the hidden reason we become lindy hoppers: a response

The Back Story

I love this blog, which I’ve actually only recently found. It has some great inspirational tips and ideas to push myself harder; it also comments on a lot of Lindy Hop ideas and challenges that come up in the social scene. On this most recent post, the author states that the hidden reason we become Lindy Hoppers is for the challenge. I believe she does have some very good points about the challenge of Lindy Hop and how it can bring motivation and inspiration. I agree with her in that challenge is a huge part of the fun of Lindy Hop.

However, the challenge of Lindy Hop is not for everyone. In my opinion, the reason we love Lindy Hop is made of something much more complex.

***

I have two scenarios for you:

The first is a lead in the Lindy Hop community who has not improved in the last three years. You know exactly who he is – he might have trouble staying on beat, or maybe he always forgets the rock step; most frustratingly, you’re always afraid he’ll hurt you. Still, you dance with him almost every week because he clearly enjoys the dance, despite the fact that he’ll never get past starting his swingout on the wrong beat. So why does he keep coming out, if he won’t ever get past this speed bump in his own dancing?

The second is a follow I personally brought into the Lindy Hop community from the Contra community. I thought she would absolutely love it, and that would be that. She would come Lindy Hopping with me and we could rekindle our friendship over a new love of the best dance there is out there. But…she didn’t like it. She went back to Contra Dancing. For a while, I was afraid I didn’t help her enough. I didn’t teach her the basic well enough, or I didn’t tell enough leads to go dance with her to make sure she had a good time. But over the past year, I’ve realized something: she loves something else about Contra Dancing more than she ever enjoyed Lindy Hop.

***

Community

What the above dancers have in common is a love for the communities which they respectively frequent. To me, dancers of all age, gender, nationality, and belief system come to Lindy Hop because it fosters a kinship and identity that fits our needs and desires. We like the people we dance with.

The reason the Never-Improving-Lead still comes out dancing? To me, it is because that’s where he has friends. The reason my friend goes Contra Dancing instead of Swing Dancing? She enjoys the community more: in fact, they are her community, and they are just as important to her as the Lindy Hop Community is to me.

I think that this is the same reason many Lindy Hoppers drop out: whether it’s school, family, or some unidentified reason: you might not realize or understand it, but they probably have other things in their lives which engender more of a community feeling, even if it’s as simple as taking a regular cooking class.

I also believe this is one of the biggest reasons we all love dance event weekends. It is a time where we all get together and share inside jokes, go to lunch or dancing between dancing, and offer up our homes to people we’ve only just met. I have never lived in the same city as two of my absolute best friends, but that doesn’t change the fact that I speak to them on an almost daily basis.

Where else do you get a community like that?

***

A concession

I do believe that the essence of challenge is an incredibly important part of Lindy Hop. Without it, we would not have rock stars: we are inspired by incredible dancers, and that often pushes us to keep going and get better. For some people, the challenge does become necessary – because theoretically, we could find a community anywhere, but it might not have the added benefit of pushing us both physically and mentally.

But you know what I see more? People posting these videos on facebook. Having discussions. Everyone clapping at that one part in the routine for “Jump through the Window” where Skye and Frida clap (you know exactly which routine I’m talking about, but here’s the link anyway). Think about it: those videos give us something to talk about.  Something for our community to drool over, at the very least.

I believe that challenge drives many of the upper echelon of dancers – as well as those who wish to be in the upper echelon, at the very least. In fact, I am one of the many who is constantly thinking up ways to work on my dancing, and I am more than excited about the challenge which Hop Shop offers at the end of the month. I also love that the author admits the following:

Accepting and navigating challenge is one of the recurring themes on Dance World Takeover.

That is the purpose of her blog, and it is one of the reasons I enjoy her writing so much.

However, I believe challenge inspires us to improve, but I do not necessarily believe it inspires us to Lindy Hop. There are so many of us who are just out to dance and be with friends.

