Saturday, September 10, 2016

Out-of-town Dancing Report: SwingIN 2016

The story begins when I was still in Hong Kong, when Leah from the Illini Swing Society mentioned the opening of registration for SwingIN, an annual vintage swing workshop in Indianapolis. I struggled a bit for registering this, since going to a workshop is a sizable expense for me. Nevertheless, I finally registered when I got back to the US, before the price went up more.

I also informed others in Swing Society that it is important to register early, not only because registration price would go up, but housing is also limited. (For those who are new to vintage swing workshops, such workshops usually have local volunteers allowing visitors to stay at their places. I do not see workshops of any other dance style, such as salsa and west coast swing, have such hosting system, so there would be additional costs in booking hotels) Despite such advice, my travel buddy, Tom, registered for the workshop at the last minute. I told him that I would not be responsible for where he would stay, but later I still tried my best to let him stay with me. I felt guilty about asking the housing coordinator and the host for an exception, but when he booked a hostel at the north side of the town, while I stayed at the east side of the town, it would be a hassle for me to make a detour for 15 - 30 minutes, especially after late night dance, when I would be back to the host at ~ 2-3 am. After such kind of guilty asking, I felt that I lost a friend who coordinated the housing.

As the events in this workshop developed, things went more and more positive. I felt that I could stay in a dance longer, including late night dances. I also found classes getting more interesting while manageable.

"Meow, who are you?"

On Friday night...

Friday dance showed who stayed in this workshop weekend. Tom, who was in the swing scene starting from the last year, knew only a few people. For me, however, I saw more familiar faces, who were met before I paused swing dancing. I probably had seen Andy Reid for the third or fourth time in workshops (I still like his dancing philosophy, which I will mention later). I met the housing coordinator when carpooling to an event in Iowa years ago. Then, this one:

"Hello, how are you?"
"Fine, what is your name?" (I pretended that I did not know her)
"My name is Raine. How about you?"
"My name is Wangki. Not two keys but one key."
"Oh...(sounding sarcastically), how are you doing la?"
"I am okay la. Meeeowwww..."

Then, we had more discussion about the recent life. I had not seen her for years, and I did not expect to see her, but since she was there, we should talk about more on the current Illini Swing Society la.

She came from Taiwan, and she used to be in the Illini Swing Society in 2012. She moved to Purdue by the end of the academic year, and she was into swing so hard that she was one of the advanced dancers raised at that time. By that time, I was still struggling on the fundamental techniques onswingouts,  to a point that I quitted swing for a while because of frustration (See Why did I swing away?). Nevertheless, she liked to meow on things a lot, at a point that "meow" means "meh".

I still gave her info about what happened after she had no contact with the Illini Swing Society. That took four or five songs to talk about during the Saturday evening dance. I would not give details here, but I once again emphasized on how important it is to get newcomers interested and to train new leaders in a transient college swing scene (in the U of Illinois, there was once a student-run salsa club. The club dissolved 3 years ago because nobody ran it). I also told her how swing helped me to improve my salsa, and then how my salsa improved my current swing dancing.

She once told me how stiff my arms were in swing dancing. This issue frustrated me for years because I started partner dancing from ballroom (and then salsa), where relaxed arms meant "spaghetti arms", making following the dance more difficult. What I did not know was that swing dancing had such unique connection that the relaxed arms were the default state. This time, after years of not meeting, she complimented me that the feel of my connection was different ... in a good way. Well, I thought about the arm relaxation of arms when I stayed with salsa (as it turned out, relaxing my arms in salsa is a bad thing).

After the newcomer competition (which I did not bother joining because I was in a constant realization that my dancing was not so great anyways), new instructors were introduced. We had the usual Andy, teaching with Mia. We had two instructors from Seattle (Brittany and Dargoff). We had two instructors from Barcelona, Spain (Gustav and Laia). We had two local blues instructors (Dexter and Shelby). There are also Jon and Mandy, but they only taught beginner classes, and I did not have a chance to see them teaching this time. I met Mandy in the last workshop in Dayton, and we did talk about dancing at the Sunday late night, but the music was too weird to dance with. Thus, next time!

The Audition Wristbands

On Saturday morning, I already had the plan of attack for this workshop. I used to think that I see no points in taking blues class, since blues dancing has the walks as the basic (similar to tango or kizomba). I did not feel I learned anything from blues class because years of dancing of different styles showed me how to use my body to lead the directions of movements. Yet, I would like to prove this wrong this time. There must be some fundamentals that I need to know for blues dancing. Given that Dexter is famous in the blues scene, I should give one more try on a blues class, and hopefully I learn something.

