Work in Progress

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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.

Speak / Silence

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Frankie 100, photograph my own.

Trigger warning: This post deals with sensitive material surrounding testimonies of many very brave women speaking up against Max Pitruzzella who raped them. While no explicit details will be on this post in the interest of younger audiences (my students) , full accounts can be found on the ineffable Jo Hoffberg’s facebook and Ruth Evelyn’s page. Further details about the ‘booyah’ club can be found on the group page for Lindy Hoppers Against Rape Culture. I encourage readers and dancers of all ages to find a way to break the silence.

I have no words. Nothing will do. When people take privilege and lord it over others, when peace is threatened by malice…cruelty bears an ugly scar on humanity. Even that sentence sounds wrong and does the situation no justice. As someone who has survived similar circumstances, I wonder how to talk about this issue. My attacker was not a dancer, but I knew him. We were on a date when similar situations described by Ruth and others like her occurred. I blamed myself. My friends blamed me. I was called several names, most of them linked to derogatory terms. I lost my friends and my entire support system in a foreign country. I cannot imagine what that fear does to you in the hands of a community we love.

Today is a time of mourning. In the past, I have blamed, fumed, and wrought myself wrong in fury. Today…today, I don’t know how to feel. Only that lindy hop used to be an escape for laughter, joy, and all things beautiful. Yet, the more things I learn, the more I feel disenchanted with the dynamics. We leap for joy, we sing, we rabble-rouse. That’s lindy hop for me-that sort of defiant laughter in the face of a cynical world.  Now, I fear it’s escape of a different sort, another way for cruelty or …evil to rear its ugly head. Has dancing made us better people? Or has it made us numb to certain power inequalities?

“You’re not alone. It’s not your fault.” We say these things. We mean it. But how, HOW do we stop injustice from happening again? How do we prevent it from ever happening? How do we reverse blood already spilled? Speaking up matters. Talking matters. If we do not speak up, I think the very earth will cry out.

Stigma prevents us from healing. Stigma suffocates and hold tights to silence. Thoughtful dialogue changes things, but what can truly repair the hurt? I don’t know yet. I’m still in the process, and lindy hop played a huge role in my healing process. However, I wonder if the community can also bear its teeth some times. I see new dancers excluded, I have excluded people myself (I think I am expert at alienating others, if anything). How do we be kinder? Braver? Better?

I don’t know yet. I sit in a bustling cafe, and I feel alone today. Perhaps tomorrow will bring a different horizon.

-Y.

 

Step One.

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Image via Favim

I guess I am just frustrated. Frustrated with myself when I watch my peers progress in competitions across the national stage, frustrated with my own silly standards for lindy hop, frustrated with how I am stuck motionless. It is a silly, sad thing to want more than you practice for, I suppose.

I’m in a lindy lull, if you will, and I wonder if I can get out of this funk at all. I’m tired of calling out other people when, perhaps all along, I was just so disenchanted with my own dancing. When did it become so boring and lackluster? When did I stop dreaming and wanting and waiting for more? It couldn’t have been that long ago.

I miss being a part of a community of energized individuals ready to improve their dancing. I think being a newbie was one of the best phases of my dancing journey. I could make mistakes and laugh without too much consequence. But…I’m stuck in mediocre-land these days on the vast plain of intermediate. I wonder if you know how it feels to be consistently glanced over at level screenings or to make it by the skin of your teeth. It’s not a fun feeling, and it makes you doubt everything.

I don’t know how to fall in love with dancing again. Do I try a new style? Do I go to another event? After a last unfortunate incident of elbowing someone in the face (I’m so sorry), I don’t know that I even want to meet new people. Maybe I’m just meant to do something else, dance another dance, find a new path. I don’t know.

Whether I’m depressed or not about my dancing, I cannot say. I only wish to move forward. I’m tired of critiquing others or reviewing events. I want to get down to the heart of my dancing and IMPROVE. Oh man…do I want to improve. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines at every event, looking up into the faces of competitors as a fight for a square foot of space to sit in. I don’t want to hero-worship anymore. I want to dance more like me. I want that joy feeling to manifest outside without the awkward machinations of my limbs getting in the way.

What does it look like when the Spirit moves?

I want to know.

(Possibly) Irrational Minority Dancer Thoughts

Happy APIA Heritage Month! Here are some silly, some serious thoughts which actually go through my brain while dancing. All events described have happened. All images via giphy.com

  • I can’t dance two songs with another dancer of the same race because people might think we’re dating/married/siblings…or something. Also, there are three of us in the room and we made eye contact after a mere 5 seconds. (And no, we do not know each other.)
  • This “where are you from?” question is getting supremely annoying. Do people not understand that it’s kinda insulting and racist to ask that? Especially “Oh, but where are your parents from?” Shush.

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  • I wonder if people think I’m glaring at them because I have small eyes or a resting b*tch face…
  • I can’t wear a cheongsam again to this venue because a creepy person just stared me down for several minutes and leaned in far too close to ask for a picture. He just so happens to be wearing an American military uniform. I’m not into the whole Miss Saigon/ Madame Butterfly trope.

