How I Survive Lindy Hop Events as an Introvert

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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!

LAFLX, April 13-15, 2018

I feel like maybe I should have asked this further ahead of time than, you know, one in the morning at the Saturday late night, but that was when I found out that LAFLX stands for Lafayette Lindy Exchange. Isn’t that delightful?

This was my first LAFLX, but I truly enjoyed every moment of it – I stayed with a great group of people, the dancers were responsive to my music, and best of all, they were interested in finding out more about what they heard! I think I had more people coming up to me this weekend and asking, “What song was that?” than I’ve ever had before! In light of all that interest, I wanted to go ahead and share my sets from yesterday, which was kind of a marathon day – I had an hour and a half set in the afternoon, and then band breaks all evening, a competition, and another set after that. Read on for more!

LAFLX 2018-04-14 AfternoonI started the afternoon off with “Shorty’s Got to Go,” which is one of my favorite tunes from Glenn Crytzer’s new album, Ain’t It Grand. After that, I played around with a mixture of vintage and modern pieces, hopping back and forth between Maxine Sullivan, Artie Shaw, and the Boilermaker Jazz Band, among others. I want to highlight one moment here in particular that was a huge success – just after I played the five minute version of “Surrey With the Fringe On Top” by Mary Stallings, I put on “Hit That Jive Jack” by Shout Sister Shout, which clocks in at 194 BPM. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t follow a long song with such a fast one, but it seemed to hit the floor in just the right way and people started moving to it! It probably helped that “Hit That Jive Jack” has a bold, distinct sound and it’s a lot of fun to dance to.

LAFLX 2018-04-14 EveningThis screenshot contains everything I DJed during the evening, with the exception of the LAFable competition, which is below, so this will take some explaining. I caught two band breaks for the Gaslight Squares. My first band break was pretty short, just the first four songs, including “Crazy About Lester,” which a tune by Michael Gamble that I don’t often hear and that I think I should hear more – it’s got a perky melody and a super tight rhythm.

My second band break got going with “Jump Children” by the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, which I’ve talked about on here before, and then I put on the “Dipsy Doodle” and let the floor rock out with the Tranky Doo! (I may or may not also have Tranky Done some dancing in the process.) That band break went on for longer, ending with “Blue Rhythm Be-Bop” by Van Alexander and His Orchestra.

Once the time for the competition rolled around, I played “Day-In, Day-Out” for a warm-up song, and then we dove into prelims. Because the LAFable competition at LAFLX is a really ridiculous competition, where the emcee yells out silly suggestions the crowd submits beforehand and then everyone has to dance like that or risk getting tapped out, I chose mid-tempo music with a very clear beat that would be easy to move to, and all instrumental so the emcee would be easier to hear.

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Once it was narrowed down to two couples, finals took place, with the couples facing off to the prompt “wizard duel.” (Props to my friend Val for coming up with that amazing suggestion – she won the prize for best idea!) Funny story – on Saturday, I remember an organizer coming up to me and saying, “Hey, for the LAFable finals, do you have any music that would fit the prompt wizard duel?” And I was like, “Ahahaha…no…WAIT.” And I remembered that I had this delightful swinger by Ella Fitzgerald whose lyrics are all about the Wizard of Oz! It was a perfect choice for finals, as Ella’s elegant voice spun along and the competitors got very, very silly.

After the LAFable competition (you might need to scroll up to take another look at my evening set), I started back in with “If It Ain’t Love” by the Boilermaker Jazz Band, and I DJed all the way until the late night started at 12:15am. I got to play “The E and D Blues (E for Ella, D for Duke),” which is one of my all-time favorite songs – it’s infectiously swingy, kind of like “C Jam Blues,” but…it also has Ella scatting, so it’s even better. It was fun watching people on the floor as the song stretched out towards its 4:54 endpoint – at one point I was actually just cheering them on in my head. No, keep going! Two more minutes! You’re so close! 

LAFLX was a really enjoyable event, and a great way to spend a relaxing weekend. If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend attending!

FLEx, April 6-8, 2018

The very first dance event I ever DJed at outside of my home scene was FLEx 2017, so it was a lot of fun to be invited back to DJ this year! FLEx, or the Falcon Lindy Extravaganza, is a small workshop weekend at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. I started with a set on Friday evening, and while the floor was not super crowded, I enjoyed the challenge of getting people out on it anyway.

