Lindy Exchange


One of the first things a new dancer learns is that Shoes Are Important.  You blithely arrive for your first dance wearing the street shoes you intend to dance in, and watch as dancer after dancer arrives and immediately heads for a chair to change their shoes.  And the shoes they’re changing into, well, they’re odd.  People who seem to have gone to a lot of time and effort to put together very swanky, vintage outfits are pulling out… tennis shoes?  Really?  Or men’s dress shoes with that cute little dress?  Are you serious?  And they are.  Deadly serious.  There is nothing a dancer takes more seriously than shoes.

You start to realize that these are special shoes.  They have brand names like Aris Allens and Bleyers, or they’ve been specially modified at shoe stores.  They have soles made from suede or leather which must never, never, never get wet!  Ever!  Other dancers are happy to talk at length about their preferences in shoes, debating suede soles vs. hard leather vs. soft leather.  You start to think that maybe you ought to get your own pair of these special shoes.  It’s a watershed in a young dancer’s life when they buy their first pair of real dance shoes, or take a pair of shoes to a cobbler to get them resoled with suede.  It signifies a certain amount of commitment.  It says, “I’m serious about this.  Serious enough to buy the shoes.”

Sometime about the time the dancer buys the shoes, or maybe a bit before, the dancer’s clothing starts to change.  This is particularly apparent in girls.  When girls start dancing, they usually dress like a cross between their idea of glamorous 1940s vintage and what they’ve seen of ballroom dancers.  There’s a lot of full skirts, party dresses accessorized to appear more “vintage,” and sometimes low cut/strapless looks with a lot of black and white color schemes.  They want to look pretty!  And cute!  And vintage!  If they keep with it long enough they start to realize that dancing is hard work.  It’s exercise, and it’s not very fun exercising in a strapless dress.  They start dressing down more.  Jeans and workout pants begin to make their appearance.  They might still wear skirts, but they’re shorter, less full.  They do twirl tests, making sure that if the skirt flares, it doesn’t flare too high.  They start wearing more t-shirts, and less cute little vintage-y blouses.  Somewhere down the line they start attending dancing weekends and workshops, and start collecting event t-shirts.  They start to realize that when you exercise, you sweat, and begin to steer their color choices towards those which don’t show sweat stains.  They start to bring extra shirts to change into after they’ve sweated through the shirt they’re wearing.  Utility and comfort begin to be more important than vintage, although cute is still always a priority (it is, after all, social dance).

By this time the dancer has been dancing a few years, they look totally different.  The long skirts and high heels are gone.  Instead they’re wearing the Swing Dancer Uniform: jeans or other comfortable pants or skirt, t-shirt (preferably wearing the logo of a Lindy Exchange) or other breathable top, comfortable shoes with slick soles, no-fuss hair.  They’ve come to dance, and it shows.

Recently I’ve come to realize that beyond the requirements of good dancing clothes, there are also good teaching clothes.  I would say that learning to dance is 30% watching your instructors, 60% trying to do it yourself, and 10% hearing the teachers explain.  This means that students have to be able to actually see what the instructor is doing with his or her body.  For me that means not wearing any skirt longer than knee-length, and, well, added attention to the cute factor.  Wanting to be a better dancer often begins with wanting to look like your instructor.  So I try to look like someone they might want to emulate.  I’m still pretty new to teaching, so I don’t have this part all figured out.  Who knows?  Maybe in a year or two I’ll be writing a post on How To Dress Like A Teacher…

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So last week I started to get sick. I thought that for once I’d be good and go see the doctor right away. Usually I try to ignore it, push through, pretend that it’s just worse than usual allergies. Sometimes that works, at least for a little while. Then it backfires in a big way, I get so sick I pretty much collapse, and I have to drag myself to my Hero Doctor who makes me better. So I took a shortcut. I went to see my doctor right away, who diagnosed a sinus infection. He put me on antibiotics and decongestants. And for a while it worked.

Then it didn’t. Monday afternoon I started feeling awful. I figured it was just post-Lindy Exchange exhaustion, but that didn’t explain the sore throat that got worse and worse as the day continued. And then there were the headaches, the excess mucous, all those lovely things that shouldn’t be happening when you’re already on antibiotics. It was a little scary. Tuesday I pretty much didn’t get out of bed, and was so out of I didn’t really notice.

