It’s pretty common for dancers, when they reach a certain skill level, to start learning the opposite part: girls learn how to lead, and guys learn how to follow. It helps you appreciate the whole picture of what’s going on in a dance, understanding what your partner is experiencing. Learning how to follow can help guys be better leaders, communicating more clearly exactly what they want their partner to do. Learning to lead can help a girl be a better follow, showing her what she’s listening for. Learning the opposite part is also important if you want to be able to teach. You need to be able to explain everything that’s going on, even if you’re half of a teaching couple teaching your usual part. Often the two of you might be independently dealing with particular questions, or you might need to keep the class going in its exercise while your partner is off helping that one guy who just doesn’t seem to get it. Consequently you’ll sometimes see two guys dancing together, or two girls. It usually has nothing whatever to do with their sexual preferences. They’re just working on their dancing.

The first time I saw two guys dance together it was at a dance put on by a small college a few hours away. This was the first time I’d ever traveled to a dance, almost nobody knew me, and I wasn’t dancing much. There were a set of twin brothers in the hosting swing club, both good dancers. Towards the end of the dance they danced a song together, showing off all the tricks they knew, and occasionally bickering with one another over who was leading. It was one of the most awesomely hilarious things I’d ever seen. Their dancing was wonderful – athletic and graceful. Because they weren’t being particularly careful with their partner they went for the moves with a gusto that was amazing to watch. The best was watching their faces as they reacted to doing unfamiliar things, and as they argued with one another about who was leading. I loved it, and when they were done, applauded along with other onlookers.

Since then I’ve considered it a treat to see guys dancing together. Beyond the fact that it’s usually only the very good guys who do it (meaning the quality of dancing tends to be very watchable), guys dance differently with other guys than they do with women. They become more athletic, a little more forceful. It’s like the difference between guys playing basketball by themselves, and when a woman joins the game. No matter how much a guy may intend to treat everyone equally, subconsciously they tend to tone things down a little, become a little more gentle when physically interacting with someone they perceive as smaller and potentially more vulnerable. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a committed feminist – but to be honest, I’m rather grateful for this. There are too many opportunities in social dancing for both partners to get hurt. Guys being a little more gentle means I may still have usable shoulders when I’m fifty-five. Still, it’s always been a joy for me to see guys dancing with the gloves off, so to speak.

Two of the best leads in our scene are Trey and Rudy. Both of them have fairly distinctive styles, Trey being more grounded and groovy, Rudy smooth and gorgeously graceful. They are also the only two guys in our Lindy Hop scene who also dance West Coast. Trey knows how to follow, but he’s not super good at it. Rudy can follow like a dream. Sometimes the two of them dance together, especially working on their West Coast skills. It’s always a fabulous show, and attracts quite an audience. The onlookers often comment on Rudy’s following. I’ve heard more than one girl say she wishes she could follow like Rudy. One night a group of girls got together and decided that they should have t-shirts made that read, “I want to dance pretty like Rudy.” I thought this was an awesome tribute, and told Rudy about it.

To my surprise, he thought it was an insult. I was dense, so he had to explain. “Guys dancing with guys… don’t you think some people think it’s a little gay?” I blinked, and let that sink in. To be honest, that thought had never occurred to me, and I had to think a little to figure out why. I know Trey and Rudy. Both of them are completely, sometimes obnoxiously, heterosexual men. Both are involved in committed relationships with their girlfriends. To me they’re so thoroughly heterosexual that even if I saw them dressed in drag trolling for tricks in a city park I would probably sooner assume that they were pulling some kind of prank (or possibly in dire financial distress) than that they were gay. I told Rudy this, and the conversation ended.

Still, the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got, not at Rudy, but at our society that considers any non-violent contact between men as suspect. When girls dance with girls, it’s hot. But when guys dance with guys people doubt their manliness? That’s just wrong. There are lots of cultures where men dance with each other. Think of Russian folk dancing, with the guys doing what wikipedia calls “traditional squatwork” – that incredible kicking while sitting almost on your heels which requires such awesome balance, not to mention monster thigh muscles. Does anybody call that gay? Heck, no! So why do we have to be all hatin’ on our guys who happen to be fabulous dancers.


Hugh with babyLast night at Tuesday Night Bal, one of the guys was talking about his experiences as an attractive young man substitute teaching for middle school kids. In the midst of various comments about little girls in the midst of their first crush, I said that the hottest guy I know is teaching 6th graders this year in A Large City Nearby. As I said this, I got a reaction from Trey that let me know that, until that moment, he had assumed he was the hottest guy I know. And, um, no. Trey is plenty cute and all, but Hugh is in a class all by himself. I had thought that there was no way he could get more attractive, and then he posted photos of himself with his new niece and goddaughter, whom he adores. How can one guy really be that hot? It boggles the mind.

