Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Around And Around, Hand To Hand

Your servant will confess to you openly that I'm a lousy waltzer. The best I can do is a two-step, and I feel I've earned the right to do so having lived in Texas for five years. But every so often, a waltz will come around, and I'll give it my best shot. Here's one from south of the border. I'm dressed rather festively in my green and red -- two colors from the Mexican flag, if you will.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
It's not just going around and around. You will see a clapping sequence in here. That I can handle. But notice as one of those claps takes my partner and I nearly cheek-to-cheek. Flirtatious? Maybe. My thoughts, however, are not about flirting; they're about how I'm going to move my feet without stepping on somebody else's, and how I'm going to move my body in and out of that one last clap without knocking my partner over. It's all fun and games until somebody lands with a thud.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What A Beautiful World It Was (Before It Closed)

The initials of this 1980's hit by Steely Dan's Donald Fagen refer to "International Geophysical Year," which came in the late 1950's. But every time I hear the title, I think of "O.G.Y.," a now-shuttered restaurant in High Hill, Missouri, which used to be a Stuckey's back in the 1970's.

The lyrics envision a bright future: "Ninety minutes from New York to Paris." I could only wish it was that way from St. Louis to Kansas City and vice versa during 1989, when our royal family was in the process of moving and we were shooting back and forth on I-70. The trip takes about 240 miles and four hours, give or take a gas stop in Columbia or Kingdom City.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Having a good Walkman (and later Watchman) helped pass the time, along with a good set of tapes, so I wouldn't have to listen to my parents' music, at least when they didn't have American Top 40 on.

Staring out the window on these various trips, I would notice a lot of these skeletons of roadside America: old gas stations, old restaurants, old homes, old signs, old billboards, all rotting away but burned into my memory. I wonder why I can remember those sights and not the more beautiful sights in the green rolling hills of the Show-Me State.

Perhaps I can identify with their abandonment and loneliness. When you've been there, you're there.

Monday, January 28, 2019

They All Wear Kilts!

Scots and Greeks share a common heritage point: the kilts! Granted, Greek soldiers are the ones who mainly wear them, and they call them fustanellas, but I've made my point. I have wondered whether any Scottish and Greek dance groups got together. Turns out, they have. The above video shows it, although you only see the Scottish kilts in this mash-up.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Last year, your servant decided to make his own fustanella from scratch. I was surprised to find no open-source instructions or patterns anywhere on the internet. So I had to reverse-engineer my design from looking at pictures and videos -- mainly of dance groups. The proliferation of Hellenic dance troupes has actually made it easier to find the garb for sale. But I wasn't about to pay $700 or so when I could make the outfit myself.

I took a king-sized sheet and split it into four long strips, which I pleated and wrapped around until it looked full enough. I also needed it to fall below my knees -- modesty, always. I have seen some half-fustanellas and they would make your servant feel like he's wearing a miniskirt.

The open-wide-sleeved shirt came together easily. I found a vest at Savers -- another terrific score from a terrific store. Add in two pairs of tights -- two pairs because the first one I ordered claimed it was "opaque," when it clearly wasn't. I ordered a Greek cap from eBay. All told, the project cost about $50.

The next step: wearing it to the local Greek Fest here in Tucson. Because doing something like this can get you mixed up with the event participants, it pays to ask the organizers. I sent a picture of me wearing the attire over Facebook. Their reply: "Get down here! We love your spirit!" Not surprisingly, your servant (along with Pricess Sherri, who joined me) got to pose for more than a few selfies and pictures. And we danced. A lot. One gentleman in particular who could've just stepped out of Zorba The Greek gave me a big hug. Opa!

Despite the many compliments, I wasn't completely satisfied with the way the project came together. The fustanella didn't look pleated enough. A couple of weeks later, I figured out why. I actually needed to baste the heck out of the strips of fabric, not pleat them. I made a second Greek kilt, and that will now go over the first one to give it a fuller look and more support. And yes, we'll be back at Greek Fest next year.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

He'll Do Anything

When Genesis made a video for "Anything She Does" off their 1986 Invisible Touch album, my favourite band teamed up with my favourite British comic: the late great Benny Hill. Most appropriately, the song is about pin-up girls -- although I didn't realize that at the time. I'm puzzled why Genesis technically didn't release this as a single, given how many hits the album had already scored.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
The video plays out like a mini Benny Hill Show complete with the chase at the end. You even get to see Tony Banks joke around a little -- something rare for Tony, who always seems to be the group's straightman wizard bent over the synthesizers.

By the way, nobody plays any horns on this track. It's a sample Tony plays from an Emulator II keyboard, another example of his wizardry.

