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

 

 

 

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.

S.O.S. (Swingout Syndicate) #1

What’s going on in the world wide web of Swing?

  • Sarah Sullivan courageously shared about her assault. Read her amazing writing.
  • When you’re finished with that, read Swungover’s article on safe spaces.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, Sergei Polunin (I know this isn’t swing, but it’s beautiful).

  • Carsie Blanton’s “A Heart Needs a Home
  • You should watch Whiplash to understand the pain of becoming a jazz musician. Phenomenal.
  • Use Yehoodi’s #safespaces to continue the conversation on safety measures taken on your local dance floor. Let’s prevent abuse together.
  • Frankie and Ramona. Enough said. Just watch:

  • Finally, a dancing corgi. Because anyone, and everyone, should dance and NOT BE JUDGED for goodness’ sake.

    Image via destructoid.com

    Image via destructoid.com