It's a shame there aren't more photographs but I don't suppose I need to spam you or even myself with the evidence but something fairly profound rammed a telephone pole into my solar plexis this weekend leaving me breathless, speechless and momentarily lost in that horrifying white space of self-doubt with that nasty layer of old patina (half scraped up or otherwise) of self-loathing. Or maybe it was just a Gestalt moment. I'm not sure it matters.
I've had this conversation at least 50 times. That's without exaggeration so maybe it's closer to 100 but it feels like a bazillion. LADIES! Do not wait to be asked. For anything. Ever. If you wait to be asked you have given up at least half your power and you are at the mercy of the asker or the pool of men. You immediately put yourself into the pool of other women, people, fish and ask the world to judge you based on whatever criterion du jour the fickle old world happens to feel like utilizing in the moment.
So. Do not wait to be asked. For anything. Same thing goes for men too but I'm speaking to the ladies in the house because I've heard enough bitching and whining to last a lifetime.
Also, it's OK to be selective but...
NM said something this weekend that sort of blew my tiny little mind out a bit - this conversation I think I've had about a bazillion times; he said that while I may not be alone in my willingness to ask men to dance (think of this asking men to dance as a metaphor in your life) that he didn't really see women do it quite the way I do it. How so? What do you mean? What other way to do it is there then the way I do it?
Well, you stand there and you look around and you see a man and you walk right up to him, look him in the eye and hold your hand out. Women don't do that. They're far more subtle.
Well how the hell do you get your point across then? Seems a little coy if you ask me. I don't much care for coy unless you're honestly flirting and then that's cool. Otherwise, coy is a hide out and AGAIN, you've swept your power under a rug.
I actually do more if I need to. I reach out and touch if I haven't managed to make actual eye contact fast enough. Not a lot of touch, just a light touch on the sleeve or shoulder as they're moving away. I'm daring some guy to tell me this isn't OK or somebody to say it's not OK but you know what? I've been touched lightly on the back of my arm more times than I can think of as I walk away by men running to catch up with me and I say that's perfectly OK. (that was me speaking to the politically correct).
The other night at a 9 hour dance I did something I haven't done before. I had a lot of reasons for doing this and I think by the time I got to this place I probably wasn't in very good shape emotionally (I got better) and so I was standing there after a dance ended and instead of looking around for a partner (you need to do this quick because you have to get lined up for the next dance) I closed my eyes and held out both arms, hands palms up. Technically I'm a 'girl' and girls are supposed to have their palms down so their hands can be 'taken' (fuck that shit) and palms up means you're offering your hand to a lady (goes way the hell back) and this actually signifies which role you're dancing but I think a discussion is a better way to resolve that question. Anyway, I don't do the palm down thing until hands four (that will make sense to all of three of you) and then it's a logistical issue and sometimes just plain playful). Sorry.
Standing there in the dark with my arms out, palms up, eyes shut and two people held my hands almost right away and almost at the same time.
I opened my eyes and picked. That was just a test. Or something. Bottom line is I still got to choose. It might have ended badly or not the way I might have liked. I might have had two people I'd rather not dance with and then I would have just sucked it up. There was only one man at that dance I found absolutely objectionable and only a six or seven I'd rather avoid for perfectly harmless reasons.
