Today I thought I’d curate a short list of relevant blog posts for beginning swing dancers, as I haven’t yet found a similar list posted online. The subject matter is wide-ranging. Please pass along a link to your favorite newbie!
Mythbusting for Beginners at the Philly Lindy Hop Blog.
Why The Cool People Aren’t Talking To You Yet by Rebecca Brightly. I recommend this entire blog, as it is focused on an audience of beginner swing dancers.
Starter Albums for the Jazz-Curious by James Pustejovsky. James & I started dancing together with the Boston College swing club way back in ’99!
It Don’t Mean a Thing If… by Glenn Crytzer. This is excellent as Glenn is both a dancer and a musician. He breaks down what it means for music to “swing,” with helpful examples. (The first YouTube link is broken. Find what I believe is the right song here.)
The Different Types of Dance Shoe Soles by Alain Wong. Low-level information that most of us take for granted. 99% of the time I wear sueded leather, which I do not brush.
How Do I Become a Professional Lindy Hopper? by Jo Hoffberg. Interesting even if you’re not actually looking to turn pro.
Long Live the King by Bobby White. A meditation on the passing of Frankie Manning, the Ambassador of Lindy Hop.
And finally, cut-and-pasted here because it exists as a Facebook note that perhaps not everyone will have access to, “An Open Letter to Creepy Leads” by Ali Connell. (bold added by me)
We’ve all run into him. Everyone dance scene has one. The creepy lead. Most creepy leads are unaware of it and many acquire the moniker with absolutely no malicious intent on his part. And it seems like no amount of hinting, ignoring or refusing will get the point across. I recently had reason to spend a considerable amount of time considering the trait of creepiness. I had a patient who’s creepiness was getting him into some serious trouble in his life (he, of course, was unaware of said condition) and so my supervisor said to me “well, I guess your job is to de-creepify him.” This seemed like an impossible task. But after 6 months, I recently made some headway. And it’s all because I had these great examples from dancing that demonstrated the behaviors that lead to an interpretation of creepy. In therapy, it didn’t directly threaten him because I wasn’t calling him out on things he’d been doing, so he actually listened. Of course, in order to use these examples in therapy, I had to actually think long and hard about what makes someone seem creepy.
So here are my thoughts:
The foundation of creepiness is lack of consideration, especially lack of consideration for women. There are many ways to demonstrate lack of consideration, here are a few:
Number one contributor to (often unintentional creepiness): Poor understanding of personal space.
Yes, in dancing we have to get up close. Sometimes we even dance with no personal space whatsoever. But….lesson1: Just because she gets all up in some other guy’s grill does not at all indicate that she wants to get up in your grill. How close she wants to be to you is completely independent of how closely she wants to dance to someone else. Lesson 2: Even if she gets all up in your grill while dancing, that doesn’t always mean that standard personal space rules don’t apply while not dancing. Average personal space for people in the US is 2 feet. An even better measure is standing far enough away from the person so that you can see their face and shoulders without having to shift your eyes (and without looking down on the other person’s head. I’ve heard many vertically challenged people complain about this). Invading someone’s personal space is just that, an invasion. Yes, it’s true these are generalizations and that everyone is different. But if you want to avoid/reform from creepiness, err on the side of caution or at least pay attention to her body language. If she turns her face away from you, leans backward, looks around and not at you or (most obviously) takes a step back, chances are…you’re too close.
Number two: Poor hygiene.
Poor hygiene amplifies how close you are. Because frankly, if someone can smell you I don’t care how far away you’re standing, you’re too close. Lesson 3: So brush your teeth before dances. Use mouthwash. Chew gum/mints. And if you’ve tried those things, check with your dentist/doctor. One quick easy tip for chronic halitosis: drink lots of water. Dry mouths breed more bacteria (it’s why we all get morning breath).Lesson 4: And then there’s body odor. “But wait” you might be thinking “We’re all sweating like crazy, of course it’s going to smell.” Nope. Sweat itself doesn’t have a strong smell and certainly not a malodorous one. It’s the bacteria that enjoy sweat that cause the gag worthy smell. They don’t really get the party started for a couple hours. Shower before dancing, wear antiperspirant/deodorant, keep up with changing shirts and make sure your clothes are freshly clean. I’m all for rewearing a pair of jeans on the weekend, but NOT to a dance. If the clothes have been worn, a few bacteria have already set up shop and when the sweat feast begins, they’ll very quickly invite all their friends to party.
