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Raw interview: Vadim Savenkov

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

This is my interview with Vadim Savenkov, one of the great Russian performing artists, who is also an amazing waver and botter. He is one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to blending performing arts and street dance. Also visit his website to receive further info.

What led you to performing arts like mime and circus clowns? Were there specific mimes and performers that inspired you?

During my childhood, I went crazy with movies. That is why I always like to dress as a movie character (soldier, indian, musketeer), and play the parts from recently watched movies. We in the USSR did not have the chance to buy nor rent any “carnival ” costumes. I used old clothes ,hats,belts, threads, needles, and my imagination. Sometimes my parents would help. And at the same time I did like drawing . Everybody was sure that I would be the painter because I easily won drawing competitions ( I later got into an art school ). Plus I have been in a children theater where I play parts. Then I was mad about martial arts and east culture. And of course music. When I heard first time “the Rockets” I felt something strange. I liked that music very much and I feel that something is getting closer.

Unfortunately in Russia, most of the invitations to participate in tv show with your act go to humorous shows. If you do not have a humor in your act you have almost no chance to be seen on tv. That is second reason why I start studying humor as a genre.
When I started to dance there were people who inspired me : Aleksei Geroulaitis, Vjacheslav Ignatjev, Michael “Boogloo Shrimp” Chambers.
Later I was inspired by: Michael Moschen, Koichi Tohei,David Copperfield shows( all production team), Michel Courtemanche, Tommy Cooper.
My favorites actors which inspired me from my childhood are: Andrey Mironov, Jurij Nikulin, Georgij Vitcin. Unfortunately those actors were seen only in Russia.

My drawing skills helped me to create new characters, build a combinations of moves, how to do the right make up.
My martial arts gave me good physical ability and knowledge of the rules of harmony.
My theatrical skill helps me to find right gestures, pouses and mimicry.
As a movie fun I have in my brain collection of many screen plays, actors reactions, compositions…
My researching skill helps me to get all that things together .
I am still researching an illusion dance and stage performance. Reading scientific books such as ” Biomechanic”, ” brain’s reaction on a visual signal”…
As for mime and clown, I can say that in 1990 I have a trip with famous Russian mimes. And of course I learn many things from them. Then I participated in shows with famous Russian comics. I always liked good sense of humor and one day I started to analyze this thing.

What is your daily training regime, and has this changed significantly over the years? How does one train to develop the strength, body control and agility that you acquired?

When I was younger I spent lots of time in training ( 5-8 hours a day), but now I often have no time for that, unfortunately, because sometimes I make the shows as director and it means that after the working day you have no time and no power. But if I have contract as a performer( in South Korea,Switzerland….) I spend at least two hours a day on training(character movement ,dance ,conjuring,…)
I think that east arts ( wu shu, karate,yoga..) can help to develop good body and soul control. For example, after practicing kata in karate for years I can able to make quick movements and stop suddenly.
If we need we can practice with a little weight on our wrists…
But I think that the most important thing is control the tension and relaxation in muscles and not to overtax joints. Of course tension is good thing If we want to do something extraordinary, but the way of harmony is how to be a good friend to our body and our soul and not to break them in order to impress audience .
Another thing is how to make combination( act,performance ) look good. As for me, I often draw on my ideas and try to find the way how to fill the space and how to match the music. Plus I always pay attention to the Russian theatrical school. There are lots of answers on how to make the act, how to work with a character ,where to you lead your audience …..
It does not mean that every B boy must know all these things. No. It is just for someone who want to get to the bottom of himself and make something that will be very good for audience of all ages.

How did you come into contact with streetdance styles like the robot, waving, and electric boogie? How did the Russian youth come into contact with streetdances.

