Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stompology (or “MTV Made: I want to be a Jazz Dancer”) - part 1

This note is for friends who asked me to summarize my Stompology experience. It was funny seeing their expressions as they found polite ways to disguise the thought, "Bill is my dad's age, only much bigger, so if HE can do it, I'm sure I'd be okay. If Bill survives, maybe I'll go next year." Yup, this is the writings of the "Every Man" dancer entering a fabled land of semi-legend.

Starting at the beginning, last November I watched Sharon Davis and Juan Villafane’s choreography for Fats Waller’s “Scram” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsYYHvaMIGA
and was instantly inspired to become a better dancer… or more correctly, re-define myself as a dancer and not just a DJ/organizer who dances a few songs during any weekend.

Looking at their travel schedule I knew I had only 2 opportunities to take classes with them in North America this year: Lindy Focus with several hundred people and a level system that hadn’t been kind to me in the past or the more intimate Stompology in Rochester, which annually drew about 80 dancers.

I selected the smaller workshop, knowing it would force me to work hard to not look like a fish out of water. This presented an immediate problem. Stompology bills itself as an “Authentic Solo Jazz Dance workshop weekend”, which several friends politely pointed out wasn’t exactly my thing. This was made more daunting by the fact that the local dance community is tight, extremely dedicated, and has a seemingly high percentage of more advanced dancers… so “Stompo” definitely came with a certain, almost daunting, mystique about it.

In fact, I called a friend in Rochester and flat out asked, “Is it okay if I know practically nothing about jazz steps, just flat out suck and hide in the back corner all weekend?” Michelle Long’s answer was a cheerful, “Absolutely! It's solo movement so you wouldn’t be holding anyone back and we’d love to see you here.” I replied, “No, I’m talking really suck; like, wear a name badge saying, “My name is Comic Relief” bad”; but she assured me this apparently was still not a problem. As a precaution I called a few other people and asked the same thing and they talked me into purchasing a plane ticket and registering before I could back out. I was committed.

Next came the hard part…

Thanks to discussions with Mike the girl and research into nutrition I realized my vegetarian diet had been severely protein deficient for at least a year. This was probably largely responsible for the chronic aches, pains and tendon/joint problems that had me DJ’ing more than dancing. Plus there was my weight. If I was to have any chance of doing jazz movement it meant dropping at least 40 pounds.

Thanks to P90X and the old Stompology magnet on my refrigerator door I lost 42 over the next 3 months. I was a completely new me who felt 20 years younger and had a renewed joy for dancing, especially to a new range of songs 40-60 beats per minute faster than what I was used to. I ordered a copy of Sharon’s Solo Charleston, Jazz & Blues Instructional DVD and started practicing that. http://www.sharondavis.com.au/?page_id=679

I also made the mistake of asking Sharon what I should study before the workshop and received back a daunting doctoral level 2 page study sheet I won’t be able to finish before I die (she later apologized for possibly overwhelming me). But after a month crushed under the dread of over-blown expectations, I finally decided a successful Stompology for me was going to mean deciding I liked myself enough to dare being creative and trying dancing solo; everyone has to start somewhere and that was probably a good place.

So, with the pressure of expectations lifted, I studied and learned the Stompology stompoff. One thing I immediately noticed, by having studied and practiced jazz steps ahead of time I began thinking of the full eight counts of movement as a single idea, not 8 separate steps to remember. This redefined the whole process and opened up all sorts of doors for learning choreography because there was now far less to remember!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Bill, any chance you could post that study sheet sometime? I'm curious to see how I should get ready for Stompology next year.