(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.

CL

  • 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.

racist

  • 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?

glare

  • 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?

dying

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

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A Record of Missteps

Margaret-Howell-Shoes-2014-Campaign-5This would probably never happen to me at a lindy hop event. Just sayin’. (image via Margaret Howell)

In case you all didn’t know, I write for a magazine called Hyphen.

Recently last month, I attended the Frankie 100 event in New York. However, I did take the time to confess some very real frustrations. Due in part to the demographics at these events, you kind of get the blunt end of the stick when it comes to microaggressions, particularly from strangers. Friends, not so much because lindy friends are the best. But strangers? Strangers are a whole new ball game. They can be mean, snide, picky and downright vicious.

So, basically, the article comes out at the end of this week, and I wanted to be the first one to respond to it. Yes, it is a bit harsh but it is what I genuinely experience at several of these mega events. Many times, people who dance with me talk slower or louder because they think I don’t speak English. Every time I answered the question, Where are you from?” my partner would cut me off when I tried to say “Chicago” and ask, “China?” I mean, really? You had to go there? Of course, when they hear Chicago, they want to know where I’m really from. To which I respond Chicago. There’s another issue, of course. ABC’s (American Born Chinese) and other Asian Americans just aren’t that prevalent in my area of the U.S. lindy hop scene. Sure, in the midst of the San Francisco Bay Area or NYC scenes there are a good many AAPI dancers, but not so in the Midwest or South. We’re still the minority, in many ways.

Are people usually mean consciously? No. Do they exclude me on purpose? Absolutely not. However, I will say that most nights at mega events are spent dawdling on the sidelines despite my best efforts to stay in the center of the dance floor.

Why?

My last night at Terminal 5 of Frankie 100, I found myself pressed up by the band next to a speaker throbbing by my right ear. A very rude couple kept shoving past me to extend their swingouts, smirking as they went past. This wasn’t what got to me. What got to me was that I tapped multiple times on a guy’s shoulder. He didn’t even stop, so I had to actually keep tapping. Imagine the embarrasment. On top of that, he merely looked back, said, “Sorry!” and found someone else to dance with. The frustration of wanting to dance but no one to dance with finally got to me. I locked myself in a bathroom stall and bawled my eyes out. When I finally got the courage to get back on the dance floor, a guy stomped, full foot, onto my foot with his very heavy wingtip. Let’s just say a few tears later, I was out of there and my Frankie 100 experience came to a dreadful close.

Now, although horrible, none of those things really had to do with race except for the fact that I’m probably not asked to dance as frequently as some girls. No problem, if this were a clean-cut issue devoid of microaggressions. I’m an average dancer. I don’t suck as much as I used to, nor am I a South Korean lindy star. It just seems far above coincidence that at several events in different states, it’s often difficult to get a dance without initiating every single one. I think I asked about 80% of the time at Frankie 100, Lindy Focus and some smaller midwest events.

Perhaps leads are just getting lazier. Perhaps these events were follow heavy. However, I’m pretty sure some of these events are controlled by the number of leads and follows.

So, yes. I’ve taken a brief hiatus from the social scene and delved entirely (though painfully slowly) into Rhythm Juice. You can only take so much rejection and invisibility before you want to scream. I think I actually did at one point in Frankie 100.

Perhaps a year off in Taiwan couldn’t have come at a better time.

Article to come out Friday.

~S.

Let’s Be Real: AAPI Swing Dancing

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Shanghai circa 1930. “The Bund”
Photo courtesy of Emmeline Zhao

As someone who works in the business of inclusivity, I honestly feel a bit alone in terms of Asian American swing dancers. I first notices this when I garnered permission to create an AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Jazz Culture board at my workplace. Though the individuals I chose to feature were fantastic, I realized that there are too few of us in number.

Some of this is cultural. My parents adamantly believe dancing can never mean more to me than a hobby. There have been shouting matches and biting comments thrown around. They scoff and genuinely think I’m just not taking life seriously enough. Maybe that’s true. I’m not serious all the time, but who wants to live a serious life all the time? To be quite frank, living would not be as vibrant without swing dance or jazz culture in my life. My parents, wonderful as they are, just don’t understand this aspect of my life very much.

Some of this is just the demographics. As hard as it is to say, swing dancing is predominantly white in the Midwest. Perhaps in other State-side regions, not so much. However, I do think this is something that needs work. If the representation of the general population is not represented in the swing population, something is wrong. Swing should be welcoming, it should be fun for all. Is that happening? Perhaps this is something we have to change.

For other AAPI dancers out there, I want you to know that our history wasn’t forgotten in jazz culture. In fact, there was a rich jazz culture in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s. Music from the States meshed beautifully with local folk rhythms, creating a hybrid jazz I can only describe as a sort of perfection. Sometimes, wrongfully, I think we feel left out in the Revival. Know that there are huge scenes in Shanghai, Seoul, Bangkok, Hong Kong and many other Asian cities just as into swing as you are.

Maybe I’m writing this for you. But, if I’m actually really honest, I’m writing this for me. It’s an encouragement to keep dancing despite adversity from all sides, home and otherwise. It’s the push to dance just because I can, not because no one wants me to. I’m tired of being told by one group of people that I can’t dance at all to another group of people, my loved ones, who just tell me to quit. It’s not about being “not good enough” or “sidetracked” by dancing. For me, it’s about joy. I dance when I’m happy, and I often dance to get happier. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I guess you could say, it’s my way to forget about everything but the music. It’s an anti-drug.

 

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The always fabulous Eileen Chang, author extraordinaire.

If you close your eyes, you can melt seamlessly into syncopation, where your partner pulses rhythm and your fingertips touch melodies. 

To my friends out there struggling with tough AAPI parents, I feel you. Please keep dancing for the music.

Lindy on,

S.

I wish I could