Posts Tagged ‘lifestyle’
Okay, so awhile back I mentioned how I decided that whenever I was dancing with someone who made me feel intimidated, instead of trying my hardest to dance perfectly, I was going to try to dance badly. Remember that? The idea being that at least I wouldn’t be all tense and stressed out and overthinking, and maybe, just maybe, I’d relax enough to actually dance okay.
This has turned out to be the best idea I ever had for my dancing. I swear, since I decided this, I have not had a bad dance. Seriously!
So what’s going on here?
Well, first of all, it should go without saying that my A-number-one rule is that I don’t dance badly in a way that might physically hurt the other person. So no dragging or pulling or throwing myself around.
But see, that wasn’t the stuff that was stressing me out before. No, I was stressed out about things like this: Did I do that turn fast enough? Am I doing my swivels correctly? Isn’t there cuter styling I should be doing? Oh no, he was trying to lead a move, did I follow it right? It was this kind of thing that made me sort of hate dancing with “good” dancers.
What I finally had to realize was this: There are always going to be better dancers than me. And no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to dance better than the best dancers. I’m never going to impress a really great dancer with my amazing dance skills, because I haven’t got any. And besides, to a really accomplished dancer, everybody dances worse than them anyway, so they’re used to it.
I figure my dancing is just another aspect of my personality, like my laugh. Chances are, most people don’t find my laugh too annoying, but I imagine there are some people who do. Do I work really hard to make my laugh like the perfect tolling of bells on a distant hillside when I’m in the presence of someone important? Of course not, I just laugh how I laugh. If someone hates my laugh, they can avoid telling me a joke or simply avoid me altogether, and that’s just how it goes.
Same thing for my dancing. Most people think my dancing is totally fine; I know this because they keep asking me to dance, and they don’t run away when I ask them. And I’m sure there are people who can’t stand the way I dance, and that’s great. Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion.
Obviously this doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on trying to learn to dance better. Of course I want to dance as well as possible, and I work on it obsessively. All it means is that when I’m out on the social floor, dancing with people, I no longer worry about whether I’m dancing “right” or not. I just dance and have a good time, and give myself a break. Workshops and lessons and practice time are where I do my worrying and trying and stressing, but when I’m out dancing I just say to hell with it and dance. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, everything else is just what it is. And that’s the best decision I ever made for my dancing.
It’s Wednesday, and I’m almost recovered from the Portland Lindy Exchange this past weekend. And like every year, I have to ask: why do we do this to ourselves?
An exchange is a ton of work. Not just for the organizers, promoters, volunteers, hosts, venue operators, musicians, sound technicians, caterers and cleanup people. I mean just to attend one is a big deal. You travel by car, boat, bus or plane from wherever you come from to stay with strange people and live out of a suitcase for three days, risking no sleep, sketchy food options, and unfamiliar mass transit while you trust google maps to get you to random, out-of-the-way dance venues, often in the scariest parts of town. And all this for the privilege of paying a hundred bucks to dance with strangers for twelve hours a day.
Normal people would look at that list and say, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”
But we never claimed to be normal, did we? We swing dancers look at that list and say, “Aw, hell yeah!”
There’s always that one Christmas moment during every exchange that reminds you why you started this crazy dancing lifestyle in the first place. Mine usually happens at the Sunday afternoon dance, and it happened that way this year.
See, I’m normally kind of a middle-aged sort. On my non-dancing nights I’m usually in bed by ten. Pulling all-nighters is something I do only infrequently, reluctantly, and under extreme duress. Like if someone is in the hospital, or if there’s a lindy exchange going on.
So this past Saturday night, I’m eating something that seems like dinner at around twelve-thirty a.m. And I’m half-loopy from exhaustion. Between dancing outside all afternoon and then subsisting on a quick snack and a nap in the car, my resources are severely depleted. And I’m looking down from the second floor balcony, watching the dancers below on the dance floor, and the music is getting louder and faster, while the dancers seem to be dancing in slow-motion, and there are tracers of light following them all around, and all the colors are running together, and I’m thinking, people pay their drug dealers good money for this sort of thing.
And then a few hours later, after a couple more rounds of dancing, getting a second wind, hitting the wall, collapsing and dying, and then dancing some more, I’m amazed to notice that I’m vacuuming. The dance is over, and the band is dismantling their equipment, and it’s daylight out. And I’m so crazy tired that my brain taps into some weird college-era neural pathway and I find myself craving Egg McMuffins.
