On being an “old-timer”

So I’ve been having these conversations lately with some friends who have been around as long as I have (or longer), and what it’s like thinking back over the past 9 years or so as a Lindy Hopper.  (First of all, it’s crazy to think that I learned my first swingout over nine years ago.)  Mostly I’ve been reflecting on what it’s like to have this very particular background of how I came to Lindy Hop and how different that experience is from what many of my newer Lindy friends have experienced.  For one thing, I have some younger friends who were, like, 11 years old in the days of the Gap Khakis commercial and the Swingkids movie.  (!)  But mostly I’ve been thinking about the difference between the experience I and people of my “generation” had (coming to Lindy in the late ’90s, early 00’s) compared to friends who have only been dancing for, say, 3 years or so.  Many of these things have already been remarked upon in far more interesting and entertaining ways elsewhere (see the xkcdance blog, for example), but here are some of the things that these more recent converts to Lindy missed out on that were significant in some way to my experience coming up as a dancer, and which said friends know next to nothing about now:

  • Baggy pants, a la Modrobes
  • Skants
  • Bizarre wrist-grip hand-holds
  • Jason Christodoulou
  • Johnny & Becky
  • Swing Rueda
  • “Groove”
  • The Tunnel
  • Hip-Hop Lindy
  • Savoy vs. Hollywood
  • Attempting to execute aerials with absolutely no prior preparation, planning, or understanding of how they work
  • Blues rooms at exchanges before there was such a thing as “Blues” (or Blues, for that matter)
  • Incredibly poor explanations and demonstrations of Balboa, taught by zero of the approximately 20 people in the world who knew how to actually do it

However, to my mind the most interesting aspect of this difference in years of experience is that in many ways these friends of mine who have only been dancing for 3 or 4 years are incredibly good, and they got good incredibly fast.

Anyone who started dancing 8+ years ago knows how impossible this was for people who came up when I did.  I mean, unless you were a Moocher (another reference likely to be lost on said friends) and/or learned a bunch of stuff straight from Steven & Virginie, Ryan & Jenny, or some of the Hot Shots, it’s unlikely you were receiving very high-quality Lindy Hop instruction.  I remember there was a period of around 3-6 months in which my friends and I had extrapolated the lesson that it was a good thing to be a heavy follower, because that’s how our teacher’s following felt.  (Again I say: “!!!”)  We had to figure out how to become good Lindy Hoppers, and it wasn’t just a matter of going to enough high-quality workshops.  There was some serious trial-and-error involved as a community.  So in a sense I feel like the dancing abilities I have now are somehow more hard-won than the dancing abilities of these more recently-converted friends.

Particularly because I’m not an “A-list” rock-star of a dancer setting the bar for everyone else, the fact that many of these relatively newer dancers have developed really solid dance skills and style in such a short amount of time (compared to my generation) is somewhat aggravating.  I find myself thinking, “How can they be that good after only 3 years?  My dancing was such crap after I’d only been around for 3 years!  It’s not fair!”  And it’s not fair.  On the other hand, thank goodness that we have progressed the scene to the point where a complete newbie can be really decent–even quite good–after only 3 years.  I know that I, and people who came up when I did, had a big hand in bringing the overall Lindy Hop scene to that point.

That’s right: we helped get the scene to where it is.  I’m taking credit, and you should, too.  Anyone who, like me, harassed friends and strangers to go to workshops, travel out of town, watch videos, read Norma’s book (and now Frankie’s), take lessons from people whose names they really ought to know, start dancing to music from the 30’s and 40’s instead of the 90’s, stop holding followers’ wrists, and start doing solo jazz; anyone who, like me, got out there and taught other people to Lindy Hop even though we barely knew what we were doing ourselves, started organizing workshops to bring in people who did know what they were doing, helped put on the first exchange in your town, and drove people to their first exchange in the next state over; anyone who, like me, put away those giant pants and Diana Krall CD’s, stopped trying to do Hip-Hop Lindy, and started trying to dance faster than 200 bpm, can and should take some credit for where we are now.  Give yourself a pat on the back.  Some of us have burned out, dropped off, come back, reinvented ourselves, and generally been full-circle with our relationship to Lindy Hop and the dance community.

So, dear friends of mine who have been doing this for 3 or 4 years and are feeling pretty good about yourselves…  well done.  I’m impressed by you and admire your energy and where you’re taking your dancing.  But just know that the way has been paved for you by those of us who came before you (and made fools out of ourselves) in the process of bringing the Lindy Hop community to where it is today.  Now you can join up and wear jeans to your classes and learn good technique from day one, unlike us old-timers.  Now you can become a really nice dancer in 2 or 3 years instead of in 5 or 6.  And now you can feel like you’re practically or actually as good as (or better than) those of us who’ve been around since 1998 or ’99, even though you learned your first swingout in 2005.

You’re welcome.

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6 Responses to On being an “old-timer”

  1. Brooks says:

    Thank you Gina for helping make this dance which I enjoy so much leaps and bounds better than if you hadn’t been around

  2. dancewithgina says:

    Well, I’m glad we have you in the scene now, Brooks, and that I don’t have to wait another 3 years for you to be good. 🙂

  3. slydacious says:

    ‘I find myself thinking, “How can they be that good after only 3 years? My dancing was such crap after I’d only been around for 3 years! It’s not fair!“ And it’s not fair.’

    And may it never be fair. I like to think I can take up any endeavor and through sheer will eventually be as good as the best. If things were fair, I probably would have never taken up guitar this late in life since nothing I could do would ever get me to the level of those who’ve inspired me. I can’t imagine how boring the world would be if “fairness” was never upset by the determined underdog. Who knows? I may one day decide to become the best solo Charleston dancer out there. But you can breathe a sigh of relief for now. I’m quite content perfecting my man shimmy.

  4. Breanna says:

    Consider this your official, verbalized (or written) thank you. It’s inspiring and exciting to be able to learn as quickly as we have the ability to now and with the breadth of the knowledge available to us even within a 250mi radius. I know of those “horrible” things from our collective swing dancing past because I have friends who were around to experience them, and I’ve experienced my fair share of them–but it was always a one-time kind of thing, and so I’m thankful to all ya’ll for doing the hard work so that I don’t have to go have wrist surgery or burn pictures of myself in a tank top and pants twice the size of my house.

  5. Jo Hoffberg says:

    I was just talking with someone about this!! Khaki Swing inspired me to start dancing. I came from a groove scene and battled the Hollywood style dancers in LA. I saw UFO pants come and go (er…well, mostly). I saw International Male pants and jazz shoes become the thing. I remember when people used to wear Orange!! The horror!! I also remember my first Steven & Virginie workshop.

    Blast from the past. 🙂

    Thank goodness some of us were there near the beginning of the revival to help make Lindy Hop what it is today. 🙂 And you know what, I am going to take a tiny bit of credit for it and give a ton of credit to Kevin.

    xoxo

  6. Pingback: Is there a “wrong” way to dance Lindy Hop? (Or: The Youtubification of the Lindy Hop, Part Deux) | Dance with Gina

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