December 05, 2014

#101: Preparing for the Big One

My Endless Frustration:
Yours Too?
Be the one that knows everything and everyone, and you will have the power to see things more clearly...  -Where Things Stand Now

I've been waiting to write a certain "super-big" article for six months now. The time has finally come to share it with you. Look for it this coming Monday. I hope it opens your eyes and quelches some burning hearts. People will be talking about this one, I know, but it will break some serious bonds we are all struggling against.

What article could be so big? Even today? After all I've said and after all that has taken place? What in the world will it answer? What have I, Katherine, not already covered in 100 Weekly Notes?

The Big Mystery, that's what. Here we go...

The Big Mystery

Are you like me? Can you relate to me right now?

Because there are some things that have just driven me crazy over the last few years. Ever since the Revolution started, I have scratched my head - no, scratch that - banged my head - against so many walls wondering what was up with these so-called "swing-heroes" of ours.

I bet you thought I was going to say I've been driven nuts by Abstract Improvisation all these years. Well, yes, but not as much as you might think. It drove me nuts before I started writing, but the more I wrote, the more I stopped being frustrated with Abstract and started being frustrated with our "swing legends."

Or more to the point, watching our swing legends and heroes do... nothing. Nuuuuuuuthing!!! 

Next week I will share with you some examples of what these legends say to me, other deep water people and their closest friends. Then I will tell you what they say in public. What they DO in public. How they actually score and/or act to the contrary of what they see and/or believe while at our events... thereby preserving the very culture and society of Abstract, insobriety and criminal behavior that they claim to detest. Preserving all that our competitive and honorary WCS establishments had previously adopted.

But to fully understand next week's evidence, you will need to read what all of them read the week before Memorial Day in 2011. I still have the hand-picked list of people I sent my .pdf of The Time Has Come to. And I still remember everyone's responses... six whole months before Sarah Vann Drake ever got her hands on it, and three years before most in The Ten had ever even read it.

Six whole months before. Three whole years before! How much could have changed in just that small amount of time. How much could have changed in the course of that year, never mind three years!

No... to understand my source of deepest frustration - to pinpoint the VERY REASON no one took action - you will have to read what they read first. You have to understand what they understood... You have to walk down their road.

And then next week, read and understand what I mean when I tell you WHY they choose Abstract instead of Swing, despite all their gripes, complaints, laments and more... despite knowing all the consequences their actions would have.

Let's walk this road together... Let's read certain important portions again with different eyes. Grab a coffee, tea or chai. Here we go... 

Released May 2011

For the purposes of this article, I have removed the first four sections: the Introduction and the definitions of Pure WCS, the Renaissance Era and Abstract Improvisation.  Click here to read the article in its entirety.
The Time Has Come.

As you've probably figured out by now, I've discovered that we as a community now have two completely separate dances on our hands. I understand that this has been hard to see, especially since a handful of our top pros are able to do both depending on what music they are given, the audience they have, the judges they have, etc. But they comprise less than 1% of our community. And they've been dancing and teaching this new dance for a few years now, and we have been unaware of this shift. We've just seen the dancing change, but we didn't know how or why.

It is time to face reality. There are two dances.
It is time to admit the truth. There are two dances.
It is dangerous to deny it and stay on the path we are on.

And I mean dangerous.

First, it's dangerous physically, emotionally and mentally to our dancers. When a Pure WCStrained follower draws an Abstract Improvisation leader, she gets physically hurt by the clash. She feels totally lost and thinks she's in over her head. She is yanked off her anchor with no warning because Abstract Improvisation never moves on the same beat or even on a beat. She is put into precarious positions where she's not quite sure what's expected of her and gets hit in the head when trying to go down the slot.

When a Pure WCS trained leader draws an Abstract Improvisation follower, he can't figure out how to lead her, to connect with her, how to even get a push break out of her. She will be extremely light, to the point of complete disconnection or she will be extremely heavy and pull him off his anchor or timing. He will never ever get her on the foot he's trying to get her on, because she is not expecting him to lead her feet into positions.

