Monday, February 15, 2016

Why did I swing away?

(Note: this is Part 1, and my first time to post something about dancing. There will likely be Part 0, but I will not write about it until I have more time. Part 2, which titled "Why did I swing back?", is here. All of this concerns with vintage swing, which will likely be a section of a greater essay "A Testimony of Dancing" that is about how I get into dancing in general, all the partner dances that I have tried, and events that cause me to keep dancing till now.)

The Golden Age of Swing Society

Dancesport was a place where I realized that competitive dancing is a not a good fit for me. Before joining dancesport, I considered dancing to be a relaxing activity after a day or work. Dancing is also considered a social event, which is better than staying at home and watching movies from Netflix. After my experience in dancesport, I went into a crisis that puts dancing into stressful hard work than fun. Preserving the fun of dancing was one of the reasons that I no longer danced ballroom competitively.

Thus, I started to spend more time in swing and salsa, where the heavy lead-and-follow concepts made me like such dances more. I also started to learn Argentine Tango to substitute ballroom, but I already digress.

This was the end of 2011. I saw a change of swing society. There were dancers that focused techniques much more than in the past. This was the time that I like Bradley's class. However, I called this the beginning of Aaron and Andrea era. They not only taught the classes and brought new dancers to workshops, but also grew several talented new dancers. This was the time when Anthony, Raine, and later Kevin came in.

In 2012, it was the time that I followed this group of people to travel to workshops: Pirate Swing in Ann Arbor and Hawkeyes in Iowa City. I knew about Heartland in Des Moines. I met new instructors in St. Louis, Christian and Jenny. I recognized more names of famous instructors and swing bands at this time. I also realized that swing weekend workshops, while costing significantly ($50-$150), were still cheaper than salsa workshops ($100-$200) and tango ($200-$400). Moreover, swing people have the culture of hosting. Many times, those who attend workshops out of town will have a place to stay for free, instead of staying in a hotel that costs more money.

I saw Anthony and Raine were so into swing and practiced together, and Kevin later joined. They placed or even won competitions in workshops, and of course placed in advance tracks of workshop classes.

This was also the time that I learned DJ-ing in swing society from Anthony. I started to collect music and checked with Anthony. Later in the year, we even shared the cost of albums from Jonathan Stout. I appreciated swing jazz during this time period.

The downside of the Golden Age

However, I was concerned that swing society would become another dancesport, where dancing becomes too serious. The more I danced, the more I found that swing could be more challenging than salsa. If one wants to dance freely with the correct style, a lot of directed practices needs to be made. This brought me back to the differentiation between recreational and competitive dancing: I felt that with a PhD to finish, competitive dancing is not a right time for me. In particular, I began to realize that being relaxed is a centerpiece of success in swing. This seemed to be against what I was learned in ballroom and salsa. I was confused on how to fix my arm lead and tense arms, fearing that relaxed arms become "spaghetti" arms. To focus on this problem, I even stopped dancing salsa and danced only swing to immerse more on swing philosophy.

I also did not feel friendly in this swing society. In fact, before this era, I also felt that the club was not as friendly as the other dance clubs. At this time, however, the instructors stressed that swing culture was friendly. I still did not feel it, and was confirmed with some other dance friends. There were moments that I felt embarrassed when they reacted to my poorly chosen music in a mocking way, and when I stumbled in a certain movement. I tried not to think about it, since I agreed deep in my mind that swing is more fun than salsa because of more degrees of freedom, thus the lead-and-follow skills become more important. Still, I felt that perhaps swing dance scene is friendly, if you are at an elite level.

A recurring question for me in dancing, even now, is that "how can I preserve my mind as a beginner?", which can be a question in other forms like "how can I be humble to dancing?" or "how can I be nice to new dancers?" In dancing, it appears to me that experienced dancers and beginner dancers are separated by a ravine: for a beginner to get across the ravine to become an experienced dancer, a lot of pain needs to get through. The pain can be discouragement, feeling of lack of improvements, or isolation. Experienced dancers look intimidating, and I am afraid that you will reject me the dance. I wonder if this ravine can be narrower if we can get into the mentality of beginners (especially the leads, who have a lot more to learn than the follows, and who may feel shy just because most of the leads are guys).

How I faded out

With more sadness in dancing and the large expenses for workshops, I decided to not going to anymore workshops after the Nevermore Swing Festival in St Louis (I found the word Nevermore quite ironic to me). I lacked interest in dancing, but I still tried to ask opportunity for DJ-ing, since I still wanted to contribute to the club. At this point, DJ-ing was my only lifeline with the Swing Society. I felt that I would quit the club at any time, but I really did not want to. This was also the time when Ann L. and Lou came in.

Then, in the summer of 2013, I found that I was not invited for DJ-ing. I had nothing to do with the club. I felt lack of interest to improve. Thus, I cut off all contacts with swing, and went solely for salsa instead. I was often told that I danced like salsa, but I did not fully know the philosophy of salsa. Why don't I stay in salsa to learn more about the philosophy, while also thinking about how to fix the tense arm problem? I did feel angry at that time. It seemed me that the swing society did everything they could to make me leave. I also thought that if this club continues to create a wide ravine between the elites and non-elites, new people will be intimidated to help. When these elites are gone, the club will die. I would keep an eye on the future prospect of this club.

It was sad, but I had to let go of swing to find fun in partner dancing.

Extended reading

When Lindy Hop Isn't Fun Anymore

(Continue to Part 2)

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