Nasty Habits

Hey.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a dance snob once more, what it means to value people. At this fantastic recent event, I saw a follow whom I really admired make these terrible faces at people she was dancing with. I must admit, I’ve probably been guilty of those same looks before. I heard and saw multiple others do the same. And yes, some of those looks were thrown at me (like always). That night though…I was feeling the music. There were these two amazing bands battling back and forth, some of my best swing friends were there, and I had the most quality conversations I’ve had in a loooong time in the swing community. I learned to be content with who I was, how I danced, and who I chose to interact with.

No, I didn’t speak with those men and women. No, they didn’t speak with me. Yes, I had a marvelous time. I hope they and their dance partners felt the same. But…this is something psychologists have researched for years between in-groups and out-groups. What makes it okay for people who think they are uber-dancer-supreme to feel like they can oust certain others, for no other reason than “cool” factor or “you don’t dance like I do?” There’s a difference between being critical of technique and just downright mean.

I’m guilty of rolling my eyes and shunning a dancer because of his enormous ego. Once, a dancer came up to me, and instead of dancing, made it a point to tell me about every flaw in my dancing while on the social floor. In that instance, I simply said, “If you don’t like my dancing, we don’t have to dance,” and I left. However, I’ve never done what these men and women of the dance community have done — namely, stare daggers down at the dance floor. It reminded me of an instance when I smiled at another follow at an event, and she immediately gave me a sourpatch face. Yeesh. Yes, it was totally her prerogative. But…what did I do…except be me? I absolutely did nothing to her.

I’ve been panning away from swing recently, into different veins of hip hop through Steezy Studios. This is not an endorsement, and I have no funds coming in through them (I wish). However, I do partake in a few dance classes each week. It’s freeing. The instructors come from different cultural backgrounds, and many look like me. It’s on video, but the organizers make it a point to communicate with you one-on-one when possible. I don’t feel judged…which, I often do in the lindy hop community. Not to say that hip hop is any less critical. When I first ventured into hip hop in college, I wore these Thai traveling pants to a practice. The other dancers nearly laughed me out of the room. One of my very good friends at the time instead of encouraging me pushed me out of the community. Not the best feeling.

I want to say that there is space for me as a woman of color who is not-the-best but not-the-worst in lindy hop. I want to say that every moment on the dance floor has been one where I feel honored to be there. I want to say I’ve enjoyed dancing every song with everybody. I want to say I felt accepted. Cared for. A part of something.

But it hasn’t. But I didn’t always. Those statements aren’t true for me.

I’ve felt lonely many days. I’ve cried on more than one occasion. Lindy hop experiences have prevented me from getting work done for my position. Social interactions have left me wounded. I’ve become depressed due to events in scenes. People have gossiped about me, torn me down, chewed me up, and spit me out….expecting me to keep dancing. I’ve taken more than my fair share of breaks from the scene.

“It’s okay not to be okay.” That’s a saying from somewhere. It’s not okay when scenes don’t try to change. What are we doing to be welcoming? What are we doing to build community? I’m not saying I’ve done an exquisite job — anything but that, in fact. I’m just wondering, “Where is the love?” [Appreciate the flashback, music lovers.] How did we get to a place where it’s okay for follows and leads to glare at and make ugly faces at people enjoying themselves? What is this, the opening to a Sir Mix-A-Lot music video?

Social dancing. The social part has been exhausting lately. I wonder why that is. I wonder, can we ever change? I hope so. I hope one day, I can get onto the dance floor and feel comfortable dancing like me without fear of judgment. These days, it feels like a distant memory, when music was always on key, when your friends were always from a swing dance club, and where you knew exactly where to eat between the main dance and late night.

Life isn’t so simple. Complexity should be reflected in dance. Expression should not be limited to the few we choose to lift up as idols of our time, but we do. And I wonder if this, too, shall pass. I wonder if these dance dreams and goals will slip away; if it will be even a tragedy. Or will people simply say, “Good riddance. She talked too much anyway.”

I wonder. I long for wonder.

