Weekly Note #2 
October 17th 2011
Soft vs Hard Abstract Improvisation
*Book Version*
Quote of the Week
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; 
the point is to discover them.
-Galileo Galilei

The Many Articles in Today's Note!
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Lomita, CA 40717

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This Weekly Note has been updated from its original release as a sneak peek into what the book Setting Dancers Free offers readers. I hope you enjoy. Katherine

Dear Reader,

Wow! What and INCREDIBLE response I received to my very first Weekly Note... within less than 24 hours of it being sent! You are a hungry bunch, aren't you? Well, I don't blame you. We love this dance don't we? You've also inspired a new section for my Weekly Notes: "Rearview Mirror." It should be a fun and enriching addition every week!

While writing this week's 'Note,' I decided to add a "Know Your Music" section. We all have different tastes in the kind of swing we like to dance to, but these songs will help you identify the kind of dance they inspire.

And finally, I'm encouraging you to forward these emails to fellow dancers you think might enjoy the information given here. Think back to the days when YOU thought you were the "only one"... and have a little mercy! *wink*                                                       
Soft vs Hard Abstract Improvisation
Swing vs. Abstract

Abstract Improvisation is usually danced the same no matter what the song, but the better the Abstract Improvisation dancer, the more defined their dance becomes depending on the song. 

The more confident and comfortable the Abstract Impro dancer, the more clearly you will see these two versions of Abstract danced by them. I call them: Soft and Hard. They are two very real and distinct separate forms of Abstract Improvisation, and nearly everyone reading this will remember someone trying to dance one of these styles with you at least once, if not once a night.

This version is typically danced to certain kinds of lyrical, acoustic and love ballad songs. When you watch, you will see the leader's feet wander, flip flop with the follower and shuffle to lyrics and melodies in the song, if anything, rather than the beat. The follower improvises her footwork to both keep up with him, get out of his way and still hit the lyrics and melodies as well. This is not too suprising, because these songs tend to feel 'flowy,' and whimsical. 
Finding the hidden beat in this music is difficult and requires an extremely high level of training that even our best dancers are out of practice on, so you will rarely see the feet working within or on a beat... only the melodies and vocals of the song, again, if they are hitting anything. You'll see it the best when you count out the music aloud ("& a 1, & a 2, & a 3") and watch the feet at the same time.

Soft Abstract is much more akin to "So You Think You Can Dance" contemporary routines. Where swing, at it's core, is an upbeat and "living" dance, Soft Abstract tends to be "angst" focused. Split weight waiting for the leaders and arched back stretching and 'filling in' for the followers... it can, when the very best of our best do it, be beautiful and moving... but it's Soft Abstract. All the elements in Swing Essentials are gone. 

For the first time outside of a SwingIN!, I'm including a video example. As I often do in my SwingIN!s, the heads are cropped out to the best of my ability. This is SO important. Too often we associate names with certain dances, but it's impairing to do so. Get to know the DANCES, not the people, and you will benefit greatly.
Here is a video example of Soft Abstract:
Soft Abstract Improvisation
Soft Abstract Improvisation

Hard Abstract is typically danced to the hard-hitting "boom boom" music I described last week. The beat drives so hard that wandering aimlessly around the floor doesn't always serve as well. When it's necessary to give an extremely short description of Hard Abstract, I default to the term "Tasmanian Devil." And Holy Moly, it DOES look like a Tasmanian Devil grabbed a girl into his whirlwind! And she holds on like no tomorrow... and then everyone cheers when his craziness culminates in a terrifying whirlwind move and... they SURVIVE! Or I should say, she survives. It's not clean, it's not controlled, it's not on beat, it's definitely messy and insane and her face is "on hold," "polite," "attentive," or just "blank" as she makes it through... but it's never joyful and full of DANCE, is it?