And sadly, this is one of Benny Hill's final television appearances. He would pass away in the early 1990's, just as he was getting an offer to return to television in a new series.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

I Hopak My Calves Can Make It Through This

It's good to be a Ukrainian Cossack dancer. You get to wear the bright colorful outfits with the soft boots and the baggy breeches and show off your moves like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever while the ladies in the pretty skirts and flowers look on and swoon over you. And maybe, if you're lucky, they'll dance around you like some sort of blessing ritual. I can dream about all of it. But we have two immediate issues: killing my feet and making Princess Sherri jealous.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
One of these days, I'm going to have to politely lobby for her to dress as a Ukrainian Cossack princess. Yeah, I can dream.

Any of you who dance professionally know you have to train for one of these shows like an athlete. I just wonder what the ratio of training to dancing is. And I know I'm past my prime to do it, having been around for some (2)47 years.

That doesn't stop me from dressing the part, though:

Friday, January 25, 2019

Say, Say, Say What What You Want

Michael Jackson teamed up with Paul McCartney for a huge duet with "The Girl Is Mine." Then they did it again for an even bigger one, "Say Say Say." This is not only one of your servant's favorite duets ever, it's also one of my favorite videos ever. Paul brought his lovely wife Linda in, and Michael gave his sister LaToya a guest shot.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
These were the good old days, before Paul got Michael interested in the music publishing business, and Michael turned around and bought the Beatles' song catalog -- which Paul had been trying to buy for years. Linda and Michael were still alive, and Michael wasn't dealing with so many issues surrounding his life. Paul was still getting himself on Top 40 radio with each new album.

Pardon me while I sound like an old codger for a moment. I have tried to listen to Top 40 radio nowadays, and I just can't get into it. Even "American Top 40" is a mess, and not just because Casey Kasem isn't on it anymore. I have too many memories of my youth locked up in music of the past, and new memories set to old music. I find it sad I can't turn on CHR/Top 40 radio and hear legends like McCartney or any of the artists I grew up with who are still making records -- which admittedly, isn't many.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A Little To The Left, A Little To The Right

The French have some neat dances. And they have some deceptively simple ones. In this one, you move to the right, and to the left, do some clapping, do some turning, and do it all over again.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Sounds simple enough, right? Here's where the deception comes in. When I do this at Folk Dance night (spot the peasant in the brown), I get thrown because I'm watching my steps in the mirror off camera, and I also have to move in the opposite direction as the line I am facing. The result is more than a few errant actions.

It fascinates me when I see all my dancing friends doing all these steps that will tie my feet up into knots. I have to follow the leader and I'm still learning every week.

"You have to put your whole body into it," somebody told me once. Yes, but how is that going to help my feet when they're the ones that gotta get it done?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

All This And Birds Too!

I hear this 1975 song on the radio, and three things stand out:

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
1) Minnie Riperton's beautifully-ranged voice

2) The chirping birds added in for effect

3) The unmistakable swirly strings of an ARP synthesizer

I also remember this song turned up in a Burger King ad in the 1990's.

But I wouldn't get to hear the full song until R&B oldies radio stations started signing on in the late 1990's, back when I was still living in the Rio Grande Valley. That area didn't have a "mega oldies" station yet, so I relied on RealAudio (remember that?) to pipe in a Dallas station over my dial-up internet line (remember that, too?). When I moved to Tucson in 1999, "Mega 106.5" immediately earned a spot on my car radio's tuner memory. At one point, we also had a second R&B oldies station that lasted about a year on a weak frequency -- more fun while it lasted!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

It's Got A Kick To It

Here is one dance your servant wishes he would have learned had he decided to start putting on a kilt in his teenage years.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
The whole idea of the sword dance is to dance around the swords without touching them -- otherwise, legend has it, you will die on the battlefield. Note the sword pointing towards the audience is on top. That's just in case an enemy should approach you while you're dancing. You can pick up that sword and point it at the bloody redcoat or whoever may be threatening to take your life or your kilt or both.

I have faked a sword dance at least once. At a friend's house one Christmas, I put down a couple of brooms and pranced around them as best I could while wearing three layers of 18th Century clothing in addition to the kilt, including a long frock coat. My heavy piping shoes also weighed me down. But I capered and high-cutted and pas-de-basqued around those brooms as best I could.

"You're a lord-a-leaping!" somebody remarked.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Don't Let It Get You Down

Today is supposed to be a day on, not a day off, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. But inevitably, people are going to stop and pause and think about the legacy. Maybe some people will be hopeful, maybe not. This tune doesn't fit the day, but it fits all the other Mondays.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Princess Sherri recently reminded me of it. I actually had it in my playlist, and I have for some time. It's almost prophetic, especially in the opening photos before we get to the actual promotional film. You had to wonder what Karen Carpenter was thinking about in those early days, when she and her brother were rocketing up the pop charts with their wholesome style of pop love songs. Karen was battling a negative self-image, and I wonder how often she thought about what it would take to become her own woman.

