So for those people who don’t know me personally and have just stumbled upon this blog out of the internet wasteland, I have a completely new topic to introduce. I am a lindy hopper. I swing dance. I LOVE swing dancing. I’ve been starting to get engaged with some lindy blogs, and I want to share a bit of my feelings and thoughts about dance, since it’s also a part of who I am and something that I feel is important and should be shared.
So as I was reading some blog posts, I came across one that was about things that good lindy hoppers do/ways to get better at lindy. And one of those things was “Develop a unique voice and perspective on dance. You’ll need to figure out what this means to you. I can only promise that this is usually a difficult process. But hey, you’re looking for hard things to work on and making your own discoveries now, right?”
I have lots of thoughts and feelings about dancing and why it’s so important to me, but I want to make some of them more coherent, figure out my unique perspective on dance. So that’s the goal of this blog: why do I dance, why do I feel dancing is important, what does dancing mean to you, and how do I view my progress in dancing so far?
So the first thing that swing means to me is something that I absolutely did not understand at first, but is something that has come to mean the world to me. It’s something that I first started to experience with taiko, and since have found even more of in swing. Lindy hop lets me be big.
You might be giving me a funny look right now because that makes no sense. Justified. To explain: I spend a lot of my time trying to be small. Sometimes this is emotionally. I try not to bring up things that bother me. I try to mold myself to what other people want, what might please them. More often than not, it’s physical: as someone with an eating disorder, my life has been consumed by the concept of smaller for four years. It has been my goal, my overwhelming certainty that I need to take up less space in this world. I have nearly killed myself trying to be smaller.
You cannot dance without taking up space. You cannot follow without making your body solid in certain ways, with being willing to move into and out of space and fill spaces. Dance is the expression of self in space. To be a good dancer, you have to be willing to make your body an extension of your self, a part of your identity, and then use it to fill up space.
And it’s enjoyable. Taking up space with my self can make me smile. That is the hugest gift that dancing has given me, and I think that it’s one of the most important things that it does for many people. We rarely are encouraged or allowed to express joy or self with our bodies. We’re not really told to jump up and down with glee. Sexuality is fairly repressed in this country. Bodies are hardly celebrated, and are rarely viewed as an integral part of self (see my post about tattoos). So think about how revolutionary it is to get a bunch of people in a room together, tell them that their bodies are a form of art, and that they can be joyous while being big and beautiful and expressing themselves in a purely physical manner. And it’s not dirty. It’s not bad. It’s completely platonic for most people. Holy. Shit.
If you’re going to be a good swing dancer, you have to be willing to extend your movements, to raise your hands over your head, to show all of your body and make it appear bigger than it is, because if you want to compete you need to have a presence. That is the antithesis of what I’ve done for many years, and very much not something women are encouraged to do very often. It is SO POWERFUL in my mind, and is so often overlooked as one of the joys and beauties of lindy. It’s often discussed in the lindy scene that there are some sexist overtones with the lead/follow dynamic, but in my mind the expression of beauty and self through the body is so empowering to anyone who does it that it trumps anything else that might be going on (which is not to say we shouldn’t discuss the sexist bits).
In addition to this there’s another really important piece of dance that relates to my mental health. Honestly I think that swing is the perfect therapy for me, and that many of the thing I love about it have illustrated how to move forward in my life. Anyway. Whoosh. Yeah that’s the second thing. Whoosh. In case you haven’t noticed, my brain has its own vocabulary for lindy hop, and it might take some getting used to. Whoosh is about trust. Whoosh is the feeling that you get when you’re doing a really good swing out and your partner catches you and you hit that moment of movement that’s just…whoosh. You can’t stop yourself at this point. Your momentum is already going. It’s almost out of control. It’s almost a little scary if you don’t trust your partner to catch you or put you back where you started. It’s exhilarating. It’s exciting. And it doesn’t work without taking the plunge to prepare your body and then let it go.
