(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

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

 

 

 

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.