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One of the great things about spending this summer in New Haven has been having the opportunity to explore campus life without the guilt of impending academic deadlines. One thing I wish I had made time for last semester is swing dancing, which has been a hobby of mine since I learned the Carolina Shag in middle school. (I was a staff member at a social dance and etiquette institute back home in Georgia, but that’s a story for another day.) Also, apologies for the really corny pun in the title; it’s pretty bad, I know.
In late April, the Jonathan Edwards Social Activities Committee (JE SAC) threw our annual Spider Ball, an end-of-the-year formal with two hours of live swing music. As usual, I was excited for the opportunity to show off my dance-floor savvy, and I kidnapped anyone who was willing to indulge my (admittedly dorky) enthusiasm with at least one dance. One of my dance partners that night was actually a swing dancer herself, and later that week she invited me to an event hosted by the Yale Swing and Blues Club (YS&B). However, since it was the end of the year, I had a lot on my plate and had a schedule conflict that night. Though I couldn’t make it, I told her to keep me in the loop about future YS&B events.
A few weeks ago, my friend told me that YS&B would be hosting weekly summer practicums—three-hour dance forums open to swing and blues dancers of all levels of experience, from first-timers to seasoned dancers. We met up and headed over to the event together, and despite my initial reservations about dancing with a group of complete strangers, I was quickly having a blast.
Though the swing portion of the night went quite smoothly, I was completely out of my element when the blues music started. I couldn’t feel the rhythm and every step seemed awkward and forced. Compared to swing, blues dancing requires much more improvisation and kinesthetic intuition—two things that definitely don’t come naturally to me. (Yep, I’m totally that kid who does the self-conscious two-step shuffle at parties.) In fact, I’ve never been very comfortable with any form of artistic expression that has non-rigid conventions; I start panicking with every improvisational blunder I make. The way I respond to this sort of panic is the same way I would respond to a fire or collapsing roof: scope out the exits and prepare to make a run for it. In keeping with my multipurpose self-preservation tactic, I sat down after the first blues dance and told my friend I was going to take “a quick break”—by which I probably meant “an extended hiatus with no intent to return”.
I tried to mask my discomfort with a pretty transparent air of nonchalance. When I had been a sedentary lump against the wall for three dances in a row, two of the event organizers headed my way. In a matter of minutes, they had shown me the ropes of basic blues dancing, and I slowly began to relax enough to start feeling the rhythm of the music. Though I’m still no blues expert, I’m learning to enjoy it almost as much as swing. Almost.
Sunday night practicums are now something I look forward to all week long. In addition to the practicums, I’m thinking of signing up for a weekly Lindy Hop series that they’ll be teaching this month. I’m getting pretty excited for a summer full of swing and blues!