Hi guys. I know it’s been sort of a long t…holy crap, I just looked, and it’s seriously been almost a year. That’s criminal.
Well, anyway, after almost a year of no updates, I was inspired to write by a friend’s Facebook post. She’d been feeling bored by dancing and was wondering if it was time to take a break. I’ve seen this sort of thing a lot in my six years of dancing (Sunday was my lindyversary!), and I often see a lot of the same advice. None of it is bad advice, but it tends to be pretty one-note. Basically, almost all of it seems to revolve around ways to dance differently so it stops being boring. Like I said, it’s not bad advice, but it’s like answering every relationship question with tips on how to spice things up in the bedroom. So I wanted to write something that explored some of the other aspects of l’ennui hop, as well as offer some suggestions about how to approach it.
Based on the title of this section, you might think I have a misconception I want to talk about. Well, you’re right, Stephanie. But it’s not just a misconception. It’s a myth. A myth I’m really skeptical about, so I like to call it…a mythconskeption. If it were also a robot I’d call it a mythdeskepticon. Anyway.
The common mistake people make when talking about dance boredom, especially when the discussion is between people of disparate experience levels or involvement, is to assume that there are only two options: you find a way to spice up your dancing or you take a break from the whole thing. This assumption guides the entire conversation and makes for a very formulaic and predictable discussion.
Bored Dancer: I’m starting to feel bored by dancing. What should I do? Should I take a break?
Well-Meaning Friend: No need for such drastic measures! Just dance with different people, or do more jazz moves, or dance to live music, or practice more or go to more events.
Like I said, none of this is bad advice. But it really only applies some of the time, and often only to newer dancers who have been riding their initial infatuation with the dance without really investing or engaging in self-reflection. Once in a while it applies to a more-experienced dancer who is stuck in a rut. But it ignores the vast variety of personalities and circumstances that are out there. Yes, it’s true that if you are bored for a very specific set of reasons you can fix it by following the advice given by the Well-Meaning Friend. It’s also true that in certain situations you may just need to distance yourself and spend some time on other interests. Maybe you’ll come back with renewed vigor, or maybe you’ll find that you weren’t as into it as you thought and you’ll have the opportunity to invest your time in something more rewarding. But there are other options.
The reason the advice above often doesn’t apply is that there is so much more to being a lindy hopper (or bal dancer or what-have-you) than just swinging the eff out. If you’re around the scene for just a little while, you start to see a lot of shared interests and overlapping hobbies. There’s vintage clothing, old jazz, new old jazz, jazz history, the history of black dance in America, classic cocktails, fitness, music theory, and general style, just to name a few. There are also all sorts of social activities people engage in with fellow-dancer friends that have nothing to do with dancing or swing culture. Brunches, board games, rock climbing, woodcraft, you name it. People also find shared causes and charities that bring them together. There’s a whole slew of non-profits that center around swing history and culture. Lately there’s been a kind of scene-wide growth of interest in social justice and human-rights issues, which is awesome. “Lindy hop” used to mean swinging out. Then it meant a whole system of moves. Then it was a way of approaching whatever movement you happened to be doing (i.e. as long as you were pulsing a certain way it was lindy hop–obviously this wasn’t universal). Then lindy hop was a lifestyle. It was the dance, the music, the clothes. Now I would argue that it’s even more than that. Lindy hop is community. I’m not saying that we can divorce lindy hop from its roots and just call whatever horse-BS we poop onto a dancefloor “lindy hop,” but I think that to a degree lindy hop is whatever lindy hoppers are doing together, even if it’s ultimate Frisbee or some junk.
There’s a point to this, I swear. The point is that there are other options than have more fun dancing or remove yourself from the scene. If you’re bored of dancing, don’t dance until you feel like dancing again. But still hang out with the friends you’ve made. Still engage with those aspects of the scene that really grab you. Go to the live music performances as a spectator. Bop your head, tap your feet, clap at the end of the songs or when a musician does some sick ass stuff that you wouldn’t have noticed if you were dancing, and when someone asks you to dance just say no thank you, you’re just listening tonight. Of course if you get the urge you can get up and dance, but that’s up to you. Don’t let yourself or anyone else guilt you into thinking that if you’re around people dancing you have to dance.
The Other Misconception
Hah, I bet you thought there was just one, right? ‘Cause of the title of the first section? Well in your adorable face, Stephanie, because there’s another one!
This misconception is more insidious and I don’t have a complicated portmanteau for it. People think that if they decide to take a break they’ll come back when they’ve recharged and everything will be great. From what I’ve seen, it’s not as easy as that. Most of the time when someone disappears from the scene for a while they find it really difficult to come back. People feel this weird sense of guilt for having been gone, which makes it harder to face their friends who have stuck around. Part of the guilt might come from just not seeing your friends for a long time, which is fair, and in which case I refer you to my advice in a previous paragraph. If you stop dancing for a time but maintain your friendships, you don’t have to “come back” because you never left.
There’s another part of the guilt that has nothing to do with friendship, though. It’s something I see again and again. It’s a real problem, it holds people back from enjoying themselves fully, and I’m not sure what can be done about it. People develop this idea in the back of their minds that they have an obligation to keep dancing even if they don’t want to, or that they must continue to improve even if they’re having fun where they are. We feel like we’re letting down, I don’t know…lindy hop itself, if we don’t do things a certain way. So instead of people coming to it on their own terms and finding their own joy, they feel pressured to experience it in a specific way. I think this is another part of why it’s so difficult to return after a prolonged absence.
“I was away for a month and not only have I not gotten better, I’m actually a little rusty!”
You cad! How dare you!?
I’ve mentioned before that I really dislike the idea that there’s any moral imperative to get better or achieve some measure of technical skill. As long as you’re not hurting anyone and there are people who think it’s fun to dance with you, and you’re enjoying it, then you’ve met the minimum requirements for dancing and you shouldn’t worry about it. Ultimately, I think we need to find a way to quiet that ugly little voice inside of us that tells us we’re worthless if we’re not good, but that’s a tall order. Put it in the queue with all the other ugly little voices inside of us that tell us we’re worthless for all kinds of stupid reasons. In the meantime, realize it’s there and how dangerous it can be, and plan accordingly. If you get bored, change your focus to something else. Ours is a really multifaceted scene. Take advantage of it. The scene absolutely needs you, but we need your person-ness, not your triple steps. So yeah, if you can’t be excited about dancing, then stop lindy hopping. But Stephanie. Steph. Don’t stop being a lindy hopper.