Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why did I swing back?

(Note: this is Part 2. Part 1, "Why did I swing away?", is here)

Viewing Swing Society From Afar

I would limit salsa discussion here so that I would say something that just relate to swing. When I was in salsa, I kept thinking how I could keep my arm relaxed while leading (which, later, was found that relaxed arms are inappropriate in salsa). I also tried to be a follower, which was learned from those people in swing society that "to be a good lead, you need to understand what follower does". I still tried to dance with various people. This was the time that I met a new salsa circle, including Felipe, Kat, Chris K., Shawn, and more. It was a peaceful time in here, given that I was on the verge of giving up dancing entirely. Some other people that left swing did tango instead, although I also saw them in salsa sometimes.

Sometime later, however, I found some people who used to do swing came to the salsa scene. Doug came in, with another girl who dressed like a swing dancer. Doug persuaded me to come back, which I held a great reservation.  Throughout the years in swing, I was persuaded several times, only to find disappointment. An example is the statement of the friendliness in the swing scene, which I disagreed. Yet, I did visit the swing scene a few times when I had time. In those visits, I mostly watched and did not dance. I still had no energy to be in this scene.

Thus, I continued to stay in salsa. At least the people are more friendly and more diverse. Later on in 2015, I knew from Facebook that Bradley was leaving. Then, when Kevin was about to leave, he held a farewell party that I only stopped by. I just went there to say hello to him, and probably to Ann L. also. I did not know anybody there. Ann L. also left in the same year. Basically, almost everyone that I knew in swing society were gone (except David and Tom). It looked like the death of swing society was near, which I felt they deserved it. Who else could succeed swing society?

The Tentative Return

Then, something ironic occurred in Summer 2015. A newcomer of salsa, Lisa, came regularly to weekly dance. I just treated newcomers like in the past -- to dance with them. She seemed to be a decent dancer when I danced with her. A month or two later, however, I heard from her asking salsa people (like Felipe) to learn swing dancing. Then, I realized that Lisa was the second swing dancer that I knew that crossed over to salsa. Moreover, she was not the student but the instructor of the swing class. Seeing that I had not been to swing for a while, and now there were friends to go to the swing scene together, I went back to the swing scene and checked out how the swing society was going. Due to several travel plans during the summer, I did not join the classes. Yet, I checked the Thursday night dances.

The swing scene did look much smaller. There were almost nobody that I knew. I might have seen Evan, but it was a faint memory. Otherwise, as I had thought, almost all good dancers were gone. A bit of willingness to ask people to dance swing returned, since I felt that those who belittled me were gone. In this place, I met another instructor, Cassie. She told me that the swing society had changed a lot during this summer, and wished that I could come back. At that time, I still felt skeptical about this statement because, as mentioned above, the advanced swing dancers tend to give persuasive but empty statements. I could not trust that I would feel the friendliness of swing community when I returned to it. Moreover, I was already in salsa community for years. Leaving them for swing seemed not to be nice to the salsa people.

Nevertheless, I felt that Cassie was a nice person, and I knew that she is a great dancer. Sadly, she was about to leave Champaign soon. Her story in swing society and why she would leave soon actually touched me. No doubt that she was a great swing dancer because she used to be a practice partner with Bradley. However, Bradley left Champaign for Chicago, and there was another reason that I was not comfortable to say it here. As a result, she moved to Virginia to further her swing dancing.

To test whether I should come back or not, I asked Lisa if I could DJ a section of Thursday dance. She immediately agreed, which I greatly appreciated it. The only comment in my mind was that how you could trust my DJing ability. You did not even know the song list that I had! I might have played something that was not appropriate in the swing community! Yet, I began to feel that I could forgive the swing society of the past. My strength to dance swing returned. I could not believe that it was the salsa community that brought me back to swing.

On the last swing dance in Champaign for Cassie, she still hoped that I could still stay in swing society, although she understood if I chose not to stay. Thus, her request lingered me for a while. I had been hurt by swing society in the past. Yet, now the swing society was clearly dying. I might have felt cold about the death of this club, but I began to forgive the club now. In fact, I saw a hope that swing society could be friendlier in the future. There was still a little hope that the club could survive.

I found that I would like to talk to Lisa more. At a short road trip to Monticello for a live band dance, I realized that swing and salsa were not the only dances she did. She basically danced everything, and knew many of the dance locations that I knew. That was very interesting. She said she had worked in Champaign for 8 years, and that was my dance age. How come I did not see her before somewhere on the dancefloor? She also mentioned her ice skating ability, which I was like "Wow!". I had not met a person who danced everything for a long time, and I could guess that she is much more gifted in dancing than me!

I usually had reservations to ask a girl to be friends because I felt that if she has a boyfriend, I should not get too close to her (this may be another topic in the future). For Lisa, however, I felt an urge to say that "I wish we can be good friends". Perhaps it was just infatuation kicking in, so I told myself not to get too excited by it. Nevertheless, I felt that she was one of the most important dance people that I had met.

Her presence was, however, just slightly longer than Cassie. She got a dance instructor job for ballroom in Tennessee, and would move out before the Fall semester began. There was a farewell of her, where, interestingly, swing and salsa people met. She asked me to keep dancing, which was what I was doing throughout these years. The question was more like which dance I should stay at. I missed her, but I understood that she would have fun to be a great ballroom dancer. I hoped I would see her again in the future, perhaps in some other dance events. It turned out that I did, once, when I planned a trip to the south to visit several friends.

Finding a Better Reason to Stay

Thus, almost all great swing dancers were gone. My energy to swing seemed to be rejuvenated. Yet, I needed to have a better reason to come back to help with swing. The reason cannot simply be personal, since experience told me that personal reason would not last long to keep me to contribute. I still had doubts to come back when I got to kickoff dance, and even the first class. Yet, my mission statement slowly formed: to provide newcomers more opportunities to see the depth of swing dancing, while keeping the swing scene friendly. At Lisa's farewell, I met the swing group that includes Evan, David, Tom, and a person that I had never met: Yvonne. It turned out that three of them were the instructors of Fall 2015. After the kickoff dance, I felt that the swing society board was easier to work with. I truly felt that they were nice people. Yvonne is as nice as Tom.

I began to DJ a lot. Leah replaced Lisa to be the lesson chair, and Leah was also a nice person to work with. It seemed to me that there was a shortage of DJs, since Leah asked me to DJ quite often. I hoped that sometime later, we could train new DJs. Later in the year, Yvonne asked me to be the travel chair, which I forgot why. This became my first time to get involved in the swing society. While I still felt that I was not very good in swing dancing, I felt that there were a lot of technical transfer to do, so that the next generation of U of I swing dancers has most of the philosophy of a swing community.

I heard more stories that filled my void on what had happened in swing society in the last few years. The stories seemed unpleasant to me. I suspected that the great dancers scared the beginners away. These stories reinforced my mission to make swing society a friendlier community. I hoped that the gap between the great dancers (only a few left) and the beginners can be closer.

Yet, I still hoped that my swing technique could be improved. I started to re-watch some workshop videos in the past, and hoped to find time to practice. My other commitments (like finishing the dissertation) did tell me to lower my expectation a bit. As long as the swing scene becomes more welcoming, I am happy with it.

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