Being in the Army in 1985, I suddenly saw Break Dance on TV! I saw people who were walking normally but the floor was moving, then you saw that it was a normal floor. Those people moved like robots, sometimes it seemed like the space changed, and the music sounded futuristic. From that particular moment I understood that this is what I have been waiting for such a long time!
I found that Break dance consist two things:
Demonstration of incredible physical ability. Audiences see ordinary people who perfectly operate with their bodies.
Demonstration of the ability of illusion. Audiences see people with abnormal physical ability who don’t seem human at all.
But I saw a stage version of Break dance . Maybe that is why when I got a chance to see the Breaking movie I was disappointed by some of the clothes. They looked like clothes for rock. But of course I liked very much electro rock , and the dance with the broom. I liked the happy face of a man who had no legs but had a chance to dance, being in harmony with the music and sharing his ability with an audience.
Later I bumped into the differences between street style and stage rules. As for the professional stage there were many obstacles. On the street there is more freedom.
Mostly I was on stage then on the street. But you know that we have cold weather in Russia, so most of the year you should dance inside.
Now the Russian youth can see break dance in a night club shows and on the internet, but very seldom on TV.

How was your experience in the Volzhskiy Circus School? How did it improve your skills?

When I was in a Circus School I like acrobatics, juggling and conjuring. I learned many rules about how to do tricks using only power which you actually need to spend to do that and avoid injury. And of course I learned what exactly it is to be a professional performer.

Is there any government support for the performing Arts in Russia? It at all possible to make a living as a performer?

Thank you for this particular question . As far as I can see, our government does not pay enough attention on these things. If you do not belong to classical ballet or folk dance, you are sailing on your own. It is difficult to even find out if someone casting because the casting system is hidden.
Our show business is based on singers and stand up comedians. If you want to go abroad you have to have a visa. Some of my friends (performers) are dead already and they were young people and not lazy at all but for them it was too difficult to get used to the situation. In the last years, the situation has changed a little. Our dancers can be seen on a world championships…( Top 9).
Anyway, it is possible to make a living as a performer in Russia.

How were your experiences performing in American venues like the Beau Rivage Casino.

I had a jolly good time there in USA! During my work in the USA I received many interesting ideas. In Las Vegas I saw most of the greatest shows with outstanding effects,scenery,costumes…!It was not my first visit to America but I always like to be there. Very quickly I met with local B boys . That was fun.
As for experiences… in one of those show I had character which performs thoughout the whole show . It is such a pleasure to feel yourself as a fantasy character, but at the same time you have to work hard and control your body as to be interesting for the audience; An who have already seen many shows,actors,dancers. You have to do something to make audience believe that you are not an actor or a dancer. You are real character.

What are your current projects?
Two months ado I finished with an ice show ” Alice in wonderland on ice” as a director and visual effects creator. Then one month ago I worked in a circus and gave lessons for the whole troupe and participate in a show as a wizard. Then took a part in Alterum theatre performance ( you can see on Youtube as” Alterum theatre” HD ,I was a Chess man).
At this moment I am participating in different shows which belong to Russian New Year celebration( December – January ).

What one piece of advice would you give people who are interested in the performing arts?

Try to get to the subject matter itself!

Best of luck for everybody!

For more interviews with inspiring people, click here.

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Looking Elsewhere: The Road Less Travelled

July 24, 2010 2 comments

This is an entry in the David Elsewhere series where I analyse his training methods and philosophies. The quotes are derived from his myspace post. In this entry, I discuss the following quote.

Exploring where others haven’t – In dancing I have found that particular areas are easier to be original in than others. I think that certain styles are less explored than others and this leaves more room for innovation. From the artistic perspective, the less traveled path is usually always the more rewarding one and the one I have tried to stay on.

David Elsewhere. source

Without leaving their own art, the ingenious leave the common path and take, even in professions grey with age, new steps towards eminence.

Baltasar Gracian. A Pocket Mirror for Heroes. Trans. by Christopher Maurer. In Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, p. 349.

Wonders never amaze the second time around. How many looked in awe when the first bboys started doing windmills? Remember when the audience gasped when Michael Jackson debuted the moonwalk at the 25th anniversary celebration of Motown? Now both of these moves are often seen as nostalgic throwbacks to the 80s.

Quickly losing amazement of the familiar represents one of the great tragedies of the human mind. Audiences quickly feel jaded by any spectacle. If you want to survive as a dancer in a certain field, you need to perform the moves better then the dancer before you. I’m new to the bboy world (just as an observer), and I’m in shock how well the foundations of today’s bboys are. You face a lot of competition as a bboy. There are thousands of others who practice the same moves you want to practice. They may be stronger, more talented, have more experience.

Creativity plays a very large part in streetdancing. We have the ability to throw off competition by dancing on our own terms, not the terms others put on us.

