I went to Herrang Dance Camp this summer with a back that hadn’t really fully recovered from an injury a week earlier. This meant very little social dancing in the evenings but I managed to have a few dances and one of them really stuck with me.
“I Wanna Do That Too!”
I had gone to Dansbanan straight after the usual evening meeting. This is when the DJ always plays beginner friendly music, there is plenty of space and people tend to ask whoever happens to be there for a dance, not just people they already know.
Anyway, I danced with a guy who was in the first stages of what I hope will be a long Lindy Hop career. He knew very few moves and they were quite basic. What he did have, however, was a big smile on his face and a lot of focus on me.
Every time I did a variation in my footwork he would notice. Occasionally he would do a break and try some jazz steps. This was clearly a new concept to him and they were not fancy ones, but they were in time with the music and if I did something different or a little variation on them, he would react and sometimes try to copy with a happy “I wanna do that too, that looks like fun”-expression on his face.
Sharing a Dance Experience
Basically, what the guy did was make me want to be just as responsive to him and to share in a way that was also fun for him. Not in a “teacher” way. Not in an “I’m a better dancer than you and I’ll make sure you know”. I just wanted to give back because he was so clearly paying attention to me and was willing to take risks for the sake of our dance. We were doing what social Lindy Hop is all about. Sharing what we hear in the music and how it makes us feel. Sharing steps and sharing an experience.
It was one of those dances that ended with a big spontaneous hug and a dance buzz that quickly evaporated during my next dance with a guy who was probably on the advanced Lindy track, had a flawless swing out – and didn’t look me in the eyes once.
I could go on about my fun dance with the first guy but I still can’t make you part of it. That’s the whole point. It was something that happened between him and me at that specific moment in time.
I’ve however found this clip to illustrate the feeling. It’s filmed in an unusual way because it doesn’t show the feet. The dancers are all great – they are some of my personal heroes – and you can watch it for the dancing alone but when you have done that, then look at it again.
It’s not social Lindy Hop. It’s not even Lindy Hop. It’s solo jazz, it’s choreographed, it’s a performance and they don’t hold hands – at least not until the very end. Sure, they all know how to put on performance faces, but I love the interaction between them and the way they react to and acknowledge each other – while still managing to make the audience part of the experience too. You could also say that they have two audiences: The crowd and each other.
A Three Minute Love Affair on The Dancefloor
Lindy Hop old timer and master Frankie Manning used to talk about being in love with your partner for the three minutes a dance lasted. It’s the kind of line that can make you – or at least me – go “Yeah yeah, whatever blah blah blah. Maybe once in a while, but is sweaty t-shirts, an overlit gym, moves that go wrong and listening to “Lavender Coffin” from a computer for the 50th time this summer really the stuff that dance romances are made of? And what does it even mean?
I have no idea what Frankie meant, exactly, and he is not around anymore so we can’t go straight to the source but when you ask people who social danced with him what it was like, the first thing they mention is not his style, musicality or technique. Instead they talk about how he was always so present and focused on his partner.
Very often when social dancing feels boring to me, it’s exactly what is missing, and I’m often the guilty party.
Sometimes I don’t like the music or my partner’s way of dancing, sometimes I’m tired – and sometimes I’m the less experienced or less talented partner, who is holding back and not giving anything because I’m afraid I’ll look stupid, not follow correctly and – oh, horror! – be on the wrong foot on 1.
The result is the same: I’m not really there, because I don’t focus on anything or focus too much on myself.
So What To Do?
There is no quick fix for all of this. But next time I’m on the social dance floor just going through the motions, I’ll try to think of Remy, Rikard and Sakarias and that anonymous guy in Herräng.
If I see him again in a year, will we have a better dance? Probably, and the point of this is not that we should not improve or learn complicated stuff.
None the less, he not only gave me a great dance, but also inspired a blog post and made me reflect upon my own dancing. Technically speaking he achieved this with very few tools: A semi-decent swing out, a circle, a tuck turn, a pass by, a Tacky Annie and an ability to hear the beat. Stuff we all learn during our first months of dancing. He did, however, have the courage to add himself to the toolbox and that made all the difference.
P.S. If you’ve made it this far and are right now thinking “That’s all fine but I just want to see what Remy, Sakarias and Rikard are doing with their feet”, here’s a link to the same performance filmed from a different angle: