I’m a firm believer that one of the best things you can do to get past any sort of funk, whether it is caused by dance or other things in life, is to go out and do something that is dance related, but is also fun and different. I love going out and having dance adventures (if you couldn’t tell just by looking at the title of this site), and I’ll admit that there are lots of times that I have gone out on dance adventures during the week specifically so that I have something amusing to write about later. If I didn’t do interesting dance-related things, this whole site would be filled with me talking about taking lessons and working on technique and figures over and over again. With that in mind, this past weekend I went out on two dance field trips, one I wanted to go on and one I got talked into going on, and they left very different impressions on me after they were over. Let me tell you all about them!
So… this past Saturday morning I ended up going to a dance fitness class. Bony has taken to going recently and has been loving it, and so she’s been telling everyone that they should join her because of how much fun it is. My initial thought when she asked me to go was “Am I going to be the only guy in class?” to which she said no. She convinced Sparkledancer to go, and then both of them were asking me to go along with them, and I have trouble saying no to groups of people. So I went. And I was the only guy there aside from the instructor. If you don’t count him, it was me and what seemed like forty women in class. Luckily, I knew three of them (Bony, Sparkledancer and Lord Junior’s professional partner Lady Lovelylocks also came). Before the class even started, I swear I was being evaluated like a piece of meat. I was off in the far corner of the room (it felt safe to me there), moving around a little to warm up. The song playing in the background was a Cha-Cha, so I was doing some chasses, just to get the blood flowing to my legs. One of the women on the other side of the room got all excited while I was doing the chasses and ran over to me to ask if I knew the video for the song, because what I was doing was part of the choreography apparently. I told her no, that it was just normal Cha-Cha chasses. I had thought that would be the end of it, but that was not the case. She was super excited to talk about the class, and the instructor, and how much fun things would be, and how great it was to see me there. I did my best to keep up with her enthusiasm (and the speed with which she talked), but she was above my league. Class started when the music was turned up louder and the instructor, who was a ball of energy that we’ll call The Professor, made his way to the front of the room. The women waved to me and left to take her place to his left up at the front of the class as everything got underway.
(Note: after the class, Sparkledancer laughed at me and said that she had been watching the woman talk to me, and it wasn’t so much that the woman was really excited about the chasses I was doing, it was actually that the movement gave her an excuse to come and start a conversation with me. Sparkledancer thinks the woman would have done the same thing no matter what I would have been doing.)
The class went exactly as I expected it to for me. Without knowing the choreography, there was a lot of flailing of limbs on my part and some amusement over the selection of songs used. The Professor kept things going for well over the scheduled hour class was supposed to take, only allowing for a few brief respites for his flock before pushing them into the next routine. It felt kind of like being in a commercial for the dance fitness program – every so often, when the Professor led a move that the ladies found exciting, or when a new song started, or sometimes for no reason at all, a woman would start yelling excitedly, then more would join in. If the excited yelling went on long enough, the whole class would get in on it together. I can’t say I’ve ever been in a position where that has happened before. Usually when I exercise, it’s fairly quiet – the whooping and hollering was a new experience for me. They also liked waving their arms a lot. Some of what they were doing seemed to be part of the choreography for the songs, but sometimes it just seemed like they were doing it out of sheer excitement.
When class was over, the same woman who made a point of talking to me before class started ran over to talk to me again. She really wanted to know what I thought about the class, and whether I was interested in coming again next week to join them. I told her that I felt a little out-of-place there, like I was invading a class for women only. She told me (I’m not even making this up) that they used to have a lot more men in class – there used to be two of them that came regularly. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at that statement in front of her; we apparently have very different ideas about what constitutes “a lot” of men in a class. Then it hit me – she was playing dance ambassador to me! I have done the same thing many times: talking to newcomers, trying to get them to come back and dance with us again later, expounding all the fun things that we do as dancers. This lady was talking to me exactly the same way I would talk to dance newcomers when I wanted them to come back and dance again. So now I know what being on the other side of that conversation feels like. The whole experience was fun though, and I will say that I can see myself going back to do it again. I don’t think I could handle going every week, because I think that with my current workout schedule that would be a little much, but maybe every couple of weeks it would be a nice change of pace.