Number Three: Giving clear signals that you aren’t there to dance, but to pick up women.
Yes, it’s totally ok to go to a dance hoping to meet someone. It’s totally ok to start dancing in order to get more time in with the opposite sex. Lesson 5: But most girls don’t want to feel like a dance is a meat market. We don’t want to feel like every dance is a come on/bad pick up line. You’re at a dance to enjoy yourself, meet people, get some exercise, try something new, not (just) to get laid. If the latter happens, then, go you, but most women don’t like to think that they’re just being sized up for the horizontal mambo. So, if you only dance with attractive (and often young) girls/women, if you frequently make the same “mistake” and get an ABG (accidental boob grab)handful, if you stare at body parts other than our eyes, we’re gonna start suspecting your intentions aren’t so honorable. And yes, I know that there are guys who truly accidentally get a handful. Lesson 6: If it’s rare and immediately followed by a hasty “I’m sorry” no harm no foul. Heck I got a handful leading a girl just the other day. I think I turned three shades of red. But APOLOGISE, even if it was a complete accident. You’d apologise if you had your leg sticking out in an aisle and someone tripped over it wouldn’t you? Apologising is not an admission of bad intent or willfulness. It’s saying “I recognize that I just caused you discomfort and I want you to know that causing you discomfort was not my intent.”And while we’re on the subject of apologising….
Number Four: Not respecting the follow’s wishes.
Lesson 7: If a follow asks you not to do something, don’t friggin’ do it! If she asks you not to dip her, don’t dip her. If she asks you not to lead an underarm turn because her shoulder hurts, don’t lead underarm turns. If you can’t stand the thought of doing/not doing whatever it is the follow asks, then don’t ask her to dance. There are plenty of other fish in the sea. And yes, I know that leading often goes on autopilot and you may slip up. I totally get that, but when you realize that you’ve done it, apologise. Lesson 8: And on a similar note, if you ask someone to dance and they turn you down, take it gracefully. Don’t argue. If you want to know why, ask after the dance is over. Feel free to try again later, but if you get turned down again without a “but find me next song etc” respect that the person doesn’t want to dance with you, at least not that night. Perhaps you have failed to observe the instructions in number 2.
Number Five: Generally being arrogant/rude.
Without any of the above, the following don’t generally lead to a creepy reputation. But if the above are true, these situations are generally added to the story of why someone is creepy and why everyone should avoid them. Lesson 9: Instructing on the dance floor without asking first, leading the same move over and over again even though the follow is clearly not getting it, spinning the follow until she turns green, laughing at (not with) your partner, commenting about your partner’s “clear” lack of experience are all generally undesirable on (and off) the dance floor. Granted, these tend to be more person specific. For example some people like getting feedback on the dance floor. But these are kind of “better safe than sorry” situations to avoid.
Now keep in mind, creepiness can follow you long after your behavior changes, especially if there’s a noteworthy story attached. Lesson 10: Follows talk and we’ll often give new girls the low down. And this might not be fair. There are cases when one girl’s creepy is just fine to someone else. But it happens nonetheless. I know of one lead who had a noteworthy event or two happen almost 10 years ago and the story still hasn’t died. Part of the reason it didn’t die; he never indicated he regretted it, so people still assume it was intentional and he still engages in some mild creepy behaviors as described above.
Summary lesson: It really is amazing the power of an apology. Though please note, I am not saying apologise for every little thing. There’s no need to apologise for your level of dancing or for missing a move for example. Being new or inexperienced is not lack of consideration.
So, there it is. A lead’s guide to how not to be creepy. I bet that in most cases, leads who get labeled creepy are actually harmless and they’d never want to make people uncomfortable. My hope is that this will help those leads give the right impression, so that people don’t mistakenly put the above listed behaviors together and solve the equation with creepiness.
PS You might want to make sure your pockets are fairly empty before you dance. 1) it can be physically uncomfortable. 2) it can be mistaken for an indicator that you’re only there to get some. 😉
Know of any other good ones that I missed? Leave a link in the comments!