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A Nefarious Habit

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Dancers,

We have to talk about Ksenia.* But more than that, we need to address the ongoing conversation about race in the lindy hop world. I felt deeply disturbed and disappointed to learn that this individual has indulged in black face and brown face over the years, underwent direct counsel from concerned individuals, and chose to ignore it. My question for you, global dance community, is this: Why do we choose to continue to ignore actions like these and choose tolerance over the years? Why are individuals still learning dance from someone who chooses racist actions over change? Why is stagnancy and preservation encouraged in a community where we, as a whole, profess to value innovation and improvisation?

I don’t have an answer for you. I can only tell you this: I will not be reviewing the online course I was once so excited about from this instructor and cancelled back in February. No more attention will be directed into any means of praise or even criticism in that direction. Instead, let’s re-direct: What will we, as diverse communities across the globe, choose for ourselves now?

Recently, in the last few years, two very different movies came out which I believe represent two of the many roads lindy hop and the swing dance culture at large can take — namely, Black Panther or La La Land. (Obviously, this is not a binary situation or choice, but I think this does represent major perspectives currently in play). While not a dance movie in the slightest, Black Panther, an afrocentric triumph, demonstrates what social ails exist and solutions which might be proposed. King T’Challa feels, at times, proud, tormented, and resolute. A complex character, he welcomes the audience into a similar fold about the inner mechanisms of what a true community entails — do we engage in civil war due to differing beliefs in purpose, do we compromise and make peace…or is there even a we right now? What is brilliant about Black Panther is that the story allows for multiple narratives to exist, to create, and even to destroy. (That’s all I’ll say without giving away any spoilers). Should you as a dancer so choose, you can allow multiple narratives in, to thrive given the proper growth and appreciation, to weed out the toxicity.

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On the other hand, we have La La Land. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of the themes present in this particular movie resonate with me as a dancer and as a dreamer. However, the movie also presents a unique parallel to how communities, like Hollywood or subcultures like swing-dancing, write out POC voices. The lead actors are white except, surprise, the antagonist who just so happens to be John Legend, an amazing African-American musician and artist. Still, he is pigeon-holed into a less-than, supporting role to a melanin-deprived cast. Many of the POC are sidelined as extras in the Broadway dance and song numbers. I was both excited and disappointed to see many from the lindy hop and hip hop communities represented but not highlighted on the margins. Nostalgia is weaponized to selectively “colorblind” or, rather, white-out history. It’s absolutely unexcusable and, to be honest, incredibly heartbreaking. For Old and New Hollywood alike, there is no place, apparently, for minority culture voices.

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I will be the first to acknowledge that life holds within itself a fair amount of moral gray areas. However, I hold this to be true: you do not use an identity as an insult, as a joke, or as a weapon against someone. That is inexcusable and abhorrent. Period. My issue with the lindy hop and swing dance subculture right now is not that we don’t know. I think recent conversations at Lindy Focus, at least, have shown an overwhelming willingness to learn and hope to understand. Awareness, if anything.

But now…

What am I going to do? What are you going to do about it? What will we choose to do, or what will we choose to let happen?

If there is a “we,” and I sincerely hope there still is, what will happen to “us?”

I for one am feeling a bit exhausted at…fighting assumptions. I walked to my car after an event to croakings from an older man about, “THAT Chinese girl!” nevermind that I never talked to him the entire night. I had to endure this both on the dance floor and to my car as I was walking to the parking lot alone. Strange heckling. Strange days of cultural encounter.

I hope for change here. If not, I’m making one…perhaps away from people who are not ready to accept who I am. Perhaps to a community who does already.

Resolutely,

Y.

 

*It should be noted that the first link was taken down which I’m not sure what to think of. However, in the one now linked, you can see some representation of minstrelism. As well as here.

Update: Ksenia’s response on Yehoodi. Thoughts?

For the Love of Lindy

Hello, internet world. I’m writing to you from my abysmal work laptop yet again because we just got a new FedEx delivery guy who conveniently cannot find the front entrance of our building.

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Anyway, since I have spent the day largely as a hermit and a recluse, I thought I’d reflect on what Lindy Hop has provided over the years. Namely, balancing out all of the craziness that 2017 has brought us. I want to remember all of the joy, not just all of the warnings and omens of rifts in the universe.

