How We Treat Beginning Dancers, or: Dancer Love

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Hey lindy lovers,

A topic to chew over with you guys. I’ve noticed a sad trend emerging that spans across oceans and scenes. It’s making me a little troubled in the heart department.

You see, I started swing dancing and started loving it because in Hong Kong, I met some people who inspired me to love dance. Most notably, Linn Hasserius from Sweden who was on exchange with me at HKU (Hi, Linn!). She not only danced effortlessly, but was so sweet to me, a clumsy, two-left-feet giant of a messy dancer. Plus, a random guy I’ve never met again who taught me all he knew about basic swing dance on the tiny floor at Grappa’s. Sure, they weren’t the international instructors of Hong Kong or professional teachers, but they were my first teachers. People who genuinely cared about lindy hop and beginning dancers. They were kind, understanding and gracious. They didn’t laugh at my mistakes, but just kept counting the beats as I danced. I think I was graced with equally awesome teachers in Champaign-Urbana. Ann Lucenko, Bradley Smith, Andrea Walker, Anthony Carusiello, Andrea and Aaron Raiff, the awesome Bal that is Kyle and Carol Fox…etc, etc. Everyone just screamed joy of lindy hop from their very smiles and attitudes. I wanted to dance like them not because it looked technically fabulous (although it did), but because of how it made them smile.

Of course, there was the DCLX Exchange of 2013. How could I forget the awesomeness that was Maryland and company? Again, I was only dancing for a year and traveling for the first time, but I got to dance with so many people. Sure, I had my first glimpses of elitism, but I just thought the star-studded crew was on a different level.

Visiting instructors at colleges were always so encouraging. I felt like they really took the time to listen and take care to give me gentle criticism. Instructors that are absolute GEMS about this are Casey Schneider & Mike Faltesek, Thomasz Blacharz & Alice Mei, Evita Arce & Michael Jagger & Nathan Bugh, to name a few. They are fabulous, humble and just some of the coolest human beings you’ll ever meet.

Now, I’m still just a laymen in terms of the hierarchy of lindy hop events. I’ve been steadily going to several over the past few years, but am amateur on a good day. Honestly though, some of the exclusion makes me really sad. When I got a lower level than I thought I did at Lindy Focus, I cried on the way back from class after missing my chance to dance with Mike Roberts and Laura Glaess. Though my cabin was great about supporting me and giving me encouragment, I felt so judged on the dance floor. Many people actually made beelines for the instructors or higher level people. I felt…invisible and worthless. It sucks, when you know you want to be better and, at that moment, you can’t.

How is that the spirit of lindy hop? How is that inspiring? Why do we do this to each other? When my boyfriend attended his first lindy event, he was super excited. He bought some dapper new clothes just for the dances, only to have follows treat him like dirt. One even told him, “Yeah, your dancing is just dry.” I had an alright time at this event, but I felt so upset for him. In what world is it okay to treat a fellow human being in this way?

This is my beef. We are all beginners in something. That beginner dancer you’re dancing with could be a Nobel Prize Winner. She could be a nuclear scientist or a NASA engineer. Perhaps she has trouble with 8 counts, but you probably have trouble with derivatives or linear regression. Maybe that dancer you just insulted graduated with three degrees in 4 years on a pre-med track. (That would be my boyfriend, you silly follow.) Possibly, in their comfort zone of a laboratory or an office, we would be the bumbling newbie trying our hardest.

Friends, we have to stop valuing people for their skills or flourishes on the dance floor. Sure, those are awesome. For me though, the best part of lindy hop is getting to know people. I was bullied until college. I thought I would never be able to make friends in a large social setting, but lindy hop changed my life. Other people wanted to dance with me. They wanted to talk and laugh and be friends with me. That was monumental. Volunteering for Frankie 100 changed my life because all of these people who celebrating the joy a single man had for a dance. Yes he was fabulous for his dance moves, but he also had a fantastic attitude.High flying and just genuinely joyful.

I’ve been the stupid jerk who only dances with people she thinks is “on her level.” I primped and put on gargantuan layers of makeup to gain…what? Points or something? (You don’t get points on the social dance floor, FYI. That’s weird). At Frankie 100, I felt like God let me know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of my mean attitude. I cried in a bathroom stall at the end of a night because I asked someone to dance, and they shoved past me. Ouch. Actually, they didn’t even seem to see me when they looked back…

So these days, I’m getting a few more bruises and broken toenails. I’m getting raised eyebrows and snickers. I’m getting more criticism and automatic tap outs at Jack and Jill Competitions. But you know what I’m also getting?

I’m getting the joy of lindy hop back. As Nathan Bugh so aptly put it, “Dance like you. I mean, who else are you gonna dance like, anyways?” You’ll just look like a fraud.

I’d rather be a crazy or so-called “crappy” dancer any day rather than be a bully. Any day.

~S.

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2 thoughts on “How We Treat Beginning Dancers, or: Dancer Love

  1. I experienced a similar feeling in my travels, as when I knew no one I could no longer dance just for myself and make my dance nights about me because there was no clique to hang out with. It had to become about meeting people and getting to know them. Which was why I enjoyed the dance when I first started, until I got better and started seeing beginners as an annoyance. But like you said, we are all beginners at something. Sometimes it’s at a new activity. Sometimes it’s in a new country. Sometimes it’s at a new job. It’s terrifying to be new. Nothing makes new feel awesome like acceptance, compassion, enthusiasm, and basic humanity. There’s no reason not to just be grateful for people who through the door and want to have a good time. Unless they are westies.

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