I had a long FB chat conversation about my experience with a particular demographic of contra dancers yesterday. Now that I've inserted the word 'Contra' into the context, I'm going to take it right back out because I know damn well this can and should be applied broad stroke across life. I started by applying it to other forms of dancing but then it spread to horses and skiing and other things I've done and rippled exponentially out of control... so I just let it go. The context of contra just happens to be where I'm experiencing myself right now but it isn't like any of this is new.
So the chat was with my new favorite dance caller. He is a fairly young gay male out of the Northeast and I love his energy and his willingness to shake things up. I also like that he can pull shit out of a blender and put it back on his feet. I made that up yesterday (having seen and experienced him doing exactly that) but told him he couldn't put it on his site. Not PC enough marketing. So the other thing I love about him, maybe what I love best, is his commitment to the entire room. In a small dance community like Connecticut you won't even notice this because the room is small. 30 or 40 people and you're going to call to the entire room no matter what. If you let the new dancers fall apart and call to a few elite then shame on you; you've just diminished that community by half and they won't have you back because those new dancers may never come back. The values are different in a small community.
We were talking about my experience with a particular demographic. It surprised me, actually. I expected to be upset by the younger dancers, the dancers who moved so fast I'd never keep up or be or do exactly what they wanted me to do meeting them up or down the line and I'd just have to deal with meeting some level of frustration. As it turns out, that isn't the case. As long as I can manage to be physically in the right place at the right time (facing the right direction) and pick up a lead, they'll throw me into most of what they want to do and I go willingly, whether my feet slide out from under me (I haven't landed on my ass yet) or I do it wrong or come out backwards or otherwise. That level of joy is astonishing. These are the best dancers in the room, by a very long shot. And if I fuck up a lead and fail to follow exactly the only response I've EVER gotten is, oops, sorry! Not as if I did something wrong, as if I was given a lead that wasn't clear enough. Or I was mis-read, or something. Well damn. That's accountable. As opposed to, I gave you a lead and you just screwed it up and ruined it for me and you're doing it all wrong!
Then there's the 40 - 55 set. The, I'm still in pretty damn fine shape and I've been dancing for 25 years (I think that's the average) and I do it PERFECTLY and I only want to dance with other people who do it perfectly, or maybe those really young girls, who also do it perfectly or maybe I can teach them something? Oh hell, that's not even worth getting into because that isn't my point. I don't think age is the issue here, it's just this particular demographic right now. I upset this group. If I behave myself and do what I do just right, then we're fine. Mostly. I jetison toward younger neighbors and skid back covered in sweat and grinning like an idiot, forgetting myself for a moment and realize I'm facing the wrong direction and then I'm nervous as shit and suddenly in my head and then... the most terrible of all possible things happens... I FORGET THE DANCE... and the caller has stopped calling and I'm on my own.
Which group does this piss off the most? :-)
At the New Year's Eve dance I got turned around once and a man who had obviously seen me somewhere said, come on, Alecto, you're better than this... but it was my dance by then so I just looked at him and laughed and said, as we moved on down the line, since when isn't this enough?
At least he was direct, I'll give him that, and at least I didn't care. That time.
In the beginning, the very first time, I felt horribly judged by a very small number of people because I had no idea what I was doing (why the hell would I? I'd just walked in off the street) but there were enough people in the room walking me through the dance and smiling non-stop that I was buffered and fell in love. Later at that same dance when it was up to me to create community and nurture new dancers, I remember looking at some of our own committee members and looking at their levels of frustration, and in some cases, outright distaste and thinking, you! You idiot! You are your own worst enemy! This person is not ever going to learn to dance because he has to meet YOU coming down the hall at him!
Where else does this happen in our lives?
Oh hell, where doesn't it, really?
Back to the conversation with my favorite caller. Some callers, I know perfectly well, are going to call to the elite and when the new dancers leave the room or even walk out of the line, they just close up the gaps. It's feedback that either doesn't matter or isn't heard. Those callers aren't there to build community or to create new dancers and that's ok. I guess. Personally, I don't really want to dance in an environment like that on a regular basis, but I never have.
I was talking about being driven to tears in the middle of a dance where it was crowded enough that you could keep dancing and keep smiling enough, periodically, that it wouldn't be painfully obvious, or you could just be oblivious and keep moving until it was over and then just run like hell, or in my case, run toward the nearest possible next partner with a friendly face. Anybody who came down the line at you and didn't bite (most of them). What struck me was that he was horrified.
I moved past the conversation to something else. He kept coming back to it until I realized he just wasn't going to let it go until we'd worked through every last detail. What happened, why did I feel that way, what could I do to prevent it in the future in terms of how I felt about myself as a dancer and why I was there in the first place. We talked about whether or not it was ok to make mistakes and that's really a matter of style. As long as you aren't disruptive (and for the Love Of God, we are ALL disruptive in the line sometimes) and do your best to be in the right place at the right time, then you do what you do. And you dance to your partner. That's what neighbors are for. You get to have an awful lot of those.
One of my favorite dancers is an older man who acts as an anchor with me. I don't think I've ever felt judged, he just prefers to slow me down and ground me. And he's always happy to see me. He wrote something in a FB string about the importance of the happiness of his dance partners and something clicked...
It's really more about who we're being in the dance. There is a reason for the eye contact, other than not throwing up on your partner's feet coming out of a spin; that connection that matters so much to most dancers.
This is/was a reality check for me. Connect with your partner in your partner's space. If that means your partner is having trouble connecting with you for whatever reason, guess what? It falls on your head to make up the difference. So that dance might be a quiet dance, but Alecto? You probably won't end up in tears. And when it's all over, thank your partner, thank the band and then go and find yourself another.
You can and should apply that to any relationship in your life.
The photograph above was taken at the Thanksgiving dance in 2011. I'd been dancing for four months and had maybe been to 8 dances tops, absolute max. I was just starting to really get it about the balance before a swing. I was so incredibly happy and here's the thing, if you find you've stopped smiling, check in, and change something. Nobody else is going to do it for you.