10 Things from Alamo Stomp 2018

I’m back with a list because my mind is a jumble of disproportionate and oblong thoughts which cannot seem to collect themselves. So, yes, a list is just fine. These things I know to be true about my experience.

DSC_0660

Taken back in the Carolina mountains in a kaleidoscope, refurbished Nikon.

  1. Attitude is everything. If you’ve followed this blog since the early years, you know I began on two left feet (figuratively in terms of dancing and tone). I wanted so badly to be somebody I wasn’t, to shed the skin I was for someone entirely different. But what a moment…to be alive in 2018, a Chinese-American transplant dancing in Texas hill country to lindy hop. You can’t make this up. Yes, there’s so much work to do in this community. No, we can’t stop here. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. We have to learn how to listen. If you haven’t read this post from ObsidianTea, you’re missing out on a whole conversation that needs to be valued. I knew I felt uncomfortable wearing a qipao but I realize each individual needs to notice and note what clothing brings up in people. Sometimes reliving and preserving the past is the last thing we need. Sometimes we need to remember how to let others move us, and sometimes we need to learn how to stand our ground. It’s wisdom to know the difference.
  3. I have to stop blaming others. It’s time for me to take ownership of my own mastery. I realized this all at once, then in steps thanks to the marvelous instructors, all of them (see below for names). It’s not enough to think others are having a good time, you have to be sure the dance feels right for you. Am I moving down a line? Am I pulsing? Am I bringing something valuable here? Does this feel good for me and my partner? I have to start questioning these things to get to…whatever is next.
  4. Learn to say thank you.  Thank the organizers. Thank the volunteer coordinators, the collaborators, and the volunteers. Thank the instructors and judges. (Check them out here: Jamin & Grace, Anthony & Irina, Shauna & Falty). Thank your fellow lindy hoppers. Thank the bands. Thank the MC and the alternates. Thank the competitors. No experience is exempt from a heavy dose of gratitude. I’m never going to forget the small act of kindness when an instructor stops everything they’re doing just to come by and fix an arm. That’s really solid, student-centered teaching.
  5. This is your moment, don’t wait. I think I waste a ton of time wondering what others think and say about me. 85% if not more. This weekend helped me realize that even if I bomb…at least I did it in a blaze of glory with the goofiness that is me. If no one likes it…well, the points only matter if you’re interested in them. (Believe me, I still am, I’m just trying to convince myself otherwise.) But in all honestly: you never know how much time you have left. “Make the most of your time here.”
  6. It’s okay to suck if you’re going to change. I know this is not my final evolution (that’s right, I’m a Pokemon master). I’m going to admit, it sucks when people see your ideas flub or if you trip…but I personally think there is more value in learning to recover than to quit. I remember seeing a dancer I very much admire slip up on stage, but she immediately nailed her next spotlight as if nothing ever happened. I’m pretty sure she left the competition with a placement despite the hiccup. You cannot literally die from embarrassment (however much you want it to happen).
  7. Learn to (not) apologize. I’m terrible at this. I always want to atone for every single thing I’ve ever said or done. My honest-to-goodness response upon some criticism recently was “I want to curl up and die.” I have to remind myself, and maybe you should remind yourself as well, from the earth and dirt and rubble comes the goodness. The soil, the dirt, the dust holds the richness for us to grow. Dust off your shoulders, relax, trust the process.
  8. Practice perfect. I had this choir director in secondary school always drill us that it wasn’t practice that made perfect, but perfect practice. Don’t stop when you master a move. Stop when you can do the move as easily as you can breathe.
  9. Draw from, don’t fossilize. I heard some interesting thoughts over the course of the weekend, notably about how music should be preserved, shared, or altered. I’m personally partial to the idea that we sit on a fine line of improvisation and preservation. My heart is leaning towards being open to the new while appreciating the history. Recognize the roots, the branches, and the leaves.
  10. Let Go…(Be Humble). The more I spend thinking about these ideas, the more I wonder about where lindy hop has been and where it’s headed. I remember telling a friend that, with all the recent tension, I wasn’t sure lindy or swing as a whole would rise above the subculture level. As responsible as we are for spreading the joy in dance…I do wonder too much sometimes. My voice blares a bit too loud over the online rafters, if you get my drift. So, please, take this as my last apology. Silence is too golden these days, and I will assure you, my future posts will be focused on quality rather than quantity.

