No More Ego

“If you’re working on your art all the time, you don’t got time for no ego.” -Nas, Rapture

ballet

Copyright Favim

Time spent in art does correlate with mastery: 10,000 hours of it. I remember some misguided attempts from a slightly older dancer who advised me,  “You know, just because you spend time dancing doesn’t mean you get better. Sometimes you stall.” Since then, I’ve been terrified of plateaus. Perhaps this explains why I attempt too much, never leaving room for a 4th 8th “wow” moment because each of my 8ths dwindles into let-me-put-in-as-much-footwork-as-possible or “Hey, I’m going to play with slowing down time even if it doesn’t fit.” Sigh.

The best advice I recently received was from an incredibly kind balboa partner during the Hot Rhythm advanced tryouts. He said, “You know this. You’re just doing too much. Slow down.” Something magical happened. Everything that I struggled with for so long, just for that one bridge of music,  seemed to fade away. I don’t say this to lift up this one lead (although what a remarkable example of positive reinforcement), but instead to emphasize the idea that ego sometimes drives me, and possibly you, to…well, interesting dance places.

I remember hearing at that same weekend event a follow who boasted about having danced only a few months and having made advanced track. I felt jealous — pure and simple. I’m not proud to admit that, but I’m always a bit envious of pure talent. I wondered: Why am I stuck? This was, for me, the incorrect question. Watching stories of people who have made their craft their life, the work never stops. If you want to be not just good or better, you have to be willing to sacrifice to be the best. Granted, yeah, some people are protegés – really and truly. But..who among us can say that we haven’t benefited from a rigorous practice session?

I’ve spent the majority of my lindy hop career on this blog documenting a subculture I sometimes adored, sometimes disdained, and sometimes just needed a break from. It’s been a long, fateful road. Dance is my third language, and because of jazz melodies, it’s opened doors to new cultures. Now, in my mind, is the time to work on craft.

Point in question…what will happen to this blog? This record of mistakes made and said, mostly by a younger, ignorant, blunter me…will stay, if only to testify to one person’s experiences in dance. It does not pretend to be anything else. Nor will I. I’m going to take these hours I spend moping and stroking ego to bring some finesse, some sort of structure to this passion. It’s not enough for me to be good, to be on the fringe of advanced (scraping by as the last person accepted in the track). No. I won’t accept defeat this round. I just need to work. I need to make time. I need to change.

Perhaps…after this self-imposed sabbatical, I’ll see you on the other side. I’ll leave you with that age-old adage.

work hard.jpg

Dance like you. No need for happy feet.

-Y.

Advertisements

(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

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.
12622286_441973992669518_2836976644221724462_o

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?

gifsoup.gif

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?

frankie-380_0

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.

image2 image3 image4

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.

1929 studios

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.