Tuesday, April 17, 2012

re: Lindy hop as "challenge" (now with more Venn diagrams!)

So this post is a response to the thread of an idea that's been batted back and forth between Rebecca Brightly and Bobby White, as well as a couple other people.

The first posts is "31 Signs you're not an advanced dancer yet" (Brightly). It is an interesting article by itself, but my response is only to a very small part of it, a nearly-parenthetical aside toward the end of the piece.
"We don’t start lindy hopping because we want easy popularity. We take the journey to becoming lindy hoppers because we crave challenge."
This is a very inclusive "we" statement, as BW points out, positing motivation for basically all lindy hoppers.  Is it true?

[long post after the jump]

White devotes several paragraphs to responding to that statement in his article "In response to '31 Signs you're not an advanced dancer yet'".  But the kernel of it  seems to be:
For me, the desire to express myself and the incredible way swing music makes me feel and share that with a partner are specifically why I Lindy Hop. And this means far, far more to me than craving challenges. I surpass the challenges because doing so is the price for improvement. 

And then there is Brightly's post expounding on her comment at greater length, in which the ""The Hidden Reason WeBecome Lindy Hoppers" is: "challenge." [Or, "sex and challenge," the first part of which dovetails interestingly with BW's article "Love & Swing (1): "To meet boys"]

There have been a few responses to Rebecca's post stating slightly alternate reasons for lindy hopping that share a common thread:

If I had to name a primary motivation for my continued dancing, and indeed my level of obsession with it,  my answer would most closely align with Bobby and Jason and Andrew.  Hot guys and community and challenge I've had in spades for a long time in the rock climbing world, but the apex moments of rock climbing are solo moments*.  And rock climbing can be beautiful, but I don't feel that it's really "creative" or "art."

You get close with your climbing partners in many ways, through the physical deprivation of winter camping or misery of summer humidity and the shared experience of days of pain in pursuit of goals, the giddiness of ascents, the perfection of the desert or temperate forest beauty, and the emotional intimacy and trust you place in your partner who holds the rope that holds your life... but when it comes down to the moments of cruxing, you are up there alone. There is the complete absence of synergy of energy in free climbing**; you accomplish the moment on your own power. That is the point of it.

When I get obsessed with a climb, it's the beauty of the climb, or how I feel when I climb it, in the silence***. (scared? inadequate? elated? powerful?) My belayer doesn't factor in.  Who was holding the rope rarely factors into sport climbing stories; I doubt I could tell you who was belaying me on most of my proudest ascents, except by probability on who I climbed with most often at the time.

When it comes down to the moments in dancing that inhabit my brain and the memories that drip drugs into my bloodstream that send me back to chase that high, the moments are shared. The challenges I have in dancing are things that I try and get past so that I can remove layers of barrier, strip away anything that inhibits communication between me and my dance partners, between my mind and my body to express things to the music.

Bobby White has another revealing quote in a more recent blog most on "fun" in swing dancing:

[On some floors, because of others' poor floorcraft] I spend most of my night pulling my partner out of harm’s way rather than expressing my innermost emotions through the art of the Lindy Hop. And you know what? That is not fun.
Expressing my innermost emotions through the art of the Lindy Hop, though? Super fun.

Andrew calls certain moments "the spark"; I've referred to them in my head as "magic dances." The thing that really sets dancing apart for me though, is that it's not just an emotional closeness in a moment with the music, which you can get by going to a really good concert with a friend.  It's that PLUS the physical synergy, the shared energy and wordless communication that really get me. The trading of ideas without speaking, the experience of feeling truly "heard" and hearing something honest from my partner, of playing with someone in this way, is nearly unique to partner dancing among things that I have personally experienced.

I think musicians feel this way when they play together sometimes, listening to them talk about how certain sets "gel" and talking about the joy they feel when they play with someone they've never met before and they feel in sync as if they've played for years.  But I'm a very poor musician, except for on the feet.

Layered on top of the connection with your partner, there is also the level of connection with everyone within earshot, who is hearing and making the music that is absolutely necessary for dancing. In class this past weekend, Bobby Bonsey made the analogy that dancers in a room all hearing the same music are like trees of an aspen grove, all a single organism.  You're connected to your partner on a very visible level, above the ground, but you're connected to everyone by the deep roots of the shared experience of the music.  You can look at dancers in a ballroom and see them all moving as one and know that this is true.

So in conclusion, while I sometimes enjoy the puzzles and challenges of dancing, and my personality is such that sometimes I obsess over them and bulldog things, I wouldn't say that's anything close to "why I lindy hop." I think the driving reason I lindy hop (and dance in general) has something more to do with the fundamental human condition of craving connection and wanting to make music with my body. Maybe I like dancing so much because I'm maybe not so good at social connections in other arenas. I know I like it because I'm not good at making music in other ways. Maybe other lindy hoppers feel the same way; there's a pretty notable and long-noted, sizable contingent of swing dancers who are pretty big nerds and social misfits among larger society.

And magic dances? really feel like drugs.

I would like to add "art" and "challenge" as orthogonal variables, but I'm not really sure how to represent that.

[update, re: completeness of roundup: Rebecca Brightly responded to this on G+****.]

* I don't really do big walls and I don't do mountaineering. Your partners are a little more important in those cases, but the fact still stands that when you climb the crux pitch on the Dawn Wall (someday, TC), your fingers are the ones on the rock and there's no tension on the rope.

** "free climbing" means moving up the rock on your own power, just your hands and feet on the rock, without pulling on gear or stepping in a rope ladder hanging on gear.  It does not mean 'climbing without a rope', which climbers refer to as "free soloing."

*** Hopefully silence. I fucking hate it when people bring speakers to the crag.

**** addendum to my comment on Brightly's G+ post:
Type 1 fun: fun. (fun while you're doing it.)
Type 2 fun: not fun. (fun afterwards.)
Type 3 fun: never fun.
Type 4 fun: fun while you're doing it. (but not fun afterwards.)


  1. That venn diagram put a smile on my face.

    I also like that I can now increase the number of people I know of who use the phrase "magic dance" the same way I do by 1.

    1. glad you liked it! I especially enjoyed putting "moshing" in its proper place.