I haven’t seen any evidence that Elsewhere can boogaloo. I’ve not seen him perform most of the basic popping routines most poppers judge each other by. In all likelihood, he’d have to spend years learning these type of dance. And then he’d be an average boogaloo popper.

Elsewhere took a smarter route. Instead of competing in the same fields as the other poppers, he focused all his energy on developing his own moves and taking them further then other people would take them. Look at the first two dancers in the Kollaboration clip.

Although it’s hard to tell with only a few seconds of their performance, they have a solid foundation in their popping routine. But they look very bad in comparison with Elsewhere. He performed moves that nobody in the room had seen before. Perhaps some had seen strobing, but not the way Elsewhere strobed his hands crawling across his chest, his head twitching from side to side in rhythm. Liquid dancing and abstract waving was known to some degree (though it was a very underground movement). How many had seen a person melt into a puddle, though?

It was no contest. Elsewhere was fighting on his own terms, not the traditional popping battle field. I’ve watched the clip more often then I should have, but not once have any of the commenters said that the first two deserved to win.

Breaking away from the traditional path may frighten most dancers. You may feel left behind if you don’t train the same way other people do. How can you call yourself a bboy if you don’t train the same moves all the other bboys train? At some level, most of us want to be told what to do. If we follow these guidelines, we will develop the skills that we need, then we can call ourselves dancers, or bboys, or poppers. God knows that I have these thoughts many times, often severely.

The problem is, everybody else is doing the same routines you would if you followed this type of logic. You’ve spent a lot of time training for something that others do much better then you. It is easier to innovate in fields that other people neglect.

In a way this represents a god send for most streetdancers. Streetdancers often feel attracted to the bizarre, to the amazing, to the weird. Perhaps poppers in particular feel this way, because most movements are calculated to be “unreal” in some way. It seems natural that these dancers would start looking into the most obscure fields for inspiration. The more obscure the inspiration, the more bizarre the styles and moves, as logic dictates.

There are other benefits. Tutorials and workshops teach the most basic, well-known moves. The Youtube age has provided us with a lot more diversity and access, and you’d be amazed how easily you can find obscure footage. Sometimes you can only find one video clip, with only a few minutes (or a few seconds) of relevant footage, but that’s enough to get you on your way.

I spent a lot of time searching for strobing tutorials (forget about finding workshops teaching this stuff). The only helpful one I found was from Tyson Eberly. This represented perhaps five minutes of tutorial footage (Strobing tutorial begins at 11:45 of the clip below).

I took that and tried the best I could, but it represented an enormous amount of trial-and-error on my part to figure out what to do. I had to stay attentive to what I was doing and provide myself with constant feedback. My hands and fingers were not doing what they were supposed to do, and I had to figure out why by myself.

I felt frustration many times over, but at the same time, I felt great satisfaction. I was achieving results by relying on my own wits and ingenuity instead of practising the same drills without thought. It felt more like a creative process, and this translated into further passion, into more practice, and better dancing. I try to take this attitude now whenever I try something new. I will attempt to emulate the anti-gravity moonwalk (not the Michael Jackson moonwalk) that I once saw a dancer from Street Scape perform. It’s less than three seconds of footage from the 80s, but that’s enough to get me going on my way.


(I advise you to watch the entire clip. You’ll thank me for it.)

Yes, this approach requires you to trust your passion and judgement, practice on your own, and endure people resenting you for taking a new path. I believe it is worth the effort many times over.

We forget how free we can define our streetdance. We have work shops, judged battles, and dancers who consider themselves authorities on what popping, bboying, locking, or liquid “is”. But essentially, we can take the dance in any direction that we want, and how far we want. Nobody has the power to tell you where your passion should take you.

It is an uncommon skill to find a new path of excellence, a modern route to celebrity. There are many roads to singularity, not all of them well-travelled. The newest ones can be ardous, but they are often short-cuts to greatness.

Balthasar Gracian. In Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, p. 356

If you’d like to read all Looking Elsewhere entries, click here. To receive regular updates automatically, click here for RSS feeds.

Featuring: Stephen the Wunderkind

July 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Some things don’t make sense the first time you see them.

