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

Through the Looking Glass

A little over a month ago I attended a Friday night dance they have in Las Vegas named Algarve Swings. A local that goes by the moniker, “Vegas Nick” was kind enough to give me a ride back to the hotel I was staying at downtown after. During the ride he asked me how long I have been dancing and after my reply of, “A little over 5 years” I found his reply of something to the effect of “Oh, so you are still new” amusing.

It was a great reminder that swing dancing, like any relationship changes with age and that even though many dancers would consider five-ish years a long time, for the individuals who have been dancing 10+ years it’s just a drop in the bucket. What I have learned from this constantly changing relationship is a topic that has been running through my mind lately and that I want to explore today.


Take a Walk on the Wild Side

When I was a newer dancer, my first exciting foray out of my swing dance bubble in State College, Pennsylvania and to the big wide word of the Lindy Hop community was the Oberlin Jazz Dance Festival (OJDF) at Oberlin College in Ohio. It was a great experience interacting with individuals who were not just taught different vocabulary and in a different manner than us, but came from a fairly different college environment in general.

Later in my dancing journey, I got to go on more exciting adventures such as my visit to the Baltimore Strut, back when it was literally on the wrong side of the train tracks and performance gigs where l learned fun things in usual situations such as how to deal with slides while dancing on a moving U.S.A. Victory-class cargo ship.

Related to that, Aaron Draplin in the talk I have linked below says,

Get out there and get wild, get dirty.

The week I spent dancing in crowded bars to live bands in New Orleans taught me a tremendous amount about floorcraft and performing in a public space. It would hard pressed to get that experience anywhere else. That’s the thing dancers who travel frequently try to convey to those that don’t, there are experiences you can’t get in class or your local dance scene.

What was important about these experiences is they pushed me out of my comfort-zone as a person and as a dancer. One thing that has not changed from any scene I have lived in is getting people to travel for the first event is a hard sell, however it opens up new avenue of possibilities for ones’ own dancing and allows you to connect with dancers in the larger swing dance community.


Swing Dancing is about People

One of my more poignant memories of Herräng Dance Camp is a moment Kendra Strode who witnessed it as well describes during a talk she gave at LindyCon:

A quick summary, at Herräng, one of the largest swing dance events in the world there was an incident where someone refused to dance with someone because of their level. In result at one of the nightly meetings an instructor publicly declared the statement from the photo below.

Because we dance with people, not levels.

Taken at Herräng Dance Camp 2012

I think it’s important for people to be reminded that dancing isn’t just a transaction where you are trying to get is a “good dance” out of your partner. For two to four minutes you are sharing moment with a person to jazz music, it is a beautiful thing. I think there are people who get caught up in climbing whatever “Lindy Hop Hierarchy” or becoming “Good” that they lose sight of that.


Be Passionate About What You Like & What You Hate

One thing that has stood out for me in the most recent years is organizers have started to be more vocal about the things they do and don’t value.

Mobtown Ballroom and more recently Lindy Focus have codes of conduct where they state, “Hey, if you take part in shitty behavior we will kick you out of our venue.” The fact that more weekly dances and events are adopting similar documentation is a great step forward and for those who do get in unfortunate situations within our community, these policies can be a source of recourse for them.

The proliferation of live music now at almost any swing dance event in the world is proof in my eyes to how having authentic swing era jazz for our events is a key value in our community these days. I’ve even joined the trend of the “almost too-strange-to-be-true phenomenon of Lindy Hoppers maturing their own musical skills” as Jerry Almonte put it by taking up the clarinet the last few months. One thing I think we have to be wary of though is often people join our dance without having a background in the type of music we like, introducing them to an appreciation of it while not coming off as alienating or elitist is something we should keep in mind.

We’ve matured as a community, going in hand with that we have gotten past the point of where running our finances off the books and doing work without contracts is acceptable behavior. We’ve started to get better at it as a community, but there is still much room for improvement. Having business agreements/contacts are important so you don’t end up with shitty situations like an instructor expected to stay at the entire social dance without pay after a 8 hour flight or warned in advance that it was an expectation. Mikey Pedroza talks about it on the Yehoodi Talkshow below that things just go smoothly when things are on paper. After working with 5+ different sets of international instructors at my college as an organizer, I am inclined to agree as well.

Sam from Dogposssum has some excellent posts on the topic. Borrowed from those posts are some quick bullet-points which I think if you are an organizer and haven’t yet should start adopting, like right now.

  • Explicit contracts for anyone who works with you. This goes from instructors (weekly & international), DJs, and volunteers.
  • Pay and/or compensate your DJs, musicians, teachers, and volunteers fairly.
  • Get some kind of general policies or code of conduct for your organization and make it publicly available.
    •  Trust me, as someone who threw someone out of a venue this will be useful to have as a resource.

Last Notes

I haven’t been writing too much this year because I have been busy with my own projects, however I plan to change that in 2015. If I could ask my readers to do anything going forward is try every once in awhile to be adventurous.

That can be as simple as walking to a different part of the room you normally dance in and dancing with someone new to heading to an event several hundred miles away from your home scene to have some new experiences. Most importantly make connections with people, because that is what our dance is about.

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