Swing Out Syndicate #2: Shot Heard Round the Lindy World

So, first of all, I just wanted to highlight this Reddit post. (Also, did you all know that swing dancing had a Reddit? I mean, I guess everything has a Reddit these days…)

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Having visited this particular scene many times and considering it a home, but also dancing with this energetic, fun dancer…I feel a bit conflicted.  Yes, many lindy hop scenes are majority white. Yes, sometimes I feel a bit alone as one of the only AAPI dancers, or a bit frustrated sometimes. I want more diversity in the scene. (I spent every single outing with my heavily AAPI church in undergraduate begging them to come out swing dancing). I also want people to have fun with each other and not make snide comments. Do I want to leave the scene? No, I think lindy hoppers are loveable goofballs with a TON of wit. Do I think sometimes we as dancers, of any dance, can be a tiny bit rude or snooty? Yes, a resounding yes. We need to be nicer. However, I think there are several scenes out there doing a phenomenal job of bringing the joy, through diversity, a welcoming attitude, and just plain acceptance. To give a few shout-outs: Tulsa’s Vintage Swing Movement, Heartland, and LindyGroove. At LindyGroove, a friend-of-a-friend actually came to pick me up for their big weekend dance. How sweet is that? Further, the author mentions some drawbacks of majority white dancers, but I would like to say majority-anybody can be mean in a scene. I’ve met harsh dancers of many creeds, but I’ve also met lovely dancers as well. I think it’s more about checking your privilege in many cases. Of course, there have been great posts and discussion on both sides, but I just really wanted to gauge what you all think. How do we be more welcoming? How do we love the dancers and communitites we already know?

Mostly though, I wanted to highlight this brilliant post from musician Gordon Au. Instead of encouraging separation anxiety of those in tune with traditional jazz and modern jazz fans, Mr. Au encourages dances and musicians alike to grow in appreciation for fantastic representations in each camp. It’s a bit of an extensive overview, but necessary nonetheless for the dance-happy looking to be more jazz-happy.

Also, did you know he has a rather spiffy Instagram page as well?

Take a lead from Gordon (@gordonautrumpet), leads:

Dig that gorgeous polo coat in the last shot.

Also, before I forget, the first set of Charlie Stone dance flats are SOLD OUT in most sizes. I know, I was quite inconsolable for a time too. Until…I saw these:

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While the Katherine models were in solid black and a red/white model, these new models currently in production are too fabulous. Look at that darling eyelet peeptoe! Look for updates here.

That’s all I have for you folks this week.

Remember, swing out happy!

Love & Lindy,

Y.Y.

 

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FOMO & Lindy Hop

Hello, it’s me. I’ve been wondering after all this time, you’d like a post?

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I figured no one does an apology quite like Adele. Anyways, I do owe you one, dear readers. I have been settling in a new region of the U.S. along with starting a new grad program, so it’s been a time of adjustment and binge-watching Netflix for comfort.

As someone who likes to travel for lindy, adjusting to a new environment should be my favorite thing, right? It’s just a longer trip in between those weekend stints to other fantastic places on the other side of the wardrobe, right? Not exactly. It takes a while to re-settle down and find your lindy travel buddies. In the mean time, it can grow quite lonely.

When I hosted at Music City Shake, I was lucky enough to be amongst familiar faces to travel around the event. However, at most of the weeklies, I found myself keeping to the chairs on the side of the wall, reluctant to try and grasp a new friend circle in an entirely new community. I hate being the new kid, especially as an adult.  In the midst of all this adjustment, I sheared my normal travel expenses to one local event and one out of state event outside of weekly dances.

So, how did that feel? Honestly, not as terrible as I thought it would be. I thought my FOMO (fear of missing out) radar would be through the roof come Lindy Focus time. However, the videographers always have the best seat in the house, so I found myself with the best views for eye-catching performances. I certainly don’t miss the Focus Flu after all those germs, the rude shoe cobbler I encountered two years ago, or the selectivity of dance partners based on levels. Now, I’m sure culture has changed, as it always has and will. Yet, this winter spent in the splendid embrace of Miami and on the high seas has not disappointed in the least.

So, I’ve been wondering recently why that is: why is it that I didn’t experience more FOMO in lindy? Perhaps my body, mind, and spirit really needed a break. Two years ago, I was part of a collegiate team, I taught swing dance lessons in town, and I devoted a large part of my schedule as a (very terrible) events coordinator/volunteer. I took intensives on Rhythm Juice with Sarah and Dax. I was at Frankie 100 as a volunteer, and even after a year of stress, I thought I was happy constantly on the road. So, as part of my year abroad, I taught dance to elementary school students. I traveled all over Asia for events, from the local Taipei Lindy Fest to HK Swing Fest and a balboa event with Crystal and Jeongwoo.

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My munchkins learning Thriller last year.

