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Often dancers new to Modern Jive get frustrated with their progress and wonder what to do to accelerate it. Here are some thoughts, not in any particular order:
Here is just a simple way of remembering some important aspects: Position, Posture and Pressure.
PressurePressure between the arms is what really makes jive dancing either a pleasure or not.
Leadership, leadership, leadership!
Pressure and Rhythm
Helping the lady's position and posture
Which feet to use
Perhaps the most important difference between modern jive and ballroom jive or other forms of swing and dance is the de-emphasis on feet. Most organisations deliberately tell you nothing about which feet to use. This is to lighten the learning load to promote an enjoyable experience more quickly, rather than concentrate on a long term goal of good dancing practice. For the majority this may well be the best approach. Admittedly, they do occasionally recommend certain suggestions, for example that the lady sways backwards on the right foot (basket and sway) so she twists nicely clockwise. However it is normally left to the lady to work out her own way of stepping and turning etc. Those from a more formal dance background find this freedom disconcerting and want to know more about what footwork might be helpful to learn at the beginning so as to not get into bad habits. This section may help those people and others of a more analytical nature.
Firstly, before making any suggestions, let us consider one basic rule that many jivers obey, perhaps without realising it:
1. Use your left foot for turning anticlockwise and your right for clockwise
This applies to both ladies and men, although the ladies do most of the spinning (and we are accused of showing off if we do)! This makes sense as if one is turning right, it means that, as one is stepping forward onto the right, the left is then brought forward to be by its side and this gives momentum into the turn as it stops moving. The converse is clearly awkward and will ultimately limit good performance.
Given this basic rule, the problem then is ensuring that the lady manipulates things to get onto the correct foot even though one does not know what the man is going to lead next! This leads to the next observation:
2. The lady often spins clockwise on one foot on one count and then anticlockwise on the other foot exactly two counts later.
The result is that she cannot just step regularly on each half count or each count between them! This leads onto the next rule - well more of a "freedom":
3. Not only can one change feet on every half count or more slowly on every count, but one can mix the two or indeed miss a count/half count by tapping a foot lightly and only then placing it down.
With this freedom there are a number of solutions to meet the "turning foot criteria". One organisation (Leroc) has its own suggestion for footwork, which can be viewed at http://www.elmgrove-leroc.co.uk and click here for a detailed description of the difference.
This organisation also suggests another rule that makes a lot of sense:
4. A turn in one direction should not normally be followed by a turn in the same direction.
One can see that their method of turning and stepping back automatically accommodates this too. However the footwork does require the man not to lead two turns in the same direction or the lady will be wrong footed. For example, an arm-jive (with return) can be followed by a wurlitzer but not a basket. The reason for this is that the lady must step back on her right to start the basket but the return from the arm-jive will result in her ending on her left. If the man eliminates the return, then now not only will she be correct-footed, but the dance will be far more flowing.
Whether one used this footwork or not is perhaps not important, however the rules above should be considered if one wishes to get the most out of dancing modern jive.
There are perhaps two other rules to reinforce:
5. It often looks better if the man is a mirror image to the lady ie stepping back on his left when the lady is being swayed back on her right.
This is true for say a first move, however some would argue that a yoyo requires the man to step forward on count 2 when the lady is turned 180 CW.
6. It is always better if the lady can perform her turn, look the man in the whites of his eyes AND THEN step back.
This provides a nice snappy action.
Spinning and turning
Firstly, what is the difference between a spin and a turn? Some interchange the terms randomly which seems a shame to me. Others regard a turn being when there is a connection at all times and a spin when she "free-spins". Other regard a turn as a generic term and a spin as a subset.
There is lots of advice on spinning and turning at http://www.eijkhout.net/lead_follow . The terminology is a bit tricky, but well worth a read if you really want to improve.
When attempting to practice a spin on your own, one has to get the torque (twisting force) to spin by yourself. However, most spins are lead which makes the initiation quite different.
A list of tips are provided below. The language assumes the lady is rotating here, but applies the other way around too. Dancing is positively not a politically correct pastime!
** The one exception is for multiple turns. As the lady's rotation decreases, she need added torque. This is added by "halo leading", which is a DELICATE off-centred position of the man's hands (ie a cm or two) just in front of her face as she leans slightly forward into them.
