(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

 

 

The Sound of Silence (Or Simply: Consent)

There was a time when I wrote articles about how as dancers, we should say yes to all or most dances. As I dance more and am exposed to more dance environments, I would hesitate to do just that. With Sarah Sullivan’s courageous post a little over a year ago and several other accounts, I can not in good faith tell anyone to dance with just….well, anyone.

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GIF via Cinemagraphs

Full disclosure: I did not know what consent was growing up. I mean, I intellectually understood, but my EQ (emotional intelligence) about the issues surrounding consent left much to be desired. As an AAPI cis female, I assimilated into the notion that people like me were quiet. It’s what the media told me, it’s what each Miss Saigon performance reinforces and it’s what Cho Chang tells in the HP series. Love your oppressor, stay quiet, stay where you are. Be terribly, utterly sad and don’t stick up for yourself.

So, as a result, when someone asked me to dance, I felt obligated to say yes. Now, I know better. There are some dancers who will hurt someone when dancing. I have come away from dances with bruises on my hands from aggressive thumbs or leads who say simply, “You need to turn when I tell you.” If that’s not an abusive relationship, I don’t know what is. I have been TOO SILENT on this issue and many others because I was not aware of my own participation in a system of delayed consent.

Follows, leads, ambidancers–you have GOT to understand consent. A dancer can reasonably say “no” to you because you hurt them, physically or emotionally, when you have danced previously. Or, perhaps you were being unintentionally mean. As a fairly awkward individual, people have confided that I can come off cold or standoffish. However, this is different from a dancer copping a feel. Intent and consent matter. I do know when people are being abusive, and I refuse to stand by as we all get hurt.

Swing Dance Nashville does this wonderful thing during their beginner lessons about how to ask someone to dance. From an educator perspective, the organization does a LOT of modeling about what to do and how to do it (absolutely brilliantly). SDN also takes a moment to show what NOT to do, using humor to draw in audience attention. I think many times in the lindy community, we forget to set behavioral norms alongside the standard “how to step.” We need to model, model, model what good practices look like.

On the dance floor, a creative space must exist where everyone can freely express themselves. Physically and emotionally, the space will fluctuate. Perhaps you might be sad one day, so the physical space you need is a close-knit circle of caring friends. Or, if you’re like me, you just need to get out of that physical space to have emotional space. The point is, everyone is different. BUT…you must, must, must always ask questions and realize what consent means. That is a standard we in the lindy community are obligated to uphold.

Swing Out Syndicate #2: Shot Heard Round the Lindy World

So, first of all, I just wanted to highlight this Reddit post. (Also, did you all know that swing dancing had a Reddit? I mean, I guess everything has a Reddit these days…)

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Having visited this particular scene many times and considering it a home, but also dancing with this energetic, fun dancer…I feel a bit conflicted.  Yes, many lindy hop scenes are majority white. Yes, sometimes I feel a bit alone as one of the only AAPI dancers, or a bit frustrated sometimes. I want more diversity in the scene. (I spent every single outing with my heavily AAPI church in undergraduate begging them to come out swing dancing). I also want people to have fun with each other and not make snide comments. Do I want to leave the scene? No, I think lindy hoppers are loveable goofballs with a TON of wit. Do I think sometimes we as dancers, of any dance, can be a tiny bit rude or snooty? Yes, a resounding yes. We need to be nicer. However, I think there are several scenes out there doing a phenomenal job of bringing the joy, through diversity, a welcoming attitude, and just plain acceptance. To give a few shout-outs: Tulsa’s Vintage Swing Movement, Heartland, and LindyGroove. At LindyGroove, a friend-of-a-friend actually came to pick me up for their big weekend dance. How sweet is that? Further, the author mentions some drawbacks of majority white dancers, but I would like to say majority-anybody can be mean in a scene. I’ve met harsh dancers of many creeds, but I’ve also met lovely dancers as well. I think it’s more about checking your privilege in many cases. Of course, there have been great posts and discussion on both sides, but I just really wanted to gauge what you all think. How do we be more welcoming? How do we love the dancers and communitites we already know?

Mostly though, I wanted to highlight this brilliant post from musician Gordon Au. Instead of encouraging separation anxiety of those in tune with traditional jazz and modern jazz fans, Mr. Au encourages dances and musicians alike to grow in appreciation for fantastic representations in each camp. It’s a bit of an extensive overview, but necessary nonetheless for the dance-happy looking to be more jazz-happy.