 

On my toes…

DSC_1208

Taipei shadows, 2016

Yue

Advertisements

Not Yet.

I’m writing this partly for my heartbroken lindy self, partly for those of you out there whom this passion and practice does not come naturally for. To date, I’ve been dancing for on the shy side of 6 years with many breaks in between. I do not pretend to be anything but a social dancer who enjoys creating on the dance floor. After competing this weekend, I fell face-front into my own inadequacies as a competitor and dancer. So much so, I find myself here writing instead of sleeping yet again. No rest for the neurotic?

suit-couple-blue-shoes.jpg

I could blame my shoes that night or what I was wearing or what I ate…any number of factors. I could chalk it all up to a slick floor or not knowing enough of technique. However, I really just believe…I’m not there yet. Yet. I think this is the key word here. While I reserve so much growth mindset for my students at school, I leave so little for my own dance self. Especially in a lowdown like today, it’s difficult to scrape what dignity I have left off the bottom of everyone’s shoes. I mean, people — I could feel I was off my game. But what then? What’s left after you’ve cried as much as you can dredge up and you’ve thought up every excuse in the book?

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” All that’s left to do, is to return to a sense of home. Go back to the dance floor, try again…but differently. Use the tools at your disposal, be it video recap and feedback, returning to fundamentals, or hitting practices on the daily. I believe if you truly want something–be it redemption, victory, or any type of solution, you absolutely have to work for it.

I’m not the type of person who can glean something easily, I know that about myself. Nothing comes easily. To look effortless, for me, is always going to be a work in progress. I once had a balboa instructor tell me I have all the mechanics of a dancer, just not the trust in myself. Last night, I didn’t trust myself. I was so nervous, I wore a track between the bathroom and a corner of the venue. I forgot to think in terms of “not yet.”

There are so many things I wish I could tell my younger dance self. Don’t say things you can’t take back. Practice more. Stamp down your ego or let it get bruised. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Look more at your own missing pieces than pointing out those in others. (Just maybe stop saying things at all if you can help it, if I’m honest.) I want to stay positive about my performance last night, but truly, I feel it is a golden moment for me to simply think: I’m not quite at mastery…yet. It’s all a work in progress.

So, what’s left? For me…it’s just the dance. Wiping the slate clean, not expecting anything from anyone else than the two feet planted firmly beneath me. Breathe in, breathe out. Internalize the rhythm. Live to dance another day.

DSC_1236.JPG

Find rhythm, find flow. Repeat.

Stop being so angry with people. Stop judging. Be humble. Repeat.

Find growth, find creativity. Repeat.

-Yue

 

 

For the Love of Lindy

Hello, internet world. I’m writing to you from my abysmal work laptop yet again because we just got a new FedEx delivery guy who conveniently cannot find the front entrance of our building.

Image result for gif fedex

Anyway, since I have spent the day largely as a hermit and a recluse, I thought I’d reflect on what Lindy Hop has provided over the years. Namely, balancing out all of the craziness that 2017 has brought us. I want to remember all of the joy, not just all of the warnings and omens of rifts in the universe.

