10 Things from Alamo Stomp 2018

I’m back with a list because my mind is a jumble of disproportionate and oblong thoughts which cannot seem to collect themselves. So, yes, a list is just fine. These things I know to be true about my experience.

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Taken back in the Carolina mountains in a kaleidoscope, refurbished Nikon.

  1. Attitude is everything. If you’ve followed this blog since the early years, you know I began on two left feet (figuratively in terms of dancing and tone). I wanted so badly to be somebody I wasn’t, to shed the skin I was for someone entirely different. But what a moment…to be alive in 2018, a Chinese-American transplant dancing in Texas hill country to lindy hop. You can’t make this up. Yes, there’s so much work to do in this community. No, we can’t stop here. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. We have to learn how to listen. If you haven’t read this post from ObsidianTea, you’re missing out on a whole conversation that needs to be valued. I knew I felt uncomfortable wearing a qipao but I realize each individual needs to notice and note what clothing brings up in people. Sometimes reliving and preserving the past is the last thing we need. Sometimes we need to remember how to let others move us, and sometimes we need to learn how to stand our ground. It’s wisdom to know the difference.
  3. I have to stop blaming others. It’s time for me to take ownership of my own mastery. I realized this all at once, then in steps thanks to the marvelous instructors, all of them (see below for names). It’s not enough to think others are having a good time, you have to be sure the dance feels right for you. Am I moving down a line? Am I pulsing? Am I bringing something valuable here? Does this feel good for me and my partner? I have to start questioning these things to get to…whatever is next.
  4. Learn to say thank you.  Thank the organizers. Thank the volunteer coordinators, the collaborators, and the volunteers. Thank the instructors and judges. (Check them out here: Jamin & Grace, Anthony & Irina, Shauna & Falty). Thank your fellow lindy hoppers. Thank the bands. Thank the MC and the alternates. Thank the competitors. No experience is exempt from a heavy dose of gratitude. I’m never going to forget the small act of kindness when an instructor stops everything they’re doing just to come by and fix an arm. That’s really solid, student-centered teaching.
  5. This is your moment, don’t wait. I think I waste a ton of time wondering what others think and say about me. 85% if not more. This weekend helped me realize that even if I bomb…at least I did it in a blaze of glory with the goofiness that is me. If no one likes it…well, the points only matter if you’re interested in them. (Believe me, I still am, I’m just trying to convince myself otherwise.) But in all honestly: you never know how much time you have left. “Make the most of your time here.”
  6. It’s okay to suck if you’re going to change. I know this is not my final evolution (that’s right, I’m a Pokemon master). I’m going to admit, it sucks when people see your ideas flub or if you trip…but I personally think there is more value in learning to recover than to quit. I remember seeing a dancer I very much admire slip up on stage, but she immediately nailed her next spotlight as if nothing ever happened. I’m pretty sure she left the competition with a placement despite the hiccup. You cannot literally die from embarrassment (however much you want it to happen).
  7. Learn to (not) apologize. I’m terrible at this. I always want to atone for every single thing I’ve ever said or done. My honest-to-goodness response upon some criticism recently was “I want to curl up and die.” I have to remind myself, and maybe you should remind yourself as well, from the earth and dirt and rubble comes the goodness. The soil, the dirt, the dust holds the richness for us to grow. Dust off your shoulders, relax, trust the process.
  8. Practice perfect. I had this choir director in secondary school always drill us that it wasn’t practice that made perfect, but perfect practice. Don’t stop when you master a move. Stop when you can do the move as easily as you can breathe.
  9. Draw from, don’t fossilize. I heard some interesting thoughts over the course of the weekend, notably about how music should be preserved, shared, or altered. I’m personally partial to the idea that we sit on a fine line of improvisation and preservation. My heart is leaning towards being open to the new while appreciating the history. Recognize the roots, the branches, and the leaves.
  10. Let Go…(Be Humble). The more I spend thinking about these ideas, the more I wonder about where lindy hop has been and where it’s headed. I remember telling a friend that, with all the recent tension, I wasn’t sure lindy or swing as a whole would rise above the subculture level. As responsible as we are for spreading the joy in dance…I do wonder too much sometimes. My voice blares a bit too loud over the online rafters, if you get my drift. So, please, take this as my last apology. Silence is too golden these days, and I will assure you, my future posts will be focused on quality rather than quantity.

 

On my toes…

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Taipei shadows, 2016

Yue

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Not Yet.

I’m writing this partly for my heartbroken lindy self, partly for those of you out there whom this passion and practice does not come naturally for. To date, I’ve been dancing for on the shy side of 6 years with many breaks in between. I do not pretend to be anything but a social dancer who enjoys creating on the dance floor. After competing this weekend, I fell face-front into my own inadequacies as a competitor and dancer. So much so, I find myself here writing instead of sleeping yet again. No rest for the neurotic?

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I could blame my shoes that night or what I was wearing or what I ate…any number of factors. I could chalk it all up to a slick floor or not knowing enough of technique. However, I really just believe…I’m not there yet. Yet. I think this is the key word here. While I reserve so much growth mindset for my students at school, I leave so little for my own dance self. Especially in a lowdown like today, it’s difficult to scrape what dignity I have left off the bottom of everyone’s shoes. I mean, people — I could feel I was off my game. But what then? What’s left after you’ve cried as much as you can dredge up and you’ve thought up every excuse in the book?

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” All that’s left to do, is to return to a sense of home. Go back to the dance floor, try again…but differently. Use the tools at your disposal, be it video recap and feedback, returning to fundamentals, or hitting practices on the daily. I believe if you truly want something–be it redemption, victory, or any type of solution, you absolutely have to work for it.