Large swing workshops usually have auditions because there are different levels of classes. In SwingIN, there are beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert levels. Beginner level is usually for people who have not done lindy hop before. Intermediate level is for people who know swingouts, and they want to learn more moves and techniques about lindy hop. Advanced and expert levels are the ones that require auditions to get in, since these classes demand more techniques. There is also a blues track, which is independent of the other four levels and open to everyone.

Since the auditions were in the early afternoon, and most classes before noon was open to everyone, I used this opportunity to take the two blues track class. Then, I would try the audition for the advanced level. If I did not pass the audition and stayed in the intermediate level, I would spend more time on the blues workshop, and hope that I learn more blues vocabulary in this workshop.

As it turned out, this did not happen.

My record in audition was that I never passed the audition to the next level, so I stayed in the intermediate classes all the time. Before I left for swing, my swingout was not great because my arms were always tense. The judges of these auditions pay a lot of attentions on lindy techniques and usually not on a repertoire of moves, thus I never passed. After I came back to swing, I thought I could finally relax my arms most of the time, and created the elastic feeling of the swingout by allowing the arms to stretch. In my first workshop after the hiatus of swing in Dayton, I tried the audition again but did not pass, either. I had some doubts whether my swing really improved.

This time, before the audition, Tom and I talked about strategies of auditions (these strategies have been discussed in this blog). I also have heard in the past that it is important to do 3 swingouts and a circle at some point of the audition to show that you know how to execute the fundamental steps of lindy correctly. Sure, one should treat audition like social dancing and do some other moves (like turns), but one does not need to put many fancy moves in an audition.

Audition in action. Instructors seemed to be discussing something.
Tom and I watched the expert level audition, and found that the instructors did not pick anyone out in the first few dances. We guessed this is because the instructors would like to see the average level of dancing in the group before they decided the level cutoff point.

Then, it was our turn for the advanced level audition. We danced 3 songs, and then we were asked to step out.

Tom and I once again became spectators for the expert level audition. We finally began to see instructors flying to some people to give them colored wristbands while they were dancing. They danced 3 or 4 songs, and the remaining people on the floor (who did not get into the expert audition) could stay for the advanced level audition. As usual, there would be some announcements to ease out the sad faces for those who did not get into the expert level of the workshop.

Now, it is our turn for the audition.

In the middle of the first song, I felt that one instructor, Gustav, stood behind me for a long time. I tried to stay calm and did 3 swingouts and a circle as usual. I thought I did the second four bars of the recently-learned California Routine also...

He handed me a green wristband.

Although it looked like I was still doing swingouts normally, I was internally excited. "My first time! My first time!" However, this was not the end of the story.

After the first dance, we switched to a second partner for a second song. Hoping to help the follows to pass the audition, I did more basic swingouts and circles, and let the follows shine for themselves. At the end of the song, Andy came to me. Not only that my partner got a wristband, but I got the second one! This certainly means that I did not pass the audition by luck.

At the end of the audition, I also learned that Tom also got the wristband twice, and this was his first audition experience. Together with David, we were qualified to get into the advanced class.

With this band, my plan for the workshop was totally changed. I wished I could attend more blues class, but I was more curious on how the advanced class material looks like. Both Tom and I were happy to give the audition a try.

That said, I saw a friend from Purdue who did not pass the audition. After the audition, I danced with her, and she did not want to talk about the audition anymore. This was probably the feeling that I got for all the workshop auditions that I had done before. After that afternoon of classes, I did feel that the "moves" in advanced class are manageable, and her following skill can manage them. Thus, at the evening dance, I tried some "moves" that I learned from the workshop classes, and many of them worked! I hoped that she felt less sad.

This double wristband giving means a lot to me. It gives me a feeling that my swing dance skills are no longer at a plateau. I felt that my swing could improve, even though I had stayed in swing scene for years and had felt frustrated with the fundamentals before. Now, I could perhaps set another milestone: to get placed in the beginner dance competition.

Reflection of Classes

Dexter and Shelby

I learn something about fundamental techniques about blues: the pulse that can go either upwards or downwards, and the relaxation of the upper body to create the pulse, that differ from lindy. I wish I could stay for their blues class more, but the gravity of the advanced classes was stronger.

