More on Adair: creativity

Posted by matthew on Apr 11, 2005 in creativity

The previous entry rabbiting on about Adair’s work on teamwork was getting a bit long and I decided this deserved its own topic. Lately I have been thinking more about the creative process, mostly with respect to CRR. My own thinking on creativity is very much in line with what Adair has to say about creativity as well:

The seven habits of successful creative thinkers are:

1. Thinking outside the apparent confines of the problem/situation
2. Welcoming chance intrusions
3. Listening to your depth mind (the unconscious mind)
4. Suspending judgement
5. Using the stepping stones of analogy
6. Tolerating ambiguity
7. Banking all ideas from all sources

There are number of obstacles which inhibit creativity. The seven main ones are:

1. Negativity
2. Fear of failure
3. Lack of quality thinking time
4. Over-conformance with rules and regulations
5. Making assumptions
6. Applying too much logic
7. Thinking you are not creative

© John Adair

This applies directly to the things we’ve been talking over in our troupe meetings lately — for instance that we feel like we want to expose ourself to new influences and open up our ideas. The one about conformance to rules and regulations is a bugbear of mine — a couple of troupe members insisted recently that we all write up lesson plans prior to our workshops. It resulted in a lot of stress for some people and then after a lot of people reluctantly complied, one of the people who was insisting on written plans didn’t even do one themself. It’s this kind of thing that really gets in the way of building up teams too I think. But it certainly dampened creativity in many ways.

“Tolerating ambiguity” is a really concise way of saying something I have been thinking about. It’s not important to find the right way to do everything. For a dance troupe as much as any other group endeavour, the process is often just as important, if not more important, than the product. Only accepting one way of doing things is tempting fate.


Inspiration and DJing for newbies

Posted by matthew on Apr 1, 2005 in creativity, dance, music

Just when I was thinking that Melbourne’s social lindy hop scene is on the slide (see this entry), it jumps back up and takes me by surprise. First there was the good fun vibe of the Easter Hop, which seems to keep on keeping on from year to year. Then last Sunday’s Cairo Club performance, which packed a very meaty punch for a lot of us, and has been a source of energy for a lot of the CRR crew since. Then last night we headed to CBD and there was a nice crowd that included a few from interstate and overseas. I can’t say the music grabbed me much, but I did enjoy quite a few nice dances. And tonight was one of the best vibes at the Fun Pit for me for a long time. There were heaps of people and it didn’t seem at all too dominated by cliques (an inevitable but frustrating part of any swing scene). The super-friendly Tim approached me and asked if I would mind DJing there next time. I chose the late set because I always favour DJing to the hardcore and experienced swingers. I admit to opting for the easier option. It’s just that my own tastes have moved on from the days when I was starting out.

Actually, tonight Doz and I had an interesting conversation about what to choose for less experienced dancers. Conventional wisdom still says that the best stuff for this crew is neo swing and (sometimes) R&B, because a). they are more ‘mainstream’ than vintage artists and b). their rhythm lines are easier to follow. My own theories about the topic were once sort of along those lines, but have become more developed these days. As I have begun to think more about swing music, it seems like I’ve started to understand the way the original swing bands actually worked, as well as typical swing themes and structures. I guess teaching beginner classes for about 6 years now has also given me a handy touchstone as far as appropriate music for inexperienced dancers. The truth is, it’s not necessary to make a choice between good vintage music and music that new dancers can enjoy dancing to. You just need to know what the elements of the right music are.

First, I look for stuff with a good strong bassline. Walking bass tracks are good (My Baby Just Cares For Me is a classic example). Obviously other parts of the rhythm section come into it as well, such as rhythm guitar, piano, and particularly cymbals. But more often than not you want to be dancing on the bass. It probably sounds extremely obvious, but it’s much easier for people to get the idea of a swinging rhythm (meaning a rhythm that is 4/4 with the emphasis on the even counts) if you have tracks that have an easily heard rhythm section. Next, I look for songs with good strong themes. It’s dead easy to pick up the start of a bar or phrase if you have a repeated section of music to go on. This is one reason I don’t favour playing a lot of R&B or standard 12-bar blues — the blues structure has themes that are not at all like typical swing themes and can catch people off guard. They’re definitely going to be familiar with blues structures and swing structures whether they know it or not, but when you mix the two together a lot at a time when they are trying desperately to get a feel for some of the essentials, it does tend to confuse people a bit. So I stick to mostly AABA song structures for beginners.

Finally, I don’t push the tempo up too high for less experienced dancers. Another easy one. Wow, all of this took a lot longer to type than it did for Doz and I to talk about tonight. Anyway, it may be helpful to somebody somewhere out there, or I may come back to this and write some more at a later stage.


Improv & Choreography redux

Posted by matthew on Mar 16, 2005 in creativity, dance

The Improv & Choreography workshop went well. There were 6 of us in total, with thepaulguy stepping in to help with numbers at the last minute. I have to say it was a lot of fun. There is something particularly interesting about introducing challenges to spice things up, improv-wise. I guess that is no secret to anyone who has tried other forms of improv before, like Theatresports. There’s almost always a game or a rule to get your creative juices flowing, isn’t there?