The lead for any turn or spin is to draw her in and provide a block so she should feel a slight wind-up in the opposite direction to the spin/turn. This wind-up should place your hand near your navel. That way, you won't be torqued left or right when she pushes off of you. She should feel you brace your leading arm (try tucking your elbow into your side for an instant to help brace the arm. Think "brace", but understand that you don't become stiff as a board, and there is some limited follow-through) She must then take her weight change step onto her turning foot. Here is the important thing - she must commit some of her body weight forward to you. You will feel a building compression, and then a releasing compression as *SHE* pushes off of *YOU* ! As a man, you are only pushing back as hard as she pushes on you. Never think of pushing her - make her think she is pushing against a wall. Push lightly and the wall pushes back lightly; push hard and it pushes back hard. This is where the leader must really "follow" her level of connection as it changes. The woman must commit weight to you because her push does 2 things:
Torque (1) is what she desires, and (2) is what she must deal with to stay balanced. By committing her weight forward before pushing off, torque (2) stands her back up straight instead of toppling her over. Of course, the better she is, the less weight is committed, the less wind-up is required, the later you can brace and still have her read the lead, etc.
The ballroom grip is where the man holds his hand up palm facing the lady, she does the same, both rotate them slightly to the right and they grip palm to palm so the thumbs are interlocked. This grip provides two functions: i) it provides a signal to the lady stating "something monumental is going to happen" and ii) it provides a much stronger grip for say a drop.
Kicking is dangerous! Kicking into the air does not look cool! Thus one lifts the leg, bending the knee and kicks down to the floor just 6 inches or so in front of you.
There are two simple test as to whether you are doing it correctly: a) your knee should be more forward than your foot and b) your heal should be higher than your toes.
If one is performing kicks when face to face, between each others legs, it is very important to press yourselves close together and not to look at your feet! This inhibits there being the room to build up velocity and kick your partner. A convention stemming from Lindy Hop is to raise the left hand when kicking and lowering to turn her out. Indeed one can just keep in kicking until the hand lowers.
Kicking often seems combined with hopping on the other leg (eg Charleston). Let your natural rhythm work this out, but you will find that in practice you kick with one leg when the other, after hopping, hits the floor. Experiment with this as the slight hop does make the move flow much better.
Kicking high up into the air, often when plunging into a dip is sometimes used for cabarets where there is a clear floor, the lady is a gymnast and her skirt is split all the way up or hardly exists at all!
Dips and Drops
Firstly, the terms dips, drops and seducers are often interchanged. For me, a dip is not quite as drastic as a drop (which may well be within inches of the floor). A seducer is a dip or drop performed in a sensual manner (as a dip can be quite fast and snappy).
Keep control enough to abort
The first time you wish to dip a lady, always ask beforehand if she is happy to do so. You can even start off with more of a lean or half dip, especially if she has never done one with anyone before and has no idea whether she wants to or not! Remember that some ladies have bad backs. Some ladies you have dropped before may have a bad back that night.
Never go into a dip if you do not feel correctly connected for that dip. Thus, for the wurlitzer spin and dip, the lady's right arm should be around the man's neck (for her safety) and both the man's hands around her back. Although all this is not essential and less support is often used for other moves, if the move is "felt" to be different from normal, it could indicate that a foot is wrong etc and a sign that something else may go wrong.
When learning, always pause before the dip. For this particular move, the lady can spin directly into a dip without pausing, but only when the partnership has practiced it well.
Ladies, never plunge yourself into a dip unless you are very sure of your partner. If he did not mean to dip you he may not be able to support you and you will wish you were wearing a cycle helmet! Always wait for him to actively dip you.
Why all this safety advice? Dips need not be dangerous, its just that they are quite often used between partners who do not often dance together and are a pleasurable and common way of interpreting music. Advanced dancers know to practice somersaults off the dance floor, but too many jivers learn dips for the first time on the dance floor without being taught the necessary safety advice.
For more safety information, see "Safety" under "Advice" from the top menus on the home page.
Position of the legs
You will often see ladies being just thrust back and a leg pops up in the air - usually this is instinctive at first for some reason. This can be both dangerous if the floor is busy and some consider it not cool these days.
The lady dips by bending a leg, usually the "inner", which is often her right, and takes a little of her own weight and leans back letting the man take more and more weight as she keeps her other (left) leg straight at all times and touching the floor at all times. This straight leg tends to slide forward during the dip. The reason for keeping the outside leg straight is that it gives a nice artistic curve along her body, especially when emphasised by her arm being placed straight behind her head. Depending upon the flexibility of her back, she should be almost horizontal in his arms. If it is not too uncomfortable, she should allow her back to bend over the man's support and lean her head backwards just a touch - not straining to look at him. She should NOT swing her head back as the floor may be closer than she realises.
One exception to the rule of bending the right leg is for moves where then man supports only her right shoulder. It is then desirable for her to take some weight on her left leg (ie bend this one) to stop her body twisting - unless of course this is the aim.
The men MUST actively lift and place the appropriate supporting leg, nearly always the left, out and under where the lady dips. Beware looking longingly from above in a dip, but don't drip perspiration into one of her eyes! Also remember that many ladies are kind enough to take much of the strain of their body weight in the thighs. If you keep them down too long, it can be very painful.