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I started with a tune that’s rapidly becoming a staple in my library, “Frankie and Johnny,” which is an instrumental Frank Sinatra tribute by Count Basie that really swings! I also featured the hard-swinging Brooks Prumo tune “Bolero At The Savoy” pretty early on. After that, I hung out with a mix of faster tunes (“Clementine,” “Paper Moon,” “That Old Black Magic”) and chiller ones (“In a Mellow Tone,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “The Ugly Duckling”). I tried heating it up with the Louis Jordan version of “A Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But A Bird,” and people seemed to enjoy its peppy feeling!

My next set was midnight to 1am on Saturday night, so this one looked a little different. I knew we were heading into late night, so I dug deep into the slower end of my library and came up with some really nice slow stuff that was pleasant to listen and dance to at that hour (but was still Lindy-able).

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Highlights from this set include Della Reese’s amazing rendition of “Goody, Goody” (seriously, go listen to it if you haven’t, it’s incredibly swanky and fun), “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” by Ernestine Anderson – I feel like everyone only knows her for “I Love Being Here With You,” but she has some other delightful stuff as well – and (of course) Joe Williams and Harry “Sweets” Edison on “Until I Met You (Corner Pocket).” Even though it’s 112 BPM, I will never get tired of swinging out to that song. Williams’ vocals are so warm and inviting, and the instrumentation is light, but present in all the right places. I love it.

And speaking of the rich vocal abilities of Joe Williams, here’s an extra little treat for you that I dug up on YouTube:

I cannot believe the scatting abilities of these folks. Sarah Vaughan is one of my all-time favorite jazz vocalists, and she sounds just as good in 1981 as she does on some of the recordings I have of her in the 1940s. Watch all the way to the end and you might catch a glimpse of Sarah and Joe swinging out!

Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid

On the recent album release from the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, Pass The Bounce, there’s a phenomenal rendition of the tune “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid.” The team Southeast Scramble even used it to snag first place in the team choreography competition at Dayton Swing Smackdown this year! Check it out:

But long before Brooks Prumo made “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid” a song that could catapult Lindy Hop teams to victory, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins had created their own rocking version, and it swings just as hard as the Brooks Prumo cover. Check it out:

In this 1958 performance on Art Ford’s TV show “Jazz Party,” the piece starts with a pretty epic bass solo, which is then joined by an old-timey electric guitar. Then a clarinet comes on board, and after that, the familiar chorus kicks in, with Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins both in the front row on tenor saxophones. This clip also has a wonderful vibraphones player – I don’t know who he is, but he’s outstanding! After getting through the chorus once, the band proceeds to jam for eight more minutes. If you have time, let the clip play in the background and listen to the whole thing – it’s all so great!

Just for another point of comparison, here’s a studio recording version from Lester Young that you might hear at a dance, although I probably wouldn’t DJ it – the beat is not super swung, and it focuses more on Young’s solo improvisation. The tempo is a bit more mellow, and it features a lot of Young noodling around on that beautiful tenor sax, so it’s certainly lovely to listen to. Enjoy!

The Stomp in Lansing, March 24, 2018

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to feel “inspired” when I DJ. Like in this set, for instance. I sat down to DJ and felt like I was lacking some inspiration. Maybe it’s because the floor wasn’t very full at first, or because I didn’t know many of the people there that night.

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I guess it’s unreasonable to expect myself to feel amazing about every single set I DJ…but still. What is it that makes me inspired to play a great set? I think some things would be if the floor is already really full, if I’m picking up breaks for a great band, or if I just got new music that I really like. Those all lend that indescribable energy that I need to help hit every moment with the right tune.

My favorite songs from this set were the last two, “Shorty’s Got to Go” from Glenn Crytzer’s new album, Ain’t It Grand, and Maxine Sullivan’s rendition of “Massachusetts.” Both alternative takes of more popular original versions, but I love Glenn’s perky vocals on “Shorty,” and Maxine’s sweet take of “Massachusetts.” The piano part on “Shorty” is one of the most recognizable parts of the original tune, and I think Glenn Crytzer’s pianist nails it.

I’m traveling a lot in April: see you at FLEx at Bowling Green State University this weekend, and LAFLX at Purdue University the following weekend!

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, March 9, 2018

Because my spring break covered two Friday nights, I got to return to Ann Arbor for a second stint in the DJ booth just a week after I spun some tunes there on March 2nd. This week went hard for a punchy feel with a strong lead-up to some fast-swinging tunes, and although I tried to chill the mood a bit after that, the dancers kept pushing the tempo on me! It was great to work a floor with so much energy – it made me search for the songs that would keep the floor moving even when people got tired, and I think overall I was pretty successful.

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The songs “Beaver Junction” and “Circus In Rhythm” from Count Basie are new to my library, courtesy of my friend Scott’s generosity with a new CD of his, The Chronological Count Basie. The album contains hits from Basie’s orchestra from 1943-1945, which was right when they were recording some of the their best dancing music, so there were some gems on the album, including “Taps Miller,” which I had already, but is still one of my all-time favorite fast Lindy tunes.

