Dear Followers: A Letter From A Grateful Leader

Dear followers,

Thank you for being such incredible dancers. Every time I dance with each one of you, I am awed and inspired all over again by your magic. I’m reminded why I fell in love with swing in the first place.

Thank you for being gentle with me. I don’t naturally use a lot of tone or tension when I lead, and I always appreciate it when I feel you adjust the tension on your end to let me lead you in a more comfortable way.

Thank you for putting up with me in class. It’s a huge help to me when you honestly follow whatever I’m leading, even when it means you don’t get to practice your best form every time.

Thank you for helping me when I mess up. Thank you for saving that tuck turn, that tandem entrance, that swingout. Thank you for working around my uncertainty to meet the music with a beautiful movement, and for helping me feel confident enough to give you a better lead on my next try.

Thank you for having a sense of humor. The way you turn my mistakes into moments of hilarious appreciation for the weirdness of partnered dancing makes me glow inside.

Thank you for speaking up for yourself. Each time one of you has had the courage and grace to tell me that something isn’t working, I have grown as a dancer.

Thank you for giving me the answer when I don’t even know how to ask the question. I so often hear something in the music that I want to respond to, but I don’t know how, so I open a space – and you fill it up even more perfectly than I could have imagined. I don’t know how you’re so good at that. But you are, and I love it.

Thank you for letting me be playful. When I want to have a solo jazz break, or just mess around or do knee slaps for a full eight counts, you encourage me to explore those ideas by pouring energy and spontaneity into them. I love it when you do that.

Thank you for never treating me differently. I know there are many men who are stronger than I am, more self-confident, who have more endurance and energy. I sometimes wonder if you would rather be dancing with someone else. But your smiling face makes me forget that.

Thank you for loving me in my queerness. While that isn’t the entire reason that I lead, it is part of it, and I feel most loved when I am most visible. Thank you for calling me dapper and bold and handsome and striking. Thank you for allowing me to bring the masculine and feminine parts of myself to my dancing. Thank you for letting me fall in love with you, just a little bit, and for letting that make our dancing more beautiful.

Thank you for never holding back. So many of you have hugged me after our first dance together, have said amazingly kind things to me, have encouraged and loved me into the swing community – without expecting or asking for any acknowledgment of your own invaluable contribution to this dance. I am sorry for the times I have not been just as enthusiastic about you as you are about me. I am trying to do better.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for your energy, your flair, your styling, your incredible gosh dang how-do-they-do-that swivels, your creativity, your voice. Lindy Hop would be a sad dance if I were doing it alone. The next time we see each other, let’s dance, shall we?

Sincerely,

A grateful leader

This Lindy Hopper Is Leaving Facebook

I’m leaving Facebook this week, just before I move to Sacramento to start a new job and join a whole new swing dance scene. Midtown Stomp, I’m coming for you!

My decision to leave Facebook was tricky, because Facebook is how I get a lot of information about dance events, and often how I contact organizers about DJing. However, I’ve decided that I would be better off without it, for the following reasons:

Facebook is an attention economy. It thrives by selling your attention to advertisers, who are then able to put advertisements in front of you as you scroll through the news feed.

Facebook, not me, controls what I see. Algorithms and personalized advertisements ensure that what I see on Facebook will be engaging for me, and keep me coming back for more. Which reminds me…

Facebook is intentionally addictive. Seeing new notifications activates dopamine centers in your brain, rewarding you every time you log on. It is really hard to stay off of Facebook, and that concerns me. I want to bring things into my life because I want them there – not because I’m addicted to them.

Liking and commenting are shallow forms of social interaction. I consistently find that Facebook interactions are of lower quality and produce less relational benefit than interactions that take place outside of social media.

The air is full of people. This is a line from one of my favorite books, Hamlet’s BlackBerry by William Powers, describing how – thanks to wireless Internet connections – we are never truly alone anymore. We are surrounded by people who can contact us at any time.

My ability to focus is in danger. Study after study after study has shown that Facebook and other social media platforms have detrimental effects on the human attention span. According to Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work, checking Facebook (or any other distraction) for one minute decreases your ability to focus for the next twenty minutes!

My contentment is in danger. As with attention, study after study after study has found that checking social media causes people to feel less content with their own lives. After careful consideration, I’ve decided I’m okay with being less aware of what other people are doing, so that I can be more content with what I’m doing.

