Lose the Cool

I originally wrote this article for Bees’ Knees Dance in February 2012

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.

You – we – all of us Lindy Hoppers – are not cool.

I’m serious.

In my firm opinion, as Lindy Hoppers, we’re inherently NOT cool. We’re nerds! Wonderful weirdos, members of an unconventional cult, happy dance geeks. That’s us! Embrace it! It’s one of the great things about dancing a dance from the 1920s-40s nearly 100 years later.

So chances are, if you feel cool you’re 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.

Dancing with Everyone

We’ve all done it. How can we help it? When we’re at a dance and looking for our next partner, we can’t help but pass judgment on the potential partners we see around us. This is completely based on the first visual impression that a person makes on us, ie. it’s a judgment based on appearances.

Age, attractiveness, athleticism, style of dress, height, facial expression; these are all factors that contribute to our feeling of whether or not we think a person is an eligible dance partner candidate. We make that decision based on the initial instinct and either we’ll ask a person to dance or we’ll quickly divert our eyes away and move on to seek out a more “appealing” dance partner.  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.

It’s a decision that 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 judgment 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 to your place in the dance community? It doesn’t matter what someone looks like. It doesn’t matter if they’re “cool” or not. As I said earlier, none of us are actually 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 people 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 social dancing momentum going 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. It’s helped me to find a terrific dance drive over the course of an evening.

I also love how happy some people are 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.

I really believe that everyone should get to dance as much as possible, but that often isn’t the case. I really want to fix that.

There are lots of ways to have fun

When I’m in the “don’t think, just ask” mindset 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’s enjoyed dancing with just about any leader, the only exception being if they’re 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. 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.

Snobbery

I remember attending the LA & Orange County Lindy Hop Exchange 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 experienced 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 at the exchange, 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 me through. 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 only once I had proven 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 one bit. The other dancers of similar experience to my own were all hanging out together and I didn’t like the vibe they were putting out. Instead of joining that circle, which I would probably have “fit into” but didn’t want to be part of, 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 Foster. 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 when they eventually become “good”, they’ll remember you and still ask you to dance.

Be Part of the Welcome Wagon

My good friend Jaime Almond reminded me of what a terrific ambassador of Lindy Hop a fellow named Patrick Fraser 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 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 trademarked the statement and made it a part of my former 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.

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.