Princess Sherri has worked to assert her own image as a mixed-race woman. She has had to battle both bigotry and false impressions from people who would also pigeonhole her into one compartment or another. That's the kind of thing MLK was fighting against. Go back and listen to his "I Have A Dream" speech. It's not a black speech; it's an equality speech.

"Sometimes I'd like to quit, nothing ever seems to fit," Karen Carpenter sang. "Nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don't belong."

Both my princess and your servant have had to battle depression in various forms. Some of that was related to prejudice or bullying.

"No need to talk it out, we know what it's all about," Karen sang.

Yes we do. Now let's go do it.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Let's Learn A Minuet From George Washington

Not many people think of George Washington as a great dancer, but he loved to dance -- as did many Virginians. So why not let him teach a young lady the art of the minuet?

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Minnesota History published the above clip on YouTube nearly 8 years ago. They said at the time: "The official Mount Vernon George Washington re-enactor teaches a student at Washington Middle School in St. Paul, MN how to dance the way that the General and Mrs. Washington would have done at their wedding. General Washington was visiting the school in connection with the Discover the Real George Washington exhibit."

Can you just imagine how beautiful that wedding would've looked like? And I imagine Mrs. Washington wasn't the only one who wanted to dance with His Excellency.

I also imagine a lot of ladies would like to dance at Mount Vernon...

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Drawing The Line

Not too long ago, I was sitting in a parking lot in north Phoenix, my designated rendezvous point for meeting up with Princess Sherri for an evening outing, when this came on the radio. The unmistakable sounds of the Oberheim OBX synthesizer, the same one used for Van Halen's "Jump," drew me in.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
I didn't grow up listening to Rush (at least not this Rush), but they've started growing on me, and this song especially. It addresses in its own Rushian, sci-fi way, cliques and growing up.

And yes, that's Atari's legendary "Tempest" at the end of this video.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Okay, Here's An Easy One

It's called "Nyandolo," and it's from Kenya. It may be the easiest circle dance I've ever learned, apart from a hands-six in Scottish Country Dancing.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
You don't have to think very much. Just move in tight with your friends, knuckles to knuckles, and enjoy the ride. It's the perfect dance for late in class, when your brain doesn't want to work, but your feet still want to move.

When this video was recorded, your servant was breaking in a new pair of red dancing slippers. They had already gotten a workout this evening, and by the end of the session, all the pinching in all the places was gone.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I Heard It On The School Bus

One day in 1981, when I was probably in the third grade, I heard some kids on the school bus singing "nah, nah, na-na-na-nah, na-na-na-nah, nunna-nunna-nah-nah" repeatedly. I thought they were riffing on a country and western song until I heard the above from the J. Geils Band.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
This is one of those songs you hear as a kid, and then when you hear it again as an adult, you wonder, "How did our parents ever let us listen to that," with lyrics like, "take you to a motel room, and take 'em off in private." And that video -- with the scantily clad ladies. MTV was a guilty pleasure for us young ones in those days, back when it played music and broke bands, or made small bands big. And if you heard it on the school bus, you knew you had a hit, or something your parents didn't want you listening to.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Saturday Night Frock Coat

Here's a flashback from nearly a decade ago. It's a Saturday night in June 2009, at the historic Kenilworth school in Phoenix. It has to be at least 80 degrees outside. And I'm driving up from Tucson for a contredance in my late 1700's powder-blue coat and white weskit and breeches, with the stockings. Where on Earth did I get all this energy from, and where the heck did it all go?

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Once upon a time in my dancing history, I felt like a colonial Tony Manero, consistently getting that Saturday Night Fever to go boogie in that tricorn and breeches, even if that meant a 90-minute drive sometimes. I had it bad. I gather that was because I got so much joy out of it at the time when so many other things in my life didn't seem to be bringing much in the door. By this time, I had gotten right with GOD, so that wasn't the problem.

Fast forward ten years later, and I've mellowed out a lot in that respect, finding other curiosities -- and other dance groups to wet my whistle. And I gather my internal chemicals have shifted a bit. That's what happens when you've been around for 247 years!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

It's Still A Smelly Olds To Me

June 1980 finds your servant and his kid brother in the back of an Oldsmobile on the way to Niagara Falls with the Queen Mother and Royal Father. On the charts, this song by Billy Joel is on its way to number one, and I'm hearing it several times during the course of the trip.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
That trip would also include several instances of the Royal Father lighting up his pipe. He had a system: while steering with his legs pressed against the bottom of the wheel, he would pack some Bourbon Riff into the end and get out his lighter. Positioning the lighter upside down into the pipe opening, he'd give it a few flicks. Of course, it would never light on the first try, as much as he huffed and puffed to get that pipe smoking. Something did invariably light, however, because soon clouds of tobacco smoke filled the front seat and drifted to the back.