If you look at the feet of the Hard Abstract lead, you will see a lot of "checking," single or double rhythm footwork, and unfortunately, straddling/split weight poses. You WILL NOT see his feet come together for a recognizable anchor- perhaps a split weight triple or two somewhere. There isn't a start and stop to patterns- they just blend together. And so the best anchor you'll get is a delayed straddle-stretch, which, by the way, locks HER into a delayed straddle-stretch. The leader typically catches the girl in closed position on her right shoulder blade instead of her left shoulder blade. This keeps her trapped, shoulders riding high, up on her toes and unable to create.

Some say it's leader-centric. No. Shag is leader-centric, but the woman can still, very much so, be her own person. Swing dancing brings out the beauty of a woman, and Pure WCS allows not only her beauty, but her INDIVIDUALITY to grow. Hard Abstract locks the ladies into a constant state of intense attention. She endures split-second yanks, gyrations and split weight straddles... submission without a voice. 

To dance it, as a woman, is to be forever diminished. 
Can you tell that this is my least favorite form of Abstract? It's torture to watch my colleagues, who I once loved to watch and gain inspiration from, do nothing but run, work to stay on balance, bounce and roll their hips. When I show tapes of what they once did, people are stunned. Nary a hair flip to be seen, but stunning and vibrating creativity, individuality and scandalous quality from their heads to their very tippy toes. But now, now they are what this new dance demands they be... cute sexy objects that are obedient, malleable and bounce.

Here is a video example of Hard Abstract:
Hard Abstract Improvisation
Hard Abstract Improvisation
It's a lot of information to throw your way, I know. But I encourage you to start watching the feet. We are now a community that worships celebrity, and as our celebrities go different directions... so we seem to follow along... without questioning. And so here we are.

As you watch the floor from now on, take some time to pay attention to the music, and see how it affects the feet on the floor. You will discover so much... and be a better dancer for it!

'Til Next Week... 
Katherine Krok Eastvold
Rearview Mirror: 'Boogie' Music?

Last Week's Note: 'Boogie' Music?
Well, well, well... you really loved last week's article about the music at Boogie, didn't you? 

I received emails simply saying "Amen!" to ones describing their experience as "being at a RAVE." Too many of you described staying at the door waiting for a good song and finally leaving.

My hope is that you will let Boogie know what you think in your reviews. Too often we don't voice our opinion anymore and I encourage you to do so... 
(and, of course, pray that John Festa is added to their list again!... Who me? Biased?)


But all that aside, I really hope you paid attention to my "test" for "swingable" music. AND I hope that you noticed I called it "swingable" music... NOT "swing" music. I don't know if DJ's can survive in the current climate without playing contemporary music, but things would change dramatically if the contemporary music they played was "swingable."

And finally, I do want to clarify... I didn't mean to imply that there are NO talented swing DJ's out there. We have a few, very few, remaining. But events hardly ever hire based on a DJ's ability to play good swing music anymore. Here on the Left Coast, for example, DJ's are hired because a) they are free, b) they are young, c) they are recommended by a few celebrity pros and d) they seriously know how to "kiss heiney." This, of course, puts pressure on the real DJ's, and they've changed their music in order to "stay current" and be hired. But it's still not a guarantee.

So here on the Left Coast, the very very few we have that were around when swing was being danced here... most of them only DJ at local dances and have watered down lists due to pressures from the Abstract dancers. Those working for events? They must cave to the "will" of the event directors, celebrity abstract pros and pushy abstract dancers. And then they lose their ear for good swing music... and then we lose their talent. But honestly, I really can't blame them. They are fighting for a paycheck. If the promoters and the event directors insisted on good swing music, most of them would play it. 

For example, at an event two years ago, a DJ who used to be an amazing swing DJ, came on and played a series of processed Top 40 songs. I sighed and left the ballroom. Within four songs I noticed a dramatic change to swing. I looked up, and the event director had gone up to the booth and told them to play real swing. And you know what? I saw that DJ boogie down while he was DJ'ing... his body was rollin' and his shoulders were movin'... and I haven't seen him do that in years. He had the music, and he's at almost all the national events, but most events don't ask or encourage or expect him to play it.
(Update July 2012: Things have changed quite a bit. Now DJ's are being asked to play real swing music by event directors, and they are refusing. A tragedy, yet true.