***

Conclusion

So to all those who come out just to dance: I totally get you. At one point in the future, I will probably be you. Whether or not I ever place in a competition, I have my Lindy Hop friends to keep me company. We share inside jokes, cuddle on the floor of dance events, and share amazing awkward-pelvis moments. I love the challenge of Lindy Hop, but you are the real reason I dance.

Of course, this is just my opinion, just as the motivation of challenge is the opinion of the author of the original post. We’re all driven by different things. I just think that Lindy Hop would be significantly less fun without my friends.

Photo Credits to the lovely Jessica Keener

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21 thoughts on “the hidden reason we become lindy hoppers: a response

  1. Hi, I found your blog through the magic of the internet. I really like this post. Would you mind if I re-posted it on my Facebook page? I swear this isn’t spam.

  2. I think you made a good point in response to that one part of Rebecca’s column. Lindy Hop does offer its fair share of challenges, keeping things as interesting as you want them to be… but I felt that her contention that Lindy Hoppers get into the dance because at heart they crave a challenge could be interpreted as expressing a view that creates a barriers between people depending on where they fall on the must-improve-get-better spectrum.

    This is part of what I didn’t like about her piece. It’s not that I didn’t agree with her that some of those elements must be addressed if one would like to see their dancing improve – but then there is that word… “improve”. If there is so much focus on “improving” and insisting upon signing up for higher and higher levels at workshop events, I feel like it creates a hierarchy based on being “better” (and conversely being “worse”).

    If Lindy Hop is thought of as a language just like any other, once you find yourself engaged by its possibilities, you seek out ways to expand your ability to express yourself… to the music/yourself/the world in concert with your partner. I prefer the idea of “expanding” to “improving” because then your progress is measured more on a personal level than in comparison (or competition) with others.

    From the regional events I’ve been too, I feel like a lot of people are on edge and sizing others up in relation to their own abilities and I think that this is because there can be too much emphasis on “getting better”. The Lindy Hop community certainly offers voluminous opportunities to develop connections and relationships with new people but I feel that if one approaches their dancing from a “getting better”/”improving” direction, you run the risk of being a part of that community as part of a clique.

    I realize these terms can be seen as merely shades of grey but my main point is that whatever words you use to describe your evolution as a dancer, you should also take special care to mix in generous doses of humility.

    • I think you have a really good point here: the more we focus on becoming “better,” the more we run the risk of either disappointing ourselves, or losing sight of the community as a whole. And if your main motivation is in fact to improve, compete, and perform – then a good dose of humility will always keep you in check.

      I really like the idea of “expanding” your dancing – as if we can learn in a horizontal as well as vertical manner. After all, not all learning is linear: you can learn an entire choreography, which is challenging in itself – but then you can focus on each individual move, which adds an entire new dimension to your dancing. It’s like learning the swing out, and then learning to swing out light, heavy, or backwards.

      To me, the desire to expand (or improve) in my own dancing comes from a desire to learn, which is entirely born out of curiosity and (I’ll admit) a sometimes-healthy dose of vanity (I just want to like my lines when I solo!). Actually, that’s almost entirely the reason I just learned the Tranky Doo – learn more moves, and learn more about solo dancing.

      But the favorite part of the Tranky Doo is when I dance it with the whole group – and usually stare at someone else, because “Man, her boogie forwards are awesome.”

  3. I must say,I was just clicking through all the shares of your post from my page, and it’s quite impressive. Most die off after one round, but the chain keeps going in this case. I’m glad I’m not the only one to appreciate it. Thanks again for writing this. More please :)

    • I won’t lie — I’m a little overwhelmed with the number of views and responses. At the same time, it is exciting to see all the shares and responses; thank you for posting the link on your page!

      • I think the fact that there are so many responses to this validates what you were saying, Cari. So many people obviously agree with you that they feel the need to share it; it goes back to your point about the sharing aspect of a community, too.

  4. Pingback: A Shared Challenge « Dancing Past The Godzilla Threshold

  5. Yes, community. Another critical aspect, the glue that holds us together. Not a very hidden reason though, is it? Challenge and the resulting growth are core components in the spirit of lindy hop. It took me forever to discover and admit this. I knew lindy hoppers were my people straight away. I struggled with finding the beauty in the challenge, though.

    If lindy hop were filled with those in scenario one, it would become stale. In my opinion, it would not be lindy hop. Then the community would change, and it might even die.

    Community is important, and I’m glad you’re saying it. And all of us have to go through the rungs of learning the lindy hop. Even the lead who stopped taking classes gets to say, “Ah, I remember when I was you and couldn’t string two moves together!”

    Even though we seem to be so incredibly diverse, it’s mostly on the surface. There’s a mentality that strings us all together, and I won’t dare define it. But I know that willingness to accept a challenge (even if only up to a certain point) is definitely a part of it.

    • Actually, if you’re going to say that Community is not very hidden, I don’t think you can say that the Challenge is very hidden either: while I was writing this post, I was discussing it with a friend; she disagreed with me in that she started dancing because of the challenge it posed, and only found the Community later. Now, I would say she probably loves both aspects of the dance – but the Challenge was still one of her first motivating factors.

      For myself, I started dancing because I was in love with the movie “Dirty Dancing” and I wanted to be Baby. It actually took me almost two years to understand why people would show up and only dance one or two songs, or they would go to events and miss class to chat with friends. Why weren’t they dancing, because it was hard and fun and it made you look PRETTY?!

      I think the part I have trouble with is in the specificity of Challenge as the Hidden Reason we (implied: all) become Lindy Hoppers. I think it is the reason that many of us have the urge to improve as Lindy Hoppers, but I don’t see it as the hidden reason we all keep coming out or chose this specific activity. Like I said, if all I wanted was a challenge, I’d just go get my PhD. Or I’d become a gymnast or professional violinist, or anything along those lines. But the hidden reason we become Lindy Hoppers specifically? It’s because there’s something about it which calls to us.

      I think this blogger (http://jkmeller.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/a-shared-challenge/#comment-111) also said it well – he has three personal motivating factors (music, connection, and a love for dance itself as the expression of the first two aspects). We all have reasons we become Lindy Hoppers – but as a group, Challenge is not necessarily the most universal motivating factor. In fact, there almost definitely isn’t a single most defining factor.

      I love all the different views that are coming out, honestly – it’s good to know what motivates us!

      • Totally. Challenge is not hidden to some people. I make a distinction from what motivates us to begin dancing, vs. what motivates to take on the process of becoming a lindy hopper. “Become Lindy Hoppers” in my title implies the latter, not the former. I’m getting at the point that challenge is deep and meaningful, not an inconvenient barrier.

        Oh, and I don’t think there is merely one reason we all become lindy hoppers. I just realized that’s what you think I’m saying. Nor do I think challenge is the ‘most universal motivating factor’. However, if you could wave a magic wand and make the challenge of lindy hop go away, it just wouldn’t be the same community. You have to go through the process and make your own mistakes and discoveries. The shared process certainly is a uniting factor.

  6. I have been dancing lindy hop for almost 14 years now, and I am not bragging. I have always been humble about my skill level in all of the dances I have learned over the years, and I agree to a point, that it’s the challenge of learning new steps and patterns, and how to be a good follower, that keeps me going back for more. I also just enjoy the outright FUN and pure joy that I feel when I hear that music and dance to it, with other people who are like minded souls. I generally see the lindy hop community as pretty friendly, and in my formative years as a swing dancer, it greatly enhanced my social life, at least in terms of finding someone cool to date and go out dancing with. I love the camaraderie that often happens in classes and at dances. I like the social outlet of meeting new people, and playing with them when they are playful in their dancing too.

    I don’t usually go to dance weekends, although I’ve been to a major West coast swing convention (which I was also a volunteer for) and I certainly saw the appeal of being able to go and learn new moves with the cream of the crop teachers and champions. I think that dancers get excited to take classes from charismatic instructors, who make us laugh and show us how to have a lot of fun. They can be downright entertaining at times, depending on the teacher. I for one, can attest to that feeling many times, and looked forward to class with them, when they not only knew how to teach very well, but make it really FUN for everyone, and not intimidating for us.

    I don’t go out dancing that often these days, but I really want to get back into the weekly swing dances and maybe take a class again. I got a bit sidetracked by a few things like marriage, moving across the country and discovering Improv classes in SF with BATS Improv. Lindy hop will always be in my heart and my love of the swing music just makes me want to dance and feel high on swing. Even though I know that I will never be the best or learn all the neat tricks (that I am too scared and injury prone to try, or for that matter, middle aged -sigh…) but that’s okay with me because I love swing dancing and it makes me feel good, and maybe that is enough for me.

    • Honestly, I think that would be enough for anyone. At the heart of it all, it’s entirely just something we love to do. It makes us happy, and that’s all we can ask for — and it’s something we all probably lose sight of too often. Thank you for the response!

  7. I think you are spot on Cari; it says something about the community we’ve formed when even injured dancers come out to a weekly dance just to see their friends. At a recent Monday night in Atlanta, Cari and another dancer were missing and the energy somehow felt different. I’ve started realizing more and more that community is what holds us together and the challenge is what helps strengthen that bond.
    When people in the Lindy Hop community ask where I’m from, I say I’m from D.C. While that’s true, I don’t feel as if I truly am. I didn’t start dancing there and while I do go out dancing whenever I’m there, I feel more of an outsider in that scene than in the southeast scene where I started my dancing. When I was living in Minneapolis this summer, that felt a little more home-like than my real home scene, simply due to the fact that I’ve spent more continual time in the dance scene.
    I think that another interesting thing about the communities we call home are the certain people we choose to befriend in those communities. You have people who you only exchange surface level pleasantries with and have great dances with, yet never really interact besides that. Then you have those people who you interact with off of the floor too; those who you play Words with Friends with, who you are excited to see and spend the entire time sitting on the side of the dance floor talking about life.
    When I was Lindy on the Rocks in Denver this past August, one of the best things they had was a Sunday afternoon pool party. You actually got to hang out with people off of the dance floor – something I think a lot of people should do more of. Events should have a social aspect to them, rather than a dancing all the time aspect. Its great to actually get to know people for things they do besides dance; social events like these don’t care if you are a good dancer or a bad dancer. Its whether you’re a fun person to be around. Some people might not be able to discover that if not for social gatherings like these – and who knows, you might be missing out on some great potential friendships.

    • Bluesalicious used to do something similar, where they had a scavenger hunt on Saturday and then used a tiny, charismatic venue which encouraged more conversation than dancing on Sunday. This is almost completely off topic, but personally, I would love to see a shift towards events which are more focused on community-building, like Lindy on the Rocks (which I can’t shorten, because I can only picture Frodo and Sam when I see the abbreviation). Events with pool parties and beach parties and cook outs and scavenger hunts INSTEAD of afternoon dances. Because afternoon dances are great and all, but they’re usually on concrete, and they’re hot and muggy, and who really wants to deal with that? Why not hang out instead? Go to the aquarium or to Little 5 Points in Atlanta, for example, and scare all the locals with our awesomeness…

      • By taking out afternoon dances, you then build up more excitement for the evening dance; you also don’t feel so swung over that next week. One of my favorite things about going to new cities is exploring and sometimes you don’t get to do that during exchanges in cities you’ve never been to before.
        Cumberland Shuffle’s idea of going to the Honky Tonks on Sunday night was fantastic; if you didn’t want to dance, you could still enjoy yourself and really experience Nashville’s culture. I know that during Boston’s lindy exchange last fall, they had tours of interesting things in Boston rather than dancing all the time. You got to experience Boston AND dance. How can you lose? Red Hot Blues n’ BBQ in DC does this too; its barbecuing and dancing! Both really fun things – and both ways to get to meet the people at the exchange on and off the floor.

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