Saturday, July 5, 2014

It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing.

Today marks a year and a month since I started taking regular swing dance lessons.  July fifth, 2013.  I had gone to a couple of dances before, but the classes were the official start for me.  I came out of my first class excited, happy, and a bit confused.  It was a challenge, for sure, going from completely independent, choreographed solo or group dances like tap, jazz, and ballet, to partner/social dances in which I essentially had no idea what a guy would throw at me next, and had to follow his lead and depend on his skills to show me what we were going to do next.  I sat at a table with my parents at Baskin Robbins after my first lesson and told them, "This is a completely different ballpark."

But oh, I was in love.

A year later, I'm even more in love with swing, and it's made an indelible mark on so many areas in my life--I'm listening to 40's music when I'm not in class because I've fallen in love with it.  I'm watching Lindy Hop professionals do their thing on YouTube every chance I get.   I'm trying out vintage hairstyles and looking for that perfect swingy, twirly dress (preferably with polka dots, of course).  I'm planning out when I can go swing dancing next.

I didn't know much about swing dancing when I came to that first class--I knew it was typically from the 40's.  I knew my grandma had done a little of it.  I knew a few names--Charleston, Lindy Hop, Jitterbug/East Coast swing.  I knew I'd be dancing with another person, and it could potentially be extremely awkward.  But I had stumbled across a video on YouTube of a swing dance flash mob at the Denver Airport, and I just knew, as a dancer does, that I had to do it.  So I delved into researching where I could learn to swing dance in my area--and living close to Memphis, it wasn't hard to find.

I'll tell you a secret: I'm not a "social" person.  50% introvert?  For sure.  Socially selective?  Yep.  Of course I don't dislike people, but sometimes I'm awkward and it's painful and being home recharges me.  And you know what?  Swing dancing is considered a social dance.  And whereas something like going to a party with a bunch of people I don't know just might be one of the most painfully awkward and unpleasant things I could imagine, I'm not sure I could love this "social dance" any more than I do now.  Maybe it's because dancing has always brought me out of my little shells.  I'm no socialite, but dancing makes me unwind, makes me have fun.  I can't hear music and not dance.  It brings spice to life.  I suppose it's similar to how I find it hard to share my heart and my stories verbally--but give me the pen and the paper and I'll show you my life story.

Swing dancing has always been a way to have fun and feed that love of dancing that's in my soul.  But it's slowly taught me other things, too.  I went through my first few months of swing dancing tense, a little knotted-up ball of nervousness half the time I was dancing.  I wanted to dance well and connect well with the people I was dancing with so badly, and I was hard on myself.  I did a lot of over-thinking.  In the few brief moments when I'd get into a really good dance, I'd open up and be my carefree self, but give me an awkward conversation or a messed-up dance move and I was a goner.  But I've slowly learned to relax; to be myself; to chill out and just be.  I'm learning to stop switching on my "I have to be socially acceptable" mode and to stop putting up my walls of robot politeness, to, instead, simply be the person I am when I walk into the room.  To enjoy it and enjoy the dance and enjoy the people.  Swing dancing has called me out of my comfort zone in many ways.  It continues to do so, and I love it.

Now I welcome the feeling of not knowing what's coming next in a dance.  It's exhilarating, exciting.  Listening and reacting to the music and my partner is a little adventure in its own.

I've fallen in love with a dance that I've realized could be danced by someone who could neither see nor hear; you don't have to see a person dance the steps and learn it from them or hear them give you instructions; they can take you by the hand and make you feel the dance, and I think that's beautiful.

I've fallen in love with a dance that I've realized reflects a relationship with God; as a follower, you can't really know exactly what's coming next.  You fly by the seat of your pants and you take it as it comes.  You trust your partner.  You let him lead.  You have to learn not to panic when something completely new and different and surprising happens, or when he leads you straight into it.  Much as in life, you have to make the decision to go along and make the best of it or else the dance--or life--will stink.  And so many times, just as I struggle with believing that God's still got me, I try to back-lead my partner or guess what he's going to do next. You know what that makes me?  A bad follower.  I'm learning to let him lead and to simply follow.

I was talking to a man the other day who told me, "I wish I had been swing dancing when I was fifteen."  He chuckled.  "I was doing stupid stuff...getting my head rammed into a pole.  I guess swing dancing just wasn't cool when I was a kid."  I laughed.  "Well, I've never really been cool, so...."

Maybe that's why.  Maybe it's that quirky, unique blast into the past that swing dancing provides.  It's not quite like any other dance, and for just a bit, you can almost set yourself in that time, almost like another world, where things were just a bit simpler and just a bit classier, even in the midst of a chaotic, upside-down time upset by war.  I love it.


A little over a year after that first lesson, when I came out confused and exhilarated all at once, I'm still confused and exhilarated sometimes.  I've tried five different kinds of swing dancing, and Charleston & Lindy Hop are still my favorites.  I've fallen in love with another kind of dance.  I helped teach a swing class for the first time last week.  I've met new people and a bit of a new world has opened up for learning to express myself and be my own person, wherever I am and whoever I'm surrounded by.  I love it.  And I can't wait to see where the rest of this swingin' adventure's gonna take me.


Breanna said...

I'm happy for you Joy! It sounds so fun I wish I could do it!! :)

Jessica Joy said...

Hi Joy! This post was, well, simply beautiful. I loved the pictures, your way if writing, I could just hear the music! Of course I had heard of swing dancing, but I hadn't really thought that much about it. It sound really fun and something that I would be interested in. Mind if I ask a few questions? Your classes, were they "professionally" taught, or just someone showed you the ropes? Did you have to pay for them? I would love to learn more about it. :D

Thank you, and wonderful job on the post! :)

~Jessica Joy

Sarah & Bernie said...

That sounds extremely fun! It's so cool that you can do it!

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