Also, did you know he has a rather spiffy Instagram page as well?

Take a lead from Gordon (@gordonautrumpet), leads:

Dig that gorgeous polo coat in the last shot.

Also, before I forget, the first set of Charlie Stone dance flats are SOLD OUT in most sizes. I know, I was quite inconsolable for a time too. Until…I saw these:

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While the Katherine models were in solid black and a red/white model, these new models currently in production are too fabulous. Look at that darling eyelet peeptoe! Look for updates here.

That’s all I have for you folks this week.

Remember, swing out happy!

Love & Lindy,

Y.Y.

 

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.

Bouncing Back

Helloooo, swing dancers.

You doin’ good? I’m doin’ okay. The marvelous thing about dancing with students is that it can change your whole attitude about what dancing means.

Today, my 301 class and I did some Mandy Jiroux choreography to Uptown Funk. It’s repetitive, but the kids really love the beat.

As a follow, I was a timid dancer. I think teaching dance on my own now, three times a week for up to 4 hours in a second language, has taught me to embrace mistakes and, yes, even confidence. In the many workshops and retreats I went to, I missed out on the most important part that a bunch of excited third graders taught me. Dancing is so much fun. My students plead with me to play this song (which I’m now close to sick of) even when they’re just on water break. It’s fun to watch Bruno Mars dance around in a pink suit or when he rides around seated on a car. How did I miss that before? Also, no matter how on or off beat students are, the students who enjoy themselves always look great.

Image via CaptainRabbitEars. Check them out on DeviantArt.

Have you ever seen 6th graders do partnered Charleston for the first time? It makes you want to smile because you enjoy watching them DANCING. Sure, it’s not perfect and sometimes 6th graders can be quite cruel to each other, but for a few moments, their dancing and their joy were one. That, for me, is really enough.

I guess I’m still searching for my identity as a dancer. So far, this post by Swungover has shed new light on how to improve my dancing. Hope always triumphs over dead ends. Most of my dance past involved me setting unrealistic expectations, then crashing and burning because I thought I could be “good” or “great” without any solo practice. I also hated seeing myself dance. Now…I can. I can dance. I’m not saying I’m good or great, but I’m working on it.

So hope. It’s a beautiful thing.

Here’s to so-called failures and all the winding, fascinating paths it leads us down.

Wishing you happy feet,

S.

Swing Dancers to Watch: Youth Performers

Hello, Swing World. 🙂 Beautiful, beautiful people. How are your swing-outs coming along?

Anyways, there’s this lovely event called Lindyfest Lone Star Championships that happens in Houston, TX every year. The workshops host a bevvy of great JnJ contests, from All-Star to Intermediate/Advanced and others. Besides the traditional Strictlys and showcases, I love that Lindyfest includes, like many great events, a youth performance section. This year, everyone looked fantastic. Take a peek in the video.

Photo via Eric Mull, Cleveland Magazine.

Photo via Eric Mull, Cleveland Magazine.

You have to love Cyle Dixon and Alexis Davila. You must. They don’t hold back on the energy, and it shows in how upbeat each of their performances are.

As a teacher and someone who is trying to spread the love of jazz to Taiwanese students this school year, seeing youth performances blossom gives me so much hope. Here, it can be easy to fall into a slump of moves and forget that the spirit of creativity is oh-so-necessary. I’ve rewritten Charleston and solo jazz lessons five-times over, trying to inspire students. Yes, there are the naturals. They watch it once and start snapping on beat. Most of the students are seeking moves, but I really want to instill the love of jazz. So, what do we do? How do we as teachers inspire the next generation of jazz giants? That’s what I believe. Each student has the potential to be the next great _______.

So…how do we instill it? I think it comes from within. Right now, maybe I’m not in a place to do it. I suppose I can start there and remember why I loved jazz in the first place. Maybe, if I love enough, that will overflow and sink into what it means to teach out of love.

Anyways, look at these young people. They are fantastic, and we all have something to learn from each of them. Markedly, JOY. WOW. The judges were definitely right in giving a standing ovation. This is the joy to look forward to.

Keep it jumpin’, my friends.

S.