I’m writing this at 1.30am, when I should be asleep, but I am not, as I just got home from dancing, and you know what that means. No sleep for one hundred years.
Sitting in the kitchen, eating my toast just now, and reading a couple of very interesting articles hooked up by friends on the facey, I was struck by just how important dancing is to me for making friends from other countries. Tonight I’d spent a good ten minutes talking to a really nice guy from Spain, Alex, who’s been living in Sydney for a while, and has a few months left on his visa. We’d discussed the two kisses of Spain compared to the three of France. Three is too many, we had all agreed earlier, but two is just enough. And I’d told the story of catching a cab with the rowdy Argentineans in Stockholm, who were enraged by the Swedish hotel’s bar closing before midnight and not having any music. Where were we to drink?! Gas had a flight to catch at 6am, and we had no time to waste! Alex explained that some things are very important, and should not be laughed about.
A little earlier that evening Alice asked if I’d be coming to eat Korean food with our two visiting Korean Blokes (YES) one of whom had texted me earlier in the day to ask if I would like to have lunch this week (YES).
These things are all very important to me. I love, love, love that I live in a big, busy city that receives lots of visitors from overseas. I love that lindy hop gives visitors a way into our community, language, and culture. I love that I can travel to Seoul or Stockholm or San Francisco and meet up with people I don’t know, and don’t even share a language with, and dance with them, share a table with them, and be welcomed.
This is why I’m quite keen to revive the sappier lindy hop traditions at my own parties and events. Tonight we were relaunching Harlem, our (now) twice-a-monthly party, and I’d taken care to find out who was visiting from out of town (7 Canberrans, 1 German, and not counting our semi-resident Koreans and Spaniard), and who was leaving (Bec, who is off to Adelaide soon). I wanted to have a welcome dance, so that we would all know who was new in town, and to dance with them. I wanted to farewell Bec, and let her know that we would all miss her and wish her well.
Because the farewell/welcome/birthday dance tradition has largely disappeared in Sydney, except for occasional and under-participated efforts, I took a moment to explain how these work. There were new dancers in the room, and they’d only had one dance class (that night), so they wouldn’t know what to do. People who’d been around for a while mightn’t realise that the point was to conquer any nerves, and rush in to dance with ours guests, not leave them feeling unloved. I encouraged everyone to crowd close, and to rush in to dance with our guests – welcome them! And it went really well. Was really nice. It was particularly nice to segue into a snowball, one of my most favourite lindy hop traditions.
Afterwards, Alice, my teaching partner, declared that we needed to explain the welcome dance at our classes this Wednesday and teach our students how to cut in and join the dance. She wasn’t having any of our students not joining in a welcome jam. She’s right. And I know our students would love the game of it.
Earlier in the night, we’d taught two classes. An intermediate class exploring the ‘Frankie Sixes’ (or ‘Frankie’s Sixes’), which is a very nice series of 6-count steps. You’ve probably done them before, and they have the flow and energy characteristic of Frankie’s choreography: they just feel good. I think that this is one of the most important parts of Frankie Manning’s legacy. He was a great choreographer, and we need to keep his choreography alive, because it teaches us how to do great lindy hop, and how his creative ideas worked. This is the language of lindy hop; this is how you put all these words together in an exciting, creative way. Needless to say, the students felt feels, and we felt feels, and it was grand.
Then we taught a beginners class basic 6 count moves. We used our usual social-dancing-first approach, and it was just lovely. There’s nothing like a group of first-time dancers to remind you just how great this dance is. Every time, a handful of people will take the time to tell you that this is the most fun they’ve ever had. And you can say, “Yes it is! And I still feel that way about it!” This was my second first-time-beginner class this week, so I’m feeling very spoilt. I also had a conversation with a few of the intermediates who’d taken that beginner class too. I said that it was so nice watching the experienced people in the class, because they were just so nice to the new people. And one of the guys said, “Dancing with beginners is just so good. They remind you of how much fun it is to start dancing.” He was right. Beginners remind you of just how good dancing is. Just how wonderful music is.
As the class came to an end, I decided to try something new. We always end with a song where we social dance what we’ve learnt in class. By this stage the students feel happy and confident, and really enjoy just dancing without worrying about getting it right. It’s a nice bookend to our warm up, which is also about just dancing and not worrying about getting it right. One of our students used to say, “The best part of these classes is the last fifteen minutes.” He’s right: the rest is good, but the last fifteen minutes are where it all happens.
The very best part of these beginner classes is standing and watching them all dance and smile and laugh as they social dance together. They treat each other so well, and are so good to each other. It makes up for all the horrible things I read in the news every day. These are people who will welcome a stranger into their city and home.
As the song progressed (Easy Does It, of course), I moved around the room and invited the people who’d arrived for social dancing to join in on the dance floor. And they did. And when we called out “Change partners”, the students went and found someone new to dance with. And they gradually drew all the new people onto the dance floor, and it was quite the most wonderful thing that I’ve ever seen.
These students had only taken one class, but they were happy and laughing and smiling and relaxed, and quite ok with making mistakes and not being perfect. And you could see the other social dancers, the more experienced dancers light up and feel quite welcome and lucky to be dancing. I was so proud. I thought, ‘Frankie would have liked this.’ He would have laughed that big laugh, and told them to keep dancing.