In my research for 90 degree pushups, I saw a video title claiming to show someone breaking the world record. Clicking on it, I saw what looked like a fifteen year old doing 13 reps of the most difficult push up out there.

I knew that no fifteen year old could do this (save for Giuliano Stroe, arguably). Was this supposed to be some kind of joke? I didn’t see a punchline or anything. I clicked on some of his other videos.

I knew that no 15 year old can do one handed planche negatives. There is no…

AHHHHHHH! IT HURTS! IT HURTS JUST WATCHING IT!

Has to be fake. No way that’s real. I looked for clues to visual trickery, but since when am I an expert in visual fraud? The commenters on youtube were just as perplexed as I was.

Is it easier for a kid to do these things? Maybe, but most athletes can’t pull these things off. Geoff Craft has only been able to do nine 90 degree push ups, and he made a tutorial on it. The world record is set at eleven reps, for heaven’s sake. Unless Stephen was trained by shaolin monks or bitten by a radioactive spider, I’m watching something that shouldn’t exist.

I contacted StephenConditioning and tried to get some answers. Yes, he really is fifteen (although he stressed that he’ll turn 16 in two weeks). The videos aren’t fake. He simply trained his strength from an early age, trying to imitate the power moves of bboy Junior (the most impressive bboy out there). Stephen recorded his feats with a web cam, which explains the low quality of his videos, but recently acquired a camera. He’s already posting more clips of his incredible tricks.

He’s become a new friend of the website, and a personal inspiration. I have no excuse for not training my handstands and push ups variations now, and I will look to Stephen whenever I feel that I can’t push my body further.

To read the interview transcript with Stephen, click here.

Raw interview: Poppin John (part 1)

July 3, 2010 Leave a comment

That’s right, that’s right. I was able to score a monster interview with Poppin John from Soulbotics crew. To understand why he’s one of my top influences in dancing, read my feature on him. The depth of his answers surprised me, and I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

The interview itself is divided into three separate parts. There is a link at the end of each post to the next section. I have added some links whenever he mentions a dancer, plus I added some video and my comments whenever appropriate.

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a very small town called Farmington in the Northwest corner of New Mexico. My childhood was amazing there but when I started to creep my way into the entertainment side of life, it definitely was not the right place to be. But that being said, I do think I have come up with many moves and concepts because I was learning by myself with not a lot of influences in town.

2. What got you into dancing, and why did you specialize in popping?

Well, my very first dance experience was at a family reunion. We camped in a big campground in Colorado, I think. But anyway, there was a small like dance room in the main building of the campground and they had DJ get down on the weekends, so my dad took me and my cousins. I was about 11 years old. My cousin Jason could do a few new jack swing moves like top rock-ish. I was super amazed because I hadn’t even thought about dancing in my whole life until that moment. After that, I went to my 7 grade first school dance and BOOM girls and music….”That’s it, I need to learn how to dance”….

Everyone was just standing around, and then I saw a circle on the other side of the gym. There were 2 kids breakin in the circle. When I walked up, one was doing a backspin. The other answered with the worm. That moment I know that this was the type of dance I wanted to do.

So that night I went home and learned how to do the worm (haha, everybody starts somewhere). I laid my mirror down on the ground and watched myself attempt this move that I wanted to learn so bad. One night of practice: the next school dance I was worming my ass off. That was my first dance experience.

Me and a few friends started a crew and started battling other crews. It was crazy. There were 7 or 8 crews in my small town in like 99, and we would hash it out at the skating ring. It was so dope, we thought we were the shit, pulling out routines and all kinds of tricks. So one night at the ring one of my friends told me that I have the best arm waves, and he asked me to repeat it over and over…that moment really stuck in my mind.

I was breaking and poppin, but never at the same time! For some reason, thank God, I always treated the dances as completely different things. I was in a crew called Foundations of freedom and it was all bboys and one bgirl, and I was the one who could pop. After a couple of years of practicing both I decided to give bboying a break and focus on poppin. I have been addicted ever since.

3. What were the reaction of your parents and peers to your dancing passion?

Well, the first reaction of my peers was pretty much 50/50. One side was like “DOPE, I wanna learn”, and the other side was a bunch of haters. You know how it is, and in a small town everybody has an opinion. But my parents have been down since day one. For real, my parents are a big reason for me taking dance to the next level and perusing it as a career. But after I developed a pretty good skill level, it was rare when I got negative feed back from anybody, really.