I hadn’t played “Keepin’ Out of Mischief” by Louis Armstrong and His All Stars in a while, and I’m glad I did – it’s a sweet classic, and no one beats Louis Armstrong belting out those vocals in his unmistakable voice. Every time I listen to Louis Armstrong sing, I’m reminded of the magic of being unapologetically yourself. The man most certainly did not possess what anyone would call a classic jazz voice, but he owned his sound and now people get nostalgic when they hear it. I think that’s an amazing approach to art, and to life in general.

Finally, just two days ago I got my copy of Glenn Crytzer’s new double album, Ain’t It Grand, and folks, this one is a doozy. I’m listening to it right now and every single song rocks along, each striking a different mood but all lending themselves beautifully to dancing. If you preorder it from Bandcamp now, you get $5 off the retail price and 5 tracks right away! (You’ll get the rest when the CD is released on May 9.) And no, one one’s paying me to say this – I really just think the album is that good and worth you’re time. I’ll be doing a full album review soon where I discuss some of my favorite tracks, but for now, take it on good faith that this is one modern jazz collection you don’t want to miss.

Keep on swinging, and I’ll see you at the Stomp in Lansing on March 24th and at Bowling Green State University for FLEx from April 6-8th!

Rapid Rhythms, March 5, 2018

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Although I’ve long been great friends with the Grand Rapids dancers who run Rapid Rhythms, I don’t see them a lot – Grand Rapids is two and a half hours away from me, and a five hour round trip on a Monday night can hard to fit into my schedule. But that changed this week – I’m on spring break, and while I chose to break in place, I gave myself a fun little overnight trip up to GR on Monday and Tuesday! The good folks of Rapid Rhythms were kind enough to let me DJ a set at their beautiful weekly venue, a downtown art gallery called Lions + Rabbits.

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I genuinely enjoyed playing this set, especially because Rapid Rhythms as a scene has such a robust mixture of experience levels, from first-time-this-week beginners to 5-year Lindy Hop veterans. I pulled out a few old favorites – “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” by the Boilermaker Jazz Band and “Second Balcony Jump” by Earl “Fatha” Hines among them – to settle in and get the floor moving. In between times, I experimented with some songs that are new to my library.

You might notice that there’s a secret star in this set – Maxine Sullivan! I recently discovered her album A Tribute to Andy Razafand I’m in love. Sullivan’s beautiful voice is accompanied by an all-star lineup, including Buster Bailey on clarinet, Dick Hyman on piano, Charlie Shavers on trumpet, and Jerome Richardson on saxophone. Every single piece on the album is lovely to listen to, and eight out of twelve tracks are Lindy-friendly – what a great find! At Rapid Rhythms, I featured “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Massachusetts,” and “Christopher Columbus,” but I also really enjoy Sullivan’s renditions of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Blue Turning Grey Over You.”

On a related tangent: When I was researching this album, the name Buster Bailey sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before. A quick YouTube search turned up this mindblowing clip:

In this clip from a late 1950s TV show, Buster Bailey plays a four minute clarinet solo while his band backs him up and swings along. I recognize the melody, but can’t remember the song title – can anyone help me out? I wish I could find a recording of this – it sounds great!

As it’s International Women’s Day today, I also wanted to shout about the tune “Jump Children” by the International Sweethearts of Rhythm – an amazing all-women jazz orchestra, of whose music a pittance of recordings have survived, or were even made, for that matter. Regardless, however, in “Jump Children” the Sweethearts pump along behind the vocal power of Ernestine “Tiny” Davis, who managed to be both the best female jazz trumpet player in the U.S. and also an outstanding vocalist. I hope to find more of their music and add it to my collection in the future!

This YouTube clip isn’t the same recording as the one that I have in my library, and I don’t think it’s Ernestine Davis on vocals, but it’s fun to see the orchestra in action – check it out!

And finally, some exciting news as promised: I will be DJing at the Falcon Lindy Extravaganza this year at Bowling Green State University! It’s April 6-8, and I would love to see you there – click through the hyperlink for more information about the event!

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Thank you to Sammi for the picture at the top of this post! 

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, March 2, 2018

As I DJ at scenes outside of my home scene with more regularity, I feel like I’m getting better at catering to different crowds. The Friday night scene in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, for instance, tends to draw a lot of community members and folks who are newer to jazz dancing, which is great! It’s fun to play music that will pick up the ear of folks who maybe don’t listen to much jazz, and yet still swings and inspires cool things for the more experienced dancers.