My personal information is not safe. I’m not exactly a privacy freak, as evinced by the availability of my real name, approximate location, and email address on this blog. However, it does freak me out that Facebook has access to so much information about me – and about billions of other people – and I’ve decided that housing my personal information solely on my own corner of the Internet, namely this blog, is a safer way to share information about myself and my adventures.

I want to build genuine relationships. I have consistently found that my strongest friendships are with people who text me, call me, email me, and video chat me on a regular basis. (I have a few who even write me letters!) Leaving Facebook will give me more time to invest in my relationships with them, while wasting less time on relationships I don’t really care about, with people I don’t really know.

My online presence is less impactful than my real-life presence. I’m concerned about the problem of “social media activism,” and sharing or retweeting about a problem while not doing anything about it. Leaving Facebook will force me to actually contribute towards solutions, instead of perpetuating the echo chamber of complacent awareness.

I don’t need, and can’t have, that many friends. Robin Dunbar is famous for discovering the Dunbar Number, which is the approximate number of meaningful relationships a person can cognitively maintain. For modern humans, our brains can manage about 150 relationships. Even though Facebook’s upper “friend” limit is 5,000 people, I know that there are only about 150 people on there that I really care about – and I can keep in touch with those 150 people without the help of a massive, monopolized company.

What do I want to be good at? I’ll be honest – “getting lots of likes on social media by posting cute photos and thought-provoking shortform writing” isn’t high on the list. I want to be a good dancer, a good conversationalist, a good psychology student, a good writer, a good reader, a good lover. All of these things require effort from me, not crowdsourced social affirmation.

Enjoying the real world. It’s not every day you get to move across the country! I’m looking forward to exploring Sacramento, the nearby city of San Francisco, and all they have to offer, without the pressure to share my experiences on Facebook. If my friends want to know how things are going, they can text or call me, and I’ll happily send them photos and updates – but only if they ask for it.

I’ll be online less. Over the past few months of slowly reducing my Facebook use, I’ve started to realize that there really isn’t that much I do online besides look at Facebook. I like the idea that when I’m off Facebook for good, I’ll have more time for other offline hobbies, like practicing my solo jazz dancing!

Wherever you go, there you are. I have often used Facebook as a form of digital escapism – picking up my phone and scrolling when a real-life conversation gets boring, or a work task gets demanding, or a social event gets overwhelming. I want to stop doing this and be more present in the work that I’m doing, and I think getting off Facebook is a good first step.

How will I keep swing dancing?

It’s a valid concern, for sure – almost all Lindy Hop events and scenes use Facebook as their primary mode of communication with their attendees. However, I’ve found a few workarounds that I think will work for me, especially if I implement them as I move to a new scene.

  • I’ll use Google, websites, and word-of-mouth to find out about dance events and workshops I want to visit.
  • SwingPlanIt has helped me stumble across some great events, and it’s becoming more mainstream for organizers to advertise there.
  • I can email events and organizers I want to work for, instead of Facebook messaging them.
  • Yehoodi is a great source for worldwide Lindy Hop news!
  • While I’m at an event, if organizers post a critical update on Facebook, friends who are on Facebook can help keep me in the loop. Organizers I am working with as a DJ will be fully notified ahead of time that I am only reachable by text or call, and I’ll keep my phone on me in case of emergencies. (“Quick, we need some Cab Calloway STAT!”)
  • The Lindy Blend gives organizers several options for contacting me, including my email, available on my about page, and the contact form on my contact page.

What will I do instead?

As a practicing minimalist, I’ve had to learn and re-learn the lesson that what you remove from your life is far less important than what you put into it. So, here’s what I’m planning to do with my newfound free time and distraction-free headspace:

  • Write more here on The Lindy Blend.
  • Search for great jazz music to add to my library and use when I DJ!
  • Practice yoga every day, which helps keep my hardworking dance body flexible and strong.
  • Meditate.
  • Write letters and notes to the people I love.
  • Text silly things to my friends like the goofball I am.
  • Video chat with all the dear folks I’m leaving behind in Michigan and keep up with the important things happening in their lives.
  • Throw myself into my new job – I have lots of new things to learn, including data programming and running an fMRI scanner, and I’ll need all the focus I can get!
  • Go for lots of walks and bike rides to explore Sacramento!

