This has been my first full year with lindy hop in my life; on one hand it doesn’t feel like two minutes since I went to my first class at the Birmingham Dance Exchange but on the other hand it feels like that was forever ago. Now Christmas is out of the way, I can turn my thoughts to new years, where I’m spending in Bristol at a lindy event – which made me realise how much of a large part of my life lindy has become over the past twelve months.
Over this year, I’ve been overwhelmed by how positively lindy hop has changed my life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a smooth start- I was determined I was not going to learn, my mum kept nagging and nagging for me to go to a class with her but I was hell bent – I lift weights, my skills are limited to picking things up and putting them down in the same place – I do not dance. Nevertheless, here I am a year later thinking about how dance has changed my life and casually snacking on the words of the past. I’m totally willing eat them all beacause I sort-of wish I’d started dancing sooner.
Last year, I don’t think I’d have believed anyone if they told me how much dance would play a pivotal role in my life. During my final year of Uni it kept me sane. It was a complete escape from all things dissertation of course exercise, endorphins yada-yada-yada but it’s more than that – it was a chance to completely shut everything else out, concentrate on trying (emphasis on the trying) to remember solo jazz routines and spending time with some awesome people.
Oh yeah, that’s the thing about lindy hop people – they’re the best. Literally. I’ve never encountered a community that’s so warm and friendly. When I left Birmingham, I didn’t shed a tear over Uni, but leaving my lovely “All About Swing” was just horrendous. I even had to stop on the A38 for a cry. Eight months on and I still miss seeing that group of such kind faces every few days and just having fun together. I achieved so much from Rob and Sarah’s teaching, not just dance but confidence (which I’ll come back to). I’d seen my comfort zone, shim-shammed through it was was giving it a wave as I looked back.
I moved to a brand new city and that was pretty scary, but the lindy community was there for me. I ended up with a whole new social circle and new friendly faces to see every week. I knew nobody and went from being completely along to having this brilliant community around me again. Now I’m moving again in the new year and heading up to Manchester, I can’t believe the offers I’ve had to help me move, show me round, and even offers of places to live- all thanks to a simple reach out to the lindy family.
A year on, my dance has come on leaps and bounds- I’ve come from the bunny rabbit in caught in the headlights, sat the corner looking like they’ve been hit by a bus, wondering how everyone does this whole leading/following thing through mind-reading to absolutely loving every beat of a dance and signing up for every weekender or workshop going. I often accept a dance at a social and my mind will go: “wooooo this is fun, I have totally got this down, oh nope not got this, what is happening, why am I pointing this way, is this what we’re doing? Cool, I’ve never done that before, wooohooo swing out, eeey this is great!” (repeat for approx 3.5mins)
Although I’m starting to feel quite confident in my dance ability, I do feel that in a lot of ways I’m still a beginner. I read this blog a while ago and she says: “Many of you believe that at 1 year, you’ve got it. I can tell you from experience: you don’t.”and she’s totally right – it’s really been in my mind as I’ve come to this annual milestone. I learn a move and I think: “Yeah buddy! Got that down!” then look to my left and see someone more experienced doing it with more flair and better timing and think: “Well, best keep working on that!” But there’s no sense of achievement quite like leaving a class or weekender and really seeing improvement in your own dancing, stepping closer to those goals or leaving behind some inhibitions.
But back to that confidence, what I believe to be my personal biggest barrier- even in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d love to dance yet here I am. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some fantastic teachers for regular classes and weekend-workshops who have helped me overcome confidence barriers and leave behind inhibitions. For me, dance is about having the most fun possible – actually getting better at it is just a great side-effect. Taking classes from Rob & Sarah, Tina & Rob, Helen & Damien, Cat & Cam, to name a few, has made me such a huge believer in that dancing is about being happy, not how good you are, or how well you nail a move, it’s about bringing pure joy to your heart and letting everything else go… and not really caring if you look a bit silly in the process.
(Photo Credit: Norman Wright)
From my first social, even to now, it’s the biggest confidence boost for someone more experienced to extend a hand and say: “Hey, want to dance?” Kindness throughout that dance is such a compliment, even if you feel like you have four feet and they’re all left ones; to have someone you look up to in terms of dance say “that’s OK, everyone makes mistakes” or even “oops, that one was me!” it can make a dancer’s confidence.
So, I always try and have this in mind because, although I have my moments, I’m pretty comfy on a social dance floor and there’s always someone in the corner who’s that bunny rabbit caught in the headlights looking like they’ve been hit by a bus and wondering how all this mind-reading works. I try and be the person that says “hey do you want to dance?” and “it doesn’t matter if it’s your first week (or second week, or first month, or first year). Let’s just dance, have loads of fun and laugh when we make mistakes and just throw in some jazz hands if it all goes to pot, because I remember what that feels like – to be that bunny rabbit in the headlights; after all it wasn’t that long ago.”
Nothing makes me sadder than hearing: “I daren’t ask them to dance because they’re really good” or “Because I’ve never spoken to them before” or “what if they say no?” For me, dance is about sharing a moment where nothing else matters – not dance ability, language, race, background, political views – nothing. It’s about sharing a moment, where you can communicate so much while saying so little. It’s about making new friends, enjoying the company of people you’d never meet otherwise, giving everybody the time of day and learning that you’re capable of more than you ever believed you were all at the same time
I’m sure I could rattle on and on and on about my first year of lindy but I’ll maybe save that for the second year. Here’s to a new years that’s even further out of my comfort zone with the Bristol ariels stream, another year of achieving things I never thought I’d do and meeting a load of great, new friends in the process.
Photo credit: Raelene Goddard