On Wednesday I went to the doctor again. He prescribed sulfa drugs to boost the antibiotics (which was very retro of him – Trey: “If they try to bleed you, call me.”) and even more varieties of decongestants. I came home and slept until it was time to go get my parents’ van and take the swing kids out to dancing. I taught Swing I, danced maybe a grand total of three dances, went home early, and pretty much fell over into bed. Yesterday morning I got up and felt almost normal. Well, the fact that I actually got up was pretty cool. I made tea, got dressed, and then, like a cell phone battery suddenly giving out, I was done. I was sitting on the couch about to put on my socks when I hit the wall. I just sat there for something like five minutes, my socks draped on my leg, looking at the carpet and thinking about how warm my feet would be if I ever got up the energy to put my socks on. Yeah. I took Liv to school, came home, collapsed on the couch and slept until four o’clock.

The good news is that I really am starting to get better. Yesterday evening I went to a meeting I needed to attend, and made it through basically in one piece. It used up everything I had at the time, so I wasn’t able to stay and hang out afterwards. But after a couple of hours on the couch (and after watching the first two Veronica Mars episodes with Liv, courtesy of Justin, who gave me the boxed set at the meeting) I felt well enough to actually (gasp!) do some homework. Today so far I’ve been able to make it to both class and work. Tomorrow is scheduled to be a pretty full day. We’ll see how this goes…

The good news is that when I looked out my window this morning I saw teeny tiny little new sprouts all over my vegetable patch! I planted a lot of stuff just before Easter, but it was so far past the germination dates on the seed packets that I had given up hope. I was even making plans for when I would reseed the garden patch. And then today – green! Hurrah!

Last night I got back from the Boston Tea Party, the highlight of my dancing year. And, friends, I have danced with John Lindo. If you recall, that was on my list of Things To Do Before I Die. It’s been there since I discovered West Coast Swing a year and four months(ish) ago. The clips of John dancing with Blake Hobby and Deborah Szekely were instrumental in making me fall in love with West Coast. Last year at Boston Tea Party I asked him to dance, but it didn’t work out. I’d been waiting a whole year for another chance. It was worth it.

See, every time I’d ever seen him dance, whether on a video or in person, not only was he a fabulous dancer, but the girl he was dancing with looked like she was having the time of her life. She looked like she felt beautiful and sexy and honored by the gift of his full attention. I wanted that, particularly at a time when I left the floor after the majority of my dances feeling like a complete failure. Those days are mostly gone, but I still wanted whatever it was that I saw in those women’s faces. Now I know why they look that way. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so taken care of in a dance before, and so appreciated. Every tiniest styling I did got reactions of approval. I’ve rarely laughed so much just from pure delight. It was wonderful.

I also danced with Peter Strom, which was wonderful in a different way. I had seen him dancing in the Superstar competitions last year, and though his dancing was pretty darn sweet, it didn’t occur to me that I might want to dance with him. Then this year I discovered the Crossover Room, where they play music suitable for both Lindy and Westie – mostly the groovy, Motown music I adore. He was one of the main DJs there, and sometimes came out from behind the table to dance with people. His dancing looked like so much fun – groovy and bluesy in the very best sort of way. Early on Saturday night, while the crowd was still thin, I diffidently approached the table and asked if he would be willing to dance with me. He said yes, that we could take the next one, that he would pick a good song. I smiled and retired to the sidelines to breathe. And then the next song came on and we danced. I’m not sure how to describe it. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a lead being so completely in control of the dance before. I loved it.

It’s always a little risky asking one of the Superstars to dance. You could have the dance of a lifetime or you could … not. For example, on Friday night I asked one of the other Superstar West Coast instructors (who shall remain nameless) to dance. I had been watching him for a little while, and it seemed like he was having fun. The instant I touched his shoulder and asked him if he would like to dance, however, all the life drained out of his face. He nodded politely, but the expression on his face said, “Oh, great. This clueless unworthy peon is making me dance with her. I hope I can get through it without catching her cooties.” I immediately knew I had made a mistake, but hoped that maybe he would be pleasantly surprised.

