Safe White Spaces in Lindy Hop


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.







Why Dance? Lessons From Tragedy.


copyright Sherry Yuan 2013

First, a moment of silence, to honor the lives of Mengchen Huang and Mimi Liu lost this week.

Maybe it’s the midterms. Maybe it’s the suicidology class.

Maybe it’s the fact that 2 of our campus own have passed away in less than a span of a week.

Suffice to say, it does not seem like the time or the place to dance so cheerfully. On this university campus, our mortality has been made quite apparent to us these days. I’m not here to tell you that grief isn’t appropriate. It is, especially given the nature of these endings. However, I’m saying dancing is a way to heal and, eventually, to let go. It’s a way to celebrate life and to love someone who is gone, to remember them. Dance might not take away the pain, but it can begin the process.

One of my favorite people, MLKJ, once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Likewise, the ESV Bible says in John 1:5 that “[t]he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Dance is a way to let your light shine. Grief has a time in a place, for it shows how deeply we love. However, to stay depressed, to dwell on the negative…that is the darkness winning in our lives. Dance can be the light in someone’s life today, a visual representation of your heart song.

With these recent tragedies, my prayers have taken on an urgency. This life is short, less than a whisper in the wind, a wisp of incense pleasing for but a moment.

So…why dance?
It reminds us that we are alive, that we can still move.
It reminds us songs are sweet but short-lived, and we must embrace the time that we have.
But most of all, it reminds us to draw close to the ones we love, for the time we have is such a blessing, but so fragile.

Dance because you can. Dance because it’s joy. Dance so your heart song can sing out loud.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
― Vivian Greene 

From my heart,


Blues for Two

Blues can carry a mixed bag of feelings for most swing dancers. On one side, blues is awesomely rhythm heavy. The movement heavily correlates with the swaying of your hips or the pulsing of your steps. While this pulsing remains prevalent in swing dancing, blues bases most of its moves on subtle pulsing. It’s also, you know, really sexy. There’s that. Balboa might take on an A-frame chest hold, but blues has something called the “close embrace” which is basically a very, very intimate hug. On the other hand? Well…there’s a lot of swaying and “tone” instead of tension. Lindy hoppers make use of tension, like an elastic band. Thus, swing is usually high intensity and high energy. Whereas blues can be arguably high intensity of passion, the movement is more subdued.Think less large and showy moves and more variations of swaying.

My friends and I attended a fun event last night at a downtown club for an evening of blues dancing. Through my limited experience with blues, I opted for the free hour-long beginner’s course. I did enjoy the dancing, but I don’t think blues is quite the right fit for me. If blues and lindy were desserts, blues would be a heavy, decadent chocolate ganache cake and lindy would be a sunny raspberry lemonade bar. Personally, I opt for peppy more than sexy. Perhaps if I really was crushing on one of the dancers, I would have enjoyed the close embrace more? Regardless, “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” for me at the moment.


Much Love & Swing,