Speak / Silence

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Frankie 100, photograph my own.

Trigger warning: This post deals with sensitive material surrounding testimonies of many very brave women speaking up against Max Pitruzzella who raped them. While no explicit details will be on this post in the interest of younger audiences (my students) , full accounts can be found on the ineffable Jo Hoffberg’s facebook and Ruth Evelyn’s page. Further details about the ‘booyah’ club can be found on the group page for Lindy Hoppers Against Rape Culture. I encourage readers and dancers of all ages to find a way to break the silence.

I have no words. Nothing will do. When people take privilege and lord it over others, when peace is threatened by malice…cruelty bears an ugly scar on humanity. Even that sentence sounds wrong and does the situation no justice. As someone who has survived similar circumstances, I wonder how to talk about this issue. My attacker was not a dancer, but I knew him. We were on a date when similar situations described by Ruth and others like her occurred. I blamed myself. My friends blamed me. I was called several names, most of them linked to derogatory terms. I lost my friends and my entire support system in a foreign country. I cannot imagine what that fear does to you in the hands of a community we love.

Today is a time of mourning. In the past, I have blamed, fumed, and wrought myself wrong in fury. Today…today, I don’t know how to feel. Only that lindy hop used to be an escape for laughter, joy, and all things beautiful. Yet, the more things I learn, the more I feel disenchanted with the dynamics. We leap for joy, we sing, we rabble-rouse. That’s lindy hop for me-that sort of defiant laughter in the face of a cynical world.  Now, I fear it’s escape of a different sort, another way for cruelty or …evil to rear its ugly head. Has dancing made us better people? Or has it made us numb to certain power inequalities?

“You’re not alone. It’s not your fault.” We say these things. We mean it. But how, HOW do we stop injustice from happening again? How do we prevent it from ever happening? How do we reverse blood already spilled? Speaking up matters. Talking matters. If we do not speak up, I think the very earth will cry out.

Stigma prevents us from healing. Stigma suffocates and hold tights to silence. Thoughtful dialogue changes things, but what can truly repair the hurt? I don’t know yet. I’m still in the process, and lindy hop played a huge role in my healing process. However, I wonder if the community can also bear its teeth some times. I see new dancers excluded, I have excluded people myself (I think I am expert at alienating others, if anything). How do we be kinder? Braver? Better?

I don’t know yet. I sit in a bustling cafe, and I feel alone today. Perhaps tomorrow will bring a different horizon.

-Y.

 

(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

Safe White Spaces in Lindy Hop

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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.

#NotYourAsianSidekick,

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.
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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.

 

FOMO & Lindy Hop

Hello, it’s me. I’ve been wondering after all this time, you’d like a post?

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I figured no one does an apology quite like Adele. Anyways, I do owe you one, dear readers. I have been settling in a new region of the U.S. along with starting a new grad program, so it’s been a time of adjustment and binge-watching Netflix for comfort.

As someone who likes to travel for lindy, adjusting to a new environment should be my favorite thing, right? It’s just a longer trip in between those weekend stints to other fantastic places on the other side of the wardrobe, right? Not exactly. It takes a while to re-settle down and find your lindy travel buddies. In the mean time, it can grow quite lonely.

When I hosted at Music City Shake, I was lucky enough to be amongst familiar faces to travel around the event. However, at most of the weeklies, I found myself keeping to the chairs on the side of the wall, reluctant to try and grasp a new friend circle in an entirely new community. I hate being the new kid, especially as an adult.  In the midst of all this adjustment, I sheared my normal travel expenses to one local event and one out of state event outside of weekly dances.

So, how did that feel? Honestly, not as terrible as I thought it would be. I thought my FOMO (fear of missing out) radar would be through the roof come Lindy Focus time. However, the videographers always have the best seat in the house, so I found myself with the best views for eye-catching performances. I certainly don’t miss the Focus Flu after all those germs, the rude shoe cobbler I encountered two years ago, or the selectivity of dance partners based on levels. Now, I’m sure culture has changed, as it always has and will. Yet, this winter spent in the splendid embrace of Miami and on the high seas has not disappointed in the least.

So, I’ve been wondering recently why that is: why is it that I didn’t experience more FOMO in lindy? Perhaps my body, mind, and spirit really needed a break. Two years ago, I was part of a collegiate team, I taught swing dance lessons in town, and I devoted a large part of my schedule as a (very terrible) events coordinator/volunteer. I took intensives on Rhythm Juice with Sarah and Dax. I was at Frankie 100 as a volunteer, and even after a year of stress, I thought I was happy constantly on the road. So, as part of my year abroad, I taught dance to elementary school students. I traveled all over Asia for events, from the local Taipei Lindy Fest to HK Swing Fest and a balboa event with Crystal and Jeongwoo.

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My munchkins learning Thriller last year.

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Taipei Bal

IMG_0849However, by the time I went to Singapore, I was burnt out. After losing 20 lbs. to stress from school, I was bone-thin. I had also twisted my ankle terribly in Hong Kong, so badly I couldn’t dance in the swing capital of Asia- Seoul, South Korea. Further, I had problems being accepted into the community overall. There was an edge of competitiveness in Taiwan I couldn’t live up to. Follows spent a lot of time gathered on the sidelines or dancing with people they knew. Heart broken and bitter, I spent nearly 6 months on hiatus outside of teaching swing to kids.

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After taking an actual holiday from dancing this winter, I feel more at peace. Before, I craved attention from dance and I envied people like crazy. I was like this baby chicken that wanted to turn into a dove. I couldn’t fly (no aerials, seriously) and I looked kind of ridiculous. I was pretending or trying to be someone I wasn’t. Rather than invest in practice, I invested in more events and more privates, never once thinking that perhaps I just needed some time alone listening to music. I needed to know how to master who I was as a dancer, chicken or otherwise.

So, I want to talk about something magical that happened at Jump Session right before I went on holiday. I had this spectacular pair of sailor pants which just made me feel invincible for some reason. Also, a good friend I had met at LF two years before was coming to visit. Whether my break was finally over and Nashville had rejuvenated me or I finally felt comfortable in my own skin, I found some rhythm again. It wasn’t perfect, and I’m sure I blundered quite a bit, but I had an absolute blast. No FOMO, no anxiety, just unspeakable joy.

THAT’S what makes me want to dance. Not the pressure to succeed or the need to replicate dancer X’s swingouts…just loving the music and showing how much I do through my partner. That’s all. Nothing showy, nothing completely mapped out, but just enjoying that delayed triple, feeling the ripples in the wood floor from happy feet. I could live with that.

Learning to follow your own bliss gives others permission to do the same. It’s a win-win. Someone else’s accomplishments doesn’t mean you don’t get to improve at your own rate. No FOMO allowed, only, as we say in our program, “ready to learn, safe to practice.” If you’re an eager learner and a safe dancer, the world is your dance floor.

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Image via American Vernacular (awesome photographer!)

Wishing you happy feet!

-YY