Sunday, 28 June 2015

Living in swing dance purgatory...

We're into the homeward run in #blogjune, and I've been trying to keep my posts diverse between my varied interests of libraries, literature, travel. However, I haven't been blogging much about swing dancing. For over five years now, it's been a big part of my life - it's very much a social activity through which I've made many new friends, it's a very physical activity, which makes me feel less guilty for neglecting to go running / to the gym regularly (and, in anything, provides me with motivation to go and improve my cardio fitness, so that I can be a better dancer!), and it's a creative activity, where I develop dance skills to connect musically and rhythmically with a range of authentic jazz music from the 1920s to the 1940s - as well as contemporary interpretations of this musical era - all of which is music that I absolutely adore to listen to. When in Melbourne, I would go out dancing at least twice a week, and often 3-4 nights a week.

However, in recently years, I've found myself living in cities / towns where there hasn't been a regular swing dance scene. This, of course, has a substantial impact on my life - for me, dance isn't just all of the things I've described above - it's also a release. There's an intense emotional connection with the music (and also, to some extent, with the dance partner), and this provides a cathartic function in my life. No matter how frustrating my work or personal life is, I can always dance my woes away. And there are times that I really crave that familiar comfort, connection and joy that comes from swing dancing.

Furthermore, it's something that I'm missing right now. Up until about four months ago, I was all booked in to go to Herrang Dance Camp - in Sweden - the biggest Swing Dance camp in the world. I would have arrived yesterday morning. But my life's road took an unexpected twist, as it often does, and that's okay.

So, when the dancing's not immediately available, how do I find it?

1. Travel to where the dancers are. 
When I lived in rural Japan, I would travel 2-3 hours each way on a Wednesday, for the sake of an hour and a half of social dancing before I had to run to catch the last train home at 9:30pm. It was worth it. More recently, I caught overnight trains to and from Bulgaria for a swing dance weekend, and two flights each way to and from Prague, where they have regular weekend social dancing. I've got some leave planned for September, and hopefully more around Christmas where I'll head to Snowball in Stockholm, or one of the other big events nearby, depending on when I can get away!

2. Teach the locals to swing dance.
I did this for the first five months when I first arrived in Hanoi, teaching every Tuesday evening, in the hope that this would lead to building a community of local swing dancers. However, I learnt a few things here. Firstly, teaching / building a scene cannot be a solo effort. Furthermore, there needs to be a substantial number of locals who want to build the community - it's not something that you can build, especially as a newly-arrived foreigner. It takes a lot of work and organisation, and even then the social dynamics can be such that a swing dance community can collapse easily within a short period of time, if not managed carefully (especially where there is a huge transient population). I can kinda understand why dance scene leaders get awfully sensitive when it comes to dance scene politics.

That said, I did enjoy teaching swing dancing, especially when I had somebody to teach with. I developed some valuable skills, and like to think that in finding ways to teach technique to others, I'm also mindful of my own dancing. It's something that I've also been able to bring to the Balkans, and assist another swing dancing friend who occasionally teaches swing dancing workshops in her local community (only five hours away from me by bus - but totally worth it!).

3. Collaborate with other dancer(s) living nearby.
Now, if you're lucky, there'll be at least once other dancer living nearby. And if you don't want to teach, you can at least dance with each other, and exercise your creativity by developing a routine, like I did earlier this year with another lindy hopper who was in town for three months (which we performed at her going-away party - see below)

Yes, it was a flying carpet. Appropriate for the song. For dancing, not so much.

4. Focus on solo jazz dance.
This has been my latest tactic. When I picked my apartment, I made sure the living room had a nice big wooden floor. I've recently purchased the means to connect my laptop to my big TV screen, and now I have my own solo dance studio!
A photo posted by Andrew F (@lib_idol) on
With last weekend's activities in Prague, I had to learn the Big Apple routine - of which I already knew the first half (aka the easy half). After some cram-learning, I've spent the last week actually taking the time to learn it properly, and through this, I'm rediscovering my love for solo jazz dancing. Once I've finished locking in the Big Apple, I'm going to start revising the Tranky Doo and the Jitterbug Stroll, and then seek out other routines, like Doing The Jive. If you don't know what these are, then see below...

The Big Apple routine from "Keep Punching"

Part of the Tranky Doo from the film "Spirit Moves"

I kinda love this teacher demonstration of the Jitterbug Stroll...

Doing the Jive - in Seoul, Korea, where the scene is huge and the dancers are amaaaazing!

That should keep me busy for at least a couple of months until my next big Swing Dance adventure, where I'll be spending my whole birthday week at a Swing Castle Camp in Germany.