A year ago, I wrote Lindy Hop: A Year On to write down my thoughts after dancing for my first, full year. I thought that writing up the second year would be so easy and the words would flow naturally like last time – but not so much. The main issue being where to start – but I shall title this year as:
Year Two: Realising that the more I know the less I know.
My dancing life has been packed and eventful this year, it’s also been my first real ‘home’ scene. Last year I moved all over the place and didn’t have a scene where I lived in Peterborough. So moving to a city with Lindy actually on my doorstep was a welcome change. In January, I moved to Manchester and I felt the full force of how fantastic the Lindy Hop community really can be. I reached out to the Lindy scene on Facebook – a group of almost all strangers to me – to say I was new, needed somewhere to live, and updating on where the dancing happened. Within a few hours I was overwhelmed by the response and had even found a flat. Moving here, with this community, made the huge changes in my life so much easier. I’ll be eternally grateful to everyone that made me so welcome in those first few weeks. I’d risked everything on a few weeks of work and the dance community kept me sane. I’ve met some of my best friends through dancing here – and some I feel will be in my life for a very, very long time. I owe the dancers of Manchester for helping me through the scariest and most uncertain time in my life and welcoming me into a scene where I feel so accepted and part of a community.
My second week attending Manchester Lindy at the start of the year – the lovely, lovely Danielle from Cambridge was up to visit. I was so happy to see her and it really hit home how much I was going to miss my Cambridge Lindy family, despite me only being there for a few, short months. In truth, a year later, I still miss dancing in Cambridge and I really appreciate what an absolutely fantastic scene it was down there. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Tuesday Hideaway Hop. Even though I’m happy here, I’ll always miss the place where I really, truly fell in love with dancing.
Not long after I got here, I was part of the set up of Manshagster. There was no Collegiate Shag in this city and it just wouldn’t do. I learnt a lot from that experience – and I really mean a lot. Three main things were (in no particular order):
- Organising things is stressful, difficult and unfathomably time-consuming. Always appreciate event organisers, be it a weekly class or a larger shin-dig. It’s a mammoth task with so many behind the scenes things that people don’t often realise. I do encourage everyone to organise an event at least once, just to get a full appreciation of what it’s like. However, I would be happy to never, ever organise anything again. Plus, the pressure of navigating the delicate politics within the dance scene in the city and neighbouring scenes makes everything 100 times harder. Event organisers: you are amazing and I appreciate you.
- Teaching is not just thinking up a lesson plan every week. It’s a constant dissection of your own dancing and for me, a constant insecurity about not being a good enough dancer to be stood there telling people how to do it.
- When the love is gone, walk away. Walking away from something you’ve poured your heart and soul into is excruciatingly difficult, and it feels like it leaves you with a gap where something should be (cliché but true). But walking away is often better than pursuing something that you feel brings you far more stress and difficulty than joy. Take a step back and reconnect with why you did it in the first place.
Going back to teaching – during my time at Manshagster, I not only taught every week but had the pleasure of going to neighbouring scenes to teach there. Although I was thankful for the opportunity, I found/find teaching really quite stressful. I threw myself in the deep end by starting teaching while I was still a very inexperienced dancer, with nothing but enthusiasm on my side. I put myself under a lot of pressure to deliver the best I could do – I knew my knowledge wasn’t solid and it knocked so much confidence out of me with over-analysis of my own dancing. But the thing I found more stressful than anything, was suddenly becoming a known face – someone that people watch because they’re ‘a teacher’ and ‘an organiser’. Although it seems silly, I found the pressure of that really tough. I struggle with the constant friendliness and trying to dance with everyone and representing a scene. Again, so much more goes into it than people think and I have a whole new respect for dance teachers, and in particular those who do it professionally.
On the positive side – the thing that’s the most amazing about teaching is seeing people progress and helping other people fall in love with a dance that you love. There’s no more incredible feeling that watching people social dance and realising that you gave them those skills. It’s truly incredible. It’s also seeing the popularity of a dance actively spread thanks to your efforts.
I’ll always be grateful for a few people for supporting me throughout my time teaching and helping me with dance technique, teaching technique, pep talks, advice and generally being there as fantastic friends: Danielle Ainsoworth, Simon Chan, Ed Barrow, Jim & Nicky, Graham Tansley, Elaine Linsky, Helen Forsyth, and Matthew Lane – to name a few. Support from you all, all around the country has meant the absolute world to me.
At the end of last year, I feel like I was just coming out of the new dancer ‘I’ve got this thing down’ mindset. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this blog post.) I feel like it’s completely hit me this year and I’m looking more critically at my dancing than ever before. It’s opened my eyes to the value of private lessons, the value of high-quality teaching, the intricacies of technique and the history of the dances. I’m intimidated and excited by how much I still have to learn, but I can always feel my dancing improving even with the knowledge that I have so far to go.
I’ve also learnt the importance of learning from your peers. Ask more experienced dancers questions, analyse what they’re doing and compare it to yourself. There is also so much value in watching yourself dance, film yourself and see the improvement. That can be so useful in times when you feel a bit lost – it can either be a pick-me-up if you’re having a bad day, or a useful starting point when you want to see where you can improve.
Even after saying all that, if I were to speak to my year-ago-self now, I’d stress how incredibly important it is to travel. Festivals offer the most phenomenal tuition by dancers from all over the world. It teaches you your own values in the dance and the culture surrounding it, as well as helps you to meet other dancers from across the country – and the globe, and will improve your dancing no-end. Almost every ‘eureka moment’ for me has come off the back of a weekend event. (Thanks organisers and teachers!) Aside from that – the memories with friends make it all worth it. Each one has come with the best memories and taught me that I can definitely go 3 days without sleep – who knew?!
How could I finish this and not write about starting as a dance photographer, though?
I’ve wanted to take my professional skills to the dance world for some time and this year has offered me the opportunity to do so. A discussion about being a professional, swing dance photographer is maybe one for its own time but starting this venture has been insanely exciting. I pinch myself every time I get paid to go to an event and do work that I love. I’ve met so many people through working at dance events and I’m eternally grateful for everyone who’s taken a punt on me and helped build this incredible portfolio of work. Turning up to a job and get to work by recording simple, joy never gets old – I’m so happy that it’s something I get to do.
I’ve also felt really lucky to be so involved with the beginnings of SwingOut Manchester. Not only has my dancing improved so much through the tuition, but it’s been amazing to use my photography skills to shape the brand of something so new. I can’t wait to see the progression of the organisation and the dancers that are there every week. Thank you – thank you so much to everyone involved, teaching, organising, attending – everything. Thank you for helping to create something that’s so fantastic and only going in one direction: up.
There is one thing I’ve purposefully not delved into in this, which is something that’s really woven its way through my year as a dancer this time and that’s politics. With every scene you get politics, it happens. There is drama, people don’t get along, people disagree and that’s just life. My advice to myself and anyone else is: stand up for something if you feel that someone will get hurt or something is wrong – don’t be a bystander if you feel like you should say something. This community is safe and kind – keep it that way. But, politics will also make or break a scene and environment. If there is tension that doesn’t need to be acted upon, then don’t act upon it. We all want to dance, we all want to have fun – remember that is why you do this – try and keep in mind the improvement of our community, rather than stressing about what class is on which night and who is in charge of everything. Focus on creating a more thriving scene, better dancers and a city that’s on the map for all the right reasons.
Thank you again, Lindy Hop, for a year of learning, excitement, new people, and a new business. Still – I don’t know where I’d be without dance and I’m pretty sure I could write this much again about this year, but this rambles enough. Until next year…