Position of the hands
She should do some elegant motion with her left hand such as
sweep it up and back or down and back and is nice ending up enhancing the curve
of her body. I have had a version where the lady places her left hand
under her body and supports herself on the man's left calf (feels wicked!).
The lady comes up with the same motion as she went down. The following
illustrate just a few dips:
Where the lady is unsure of the man or for any reason wishes to take safety completely into her own hands, she needs to take all her weight on her bent leg. I tried this myself once - its very painful. I have admiration for the ladies that can do this. Some avoid the pain by keeping the one leg straight, but it means that she just tilts at the waist and it looks really bad. It is important that her hips lower.
Speed & timing
A dip can be performed very fast, but they can be made much more elegant slowly. It would seem that the lady tend to be in the process of dipping on the beat and be lifted out during a beat. She may be kept for a count or two when down.
Position of the man
Ladies - dips are usually performed from the man's right to his left and he has to place his left leg out to the left for support. There are occasions (first move dip) where he lunges forwards with his left and so can support you as you dip to his forward direction. She may also dip on either side of him rather than in front (ie facing the same way as he is or behind him) or be behind him. I have had some ladies fling themselves backwards in front and away from me when I have not expected her to dip and not had my left leg in place. I have only narrowly avoided accidents. So if you are not sure about whether you should dip DON'T! To be on the safe side, your chest should be close to his. If you see yourself flinging away from him and he is not moving towards you for support - grab onto any part of his anatomy you can find!
When you first start jive, safety never seems to be on ones mind. After all, its just "dancing" - a delicate blending of the spirit of two bodies with music. Well let me tell you, the worst injury I have seen was one beginner lady stepping on the foot of another. The beginner lady felt terrible and soon never danced again. The other's foot went black and she returned to dancing a month later. I'm know there are worse accidents, but usually from the more acrobatic moves. The point here is that safety affects us ALL.
The moves on this site have been categorised with safety levels 1 through 5 (see here, but note that these levels are not any standard or even known or used to my knowledge outside this site). These levels are now grouped and advice given:
General advice (levels 0 and 1)
Normal beginner or intermediate moves might not seem dangerous, but this is what one does most of the time, if not all the time, so an accident will occur sooner or later. Indeed, I received a black eye once, when a lady performed and simple return! I will never forget the actual squelching sound.....so:
Dips'n'drops (level 2)
Whereas the air steps following require training with a specific partner, dips and drops are more common and can and are led to ladies with whom one does not regularly dance with. It is always best that the lady has been taught the basics of drops at a lesson or workshop, and then variations can be introduced. Indeed I would say that there is a basic vocabulary of drop moves that can be lead such as the First move drop, wurlitzer spin and drop etc.
Air-steps (levels 3 to 5)
Such moves (not all and "air steps", some are definitively "floor steps"!) require:
We consider when to jump, off which foot (ie how to get lift) and what to do when you land.
When to jump
There is no right and wrong timing for jumps, other than both parties must agree! However there is some logic behind certain timings. Consider the "first move jump", where you pull the lady into a first move, turn her out and then she jumps and turns 180 ACW to simply land facing the man. I have been taught three timings.
The most common timing (I call "jive timing") goes:
Thus you both bend down on the half count - I usually count backwards, ie 3,2,1& jump (bending down on the "&"). This seems to work well with infrequent partners.
The timing taught by Lindy Hop is different, it goes:
Lindy usually counts by the music beats (2 music beats = 1 jive count), ie 1,2,3,4,5,6,7(down), 8(jump). The extra half count allow the couple to face each other. This is important because it means that there can be a four-pronged lift
This means that the jump can be quite terrific and the man should really feel the weight of the lady on his left arm and shoulder as he propels her into the air rather than a limp cabbage drooping on his shoulder! The timing of the jump on the half count gives a different feel (typically Lindy feel) which may suit you.
Shortened jive timing
The following is sometimes taught:
I find this last timing not good for the jump to face but acceptable for a jump where the lady lands with legs outstretched across the guy's lap. I say acceptable, because I prefer to stick with one timing for all moves to make things simpler. This timing is also taught at Lindy hop for the lap sit and is called out 1,2,3,4,5,down,jump.
So, in summary - try them all and decide what is best for you.
So which foot do you jump off and do you hop skip and jump? Obvious? The first rule seems to be that double-footed jumps are
out because you can get more lift from a single-footed jump and by projecting
your leg around the man where this is necessary. Secondly, remember that
on many occasions only one particular foot is acceptable to jump off and the
lady may be used to stepping back on her right - so there may be a conflict
here! Thirdly, I have heard three main ways of jumping:
The first method is simple and quick and fits in with most moves that require a jump on half-count 3. Some advocates of the second method believe that it provides more lift, however it takes a bit longer to learn. The last method is often seen in practice and comes about through unsure timing causing a delay in the jump. The problem is that too much time is spend on bending the leg and all the momentum of the jump is lost. Do not use this method!