  1. Rise of Feminists: Praise, we are catching up to the times, and we can all be feminists. In fact, as Adichie says, we should all be. The implementation of safe spaces, the continuing conversation brought on by instructors, bloggers, and YouTubers have led to a safer, wiser community. I am so encouraged by brave voices speaking out. Image result for we should all be feminist adichie
  2. THE podcast: If you haven’t been listening to The Track with Ryan Swift, you’re doing something wrong. Swift is an incredibly articulate and mindful interviewer who engages well with both his subjects and the audience. He asks what many of us are left thinking in between swing outs and along the sidelines. If I’ve learned anything, it is from his numerous interviews with famous lindyhoppers, musicians, and instructors. I wouldn’t know really anything about the lindy-sphere without his sage, inquisitive questions to the lates and greats of the dance.
  3. Shoes, Shoes, Everywhere: Is it just me, or are new manufacturers of classic dance shoes popping out of the woodwork lately? I mean, seriously non-stop. I cannot get enough of the tried and true Saint Savoy and Remix, but I love the (at least for me) newly discovered Swingz, Bounce Shoes, and my current obsession – Slide & Swing. Pamela also just released her Autumn Romance shoes which seem to be unisex and very lovely as well. See some lovely snippets of her in the awesome shoe line here. I love it when passionate creators in one field branch out to another, and this is not an exception!
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  4. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: I’m a Gilmore Girls fan, guilty as charged. However, I’m a huge fan of the Palladino’s recent foray into 50’s fashion, style, and culture in her latest Amazon originals series. The wet sets, the gorgeous dresses, and the music is absolutely to die for. Did I mention they play “Tain’t What You Do,” a.k.a. the shim-sham classic, within the first episode? Did I mention this is 50’s era New York City? Everything, everything is impeccable in terms of set and fashion design, at least for my taste. The humor is equally exquisite if you’re up for something of a heart-wrenching laugh.
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  5. Jerry Almonte’s Instagram Feed: I’m here for it. This man posts the most gorgeous Instagram photographs of dancers, and listen– you absolutely need to see them. Here is one of my recent favorites for reference, but see all his work on the site…beautiful. All credit goes to J.S. Almonte, of course.Heading down to Asheville now for Lindy Focus. Can't wait to see everyone there! #lindyhop #dance #swing #jazz #jitterbug #swingout #charleston #dancing #gh4 #gh4photography #lumixmasters #dancephotography #dancephotographer #portraitphotographer #dcportraitphotographer #streetdancerproject  Dance Of, By and For the People A J.S.Almonte Production You can my follow my work through: Website: http://jsalmonteproductions.com/ Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JSAlmonteWandering Instagram: https://instagram.com/j_s_almonte/ Tumblr: http://streetdancerproject.tumblr.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/j_s_almonte Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsalmonte/
  6. The Ladies of Trashy DivaTalk about vinspo. I live for the looks these wonderful people serve, and boy do they serve. Some of you may recognize a familiar instructor by way of manager Mia Halloran. Whether you shop in the NOLA brick and mortar or through the website, you cannot do wrong by Trashy Diva. I’m still devastated that this unbelievably beautiful blue and white print in the shorts I wanted went out of stock. Lesson learned- if you shop here, shop quick!
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  7. The International Community: I know, I know. I am first and foremost to whistleblow on social circles, but hear me out. There is a global community of swing dancers out there, people like you and me, who enjoy this dance just as much if not more so than we do. That, in and of itself, is a remarkable feat. To think that in any country I so choose to visit, I can Lindy or Bal or Charleston, that is just mindblowing. In the past few years, I’ve lived in Chicago, Nashville, Budapest, near Taipei, and Hong Kong…each had a swing scene. You can swing dance every night until the wee hours in Seoul. San Antonio has live musicians everywhere and a well-frequented jazz bar. How lovely is that? You will never be without a family.
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  8. The Local Scene: As the global sphere widens with dancers, I’m always charmed by local scenes doing their hardest to make sure swing dancing continues in every small step in their cities. For all of you hard at work in all seasons championing weekly socials, lesson sets, and competitions – I thank you so very  much. It is because of you, the organizers of small but mighty scenes, that I keep dancing. You keep the spirit moving.what is lindy hop
  9. The Spirit: As a product of our times, I struggle often with feeling isolated and disconnected without proper, face-to-face contact and ample digital space. Lindy hop provides us all with much needed socialization in the most joyous spaces imaginable. Dance floor exists in our living rooms, in basements, in bars, and studios. But of course, as cheesy as it sounds, they exist in our hearts. Why else would mega events like the now-seasonal Snowball, Lindy Focus, or Herrang exist but for our own excitement for this, this love? For what else can we call this but love? We anticipate all day, we think about what to wear, our pulse quickens as the musicians count themselves in…the rhythm helps us go on. (Image via Tumblr)
  10. The Improv Attitude: Anything goes. You can transcribe music from decades before as the amazing musicians at Lindy Focus have championed. Jimmy Lunsford, Artie Shaw, Chick Webb…you name it, they play it, the music lives on. We have divas in dancers and singers and musicians galore. In a dance, you can break in some breezy knees, do your Shorty George’s with a little more hip than someone else, or you can choose to sloooow down that tempo into something more sultry. You can pulse bouncy or bold or subtle. You can incorporate some Nathan Bugh eyebrows or Ramona Staffeld smiles or Dee Daniel Locke’s rockin’ rhythm. But most of all…you can dance like you and no one should judge you for it. That is the bleeding, beating heart of swing dance, my friends. The fact that we can express who we truly are and sing it out through our most happy feet. Sorry (not sorry) for all the sentimentality. But yes. You can truly be you here, and no one will be the cruder for it.

