I am very happy with the steady progress I am making with my in-depth project. Now that I have finished learning the Tranky Doo my mentor is helping me polish the routine, find the places where I can add my own style, emulate the vintage jazz style as well as helping me start to improvise! After our last meeting when we talked about creating variations on certain steps, I created some of my own and incorporated them into my routine. At the beginning of my most recent meeting with my mentor, we played a game to warm up and practice my vocabulary. My mentor brought a deck of cards with the solo jazz steps written on them, and we took turns reading out two steps each. After one of us read out two steps then we would both do the first step for 6 bars followed by the second step for 2 bars. This was a fun and creative way for me to practice my vocabulary while warming up!
Next, my mentor and I polished the Tranky Doo, clarified the parts I was having difficulties with, and then she suggested different parts where I could incorporate my own style. She asked me if could find any spots to add something from my other genres of dance, specifically tap dance because they are closely related. I was able to make some connections and I added a few tap moves and tap arms which helped me create my own spin to it. She told me that solo jazz is all about adding your own unique style and “dancing the Tranky Doo like Natasha”.
Then she talked about how to “emulate the vintage jazz style.” She told me how in vintage jazz you always need to be loose, have a pulse in all your movement, and “let the music tell you what to do”. To practice this, she taught me two basic Lindy Hop (a type of swing dance) steps, the eight count and six count basic. We danced them around the room while feeling the music, putting the pulse in different parts of our bodies, and creating our own variations on the steps. This exercise helped me really internalize the vintage jazz style and practice letting the music tell me what to do.
After we finished learning of about the vintage jazz style, my mentor started to teach me improvisation. We started with the basic “three and a break” format which is where you do one two bar step three times and end it with a different two bar break. This helped me become more comfortable with improvising. Then we began some free form improvisation, where we alternated eight bars each using all the solo jazz steps I knew while taking inspiration from each other. After we did that for one song, my mentor had me try to stay on the same step for longer instead of switching steps every eight counts. This allowed me to take more time to explore one step and create some interesting variations on each step I tried.
During the meeting with my mentor, I was able to practice how to be good listener from Edward de Bono’s book How to have e beautiful mind. I was taught a lot of new information, for example, the important concept of emulating the solo jazz style by being looser and always having a pulse throughout your body. I made sure to listen very closely to the ideas behind the concepts, so I could incorporate them into my routine. As I was listening, I was thinking of questions to ask to clarify the concepts, so I could practice at home to improve my style. I asked her what exercises I could do to work on my pulse and the solo jazz style. She told me to play some jazz music that I like, and then walk around the room while feeling the pulse and letting my body go loose. She said that by practicing these exercises I will develop a better pulse which I can incorporate into my routine. I also asked several questions to clarify the details of many steps, demonstrating that I was engaged and listening to her advice. For example, I asked whether you are supposed to lift your foot off the ground or drag your foot during the drunken sailor. She clarified the details where they were important, but also explained that for some steps it is really whatever you choose, since there are no rules in solo jazz.
I was also able to practice how to ask good questions many times during the session with my mentor. Thinking about the solo jazz style in terms of my other dance styles, I asked my mentor if in solo jazz you always start the jazz square ( a step she has taught me) with the foot crossing? I asked this because in some of my other styles of dance we also do the jazz square as well and we normally don’t start with the foot crossing over. I wanted to clarify so I would be doing the step properly. Another question I asked was if there was some other ways we could move our arms during the mambo step? I asked this question because I wanted to start creating my own style and I knew that my mentor would have lots of suggestions to give me inspiration for my own arms.
An explanation I asked my mentor for was, why is the step called Shorty George? She explained that there was a very short man named George who invented the step. After my meeting, I did some research about Shorty George and found some interesting new facts about him. This was a fishing question as it was not a yes or no question. This question then started another discussion about the names of other steps. Another explanation I asked for was what exactly is the footwork on a transition between the steps boogie backs and the Charleston break? She clarified the steps, and we went over it many times to cement it in our heads. Then, she told me she was happy that I had asked her for clarification because it demonstrated I was listening, and indicated that we are on the same “wave length” (page).
I also had the chance to ask her a multiple-choice question. I asked her if, when doing triple steps, should you keep the weight on the balls of your feet, or do you step flat footed? She told me it depends what style you are going for, but she said personally if she wants a big pulse then she will go on the balls of her feet but if she is walking slowly then she will walk a flat foot. It was more of a fishing question because there were possibilities for many answers, not just simply yes or no. I found this useful since, by giving her two options, she talked about both options that I offered. She did give me a definite answer, but then expanded, saying that there are different circumstances where you can do either. As a creative choice, I could choose the one which best fits me. Therefore, I believe this proves that multiple choice questions are helpful, as it allows your mentor to provide more information in their response because the question is specific.
Overall, I am really enjoying the process of my in depth project, and I am very excited about all the new information I have learned so far. I will continue to work hard and can’t wait to see what other new things I will learn!