Art versus Oppression Article 2 | Practical Advice for the Would Be Dance Professional

Art versus Oppression Article 2 | Practical Advice for the Would Be Dance Professional

Practical Advice for the Would Be Dance Professional:

My Top Ten Observances

 

Welcome to the second article in my (A.V.O.) blog friends! At my recent residency at Duke University for the American Dance Festival, my discussions brought up lots of great points. So I decided to create an article based on my favorite tokens of dance life wisdom.

Here is a compiled list of my Top Ten Observances (there were many that I could’ve shared – but it would’ve made this article too lengthy).

 

From the point you decide to become a professional dancer, you must observe the following:

1.)    Your body is a vehicle of your passion and talent, it will take you to where you want to go, or it can break down. It depends how well you maintain it. So eating, sleeping, training and exercise must become a priority.

2.)    You must focus your time and energy to the most relevant art form in your life. You can bounce around at first, to experiment, to discover your niche, but at some point you must hone all your energy and talent to a set of skills, or styles (however you want to look at it) and do not spread yourself too thin. Mastery is discipline…there’s no discipline in floating around your entire life.

3.)    If you want to achieve big things, keep your personal relationships in check so they do not take your dreams away. I have seen people drop their dreams for a relationship that turned out to be a curse. If they cannot be “a part” of your dream, they will force you to be “apart” from your dream.

4.)    Start early on in life working towards your career and avoid having children in your youth. Being an adequate father/mother and a professional dancer does not always coincide. The artist career can be too unstable at times. I have seen people that have made it work, but I would lie to you if I told you it was easy. It’s not easy. I have much more to say on this subject but we will cap it here.

5.)    Study Taxes & Pay Your Taxes. As a dancer you enter a “1099” world (Independent Contractor), where you pay your taxes at the end of the year and it’s not discounted from your checks. You can get yourself in lots of trouble friends. When you can afford one, get a CPA (Certified Personal Accountant) and have them make sense of your mountain of receipts.

6.)    Be a Man before you’re a B-Boy. You should adapt the mentality that you must handle your business as an adult first before you dedicate yourself totally to your craft as a profession: have a constant flow of money, a vehicle (if you live in a city/state that requires one), a roof over your head – get some health insurance – maintain a good credit score – but don’t fall into too much debt. Being a good dance professional means having the benefits of working for a corporation, without having to work for one.

7.)    You should learn the ways of being professional by observing “Corporate America. Like: being on time; communicating; using the proper speech when in a professional environment; having a general knowledge of hierarchy and professional courtesy; networking; putting personal feelings aside to achieve goals; dressing the part; acting the part; fulfilling your duties on a timely manner; being proactive in your all your actions etc. Just to name a few for there are many more things that we can learn from Corporate America.

8.)    Know the career options in your respective dance field. There are various industries that dancers can get work from: talent agencies, dance companies, stage productions, Broadway, Off-Broadway, artist tours, movies, music videos, commercials, cruise ships, theme parks, entertainment companies etc. Research is the name of the game. Without it, you’re flying blind!

9.)    Study the current trends in marketing, branding, social media, creating a lure to build a true following. Then create a brand and develop it, build yourself the way someone would build a company – because – as an individual you are already seen as a money-making corporation by the government. So you must learn how to conduct yourself like a working business so you can maximize your own profit.

10.) The key to longevity in this career is evolution. You have to know when to grow and how to grow. The dance career is a gateway career that can lead to many other jobs in entertainment - like a coordinator, or tour manager as I have been. It can open doors to becoming a choreographer, director, educator, producer, videographer, stylists, production assistant, etc. Know when to step through the right door at the right time and keep dancing in other ways in your life. If you are not evolving somehow in your career and life, you’re devolving. At some point you may want to choose “stability.” So don’t be ashamed of how you find it!

 

I hope these ten points of advice have rattled your thoughts and summoned some clarity. I wish someone had sat me down and told me about some of these simple observances (not rules) when I was young in the game.

I will conclude with an amazing, inspiring throw-back video of the legendary Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. The clip below is a heartfelt tribute Greg does for Sammy at his 60th Anniversary. Long after Sammy had transitioned through the careers of dancing, singing, comedy, acting and living the life of an entertainer, he still had those magic feet that Sammy was known for. Watch the magic all over again at around (7:00). Sammy is a perfect individual to sample inspiration from. You want to speak of legendary talent that never stopped evolving? Here’s to the timeless Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines (another multi-talented entertainer)! Rest in rhythmic paradise my brothers.

Thank you y’all! Until next month!

 

 

 

Art versus Oppression Article 1 | The American Diaspora of Street Dance

The American Diaspora of Street Dance

Conversations with the late, great Fankie Manning (The King of Swing)

 

Hello fellow dancers, you have arrived at my blog called “Art vs. Oppression,” or A.V.O. for short. I chose to use the name of one of my previous articles, due to its significance to what I feel birthed this union of art forms we call “Hip Hop” and it represents the ideals I personally stand for. Welcome to the first installment of my blog!