  1. Rise of Feminists: Praise, we are catching up to the times, and we can all be feminists. In fact, as Adichie says, we should all be. The implementation of safe spaces, the continuing conversation brought on by instructors, bloggers, and YouTubers have led to a safer, wiser community. I am so encouraged by brave voices speaking out. Image result for we should all be feminist adichie
  2. THE podcast: If you haven’t been listening to The Track with Ryan Swift, you’re doing something wrong. Swift is an incredibly articulate and mindful interviewer who engages well with both his subjects and the audience. He asks what many of us are left thinking in between swing outs and along the sidelines. If I’ve learned anything, it is from his numerous interviews with famous lindyhoppers, musicians, and instructors. I wouldn’t know really anything about the lindy-sphere without his sage, inquisitive questions to the lates and greats of the dance.
  3. Shoes, Shoes, Everywhere: Is it just me, or are new manufacturers of classic dance shoes popping out of the woodwork lately? I mean, seriously non-stop. I cannot get enough of the tried and true Saint Savoy and Remix, but I love the (at least for me) newly discovered Swingz, Bounce Shoes, and my current obsession – Slide & Swing. Pamela also just released her Autumn Romance shoes which seem to be unisex and very lovely as well. See some lovely snippets of her in the awesome shoe line here. I love it when passionate creators in one field branch out to another, and this is not an exception!
    Image result for swing dance shoes gif
  4. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: I’m a Gilmore Girls fan, guilty as charged. However, I’m a huge fan of the Palladino’s recent foray into 50’s fashion, style, and culture in her latest Amazon originals series. The wet sets, the gorgeous dresses, and the music is absolutely to die for. Did I mention they play “Tain’t What You Do,” a.k.a. the shim-sham classic, within the first episode? Did I mention this is 50’s era New York City? Everything, everything is impeccable in terms of set and fashion design, at least for my taste. The humor is equally exquisite if you’re up for something of a heart-wrenching laugh.
    Related image
  5. Jerry Almonte’s Instagram Feed: I’m here for it. This man posts the most gorgeous Instagram photographs of dancers, and listen– you absolutely need to see them. Here is one of my recent favorites for reference, but see all his work on the site…beautiful. All credit goes to J.S. Almonte, of course.Heading down to Asheville now for Lindy Focus. Can't wait to see everyone there! #lindyhop #dance #swing #jazz #jitterbug #swingout #charleston #dancing #gh4 #gh4photography #lumixmasters #dancephotography #dancephotographer #portraitphotographer #dcportraitphotographer #streetdancerproject  Dance Of, By and For the People A J.S.Almonte Production You can my follow my work through: Website: http://jsalmonteproductions.com/ Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JSAlmonteWandering Instagram: https://instagram.com/j_s_almonte/ Tumblr: http://streetdancerproject.tumblr.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/j_s_almonte Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsalmonte/
  6. The Ladies of Trashy DivaTalk about vinspo. I live for the looks these wonderful people serve, and boy do they serve. Some of you may recognize a familiar instructor by way of manager Mia Halloran. Whether you shop in the NOLA brick and mortar or through the website, you cannot do wrong by Trashy Diva. I’m still devastated that this unbelievably beautiful blue and white print in the shorts I wanted went out of stock. Lesson learned- if you shop here, shop quick!
    Image result for mia trashy diva
  7. The International Community: I know, I know. I am first and foremost to whistleblow on social circles, but hear me out. There is a global community of swing dancers out there, people like you and me, who enjoy this dance just as much if not more so than we do. That, in and of itself, is a remarkable feat. To think that in any country I so choose to visit, I can Lindy or Bal or Charleston, that is just mindblowing. In the past few years, I’ve lived in Chicago, Nashville, Budapest, near Taipei, and Hong Kong…each had a swing scene. You can swing dance every night until the wee hours in Seoul. San Antonio has live musicians everywhere and a well-frequented jazz bar. How lovely is that? You will never be without a family.
    Image result for taipei swing dance society
  8. The Local Scene: As the global sphere widens with dancers, I’m always charmed by local scenes doing their hardest to make sure swing dancing continues in every small step in their cities. For all of you hard at work in all seasons championing weekly socials, lesson sets, and competitions – I thank you so very  much. It is because of you, the organizers of small but mighty scenes, that I keep dancing. You keep the spirit moving.what is lindy hop
  9. The Spirit: As a product of our times, I struggle often with feeling isolated and disconnected without proper, face-to-face contact and ample digital space. Lindy hop provides us all with much needed socialization in the most joyous spaces imaginable. Dance floor exists in our living rooms, in basements, in bars, and studios. But of course, as cheesy as it sounds, they exist in our hearts. Why else would mega events like the now-seasonal Snowball, Lindy Focus, or Herrang exist but for our own excitement for this, this love? For what else can we call this but love? We anticipate all day, we think about what to wear, our pulse quickens as the musicians count themselves in…the rhythm helps us go on. (Image via Tumblr)
  10. The Improv Attitude: Anything goes. You can transcribe music from decades before as the amazing musicians at Lindy Focus have championed. Jimmy Lunsford, Artie Shaw, Chick Webb…you name it, they play it, the music lives on. We have divas in dancers and singers and musicians galore. In a dance, you can break in some breezy knees, do your Shorty George’s with a little more hip than someone else, or you can choose to sloooow down that tempo into something more sultry. You can pulse bouncy or bold or subtle. You can incorporate some Nathan Bugh eyebrows or Ramona Staffeld smiles or Dee Daniel Locke’s rockin’ rhythm. But most of all…you can dance like you and no one should judge you for it. That is the bleeding, beating heart of swing dance, my friends. The fact that we can express who we truly are and sing it out through our most happy feet. Sorry (not sorry) for all the sentimentality. But yes. You can truly be you here, and no one will be the cruder for it.

