Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

“Rockstar” A Rather Pointless Term

I am going to spend today going over one of my pet-peeves when I am around swing dancers. This annoyance is the use of the word “Rockstar” when describing swing dance instructors, particularly the international-traveling instructors.
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To quote Nick Williams in his blog post “So You Want To Be A Traveling Lindy Hop Rockstar? (Part 1 of 2)

First off, I would like to say that I think the term “rockstar” in this scene is ridiculous and comical.

Below I am going to just a few of the many reasons why I think this term is at best a play at humor.

1. Swing Dance Instructors Do Not Receive Rockstar Pay

I’ve personally helped run about five different swing dance related workshops, and have had my hand involved in a few more besides that. Due to respect for privacy I won’t divulge any rates for any individual, but I can say on average most swing dance instructors charge between $100-$150 dollars an hour and expect travel/board & lodging expenses to be covered. On top of this there are a bunch of expenses that are part of the trade that instructors are expected to pay on their own such as; nice outfits for dances, performance costumes, their own insurance, et cetera.

If you get the chance talk to a West Coast Swing or even worse Ballroom dancer and ask them the rates their international instructors charge for private lessons or an hourly rate for workshop/group classes. It is borderline embarrassing once you find out about the price gap that exists.

2. It’s Not All Fun & Games, It Can Be Rather Socially Exhausting

About six months ago I went for a month straight of traveling every weekend to a swing dance event. (Stupidly I am doing the same thing again this month) I consider myself a textbook extrovert and for those of you who are into the whole Myers Briggs test, I am classified as an ENTP. In spite of this after the third weekend, I got home and spent a day mostly locked in my room reading and not wanting to deal with anybody I knew.

When a dance instructor is hired for a weekend, there is a lot more that goes on besides just teaching lesson. They are expected to be jovial and welcoming to students between classes, in between classes & dances people will constantly invite you out to do things, and it is often an unwritten expectation that you spend a large amount of time at the social dances. Combine that with the wear & tear of travel and it can easily become a mentally exhausting experience.

3. People Only Get Dance Famous… Not Real World Famous

Have you tried starting in a conversation with muggles non-dancers about Nick Williams or Naomi Uyama? People will probably give you a blank stares and confused looks. While it is true that within the sub-culture of the swing dance community our international instructors might get some perks that are not available to all of us, outside of that they are just normal people like you and me. (A big secret is a good portion of them also have normal people jobs as well.)

Connotation is the Problem

What it comes down to is I really do not like the negative connotations that come with the word rockstar. I don’t think that most of (if any) our international instructors trash hotel rooms, do lines of cocaine before social dances, or bite off a bat’s head during showcase divisions. They are actually just normal people trying to make a living at doing what they love.

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3 responses

  1. I’ve always understood the term to be tongue-in-cheek. A more humorous way of saying “superstar lindy hopper.” Regardless of how the non-dancing world sees them, less famous dancers are still susceptible to the superstar effect: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303960604575158122511930684.html

    August 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    • Oh I completely agree that most of us use the term tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic intent. This is more for the occasional situations that I hear it used seriously and/or the mindset that comes with treating fairly good dancers/instructors in a “put them on a pedestal” manner.

      Also good link. I’ve always wondered if dancers who grow up in a scene like LA where we have events there is only one level of competition (with exceptions such as Camp Hollywood) are affected as much by this superstar effect as people who only go to events where there is clear level separations (novice/intermediate/invitational/et cetera) for competitions.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm

  2. There is one situation in which it is acceptable to use the term “rockstar”: the person you’re describing is in a band that plays rock and roll, and has gained a certain amount of widespread notoriety for said music. All other uses: mock them mercilessly.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:19 pm

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