Let’s Be Real: AAPI Swing Dancing

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Shanghai circa 1930. “The Bund”
Photo courtesy of Emmeline Zhao

As someone who works in the business of inclusivity, I honestly feel a bit alone in terms of Asian American swing dancers. I first notices this when I garnered permission to create an AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Jazz Culture board at my workplace. Though the individuals I chose to feature were fantastic, I realized that there are too few of us in number.

Some of this is cultural. My parents adamantly believe dancing can never mean more to me than a hobby. There have been shouting matches and biting comments thrown around. They scoff and genuinely think I’m just not taking life seriously enough. Maybe that’s true. I’m not serious all the time, but who wants to live a serious life all the time? To be quite frank, living would not be as vibrant without swing dance or jazz culture in my life. My parents, wonderful as they are, just don’t understand this aspect of my life very much.

Some of this is just the demographics. As hard as it is to say, swing dancing is predominantly white in the Midwest. Perhaps in other State-side regions, not so much. However, I do think this is something that needs work. If the representation of the general population is not represented in the swing population, something is wrong. Swing should be welcoming, it should be fun for all. Is that happening? Perhaps this is something we have to change.

For other AAPI dancers out there, I want you to know that our history wasn’t forgotten in jazz culture. In fact, there was a rich jazz culture in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s. Music from the States meshed beautifully with local folk rhythms, creating a hybrid jazz I can only describe as a sort of perfection. Sometimes, wrongfully, I think we feel left out in the Revival. Know that there are huge scenes in Shanghai, Seoul, Bangkok, Hong Kong and many other Asian cities just as into swing as you are.

Maybe I’m writing this for you. But, if I’m actually really honest, I’m writing this for me. It’s an encouragement to keep dancing despite adversity from all sides, home and otherwise. It’s the push to dance just because I can, not because no one wants me to. I’m tired of being told by one group of people that I can’t dance at all to another group of people, my loved ones, who just tell me to quit. It’s not about being “not good enough” or “sidetracked” by dancing. For me, it’s about joy. I dance when I’m happy, and I often dance to get happier. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I guess you could say, it’s my way to forget about everything but the music. It’s an anti-drug.

 

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The always fabulous Eileen Chang, author extraordinaire.

If you close your eyes, you can melt seamlessly into syncopation, where your partner pulses rhythm and your fingertips touch melodies. 

To my friends out there struggling with tough AAPI parents, I feel you. Please keep dancing for the music.

Lindy on,

S.

I wish I could 

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