Nasty Habits

Hey.

pexels-photo-235986.jpeg

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.

pexels-photo-1040893.jpeg

Advertisements

A Nefarious Habit

sw_thumb_wht

Dancers,

We have to talk about Ksenia.* But more than that, we need to address the ongoing conversation about race in the lindy hop world. I felt deeply disturbed and disappointed to learn that this individual has indulged in black face and brown face over the years, underwent direct counsel from concerned individuals, and chose to ignore it. My question for you, global dance community, is this: Why do we choose to continue to ignore actions like these and choose tolerance over the years? Why are individuals still learning dance from someone who chooses racist actions over change? Why is stagnancy and preservation encouraged in a community where we, as a whole, profess to value innovation and improvisation?

I don’t have an answer for you. I can only tell you this: I will not be reviewing the online course I was once so excited about from this instructor and cancelled back in February. No more attention will be directed into any means of praise or even criticism in that direction. Instead, let’s re-direct: What will we, as diverse communities across the globe, choose for ourselves now?

Recently, in the last few years, two very different movies came out which I believe represent two of the many roads lindy hop and the swing dance culture at large can take — namely, Black Panther or La La Land. (Obviously, this is not a binary situation or choice, but I think this does represent major perspectives currently in play). While not a dance movie in the slightest, Black Panther, an afrocentric triumph, demonstrates what social ails exist and solutions which might be proposed. King T’Challa feels, at times, proud, tormented, and resolute. A complex character, he welcomes the audience into a similar fold about the inner mechanisms of what a true community entails — do we engage in civil war due to differing beliefs in purpose, do we compromise and make peace…or is there even a we right now? What is brilliant about Black Panther is that the story allows for multiple narratives to exist, to create, and even to destroy. (That’s all I’ll say without giving away any spoilers). Should you as a dancer so choose, you can allow multiple narratives in, to thrive given the proper growth and appreciation, to weed out the toxicity.

bp

On the other hand, we have La La Land. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of the themes present in this particular movie resonate with me as a dancer and as a dreamer. However, the movie also presents a unique parallel to how communities, like Hollywood or subcultures like swing-dancing, write out POC voices. The lead actors are white except, surprise, the antagonist who just so happens to be John Legend, an amazing African-American musician and artist. Still, he is pigeon-holed into a less-than, supporting role to a melanin-deprived cast. Many of the POC are sidelined as extras in the Broadway dance and song numbers. I was both excited and disappointed to see many from the lindy hop and hip hop communities represented but not highlighted on the margins. Nostalgia is weaponized to selectively “colorblind” or, rather, white-out history. It’s absolutely unexcusable and, to be honest, incredibly heartbreaking. For Old and New Hollywood alike, there is no place, apparently, for minority culture voices.

la-la-land-58f29ca2dcd3e

I will be the first to acknowledge that life holds within itself a fair amount of moral gray areas. However, I hold this to be true: you do not use an identity as an insult, as a joke, or as a weapon against someone. That is inexcusable and abhorrent. Period. My issue with the lindy hop and swing dance subculture right now is not that we don’t know. I think recent conversations at Lindy Focus, at least, have shown an overwhelming willingness to learn and hope to understand. Awareness, if anything.

But now…

What am I going to do? What are you going to do about it? What will we choose to do, or what will we choose to let happen?

If there is a “we,” and I sincerely hope there still is, what will happen to “us?”

I for one am feeling a bit exhausted at…fighting assumptions. I walked to my car after an event to croakings from an older man about, “THAT Chinese girl!” nevermind that I never talked to him the entire night. I had to endure this both on the dance floor and to my car as I was walking to the parking lot alone. Strange heckling. Strange days of cultural encounter.

I hope for change here. If not, I’m making one…perhaps away from people who are not ready to accept who I am. Perhaps to a community who does already.

Resolutely,

Y.

 

*It should be noted that the first link was taken down which I’m not sure what to think of. However, in the one now linked, you can see some representation of minstrelism. As well as here.

Update: Ksenia’s response on Yehoodi. Thoughts?

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.

DSC_0660

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…

DSC_1208

Taipei shadows, 2016

Yue

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?

suit-couple-blue-shoes.jpg

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.

DSC_1236.JPG

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.

Image result for gif left out

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 road 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.

Image result for gif pit of souls

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.”

Image result for gif dancing with the stars

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.

Image result for gif harry potter dance

(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.

CL

  • 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.

racist

  • 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?

glare

  • 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?

dying

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.

parislove9801

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.