On landing on the floor, some time is required for the lady to balance and to get into beat. Sometimes one is able to just continue with say a step-across, but often is is necessary to "muck around" with a wiggle or a break (pause).
For the case where the lady lands on the man - eg on his bent knees, he may wish her to immediately bounce off or stay there for some while. For the latter case, he will normally dip his knees half a count or so before thrusting her off to give her warning and make the move smooth.
Those who have done gymnastics or ballet, seem to have tremendous spring. The rest of ladies will find that your "spring-power" will increase with practice at different types of jumps and confidence.
1. The limp-lettuce leaf
2. The cool dude
3. Miss bounce-skipperty
4. Mrs arms-length
5. Ms no-contact
6. Flirty flo
1. Mr ham-fisted
2. Mr know it all
3. Master letch
4. The wet blanket
5. Mr dangerous
6. Mr in-the-clique
7. Mr Gypsy
8. Mr Stylist
Wiggling and shimmying
What's the difference? Shimmying is only with your top half. Guys can't do it!..well not naturally anyway - they just wiggle their lower portions.
Beware wiggling or shimmying with beginners. Some will not believe it is a real move...until they are taught it!
How do you wiggle in the same direction? Just as cars drive on the left, I think there ought to be a rule about this, but there isn't. Each in the partnership will have their own natural direction depending on how their hips are moving, which depends largely on which foot they are on. Thus if a partnership tend to mirror one another's feet (eg lady steps back on right, when man does on left) then they will probably wiggle fine when facing each other. However, when one is in front of the other facing the same way, this will not be the case.
It has been suggested to me that the person behind follows the direction of the person in front as they can at least see it. Others have suggested that the man leads masterfully with assertion (but not forcefully).
There is more than one way to wiggle!
Remember that dance is about interpretation. Don't be mechanical about it or think there is one right way. You can do lots with your hips! Try swinging them in a vertical semi-circle (start on left, then lower to the centre then higher to the right). Try twice one way. Try one way then back. Try in a full circle twice, either vertical or just swing them in a horizontal circle. Try some pelvic thrusts (but only with your girlfriend or girlfriend-designate!). Try interlocking your legs and just shifting your knees from right to left. But remember to follow what the music does to your soul!
Some differentiate between leads and signals; the former being gentle pulls or ways of moving your body to communicate the next move or part of, the latter being specific and unique gestures to unambiguously inform the lady what move is coming next. In practice there is a grey region between the two.
This first table fits into the "lead" variety and are often used in many moves:
The following table of signals are know to small pockets of dancers and used to lead specific moves (but beware that you should are advised to agree the signal beforehand you plunge yourself to the floor!):
One of the most common dangers with signals into drops or jumps, is not whether the lady knows the move, but whether she does the one that the man is expecting. I have seen some ladies misinterpret the "first move jump" to a "lap sit", which can surprise the leader! Always best to go through the move slowly with a new partner to ensure you really do know what to expect - its no disgrace (and you may live longer)!
Firstly one must ask what is a "move"? I would tender a suggestion that a move is a sequence of "features" or "fragments" that have particular characteristics connected by turns or spins and hand changes. For instance, a "butterfly" is not a move, but a concept of turning the lady quickly on the man's LHS, dragging her around his back and then turning her rapidly around his RHS to be in front of him again. One can start this with a "neck break" or sway. So what is a "neck break". Well it is a move where the lady is pulled in close to the man's RHS with the man's hand out straight over her left shoulder, then she is turned CW 180 and the man changes her hand from his left to his right. He then turns her back, nearly 'breaking her neck' (!). Let us say we start with a neckbreak. This might be called a neckbreak butterfly. However, when she is behind him, he can pull her from left to right a few times. At the end, he could perform a "hallelujah" operation to change from crossed hands to a simple double hand-hold. So the answer is that there are an infinite number of moves!
However, if one asks the question: "How many individually different features are there that can be connected together?", one may decide that there are only a 100 or so. These are presented in the Modern Jive Map, under Moves. As this is only a 2 dimensional drawing, it cannot link all the methods of stating and getting into each feature. It can also not indicate all the ways of joining basic moves (eg armjive into a basket).
Start a normal catapult. As you spin her at the end, there is a short period when your left hand is just in front of your face when she is facing away. This is an excellent time to look at your watch!
Sabotage and counter-sabotage moves
Conventionally, the man leads and the lady follows. However some couples enjoy the experience when the lady "sabotages" the man's move and turns it into a move she leads - just for a few seconds. She then gives control back to the man. Similarly, once the control is taken by the lady, the man can "counter" the sabotage and get control back again before she wishes him to do so. These moves are not common but some fun to spice up a couple's dancing. They are not recommended to be used on an unsuspecting partner! In order to view these moves, go to Moves then filter and enter the word "sabotage" into the "containing the phrase" field.