Friday, May 30, 2008

Learning Zydeco and Cajun

In January I began dancing zydeco and cajun. The dances are street dances, like swing, and are earthy. Both have different stepping patterns but each incorporate variations of swing moves. While I don't like listening to the music much, I do like dancing to it.

The music's an 8 count beat and once you get the rhythm and the foot work down, it's fun to do. I'm still learning the two dances, though I'd like to think I understand the fundamentals.

Zydeco has a faster beat; cajun is slower. Both are partner dances although in Zydeco there's more room for individual improvisation. Cajun is, like waltz, conducted around the floor in a counter-clockwise pattern. There's also in cajun what's known as the jig step. For some reason I call it the j-peg; maybe it's because you sort of (but don't really) hop on one foot and, when I'm dong it I feel like I'm making a spectacle of myself.

It's hard for me to explain since I've only been dancing these two dances for about 5 months. I will say that having a background in swing and ballroom dancing has made learning them easier. I've been told by Judy's friends, who've invested time and energy teaching me the dances, that I'm not a beginner, rather an intermediate now and so can't cop a novice plea.

The other day I was thinking about these dances and reflected on how much my martial arts background has helped with my dancing. The transferrable skills of moving my body in space and time, weight shifting, eye-hand-foot coordination have all helped me learn to dance. I think also, that the sense of self-confidence I've developed thru karate allows me to be on the dance floor and not worry about people looking (read laughing) at me.

Dancing is a fun, social activity. Learning the different dances, going dancing, keeps me young, I think. I've read where dancing staves off mental deterioration because of the mind-body connection needed as either a leader or follower. Dancing is also a good cardiovascular exercise.

One thing I noticed at my first zyedco/cajun festival this past weekend was the age of the vast majority of dancers. Most everyone seemed to be in the >50 age range. There were some in their 40's but most all were older, for sure.

I guess, like me, people don't start dancing until they're older, marriages ending, facing social isolation, not wanting to do (or have been there, done that) the bar scene. On the other hand, I asked around a little bit at the festival and learned that a lot of the zydeco/cajun dancers had been dancing for around 20 years, which means they got into it when they were around 35-40.

What is needed, I think, is an infusion of younger people to carry on. I've seen in the swing dance community younger people, people in their 20's, coming to the dance. I know there are a number of colleges/universities who've added both ballroom and swing dances to their P.E. programs. Maybe, as these younger folks learn to dance they'll eventually branch out to other styles and embrace these other dances such as zydeco and cajun.

It could be that the two dances are still very much associated with Louisiana and, especially, New Orleans and so are considered regional. However, up here in the Boston and Rhode Island area, there's a sizable dance community. It would seem that a fair number of people came out of the contra-dance community, but that may not be entirely true. I have noticed that, like me, people have come from the swing community; however, I have been noticing zydeco/cajun dancers coming to swing dances. It's good there's a cross-over.

When I first started learning to dance I was told to learn swing, foxtrot and waltz. From these three, I learned, I could learn almost every other kind of dance. I found that to be generally true. Certain dances, like west coast swing, the hustle and Argenine tango, you have to learn them as they are peculiar to themselves and can't be picked up casually.

Interestingly, in zydeco/cajun dance there are strong elements of swing, waltz, foxtrot, and salsa (cha-cha). One technique, the window, I see, and can now do in cajun, I learned taking polka lessons.

What I've found is that once you feel the rhythm of the dance and learn the stepping pattern, the rest of it comes along fairly easily. "I've got rhythm, I've got music, I've got my girl, who could ask for anything more."

Monday, May 05, 2008

Walking In Boston

I met Judy for lunch today. She walked over from the financial district and I walked up from the South End. We met at the Transportation Building, which is akin to the theatre district and across the street from the Boston Common. We ate lunch in the Building's food court. It was a beautiful day for a walk with the temperature in the low 60's, bright sunshine and a clear blue sky overhead.

It was nice meeting for lunch. Being able to say hi, touch and gaze in the early afternoon is a nice interlude in an otherwise hectic day. I believe having real time with someone is so much more pleasant than the remoteness of, for example, exchanging emails. There's something about the physical contact that is pleasing; it lowers the blood pressure and relaxes the mood, I think.

For sure, walking in-town in Boston is a journey in itself. There are zillions of people everywhere and where there aren't people, there're cars. Seemingly amazing, there wasn't much noise; that is, people yelling, horns blaring. There was the normal buzz of conversation and car engines but it wasn't ugly, the way sometimes being in a crowded urban environment can be. Maybe it's Boston just being a more genteel place; maybe it's just because it's Monday, the Sox and the Celtics won yesterday so folks are worn out; besides, today is cinco de mayo and so maybe everyone is saving the additional hooping and hollering for after work.

After lunch, and a brief walk, we each went our separate ways, back to our respective work grinds. I headed down Harrison Ave., going through China town and past Tufts University's downtown campus. Judy headed east, toward the harbor and back to the financial hub of the Hub.

I had to stop for traffic at Kneeland St. Like a lot of pedestrians, I waited in the street, rather than on the sidewalk, for the light to change, ready to hustle across the intersection the moment it changed in my favor. Up here in the Bay State, pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks. Of course, when the intersections are controlled by a light, everyone has to wait their turn to get across the street.

It always gets me how, up here, the standard is for people in cars to flash their lights to indicate it's okay for the other car to, for example, go ahead and make a turn in front of you at a non-light controlled intersection. In Baltimore, it's just the opposite. Flashing your lights in Charm City means get the hell out of the way, I'm comin' through. In Beantown, it means - oh, please. You first. I'll wait to take my turn.

Massachusetts pedestrians take having the legal right of way at crosswalks very seriously. I one time got a ticket for not allowing a pedestrian to cross the street in the crosswalk and the person wasn't even in it yet. Parenthetically, I did beat the ticket (he was up on the sidewalk, not in the street) but the lesson to learn from it was clearly there. I now always stop for pedestrians in cross walks and almost always when people are crossing the street anywhere else.

Standing next to me on Harrison Ave, waiting to cross Kneeland, was a young guy, probably in his early 20's. I took him for being a Tufts student. As soon as the light changed, he charged across the street.

I looked both ways before venturing out and saw that an SUV was going to run the red light. The guy didn't look at all, he just walked out into the middle of the intersection.

The SUV missed him, or rather he missed running into the side of the SUV, by about a foot. As the SUV sped past, the guy raised his outstretched arms and said, "hey, what the hell!?"

As we crossed the street I mentioned to him that he almost got hit. "Yeah," he said. "And it's not the first time."

You know, you'd think after a near miss (or two) that you'd learn to look both ways before crossing, especially in the middle of the day on a crowded street. Apparently, this guy's going to learn to look first by receiving one hell of a lesson.