Image may contain: 13 people, people smiling, people sitting and wedding

Dance on, loves.

-Y.

 

On Elitism

Hello. It’s been a while. I’ve moved yet again for a new job and in the name of love. Still dancing, still semi-critical, nothing new. Anyway, just some recent insight on a dance escapade.

So, I recently had this terrible experience at a brilliant event which shall-not-be-named (in order to protect its yearly patronage). In order to cool off from the main ballroom, I found a circle of friends outside in the courtyard, enjoying the night air. Someone left, so I took his spot and began chatting with my friends. This local “star” if you will, however, pushed past me without so much as a second look and exiled me from my friends. He quite literally pushed me out of the circle. I felt immediately invisible and ousted. After speaking with local friends, it seems this is some sort of bad habit with this individual.

Image result for gif left out

Ouch. Sad to say, this event has not been my first time feeling alone or ignored at a social dance event where I know several dozen people. In fact, it has become more the rule than the exception. Somewhere along the rode to this niche subculture, and perhaps due to the narrowness of our interests, people have become enrobed in elitism. Like…I can’t even look at people for very long without them whispering.

It used to be, and probably to some extent still is true, that after events you have these mass friend-a-thons on social media of dancers trading information in post-event excitement, thrilled to connect with other dancers. A few months ago, I started finding my profile sinking into the pit of souls and purgatory of waiting friends. Suffice to say, I resolved to just keep the quality friends I know. Honestly, a waste of breath otherwise.

Image result for gif pit of souls

This is not a national phenomenon — it just so happens to be an international one. I’ve seen it with my significant other being ostracized by followers who thought he was beneath them in Asia. In Canada, I asked someone to dance with a wide open floor and great music, was given a dirty look before denied. Let me add, this person also added a “talk to the hand.” Honestly. These situations actually happened. Not to mention the shaming instructors do. Consider the list of abhorrent teaching and responses I’ve received over the years…from people I’ve paid, from “swing friends,” and acquaintances.

  1. You’re just not a natural dancer. You will always be awkward.
  2. *Laughter after trying an aerial.*
  3. *Laughter when admitting fear at attempting an aerial.*
  4. No one likes a follow that…um…heavy.
  5. You only got into finals because it’s a small pool.
  6. *Insults about directionality*
  7. *Insults about turns*
  8. Yeah, that Chinese girl. Pick her.
  9. *Stomps on toe, turns around to mouth “sorry”, and laughs with partner* (Mind you, I was bleeding, the nail cracked, and the toe turned an ugly shade of purple)
  10. I danced with a follow yesterday who did this *mocks dancing, class laughs*
  11. Hey, girl in the blue skirt, ARE YOU SURE you did it correctly?
  12. *Asks if he wants to join the jam circle.* “I don’t think so.” *Goes in 5 min later with a different dancer.*

I’m tired of this. Granted, many of these comments helped me improve and occurred years ago, but they also sucked away my self esteem as a dancer. Many were from people I trusted and who genuinely cared for. I want to be clear, I’m not on a dance break, I will not give anyone that sort of power over me again. However, it does make me all the more weary to join a super event again. I often wonder if people just go to those events to get a bit more “stardust” on their shoulders from “dancing with the lindy stars.”

