So. You’re a Lindy Hopper.
Yay, that’s great!!! Lindy Hop is just about the best thing in the known universe… But let’s just get one thing cleared up once and for all and we’ll all be better for it.
The fact is that as Lindy Hoppers, we’re inherently NOT cool. We’re nerds! Wonderful weirdos, members of an unconventional cult, happy dance geeks. So chances are, if you feel cool you’re just probably not nearly as cool as you think you are – or as you’re trying to be – so let’s just get over it now and we’ll all enjoy ourselves so much more.
Let’s embrace what we actually are and lose the attempted cool once and for all!
I say all this to set up an important point about the social dance world that we’re all a part of.
Don’t Think, Just Ask!
We have all done it. How can you help it? When we’re at a dance and looking for our next partner, we can’t help but pass judgement on the potential partners we see around us. This is completely based on the first visual impression, ie. appearances.
Age, athleticism, style of dress, height, facial expression, these all contribute to our feeling of whether or not this person is an eligible dance partner candidate. We make that decision based on the initial instinct and either we’ll ask them to dance or our eyes will quickly move on and seek out a different partner. This decision generally happens very fast. Our eyes move around the floor and will often dart away if we catch someone who doesn’t immediately fit the criteria.
For most of us this process is pretty much unconscious but whether we want to admit it or not the judgement is there. And just because it’s unconscious doesn’t make it okay.
Don’t judge a book by its cover! We’ve all heard it before, but how recently have you applied it? It does not matter what someone looks like. It doesn’t matter if they are “cool” or not. Like I’ve established, none of us are cool anyway, so let’s just drop it and indiscriminately start asking people to dance!
About a year ago, I made a conscious decision to change my behaviour at out-of-town dance events. Instead of giving any conscious thought to who I would ask to dance, I started asking the very first leader I laid eyes on. No more contemplation, no chance to size them up or estimate their level of dance experience based on their appearance. The first lead I lay eyes on I now immediately ask to dance. This has changed everything for me!
Since I adopted my “don’t think, just ask” approach to asking the very first leader I see to dance, the Lindy Hop floor has changed completely for me. Not only am I enjoying dances with lots of new people but I’m able to keep my momentum and rolling on the dance floor. Because I don’t have lulls without dancing due to “over thinking” and missing my chance to snag a partner, this method lends itself to continuous dancing without jarring starts and stops over the course of the night and I’ve been able to establish terrific dance drive over the course of an evening.
I also love how happily some people respond when they’re asked to dance. Since I’m asking some people who inevitably aren’t asked to dance very often, there’s a sincere pleasure when I ask them and I can’t help but reciprocate that warmth. Everyone should get to dance as much as possible, but that often isn’t the case. I really want to fix that.
When I’m in the “don’t think, just ask” mode and I start dancing with a random new partner, I really do invest myself fully in the dance no matter who I’m dancing with. I’ve always been someone who has enjoyed dancing with just about any leader, the only exception being if they are too tense and tight in their leading arm which eliminates my space. As long as my partner isn’t yanking me in on 1 or pushing me through turns, I can find some space and relaxation in the dance and I will surely have fun with leaders of all levels. (Unless of course I don’t like the music, but that’s another blog post.)
So I have to ask myself, why didn’t I adopt the “don’t think, just ask” method sooner!? I wish I had, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that I was discriminating on the dance floor, be it so very innocently. It’s not something that any of us want to admit to ourselves. Because I know that we’re all nice people. The judgment that our brains pass isn’t meant mean spiritedly, but we have to break the pattern. It probably hasn’t occurred to most people that it’s happening. It took me years before I really realized it. That’s why I wanted to write about my experience with it.
I remember attending the LA & Orange County Lindy Hop Exchange in or around 2002. It was the most snobby event I have ever attended. Nobody would make eye contact with anyone else unless they were already acquainted. Looking for a dance partner was a case of bowed heads and eyes quickly darting away so that strangers could avoid dancing with someone who might not be “good enough” for them.
Being pretty tenacious, I asked people to dance anyway. Because I was already a reasonably strong follower, once the dance began many of my partners would warm up to me when they felt that my level was up to snuff. It felt so shallow that I had to earn a smile or any general friendliness through my dance level. In contrast to most of the people there, I remember asking one well known California instructor to dance. He didn’t make eye contact with me or smile at all during the dance even after I followed everything that he led smoothly. In that case I remember thinking at the end of the dance that I almost preferred his way of shunning me the entire time because at least he was consistent. It seemed a lot more sincere than the leaders who warmed up to me once I had proved my ability.
Don’t be an elitist!
A few years ago at an annual workshop in a nearby city a guy in rotation said to me, “Mandi, you’re one of the good dancers but you’re not an elitist. Thank you for that.” That statement has really stuck with me. It’s true that a very cliquey attitude was developing among many of my peers at that time and I didn’t care for it. The other dancers of similar experience to my own were all hanging out together and I didn’t like the vibe. Instead of joining that circle, which I would probably have “fit in to” but it didn’t appeal to me, I spent a lot of time over the weekend with some of the less experienced dancers from my own city whose company I genuinely enjoyed. It’s interesting that my differing attitude was so clearly noticeable to that gentleman who made the comment.
Everyone loves Charlie
We have a wonderful dancer in Toronto by the name of Charlie. One of the many great things about Charlie is that he always asks beginners to dance. Why? His feeling is that you should always dance with the newbies because you never know if they might become good. Not only a *good* dancer, but perhaps even better than you! And if/when they do improve, you want them to remember that you were welcoming to them so that you can earn a place on their future dance roster.
Be part of the welcome wagon
My good friend Jaime reminded me of what a terrific ambassador of Lindy Hop a fellow named Patrick was to her when she joined our scene. When he learned that she was new to our city, he took her under his wing and introduced her to all of our regular dancers and really made her feel welcome. If it hadn’t been for that sincere and thorough welcome, who knows if she would have become so involved in our dance community and formed the friendships (and marriage) that have so profoundly shaped her life.
To me, Lindy Hop is all about inclusivity. I truly believe that anyone can and should dance, so much so that I’ve trademarked the statement and made it a part of my business. Cliquey is not cool, nor is socializing only with people with the same look or attitude as your own. That’s close minded and limited. The only people who are ever actually cool are the people who aren’t trying to be, so let’s drop the attempt and just dance.
The *real* cool
Cool to me has a completely different definition from what I started out to talk about. I think it’s “cool” when teens and retirees mingle in the same dance classes. I think it’s “cool” when people who never participated in sports or other athletic activities in their youth find a way to express themselves physically through dancing. And I think it’s especially “cool” when people who have always struggled and felt awkward in social situations find that they can become a part of a community like ours and be made part of it instead of held apart on the outside.
So maybe as Lindy Hoppers, we are kind of cool after all. Just as long as we stay genuine and we don’t let it get to our heads.
Mandi Gould is Director & Head Dance Instructor for Bees’ Knees Dance in Toronto and St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.