The two things which are most commonly heard in your class are: "relax" and "bounce". They are the most common because they happen to be the most important.
It’s easy for them to say: "relax and bounce", but how do you do that?! Being relaxed is the most difficult thing in the world. You can’t control it and it happens involuntarily; it comes from your head. Or your wine glass. But that’s actually your head, too. And I can’t help you with that, I can only say: "relax, try to enjoy yourself, you don’t look stupid".
Bounce, on the other hand, is not so mysterious. Before I revolutionarily, explicitly and mathematically demystify bounce, humour me and allow me an introduction.
In dancing the most important thing is to - dance. (With these simple, yet wise, statements I’m forming an image of myself as a simple, yet wise, teacher. Like a Japanese. Or a Greek.)
Let’s take you, my average beginner, you who are in the same phase, in which I, a great and wise man, have, too, been when I was dancing for as long as you have been. I knew many steps and figures, but… but, there was something, somehow… missing. It just wasn’t it. I didn’t sail smoothly across the dance floor, I had a feeling that my dancing wasn’t fluent, everything was difficult, my triple step seemed to stick to the floor, there were many things about my dancing that were just unnatural… maybe I did move using dance steps, but, essentially, I wasn’t dancing. The horizontal movement did indicate dancing, but the vertical movement didn’t.
What is, in fact, dancing? Let’s say you’re out in a club; the difference between standing and holding your drink and dancing and holding your drink is in rhythmically moving horizontally and/or vertically. Dancing is, therefore, a rhythmic, horizontal movement of the whole body, or just a part of it, from left to right and/or from back to front, and/or a vertical up and down movement.
Depending on the momentum, the number of body parts involved, and the horizontal and vertical amplitudes, a movement will, on a relative scale, fall into one of these categories: standing - swaying - dancing. It’s not actually a scale, but a diagram:
As I promised before the introduction, here it is, specifically and explicitly: Bounce is the shifting of a particle down, and then back up. And it must be no smaller than 4 cm. 4 centimetres up, 4 centimetres down.
Those 4 centimetres are the bare minimum. Any centimetre more than that is progress. Let me just say that there are more conservative opinions that say you should bounce at least 5, or even 6, centimetres, but while writing this guide, I’ve chosen to adopt the more liberal stand.
Rhythmicity and dynamics are missing from the definition, but we’ll talk about that in another lesson. Or read this article: The Mysterious and Misunderstood “Pulse” of Swing & Blues Dance (it has illustrations, too).
Bounce is what makes a dance, and what makes your body easier to move and more agile, it makes followers lighter, and makes it easier for leaders to lead. I think that the fact that both leaders and followers seem lighter should be their biggest motivation to bounce - you don’t want to be a heavy sack that has to be dragged across the dance floor, you want to be a bouncy ball.
If you look up the word bounce in a dictionary, this is what you’ll get:
- to (cause to) strike a surface and rebound,
- to move or walk in a lively manner,
- vitality; energy; liveliness,
- to spring back from a surface in a lively manner,
- to strike the ground or other surface, and rebound,
- to move along in a lively manner, repeatedly striking the surface
below and rebounding,
- a sudden spring or leap.
The point of bounce in swing (as opposed to other dances) is precisely "to strike the ground and rebound". The initial movement has a downward direction, and the body then rebounds and has an upward direction. Just like a ball. An upward bounce is the result of a downward movement.
Use the bouncemeter - stick it on your mirror and check whether your bounce is at least that big. I’m not joking. Be objective and sceptical while doing that.
Without bouncing you can triple step all you like, do stunts and jump on your eyelashes, but that’s not it, bro. Remember, you’re not a sack, you’re a bouncy ball.
I’m completely serious: go in front of your mirror (or any reflective surface, e.g. a window when it’s dark outside), do the basic step: rock back - triple step - step - step - triple step… and check if your bellybutton goes up for 4 cm and then down for 4 cm. Yes, your bellybutton. You can look at your shoulders as well, it’s easier, but the point is in moving your bellybutton. You should practice, there’s no other way. In the beginning your bounce will seem overly exaggerated, but, believe me, it’s not. With a bigger bounce you just look better.