It's the same the other way around. I'm hearing stories nearly every week about how an Abstract Improvisation leader draws a Pure WCS follower and accuses her of deliberately fighting him or getting in his way, when she is simply assuming he's doing the same dance. My inbox is jammed with horror stories of the meeting of these two dances on the floor. They are stories ranging from physical harm, to emotional harm to mental harm... and dancers are falling out of love with the dance. They just don't understand that there are two completely different dances on the floor today. Which brings me to my second point.

If we don't acknowledge that there are two dances...

The future of the West Coast Swing industry is in jeopardy.

It's already suffering. Highly trained WCS professionals feel pressured to teach poor technique. Novice and intermediate dancers are suddenly instructors. Event directors are hiring unskilled teachers and dancers because they are cheaper and seem to be the "hot ticket" instead of hiring highly trained real WCS instructors. Classes are shrinking across America. Because Abstract Improvisation is just that, improvisational, and requires almost none of the skills and training that Pure WCS does, it doesn't have to be learned in a studio.

That doesn't mean there aren't people teaching Abstract Improvisation. There are. But people hear them say, in their so called "WCS" classes that, "we don't do that anymore, we do this now," and the students feel like they have to start all over in the dance. But the reality is that Abstract Improvisation really doesn't take any training. I'm meeting more and more dancers at conventions who have never taken a single WCS lesson and are having a blast.

In fact, Abstract Improv dancers, for reasons I've briefly touched on, make finals over PureWCS dancers, which only promotes the idea to onlookers that classes, privates and lessons in general are not needed to be successful in the dance. Why spend money on Pure WCS, which absolutely has to be learned in a lesson setting and takes a long time to master, when you can learn Abstract Improvisation on YouTube for free? If we insist on calling Abstract Improvisation "Swing," then we are contradicting every single real WCS teacher out there and setting up all of their students for confusion, bitterness and failure. We will, ultimately, lose them. And then we will lose our instructors.

And then we will lose the dance.

We need to face facts. We need to remember what 'normal' is in the partner dancing communities. In healthier communities, like ballroom, the fact of the matter is that when someone has been learning a ballroom dance for three months and then dances with a ballroom pro, they feel like they are on top of the world and can do no wrong. It's like dancing with a dream. They are then are inspired to keep going, keep learning, keep expanding their knowledge and enjoyment of the dance.

But if a WCS dancer has been taking lessons for three months at a studio or a club and then asks a supposedly higher level dancer (because points tell them they are so, not other dancers) to dance, it will not be a pleasant experience. Those who have racked up points in the past five years are almost all Abstract Improvisational dancers, and they will completely run over this new beginner to our dance. The newcomer will be completely lost and feel defeated, not inspired. They will feel confused and torn. They will stick with lessons for about six months to a year and then they will give up, because they feel like they aren't getting any better.

In reality, they are learning one dance and yet asking someone who does a completely different dance to help them measure their progress. What a catastrophe for these dancers! It's heartbreaking, hearing their stories. Because we haven't admitted this other dance, our newcomers don't realize it's another dance that they're clashing with, never mind a lesser art form. And we should take a stand for them.

It is time, everybody.

People are done. People feel left behind. People feel ugly, misunderstood, confused, angry and they feel scared. We are hemorrhaging veteran dancers at an astronomical rate. We are allowing our most talented individuals to feel "old" and we are attracting a demographic of dancers who would rather not work at their dancing because it's not "fun," and allowing instructors into our community who have absolutely no problem giving watered down shortcuts to technique, slandering our most knowledgeable and respected legends and calling an extremely difficult and praiseworthy dance "out of touch."

Non-dancers have a better eye than we do now. Lunchrooms don't watch our videos after 2002. But they can't get enough of our Renaissance Era. They'll watch those tapes for hours.

It's time to put an end to the madness. It's time to equip our students, our fellow judges, our newcomers and our fellow dancers with the knowledge to walk into a studio, into a convention, into a workshop and say, "Okay, that's Abstract Improvisation and that's Pure West Coast Swing." And then they can make informed decisions. Then they can dance with freedom. Then they can understand what they're watching. Then they can understand what's going on...

And then we can heal.

From the bestselling book 

See You Next Week, everybody! 
Read up and be ready. 
Katherine Eastvold