I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a dance snob once more, what it means to value people. At this fantastic recent event, I saw a follow whom I really admired make these terrible faces at people she was dancing with. I must admit, I’ve probably been guilty of those same looks before. I heard and saw multiple others do the same. And yes, some of those looks were thrown at me (like always). That night though…I was feeling the music. There were these two amazing bands battling back and forth, some of my best swing friends were there, and I had the most quality conversations I’ve had in a loooong time in the swing community. I learned to be content with who I was, how I danced, and who I chose to interact with.
No, I didn’t speak with those men and women. No, they didn’t speak with me. Yes, I had a marvelous time. I hope they and their dance partners felt the same. But…this is something psychologists have researched for years between in-groups and out-groups. What makes it okay for people who think they are uber-dancer-supreme to feel like they can oust certain others, for no other reason than “cool” factor or “you don’t dance like I do?” There’s a difference between being critical of technique and just downright mean.
I’m guilty of rolling my eyes and shunning a dancer because of his enormous ego. Once, a dancer came up to me, and instead of dancing, made it a point to tell me about every flaw in my dancing while on the social floor. In that instance, I simply said, “If you don’t like my dancing, we don’t have to dance,” and I left. However, I’ve never done what these men and women of the dance community have done — namely, stare daggers down at the dance floor. It reminded me of an instance when I smiled at another follow at an event, and she immediately gave me a sourpatch face. Yeesh. Yes, it was totally her prerogative. But…what did I do…except be me? I absolutely did nothing to her.
I’ve been panning away from swing recently, into different veins of hip hop through Steezy Studios. This is not an endorsement, and I have no funds coming in through them (I wish). However, I do partake in a few dance classes each week. It’s freeing. The instructors come from different cultural backgrounds, and many look like me. It’s on video, but the organizers make it a point to communicate with you one-on-one when possible. I don’t feel judged…which, I often do in the lindy hop community. Not to say that hip hop is any less critical. When I first ventured into hip hop in college, I wore these Thai traveling pants to a practice. The other dancers nearly laughed me out of the room. One of my very good friends at the time instead of encouraging me pushed me out of the community. Not the best feeling.
I want to say that there is space for me as a woman of color who is not-the-best but not-the-worst in lindy hop. I want to say that every moment on the dance floor has been one where I feel honored to be there. I want to say I’ve enjoyed dancing every song with everybody. I want to say I felt accepted. Cared for. A part of something.
But it hasn’t. But I didn’t always. Those statements aren’t true for me.
I’ve felt lonely many days. I’ve cried on more than one occasion. Lindy hop experiences have prevented me from getting work done for my position. Social interactions have left me wounded. I’ve become depressed due to events in scenes. People have gossiped about me, torn me down, chewed me up, and spit me out….expecting me to keep dancing. I’ve taken more than my fair share of breaks from the scene.
“It’s okay not to be okay.” That’s a saying from somewhere. It’s not okay when scenes don’t try to change. What are we doing to be welcoming? What are we doing to build community? I’m not saying I’ve done an exquisite job — anything but that, in fact. I’m just wondering, “Where is the love?” [Appreciate the flashback, music lovers.] How did we get to a place where it’s okay for follows and leads to glare at and make ugly faces at people enjoying themselves? What is this, the opening to a Sir Mix-A-Lot music video?
Social dancing. The social part has been exhausting lately. I wonder why that is. I wonder, can we ever change? I hope so. I hope one day, I can get onto the dance floor and feel comfortable dancing like me without fear of judgment. These days, it feels like a distant memory, when music was always on key, when your friends were always from a swing dance club, and where you knew exactly where to eat between the main dance and late night.
Life isn’t so simple. Complexity should be reflected in dance. Expression should not be limited to the few we choose to lift up as idols of our time, but we do. And I wonder if this, too, shall pass. I wonder if these dance dreams and goals will slip away; if it will be even a tragedy. Or will people simply say, “Good riddance. She talked too much anyway.”
I wonder. I long for wonder.