(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

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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

 

 

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.

A Break-Step.

Hello Lindy Friends,

Hello from all over, indeed. I just wanted to share some different news, perhaps not sad. I’m going to stick to some solo jazz for awhile. For a long time now, I haven’t really felt accepted in my own skin, for whatever reasons, perhaps just my own. It has really has nothing to do with the fantastic organizers and people here (which, by the way, if you’re in Asia, definitely dance!). I think I have spent so much of my time dancing for the “next big thing” (whatever that means), I have failed to take a look at my own dancing.

I have failed, in many ways, to find the joy that dancing once gave me. The honeymoon period is over, and I see all the jagged pieces that make up my dance. I want to improve. Rhythmically, musically, and mainly as a person. Where am I going as a person and as a dancer with grace, not just on the floor, but in the way that I behave?

I think I have a long way to go, but I’ll continue to stay connected to the swing world. I will still dance, with a focus on creating a better connection to the music. I’m not leaving, so no worries.

Just a break-step.

See you at the next phrase.

5, 6, 7, 8.

S.

Just my dancer feet in Tainan.

Just my dancer feet in Tainan.

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.