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  • One of my newfound friends basically said that racism in America is “not as bad” as in other countries. I want to stomp on somebody’s foot.
  • A dance partner just leaned in and used four different “hello” phrases from four different languages. That’s as if I introduced myself in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English to someone of Danish descent–stop it. Even if you did manage to land on the “correct” language, I’m a bit of a sass monster so I’ll start conversing with you in Chinese. Be prepared.
  • Did this person want to dance with me because I “look exotic?” Ugh. Are they choosing not to dance with me because I look Asian? Am I crazy for thinking either?

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  • Where are all the APIA instructors and instructors of color? How come there are so few?
  • Is lindy hop a cultural appropriation? I mean…it started off as a dance in Harlem and now it’s mostly white dancers. What does that mean? I don’t know…
  • Is it always going to be this way?

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Perhaps this is a regional discrepancy? When I lindy hop on the coasts, I feel like there’s more representation, therefore this feeling that I could belong in this community. However…stuck in the middle, even living in the middle of the U.S., APIA dancers often seem few and far between. Am I just delusional? Am I crazy? I don’t have a quaint conclusion for you, only a bit of humor to mask some bitterness.

Love & Lindy,

Yue

Safe White Spaces in Lindy Hop

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After extensive studying of Dr. Ladson-Billings’ work in Critical Race Theory as well as Leonardo & Porter’s landmark article “Pedagogy of Fear” addressing the violence in safe spaces, I must question the intent behind how we talk about race and intersectionality. For reference, I’ll take the best and biggest mother-event of North American – Lindy Focus. The Code of Conduct states (in part),

“Lindy Focus is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable event experience for everyone, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion (or lack thereof). We do not tolerate harassment of event participants in any form.”

The subtext behind statements like these about “safe spaces” implies those of us caught in the intersection of Othered identifiers are someone to be feared. How so? Stengel (2010) writes in “The Complex Case of Fear and Safe Space” that, “By designating fears, we construct safe space for some and unsafe space for others. That is, we construct the world as safe and unsafe and control the movement of fear but also the movement of bodies in that world” (531). Sometimes when I read about Safe Spaces in lindy hop, I get the feeling that my race makes people feel discomfort based on the wording of codes. I understand the policies are in place for my benefit, but at the same time, I wonder how will this anti-racism attitude be reinforced? When I go to events, I seldom see an APIA (Asian Pacific Islander American) in a place of power as a lindy hop professional (with a few exceptions, like Anthony Chen, Naomi Uyama, or Alain Wong). Full disclosure: It should be noted when prompted for an APIA swing dancer interview for an Asian American Cultural Center gallery, none some did not respond. IMPORTANT EDIT: Alain Wong was one of the individuals who graciously responded. Otherwise, I feel as if safe spaces, in terms of race, are there for the comfort of whiteness. Even after the implementation of Codes of Conduct, I still feel uncomfortable when I go to many events. As diverse as some venues are historically, I exist as an APIA and a minority lindyhopper in a mostly white space. It is never really safe nor is it ever really openly talked about.

I have had several moments where white people feel exempt from this conversation in regards to race because, “I see people as individuals” (basically, “I don’t see color” or colorblind race theory). This particular perspective reveals insidious racism based on how white privilege has seeped into consciousness, rendering Other experiences invisible. It is THE most upsetting for me because I feel like some may not see my lived experiences as legitimate or even there. Further, people openly culturally appropriate traditional Chinese garments like no other. In fact, lindy hoppers have won fashion awards for wearing cheongsams without understanding the implications of wearing  cheongsams. Chang shan (长衫)is a part of Chinese feminist history during the Republican period, as only men were allowed to wear such robes before. Taking the cheongsam from APIA culture is like taking part of my voice and agency away when people feel the need to play “dress up” in yellow face.

I once thought, “Oh, overseas locations will be different. There’s an international crowd.” How wrong I was. Nostalgia for bygone eras has crept into scenes in other countries as well, and I feel even more uncomfortable in my skin. While overseas, both in Europe and Asia, I felt this overwhelming pressure to do swing “the right way.” Event organizers idealized whiteness in fashion, in form, and in movement. What is the right way? Why are the stakes for competitive lindy hop so high? Yes, I understand the beauty in technical and musical form. However, there is also a beauty in social dance I feel is often pushed under the rug or overshadowed by the “glory” of our lindy stars. How frightening this is when the “glory” is mostly white.

This is not to say I don’t appreciate the current rigor of the lindy climate or the fantastic individuals already making waves in the scene. However, there needs to be more diversity and representation. I refuse to go to another event where I can count APIA people on one hand. I refuse to audition for another advanced track when I’m referred to as “one of the Chinese girls.” (How did you know I was Chinese? Did I tell you? Did you ask me?) I refuse to answer any more questions about where I’m originally from. Do I ask you where your parents are from? Do I question your upbringing because you don’t “look like” you’re from somewhere?