Leaving Facebook may not be the right decision for everyone

Facebook definitely makes life easier if you’re a swing dancer, that’s for sure. Bobby White at Swungover has a brief but interesting take on how technology has improved his life. And, obviously, there are the 2.19 billion monthly active users of Facebook, most of whom (I hope!) are finding some value in it.

I’m financially privileged to have my own online space with a .com URL that I pay for myself. Many people don’t have this kind of financial access to a personal website, and using Facebook for their career and personal purposes makes more sense for them. While I may not think social media is ultimately a very helpful tool, I know that a lot of people see it differently, and I think it’s a discussion worth having.

How racially inclusive is your scene?

The Frankie Manning Foundation just released this list of really helpful questions from Julia Loving for scene organizers, leaders, and teachers. I know that reading through this list was helpful and even a little convicting for me, and I hope it’s helpful to you too. I wanted to include the full list here for you to consider, and I have a few additional thoughts at the bottom.

  1. Do I actively recognize that Lindy Hop is a Black art form? Is that recognition and acceptance represented in the way that I run dance events, classes, and overall dance scene?
  2. Am I comfortable dealing with or discussing race matters? If not, am I in a partnership with someone else that is?
  3. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified bands or orchestras that are led by or include Black musicians and singers?
  4. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black instructors on all levels?
  5. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black DJs for my events or to cover band breaks?
  6. Does my event’s attendance (instructors, bands, audience, dancers) reflect the diverse populations of the world? If not, do I have a plan in place to make my event more welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds?
  7. Does the way that Lindy Hop is danced in my community look and feel like the original?
  8. Do I want to gain knowledge and do I seek out understanding about the African American experience? What about the dance history?
  9. Do I hire staff that have been vetted for non-discriminatory practices in the scene?
  10. Do I invite constructive responses for policy and programs to address racial inequities within my events?
  11. Do I invite local dance communities of non-whites to events?
  12. Do I share resources with my community about the origins of the dance, Black history, biographies of the original dancers, jazz musicians, music collections, etc.?
  13. Do I encourage my students to take field trips to venues or historical sites that represent the African American history or experience, especially those cities that are rich with the history?
  14. Am I committed to the long-term message of Black history and recognition, not just when the topic is trending?
  15. Do I lead by example as a dance instructor by including history lessons as an integral part of my classes. For example; we all do the Shorty George but did you know that Shorty George was a Black man who danced at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem? Etc.
  16. Do you invite lindy hoppers from earlier generations to participate and tell their history at your events? Ex: Mama Lou Parks Dancers, Harvest Moon Ball Competitors, and Savoy Dancers
  17. Do I pledge to welcome everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, body type, physical ability, and mental ability?
  18. Do I encourage my students and fellow dancers to be open to dancing with everyone and to actively ask people of all kinds to dance? Especially those that might not get asked to dance very often? There should be no wallflowers!
  19. Do I encourage mentorships, trainings, or extra tutelage for any new Black dancers in my scene? Do you offer any financial sponsorship for African American students to your attend your events or participate in other events?
  20. Am I willing to accept and embrace change even though it may change how I originally experienced the Lindy Hop community?

Question 5, about considering and hiring Black DJs, is a great question. As a white DJ, I know that I need to make a more active effort to get to know Black DJs at events I work at, and then recommend those DJs to other scene leaders and organizers with whom I work. I don’t think the need for more diverse DJs means I need to step down in some way, but I do think it means I need to work just as hard to lift up and promote Black DJs as I do to promote myself.

I love question 15, about including history lessons in our classes when we teach. At my almost-all-white undergraduate institution, I often worked information about historical Black dancers and musicians into my lessons. I am doing my best to make this blog a resource for learning more about Black vintage musicians in particular. I hope that as you read along, you find information you can use when you teach to help your students and scene become more aware of the enormous debt we owe to Black jazz artists, past and present.

Question 17 is also excellent, particularly for its inclusion of mental ability in the list of characteristics that shouldn’t keep us from welcoming or dancing with someone. I hope to address this more in the future, but I have seen and heard about some pretty nasty things happening to dancers who experience autism and other differences in mental ability. If you have biases or fears about people with mental disabilities – and, culturally, most of us do – take time to educate yourself and get to know people with mental disabilities personally. The honest truth is, they’re just like the rest of us and want the same things we all want – to be loved, talked to, and asked to dance!

