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.