and she took a small step away.  He pulled and she came close.  Before she knew what was happening, the simple steps were increasing in difficulty until she cried out, “My hand is ungentle!”  The princess grew frightened in the face of love and submission, though she had stood proud as the shieldmaiden of her king even against an enemy as terrible as the Lord of the Nazgul.  She cried out to one who seemed to know what he was doing, who was leading her into a place where she was less confident, where her only choice was to follow.  And the crying out was trust.  Her heart changed, or at last she understood it.  She chose freedom, stepped willingly away from her independence, and chose to love, like her partner, to see things grow well.  “Then I will wed with the White Lady,” he laughed.  She smiled her delight, and on the wall of the city their hands met and clasped, and they faced darkness and light together. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn 

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