Why Lindy Hop Makes You a Better Developer

Your corpus callosum — the bridge between your two hemispheres.

There’s now a lot of evidence to suggest that learning motor skills is a critical part of brain development that extends well beyond childhood. But we shouldn’t stop as adults. Continuing with motor skill development will keep you fit and sharp through the “golden years”, so we’re told.

Many people do take up various sport and/or intellectual activities through their lifetimes, but their scope of activities tends to be narrow and similar. Solving puzzles, coding, or playing squash, or an instrument, or a video game, all engage the brain in a specific narrow manner. There’s evidence to suggest that if you widen the scope and diversity of how you engage the brain, you’ll retain and even grow the capacity you have now.

Muscle memory – If you know how to drive a car with a standard transmission, you know what muscle memory is all about. You’ll remember how nerve-wracking it was learning how to smoothly make a left hand turn on a steep incline without rolling back to bump the car behind you. There was a lot to think about and coordinate both mentally and physically. Many sports have simpler kinds of challenges, and once learned, they become automatic – muscle memory. No one really knows how it works, but studies are beginning to reveal some of the details of the process. Once you’ve locked something into muscle memory, it’s done – like riding a bike. After that point, it’s just about refining and perfecting the skill. Growth and adaptation slows and you “plateau”. The same is true for athletic training, but that has been changing over the last ten years. Search online for: “high intensity training”, “interval training”, “muscle confusion”, and start reading. These approaches appear to provide physical improvement much faster than many of the old school training methods.

You’re growing when you’re learning. It’s embarrassing, sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes physically painful. The more difficult it seems, the more likely you should probably do it.

So here’s where the Lindy Hop part comes in. I have never experienced a more challenging or diverse motor skill learning endeavor as becoming a “lead” in Lindy Hop. Some of the movements do “lock in” as muscle memory, but the diversity of movement is so huge as you progress, it never really ends. You’re always immersed in that uncomfortable stage of trying to “lock it in”. While it’s not a “sport”, there isn’t a sport like it.

As a lead, the mental and physical activity usually happens at a fast pace, and within a window of a few seconds. You can have all of these thoughts race through your mind in rapid sequence…

- What am I doing now? What do I remember from class? What fits here?
- Execute this move; make the right gestures and cues to the follow.
- What am I doing next?
- What’s happening in the music? Pay attention to phrases and counts.
- Is there room on the floor to execute this move? Oh damn, there’s no room, abort and do something else!
- Did she read that cue right? No! Quick, do something else that makes sense here!
- Don’t step on her this time during the tuck turn.

I’m only just at the beginning of this learning process – I know enough to stay out of trouble and usually not look too foolish (though sometimes looking silly is part of it – at the right moment).

This past June, one of our newer employees, Jessica David, took part in a show put on by a local amateur dance troupe and school. The local school “Bees’ Knees Dance” held their annual performance at the Al Green theatre near Bloor and Spadina. Jessica formerly ran UT Swing over at the University of Toronto campus, and still teaches there at the beginning of every Wednesday night weekly dance.

Jessica and Alex at the Al Green Theatre, Bees' Knees Dance Troup

Jessica and Alex at the Al Green Theatre, Bees’ Knees Dance Troup. Photo by Augie Dimagiba

Another benefit to software developers is that it will improve your social skills in a welcoming, super friendly, encouraging environment. Let’s face it, if you code for a living, the social skills probably could use a boost. And, well, it’s all fun too.

Here’s where you start:
Bees’ Knees Dance
Toronto Lindy Hop
UT Swing

And for inspiration, here are a few of my favourite performances. Max & Annie are instructors from Quebec.

Max et Annie – CSC 2008 – 1st place Swing Couples

Le Jazz Hot “Max & Annie”

Tommy Blacharz & Max Pitruzella

So get out there; add some mental and muscle confusion to your life!

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