Have you ever felt burnt out from dancing? Like, no matter how much you work towards your craft, show up to events, and learn diligently from instructors, you’ll never get “there,” up in the corner with the so-called elite? Lately, I’ve been feeling more and more as if lindy hop, though not unreachable, is beginning to feel so much like an insulated, narrow oligarchy that we’ve knit together ourselves.
I think what really drew me to this dance was always the community and the excitement of sharing something brand new every single dance with a stranger. And not just anything – a strange sort of spark, akin to falling in love. When you have an exquisite dance, no matter what your level, background, or even language…you feel something in your mind, your heart, your gut. You feel more alive than ever before, almost as if you are waking up for the first time…living for the first time.
Yet…over the years, the fireworks have simmered into cinders for me. Whether observing or sometimes, sadly, participating in elitist tendencies, paying for honestly extremely expensive dance events, or realizing that acceptance was an illusion I kept for myself…swing dance has become less of a joy. It breaks my heart to say this. I feel incredibly curmudgeonly even for bringing it up, but I wonder some days if you can age out of this scene. A friend recently brought up how they’re branching out genres because lindy hop, even the most contemporary lindy hop, often feels one-noted, flat “happy.” They want to dance to music to a whole range of emotions because, as a human, they’re often than not more than just happy.
And…I agree. Mikey Pedroza and Ryan Swift talked a bit about this on The Track podcast a while ago. We need ways and means to dance to music that isn’t always upbeat, that mimics the heart and all its wayfaring. Someone else recently confided in me that they always appear to see the same body shapes or dancing styles in their home scene. They don’t feel accepted or appreciated for who they are. Thus, they too have branched out to a different style of dance all together, saving lindy hop for traveling events only.
As more seasoned dancers confess more and more about their displeasure in where lindy hop culture is going, I can’t help feeling the same reservations. I arguably went to one of the nearest and dearest events to my heart – Nevermore Jazz Ball. Don’t get me wrong – I still think the staff and bands in St. Louis do an amazing job of organizing. If you go to any event, you must make a trip to Cherokee Street. The Midwest reunions were much needed, the competitions were a thrill to watch, and I had such high caliber dancing – I adored so much of this nostalgic trek into a familiar time and place.
However, I remember distinctly during this trip feeling so left out. While waiting in queue for a midnight snack, I cracked a joke. There was nothing distinctly off-color about it. I simply said it felt like we were the hungry masses staring longingly into the storefront window. The two dancers in front of me glanced back as if I had made a major faux pas or swallowed a frog…just unblinking staring without responding. Then, they promptly went back to talking about phrasing and musicality. I just…feel as if sometimes the culture as a whole is moving so far into niche we’ve forgotten the social aspect of this dance.
Rik commented on feelings of loneliness after a long hiatus. I would argue some of us stay within the scene attempting to stifle these same feelings. Over the last year, even with my most eager attempts to join in on open floor events or jams, I’ve felt left out. I don’t know why, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. I remember rushing out the door once weeping because it was the third time I had attended a meeting without anyone asking me to dance at all…after hours. I’m ashamed to say I spent a few minutes sobbing in the car.
I guess, these days, I’m wondering if it’s all worth it. Is it worth a fellow dancer rolling his eyes at me during a Balboa audition? Is it worth forking over $200-300 for well-known events? Is it worth going to a competition only to have your Mix-n-Match partner give you the once over and disappointedly say, “Oh, you?” Is it worth looking at the judges’ scores and feeling so demoralized that you don’t want to dance for months on end? Is it worth watching a racist still dance on in communities without repercussions? The double-ended sword of a social dance is that it has the potential to carry social wounds. Years and years of scars.
Falling out of love isn’t something anyone wants to do. We do everything in our power to avoid it, but it happens, slipping out of our fingers like so many grains of sand. Or, perhaps, more like feathers scattered to the wind. Picking them back up is an impossible feat.