4. How did you come to the conclusion to pursue dancing full-time and travel around the world?

Well, the first time I really thought about traveling the world was when I started to watch bboy battle videos. Seeing dancers from all over the globe come and compete in the same place was so dope to me. My pops started taking us to jams in the surrounding cities when they did go down. From those experiences, I turned into a battle cat, always ready to through down. To this day, I can’t seem to get rid of the desire to compete.

To take dancing as a career really started with my father. He made it known that he wanted me to pursue whatever I wanted to do in life and to not get stuck punching a clock and be unhappy. So then the idea of my website www.learn2bust.com started up, and a few years later, the plans became reality. Now I have students all over the globe learning form my videos. Its an amazing feeling, being able to teach the things I have picked up throughout my dance career.

Click here for part 2 of the interview.

Featuring: Eric from Liquid Pop Collective

June 19, 2010 3 comments

When I first saw a dancer do handflows, I thought the hands looked like two fish chasing each other. I didn’t even understand properly what I had seen. I found out what the move was called (much later) after stumbling upon a tutorial for liquid and digitz made by a group called Liquid Pop Collective. The most impressive handflow was contours. The way your one hand flowed over the surface of your other immovable hand, like water over a rock. Then your flowing hand became solid, and the cycle would repeat. The true expression of the liquid metal approach.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in dancing or electronic music (the German scene back then was terrible), but I rediscovered the video a few weeks back and payed more attention to it. Contours caught my eye again. I searched around and found the following clip. It was unused footage for the tutorial, starring crew member Eric. This took the finger flow to a new level.

I recently contacted Eric and interviewed him for this feature. He answered my questions and provided some additional literature on the electro scene (you can read the email correspondence in my previous, separate post below.

Eric was born in New Jersey, about 25 minutes from New York. He went with his older cousin to his first NYC party in 1993 and fell in with the electronic party scene. He explained that there were two separate dance cultures for electronic music in NY, the club scene and the rave scene. The clubs included the Tunnel, Lime Light, Sound Factory, Twilo, Shelter and Outback Jacks. The raves could be held anywhere, sometimes at abandoned buildings without any permits. The scene gained momentum, and club owners started to pursue the rave crowd. Sometimes they would contact the authorities and make them shut down the illegal parties, then have promoters stand outside the rave and distribute promotional fliers for their clubs to the exiting crowd. Thus, the two scenes began to mingle.

Two years later, Eric came in contact with liquid dancing.

The first time I seen a style of liquid that really moved me was in 1995 at a club north of Philly
called Outback Jacks. They had a small Sunday night party that I found when I first moved to Philly. This is here I met a girl named Chrissie who absolutely had the most unique style of liquid I had ever seen up until that point. She incorporated her whole body into her flow. She is the genesis for what my style is today and part of her still lives in my flow. She totally changed my perspective on what liquid could be.

Unlike the popping scene, competition didn’t play a big part in the evolution of the dance.

There were a million of casual dancers who happily rave skipped the night away. I would say between the serious folks like myself it was a matter a pride and respect. When someone had dope liquid it was more of a respect thing because no one was forcing you to be good at liquid but you. There are dancing jerks in every dance scene, who sole purpose in life was to make themselves feel better by belittling the person next to them.

Eric wrote to me that he never practiced at home or took lessons to improve his liquid (although he did take some classes for popping). Instead, he went to the clubs five days a night and danced up to eight hours for a period of ten years. Regarding advice he would give to novice dancers, he answered in the same vein as David Elsewhere.

BE YOURSELF. YOU DONT NEED TO LOOK LIKE ANYONE ELSE. If you like something take it and make it your own. Find you own flavor be unique LISTEN to the music and let it move you.