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Dance on, loves.

-Y.

 

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

 

 

Hong Kong Swing Fest Review

Hey Lindy Friends,

Image via romainjl at DeviantArt.

Image via romainjl at DeviantArt.

Just wanted you to have a quick update on the event I was looking forward to since two years ago, when I moved away from Hong Kong. I intend to be as comprehensive as possible, as the event definitely had its highs and lows. Of course, you know I’m never one to just give the highlights reel. Unlike other posts, this will be a bit less pic heavy and more focused on content. If that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to wait for an update later.

Organization of Event: 3.5/5

As a semi-large, cross-country event, HKSF does a relatively decent job in welcoming visitors. However, it’s interesting attending this event as a lesser known foreign guest. In the U.S., I would say I have my swing dance friends, as many of you. In Asia, it’s a bit more lonely in a smaller circle of close ones within the host scene of Taipei. That being said, I do think HKSF could do with some less curt responses.

Take this encounter, for example. As a reference, the main e-mail we are responding to reads, “Thanks for booking. Your details are below. Please quote the Booking ID in any correspondence.” This was the only e-mail received, although traditionally a confirmation e-mail is sent. In response to my inquiries, this is what I got (names covered for privacy reasons).

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Albeit a bit short, but reasonable. Then, take into account the response below.

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The response speaks for itself. Short without excitement or common courtesy, in direct contrast to many previous and similar communications with other swing scenes. To be honest, I was quite taken aback by the level of curtness expressed by the organization here.

Outside of this hiccup, the rest of the event was organized pretty well. Lots of sponsors, lots of excellent food, GREAT swag bag.

Auditions & Competitions: 4/5

The marvelous finalists  Pamela (left) and Jingyi (right) alongside Sam, owner of Charlie Stone. Photograph courtesy of Gaspar Lin.

The marvelous finalists Pamela (left) and Jingyi (right) alongside Sam, owner of Charlie Stone. Photograph courtesy of Gaspar Lin.

I actually participated in the prelims for the Battle. I pretty much knew I wouldn’t make finals, but it was so much fun dancing with all the enthusiastic dancers in the scene! (Note to all the ladies out there: pin your outfits down! I had these suspenders on my skirt which kept falling off. What a nuisance.) The finals were amazing. Way to represent, Singapore dancers! All of the competitors did fabulously.

I thought HK Swings did quite well in conducting tap in dances. WOW. This was perfect. Dancers who didn’t get tapped in like myself still got to dance three heats or more in front of an audience. It was fun, to say the least. I can say nothing but well done.

