A Nefarious Habit



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.


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.


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.




*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?


4 thoughts on “A Nefarious Habit

  1. Cassie says:

    To address your asterisk: There is discussion going on in the Facebook group Jive Junction about Ksenia. In the comments, Jerry Almonte (of Wandering &a Pondering) points out that her blackface video, from her YouTube channel, comes down when these kinds of issues come up, but magically reappear when everything settles down.

    • Thank you, Cassie. Appreciate the additional background! I’ve been tracking the Jive Junction as well as Reddit discussions. It’s disturbing that these videos pull a temporary disappearing act.

  2. Thank you for your post! Yehoodi has said some interesting things on this subject as well (http://www.yehoodi.com/blog/2018/3/14/ksenias-hair-and-our-continuing-debate-over-black-representation-in-lindy-hop).
    I think that if we choose to participate in something as culturally significant as Lindy Hop, we have a responsibility to be mindful of its roots and to teach its history.
    As a Chinese-Malay Lindy Hopper in a mostly Caucasian Colorado dance scene, I have had to remove myself from the dance scene in recent months due to inappropriate comments and assumptions about my race and ethnicity. I’d love to hear some of your experiences as long as you don’t mind sharing them. I’ve gotten so used to brushing off comments on how “exotic” I look, but I feel like if I just keep brushing them off, I’m only contributing to the problem.

    • Hey Davina! Appreciate the post, and I have also been delving into the Yehoodi post. Historically, I’ve also received similar fetishizing comments about my APIA identity, and it is quite off-putting. It helps to be in a group with other POC in the area, so I would try to seek out community.

      As for my experiences, here are a few just in the U.S.:
      1. Fetishizing from certain individuals dressed in U.S. military gear while wearing a qipao.
      2. Invisible minority erasure, i.e., sitting alone due to assumptions about language capabilities
      3. Comments about where I’m “really” from.
      4. Inappropriate accents done by people I don’t know (strangers)
      5. Heckling from cars and the audience

      So forth. I can expand, but still coming to terms with all the issues in the dance scenes myself. I don’t know what my future in this dance looks like due to…so many factors spurred on by this issue. I can tell you I’m both reflective and shocked.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s