So we started dancing, and from the first beat of the song, he was entirely disconnected. He stood there and led one basic, baby move after the other, with no hint of styling or musicality, just going through the motions while he waited for the song to be over. There was no opportunity for me to show him what I could do, and he wasn’t paying attention enough to have noticed if I did. It sucked. Plus the dance floor was really, really crowded. Since he wasn’t actually watching me I didn’t feel like he cared whether I collided with anyone else or not. There were several close calls, making me more and more nervous as the dance went on. By the end of the dance, I was so tense that when he finally did lead something a little complicated, I missed the lead entirely. I did not miss, however, the expression of disgust on his face. I think it’s safe to say I’ll never dance with him again. I don’t think I’ll ever take one of his classes again either.

Still, for the chance at another dance like the ones I had with John or Peter? Yeah, I’ll risk it.

I hate writer’s block.  Especially when it seems to be selective writer’s block, only specifically blocking the one thing I really, really, really need to be working on right now.  And I was on such a roll this morning before I had to stop to go to my first class.  Why can’t I get back there now?  Arrrgh!

So I’m blogging.  Because that helps with writer’s block, right?  Right?  Well, at least it’s an attempt.  It’s better than reading Veronica Mars recaps on Television Without Pity.  Not that I’m, you know, doing that at the moment or anything.  Though it would be research for when Justin trades me his DVDs of the first two Veronica Mars seasons for the Heroes Season One DVDs I just finished.  (I still like Sylar the best, except for perhaps Mr. Muggles.  Is this wrong?)

Ok, moving on… I had a good Easter break.  I dug the vegetable garden and planted sweet peas and lilies of the valley.  Hopefully the seeds haven’t frozen in the ground by now, what with all the random snowflakes flying around, but they’re cold-weather plants, so I think they can take it.  I think.  It was one of the happiest times of the last couple months digging out in the garden under the wide, open sky.  I forget, during those months when I don’t have access to the ground, how much being outside helping things grow fills me up inside.  I don’t know how people could live in urban concrete jungles with no access to growing things.  I couldn’t do it.  I think part of me would die inside.

The Easter Vigil was fun.  I wore my new peep-toe shoes (Liv: “Peep!  Peep!”), and got to sit next to Eric, who is one of my favorite relatives ever.  (No, really, ever.)  We can’t sit next to each other in church too often.  We find the same offbeat things utterly hilarious, and can’t help pointing them out to one another.  It makes for a very distracting sort of Mass.  The Easter Vigil always starts with the lighting of the new fire, followed by the candlelight procession into the church.  After the Easter proclamation, everyone blows out their candles and sits down to listen to the Bible readings.  There are a lot of them since this is the Easter Vigil.  Eric was fidgeting with his candle during the readings, peeling layers of wax off of it, then breaking it into segments and folding it into a figure 8 which then got reinserted into the paper cuff that’s supposed to catch the wax.  This meant that when the time came to relight the candles later in the Vigil, his candle had two ends we could light.  So we did, giggling silently as we watched them burn down extra quickly.  Then I had to recite him the oh, so apropos Edna St. Vincent Millay poem (“My candle burns at both ends,/ It will not last the night./ But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,/ It gives a lovely light.”)  That was pretty funny too.

The other fun thing was that I took Liv home with me for Easter dinner.  I love watching her hang out with my family, especially the guys in my family.  The thing is that she’s really, really beautiful.  However, she doesn’t see her own beauty, particularly since she pays little to no attention to her looks whatsoever.  In her book, her blond sister is the beautiful one in the family, and Liv is the tomboy that nobody looks at twice.  Plus, she grew up rough-housing with two little brothers, so she doesn’t quite understand how the same behavior that’s really annoying in an older sister could be, well, really encouraging in a cute young woman sortof your own age.  It’s a kind of innocence.  Mikey is still young enough that they can play together without worries (plus he’s the one she trusts enough to carry her from my car into the house), but it was interesting watching Larry, my oldest brother.  He had just gotten his hair buzzed really short, so she had to rub it (she rubs her little brothers heads when they’ve just gotten a buzz cut).  It was awesome watching his brain melt and dribble out of his skull right there in my aunt’s living room.

