No More Ego

“If you’re working on your art all the time, you don’t got time for no ego.” -Nas, Rapture

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Time spent in art does correlate with mastery: 10,000 hours of it. I remember some misguided attempts from a slightly older dancer who advised me,  “You know, just because you spend time dancing doesn’t mean you get better. Sometimes you stall.” Since then, I’ve been terrified of plateaus. Perhaps this explains why I attempt too much, never leaving room for a 4th 8th “wow” moment because each of my 8ths dwindles into let-me-put-in-as-much-footwork-as-possible or “Hey, I’m going to play with slowing down time even if it doesn’t fit.” Sigh.

The best advice I recently received was from an incredibly kind balboa partner during the Hot Rhythm advanced tryouts. He said, “You know this. You’re just doing too much. Slow down.” Something magical happened. Everything that I struggled with for so long, just for that one bridge of music,  seemed to fade away. I don’t say this to lift up this one lead (although what a remarkable example of positive reinforcement), but instead to emphasize the idea that ego sometimes drives me, and possibly you, to…well, interesting dance places.

I remember hearing at that same weekend event a follow who boasted about having danced only a few months and having made advanced track. I felt jealous — pure and simple. I’m not proud to admit that, but I’m always a bit envious of pure talent. I wondered: Why am I stuck? This was, for me, the incorrect question. Watching stories of people who have made their craft their life, the work never stops. If you want to be not just good or better, you have to be willing to sacrifice to be the best. Granted, yeah, some people are protegés – really and truly. But..who among us can say that we haven’t benefited from a rigorous practice session?

I’ve spent the majority of my lindy hop career on this blog documenting a subculture I sometimes adored, sometimes disdained, and sometimes just needed a break from. It’s been a long, fateful road. Dance is my third language, and because of jazz melodies, it’s opened doors to new cultures. Now, in my mind, is the time to work on craft.

Point in question…what will happen to this blog? This record of mistakes made and said, mostly by a younger, ignorant, blunter me…will stay, if only to testify to one person’s experiences in dance. It does not pretend to be anything else. Nor will I. I’m going to take these hours I spend moping and stroking ego to bring some finesse, some sort of structure to this passion. It’s not enough for me to be good, to be on the fringe of advanced (scraping by as the last person accepted in the track). No. I won’t accept defeat this round. I just need to work. I need to make time. I need to change.

Perhaps…after this self-imposed sabbatical, I’ll see you on the other side. I’ll leave you with that age-old adage.

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Dance like you. No need for happy feet.

-Y.

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Nasty Habits

Hey.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a dance snob once more, what it means to value people. At this fantastic recent event, I saw a follow whom I really admired make these terrible faces at people she was dancing with. I must admit, I’ve probably been guilty of those same looks before. I heard and saw multiple others do the same. And yes, some of those looks were thrown at me (like always). That night though…I was feeling the music. There were these two amazing bands battling back and forth, some of my best swing friends were there, and I had the most quality conversations I’ve had in a loooong time in the swing community. I learned to be content with who I was, how I danced, and who I chose to interact with.

No, I didn’t speak with those men and women. No, they didn’t speak with me. Yes, I had a marvelous time. I hope they and their dance partners felt the same. But…this is something psychologists have researched for years between in-groups and out-groups. What makes it okay for people who think they are uber-dancer-supreme to feel like they can oust certain others, for no other reason than “cool” factor or “you don’t dance like I do?” There’s a difference between being critical of technique and just downright mean.

I’m guilty of rolling my eyes and shunning a dancer because of his enormous ego. Once, a dancer came up to me, and instead of dancing, made it a point to tell me about every flaw in my dancing while on the social floor. In that instance, I simply said, “If you don’t like my dancing, we don’t have to dance,” and I left. However, I’ve never done what these men and women of the dance community have done — namely, stare daggers down at the dance floor. It reminded me of an instance when I smiled at another follow at an event, and she immediately gave me a sourpatch face. Yeesh. Yes, it was totally her prerogative. But…what did I do…except be me? I absolutely did nothing to her.