Image result for gif dancing with the stars

I admit to being one of those individuals as a beginner. Now, I’m left full of questions. If this is occurring with social rules and safety in place, how do we circumvent social ousting? Will lindy hop be doomed to an elitism historically associated with ballroom? Do we welcome newcomers? I think we all know the answers, somewhere in the back of our brains. Often with all the rules, I have heard the rudest comments, often about the most shallow topics. The dress I chose to wear, the way I swivel, my RBF… In terms of elitism…honey, we’re already there. I mean, swing dance can be a beautiful, equitable practice. However, it is also a way to cherry pick your friends from a drastically smaller pool. I’ve seen dancers leave after a few weeks of enduring week after week of being ignored at socials.

I don’t have an answer for you. I know I hate level testing because I always feel like I’m never going to be considered “uppercrust” despite making advanced level before. It always feels like a fluke. I guess I’m calling for the kindness of strangers in a space that is feeling altogether too lonely at times. Now, I haven’t felt this way at all in my current local scene. The people here have been lovely, welcoming, and always friendly. Something’s gotta give at the national and international event level though. We’ve become calloused and rude. Of course, I’ve met amazingly kind and nurturing people through international events. I’m just calling for more of us to exemplify that attitude, to show the kindness of strangers.

Image result for gif harry potter dance

Work in Progress

b01ce49a52a9fa945ecf70a1fb018459

Ballet is excruciating, rigorous, and takes a terribly large amount of discipline. The ballerinas we respect and love the most make the suffering look both effortless and graceful. In between the moments when the dancer takes the stage are the tireless hours spent perfecting in the practice room. I think this nod towards discipline can be something sorely lacking in my lindy practice. Bobby White recently wrote in Practice Swing about how wanting to be good yet not putting in the practice will fail to change your dance habits and, ultimately, your style.  It’s not just about how badly you want to be good. Getting “there,” wherever “there is,” requires a complete shift in daily habits. What action steps are you pursuing everyday? Do you have good posture off the dance floor? Are you exercising your core? How are you practicing proper grip? For swing dancing to look effortless, time must be stretched in the classroom.

Have you ever hit a wall in your dancing? You feel irritated because often you run into certain tells in your dancing. For me, it’s often an under-emphasized beat 7, taut shoulders, or just far, far too much vertical, bouncy pulsing. (I look like an Energizer Bunny with too much juice.) I am critical of my turns and my inability to grasp the gravitas of centering. Yet, much of lindy hop (and life, really) is about centering. Wherever you fall in the ever-constant debate between improvisation and standardization, there seems little disagreement on what looks natural. You can tell when a dancer looks uncomfortable. That’s more often than not…me.

To be honest, I don’t like being touched. Contact is hard for me, and you can often see this in the way I mistrust my partners. I loom just a little farther. I always, always, always go off the line. I’m scared. Of…conflict, of being too close, of intimacy. That’s really what it is, isn’t it? Dance is intimate. Whether or not you know someone, whether or not you like them platonically or otherwise, they are touching your body. They can also touch your soul and mind. Yesterday, at a rent party, I danced with an individual who did not respect my body. He put his hand uncomfortably close to areas I would rather him not, he spoke too close to my face, and I said nothing. I did nothing but turn away, pull away, and walk as quickly as I could away from him on the dance floor. I was scared. That dance made me sit down and not want to dance again. It was a microscopic zoom into what it looks like for consent to be taken for granted.

I sometimes fear partner dancing. I fear being touched because contact requires a great deal of vulnerability. To overcome something, you often have to look it dead-on, no bars. I do not shrink away from challenges. I may cry, complain, and groan in frustration, but I do not back down. So, this confession is something of that nature. I do not know a solution to what “safe space” will ultimately look like. I only know that it should be easier to say no if someone makes you uncomfortable. Why did I not tell anyone? Why did I doubt my gut feeling when that partner spun his face a little too close? Why was it so hard to express my discomfort? What did I fear?

Discipline is important. It is necessary. So, I suggest we apply discipline to how we treat each other in the dance sphere. Not just the Golden Rule, people, the Platinum Rule. Treat others how they would like to be treated. How does this conversation continue then? There is so much to learn. There is so much to improve upon. So buckle down. Learn something. And, perhaps, I need to learn how to say something as well.