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Taipei Bal

IMG_0849However, by the time I went to Singapore, I was burnt out. After losing 20 lbs. to stress from school, I was bone-thin. I had also twisted my ankle terribly in Hong Kong, so badly I couldn’t dance in the swing capital of Asia- Seoul, South Korea. Further, I had problems being accepted into the community overall. There was an edge of competitiveness in Taiwan I couldn’t live up to. Follows spent a lot of time gathered on the sidelines or dancing with people they knew. Heart broken and bitter, I spent nearly 6 months on hiatus outside of teaching swing to kids.

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After taking an actual holiday from dancing this winter, I feel more at peace. Before, I craved attention from dance and I envied people like crazy. I was like this baby chicken that wanted to turn into a dove. I couldn’t fly (no aerials, seriously) and I looked kind of ridiculous. I was pretending or trying to be someone I wasn’t. Rather than invest in practice, I invested in more events and more privates, never once thinking that perhaps I just needed some time alone listening to music. I needed to know how to master who I was as a dancer, chicken or otherwise.

So, I want to talk about something magical that happened at Jump Session right before I went on holiday. I had this spectacular pair of sailor pants which just made me feel invincible for some reason. Also, a good friend I had met at LF two years before was coming to visit. Whether my break was finally over and Nashville had rejuvenated me or I finally felt comfortable in my own skin, I found some rhythm again. It wasn’t perfect, and I’m sure I blundered quite a bit, but I had an absolute blast. No FOMO, no anxiety, just unspeakable joy.

THAT’S what makes me want to dance. Not the pressure to succeed or the need to replicate dancer X’s swingouts…just loving the music and showing how much I do through my partner. That’s all. Nothing showy, nothing completely mapped out, but just enjoying that delayed triple, feeling the ripples in the wood floor from happy feet. I could live with that.

Learning to follow your own bliss gives others permission to do the same. It’s a win-win. Someone else’s accomplishments doesn’t mean you don’t get to improve at your own rate. No FOMO allowed, only, as we say in our program, “ready to learn, safe to practice.” If you’re an eager learner and a safe dancer, the world is your dance floor.

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Image via American Vernacular (awesome photographer!)

Wishing you happy feet!

-YY

 

5th Annual Nevermore Jazz Ball

You know a good event when you neglect your DSLR at home and manage only to take a handful of images off your smartphone. Seriously though, Nevermore. You kill it every year.

As one of the first events I traveled to two years back in my lindy years, Nevermore has a special, coveted place in my heart. Nothing beats the the crisp fall weather on Cherokee and sunshine spilling through autumnal leaves. This year proved just as if not more wonderful that my first lindy encounter in St. Louis.

Thanks to an amazing friend, I was able to secure a party pass fairly late in the game. After an arduous 5 hour drive from Nashville and settling into a great AirBnB, the dancing commenced. Miss Jubilee opened the event on Friday night at the Franklin Room. An expansive ballroom, the floor left dancers a bit wanting in the amount of stick. However, perfectly fine for bal, and of course, St. Louis Shag. Speaking of which, John and Jenny gave a great intro lesson into St. Louis Shag right before the dance. After a few hours of intense, happy dancing, we went just 4 blocks over to the late night Broadway gym venue. Groggy though everyone was, the live band soon sparked happy feet all over the dimly lit gym.

Saturday went by in a whirlwind daze of Cherokee Street strollin’. From ice cream samples to vintage shopping and dancing in fine dining establishments along the way, life felt like such a breeze. Props to all the amazing musicians dotted along the street, from coffee shops to bars alike. That evenings dance left no one wanting, with the fantastic music stylings of Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders. Hours later, we were still on our feet. Throughout this event, I could feel how “sore” my dance muscle memory was, simply from not traveling too often in the last few months. It was a much needed trip to this beautiful event with friendly dancers everywhere. I, unfortunately, petered out at the late night after scarfing down a Jimmy John’s sandwich (which, in retrieving at 1:30am, was quite the feat itself). Tottering home, I passed out at my AirBnB before driving back to campus in the morning. I managed to catch the fantastic St. Louis Shag competition the next day, but what a treat it would have been to see it live.

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Nevermore never disappoints, as it was the same this year. I am always awed by the level of friendliness, dance floor etiquette and connection with local bands. This jazz ball really captures what it means to love swing–the joy, the rhythm, and the community.

Feelin’ It

The Cheng Gong Elementary dance studio.

The Cheng Gong Elementary dance studio.

One of my good friends asked a poignant question about dance breaks the other day. As someone who has taken at least two long breaks from swing dancing, it really got me wondering about my priorities. Last year, I probably spent more on dance weekends and travel than any other expense abroad. For the first time, dance felt limiting, leading me to events where I was rarely asked and others just assumed I was a beginner.

I remember walking into this studio (which won’t be named for privacy’s sake) for a dance weekend, only to be looked up and down by the other follows there. Some commented about my outfit, others about my shoes. That weekend, I neglected to pack my usual swing dance gear, so I was stuck with what I could buy that morning. It was really upsetting, especially since they all seemed to have a swing dance “uniform.” Think Mean (Swing) Girls, decked out in beige Keds, pastel tops, and neutral skirts/pants. Hello animosity outright. Suffice to say, I was a klutz that evening and left the event in tears.