Brittany and Dargoff

I like their lindy moves with compression of both arms, and the alternative ways to lead the follows forward in a swingout. Both of the ideas are something that I will play around in the future.

Gustav and Laia

They are the instructors from Spain, and they look happy all the time. There was a solo jazz routine class, which had some challenges but manageable. I guess I could put some of these steps into partner dancing. In another class, they talked about jazz steps as a partner dance. I found them pretty clear on what they explained, even though English is not their native languages.

I also found them approachable on the social dancing floor. Usually, I felt that advanced dancers tend to form their own group at a corner. However, I seemed to see them at every quadrant of the floor.

(A similar case is Shannon, who was met at Dayton as an instructor, but she was not teaching at this workshop. I also found her at anywhere of the floor.)

(P.S. I had a Spanish friend who started doing swing in the recent years. I asked her if she knew them. She did!)

Andy and Mia

Their classes brought me memories of the past. In one class, they talked about 8-count "rock-step-side, rock-step-side" basics. These steps were once taught in the Swing Society at the first class of beginner swing. Such 8-count steps were taught first to avoid newcomers sticking to 6-count East Coast Swing. Andy went on to talk about how these 8-count steps relate to many other partner dances (including salsa). Since these steps are fundamental, why did Swing Society returned to East Coast Swing teaching? Was that because of lack of easy moves in 8-count for people to learn?

This reflection reminds me how I feel aligned with Andy's dance philosophy: dance with the music. In another class, we explored simple close position moves (side-by-side charleston, circling) with different timings and styles of stepping. Playing moves with timing is a lot of fun. I even felt that it was Andy who brought me into the interest of swing jazz, indirectly bringing me into DJing in the local scene.

Their fast lindy class reminded me another fast lindy class a few years ago with Jamin. By that time, he did not spend a lot of time in dancing fast songs. Instead, he emphasized the importance of good technique in swingout in order to be able to do lindy fast. After that workshop, I felt that if I can do fast lindy without too much effort, that means my swingout has improved. When I returned to swing last year. I felt that I got a better understanding of swingout, and I could do swingout faster (I think that knowing how to correctly do cross body lead in salsa helps). In Andy and Mia's fast lindy class, the transition to fast lindy was quicker. After 10-15 minutes, we already danced pretty fast songs. At this advanced class, most people could manage dancing fast. In this class, I confirmed that the triple steps in swingouts are optional (especially when the song is fast).

(P.S.: I started to buy swing jazz albums at the dance scene, even though I know it is more expensive. I hope the band/ the seller could see us supporting them face-to-face. I bought two in this trip, one of them was Mia's husband's album. The other one was the live band by the Boilermakers'. I would check them out when I had time!)

"Please do not bye-bye"

Tom and I stayed with the Chief Organizer of SwingIN, Caitlin. It was expected that she would be so busy that I would not see her often at her place. We met her husband, Phil, as well as their dog and two kids. I was happy to meet them! I think I am both a pet and a kid person. When I see a dog, I would like to pet him/her. When I see a kid, I would like to play with them. What a great host to stay! The dog is big, quiet, and likes to be patted. The 7-month old baby would wake me up in the morning (a good sign, since I had experienced a younger baby who cried at any time during the normal sleeping time).

...and this 3-year-old boy, Hank. When I met him the first time, he was shy and hid himself. However, he gradually became friendly to me. After the Saturday workshop, when I would like to take a nap before the evening dance, he asked me to stay with him when sleeping. He even tried to tell me bedtime stories. Instead of taking a nap, I played with him for the rest of the afternoon.

Phil and I also have common interests to talk about. He works with installing solar panels at home. This is my first time to learn about details of solar panels. I learned that solar panels are quite affordable. Covering the rooftop of an independent garage costs similar to a new car. I also learned how readily the extra power produced by the solar panels can be fed back to the main power grid system. We went on to talk about air pollution monitoring, where he had some experience. He even followed up questions on me about my research.

When Tom and I were about to leave Indy, Hank requested me that "please do not bye-bye." I am glad that he had a lot of fun with me. If I come to Indy to dance again, I hope I will meet you again!

(P.S. In my last several hosts, I kept seeing Dominion and its expansion in their board game collections. Is Dominion an offical board game for swing dancers? Yes. I like Dominion.)

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