After a long drive home, we finally fall in bed and sleep for a blessed couple of hours. Literally, just a couple hours, just enough to not die, before we have to get up, shower, and drive back to the dance again.
It’s the Sunday afternoon dance, and despite my crazy exhaustion, I know it’s going to be incredible.
I approach the venue, and I hear that distant music and the shuffling, stomping, creaking noises of dancing feet and the murmur of people trying to talk over the band, and it’s like coming home. I walk up the stairs, and there’s all my people. Some are sitting in the lobby with sweaty faces, fanning themselves. Some are dolling themselves up in the bathroom. Some are standing around guzzling water. And lots of them are dancing. I push my way through the clumps of lollygaggers up to where the band is playing, and someone waggles his eyebrows at me, and we’re dancing, and it’s so crazy hot in the room it’s like dancing on the sun.
The Sunday afternoon band this year was the Two Man Gentleman Band, and they were amazing. So funny and so danceable. I’m with all my old and new friends in this crowded, sweaty room, dancing Balboa the way it was meant to be danced, because there’s no room to dance any other way, in a swirl of faces and arms and legs and vintage dresses and sweat-soaked t-shirts and sloshing drinks, trying not to kick over chairs and tables and speaker stands, like it’s some crazy acid trip, only instead of Jimi Hendrix there’s old-timey dance music playing, and no actual drugs are involved. It’s desperately confusing and sort of nauseating, and I haven’t had this much fun since… the last lindy exchange!
And it suddenly hits me. THIS MOMENT, this crazy moment when I feel like I’m dancing better than I ever thought I could, with people who are healthier and nicer and better-looking and more talented than any other people I know, to this crazy band like no other, this one crazy moment is why we go to all that trouble. And it’s totally worth it.
I just dread this time of year. When the weather starts getting colder, I start to feel panicky and desperate. I really should have been born in a warmer climate.
See, I’m by nature a very indolent person. Lounging around is my art form. All summer long you’ll find me sprawled out on the porch swing with my book and my iced tea, or stretched out on a blanket with my music and my SPF 70, or chilling in a hammock with a crossword puzzle. I’m not one for throwing frisbees or doing cannonballs. I’m the one that stays behind and watches everyone else’s stuff for them.
The hot weather is great for a lazy person like me. But it’s a different story in the wintertime. Sure, I still lounge around, but I just can’t get warm. I pile on the sweaters and afghans and sit there with my book and my boiling hot tea, and I’m freezing to death. Everyone else is roasting, and I’m getting in arguments because I want to crank the heat up. I wear my mittens in the house.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m proud of my sloth-like ways. In fact, inertia is something I work on and struggle against all the time. (Main reason being that, let’s face it, laziness does not help the figure one little bit. Being zen-like is fine, but looking like the Buddha is not. Fat seems to follow the law of the jungle: it preys upon the slowest.)
So this winter I need to find a way to conquer those twin demons, laziness and chilliness. And I think I’ve worked out a scheme.
Whenever I’m sitting around reading a book, if I get the urge to crank up the heat, put on another sweater, or dig another afghan out of the closet, I’m going to do this instead: haul my lazy butt out of the recliner, put on some music, and dance until I get warmed up enough to finish the next chapter.
And if any of my readers out there are of a similar zen-like nature, I invite you to try the same thing!
Let’s be realistic; nothing in this life is perfect. No matter how great something seems, there’s always a catch. Even dancing has its downside. Only one, mind you, and it isn’t even all that bad. Still, in order to offer a balanced viewpoint, I feel compelled to point out this one unfortunate thing about dancing:
It ruins you for almost every form of what other people generally think of as “fun.”
I remember going to rock concerts in my younger days. I’d save up my pennies so I could drop a huge bundle on the price of a ticket. I’d get all dressed up, then spend hours standing in line at some crowded stadium getting trompled on by a bunch of drunken fools, just for the privilege of sitting there watching somebody else get paid to sing and dance around. Or I’d spend less money, get all dressed up and go to some seedy dive, just to stand in a crowd of drunken fools and watch someone less talented sing and dance around. I used to think of this as “fun.”
Nowadays, if there’s music playing, I have to be dancing, or there’s no point. To watch someone else having fun is no fun.