Then came the dance adventure on Saturday night. Let me tell you a tale I’m going to call West-Coast-Swing Side Story…
Let me preface this by saying that I have always really liked West Coast Swing. I have even done competitions where my dance partner and I have been the only ones on the floor during the West Coast Swing heats. I had heard about this free beginner workshop that was going on Saturday night hosted by a local West Coast Swing club, so I was all excited about going. I don’t get to do West Coast Swing that often (it’s not one of the more popular American Rhythm dances, and I’m sure living near the east coast doesn’t help either), so I thought that I might be able to pick up a few new figures while I was there. Now, I was fully aware walking into this workshop that this wasn’t actually going to be Ballroom-Style West Coast Swing, and there are some differences in the way we do things when compared to the way the general practitioners of West Coast Swing do things. The big one that I’ve been told about over and over is that in Ballroom, ladies do something called a Coaster Step to end one figure and start the next. In general practice they do a different figure called an Anchor Step. The Coaster Step allows the lady to bring her feet together and then take another forward step, pushing off her standing leg to build some power when starting the next figure. The Anchor Step is more like a soft punctuation mark at the end of a phrase, shuffling the right foot behind the left, in something that looks kind of like a rock step, but shuffleier (I know it’s not a word, but I’m using it).
The guy teaching the class started out by going into this long explanation of how West Coast Swing is the most educated of dances; people can’t just go out there and pick a random partner and expect them to be able to follow what’s happening like you can with any other dance. I sort of understood where he was coming from with this remark, but the way he phrased it felt almost… snooty. Like he didn’t think that other dances were as good because they were more accessible to the masses or something. It was a weird feeling to get, something I don’t think I am describing, or could describe, properly. He talked about how West Coast Swing was unlike any other dance in that it was danced with the Follow travelling along a line and the Lead creating rails along the outside to contain the Follow, like a railroad track. He even made mention of how he had in fact danced West Coast Swing on railroad tracks, and even on a diving board to show how this concept should work. Of course, being the wisenheimer that I am, I thought ‘huh, he is just describing a Slot Dance’ and ‘he must have never tried Hustle if he thinks that West Coast Swing is the only dance that does that.’ I kept those thoughts to myself during the class though.
After the off-putting remarks, the class was sort of fun when looked at from a group class standard. It was a large group, with lots of new dancers in class, and though we only covered some pretty basic figures, there were a couple that I didn’t actually know mixed in, so that was good for me. The part of class that kind of makes me step back and scratch my head was the way the actual members of this West Coast Swing club seemed to treat people who knew Ballroom-style West Coast Swing. Most of the members of the club were easy to discern – they were wearing t-shirts with the club logo, so it was easy to pick them out. Many of the club members (both male and female) were helping out with the class since there were way more women than men. The club members seemed to be able to tell those of us who were Ballroom kids apart from the rest of the group, and they didn’t seem to like us very much. Before class even started, Sparkledancer and I were dancing some Rumba to the music playing in the background while waiting for others to show up, and I could see them watching us from the sidelines with weird expressions on their faces. During class, I ended up in line next to an older member of the club, and he stopped me a couple of times to adjust my arms and my frame because I was holding myself much more like a Ballroom dancer, not using the floppy, overly relaxed posture that they were all using. When I mentioned I stood like that because I only did Ballroom West Coast Swing, he only said “I know” to me, and that was it. No other explanation of why he felt the need to fix my frame. Sparkledancer had it worse than I did – she told me after the class that some of the club members asked her as she rotated through if she had danced before, since she knew several of the figures already, so she told them she did Ballroom. They kind of scowled at her when she said that, and one guy even apparently apologized to her because of it, saying that he used to dance Ballroom and was so glad to be out of it. I didn’t realize it was such a negative thing.
It almost felt like we were in two different dance camps, and we weren’t allowed to interact with each other. I left shortly after the workshop was over, but maybe if I had stuck around we would have had a rumble. It wasn’t exactly the uplifting West Coast Swing learning experience I had been so excited for. I know we did things a little differently, but we were all dancers, so we should have been able to meet on some common ground. Would we have gotten the same reaction from people who dance Samba in Brazil when they see us dancing Ballroom-style Samba? Maybe. Maybe we are destined to live in two separate worlds, and ne’er the two should meet. I certainly didn’t want to do the shuffley version of West Coast Swing, I like the Ballroom version that I learned. It makes me happier. I wouldn’t want to give that up.
It reminds me of words once spoken by a great poet:
“When you’re a Ballroom kid, you’re a Ballroom kid all the way.
From your first basic steps to your last dyin’ day…”
OK, maybe that’s not how that actually goes, but it’s pretty close, right?
(With many apologies to Bernstein and Sondheim…)