I’m not the type of person who can glean something easily, I know that about myself. Nothing comes easily. To look effortless, for me, is always going to be a work in progress. I once had a balboa instructor tell me I have all the mechanics of a dancer, just not the trust in myself. Last night, I didn’t trust myself. I was so nervous, I wore a track between the bathroom and a corner of the venue. I forgot to think in terms of “not yet.”

There are so many things I wish I could tell my younger dance self. Don’t say things you can’t take back. Practice more. Stamp down your ego or let it get bruised. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Look more at your own missing pieces than pointing out those in others. (Just maybe stop saying things at all if you can help it, if I’m honest.) I want to stay positive about my performance last night, but truly, I feel it is a golden moment for me to simply think: I’m not quite at mastery…yet. It’s all a work in progress.

So, what’s left? For me…it’s just the dance. Wiping the slate clean, not expecting anything from anyone else than the two feet planted firmly beneath me. Breathe in, breathe out. Internalize the rhythm. Live to dance another day.

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Find rhythm, find flow. Repeat.

Stop being so angry with people. Stop judging. Be humble. Repeat.

Find growth, find creativity. Repeat.

-Yue

 

 

On Elitism

Hello. It’s been a while. I’ve moved yet again for a new job and in the name of love. Still dancing, still semi-critical, nothing new. Anyway, just some recent insight on a dance escapade.

So, I recently had this terrible experience at a brilliant event which shall-not-be-named (in order to protect its yearly patronage). In order to cool off from the main ballroom, I found a circle of friends outside in the courtyard, enjoying the night air. Someone left, so I took his spot and began chatting with my friends. This local “star” if you will, however, pushed past me without so much as a second look and exiled me from my friends. He quite literally pushed me out of the circle. I felt immediately invisible and ousted. After speaking with local friends, it seems this is some sort of bad habit with this individual.

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Ouch. Sad to say, this event has not been my first time feeling alone or ignored at a social dance event where I know several dozen people. In fact, it has become more the rule than the exception. Somewhere along the rode to this niche subculture, and perhaps due to the narrowness of our interests, people have become enrobed in elitism. Like…I can’t even look at people for very long without them whispering.

It used to be, and probably to some extent still is true, that after events you have these mass friend-a-thons on social media of dancers trading information in post-event excitement, thrilled to connect with other dancers. A few months ago, I started finding my profile sinking into the pit of souls and purgatory of waiting friends. Suffice to say, I resolved to just keep the quality friends I know. Honestly, a waste of breath otherwise.

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This is not a national phenomenon — it just so happens to be an international one. I’ve seen it with my significant other being ostracized by followers who thought he was beneath them in Asia. In Canada, I asked someone to dance with a wide open floor and great music, was given a dirty look before denied. Let me add, this person also added a “talk to the hand.” Honestly. These situations actually happened. Not to mention the shaming instructors do. Consider the list of abhorrent teaching and responses I’ve received over the years…from people I’ve paid, from “swing friends,” and acquaintances.

  1. You’re just not a natural dancer. You will always be awkward.
  2. *Laughter after trying an aerial.*
  3. *Laughter when admitting fear at attempting an aerial.*
  4. No one likes a follow that…um…heavy.
  5. You only got into finals because it’s a small pool.
  6. *Insults about directionality*
  7. *Insults about turns*
  8. Yeah, that Chinese girl. Pick her.
  9. *Stomps on toe, turns around to mouth “sorry”, and laughs with partner* (Mind you, I was bleeding, the nail cracked, and the toe turned an ugly shade of purple)
  10. I danced with a follow yesterday who did this *mocks dancing, class laughs*
  11. Hey, girl in the blue skirt, ARE YOU SURE you did it correctly?
  12. *Asks if he wants to join the jam circle.* “I don’t think so.” *Goes in 5 min later with a different dancer.*

I’m tired of this. Granted, many of these comments helped me improve and occurred years ago, but they also sucked away my self esteem as a dancer. Many were from people I trusted and who genuinely cared for. I want to be clear, I’m not on a dance break, I will not give anyone that sort of power over me again. However, it does make me all the more weary to join a super event again. I often wonder if people just go to those events to get a bit more “stardust” on their shoulders from “dancing with the lindy stars.”

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I admit to being one of those individuals as a beginner. Now, I’m left full of questions. If this is occurring with social rules and safety in place, how do we circumvent social ousting? Will lindy hop be doomed to an elitism historically associated with ballroom? Do we welcome newcomers? I think we all know the answers, somewhere in the back of our brains. Often with all the rules, I have heard the rudest comments, often about the most shallow topics. The dress I chose to wear, the way I swivel, my RBF… In terms of elitism…honey, we’re already there. I mean, swing dance can be a beautiful, equitable practice. However, it is also a way to cherry pick your friends from a drastically smaller pool. I’ve seen dancers leave after a few weeks of enduring week after week of being ignored at socials.

I don’t have an answer for you. I know I hate level testing because I always feel like I’m never going to be considered “uppercrust” despite making advanced level before. It always feels like a fluke. I guess I’m calling for the kindness of strangers in a space that is feeling altogether too lonely at times. Now, I haven’t felt this way at all in my current local scene. The people here have been lovely, welcoming, and always friendly. Something’s gotta give at the national and international event level though. We’ve become calloused and rude. Of course, I’ve met amazingly kind and nurturing people through international events. I’m just calling for more of us to exemplify that attitude, to show the kindness of strangers.

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(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

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.