Back to what NM said. He's absolutely right. I don't waste time. Ever. I walk into the center and I. Find. A. Partner. Sometimes I'm a little delayed or there might be an issue and I have to work my ass off (I can count the number of times that's happened on both hands but I don't need my feet and some of the best partners have come out of that sort of scramble strangely enough) to find a partner. NM said, you're not picky, you'll take whatever's there. I stopped when I heard that. I don't know if I said this to him or not. It would have depended when during the weekend the conversation happened. But here's the thing. I don't just grab the first guy I see. I turn away quickly in a lot of cases because there is a whole genre of dancer I don't care to dance with anymore and it's NOT the new dancer and it's NOT the perpetually new dancer (the guy who's always going to be lost, confused, not where he's supposed to be but generally happy to be there or I can get him that way by smiling). It's the established dancer who's happy to dance with me, will generally seek me out but won't do much with me for multiple reasons. If they can't or just don't, then I'm OK with it. If they're genuinely dumbing the dance down because they've decided I can't do it perfectly then I'm not going to learn anything and quite honestly, I don't want to dance there. That's judgement and I *am* guilty. I have been found wanting and turned around and pre-emptively rejected. I'm simply not going to dance in that space anymore. It makes me unhappy. I don't actually suck and there's literally no joy in it when that happens. Also, I have options. This is kind of like finding out there was dancing in New York and MA and that Glen Echo is really only 5 hours away (not that his is viable on a regular basis) and plenty of dance weekends and I do not *have* to dance in CT if CT is going to be one of those partners I'd really rather not dance with.
I don't mean to sound like a snob because mostly I'm not. Let me reiterate: I love dancing with new dancers. I love dancing with perpetual beginners mostly because they love what they're doing and they *do* actually get better with time, it just takes them more time, sometimes a lot more time than most people to teach their bodies what to do and where to be and how to hear. Have patience. I'm one of those dancers. I totally get it. I've always been one of those dancers. I spent a lot of hours in a room by myself as a kid practicing, practicing, practicing until my feet, arms, body understood what some girls just got immediately.
Here's what kills me dead, more than a partner who dumbs it down: an energy suck. That's the partner who wishes he hadn't gotten stuck with me and no matter how much I smile at him he wishes he was somewhere else. I can see his energy come back up across the line with his neighbor and I can feel it plummet when I come back into his arms. I will do absolutely anything to avoid that. I will say no and not feel bad about not sitting that dance out (and wonder why I'm being asked again, maybe you forgot you hated dancing with me or you just can't do better this dance?) And if I ask you once and you tell me no without a polite, I'm already booked or I'm sitting it out, I will never ask you again.
There. Those are my own personal guidelines. This is what has morphed in my head in the last year and it really has been just about exactly one year since I walked into that big dance up north with SM who told me I could do anything if I just kept at it (in not so many words; he's just willing to look like a complete ass out there with me until I get it right and he's unbelievably patient).
What I do now is gravitate toward the middle ground. If I just came out of the line with you as a relatively recent neighbor and you played with me I'm going to head straight at you. If you challenged me and I pulled it off reasonably well then I want to dance with you again. If you challenged me, it went wrong and you laughed and apologized for maybe not giving me a strong enough lead (maybe I really didn't understand what you wanted), I'm coming back for more. Maybe you just had a really nice smile and laughed right back with me.
I had a really hard time at one point during the nine hours at Sunday's dance. I was emotional wreckage briefly. I had no idea what to do with myself other than go back out and dance. My knees were shot. Oh what the fuck...
It worked. I headed straight toward the light and stayed there.
There isn't a single picture of me in that entire 9 hours. I don't think I've ever gone to a dance that wasn't a small regional dance and come out without at least something but there's nothing from this weekend so I can't show you anything but the past. You'll have to take my word for it.
Here is what I know. When I am playing and happy and free, when *I* choose, what I get is that spinning bliss on the top. In everything that follows I have asked consciously because I wanted to play, to be challenged or challenge and I don't believe I questioned myself at any point in the dance and I know damn well in at least one of these it was late enough in the evening my brain had already exited the building and I screwed up a lot. Good thing I wasn't dancing with a barking partner. I just love it when they look at you and say: THAT was your fault.