This is what I will do. I will interrupt you if I feel like you are being culturally insensitive or incompetent. I will be polite and kind about it, but I will be relentless. I will try to break through the bamboo ceiling of the lindy hop world. I will question everything and everyone, regardless of their “status” as a lindy star or a lindy novice (because everyone is a little bit prejudiced). I sometimes might need a break, because battle fatigue is real. I will pick my battles. I will do it with allies.

I want to emphasize that many will try to write me off as an angry minority stereotype. Beneath the hype, try to remember what I’m saying. There is little representation. Those who have the privilege to speak may decide not to. I want to voice my concerns because they are legitimate.

Here’s to happier, more culturally competent dancers.

#NotYourAsianSidekick,

Yue

 

 

 

Swing Out Syndicate (S.O.S. #3)

Yes, I know, I’ve been away. Onto the good stuff now, shall we?

This day in lindy news, local and otherwise…

  1. Vintage is the way to go in Music City.
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Photograph via Jantu Moore Photos. The ever-fabulous NSDF Community Coordinator Camille Maynard in a tailored dress pictured here with equally awesome NSDF President, Eric Stevens. 

Ladies and Gents, this is your JAM and peanut butter if you love tailored looks. Every time I walk into Jump Session, I am beyond impressed by the primped and polished folks in every corner. My host for Nevermore, a musician himself, actually wandered into 5 Spot simply because of the great music and “nicely dressed young people.” It’s such a treat to get ready to see not just epic dancing, but well-engineered outfits. I learn how to look good from all the great dancers here, especially in terms of where to shop (apparently, the Goodwill at Rivergate in Madison?). I have to thank the amazing Sarah Kobus for her generosity and advice about vintage clothing. The lady opened her wardrobe to this near-destitute grad student. Thank you, beautiful Sarah!

2. Steppin’

We talk about this in Nashville Jitterbugs, but do you know your lindy history? According to Yehoodi via KQED Arts’ Ron Brown, “Steppin’ is a partner dance, a social dance. When you go back to the Lindy Hop, you go back to the Jitterbug—you will see the evolution of Steppin’ in there.” Check out the video linked here. There’s also a killer Chicago Style as well, for Chi-town natives. I think it would be fun to re-incorporate and re-introduce some styles from steppin’ into my solo jazz repertoire. What do you think?

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Image via Gif Soup.

3. Yehoodi drew attention to Herrang’s refusal to adopt a Code of Conduct. As the DNS server at Yehoodi is currently down, here is Herrang organizers’ take on the issue. I’ll expand on my thoughts later on “safe spaces,” but what do you think about the decision? Are the documents for Codes of Conduct necessary? Are they used/abused?

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That’s all folks! Hope it’ll tide you over until your next swing dance. 😉

❤ & Lindy,

Yue

 

 

The Sound of Silence (Or Simply: Consent)

There was a time when I wrote articles about how as dancers, we should say yes to all or most dances. As I dance more and am exposed to more dance environments, I would hesitate to do just that. With Sarah Sullivan’s courageous post a little over a year ago and several other accounts, I can not in good faith tell anyone to dance with just….well, anyone.

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GIF via Cinemagraphs

Full disclosure: I did not know what consent was growing up. I mean, I intellectually understood, but my EQ (emotional intelligence) about the issues surrounding consent left much to be desired. As an AAPI cis female, I assimilated into the notion that people like me were quiet. It’s what the media told me, it’s what each Miss Saigon performance reinforces and it’s what Cho Chang tells in the HP series. Love your oppressor, stay quiet, stay where you are. Be terribly, utterly sad and don’t stick up for yourself.

So, as a result, when someone asked me to dance, I felt obligated to say yes. Now, I know better. There are some dancers who will hurt someone when dancing. I have come away from dances with bruises on my hands from aggressive thumbs or leads who say simply, “You need to turn when I tell you.” If that’s not an abusive relationship, I don’t know what is. I have been TOO SILENT on this issue and many others because I was not aware of my own participation in a system of delayed consent.

Follows, leads, ambidancers–you have GOT to understand consent. A dancer can reasonably say “no” to you because you hurt them, physically or emotionally, when you have danced previously. Or, perhaps you were being unintentionally mean. As a fairly awkward individual, people have confided that I can come off cold or standoffish. However, this is different from a dancer copping a feel. Intent and consent matter. I do know when people are being abusive, and I refuse to stand by as we all get hurt.

Swing Dance Nashville does this wonderful thing during their beginner lessons about how to ask someone to dance. From an educator perspective, the organization does a LOT of modeling about what to do and how to do it (absolutely brilliantly). SDN also takes a moment to show what NOT to do, using humor to draw in audience attention. I think many times in the lindy community, we forget to set behavioral norms alongside the standard “how to step.” We need to model, model, model what good practices look like.

On the dance floor, a creative space must exist where everyone can freely express themselves. Physically and emotionally, the space will fluctuate. Perhaps you might be sad one day, so the physical space you need is a close-knit circle of caring friends. Or, if you’re like me, you just need to get out of that physical space to have emotional space. The point is, everyone is different. BUT…you must, must, must always ask questions and realize what consent means. That is a standard we in the lindy community are obligated to uphold.