Thanks again to Julia Loving for creating these questions, the Frankie Manning Foundation for distributing them, and Bobby White at Swungover for posting about them, which was how I saw them originally. Julia Loving blogs at Big Girls Lindy Hop Too! and sells undergarments for Lindy Hoppers at LuckyLindysNYC on Etsy, which has shorts (the kind you might have seen flashing under someone’s skirt) in all kinds of patterns and fabrics – how fun! I might need to get a pair of the rainbow ones for Pride month!

Your First Lindy Hop Event: A Detailed Guide

First off, if you’re new to Lindy Hop and you’re getting ready to travel to your very first dance event, congratulations! Fair warning: you might get hooked and start traveling a lot. Also fair warning: there is absolutely no problem with that situation.

There are some things I wish I had known before my first dance event. I usually try to give these tips in some form to any new dancers I’m traveling with, and I thought compiling them into a blog post might be a handy reference for the future!

PACKING

Remember your dance shoes! It may seem obvious, but I once had a new dancer traveling with me forget theirs. Just…double check that they’re in your bag. You won’t regret checking. (If you are able, bring dance shoes that are different from your everyday shoes. This is because many dance venues require “clean shoes” to keep their floor nice.)

If you’re not sure what to wear, my favorite rule is: comfy during the day, classy at night. Jeans, leggings, and soft T-shirts are all welcome in class. But do dress up for the evening dances – it shows that you care about the live band (if there is one) and all the other dancers there. Trousers, formal shirts and tops, skirts, dresses, pretty ties, fun socks, and hair accessories are all great.

Be courteous to your fellow dancers by packing deodorant, extra shirts (I like to pack extra tank tops to wear under my formal tops for evening dances), mint gum or breath mints, and a small hand towel to wipe your sweat. Body wash to use in the shower is also important.

Pro tip: If you don’t want to lug your suitcase around all weekend, pack a smaller dance bag that you can bring to classes and evening dances. My dance bag includes dance shoes, a water bottle, deodorant, chapstick, and other essentials.

HOUSING

Communicate with your host ahead of time regarding what you’ll need. I always prefer to bring my own towel and pillow, and I usually bring a blanket as well, as I get cold easily and like an extra even if my host is providing bedding. Sometimes you’ll need to bring an air mattress or something else to sleep on – ask ahead and be prepared!

Get in touch with other people staying with your host, and ask what classes they’re taking, if any – carpooling with them is a good idea!

Bring a small gift for your host – they are inconveniencing themselves to host you for free, and that’s something to be grateful for. A handwritten note and some baked goods to share are my go-to!

SELF-CARE

You don’t have to experience everything at an event to have a great time. Please, if you signed up for classes, be on time to those classes – this shows respect for your instructors – but otherwise, take your time, and enjoy the people around you and the things you do attend.

Dance events are extremely taxing on your body, no matter how flexible or in shape you are. Get plenty of sleep, take time to really stretch out, stay hydrated, and eat real food that fuels your body. I always a bring a bag with some carrots, bananas, and trail mix to eat between classes.

If you have health concerns, take care of them. Bring your ankle brace, your meds, and whatever else you need. Never apologize to anyone for taking time to care for yourself.

If you’re an introvert, take active steps to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed or burned out. Know that it’s okay to split from your friends and eat lunch alone, or leave the late night early. Taking time to recharge will help you get the most out of the event.

CLASSES

Be attentive and engaged in class, and please stand the whole time – your instructors have to stand and talk to you, and it shows respect to them to remain standing as well. The only exception to this is if your class space means that some people are standing behind others, in which case, getting low while the instructors are demonstrating something can help make sure that everyone sees what is happening.

You may have heard that many instructors will allow you to film them doing a class recap at the end of class. Some do, and some don’t. If it’s unclear, vocally ask the instructors’ permission before filming them doing anything. (Michael Jagger has a great discussion of this issue, if you’re interested.)