And the other good part about Easter?  I got to talk to Joe.  When I was getting ready to leave my aunt’s house I saw that I’d missed a couple of calls, one from Ella, and one from a number I didn’t recognize.  I didn’t really think it was him, but part of me hoped (I’ve been missing him a lot, and it had been over a month since I got his last letter).  So I listened to my messages right then and there.  One of them was from him, telling me that he’s in New Orleans and giving me a number where I’ll be able to contact him from now until May.  Do you know how long it’s been since I had a phone number I could dial and connect with Joe any old time I wanted?  Years.  I mean, first he was in Afghanistan, then world traveling, then sharing a phone with the whole Jesuit novitiate.  It’s been a long time.  I got myself and Liv home as quickly as I could, went directly up to my room and called 14.  We talked a long time, the first time I think we’ve been able to talk ourselves out since he left town a year ago.  Then last night I called him again, just because I could. 

Now I’m trying to finish up school projects, clean the house to make a good impression of the potential roommate who might come visiting this weekend while I’m gone, and getting ready to leave for Boston.  Yup, friends, it’s time for the Boston Tea Party!  I’ve been waiting for this since I came home from my first Tea Party last year.  I’m so excited and nervous and stressed thinking of all the things that have to happen between now and when I fly out of Columbus on Thursday.  Thank goodness this year I have a room in the actual hotel, and if all goes well I’ll actually make it out for Thursday night instead of missing my flight like last year.  I’m also registered to compete in the West Coast Newcomers Jack & Jill.  Also, John Lindo owes me two dances.

Eeek!  Just thinking about it makes me nervous.  Breathe, Bernadette, breathe.  Ok.  I’m going to take another stab at that paper writing, and if that doesn’t work, I’m doing laundry.

Jenn just messaged me that K-Mart is selling roses for cheap!   Maybe I’ll have my rose garden after all!

This is how dancing-obsessed and deliberately non political* I am.  On my wordpress dashboard under the list of fast growing blogs was one called TeaParty07.  I immediately got all excited.  “Boston Tea Party has its own blog?!” I thought, “how cool is that?”  So I clicked and, no.  It is not a blog for Boston Tea Party, the four days of intense swing dancing that is the highlight of my swing dancing year (and online registration opened yesterday!).  It has nothing to do with dancing at all.  It’s some political thing having to do with fundraising for elections or something.  I’m not sure what side it’s for, or who it’s supporting.  The instant I realized it wasn’t dancing related I got out of there.  Sigh.

Lesson learned: sometimes it’s not about dancing.

*I’m deeply grateful for free elections, trial by jury, the bill of rights, etc.  I’ll cheerfully go for jury duty every time.  I’ve worked the polls.  I see it as part of your civic duty, the price you pay for enjoying said rights.  However, I am not interested in hearing about this stuff all the time.  Politics shouldn’t be a soap opera, and I have no interest in following it as if it were.

So I was thinking about putting together a few New Year’s Resolutions for myself, which caused me to realize a few things. First, I realized that absolutely nothing that I hoped for last year came true for me. Then I realized that this was because pretty much all my hopes were bound up in Carlos making good on all the promises his flirtatious behavior had seemed to make. I had kindof a half-formed goal of becoming a better dancer, but I hadn’t thought much about what that actually meant. My dancing has improved immensely, but if I were to judge the year’s success by my current relationship status, things would look pretty bleak. Sure, there was the Actual Date with Basil, but at year’s end I’m pretty much where I started. So this year I decided that not a single one of my goals should involve romantic relationships in any shape or form. For a while I toyed with the goal of having gone on another Real Date, but in the end I decided even that was too much. Instead, this year I want to focus on other things, like:

