During Volcano Swing Clermont, we ask a few questions to Michael !
How did you start dancing ?
Michael : I began dancing around 3 or 4 years old. between this time I was mostly learning the basics of different styles : wcs, latin, ballroom, and I was taking social dance classes too. I was very busy because I was also doing sports, so with both sports and dancing I grew up practicing different styles of movement. I started with the basics and with a lot of hard work, I progressed to the intermediate and advanced levels, Middle School and High School were the periods in my life when I became familiar with the way a champion moves. For me High School was the turning point. I learned how to really practice, use my skills to reach each level and then began competitive dancing at 18/19 years old in the wcs circuit. And from there, each year I progressed to a higher level. I decided to dance in the Novice division to go through the process and to build very quickly from there, and I learned the technique of competition. I love this feeling of understanding a movement and understanding why the body moves a certain way, and we are all built very differently, everyone is unique. And I found my sports background to be such an amazing advantage with each person I worked with as a teacher ! That is my motivation !
You participated in some classics a few years ago, is that a challenge that you will continue to pursue?
Michael : Yeah I participated in classics with a few partners, mostly with three specific partners : Kristin, Jennifer Deluca and Katrina Branson. And all three are very good, each with a different style, and it’s interesting to see how each of them have grown as dancers over the years. And they have applied their differents backgrounds as well. Some come with a lindy-hop background, and others have a moreover jazz and contemporary kind of style, and a ballet background… And seeing how they each blend their different dance backgrounds, I have been really influenced by each of their styles. I really want to grow, I really want to bring our dance to the next level. Each of them pushed me as a dancer as well as telling me helpful information and influencing me. We all have a strong influence on each other.
So I think competition is inevitable, it’ always there, it’s always part of growing as a dancer, for any sport, any activity. I think it should be healthier. The awareness of what it means to compete. It’s an honor to be there, to compete, to be dancing with my peers to be on the floor, being present in the moment. Every things is so clear and so intense, it’s like a “Matrix” and I love it ! C’est incroyable !
Do you have a routine ?
Michael : Very soon i’m hoping, yes ! Right now it’s in progress. And regarding my career, I’m currently working on more local community dance. Right now i’m doing a lot of traveling for helping build wcs communities, and we are really making the wcs scene much bigger these days. And right now, it’s a lovely thing to do, I’m enjoying this more than competition at the moment. A part of me wants to compete, i love the feeling of being in the show. But i’m also enjoying watching others right now. I’m enjoying seeing how others are developing and really changing the style. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not, but i try to help influence in a positive way !
You are travelling a lot and you meet differents communities, is there something specific in each community ?
Michael : Yeah ! It’s very incredible to see the differences of all differents cultures as well as the people and their own influence on the dance. I have noticed especially in differents parts of the world, dance style is often influenced by the country’s celebrities. So for example in Europe, there is a lot more freedom in the arts and movements and in our style of dance. So with rock’n’roll for example and other styles the influence is greater, boogie is a big influence as well, wcs is much more accepted out here. I think people learn faster in Europe because of the openness to the arts and dance. It’s a normal activity. In USA it’s a little bit different, it’s more for those who are only interested in dancing. Sometimes we have events or parties or weddings and people then become interested or influenced “oh I want to dance” and their friends ask them to come along. It depends but there are still more differences. For example, in the USA and in Canada, there is a big focus on patterns and movements, more so patterns currently, the level used to be quite high, but is now rather average. In Europe it’s changed as well it’s gone from different places in Russia in parts of the UK and France. And those 3 were like the leaders in all of Europe for wcs, there are great dancers in every country with very different feelings. Now in the UK they are more like the United States and Canada, with the stars and just generally being more understanding. Between France and Russia the styles are quite different. Russia is very fast and very very strong with their movements and sharper and very quick. In France, there is a big influence with rock and roll and swing dances like boogie, and a slow/contemporary feeling. This wcs style is sometimes good with the things we can feel but also I personally feel that French dancers tend to lose the swing movements. And this is sometimes a lot more of a feeling I think with most of the older star dancers who have been legends in wcs community and we see this conversation happening a lot right now. (laugh). Everywhere around the world, swing dance isn’t just blues, it’s every style of music.
How do you define swing ?
Michael : Defining swing dance style, that is the hard part. It’s so open ! But there is a specific feeling and for me personally I define it with the rhythms, the rhythms are the key. And the rhythm never changes in the basic tempos and in basic movements, swing dancing is swing dancing. It comes from the lineage of lindy and the heart of styles and movements that are influences from the past. With big band music, every area has changed especially with the influence of popular music our dance is changing as well. In the 50s and 60s you have more of a beach style of music more like the shag and differents styles of Swing dances that are more relaxed and then you also have the influence of disco as well having been a strong driving force. It is amazing that part of our dance today is strongly influenced by music from the early 2000’s too. Between the 80s and 2000 blues and pop music like Michael Jackson and some of the big names, the ones that I believe have been the driving momentum for our dance, but then music slowed down and started changing in 2000 and had more of a hustle beat, with the influences of Shag music. The beach music came back again and it was more of this kind of contemporary feeling like Frank Sinatra and swing dance became popular again and now it has changed yet again. Swing is constantly evolving, so now it’s low and fluid it’s different and I think sometimes we forget the original roots, and we have to bring them back again no matter what the influences are, regardless of the current influence. I was always remembering the roots because this is where the rules comes from and that feeling of swing dancing really is a swing rhythms and timing. The connection with the partner especially there’s a certain resistance and compression and the timing you get. That you have all the way for the dance, that’s a beautiful thing, it’s amazing.
What’s your next challenge / project ?
Michael : Next project : right now, I am working on a few new concepts for teaching working with different levels of students and trying to raise their skill sets and understanding from my background especially in sports. And I will have different things to offer especially with what I do I am very very quick and I’m able to quickly accelerate and decelerate during my transitions and during my movement especially because I’m tall. So I have a lot of new things I’m working on from sports that I’m working into the dance right now!
Do you have something to share with the wcs’s community, with our readers ?
Michael : People understand the difference especially when it comes to this dance and what this means to us. What does this dance mean to you, why do you dance ? What is your reason for this and I think because we all have our own understanding about music and the connection of humanity, the connection between each other, it’s so important to remember that dance is a wonderful expression for Life and the way we really connect with one to another. It goes beyond something that we can’t speak about, that we can’t explain, it’s such a big concept, so deep as well, it’s wonderful to have these types of interactions on a level that we don’t understand, we intuitively are in a deep place, we want this all the time to be more connected to each other and especially now in the present moment with our world so well connected, with technology and social media and all this. I think now dance is a great tool, a great channel for this presence and awareness again to bring back the most important parts of our connection or humanity again. Understanding it from that deep of a level, I think will reignite that passion in us to really, really do this, in the right way. I’m excited for the path that we can take, especially the influence we can have on people. The influence that we have on our peers. People all over the world are teaching West Coast Swing. 20 years ago it wasn’t like this. It’s so wonderful that we’ve had this now, new way of connecting but at the same time with all the technology we have, we have to remember again the roots, just like the dance, the whole grand way of life, is the connection with our cells, individuals and the connection with other human beings. I think it’s the most beautiful that we can do right now with dance…