As an alternative to filming a recap, take notes in class! Keeping a small notebook and pen in your back pocket is perfectly fine, and writing things down can help keep you engaged during those periods in class where your instructors are talking for a while. You do have to ask permission to film, but you never have to ask permission before taking notes!

Dance with every person in rotation. This might seem obvious, but sometimes you may encounter something you weren’t expecting. I’ve danced with people who use wheelchairs or hearing aids, people who are significantly older or younger than the average age of the class, people who are dancing a different role than what you might expect based on how they look, and people who have dance styles that are very different from mine. In my opinion, the only acceptable reason to not dance with someone in a class is if something they are doing is painful, or if they are making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe – in which case, it is more polite and proactive to either communicate with them verbally about it, or step out of class to go find an organizer and report the issue (more on this below).

DANCES

Please do ask people to dance! Even if you feel like you don’t have a lot of experience yet, you can still have a lot of fun on the dance floor and dance with many different people. If you’re not sure where to start, try finding someone you met in class and asking them to dance!

If you’re not sure which role someone would like to dance, it’s totally fine to say, “May I lead/follow you for a dance?” or “Would you prefer to lead or follow?”

It’s okay to say no to a dance! If someone asks you to dance, and for any reason, you’re not feeling it, just say, “No thanks.” If you’re tired, but you’d like to dance with them later, you can say, “I’m a little tired right now, but can you come find me later?” Otherwise, keep it short and sweet, so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

If there’s a live band, clap for them – even if you didn’t dance to a particular song! The band is working really hard to produce great music, and clapping and cheering is a great way to show your appreciation for them!

The same is true for DJs – when organizers announce a DJ, clap enthusiastically! As a DJ, I work hard to select each song I play to fit the floor in real time, and it means a lot to me to know that people enjoy and appreciate my music.

COMPETITIONS

If you choose to compete in a Mix and Match, maybe for the first time, congratulations – that’s exciting! Try to remember that you’re there to make sure you and your partners have a great time, and keep an upbeat, positive attitude.

Be on time to any competitors’ meetings and prelims, and pay attention to the organizers as they line you up and shuffle you around – this helps make sure everything runs smoothly!

If you’re not sure where to have someone pin your number, a good rule of thumb is that if you’re leading, the small of your back is a good spot. If you’re following, higher up on your back is better, or just below the small of your back (the “license plate,” as my friends who follow sometimes call it).

Remember that the judges need to see your number, so when you line up, be sure to turn around so the judges can see it!

Give each person you dance with a high five and tell them “Thank you” – no matter what dancing with them was like. I often find that, even if my partner is a little less experienced than I am, smiling and staying positive often brings out their best dancing!

If you make it to finals, stay calm and pay attention to instruction from the competition coordinators. If you have any questions, it’s okay to ask! There are lots of online resources and videos from Mix and Match competitions (they used to be called Jack and Jill competitions, so searching for that on YouTube can help you find them), if you want to see what finals are like ahead of time.

IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG

While almost everyone at a Lindy Hop event is there to have a great time and enjoy jazz music and dancing, it’s important to understand that social dancing is an activity that involves complex social and physical interactions, and you might experience something unwanted, uncomfortable, or unsafe. In this situation, the first priority is for you to feel safe, whatever that means for you. If you would like to stop dancing for a while, leave the event, or talk to someone, those are all perfectly fine things to do.

If you travel with more experienced dancers from your scene, you may feel more comfortable talking to them than to an organizer you’ve never met before. Starting out with, “Hey, something weird/uncomfortable/scary happened to me, and I’m not sure what to do about it,” can be a good way to open that conversation if you’re not sure.

Most events will post something like a “Safer Spaces” policy or “Code of Conduct” that tells you what to do and how to report an incident, if you would like to do that. Generally speaking, asking an organizer is a safe bet. Many events also provide online reporting forms or a number you can text or call, if you would prefer to report anonymously.

Remember, you are always allowed to say no to any dance for any reason – and that includes a dance you are currently involved in. If your dance partner does anything that makes you feel unsafe, you can disconnect from them, say, “Hey, I’m not okay with that, and I need a break,” and then walk off the dance floor. Your safety is your first priority.

It is unlikely that you will experience harassment or assault at a Lindy Hop event, but just in case you do, you should know that there are people and resources in place to help you and make sure that appropriate action is taken. If you choose to report an incident, know that you are helping to make the dance environment safer for others, as well as yourself, and that’s a good thing to do.

