I'm a big fan of Bug's Question of The Day which is a Facebook page started by a dancer named Bug Brockway. It's a pretty simple concept: She poses a dance related question and people chime in. A question from last weekend read:
Why is there such a resistance to fusion dancing and how can we fix the way fusion is perceived?
This isn't the first time I've seen a variation of this question asked over the years, and the initial answers were pretty unsurprising. “Outsiders just don't understand,” “Purists hate new innovations,” etc. Pretty much par for the course for these kinds of discussions.
The main problem with these kinds of threads, is that they never cut to the heart of the matter. They always dance around (hey yo!) by talking about peripheral issues: technical aspects of dance, semantic arguments about terms with no real consensus definitions among their supporters, or just straight up straw men arguments (Fusion dancers are free spirits and everyone else is an anal retentive asshole)
Probably the broadest definition of fusion dancing is combining different kinds of dancing to different kinds of songs. Maybe someone has something more specific, but I kinda don't care because that’s not what I believe is at issue here. Although I will note the inherent contradiction of having a free spirited buffet style approach towards dance on one hand, while on the other, wondering why outsiders don't "get it."
Here’s an example that I've commonly seen people post as a good example of fusion dancing
I'm rarely negatively critical about dance on this blog, but I'm going to go out a limb and say that this is a terrible dance. I haven’t seen much better in terms of fusion videos, and I see a lot of video clips. Even though I can spend an entire post pointing out every single flaw here, I'm not terribly interested in doing that. Nor am I interested in listening to a defense of this dance, because ultimately I really don’t care.
I do want to point out the reaction of the crowd which treats this like it’s the greatest dance ever performed on hardwood. This is the reason why I can’t take the fusion community very seriously.
Just so I’m clear: I’m cool with people wanting to partner or solo dance to any kind of music. Heck, just this past weekend I listened to Nina Gilkenson DJ a dance that was equal parts swing music, hot jazz, soul, and 80's and 90's pop tunes, and I had a damn good time flailing around. Also, what I’m pointing out isn’t a difference in aesthetic taste. Take this for example
I know lots of people who have posted this on Facebook and other places and love it. I personally don’t care for it. But at least I can acknowledge the effort and skill it takes to pull it off. Also, I can appreciate other kinds of dancing without knowing very much about them like Belly Dance, Tap, Hip Hop, or even Martial Arts.
(Note: Original video linked has been deleted from Youtube. I replaced it with another from an event in 2002, approximately 6 months after ALHC 2001)
What’s interesting to me is that Kevin & Maggie Moon won the World Lindy Hop Championships two months after that first clip. Yet, despite that accomplishment, you can see Kevin make a huge improvement a year later.
Next up check out Skye Humphries at the North Atlantic Dance Championships in April of 2001 dancing with Jojo Jackson. The second clip is him dancing with Carla Heiney at ALHC in October of that same year.
Skye has always been regarded as a kind of wunderkind in our scene ever since he started. He and the other Moochers brought in a much different kind of energy and approach to the dance and they were all highly regarded even early on. He once told me that one of the most important things that happened to him around this time was Steven Mitchell taking him aside and telling Skye that he really wasn’t that good, and that he should do something about that.
My point in bringing up these videos and stories is that even though these men were considered near the top of the scene, they didn’t stop learning or pushing themselves and the dance.
Here are the same two dancers from that first video less than a year later.
As far as I’ concerned, there is no discernible improvement here, yet the crowd still reacts just as strongly. These aren’t just some random people; these are some of the headlining instructors at the event in this video.
Here’s the bottom line: I don't have an issue with someone wanting to create something new. I think that's great. Go for it. But if fusion dancers want to be taken seriously by other people, then they’re going to have to face the fact that most fusion dancing isn’t very good by any definition outside of their own. I feel like there’s a distinct lack of self awareness or just complete denial of this within the fusion community. Anything goes. Nothing is bad. Everything is good. That limits their ability to take any kind of criticism and progress. It's hard to have a productive conversation when one side wallows in such willful ignorance.
I would completely be supportive of the fusion community if someone, anyone, just admitted: “Yes fusion dancers aren’t very good now, but we’re still working on it.” But I never hear that. Not in Bug’s most recent question or in any other online conversation with outsiders.
I can sense all kinds of indignation building on keyboards out there. If people want to expend energy coming after me, be my guest. There’s plenty to make fun of. Just remember this: At the end of the day, A) you’re not going to change my mind about a dance with a comment on my blog, and B) your dancing will still suck.
Believe it or not, I'm not posting just to be antagonistic. There's a question of perception out there, and I'm providing as honest an answer as I can. The funny thing is that we've seen this sort of thing play out before.
The hoary old expression in Lindy is that “There are no mistakes in Lindy, just new moves.” Fusion dancers seemed to have adopted this creed with enthusiasm. It’s an adaptation of a quote by Art Tatum “There’s no such thing as a wrong note,” but very few people quote the whole thing:
“Just remember that there’s no such thing as a wrong note; what makes it wrong is when you don’t know where to go after that one.”