The next day, I had gone home and came back with more comfortable shoes and clothing. Can you believe I got even more scrutiny? Certain people scoffed that I simply had style inspiration from the instructor, laughing about how I made a scene the day before. Of course, not everyone was like this. Many people were kind and forgiving, helping to bandage my hand or introducing me to places nearby. Overall though, I have never felt more alienated by a dance scene.

When you’re not feelin’ it in a community, it influences your dance and even your self-esteem. Was everyone at the event critical of my outfit or skills? Hardly, but the few who did made me want to shrink into the wallpaper. The most dancing I did in this area was alone, in a studio where I worked.

When you’re shedding more tears at a workshop than laughing or practicing, it’s time to take a break. I used to think lindy was my world, and that I would some day accelerate into swing fame. Definitely not the case today, but I left my dreams so reluctantly and with such bitterness, there was a time when I absolutely hated going out to dance. It felt like a chore.

This brings up something that happened recently. At an unnamed location, I had danced with several people. One bystander decided to make fun of me, pointing out my aimless solo jazz on the side as a means to impress his friend. I felt so ashamed and indignant. Even though I had been enjoying myself, I immediately felt left out. After a few songs, I got up and left.

I ended up skipping a week in my routine to go out dancing. It doesn’t feel the same anymore, and I’m not sure that it will ever again. Perhaps I’m past the honeymoon phase, and it’s time to decide whether this whole commitment has been worth it. So much time, energy, and money spent on learning the right moves, only to learn that people can be cruel in any context? I hope not. I’d like to believe that there’s still something human left in all of us.

Perhaps we need safer spaces, places where it’s not about fame anymore but people.

Wishing you happy feet. 🙂

S.

The Value of Flyin’ Solo (Jazz)

Music City Shake really threw me for a loop this last weekend in Nashville. While not confident in my (very) humble vocabulary in solo jazz, I hoped to at least demonstrate some sort of competency come auditions. Suffice to say, I was wrong. Under pressure and the watchful eyes of Nathan Bugh and Jon Tigert, I goofed on the new break step they taught us. My counting rushed as I panicked, and my improv kept starting the same way. Further, I forgot to come in on the standard Kick Charleston after the chorus. What an eye-opening experience. Still, the auditions were fun, as was the rest of the weekend. No, I didn’t dance with any expert leads or shock-and-awe with lindy talent. This was more of a redemption weekend, teaching me to be more in tune with my own musicality.

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Image via 1929 Studios

Our teachers were really quite fantastic, from the graceful Ramona Staffeld to the footwork-finesse of Nathan Bugh to the stylings of Jon Tigert, you really can’t go wrong. I really enjoyed how sensitive each teacher was to the needs of the students, especially during frustrating sequences or moments of sheer panic (or maybe that was just me?). I haven’t really enjoyed dancing this much in a while. True, I did spend a lot more time on the sidelines during social dances than I used to, but I feel remnants and steps of the past coming back. It feels almost like a recovery from dance fugue as things come back to you slowly.

Photograph via Hot Mess Jazz Fest.

I’m so excited to be back in Lindyland. It’s been a harrowing journey from personal disappointments, semi-serious injuries, and developing an authentic connection to the dance. I couldn’t have asked for a better intro back into the dance. So, just a few tings I learned from the fringes of swing dance world:

  1. Ditch vanity. Specifically, don’t wear shorts that are too tight for you. Seriously. I spent the majority of my time Saturday tugging at a pair of high-waisted shorts which refused to stay in place, and it was such a pain to dance in. Comfort is key when stepping, especially if you miss watching a complex sequence due to a wedgie. Not cool or cool looking. :/
  2. Come with a dose of humility…but don’t mistake it for lack of confidence. There is a way to showcase without looking smug. Perhaps it manifests in your dancing as a bunch of coagulated, larger-than-life footwork without attention to form. Perhaps it’s selectivity of dance partners. Either or, I think this weekend was fun just because it felt more like a community.
  3. Raise your eyebrows. This one comes from Nathan Bugh, but it really works, I promise! When you can make faces and amuse yourself during a solo jazz jam, everything becomes so much more entertaining. That, and complementary arm movements.
  4. Embellish adventurously. This is something that came to mind (again via Nathan circa Lindy Focus XIIish) during my fumbles this weekend. Don’t be afraid to get outside your comfort zone and experiment. Slide, add weird flourishes, add weird faces. Combine, remix, and repeat. It’s a way of finding your voice.
  5. Encourage everyone. While it may seem like fun to ridicule someone’s dancing, it’s way more fun to admire. You might get some laughs at the time, but people are going to remember a streak of cruelty when they see one.

Photograph via Jon Tigert, pictured here with the amazing Jenna Applegarth.

Music City Shake really reminded me how much I value local scenes and the organizers. It’s been far too long since I’ve felt this at ease with a dance scene. No, I’m not fully integrated yet. I spend a lot of time just sitting on the side, but it’s been such a pleasure to watch people dance and learn how everyone moves in their own way.

These days, I’m practicing the routines I learned while brushing my teeth or during lulls in class. It feels so good to get back into a groove.

Wishing you happy feet, from the bottom of my heart. 🙂

~S.