CONCLUSION

Traveling to Lindy Hop events is really fun, and a wonderful way to meet new friends and get better at swing dancing. I have many, many friends who describe traveling to events as one of their favorite things to do, and navigating each event does get easier with practice. I hope you have a great time at your first event! If you’re a more experienced dancer with any tips to add, drop them in the comments!

How I Survive Lindy Hop Events as an Introvert

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, cat and indoor

Cats, as everyone knows, are the ideal social recharging tool.

I’m an introvert, which means that I am easily drained of energy by socially interacting with others. I think of my social energy like a gas tank that can be depleted, and when it’s empty, it needs to be refilled.

When I’m depleted of social energy, I feel physically and emotionally drained, like I just can’t handle another conversation with somebody. This depletion tends to make me feel tired, sad, upset, and anxious, and these feelings intensify if I continue to interact with others past the point where I have the energy to do so.

In this post, I want to talk about what depletes my social energy at dance events, and the specific strategies I use to recharge so that I can enjoy the event and, you know, not zone out or panic when people try to talk to me.

Classes. I love processing information and learning new things, but it tires me out when I have to do so while touching and/or talking to other people. Especially if classes are held on a hard concrete or tile floor, or if I’m doing four or more hours of classes in a single day.

Trying to talk to people while music is playing. I find it extremely difficult to hold a conversation if there’s loud background noise. Because of this, almost every conversation I have at a dance event is much more exhausting than a normal conversation would be.

Rushing to be somewhere. Anything that heightens my stress levels depletes my energy levels, like getting stuck in traffic when I’m trying to get to class on time. Having to deal with other people during or directly after a stressful event is a surefire way to make sure I don’t process the stress adequately, leaving me more exhausted later on.

Sensory overstimulation. Not all introverts experience this, but personally, I am extremely sensitive to sensory input, including light, sound, and touch. (This is part of the reason I actively request that people not touch me unless they have my attention first.) At a dance event, loud music, bright lights, disco balls, ambient conversation, and lots and lots of physical contact can leave me feeling completely overwhelmed.

Host housing. I love the fact that the Lindy Hop community is generous enough to provide out-of-town dancers with free housing, but sometimes that means that I get stuck in somebody’s living room with five or six other people and no way to get some alone time.

Change in schedule. As an introvert, I love routine – and at dance events, my daily routine gets completely destroyed. When I don’t have the structure of my usual schedule to rely on, I can feel depleted and overwhelmed much more easily.

So if dance events are essentially a minefield of anxiety-inducing events that make me want to crawl into a hole, how do I deal? Why do I keep growing my skills as a DJ, only to get booked at increasingly large and overwhelming events?

The main reason is that I am absolutely in love with jazz music and dancing, and it’s really important to me to continue to express my love for those things and stay involved with a community that values them as much as I do. So, here are the things I do to help myself recharge while I’m at a dance event.

Active self-monitoring. I pay close attention to how I’m feeling and how I’m reacting to others. Keeping track of how I’m responding to my environment is like a first line of defense – it lets me know when I need to use other coping strategies to protect myself and recharge.

Physical self-care. Feeling hungry, tired, sore, or sick only intensifies my aversion to social interaction when I’m exhausted. So, I try to eat healthy food, I always bring snacks with me, I take time to practice yoga and stretch out, and I prioritize getting enough sleep – at least eight hours a night, if possible, plus an afternoon nap if I have time.

Emotional self-care. If I’m stressed, or working through an emotional issue, feeling socially depleted can really bring out the nasty side of my anxiety – I’ll feel insecure about random things, or panic for no reason at all. I have a variety of emotional coping mechanisms that I use, but taking time to write in my notebook, or meditating, if a quiet space is available, are my go-to favorites.

Alone time – even if it’s pretend. If I’m taken care of physical and emotionally and I still feel depleted, it’s absolutely critical for me to feel socially isolated for an hour or two. Because dance events are generally crammed with people, my favorite strategy is to put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, which I lug around for precisely this purpose (and also to, you know, listen to my swing music, because I work as a DJ and stuff), and listen to one of several calming Spotify playlists that I keep downloaded on my phone. Reading a book also works, particularly if I just need to refocus my mind on something other than the fact that I’m surrounded by people.

