Swing Club


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!

Today I saw a drowned worm on the sidewalk, the first of the year.  I think that might be an even more powerful harbinger of spring than the warm weather we had for a few days, or the tiny green leafbuds on the tree outside my bedroom window, or even the small, red growths on the rose bush that signify leaves and blooms in the future.  I think this is my favorite time of year, even if the contrary weather is currently making things bleak and gray.  Hints and promises are all over the place, like the small green spikes of flowering bulbs, and the beginnings of new growth on my thyme plants.

Also, all the yarn scraps left over from the pom-poms on Liv’s Hat of Awesomeness (more about that later) which I scattered on my windowsill yesterday have disappeared.  I hope that the birds have taken them for nesting material, not that they’ve simply blown away.  Our backyard is very bird-heavy these days.  It’s been fun identifying them.  We have a nesting pair of cardinals – the lady is so funny looking in her deep red brown feathers with that bright orange beak.  There are also finches, both plain and rosy, (I’m kind of excited about them, because I read that they’re one of the few birds aggressive enough to chase off the ever-present sparrows) and chickadees.  The chickadees were the most difficult to identify.  It took me a while to get a good look at them.  For a while I had convinced myself that the black and white bird that kept showing up on the suet feeder was a kind of woodpecker.  Then I saw a picture of chickadees in the bird feeder catalog and immediately recognized the birds in my backyard.  Now every time I hear them sing it makes me smile.

Something else that makes me smile is my Swing Club kids.  They’ve started coming out to more of the local swing events, which has been delightful.  There’s a lot of them, so I’ve been borrowing my parents’ van to chauffeur them around.  On Saturday I took them out to the monthly dance.  They were a huge hit with the regular swing people.  They’re so young and excited and, well, innocent.  (Mark: “They’re like swing dancers before Original Sin.”)  I enjoy watching them.  They’re not the best dancers by a long shot – there are almost universal frame problems, footwork issues, etc. – but they’re learning and growing at such a pace!  Plus, they’re just so cute!  They’re very sick of that adjective, and I don’t blame them, but it fits so exactly there’s simply no other word to use.  Several of them will be taking the Balboa workshop this month, more than will fit in my car, so I’m borrowing the van every Wednesday to take them.  I can’t wait!

Recently I was catching up on some posts on danceprimer.com, and I found the following quote in Amber’s interview with Jojo Jackson:

“I would consider my recent teaching partner, Dax Hock, to be one of the best mentors I’ve had in my career. Not only from the vast amount of knowledge he shared on and off the dance floor, but for his exceptional level of public interaction at every workshop weekend. On any given night, he will invariably be seen dancing with every single follow in the room, and if the energy starts to drop, he will boost everyone’s spirits with an all-inclusive group dance or jam session.”

When I read this I instantly thought of Sam, one of the first guys I ever danced with. He was the president of the swing club at the Other Big University in town, where I had my second ever swing dancing lesson. He asked me to dance as soon as the lesson was over, the first time I’d been asked to dance by A Guy I Didn’t Know. (The entire song he chanted, “Triple step, triple step, rock step,” and let me say, it wasn’t for his benefit.) Over the course of the evening he danced almost every dance, not sitting down until he’d danced with every girl there. He did this every night, every time he was at a dance. New dancers struggle with insecurity, wondering whether, if you go to the dance, anyone will actually dance with you. Knowing that if Sam was there I would have at least one good dance was a little anchor I could cling to, making it much easier to keep dancing through my insecurities and fears until I had a chance to improve.

Sam’s help didn’t stop there. He cared about my progress as a dancer, and encouraged me to be better. I still remember the first time he took me off to the side of a dance and told me we were going to work on this thing called “frame.” When I was terrified of being dipped, he worked with me, dipping me again and again until I started to relax a little. Other teachers have taught me more, but he was the first to care about me as a dancer.