A2FNS 2018-03-02Renee Olstead’s version of “My Baby Just Cares for Me” has a robust bass line and some great stops that make it fun to move to, and I paired it with the modern sound of Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles doing “My Rhythm.” To ease back into the classics, I bridged the gap with Dinah Washington’s “I Diddle,” a song so infectiously delightful I have to prevent myself from playing it in every set!

Another highlight here is “It’s Later Than You Think,” a song off of Joe Williams and Friends, June 1985: I Just Want To Sing, a recording that magically combines Joe Williams’ warm vocals with some outstanding trumpet playing from Thad Jones and tenor sax work from Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Benny Golson. Jerry Peters on keys and Gerryck King on drums hold down the rhythm, and between the funny lyrics and the delightful beat, it’s almost impossible for me not to dance to “It’s Later Than You Think”!

I’m still playing with the songs from Pass the Bouncethe new album from the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, but “Jump Jack Jump” was a winner for me in this set. It brought some people to the floor who were working on their bal, and at 183 BPM, it’s fast enough to have fun while not intimidating new bal dancers. I also appreciate that it’s really easy to hear the beat, even during the brass and sax solos – so important for balboa!

I have another post coming soon about my first time DJing in Grand Rapids, and in that post I’ll be releasing some exciting news about where I’m DJing next – stay tuned!

Friday Night Swing, February 9, 2018

Due to a freakish blizzard and a miraculously cancelled speech tournament, I was able to attend Friday Night Swing last night at my own scene, the Hillsdale Hepcats. (It’s hard to be the president when you’re constantly away at tournaments and dance events!) I took over DJing second set for one of my dear officers who was in bed with the flu, and it was a fun little set to do.

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Before open dance, my teaching partner and I had taught week 2 of our Charleston series, so I tossed in “Wham Rebop Boom Bam” by Peter Liu and the Pollcats, which is a great alternative to the Jimmie Lunceford. I love Jimmie Lunceford, don’t get me wrong, but the version I have of his rendition of “Wham Rebop Boom Bam” is scratchy and the beat can be hard to hear. Peter Liu’s version is much clearer and easier to follow.

Otherwise, I tried out a few tunes that are new to my library, including a rendition of “Mr. Rhythm” by Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles and a sweetly hilarious live version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” by Ella Fitzgerald from the recently released album Live at Zardi’s. In this version, she copies a few famous singers of the day to humorous effect, and it’s fun to dance along as the audience laughs.

I’m heading to Ann Arbor tonight to take care of band breaks and a Mix & Match competition at a Valentine’s Day swing dance. Stay warm, and I look forward to sharing tonight’s set with you!

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SparX, February 2-4, 2018

Every year, older friends in the Hillsdale Hepcats scene would go to SparX, and come back and tell me that it was awesome and I should go. I somehow managed to put it off until this year, and I’m so glad I finally went. Although it involves being in Cleveland in February, something I don’t recommend unless you are prepared to dress up like the Abominable Snowman every time you go outside, SparX is a fun event with outstanding instructors. I got to take classes with both Bobby and Kate and Adrienne and Rafal, and they were a genuine delight. Adrienne is especially good at not letting me get away with fudging my way through things and making me lead clearly, and I really appreciate that.

I also DJed band breaks on Friday night! It’s hard to follow a band like Chelsea Reed and the Fair Weather Five, but I did my darndest and people seemed to enjoy my music. Peter, one of the instructors, kept trying to guess which artists I was playing – he got Artie Shaw right at the end of the second break with “Love Walked In.” Good job, Peter!

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Songs 1-8 here comprised the first band break. I tried to kick the tempo up, knowing there were balboa dancers in the room, but I chickened out at “Hop, Skip, and Jump” at 181 BPM and reverted to a safe song, “Things Are Looking Up” by Ella Fitzgerald.

In the next band break, songs 9-14, I resolved to get faster, reminding myself that it was okay to clear the floor a little bit (especially since it was so crowded!), and played “Let’s Get Together” by Van Alexander and His Orchestra at 188 BPM. It’s a tune I love and I have no regrets – and the balboa dancers seemed to appreciate it too!

Someone came up to ask me, “What was that song?” after I played “Frankie and Johnny” by Count Basie. It’s an instrumental Frank Sinatra tribute that contains snatches of familiar melodies, and definitely went over well with the Lindy Hoppers. “Frankie and Johnny” is new to my collection, so I’m glad it was so successful.

You’ll probably hear “Frankie and Johnny” at the Ann Arbor Valentine’s dance, coming up this Saturday on February 10! I’ll be taking care of band breaks and I hope to see you there!

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Photo credit to Mike Will Art.