I used to go to parties. When I was in college, a party meant a lot of people crammed into a small house, each in some stage of intoxication. At least half the group would be watching something on a large screen. The other half would be trying to negotiate their way into each other’s pants. There was usually music in the background, but no one would be doing much about it. Any dancing would consist of either a drunken sort of jumping up and down, or pants negotiations, or both. I used to find this “fun.”
Later on, after I had kids, parties meant a bunch of wives perched on folding chairs in someone’s living room, eating cake off paper plates and discussing pediatricians, while the husbands were standing around a barbecue grill in the backyard, drinking beer and discussing sports. Usually the only music came from the room where the kids were watching the Disney Channel. And to be fair, I doubt anyone has ever really considered this “fun.”
Nowadays, to call something a “party” that doesn’t include dancing, proper dancing, seems like a cruel joke.
There are outdoor-type activities that people consider “fun.” Camping, boating, skiing, fishing and what-have-you. Now, I’m not immune to the beauty of nature and the salubrious effects of fresh air and wholesome recreation. And I guess you could say I enjoy the outdoors as much as I ever did (interpret that how you will). But nowadays I find that wherever I am, whenever I have a relaxed moment, my mind is soon replaying the latest YouTube video from my favorite dance instructor, or planning my outfit for Thursday night’s dance.
So in other words, I guess the downside of dancing for me is that nowadays, no matter what it is I’m doing, with few exceptions, I’d almost always rather be dancing.
Dante shows up at my house last night. Oh, great. I’d spent the day sitting around doing nothing, being depressed. Totally forgot we were supposed to go out dancing. I’m in my gross jeans and some random t-shirt, not even close to being ready to go out.
But he doesn’t look all that ready either. Says he’s tired. Been working a whole lotta hours lately. I mean, he’s as cute and fashionable as ever, but he’s got this sorta wilted look about him, like he could really use a nap.
Dancing had sounded so great the day before, when we’d dreamed up this plan. The Rigamarole is Portland’s newest, up-and-coming swing dance, and it was about time we checked it out. But here it was six o’clock, totally pitch black outside and blustery cold, and we’re looking at an hour-and-a-half drive to get there. We’d be lucky to make it home by one a.m.
“Probably I should just get some sleep tonight,” he says.
“Yeah, and I’ve got laundry and stuff I should do.”
We sit there looking at each other, all glum and discouraged.
“But you know,” he says, “All I’m really gonna do is go home, get in an argument, and then play video games and eat.”
I pictured myself flopped in the recliner, watching the Sanford and Son Collection and wishing I had a life. “All right,” I said. “Give me twenty minutes.”
Nineteen minutes later, and we were out the door.
And it was the awesomest night ever! We show up at the venue, and for one thing, there’s all my people there. I kept spotting folks across the room that I was so happy to see. The ultimate was when who should come rolling in but Chris Harm, who I hadn’t danced with in forever. People just kept showing up, and it felt like a party.
The music was fantastic, my shoes were functioning properly, and my outfit was unproblematic. It seemed like every dance was more fun than the one before it. I hadn’t been there but a half-hour or so, and already my face was sore from smiling so much. And just the two dances I had with Chris more than compensated for that ridiculous drive!
Turned out there was gonna be a Jack and Jills contest. I hadn’t planned to participate, but at the last minute I looked at the list and there was one follow spot left open. So what the hell.
And that was seriously the most fun I’ve ever had in a contest. I had already decided I was just gonna enjoy myself and not worry about my dancing; there were so many good dancers in the contest that it was anyone’s guess who the judges were even going to notice. So I just appreciated the extra dancing space, and danced how I dance.
Anyway, me and Dante both made the finals, which was totally cool. The five couples who jammed it out at the end were so top-notch, it was a great thing to witness, and I seriously did not envy the judges for having to pick out winners from that amazing crew.
Of course, Chris won first place; it would have been odd if he hadn’t, especially dancing with a follow like Noelle. And then I was lucky enough to land David as a partner, which is how I ended up coming in second. He and I each won a copy of Glen Crytzer’s new CD, which was super cool because I hadn’t had the cash with me to buy it on Sunday when he played at Mindy’s dance. So that added a whole ‘nother layer of coolness to what was already an amazing night!