Drugs became ubiquitous in this scene, and a substantial part of the crowd were young middle class people with income to spare on Ecstacy or whatever else. This attracted criminal gangs to the scene, and violence became a huge risk. The most infamous gang was the BTS crew It was a loosely organised gang with no formal initiation rites, ethnic boundaries, or any particular rules of conduct (except not stealing from fellow crew members). They would often sell fake drugs by selling mints or spray painting pills. At clubs, they pick-pocketed the clubgoers on the dance floor, or scouted for other drug dealers so they could steal the drugs from that dealer. For more information, read this article

This slowly led to people avoiding the scene, which was the beginning of the end. In 2002, the US senate passed the RAVE Act to counter youth drug use. The penalties for organizing such raves were so stiff they killed off the scene. NY mayor Rudolf Guilani took a hard stance against the clubs in his effort to clean up the city from undesirable elements, and many of the most prominent clubs could not sustain themselves after the 9/11 attacks paralysed the club scene in NY.

Before the scene died out, Eric recorded a short clip of him dancing in the Philadelphia club Space in 1999. He posted it on Napster, which was in its prime as a file-sharing medium. The clip became one of the viral videos of the pre-Youtube era.

In 2000, he met the dancers who later form the Liquid Pop Collective crew. The response of the clip overwhelmed the LPC crew, and they started discussing the idea to produce a tutorial on the dance. Eric eventually took out a ten grand loan to do so and involved a core team of LPC dancers. Ricardo Rivera (aka VJ Kaboom) directed the video (he now owns klip.tv) and Imri Meritt did the sleeve art and music soundtrack (he now runs reflective.net).


The tutorial was a success, but the LPC broke up soon after. I asked Eric why. He wrote me a three word reply: money and ego.

As to other dancers who continue the tradition of liquid and digits, he pointed to the floasis.net community. He also made sure to mention the Liquid Lights crew, particularly crew member Tiny Love, who predated the LPC by a few years.

I ended the interview by asking him to describe his most memorable moment in dancing.

Wow, that is hard. I would have to say a yearly party called Starscape thrown by Ultra world down in Baltimore. I think the party was in 2003. I was with my future wife and all the LPC guys. We watched the sun come up out on the dock over the water ( this dock was destroyed during a hurricane in 2004) to the sound track of MOS DEF’S UMI says. It was surreal after a full night of dancing together. Those are the moments I miss the most now a days…

More interviews to follow, plus another entry in the Looking Elsewhere series coming up. If you’d like to receive updates, click on the RSS feed button.

Looking Elsewhere: Beyond the impossible

May 31, 2010 1 comment

This represents the introductory entry in the Looking Elsewhere series. In each post, I will discuss David Elsewhere’s dancing, but more importantly, discuss how he trained and practiced to become such an unique dancer. To do this, I will analyse and comment on Elsewhere’s own writings about this subject. These insights are meant to help anyone who desires to truly express themselves in ways people haven’t even imagined possible.

I first saw David Elsewhere the same way millions of others saw him. His appearance on The Asian-American dance contest Kollaboration in the year 2001.

I saw it late, around 2006, after it had been posted on Youtube. My first reaction to this clip is interesting in hindsight. I was amazed at this form of dancing because I had never seen anything like it in my life. It was one of the first videos where I realized that the internet could present amazing talents who would have otherwise received very little mainstream attention.

But it was only a freak curiosity, something that vanished just as quickly as it appeared. The thought of me imitating this dance never entered my head. How could it? Traditional breakdance (I hadn’t even heard of popping by that point) was too outlandish and advanced. Elsewhere was a step beyond this, beyond the impossible. Rumours spread that that the dancer must have been born double-jointed or with some kind of rare physical abnormality that gave him superpowers. I never thought I could be a contortionist, so why would I try to imitate Elsewhere? You needed to be born with this flexibility, and practice every waking hour since you reached age five. With expert tutors.

It was only years later, after I had just started dancing as a hobby, that I found out the truth. It came from Elsewhere himself. “I’m not double-jointed at all. The only place where I am double-jointed is my thumbs, which doesn’t even matter. I would say I’m probably a little more flexible than most people in certain areas, mainly my shoulders and my ankles, but I wasn’t born that way. Those areas became flexible because of years of practicing.” And he didn’t start dancing seriously at the age of five like Michael Jackson. No, only seriously around age 17 (but then every day). Constant lessons and hours of professional tutorship? Nope. He mostly practiced alone, in his parents’ garage. There were a couple of dancers who influenced him (like Squid, Salty and Skywalker), but they were never his tutors and he only met them on a few occasions.