Can I say, there was one slight hiccup though? I danced with the same dancer twice. My partner brought this up, but was quickly shot down. Actually, it might have been better to rotate in terms of better randomization. The reasoning behind not rotating was actually quite confusing. “It’s random, so just stick with it.” What? It’s a JnJ, we’re supposed to be improving though…hmm…

Now, auditions. I want to say, I’m fine being intermediate, first off the bat. People seem to think we’re always disgruntled at a medium level, but in this case, I was fine. Except, auditions lasted approximately 5 minutes. I danced with two people. Oh, did I mention it was tap out? Lovely, my favorite. Did I also mention that over 30 people made advanced? Or that intermediate was so follow heavy that it was nearly a 1:3 lead:follower ratio? Or that the organization let a few local dancers re-audition without informing the entire group? Interesting, to say the least. Suffice to say, not the most well-run scenario at auditions. Competitions were near perfection though.

Classes: 4/5

I’ve only got my own experience to go off of, so this is in direct relation to intermediate classes. Can I say, as a teacher, lesson plans are a must? I actually witnessed several improved classes. I’m not saying this is the wrong way to go, but it’s certainly a bit more difficult for teachers and students. Students are stressed because the teachers seem to want them to lead the class with their experience. Teachers are frustrated with the students for not showcasing their entire lindy knowledge or understanding the concept of an improved class. It’s for our own good, right? We should just automatically know how to pick up the techniques to move from good to great. It’s that “feeling.”

Anyways, outside of that minor frustrating issue, classes were fantastic. I mean, all star cast right? Can’t get any better than that. It was a great review of basics, grooving and AMAZING rhythm variations. I loved the rhythm variations in all of the classes. Absolutely marvelous.

A note on levels. I was in a wide bracket for intermediates, ranging from 6 months to over 3 years. This is too large of a range to provide honed critique or advice, or to properly observe technique. To say the least, I was very, very upset by this. I wasn’t alone. Several of my friends ditched classes to go explore HK. I can’t say that I blame them.

Venues: 4/5

Great wooden floors most nights, especially at Dansinn Heavenly on Des Vouex Road. I mean, look at that floor space. Add a live band, and it was a dream.

Image via Dansinn Heavenly.

Now, I know both the beginner and advanced levels had fabulous floors. However, guess what intermediate was dancing on? Take a look.

Talk about dangerous. Luckily, some savvy dancers and instructors brought baby powder, but otherwise, I wrecked two pairs of Keds on that floor. Yes, the floor was “springy” and “light” as some described, but it was far from a good floor. Many of us had trouble with spins, even with decent leather or suede soles, and ended up dancing in our socks.

Ambience: 4/5

There was a proposal. THERE WAS A PROPOSAL. Hard to top that one, right? Crystal Lee helped two of her fellow dancers get ready on the dance floor to get married. One of the most beautiful jams I have ever witnessed, to be sure.

Overall, there was a spirit of fun and excitement at this event. I got to catch up with new and familiar dancers alike (Hello, Sam from Charlie Stone and Lillian in HK!) However, I was a bit saddened by in-group mentality expressed. Some stayed within the confines of comfort circles, whether due to personal insecurities or…disdain? I don’t know, but I got that vibe from a few.

Oh my word, can I just say something to all the leads? Please, please, please, learn your floorcraft. On such a crowded floor, it pays to not get bowled over 5 times out of 10.

I also have to talk about this incident.

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I rolled my ankle at Sunday’s event, ending with a bang you could say. I happened to be happily solo jazzing when I slipped and fell. Common dancer accident, you might say. I just want to ask, how would you feel if this happened at an event and no one did anything when they saw you collapse on the dance floor? I ended up limping off by myself. To be honest, I cried a lot that night and not from the physical pain. It was more the pain of feeling completely invisible on the floor to the point of safety hazard. I’m alright with anonymity, just not to the point where I have to deal with a severe sprain on my own.

HKSF was a decent and quite well-stocked event. I don’t know that I would ever go back though. I’m getting this strange vibe from many events abroad that are putting me off the lindy scene…perhaps for a while. I think my two sprains (yes, my other one is messed up too) are an omen, good or bad. Perhaps it’s time to take a step away from the dancing and consider what kind of person I’m becoming. I’m not sure yet. I can only say, HKSF was a turning point in how I view my dancing.

Hoping for more happy feet.

Best & Blessings,

S.