I was at an event a few years ago chatting with another dancer during the last dance of the weekend. We were watching a particular follow, and I’ll admit we were not paying attention to her connection or style; we were just straight up checking her out, and her considerable . . . talents. But oddly enough, the more we watched her, the less attractive she became. It just came down to the fact that we just didn’t like her dancing. This was a significant moment to me because up until that point it was fairly easy to identify what I didn’t like in a person’s dancing based mostly on their technical deficiencies. We were (an still are to a certain extent) collectively learning how to connect and how the dance generally worked. I’m talking about a time when people thought that Hollywood and Savoy were two entirely different dances and stopped dancing when they couldn’t find enough people to agree with them. But here was an advanced dancer with no such issues. I just couldn’t get into any of the creative or stylistic choices she was making.
A recent discussion in the comments section on a previous post makes it sound like I’m being overly hard on a person who is otherwise considered an excellent dancer. For the purposes of that discussion, I will admit that I am. But that’s only because I’m comparing that person to his dance peers, of which I (me personally) think only includes maybe 40 people in the whole world.
I mentioned in my 1st anniversary post that I’m not necessarily interested in perpetuating this unofficial social hierarchy that’s been established around our very best dancers. Or at least the most popular ones. However, it’s hard to have an intelligent conversation without singling these people out, and pinpointing their strengths and weaknesses if only to help ourselves identify what we want to achieve through dance.
Because of this, I’ve come to the realization that some dancers are just going to be put on pedestals, atop a social structure that other people want to climb. Given what I’ve observed in other social situations, I tend to think that this is unavoidable.
When you work hard at your craft and put yourself out there especially in situations specifically to be judged, observers are going to look at you closer than they would most other people. That's just the way it is. In a way, the Lindy scene is like a secret democracy where candidates may often do not realize that they are running for the office of “dance leader” until they are elected.
It is quite interesting to watch people purposefully "run fo roffice" and try to work their way up this vague social ladder. It’s especially amusing in the sense that I’m not sure these people realize that they want to be included in the kind of conversation we reserve for these top dancers. In talking about the majority of the Lindy population, I tend to use a relatively pretty low standard; Mostly because everyone is just learning and enjoying themselves through this social dance. When I’m looking at most videos that pop up on YouTube, I tend to evaluate effort more than execution.
When we start talking about what certain top dancers can and cannot do, it can be downright brutal because it’s such a high standard that can be only really be appreciated when you focus in on the little things. Of course when you get this close, it becomes easy to sound like you’re delegitimizing everything else about them.
Does it have to be that way? For the purposes of specific, narrow conversations? I don’t see why not actually. This is how we learn. But in the end we have to keep some sort of perspective.
A friend of mine recently emailed me about her high school reunion. The Lindy scene often gets compared to a perpetual high school, and I think it’s an apt description. Just like school you socialize and work with a range of people that you wouldn’t normally know under any other circumstances. The main difference is that it’s possible to be around these people for a super long time. I’ve been seeing some people several times a month for 10 years now, and its probable that I’ll see some of them on a regular basis for years, maybe decades to come.
Because of that I think it’s necessary to practice some détante with people you don’t have anything in common with outside of dancing in order to maintain some level of harmony. Unfortunately that also keeps public criticism to a minimum.
I miss the old Jive Junction message board which was a Lindy Hop forum based out of Southern California and run by Reuben Brown. It was often crass and juvenile, but almost always brutally honest. And most importantly, it was populated by people who knew what they were talking about. Dancers like Peter Loggins, Mike Faltesek, and a whole host of others, even Nick Williams, were not afraid to call each other out on whatever nonsense was going on the floor or online. And people weren’t afraid to come right back at them and tell them that they were full of sh!t. Sure enough, the in your face approach drove off the more sensitive egos but it produced far more interesting conversations than forums like Yehoodi did/does with a more kid gloves moderating approach.
The most important thing I learned from Jive Junction is that you can be nerdtastically passionate about the dance, while still remembering that it is just a dance. No one is going to die because of it. Well, except for that one time in Herrang. But other than that, it’s not typically a life or death matter.
In the aftermath of Frankie’s passing last year, quite a few leaders in our scene were humbled by what Frankie accomplished by being so generous and welcoming. I’ve heard quite a few of them tell me that they’re backing off on their criticisms of each other. It’s a nice sentiment I guess, but sometimes we lose something when we trade honesty for harmony.
Skye Humphries once told me that one of the most important things that happened to him when he was still an up and coming, but highly regarded dancer, was Steven Mitchell taking him aside one day just to remind him that he wasn’t that good. Skye is one of the most humble people I know, and I think experiences like that is what helps him keep things in perspective.
I'm not claiming to be Steven Mitchell, but I'd like to continue to look and write about our little scene with a measure of honesty and an eye towards learning from everyone's strengths and shortcomings; successes and mistakes including my own.