I’ve been panning away from swing recently, into different veins of hip hop through Steezy Studios. This is not an endorsement, and I have no funds coming in through them (I wish). However, I do partake in a few dance classes each week. It’s freeing. The instructors come from different cultural backgrounds, and many look like me. It’s on video, but the organizers make it a point to communicate with you one-on-one when possible. I don’t feel judged…which, I often do in the lindy hop community. Not to say that hip hop is any less critical. When I first ventured into hip hop in college, I wore these Thai traveling pants to a practice. The other dancers nearly laughed me out of the room. One of my very good friends at the time instead of encouraging me pushed me out of the community. Not the best feeling.

I want to say that there is space for me as a woman of color who is not-the-best but not-the-worst in lindy hop. I want to say that every moment on the dance floor has been one where I feel honored to be there. I want to say I’ve enjoyed dancing every song with everybody. I want to say I felt accepted. Cared for. A part of something.

But it hasn’t. But I didn’t always. Those statements aren’t true for me.

I’ve felt lonely many days. I’ve cried on more than one occasion. Lindy hop experiences have prevented me from getting work done for my position. Social interactions have left me wounded. I’ve become depressed due to events in scenes. People have gossiped about me, torn me down, chewed me up, and spit me out….expecting me to keep dancing. I’ve taken more than my fair share of breaks from the scene.

“It’s okay not to be okay.” That’s a saying from somewhere. It’s not okay when scenes don’t try to change. What are we doing to be welcoming? What are we doing to build community? I’m not saying I’ve done an exquisite job — anything but that, in fact. I’m just wondering, “Where is the love?” [Appreciate the flashback, music lovers.] How did we get to a place where it’s okay for follows and leads to glare at and make ugly faces at people enjoying themselves? What is this, the opening to a Sir Mix-A-Lot music video?

Social dancing. The social part has been exhausting lately. I wonder why that is. I wonder, can we ever change? I hope so. I hope one day, I can get onto the dance floor and feel comfortable dancing like me without fear of judgment. These days, it feels like a distant memory, when music was always on key, when your friends were always from a swing dance club, and where you knew exactly where to eat between the main dance and late night.

Life isn’t so simple. Complexity should be reflected in dance. Expression should not be limited to the few we choose to lift up as idols of our time, but we do. And I wonder if this, too, shall pass. I wonder if these dance dreams and goals will slip away; if it will be even a tragedy. Or will people simply say, “Good riddance. She talked too much anyway.”

I wonder. I long for wonder.

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A Nefarious Habit

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Dancers,

We have to talk about Ksenia.* But more than that, we need to address the ongoing conversation about race in the lindy hop world. I felt deeply disturbed and disappointed to learn that this individual has indulged in black face and brown face over the years, underwent direct counsel from concerned individuals, and chose to ignore it. My question for you, global dance community, is this: Why do we choose to continue to ignore actions like these and choose tolerance over the years? Why are individuals still learning dance from someone who chooses racist actions over change? Why is stagnancy and preservation encouraged in a community where we, as a whole, profess to value innovation and improvisation?

I don’t have an answer for you. I can only tell you this: I will not be reviewing the online course I was once so excited about from this instructor and cancelled back in February. No more attention will be directed into any means of praise or even criticism in that direction. Instead, let’s re-direct: What will we, as diverse communities across the globe, choose for ourselves now?

Recently, in the last few years, two very different movies came out which I believe represent two of the many roads lindy hop and the swing dance culture at large can take — namely, Black Panther or La La Land. (Obviously, this is not a binary situation or choice, but I think this does represent major perspectives currently in play). While not a dance movie in the slightest, Black Panther, an afrocentric triumph, demonstrates what social ails exist and solutions which might be proposed. King T’Challa feels, at times, proud, tormented, and resolute. A complex character, he welcomes the audience into a similar fold about the inner mechanisms of what a true community entails — do we engage in civil war due to differing beliefs in purpose, do we compromise and make peace…or is there even a we right now? What is brilliant about Black Panther is that the story allows for multiple narratives to exist, to create, and even to destroy. (That’s all I’ll say without giving away any spoilers). Should you as a dancer so choose, you can allow multiple narratives in, to thrive given the proper growth and appreciation, to weed out the toxicity.

