This story starts out back about a year ago when I was just finished teaching a lesson for my college swing dance club and I noticed a girl standing by the doorway of the room looking in inquisitively. I walked over and gave her the usual spiel about swing dance club but she mentioned that she was just looking in after her PSIDE practice. Being curious I asked her what it was and she explained it was the Penn State International Dance Ensemble, a performance group that does dances from around the world. I had seen one of their performances before on campus, not knowing who they were when they performed Tinikling. I was impressed being that it was the first time I had seen people of non-Fillippino descent perform it and on top of that they did a great job. One thing lead to another and she brought the director over who told me to come out to their spring audition because they had the opposite problem of the swing dance club, lack of leads.
Its amusing even though I was a seasoned swing dancer of a year and half at the time, the audition process into PSIDE still intimidated me. Besides the Shim-Sham and the Gangbusters Routine I had no real experience with choreography and they were in dances, which in some cases I never heard of such as Bhangra.
In addition once one got past the auditions just to become a performing member, one had to individually audition for each dance they were interested in for the performances. How the auditions worked was for the majority of the dances you had an about an hour to an hour and a half to learn a routine, then you auditioned it immediately after. I remember asking the girl in charge of Tinikling, Kim, for advice before the audition started because it was the dance that originally got me interested in PSIDE and I wanted to be a part of it badly. However the auditions were not as cut-throat as I imagined them to be, everyone encouraged each other and the people who ran the auditions put in a considerable effort to try to prepare everyone for the tryouts.
How Performance Is A Different Animal
The thing about partner dancing is there is this idea of connection between the music and the other person one is dancing with. However that changed with my experiences in PSIDE where I learned performance is this connection between the music and the other people you are performing with, then sharing that with the crowd watching you. While it’s good having technique of the respective dance, one has to remember most of the people watching do not have extensive dancing backgrounds in the dance you are performing (or dance backgrounds in general). They are not going to notice bad technique, they are going to notice who looks tired, looking at the floor or doing something different when everyone is trying to do the same thing.
Besides the fact of the different mindset being a performer then a social dancer, another thing I had to get used to was consistent rehearsals and how the lessons were different from the typical lessons I took for swing dancing. In my history of taking swing dance lessons, the majority of them at the beginner and even intermediate lessons were based on more having on fun while learning the dance at hand instead of approaching it as a serious art form and seriously working at it. PSIDE while fun, was not as carefree as my previous experiences with classes. It was refreshing to be in a room of people who were all trying to seriously work at something. Making a consistent time commitment was a difficult hurdle for myself as well due to my traveling gypsy/vagabond lifestyle of being a swing dancer in an isolated scene in addition to helping to run the PSU Swing Dance Club. Luckily the PSIDE director, Clare was very accommodating of myself missing practices and it worked out for the most part.
How This Changed Me
Before PSIDE I would go to Downtown Disneyland in Anaheim, California when live bands would play, in order to get used to dancing front of a crowd. It helped in the same way that it helped me to be more comfortable with myself in terms of dancing and be fearless in front of a crowd. As odd as it sounds, beforehand I would always feel awkward dancing alone, not just in swing, but in general (ironic considering my dancing origins). Now I can bust out moves with much more confidence regardless of the situation, whether it’s a Solo Charleston jam circle or at a local night-club.
PSIDE also has made me feel more like a “real dancer” and slightly increased my knowledge of what that means. I remember my first few PSIDE practices feeling like the dunce in class during the warm-up stretches because I am not flexible at all, and I could pick out that a lot the people in the class had training in classical dances which I lacked. Through time though I realized everyone in PSIDE had their strengths and weaknesses, what was important is we were using our respective dance backgrounds to help each other as a whole. I got exposed to many different motions outside of my usual range of motion I was used to in Lindy Hop, ranging from hip-shaking and isolations with Tahitian to the extreme body-awareness of Bhangra.
I’ll be candid and admit when I first joined PSIDE it was more to use the organization as a tool to improve my dancing as a whole. But they are a great bunch and I have come to know many of them as my friends. The environment that PSIDE provides allows us to learn from each other and gives a performance outlet for many people who may normally not have the chance. All I can hope is many some of my fellow PSIDE members have learned as much from me as I have from some of them.