  1. My dancing. I have some basic things I know I want to work on (my balance, spinning, not drifting when I spin, relaxing into the lead, etc.), but those are things I’ll be working on probably my whole dancing career. This year I want to work on my solo Charleston. Specifically, I want to be comfortable enough with it, comfortable enough with my own body, that I can dance a whole song by myself without needing anyone else dancing along side me. One of the very few sad things about PittStop was that no matter how infectiously Charleston-y the song was, I couldn’t get anyone to form a Charleston circle with me for love or money, and I wasn’t confident enough to go it alone. Lucy has traditionally been my steady Charleston-circle partner in crime, but there’s a good chance that she might be leaving town later this year. So I need to work up the chops to go it alone. We’ll see how that goes.
  2. My friends. There are too many people I really care about whom I hardly ever see. This is partly because for the last two years I’ve been consistently choosing to spend my available free time dancing, and too many of my friends don’t dance. Still, I care about them and I don’t want to let them slip through my fingers for lack of a little effort. I’m a person who needs structure, so I’ve been trying to think of ways to structure friend time into my life. So far what I’ve come up with is having friends come over to watch TV with me, now that I actually have a TV night again. I know there’s got to be other ways to work this in. I’d be happy to hear other people’s ideas on this.
  3. My finances. I’m not gonna lie – I’m pretty much a spaz when it comes to money. I do stupid things. I buy stuff I don’t need. I either don’t plan ahead or I don’t follow the plan I have. I’ve bought the financial software, but I don’t use it. I never turn necessary paperwork in on time. I’m just awful at this stuff, and I know it. The accumulated impact of failure after failure becomes so overwhelming sometimes that I become emotionally paralyzed and can’t do anything at all until something snaps me out of it. However, little by little I’ve been improving, planning ahead, taking necessary steps to make sure every thing’s covered. I’m still far from perfect, but I have hopes that finally, this year I’ll get my stuff together.
  4. My writing. I took first prize in a poetry contest in 2007. Now I have two publishing creds under my belt. I’d like to have more. I don’t want to set a goal for acceptances or prizes, but I would like to send out at least two submissions every month. It’s not a lot, but I think it’s an important step for me. In his latest letter Joe sent me information on a poetry competition for a magazine he reads. I think I’ll start there.

And that’s what I have. I think they’re pretty good goals, challenging but achievable. The best part? None of them involve romance!

You know what’s wonderful? When you go to a Lindy Exchange (like, say, PittStop 7) where absolutely no one knows you from Eve. You see a guy dancing, and whatever he’s doing looks good enough that you decide to ask him to dance. So you do, and he says yes, cuz, you know, he’s a nice guy. Only he says it politely, not enthusiastically, and as he starts dancing you can tell he’s not expecting great things from this. But you know better. When the opportunity presents itself you do something unexpected and cool, or maybe he feels the connection and starts to suspect that you’re more of a dancer than he realized. His face sorta… wakes up. He leads something really neat, and you follow it perfectly. Then you throw a little something in or he leads something else, and it goes really well. And that’s how the dance goes. It’s a darn good dance, but the best part, the part that’s utterly wonderful is when the dance is done (ending with some kind of big finish or a dip that you didn’t know you could do), he sticks his hand out, looks eagerly into your face and says, “What was your name again? Where do you dance?”

I had so many dances like that this weekend. Sigh. It makes me all happy just thinking about it.

I had some rather lovely Bal dances too. One of my goals for this Exchange was to kindof see where I was with that. I’ve been working on Balboa more the last nine months or so, and while I know I’ve improved a lot, I didn’t really know what that meant in real terms. I wanted to see if I could hold my own with guys I don’t dance with every week. Friday night I got to talking with one of the event organizers, who pointed out who she thought was the best Bal lead in Pittsburgh, a transplant from Montreal (and you know those Canadian boys…). I watched my chance, and finally snagged him at the Saturday afternoon dance. And you know what? I’m not bad. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m really not bad at all. He, of course, was phenomenal. I’d go to PittStop next year just to dance with him again. Really.

The icing on the cake, however, was getting to see Luke. He and I were on the same traveling youth ministry team some years back. We criss-crossed the country together in a thirteen passenger van along with nine other random Catholic young adults (and, yes, we were very random). In the process we saw each other at our absolute best and absolute worst – and became something like each other’s family. He’s getting his doctorate at Duquesne, and just got engaged to an absolutely wonderful girl. I was delighted when I heard about his engagement cuz, well, it’s Luke, who deserves to be happy in every way, but I didn’t know anything about who he was engaged to. It turns out that she’s really great – smart and funny, the kind of girl who I could probably be good friends with if we were in the same city. It makes me hope that Luke and I end up on the same university faculty one day, not just because it would be so wonderful to work with him, but because then I could really be friends with his wife-to-be.

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