I reasoned that if my preconceptions about practicing and training were so wrong, then I must find out more about his methods and see if they could apply to me. I found a small blog post on Myspace written by David himself where he summarised his philosophies and practices on dancing.

These insights were so illuminating that I printed them out and posted them on my wall so that I can read them during a lull in my practice session. They deserve deeper discussion and analysis, so I will post regular features on this subject, focusing on a specific point at a time. For the next post, I will probably take on his principles of being yourself and trusting your own judgement.

Looking Elsewhere – Mirrors and shadows

May 4, 2010 1 comment

This is an entry in the David Elsewhere series where I analyse his training methods and philosophies. The quotes are derived from his myspace post. In this entry, I discuss the following quote.

Using a Mirror – I have found that using a mirror is extremely helpful when practicing because it gives instantaneous feedback. I know exactly how my moves look and can immediately critique myself. The only thing I would advise against would be getting so used to the mirror that you can’t perform well without one. To prevent this I try to practice just as much without a mirror.

Videotaping myself – I try videotaping myself once and in a while. It is just as helpful as using a mirror to me. The only drawback is that it’s not instantaneous feedback; you don’t see what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Videotaping has several advantages over a mirror. You don’t have to pay attention to your reflection thus allowing your mind to concentrate on just dancing. By recording yourself you, are able to observe things that are difficult to see in the mirror, like spins and ground moves. Videotaping yourself also gives you the opportunity to see what your moves look like from a variety of angles.

David Elsewhere, source

Many of the illusionary tricks of popping require a lot of practice and trial-and error. Most of the movements required to perform such tricks are unusual and essentially unnatural. Your body requires a lot of time and repetition to memorize these movements.

Take waving, for example. It requires you to isolate certain parts of your hands, wrist, shoulders, and chest, but to do so in a rapid and smooth fashion. Or take strobing, where you need to perform a rapid series of stop-and-go movements that have to be performed at a constant rhythm, every movement equal in distance from the previous one.

While there are many dance teachers and friends who can provide you with invaluable tips, you need to rely on yourself to criticize your performance and judge what you need to do so as to get where you want. That’s why it is necessary to perform in front of mirror. You can gain immediate feedback by watching yourself perform an arm wave and being unsatisfied with the result. This is particularly important when you first start practicing. Most likely you misunderstand how to perform an isolation or a dime stop, and only seeing yourself in the mirror will point that out. This allows you to try something different, find out what you misunderstood, what you need to work on.

Be aware of the drawbacks, though. Looking at the mirror means you are not fully concentrating on executing a move. It’s difficult to perform a move and concentrate on how it feels if you are looking at a mirror. Another possible drawback is that you may get used to performing in front of a mirror but are unsure how to dance without the aid of one.

Then we have the most simple negative effect: It can be disheartening for anyone to try to execute a move and failing hundreds of times, particularly in the beginning where you will almost certainly fail at everything you attempt.

Therefore, it’s necessary to divide your individual sessions into separate blocks. In the first half, you will practice your moves without a mirror, simply focusing on the sensations in your body as you perform them. Then you can practice in front of the mirror to see where you have improved and what you still need to work on. Spend more time performing without a mirror, but check your progress  with a mirror in every session.

At some stage your own shadow can replace the mirror as your toughest critic. First pointed out to me by Otis Funkmeyer (who learned it from Tyson Eberly), you can detect the effectiveness of your isolations and dime-stops more clearly with your shadow then your mirror reflection. I suppose it’s easier to focus on the movements of a simple silhouette than a distracting mirror reflection, and I guess that the blown-up size of your shadow helps you detect every unwanted movement, no matter how small. In fact, it’s infuriating to see how clearly your silhouette reflects the imperfections in your dime-stop or in your wave. That’s why I’m advising you to switch to your shadow only after achieving some success in your training (let’s be easy on ourselves at the beginning, after all). But I was surprised at how quickly it helps me to improve technique. After you convince your shadow, you’ll convince everybody else.

What about taping yourself? There are drawbacks here also. It isn’t instantaneous feedback, and you can feel even more self conscious with a camera than a mirror. Nonetheless, it helps you see focus on more than just one move, allowing you to judge your dancing as a whole. It also allows you to see the effect of your dancing from different angles. Better to tape yourself dancing once in a while so as to judge your dancing from a fresh perspective.

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