This one was sitting on the stage toward the end of the evening. I'd spent too much time talking to NM between dances and was scrambling to find a partner because I really, really, really wanted to dance. The Man in the Orange Shirt (is that like The Man in the Yellow Hat?) said he was too tired. I gave him one of my shit eating grins and said I was really tired too but it would be a great dance, honest. He got off the stage and we got in line. We actually made a few mistakes. I had to be pushed into place a couple of times. Maybe more than a couple of times. I remember starting to laugh and not being able to stop. I remember being in a very long wavy line and balancing right and balancing left and smiling until I was about to cry and having those smiles met. Does he look like he's not having a good time? He kept telling me his brain was in the parking lot but he never stopped smiling, at least when we were swinging. It won't always be this way, but this is what I look for in a partner and where I channel my energy.
Best dancer by a landslide at a small regional Southern dance. I'm fairly certain I marched over and got him. If you're talking to a dance snob, he doesn't belong there. According to him, it's his dance and he just needs to figure out how to teach more dancers to attract more dancers. I learned A LOT that night. I was ecstatic. Of all the places I've ever danced (not that there have been that many but there have been a few), I couldn't have picked a better place to take Cielo to introduce Contra. She's 90 minutes from that dance. And That Man. Cielo is going to drive 90 minutes to dance with That Man (that really is what we call him because we don't know his name) and learn to dance because he won't be above teaching her. Also, he's, well, he's That Man.
Montpelier back in March. I was still facing a lot of rejection in the room and part of that had to do with hesitation on my face when I asked somebody to dance and had already decided I wasn't worthy. By the time I asked this guy to dance, I know that look was on my face AND I was really tired. So it took us awhile to work it out, this space between us that came only after two thirds of the dance was over and it didn't so much as snap into place as slide gradually and what I learned was that some people aren't really Contra dancers, they're something else entirely and they've brought it into the room and inserted it into the dance. Relax and go with it and ohmygod that's so good. I don't know what it was but ohmygod that's so good. In other words, let go of what you know. I learned a lot this weekend. My knees still hurt but I learned plenty.
I danced with this man at my first Contra dance. So did Elizabeth. That was second Saturday in July, 2011. He held me close just like that. Maybe that looks inappropriate and maybe with some other guy it might have been but it wasn't and isn't the way he does it. Now when he does it with his girlfriend there's some other sort of energy... :-) and he surely does not dance that way with Elizabeth, however... He's largely responsible for getting the two of us over the initial hump and I had a very hard time. I was scared to death. Later he was responsible for teaching us to play and I noticed he played with us almost exactly the same way. Elizabeth is closer to the ground, weighs a lot less and is easier and a lot more willing to try anything if she trusts you. He'd work something out with her, show me and then say, your turn. Sometimes I'd spin out of control and sometimes I wouldn't. Sometimes it would take a lot of practice before I got it right. I never crashed into anybody. He was a good teacher. He still is.
And finally there is SM. I don't have any pictures of SM and I dancing together and that is a shame. We'll have to do something about that. Until I met NM, if you could say I had a dance partner it would have been SM. SM didn't teach me that I could choose, he just reminded me that I could do. The big dance in the North and the smaller dances in NY taught me that I have choices.
All of this has reminded me that I don't have to or more accurately *should not* put myself in anyone else's hands in terms of judgement and choice. I get to go because I say so and then I get to decide where and when and with whom I go.
And as for my newest dance partners; well, it turns out they're anywhere from 19 to 60-something in the Village and I haven't really got any decent photographs just yet but if the guy with the bad knees keeps at it and the lion kid keeps doing his thing and that WOMAN is going to teach me stuff I hadn't even thought about... well what the hell and never mind not being particular or even wondering where my next partner might be coming from.
Many of us were lobotomized in the nursery but we have the capacity to fix that. But don't snivel. Never snivel. Well, OK, we're going to snivel but when you hear yourself, walk away and do something about it.
Walk in your own light. If you walked away from the last dance feeling like shit, dance with someone else next time. End of story. Don't brood on it.
(says the woman who spent four years digging out from the pit of despair of the last dance partner but perhaps I can be a terrible lesson if not a good example?)