With the prospect of another hour-and-a-half drive home, Dante and I didn’t stay long after the contest winners were announced. But we spent the whole drive home thanking each other for talking each other into not staying home, and swearing never again to blow off dancing in favor of sleep or laundry!
Have you ever had a dance like this?
Last night I was dancing with this kid who also leads and follows. We were switching off roles, experimenting with cutesy ways of getting into and out of a lead or follow role. Turns out there are a million ways to do this as long as nobody gets thrown on the floor.
So at one point during the song, he looks at me and goes, “Wait, am I leading?”
Both of us crack up, and I’m like, “I have no idea!”
What was so great about it is that we didn’t even stop dancing for a second. We just kept going along, totally connected, totally feeling the music, and neither of us had any idea, or really cared, at that point, who was leading and who was following.
We were just dancing! What a concept, right?
To me, this is the ultimate point of learning to dance the opposite role. You finally get to where it doesn’t really make much difference who’s leading and who’s following. You’re just connected with your partner and the music in one big cooperative project.
I think you only get this kind of situation when you’ve got a lead who’s so open to listening to his (her) follow that he (she) can switch instantly into response mode when the follow initiates something. And you have to have a follow who’s willing to not only feel and act on her (his) own musical impulses but actually take responsibility for communicating them clearly to her (his) partner.
In other words, a lead who knows how to follow, and a follow who knows how to lead. Or, of course, two of one or the other.
And I think there’s just something so symbolically right, so evolved, about all of this.
So what do you all think? Am I wrong?
Does it seem to you that most people who love swing dancing, and swing music, just love old stuff in general?
Let me offer my ownself to you as a case study, just for arguments’ sake. I think my tastes are fairly typical for a typical swing dancer. Let’s see now…
Of course, I love old music. So do you, so do we all. Isn’t old music what brings a lot of us to swing dancing in the first place? And certainly keeps us here. Otherwise we’d probably be salsa dancers or westies or something.
What about old movies? I know a lot of us get renewed inspiration from watching, not just the old dance clips on YouTube, but any of the old black-and-white movies that feature random song-and-dance numbers as wildly improbable adjuncts to their already far-fetched storylines. But I love ALL old movies, and ONLY old movies, from the sublime (Twelve Angry Men) to the ridiculous (Disorder in the Court). IMHO, very few movies made since 1970 are worth watching a second time.
Old clothes? Of course. Not that I own many, or could fit many if I did. But I treasure those items I do have, and I live in perpetual regret that as a culture, we just do not look as well-put-together as we used to. Look at almost any old black-and-white photograph of a crowd scene, and you will see nothing but neat and well-dressed people. Even the bums standing in breadlines look relatively stylish. A cross-section of mall shoppers on any given weekend will reveal lots of personal self-expression and very little actual good taste. Sigh.
Old manners, there’s a good one. Honestly? I think I married my husband mostly because he has never once let me open a car door unassisted. But I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been run off the sidewalk by a pack of highschoolers walking two abreast, talking on their phones. What’s wrong with people anymore? I swear, the next time the girl at the bank looks at my check and then calls me by my first name like I’m her BFF, I’m going to, well, scowl in disapproval anyway.
Old houses, definitely. I’ve always loved to poke around restored historic mansions, projecting myself into domestic scenes of long ago and wondering how the hell those ladies fit into those tiny shoes. My own house was built in 1904, and it’s full of old furniture, doilies, table lamps,books and knickknacks. The only television screen I own is hidden away back in the sunroom, where no visitors ever go; I deplore the current custom of placing a giant screen front and center in every room of the house.
Old books? Of course. Not necessarily 20th century old, either. I’m talking Victorian.
Old news. By that I mean I’m a history buff. Actually, one of my other blogs is on American history. Since I don’t watch television I really have no idea what’s going on in the world today, and I really don’t even care. I prefer to leave current events to those who actually have the power or inclination to do something about them.
What about old food? I don’t mean leftovers, silly. I just mean I don’t eat anything that would not have been recognized as food a century ago. I buy actual ingredients, and cook them. Crazy idea, I know.
Of course, not everything old is great. Massive, widespread, legally-sanctioned racial prejudice, for one. Outdoor plumbing. Devilled ham in a can. Wool swimsuits.
And of course, there are a few not-old things we swing dancers cannot live without. Mainly YouTube. And of course, where would we lindy bloggers be without our laptops and the Internet?