Sensory deprivation. Because I am extremely susceptible to sensory overstimulation, my ideal recharge environment is one that is mostly devoid of sensory stimulation: dark and quiet, with constant, even pressure across my skin (like being wrapped in a blanket, or lying on my stomach on an air mattress). The more depleted I feel, the more important an environment like this becomes for me to recover effectively.

Communicating what I need. This may sound like the most obvious suggestion of all, but there’s a reason I saved it for last. I am fortunate to have many intelligent and empathetic friends, who are quick to understand when I need to take a break and recharge. However, it wasn’t always this way. I have worked hard, and am still working hard, to explain to my friends what being introverted means for me, and how I often need to take time for myself so that I can enjoy socializing without shutting down. If you’re an introvert, and you struggle with feeling socially pressured into doing things you’re too exhausted for, I would encourage you to actively communicate when you need a break. Or a snack. Or a nap. Sometimes the solution is simple – it’s helping others to understand why you need it that’s hard.

Even as an introvert, swing dancing with other people is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and DJing is an extension of that desire to share an appreciation for good jazz music with others. I’m still learning how to best care for myself at dance events, but these are just some of the ideas I’ve discovered and experimented with so far. If you liked reading this, I would absolutely love it if you would leave me a comment and tell me what you think! Do you have coping strategies you use when you feel depleted? If you’re an extravert, what do you do when your introvert friends get exhausted?

Thank you so much for reading! We will return to your regularly scheduled set recaps soon!

Thank You For A 75% Female DJ Lineup, Lindy Focus

I’m not going to Lindy Focus this year. I’ve never been, and I think it might be a few more years before I make it down to Asheville for the biggest US swing event of the year. But I wanted to give a special shoutout to Lindy Focus for sending the following news to my inbox:

DJ’S ANNOUNCED

We’re so unbelievably thrilled to announce this year’s lineup of vintage dance music experts who will keep the social dancing going before, after, and in-between all the live music! Please give them a warm welcome:

Ryan Swift (Head DJ – New York, NY, USA)
Helena Martins (São Paulo, Brazil)
Laura Knight (London, UK)
Shana Worel (Altadena, CA, USA)
Meghan Gilmore (Montreal, QC, CAN)
Erica Vess (Richmond, VA, USA)
Mike Marcotte (Washington, DC, USA)
Andi Hansen (Grand Rapids, MI, USA)

That’s right, your eyes are not lying to you – six out of eight DJs at Lindy Focus will be women, including Andi Hansen from my own state of Michigan! (Go Andi!) In the past, there’s been some controversy over the male-dominated swing DJ scene, and it’s really awesome to see an event as prominent as Focus shining a spotlight on the talents of female DJs from around the world. If you’re going to Focus, you should get hype, because it looks like the music will be amazing!

SwingIN 2017 Was Delightful

This past weekend was my first time at SwingIN, Indiana’s annual swing dance workshop weekend, and I loved it. The atmosphere of SwingIN was high-energy and spirited, with hard-swinging music from the Russ Wilson Swingtet and a phenomenal DJ lineup that included Emily Schuhmann, Celia Fern Mooradian, Leah Dudak, and Shelby Rowles (for a final count of four women out of the six DJs at the event!). I stayed on the dance floor for a solid four hours on Saturday night – and then was planning to go to late night, but made the mistake of lying down for like ten seconds, crashed super hard, and slept like the dead until it was time for Sunday morning classes.

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The most magical experience of the whole weekend was taking classes with Sonia Ortega and her teaching partner, Hector Artal. Sonia always had a bright smile in every class I took with her, and I often found myself smiling back, even in the middle of learning challenging new concepts that might have otherwise frustrated me. She said during a solo jazz class, “A positive attitude is the MOST important thing,” and really demonstrated the truth of that statement throughout the whole weekend. Sonia inspired me to always remember the joy of Lindy Hop, and I hope to be as happy as she is when I’m dancing – it definitely makes a big difference.

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Thanks to Rakoteet Photography for the beautiful pictures! 

Why I Share All My Sets

DJing is not a competition.

At least, not for me. I know that as I get more experienced, I may get more DJ gigs, but I’m always happy to attend a dance event, whether I DJ or not. I love DJing, of course, but I also love listening to how other DJs choose and organize their music – and I love spending time on the floor dancing, of course.