Update July 2016: If the music is disturbing, and the event directors of DJ's do not seem interested or approachable, you can always approach the hotel staff. In the end, they are in charge, and they want to keep their facilities safe, clean and happy. It's proven incredibly helpful. Of course, if it is a competition event, with points, you will not find swing there. Ever again. Period. It's over. We dance elsewhere now. And love it.)

Let's get down to it. The fact remains, especially here in Cali, Washington and Oregon, that the moaning of a 60 year old is seen as being "grumpy," but the moaning of a 20 year old is seen as marching orders. I've seen numerous scenes up and down the coast that have 95% Pure WCS dancers attending, but because a few young ones show up, the music turns to "boom boom" and the floor clears... except for them. And the DJ doesn't even look up from their computer. They don't care that they are playing music for the minority, and killing swing as a result, in the very state it was created too! It's SO hard to watch! So forgive me for being so narrow in my last 'Note,' but many of you know what I meant.

In the meantime, for those of you without good "swingable" DJ's around, I encourage you to make your own play list, find a friend with a wood floor, and start throwing your own parties/ practice sessions with swingable music. Stop paying your hard earned money for songs that don't swing and enjoy your own tunes. You'll be glad you did! 
Revised "Time Has Come"
Revised Time Has Come
I recently updated The Time Has Come. 
Most of the additions and revision are in the Abstract Improvisation section. Last week I posted the revised versions on both my blog and the .PDF version on my website.

The needed additions came after fielding questions at SwingIN!s and from judging numerous contests where both Abstract and Swing were present on the floor. As a judge, it's important that I place swing above Abstract Improvisation because I'm judging for a swing contest, and many times, for swing Points. Until we separate out the contests for the two dances, it's vital to the survival of swing that we start identifying the two dances... not only when we dance with someone, but when we are watching and judging as well.
Discussion Questions
'Word' Groups

1 What do you think of this week's quote?:

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. 
Galileo Galilei

How does it apply to dance training for today's community?

2. Watch the feet of the leader in the Soft Abstract video. Was he 'leading' or 'suggesting'? How can you tell?

3. Watch the feet of the follower in the Hard Abstract video. How many times was a weight change interrupted and how did she cover for it?

4. Since 'Boogie' Music?'s release, some events have switched to having two rooms- a swing room and an abstract room. Do you think this has allowed for the growth and promotion of real swing DJ's?*

5. Have you thought about starting your own dances, dance nights out to a live bar or even your own pure swing club? How would this contribute to a healthy, happy community?

*Note about Question #4: Since Word Groups weren't created until Weekly Note #21, the Discussion Questions weren't added to all of the previous Weekly Notes until the release of Setting Dancers Free, which was first published approximately one year after this Note's release. By then, the effect of  the 'Boogie' Music? Note had changed event formats dramatically, included two different rooms with two different styles of music being played. By then it had been a full year since the Weekly Note had been released, not one week.
About Katherine

A Champion dancer who fell in love with West Coast Swing in the very city where the dance was born - Katherine quickly went on to become a champion dancer, instructor, studio owner, and US Open Swing Dance Championships Competitor and choreographer. 

She made history by writing the very first definition of swing dancing, the first definition of WCS content beyond the dance's basic patterns and was the first to identify and label the "new" dance that's appeared on WCS swing floors: Abstract Improvisation. She authored two bestselling swing books as a result.

She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the CA Swing Dance Hall of Fame. 

She is not afraid. She loves beauty. She loves truth. And she believes it's knowledge that can bring a dancer more joy than they can imagine on the floor. She writes for the people and has, and always will, listen.

Want to know more about Katherine? Read her biography here.


Copyright 2016
Katherine Krok-Eastvold