Still, I love old stuff, and swing dancing is a huge part of that. And I think a lot of us swing dancers are that way. What do you think? Do you love old stuff as much as I do?
This happens. You spot an unfamiliar dancer across the dance floor, and they just look amazing. Smiling and confident, with the grace of a gazelle and all the flashy moves you’ve seen on YouTube. Finally, someone around here who looks like they know what they’re doing! Must be from out of town.
So you get in line and somehow wangle a dance out of this person. And ouch! He rips your arm off. Or she bounces around like a fish on a line. And they looked so great! What went wrong?
Then on the other hand, every once in a while you’ll decide to throw a bone to some poor, pathetic soul who’s hovering around the dance floor, looking lonely and mediocre, and it turns out to be the best dance of your life. Ever had that happen?
I think dancers tend to fall into two categories, those who instinctively concentrate on how they look to spectators, and the others who’d rather focus on how they feel to their partners.
I tend to fall into the second category. I’m always trying to figure out ways to be more light, more leadable, more squishy. I usually avoid performances if I can help it, rarely participate in jams, and don’t really like to see pictures of myself dancing. And with good reason, since I usually look pretty awkward.
Usually when I get asked to dance by a stranger, he’ll start out by leading all this simple stuff because he thinks I’m a beginner. And then partway through the dance he realizes I kinda know what I’m doing, and he gets this surprised look on his face, and it ends up being a really good dance. And I get a lot of compliments about my connection.
But it kinda sucks! Because I always think if my dancing looked spectacular, more strangers might ask me to dance. And it would be fun to have some awesome pictures to post on Facebook. And honestly? I think dancers SHOULD look good to spectators. That’s a big part of what draws new people into the scene.
I really don’t like it when I’m dancing with someone and he’s so focused on everyone around us that he forgets I’m there. After all, it’s nice when your dance partner actually looks at you once in a while. And it’s annoying when your partner leads a lot of flashy stuff without realizing that you’re not keeping up. Sometimes you just don’t feel like working so hard. You ever notice that these performance-oriented guys sit out half the time? One dance and they’re exhausted, it’s like they take a nice little social pastime and turn it into an endurance sport.
Yet as a community we really depend on our show-offy dancers. I well remember that when I started dancing, I was watching those performers. They were the ones who inspired me to want to dance, even if later I realized some of them were all style and no substance.
Of course, the very best dancers do both. Once dancers reach a certain level of proficiency, the stuff they do that makes them feel so nice to dance with also makes them look amazing. There’s no difference between the two. It’s all about efficient movement combined with transparent self-expression.
But what about the rest of us? Most of us are either one way or the other, we either feel nice to dance with but look boring, or we beat people up and win contests. So what do you think? While we’re learning, if we’ve got to be one or the other, is it better to look good, or to feel good?
Compare these two men:
I just wanted to observe that the man on the right is no more obnoxious and terrifying to parents today than the man on the left was in his day.
Today, a lot of parents cringe at hearing the faint sounds of hip-hop emanating from their kids’ headphones. That is the same way parents in the 1920s reacted at hearing the sound of jazz pouring out of the Victrola in the next room.
And, in both cases, with good reason. Not only are the words as indecipherable to the ear, and rhythms as unsettling to the nervous system, but both kinds of music carry the same criminal undertones.
Remember, early jazz musicians were not nice people. Jelly Roll Morton was a pimp and a drug dealer. Louis Armstrong practically grew up in prison. Sydney Bechet was convicted for assault and deported from England. Gangster rappers have nothing on these people.
So whenever folks try to make you feel like a dork for preferring hot jazz to whatever bunk they’re playing on the radio these days, you can be reassured that eighty years from now, only dorks will be listening to hip-hop. In 2092, hip-hop will be “retro,” and those who listen to it, dance to it and study it will be considered specialists and eccentrics. Rap will be a subculture, just like swing is today.
And those of us who are still listening to jazz? Well, I guess we’ll be like Beethoven fans or something. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
I hope you don’t mind if I get a little maudlin all up in this blog, but I just gotta send out a big weepy hug to everyone who commented on my last post. Swing dancers are the sweetest people.
A terribly wise and spiritual-minded type person once told me that if your family of origin doesn’t quite do it for you, when you grow up you gotta go out and find your own tribe.
Part of the reason I never stray long from swing dancing is that for better or worse, you people are my tribe.