The reason I started this blog, and the reason I share my full sets, is because I believe that swing DJs are in this together. We are part of a tiny sub-community that needs to educate its members, not keep secrets. (Especially due to the fairly obvious male-heavy gender imbalance among swing DJs who get booked for events.) I am always trying to improve, but not to be better than anybody else. My goal is to be better than the DJ I was last week – and that’s it.

I believe looking at other DJs’ sets is part of learning how to DJ — I think it provides a good model for new DJs who are still learning how to structure a set, what a good tempo flow is, and what kinds of songs might go together best. It can also be a great place to look for song ideas for new DJs who aren’t sure where to look for music. (Hint: Ella Fitzgerald. No, more Ella Fitzgerald.)

However, I don’t think anyone can learn how to DJ just by looking at sample sets on the Internet. As with so many skills, the best way to learn is to try! I’m still very much in the middle of this process – building my library with a combination of songs I find on Spotify, songs I hear other DJs play at dance events, songs I download for free from jazz-on-line.com, and songs I buy using the iTunes giftcards that are pretty much the only thing I ask for as gifts these days. I regularly reach out to event organizers and ask if I can DJ at their event. Sometimes the answer is “no,” but it’s always exciting when the answer is “send us a sample set, and let’s talk about it!” And every time I DJ, I put myself into the moment, one hundred percent, and focus on building the best set I can.

Another reason I share sets is to benefit the dancers I play for. I get people all the time who come up and ask me, “What was that song you just played?” By making my set lists an open resource, I hope that dancers will be able to find out where the music they like comes from, and hopefully gain a deeper appreciation for our incredible heritage as modern Lindy Hoppers. Without the groundbreaking work of so many jazz artists, especially those who were and are people of color, we would be lacking the musical foundation for our dance, and that’s critical to remember.

Finally, my sets are uncopyrighted. (Inspired by Leo.) I don’t own the rights to the music I use or the way I arrange songs. I don’t care if people copy my set lists and pass them off as their own. (Although that is remarkably poor form.) You can take one of my sets, put in a bunch of Frank Sinatra or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or electroswing or whatever, and tell everyone it was a set I played. I don’t care. The people who hear me DJ live and who read this blog know what my sets are actually like, and those are the people whose opinions I care about.

If you’re a DJ, and you choose not to share your sets, I think that’s fine. It’s quite possible that, if I ever become a “big name” in the swing DJ world, I will find some reason to stop sharing my sets. But for now, as a small time DJ, I find I’m pretty happy sharing my ideas freely, and the opportunity to think through my sets and summarize the rationale behind them is making me a better DJ.

On the Difference Between a Lindy Hop Workshop and an Exchange

Up until the past year or so, I haven’t traveled much, and I’ve only attended workshop weekends – those with both classes and social dancing opportunities. However, after KissME in Ann Arbor, which was my first dance-only Lindy Hop exchange, I have some thoughts about why these exchanges are just as valuable as workshop weekends, and why I enjoyed KissME so much.

Because I am a student and support myself on a relatively small income, I am always trying to consider which dance events will give me the most bang for my registration buck. As an uninitiated dancer looking to get into traveling, workshops always seemed the most attractive, with the opportunity to work with superstar instructors and learn lots of new things in intensive classes. But I learned something important at KissME – you can learn at exchanges too!

There was so much dance time at KissME (25+ hours of dancing by my estimation, counting late nights) that I had plenty of time to analyze what I liked in other people’s dancing, and to try and incorporate it myself. Because I’m a female lead, I will sometimes follow with leads who are more experienced than I am, and then copy what they do when I’m leading later on. I picked up a couple of new patterns and tricks that way at KissME, and it was a lot of fun to practice them on the floor and tweak them until they worked (and have a good chuckle with my partner when they didn’t).

Because I wasn’t busy with classes all day, I also had the opportunity to spend time with the awesome people I was housing with, explore downtown Ann Arbor, bake some delicious scones, and take naps to recover in between dances. It felt much more relaxed than the hectic workshop weekends I’ve been to, and I look forward to registering for some more dance exchanges in the future!

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Photo credit to Ralf Brown Photography.