This past Tuesday I visited The Green Door, a swing dance venue in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with four friends for their “Song Request Night”. For a dollar donation toward a charity, one could request a song for the night. A bunch of friends from York/Lancaster came out and fun times were had all around. However the way the night went down picqued the idea of redefining my definition of ‘What is right for a swing dance venue/organization?’, but before that I have a slight backstory.
When I first started swing dancing about three years ago I asked the president of the PSU Swing dance club at the time what venues were around us if I wanted to dance on the weekend. He mentioned that the Green Door existed and that he placed in a Jack & Jill there, but to never go there. Now I do not usually like talking about places in a negative light but this backstory has a point, most of the venues in central Pennsylvania (with the exception of one) have always had the stigma here at Penn State from previous leadership that “If you want to travel go to a big city like Philly/D.C. or else deal with bad music and low quality of dancing.”
I will candidly admit I have reinforced that myself with venues in the past in Pennsylvania and California using terms like ‘neoswing/groovy music’ and ‘east coast swing’ in a derogatory sense. Lately I have been trying to relax my penchant for as they say being a ‘hater’, which leads me to my experience yesterday.
When In Rome
My friends and I arrived in time for the newbie lesson, because if you took the lesson there was a discount on the cover charge. This lesson happened to be on West Coast Swing, which if you don’t personally know me I think is a legitimate dance but in the modern context has divorced itself too far from its roots to be called a ‘swing dance’ anymore. Nevertheless I took the lesson, had fun, and threw in some body-rolls for good measure. The music of the night was an interesting mix though, possibly because it was request night. There was a good variety of westie-music, blues, vintage swing, soul, country, top 40’s songs, and a waltz. What was fun to notice was completely different groups of dancers were out on the floor depending upon what was being played. Irregardless though everybody seemed to have a fun time and i’d say the night was a success.
For anybody who knows me personally they probably did a double take after that sentence. “Wait, he went to a venue that they taught westie, played for a good portion of the time non-traditional swing dance music, and didn’t complain about the experience to the point of excess?”. The answer is yep, I enjoyed my dances to the vintage swing music myself and friends requested and just goofed around to everything else. While it was not my picturesque idea of a swing dance venue, it seemed everyone had a good time. That combined with a conversation I overheard outside of the venue was the spark that made me contemplate the idea of what is ‘appropriate’ for a swing dance venue.
Eavesdropping and Revelations
When I was outdoors I overheard an older gentleman talking about how he worked to get waltz/foxtrot instruction on a once a month basis at the venue. At first he got multiple complaints of, “This is a swing dance venue!” and such. But he said after time people relaxed their complaints and let him teach and have a waltz/foxtrot song played at least once a night.
If you don’t know me personally or haven’t inferred from my blog posts, my usual definition of an ideal swing dance venue was one that only promoted swing dance, had lessons that emphasized technique, played quality music (either vintage or modern bands that are respectable like Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five), and a good atmosphere.
As a dancer I travel a lot to events in Virginia/Washington D.C./New York/Ohio/Pennsylvania. Many intermediate and above dancers on the East Coast, especially the ones who travel to competitive events like ILHC (International Lindy Hop Championships) also hold the standards I listed above. But the most important fact is, in Central Pennsylvania I am also a minority.
One of the hardest things I have had to deal with (and still do) as an instructor and an organizer is realizing that not everyone joins swing dancing to become an amazing dancer. I usually date people outside of the swing dance community and have a circle of friends outside of it, my weakness as an extrovert is I came to dance for not the same reasons that the majority of people do and therefore neglect their perspective at times.
Who am I to say that the older gentleman’s experience or the wide eye newbie who likes dancing to top 40’s experience is inferior if they are enjoying themselves? While I do dance to have fun, my main objectives of dancing these days is often improvement and to the music I have a taste for, which fortunately for myself is what is usually DJed at larger Lindy Hop events. However this is irrelevant for people who are just looking to get a little exercise, meet new people, and have fun.
Ideas to Mull About
This topic the idea of how keeping everyone happy from newbies, experienced dancers, people who like multiple dances, to only Lindy Hoppers is a problem that has been rehashed over the years several times. I have friends in the travel circuit who live in isolated areas and say they barely dance in their home scenes because their local scene is sub-par to them.
On one hand my organizer tendencies tell me to do what I can to support my local community and improve it as a whole. But on the other hand my traveling dancer tendencies tell me to just drive the extra hour to Baltimore or some other established place that caters to my tastes.
While I try to promote the ideas and standards kept by my peers in the international swing dance community, as of late I have been coming to the realization that maybe not the best swing dance atmosphere is one that maintains that, but addresses the needs of the community it serves.
How to balance those two is something I struggle with. I’d love to hear any comments or thoughts any of you guys have.