I would like to begin my writings with a topic that’s dear to me, of a gentleman named Frankie Manning that unfortunately passed a few years ago in 2009. He is known as the King of Swing because he is one of the greatest inventors and innovators of Lindy Hop. At the time of our meeting, the year was 2007 (a couple years before his death) and Frankie was 92 years old. I had been hired to take part of a performance and panel discussion, in which I was asked to speak on modern Street Dance. Frankie was doing a presentation with this son that was twenty years younger, which made him 72 at the time. We were attending a panel at the University of Central Florida to make a comparison of the phenomena that occurred in the 30’s-40’s with the origins of original Jazz dancing (Lindy Hop aka Swing & Hoofing aka Tap) with what occurred in the 70’s-80’s with Breaking, Popping and Locking (aka Break Dancing.)

The cipher goes back

After the panel, we had some time to chat and I had the blessed opportunity of being able to pick his brain. When Frankie spoke, he took me into the past, to a relentless time in US history, Depression era Harlem. Frankie grew up in the harsh streets of New York City. He talked to me about the glorious, magnificent clubs like “The Palladium”, or the famous “Cotton Club” and the smaller dancehalls in Harlem. Frankie spoke on many topics, the politics, the racism, and how hard it was being a poor kid coming up in such a rough time in history. Then he opened up a dialogue with me and talked about how many similarities there are in our cultures. After hearing me speak, he told me “we had circles too.” They happened naturally when one couple was on fire. The crowd would open up space so they could have room to show off, the phenomena had always happened. When Tap dancers invaded the floor, circles would naturally occur, especially if two dancers began competing against one another, or as we like to call: “battling.” So the circle or cipher is nothing new, the cipher goes back!

Big bands were mixing songs

I had talked briefly on how disc jockeys at the beginning of our movement would “mix” records and that reminded Frankie of the big bands in his time. See, as the energy of the club would swell to a fever pitch, the band that had been playing for hours would need a break, or retire for the night. In order to not stop the music and the action, to keep the dancers going, the band that had been setting up to replace the band that was retiring for the night would begin playing the same song the retiring band was playing. Then the one band would fade out and leave the fresh musicians playing, and they were free to pack up and leave, similar to the way two records could be mixed. Sometimes bands would play different songs that had complimenting notes, at the exact same tempo, and the two bands mixed in and out of each other live, never missing a beat. I found this similarity fascinating. Before disc jockeys were mixing records, big bands were mixing songs.

Eternally linked by cool

As a Popper, it was part of my culture to dress dapper. I remember I had worn a pin stripe suit for my Popping and Locking presentation, and when we met Frankie said: “Man, you look like you’re from my era!” I explained that the suit-wearing was a throwback. Many early Popping groups favored the zoot suits due to our dance’s link to gang culture, and the “OG” fashion of dressing up like mobsters. He said everything I was wearing was from his time. From the wingtip shoes, to the pinstripe suit and fedora, our modern Popping fashions were linked to the original fashions belonging to Frankie’s eras of dance. So we are eternally linked by cool!

There were haters back then too

Another comparison is how competitive our cultures were. He said “battling” was big in the Lindy Hop and Hoofing eras of New York. They used to seek each other out, looking to topple each other in fantastic displays of athleticism, speed a grace. It wasn’t always pretty as the time was ripe with hate and violence. Which meant that if you beat the wrong dancer, or couple…if you embarrassed the wrong person and you were in “their” turf, they would catch up with you on your way home and there would be hell to pay. I replied, “Yes sir, same in our time…haha!” There were haters back then too!

In short, Frankie told me that Lindy and Hoofing were not created in a studio, they were created on the streets, alleyways, in the nightclubs and dancehalls, very much like Breaking, Popping and Locking. So when we speak of the American diaspora of Street Dance, we should not just start and end with modern phenomena. We should include the true beginnings of Street Dance (not Hip Hop culture) and speak of the dances of Frankie’s era. And even though the art forms are decades and worlds apart, there will always be stark similarities to our cultures. But most importantly, he spoke about how “Hollywood” stole his art form, the same way they stole ours, renamed it and repackaged it for America to be able to swallow it. They exploited Lindy and Hoofing, renamed it Swing and Tap, then they made countless pictures, made lots of money that the originators never saw, until the next great wave of popular dance culture came and washed it away. When it fell out of the popular culture and out of the limelight, Hoofing and Lindy was then left only for the true enthusiast to survive. Pretty much what has happened, and will happen again, to our cultures.

So if we want to observe the future of our cultures, all we have to do is observe theirs, and realize that we are all the same. These were American art forms that came from the poor, doing the best with whatever talents they had. Very much the way Hip Hop was birthed. Art versus Oppression.

God Bless y’all. I hoped you enjoy this read. Feel free to share this page and come back next month to see what else I got brewing. One love!

Written by: Otto (Aquaboogy) Vazquez

Check out the clip below, a famous 1941 scene from "Hellzapoppin" - Lindy Hop at it's finest! R.I.P. Frankie Manning.

 

Frankie Manning swinging his partner around the back.

Frankie Manning swinging his partner around the back.