Speak / Silence

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Frankie 100, photograph my own.

Trigger warning: This post deals with sensitive material surrounding testimonies of many very brave women speaking up against Max Pitruzzella who raped them. While no explicit details will be on this post in the interest of younger audiences (my students) , full accounts can be found on the ineffable Jo Hoffberg’s facebook and Ruth Evelyn’s page. Further details about the ‘booyah’ club can be found on the group page for Lindy Hoppers Against Rape Culture. I encourage readers and dancers of all ages to find a way to break the silence.

I have no words. Nothing will do. When people take privilege and lord it over others, when peace is threatened by malice…cruelty bears an ugly scar on humanity. Even that sentence sounds wrong and does the situation no justice. As someone who has survived similar circumstances, I wonder how to talk about this issue. My attacker was not a dancer, but I knew him. We were on a date when similar situations described by Ruth and others like her occurred. I blamed myself. My friends blamed me. I was called several names, most of them linked to derogatory terms. I lost my friends and my entire support system in a foreign country. I cannot imagine what that fear does to you in the hands of a community we love.

Today is a time of mourning. In the past, I have blamed, fumed, and wrought myself wrong in fury. Today…today, I don’t know how to feel. Only that lindy hop used to be an escape for laughter, joy, and all things beautiful. Yet, the more things I learn, the more I feel disenchanted with the dynamics. We leap for joy, we sing, we rabble-rouse. That’s lindy hop for me-that sort of defiant laughter in the face of a cynical world.  Now, I fear it’s escape of a different sort, another way for cruelty or …evil to rear its ugly head. Has dancing made us better people? Or has it made us numb to certain power inequalities?

“You’re not alone. It’s not your fault.” We say these things. We mean it. But how, HOW do we stop injustice from happening again? How do we prevent it from ever happening? How do we reverse blood already spilled? Speaking up matters. Talking matters. If we do not speak up, I think the very earth will cry out.

Stigma prevents us from healing. Stigma suffocates and hold tights to silence. Thoughtful dialogue changes things, but what can truly repair the hurt? I don’t know yet. I’m still in the process, and lindy hop played a huge role in my healing process. However, I wonder if the community can also bear its teeth some times. I see new dancers excluded, I have excluded people myself (I think I am expert at alienating others, if anything). How do we be kinder? Braver? Better?

I don’t know yet. I sit in a bustling cafe, and I feel alone today. Perhaps tomorrow will bring a different horizon.

-Y.

 

Step One.

favim

Image via Favim

I guess I am just frustrated. Frustrated with myself when I watch my peers progress in competitions across the national stage, frustrated with my own silly standards for lindy hop, frustrated with how I am stuck motionless. It is a silly, sad thing to want more than you practice for, I suppose.

I’m in a lindy lull, if you will, and I wonder if I can get out of this funk at all. I’m tired of calling out other people when, perhaps all along, I was just so disenchanted with my own dancing. When did it become so boring and lackluster? When did I stop dreaming and wanting and waiting for more? It couldn’t have been that long ago.

I miss being a part of a community of energized individuals ready to improve their dancing. I think being a newbie was one of the best phases of my dancing journey. I could make mistakes and laugh without too much consequence. But…I’m stuck in mediocre-land these days on the vast plain of intermediate. I wonder if you know how it feels to be consistently glanced over at level screenings or to make it by the skin of your teeth. It’s not a fun feeling, and it makes you doubt everything.

I don’t know how to fall in love with dancing again. Do I try a new style? Do I go to another event? After a last unfortunate incident of elbowing someone in the face (I’m so sorry), I don’t know that I even want to meet new people. Maybe I’m just meant to do something else, dance another dance, find a new path. I don’t know.

Whether I’m depressed or not about my dancing, I cannot say. I only wish to move forward. I’m tired of critiquing others or reviewing events. I want to get down to the heart of my dancing and IMPROVE. Oh man…do I want to improve. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines at every event, looking up into the faces of competitors as a fight for a square foot of space to sit in. I don’t want to hero-worship anymore. I want to dance more like me. I want that joy feeling to manifest outside without the awkward machinations of my limbs getting in the way.

What does it look like when the Spirit moves?

I want to know.