Sam was a good lead, but more importantly, he was a good Leader. The fact that he danced with every girl at the dance is a little thing, but it made a huge difference in the club. I can remember watching a new follow leave the floor after dancing with him, looking flushed and happy, and immediately grab another new dancer, dragging him onto the floor for the next dance. His energy was infectious, and the dance floor was rarely empty. He traveled to neighboring school’s dances, and took us with him. He pushed us to move beyond the university club into our city’s swing scene. Several of the better dancers in our local scene got their start in that swing club. It was great while it lasted. Then he graduated, his successor wasn’t nearly of Sam’s caliber, and things fell apart.

It’s been a long time since I danced with Sam (the last time I laid eyes on him was when I dj’d his wedding reception), but he is still my gold standard of what a lead should be. It’s not just strength, clarity and precision, musicality and playfulness – although Sam had those in spades. It’s something more. It’s having an attitude of service, an understanding of what it takes to build up a swing community, and a willingness to do what that requires. It’s being willing to dance with the new follows so they can actually learn how to dance. It’s caring about other dancers. My ideal lead isn’t just a leader, he knows how to serve.


I have been dieing to post this for weeks. 😀 This is a rehearsal video of the routine my university’s swing club took to the Swing Smackdown this weekend.  This is the first we’ve had a swing club since the old one died out too long ago to mention. The members are almost all Freshman, and as cute as a barrel full of puppies. Really, there is no end to the cute. Every one of them just started dancing in September, but when they heard about the competition, they decided that they had to get a team together to participate. Most of these kids had never danced anywhere but the room where this video is taken, kids who had never seen a real jam circle, who had no idea what they were up against. But they didn’t care. They wanted to do something cool, make a splash, a debut that people would talk about. I think they succeeded.

Trey and Anna choreographed and coached. I helped where I could, and acted as Team Mom. The kids worked their little butts off. They had official rehearsals two nights a week, and kept calling additional practices on their own time. They amazed and impressed me so many times over the last couple of months I just started expecting to be amazed and impressed. Plus, they were so freakin’ cute! They were so fresh and enthusiastic and happy while they worked. It was wonderful.

The best part of all was watching individual dancers blossom. My favorite was Melanie, the little girl in the grey tank top and cream colored sweats on the left side. When she started dancing last semester, she was the kind of dancer you would watch and sigh, but not from pleasure. She was jerky, awkward, and couldn’t seem to hear the beat. Then she signed up for the competition team. She worked so hard, and so seriously at the beginning, concentrating so intensely it almost made your head hurt to watch. Then came the night they learned the hip hop section, with the pimp walk and the booty drop. Oh, the giggles and blushes! It took some effort to make the girls get over their embarrassment. Finally, some of them started to get into it, and then they really got into it. Little Melanie was one of the ones who was suddenly workin’ it like there was no tomorrow. They performed the section, and we all clapped and cheered. I hollered out, “And the Bernadette Award for Most Improved Booty Drop goes to Little Melanie, back in the corner! You go, girl!” She flushed all over with pleasure, and from then on, there was a joy and a confidence in her dancing that made her one of the top dancers in the routine. When it came time to pick the couples to represent the team in the Spotlight Dances, we picked her.

But it gets better. After it was announced that she and Jordan would represent the team in the Spotlight, I went over to her as people were packing up. “You’re doing great,” I told her, “but there’s one more thing I want you to think about when you dance. When you get out there on the floor, hold your head up. You are a freaking queen. Remember that. There is nothing down on the floor that interests you. You are a queen, and you hold your head up.” She seemed to understand, so I left it at that. At the beginning of the dance Saturday night, she grabbed my hand and pulled me aside. “Bernadette,” she said, “I did it! I don’t look at the floor anymore when I dance! I did it!” She was so starry-eyed and excited and beautiful. I beamed at her. “I’m so proud of you. You’re going to be wonderful.”

I can’t say how thrilled and proud my kids made me this weekend. They didn’t place anywhere in the competition, but then, we didn’t expect them to. The teams they competed against were made up of the teachers of the workshops they took that afternoon. If the final judges results were published, I think they would rank at the bottom. But that wasn’t what they came to do. They came to establish themselves, to make people to stand up and take notice that there were some new kids in town, and that the new kids were pretty cool. They did that, and they were utterly, unintentionally cute while doing so.

My kids, they’re adorable.