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On the other hand, we have La La Land. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of the themes present in this particular movie resonate with me as a dancer and as a dreamer. However, the movie also presents a unique parallel to how communities, like Hollywood or subcultures like swing-dancing, write out POC voices. The lead actors are white except, surprise, the antagonist who just so happens to be John Legend, an amazing African-American musician and artist. Still, he is pigeon-holed into a less-than, supporting role to a melanin-deprived cast. Many of the POC are sidelined as extras in the Broadway dance and song numbers. I was both excited and disappointed to see many from the lindy hop and hip hop communities represented but not highlighted on the margins. Nostalgia is weaponized to selectively “colorblind” or, rather, white-out history. It’s absolutely unexcusable and, to be honest, incredibly heartbreaking. For Old and New Hollywood alike, there is no place, apparently, for minority culture voices.

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I will be the first to acknowledge that life holds within itself a fair amount of moral gray areas. However, I hold this to be true: you do not use an identity as an insult, as a joke, or as a weapon against someone. That is inexcusable and abhorrent. Period. My issue with the lindy hop and swing dance subculture right now is not that we don’t know. I think recent conversations at Lindy Focus, at least, have shown an overwhelming willingness to learn and hope to understand. Awareness, if anything.

But now…

What am I going to do? What are you going to do about it? What will we choose to do, or what will we choose to let happen?

If there is a “we,” and I sincerely hope there still is, what will happen to “us?”

I for one am feeling a bit exhausted at…fighting assumptions. I walked to my car after an event to croakings from an older man about, “THAT Chinese girl!” nevermind that I never talked to him the entire night. I had to endure this both on the dance floor and to my car as I was walking to the parking lot alone. Strange heckling. Strange days of cultural encounter.

I hope for change here. If not, I’m making one…perhaps away from people who are not ready to accept who I am. Perhaps to a community who does already.

Resolutely,

Y.

 

*It should be noted that the first link was taken down which I’m not sure what to think of. However, in the one now linked, you can see some representation of minstrelism. As well as here.

Update: Ksenia’s response on Yehoodi. Thoughts?

“Bad Touch”

Dear Past Self,

Stop giving silence as your answer to those who wish to touch your body in ways you do not want them to. It will bring you nothing but a low simmering anger, a prison whose bars looked like human fingers.

You played it off because you didn’t want to think the worst of someone. Someone who you did not know, but you thought would at least respect your connection as classmates and dancers. The first time, you said, “Please stop.” It was definitely, probably an accident because, well, no one does that on purpose, right? He laughed, you nervously laughed. Your old anxiety will not let you trust him again. He then says, “Oh, you’re ticklish, eh? Good to know, tempting.” Sirens, warning signs, fear.

Rotate.

He comes back too soon. It happens again. It’s on the verge of what you perceive as a “bad touch” and just improper social etiquette. “Please stop, I don’t like that.” You say it again, firmly. “But it’s so tempting,” comes the response. You step away, and say, “Really stop.” “It was an accident,” He grumbles, eyebrows raised.

It was not an accident. His wife also takes the class. Was she there with him? You don’t know. All you know is that you feel ashamed. You tell your fiancee, you are both unsettled. You tell your friends, they are also shocked.

But still you doubt. Did he mean to? Was it intentional?

It was, and no matter if it were “just a tickle” or a grope, YOU did not want that to happen. YOU were made to feel uncomfortable in your own body. Why did you continue to take the class? Why did you try to smooth everything over?

IT IS NOT OKAY. It IS okay to make a scene next time. (God, let there not be a next time.)

It’s not okay, but it’s okay not to be okay right now.*

 

With Love,

Yue, in honor of Women’s Day (March 8th)

*If you yourself are struggling with abuse of any kind or a “bad touch,” tell someone who can help immediately. Don’t be silent.

Cherry Wine

 

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.

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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…

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Taipei shadows, 2016

Yue

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?

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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.

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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.

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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!
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  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.
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  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!
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  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.
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  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.

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Dance on, loves.

-Y.