The only alteration I made to the plan posted yesterday was to have a little more time at the end of each challenge to let everyone show the stuff they came up with to everyone else. This was a popular part because it allowed everyone to see, for example, a move they had made up on the spur of the moment being interpreted by someone else. Sort of like Chinese whispers. It was really funny and we came up with some stuff that was truly different from the usual. The process could definitely be used with a particular song or part of a song that you really want new ideas for. Cool.


Improvisation and Choreography

Posted by matthew on Mar 15, 2005 in creativity, dance, education

Today I finally wrote down in words an idea on Improvisation and Choreography that I have had in mind for a workshop plan. The act of writing it down made me revise my ideas, which is always good, and I looked around a bit (i.e. Googled) for some resources that have to do with learning objectives in the area. I found a few things that were useful and seemed to validate the idea I had in mind. The plan I came up with is below.

Improvisation and Choreography

Learning Objectives:

1. Increase understanding of choreographic principles, processes, and structures.

2. Improve improvisation skills in partnered dancing.

3. Develop cooperative skills in improvisation and choreography.


Impro Challenge # 1: Use three basic movements — twisting, stretching, and bending Dancers improvise movements with these ideas on their own (to music). (3 mins)

Partner work. Partners stay in couples for this activitiy without rotating. Dancers take it in turns to incorporate twisting, stretching and bending movements into their dancing. Follows improvise for about 1 minute while leaders dance basics and observe. Leaders improvise while followers observe for about 1 minute. Then try to incorporate these movements (together) into regular social dancing for 2 minutes. Try to remember 3 of the movements your partner did during the improv. (5 mins)

Revision. Partners change. Each person should demonstrate their 3 favourite movements that your previous partner did during the improv (they don’t have to be 1 twist, 1 stretch and 1 bend). (5 mins)

For the next song, the new partners should incorporate the learnt movements into their dancing. (3 mins)

Impro Challenge # 2: use 3 dynamics — high vs low, use space vs be stingy with space, move with vs against music.

Using these ideas, and working in partners, take 5 mins to improvise. Start with trying out all 3 ideas. Choose your favourite and select any 3 movements you like that come out of the improv. (5 mins)

Choreography: Spend the next song coming up with a sequence of 3 or 4 steps that you will teach the rest of the group. (3 mins)

Review: Each couple spends 3 mins teaching the group their sequence of 3 or 4 steps (12 mins)

Incorporate: Partners change and incorporate their favourite sequences into their dancing (3 mins)


Inspiration and the lack of it

Posted by matthew on Mar 9, 2005 in creativity, dance, music

So one thing I should point out from the start is that a big part of my life has to do with dance. Lindy hop swing dance, specifically. For just on 6 years now I’ve been spending a decent part of my spare time pursuing this hobby. It has taken me literally around the world several times, has consumed hundreds of sweaty hours out on the floor, and thousands more inside my brain. Many (but not all) of my best friends have similarly been bitten by the jitterbug.

A topic I talk about a lot with my swing mates is our ups and downs as far as inspiration goes. It seems that this has become a more important topic as the months and years have worn on. So much so that by my estimation a fairly large proportion of the Melbourne Lindy Hop community has been experiencing a crisis of inspiration for some time now.

So here’s what I think. I think social dance inspiration comes from seeing and dancing with new people, and listening to and dancing to new music. It’s not very complicated really. What seems to happen here though is that we get kind of trapped in our own ever decreasing circles. Social dancing in the sense of meeting new people and dancing to a wide variety of music is dead or dying in Melbourne.

There’s another type of dance inspiration too though. Just generally being inspired to dance per se. I think you can be inspired to move for a lot of reasons: because of the music, a need to perform, or even because you just want to do something active.

I’ve been suffering from a lack of inspiration for both social and general dance stuff off and on for at least two years now. So what I thought I would do is list some things that have inspired me in the past.

1. Travel. By far the most inspiring thing for me has been to go to other place and meet new people. The Herr‰ng Dance Camp in Sweden tops the list here (4 times so far), but other notables are SwingCity New York, the Paris Lindy Exchange, Hullabaloo (Perth Lindy Exchange), Canberr‰ng (Canberra mini Exchange) and the Lismore Swing Dance Camp.

2. DJing. The music is what brought me to dancing, and collecting and listening to more swing jazz for the purpose of DJing opened up a new world to me. Getting to DJ at other events (like HDC) is also inspirational.

3. Performing and training to perform. For the last 12 months or so a group of friends and I have been training under the name Crazy Rhythm Revue, and that has definitely been a main source of inspiration for me. Performing and looking good dancing (as opposed to feeling good) was probably the side of my Lindy Hop that I had paid least attention to prior to CRR. So it felt like a major challenge. Also there is a discipline to learning a routine or a new skill for the purpose of a performance that was motivating for me.

4. Other stuff. There are other more general influences that don’t need as much explanation on their own: teaching, watching tapes, running events, seeing performances, talking to people, and thinking about dancing all fall into the category of being involved in a dance subculture.