Dad would then realize the imminent danger to our health and safety, probably with a complaint added in from the Queen Mother:

"Dave, haven't we had this conversation about you smoking in enclosed places?"

That's when he would crack the driver's side window and let air pressure perform its natural duties. But the car still smelled like a pipe. Or a cigar.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Tripping The Light Foot Fantastic

If I could only remember what I dreamt, would I remember this?

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Above is a recreation of an 18th Century ball -- at least a vision of what one might have looked like. It's highly choreographed, and a lot less populated than something that a king or queen or lord or lady would have hosted. But you get the feel of it.

This is the way your servant wishes he could move, if only those buckled shoes weren't so durned heavy. I've recently turned to using dancing slippers, which work well for folk dancing and Regency occasions. Not only are my feet lighter, I get a little more traction.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

On The Road With Sara

A Saturday morning in March 1985. I'm in the back of a church van on a junior high weekend trip to St. Louis from Kansas City. On our agenda: The Magic House, the Gateway Arch, the St. Louis Zoo, Union Station, and a whole bunch of us crammed into a couple of hotel rooms at a Holiday Inn near Lambert Field. For now though, as we roll through Wentzville, on our way to the main destination, I'm in my own world, headphones on, with Countdown America playing in my ear and this song by Starship in the top ten. They had just scored a number one with "We Built This City" a few weeks earlier, and the follow-up single was headed for the top.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
The lyrics are about a lost love, and I gather I remember this because I was feeling more than a little lost at that time myself. I was part of a church group, yet I was feeling the separation, feeling my church group mates really didn't get me, didn't get the nerdiness phase I was going through and didn't really care. I don't think I helped much, because your servant was prone to mood swings at the wrong moments.

This would be the beginning of my separation from GOD -- being among Christians but feeling you're not really a part of them. It would take many more years for me to return. But here I was on the road with the gang, because I wanted to travel, wanted to get out of the house, wanted a road trip. Adventure topped introversion.

That weekend was memorable, fortunately, for a lot of fun. I don't remember a lot of specifics about it, except for hearing a cool jazz group at Union Station and that attempt by Johnny to take a photograph of a pillow fight in the middle of the night.

"It didn't come out," he later told me. "I got elbows."

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"How Can You Dance In All Of That?"

People have often asked your servant how he can possibly cavort in so many layers of historical clothing without burning up. It's simple: I just learned to deal with it as I figured my Colonial ancestors did. Wearing a kilt helps in the summer, when I need more airflow. When I started making my own historic clothing, I aimed for thinner fabrics friendlier to Arizona climates -- and that breathed.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
I also avoid wearing a sporran with my Scottish ensembles.  That takes off a little weight and avoids it hitting in all the wrong places.  No need to elaborate there.

But, in the totality of everything, when I'm enjoying a dance, I'm not thinking of the heat or the cold or the weather or anything else. I'd rather just focus on being elegant and stately. You can see it here in these pictures taken about a decade ago at the Scottish games in Phoenix. A group there let me try out Scottish dancing.  It didn't take long to hook me.

Friday, January 11, 2019

When Jazz Got Reel

This jazz classic from Dave Brubeck reminds of when I first heard it: on the Royal Father's Sony reel-to-reel tape deck. Those open-reel beasts were the highest-end part of a high-end hi-fi system back in the 1970's. Dad's sat inside a cabinet when his system moved from my baby brother's bedroom upstairs to the newly-finished study. He didn't need any more shelving on bricks. Everything had a nice little spot behind a door.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
This tune comes from Brubeck's landmark album "Time Out," which Dad had on pre-recorded 4-track open reel format. The four tracks represented the two stereo tracks on one side, and the other two stereo tracks on the other side of the reel. Just like a record or cassette, you flipped the reel over once one side had played its way onto the take-up spool, and played the other side, which wound back onto the original reel. It wasn't convenient for playing individual tracks, but the quality was as close as you could get to the original master tape. The tape still had noticeable hiss, something you could work around.

I discovered one reel in Dad's collection that had four Bill Cosby albums on it, and I secretly threaded it up one day while I was off from school and my parents weren't around. He still has that reel. As for that Sony, it's now in possession of my uncle, perhaps gathering dust. Perhaps not.