Obviously you want to be in control of your body throughout the entire dance, but there are moments when you give yourself to the momentum of your body. I think this happens particularly often for followers, since a good follower will follow their momentum wherever it goes (still working on this). And that means that you have to be willing to prepare yourself (have your footwork right, have good balance), but then simply trust your body to end up in the right spot, to follow its momentum. In swingouts, it also means trusting your partner a great deal. It means that in many ways you give up control. While you still get to choose where and how you move your body, you let someone (or something) else tweak it or shape it or work with it. When you try to control too much your dancing is rigid and you can’t follow well at all. When you let go of some of your control and simply let your body react and trust that you have prepared well, you get whoosh. Which is REALLY FUN.
Another place where I’ve found whoosh is on roller coasters. You trust that everyone has done their prep right, that you’re safe, you put yourself in a scary situation, but when you let the fear happen and wash over you, you get the whoosh of fun and speed and movement.
The idea of letting go of control in order to succeed, in order to trust, in order to trust MY BODY of all things is CRAZY to me. It’s difficult. It’s terrifying. It’s hard to trust others, it’s hard to trust the world in general. But it’s a skill that’s necessary. It’s the kind of leap of faith that pisses me off in many situations (because I think faith is not rational and thus shouldn’t be trusted) but that is so necessary in relationships, and often when making difficult decisions in life. If I could make that same kind of leap of faith with my recovery, and fall into the whoosh of it instead of holding on to the control and the fear, I have no doubt that I would be healthy. I’m sure this is true of all sorts of bad habits that people have. We can learn a lot from the whoosh of swing. We can also learn a lot about relationships from it: sometimes you have to trust your partner.
Speaking of relationships, one of the other things I love about lindy is the dynamic of follower and leader and how if you’re going to be a good dancer (or so I’m told) it often has to be like a good relationship: it’s not one person speaking and the other listening. It’s each person listening to the other, and molding the shape of the momentum in the dance together. It’s about a suggestion, and then taking that suggestion and building on it. I’m loving learning how to do that. I spend a lot of time trying to be aware of the other person while also being aware of myself and expressing myself. It’s a lot to keep track of at once, but so is life. It’s good brain training.
This is getting to be a really long post, and I think these are my main points. I may come back to swing thoughts later on, but for now I’ll just leave you with some of my swing dancing goal:
1.Work on tandem Charleston. Learn how to distinguish a lead into that from a lead into a turn. Stop stepping on people’s feet.
2.Listen to more music. Get the feel of it back.
3.Work on my bal.
4.Ask more people to dance more of the time.
5.Start working exercise back into my routine (slowly. I promise mom, very slowly) so that I can keep up my stamina at dances.
6.Go to more classes for added practice.
7.Practice on my own: triple stepping through turns.
8.Take more solo dance classes. Overcome paranoia of mirrors at said classes. Overcome paranoia of people seeing me dance without a lead.
This is wonderful, and a great examination of swing and it’s value to you. And you’re completely right about being a good dancer, lead or follow: a good dance is like a conversation, or a relationship. There is trust, and there are things that we do to make sure our partner feels safe and comfortable in that situation with us, and we need to be aware of them and dance *with* them, rather than just dancing while holding their hand. It’s an amazing feeling when it works, and something I’m definitely still working hard on achieving.
Love this post. Very well thought out 🙂 The bits about taking up space are especially interesting for me. I had a similar (though – in all likelihood – significantly easier) road in learning solo dancing, since I was very insecure about people seeing me dance when not with a partner for quite some time. Thank you for putting those thoughts into words. 🙂
I have to admit, I accidentally stumbled upon this blog late one night, while trying to find another website. I haven’t been swing dancing in months, but this inspires me to find more swing dancing in my area and to get back to hoofing. Thanks!
Woosh, well put. My fave is, like everyone elses, polka. I know, I know, everyone is all over it and it is so a fad. But, I am not talking about the drinking polka, or German polka, nor the enthusiastic crescendo and crash. If any reason it is because people seem to enjoy it, and it is often rather welcoming when I’ve shared it with people.
Lindy-hop and many other variants of swing are quite fun though too. Both have a good sense of woosh, I just enjoy the playfulness and less often are people trying to be courted or debuting themselves in polka and more often mirthful.
It is nice to hear the therapy of dancing put so well, exploring your space, self, play, appreciation and expression. One of the reasons I took to dance myself.