Swing dance: three years on

Every lindy-versay I’ve written up my thoughts about dancing at the time. (See year one and two.) This year, I’m changing the title from ‘lindy hop’ to ‘swing dance’ for obvious reasons. (#shaglife) These little blogs have been small milestones for me to look back on over my time, but this year I feel like I have so much less to write, and nothing hugely pressing to say.

I took a big step back from being so involved in my scene this year and really tried to concentrate on only contributing things that make me happy. I realised that being in the whirlwind of organising and teaching just brought too many, crazy politics to my door and it just took the joy out of it.

It’s  not been the easiest year for dancing in Manchester generally. There’s been a lot of change, and with that always comes some tension and some divides. Stepping out of the centre of it just reminded me that it’s just f*cking dancing at the end of the day. We’re a tiny sub-culture, and everyone needs to put issues aside, go to what makes them happy, try to just get on (at least on a surface level), and don’t get too sweaty worrying about who’s top dog. When you’re in the middle of everything, it can all feel really personal – because organising stuff really does demand your heart and soul – but it’s important to remember that you’re getting upset over something that’s really, pretty trivial and meant to be fun.

I’ve focused my energy on developing my dance photography skills, and working on my DJing. I’ve always loved music and after a workshop with Sarah Spoon, I felt so inspired to go down the rabbit hole of starting to learn more and explore the art of DJing for dancers. She completely opened my eyes about music, and how to express my creative choices but please a dance floor at the same time. Although I do feel like my increased knowledge has only opened my eyes to how much I don’t know.

I’ve felt a shift of my view towards music at events. I used to play as much rock n roll as I felt I could get away with, but I kind of know its place now – it’s phenomenal music, and works really well with shag – but there’s so much other good stuff out there that is more fitted to swing. I am trying to really stretch myself to bring new music to my scene, and find the gems out there that aren’t always played. As much as I love Ella and Nina – it’s turned into a bit of a mood kill for me when a night is so heavy on them. And equally, when people just stick to straight-up traditional music, that doesn’t do it for me either. There’s so much out there to discover that is so beautiful, let’s find it!

With that – I feel really strongly about the importance of supporting the people who are professionals in the swing dance community; whether they’re photographers, teachers, DJs, organisers, etc. There is a notable difference between an enthusiastic amateur and a pro in all of these areas. I don’t think that the true value of professionals is always appreciated within the swing scene. To use DJs as an example – they can make or break a night, so please pay them if they’re amazing. Earning money from gigs means that they can invest time and money in the music that will give you an incredible night. If you want truly fabulous people, you need to pay them so that they can keep working on their skills, invest in equipment or time, continue to deliver a service, and actually pay their bills.

To segue to photography – I’ve been humbled by the opportunities that have come my way this year. I’ve had the chance to work with some truly incredible people and attend some amazing events. I’ve had to learn so much about actual dancing to improve my photography. Working with firecrackers like Katie, Nancy, Isobel and Ben, has educated me so much on the importance of lines, poses, and how to make a dance look real and beautiful in image. Thank you for your knowledge and passion.

I want to say a big thank you to the organisations who have supported me locally: SwingOut Manchester, Cheshire Swing Cats and Mersey Swing. It’s meant the world to me. It’s allowed me to fall in love with dancing all over again through photographing your events. But a particularly huge shout out to Bristol Shag Fiesta, who were the first people to trust me with an event (and I love shooting it every year). I can’t explain how thankful I am for that chance to showcase what I can do. I want to constantly keep getting better – I know I’m not as good as I could be, and it’s the support, chances and trust given to me by organisers that keeps me pushing myself. Thank you. Thank you so much for believing in me.

As a dancer, I really hit a wall last year and was so insecure and over-critical about my dancing. Again, my step back really helped. I set myself some targets, and made myself put them to the back of my mind sometimes. I got into a bit of a spiral of comparing myself to other dancers, and seeing the differences between us and going on a real “I’m not X enough” spiral. That attitude doesn’t benefit anyone. I’ve been on a real soul-searching mission, and got to this conclusion: “I’m just me – I’ll never be anyone else. I do this for fun, and that’s all it is. I know what I’d like to work on, and I know my strengths too.” Everything got pretty good again once I’d realised that.

Finally – fashion! This year I’ve fallen in love with real, retro style. When I start out in swing, I initially fell for the charm of Lindy Bop and Hellbunny. Then I saw the ‘Fashion on a ration’ exhibition at the Imperial War Museum and photos of my Nan in the late 50s and early 60s. I was done, sold and in love! True vintage recreation has found a place in my heart. I am completely inspired by Isobel’s hair, always (even though she’s given me the tools to do it myself, yet I just do not have the skill). And I find myself constantly analysing my pay check and comparing it to House of Foxy’s prices. Getting dressed up for events is so much fun, and I never thought I’d get into the fashion of dancing but, here we are.

And shoes! Oh my god, shoes. I wish someone had handed me an amazing pair of dance shoes the first time I ever stepped onto a dance floor. They’re the best, and so beautiful. I love shoes. I’ll just leave that here.

Thanks for another great year, swing dance. Here’s to the next…

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