The cool thing is that, beyond his looks, Hugh’s a great guy. He’s Catholic, and he takes his faith seriously. He has a social conscience. His dream in life (since a messed up shoulder destroyed his hopes of a pro-baseball career) is to run a soup kitchen. I’m not kidding. He’s respectful towards women. He’s funny. He extemporaneously quotes Walt Whitman while being completely heterosexual.

And, of course, he’s discerning the priesthood.

Remind me again – why do I have that policy against dating guys who are discerning the priesthood?  Oh, yeah.  Joe.

One of my friends recently blogged about what she was doing this time a year ago, and it got me thinking. A year ago this October Joe was still in Afghanistan. I was writing letters to him in class while trying hard not to flirt with Carlos, and just barely starting to notice Trey’s attention. (I didn’t even begin to take him seriously until one night he blew me a kiss to say good-bye, and I thought, “Oh, maybe there’s something going on there…”) I was still living with my former roommate, and though I wasn’t all that happy, the thought of moving out hadn’t entered my head. Liv and I had just started to hang out on a regular basis, and though we got along like a house on fire, we still had no inkling of the best friends symbiosis that would soon assert itself. Anna had put the word out that she was looking for more teachers just the month before, and I had started to learn how to lead (to teach you need to be able to do/explain both lead and follow).

Last October I took my first ever West Coast lesson.

This October Joe is in novitiate in Louisiana, Carlos has established himself as Not My Type, and Trey is the kind of friend you call “dear” and wouldn’t date on a dare. My former roommate is dieing of liver cancer (she’s been in Hospice Care for about a month now), Liv and I would be joined at the hip if her wheelchair wouldn’t get in the way (did I mention we live together now?), this month I’m teaching Swing I, and last weekend I drove two hours each way to attend a four hour West Coast dance.

I’d like to say I’ve learned Deep Life Lessons in the intervening year, that I’ve Grown and Changed as a person. Mostly, though, it’s felt much more like riding a roller coaster with no safety restraint system, holding on for dear life trying not to get thrown off into the bottomless void beneath. Ironically, I learned how to let go of my need for drama just as life was handing me some major Drama to deal with. Every month has had its challenges, none of them little: the liver cancer diagnosis right before Christmas Eve, guy drama, family issues, chemotherapy, moving, planning a wedding (regrettably, not my own), major money problems after my financial aid got screwed up, trying to settle into a new home, more guy drama, sprained ankles, school challenges, road trips… oh, and dancing. A lot of dancing.

I’d like to say it’s been a good year, but I’m not sure if it’s been good or bad. I suppose it’s been good for me. At least I’ve survived so far. That’s something in itself. I’ll count my blessings.

So last night I had this, “Damn, I’m good!” moment (I was going to write “Dang” but then I decided that the moment was fully worth the swear word). This is what happened: This semester I’m taking a class on Thomas Aquinas (the Big Bad Boy of Catholic theology), and on Tuesday I gave a presentation on part of the Summa (Aquinas’s master work). It went rather well, and I was excited about it. Last night while I was dancing with Pierce he asked me how my week had been. I told him about my presentation. He asked more. I told him more. By the time we were done I had explained all of Part I, Question 105, Article 4 of the Summa Theologica (“Whether God can move the created will?”), complete with Objections, Respondeo, and Answers to the Objections. All of this while doing Lindy and neither missing a step nor failing to follow a single move. Also wrapping it up before the song was done. And I’m pretty sure Pierce understood it.

I can’t believe I did that.

Damn, I’m good!

Of course, having done something like this, I then had to find someone who could fully appreciate my Mighty Deed. This would require a fellow theologian who can dance. There are none that I know of, but I couldn’t wait until I saw Justin tonight so I could tell him all about it.

Also last night, for the first time my dancing was praised by another dancer. I don’t mean that I haven’t gotten compliments before. There’s always the cute little old people who come out for the live swing bands in the summer and just love watching the swing dancers, or beginners who don’t know what good dancing looks like yet. It has been fun watching the number of leads who want to dance with me increase, and I’ve gotten admiring looks or words of praise for individual cool moves. Dancers whose opinions I trust have told me that I’ve improved a lot in different areas. Still, I’ve never felt like my dancing was of a quality that another dancer would get pleasure from watching me. Last night I danced some Westie with Trey, and later Lyle couldn’t get over how amazing the two of us had been. He was in awe at our musicality, the moves we had done, and the way we had mirrored one another: “There was this move right at the beginning that was like a sugar push, but not! And then you both kicked your foot out to the side at exactly the same moment! It was so awesome! I just love watching you two!” It was a little humbling, especially since I didn’t remember doing some of the moves that so impressed him. I’m sure I did them, but, well, for me it had been just another dance with a better than average lead.

Maybe I’m better at this than I think I am.

Today in my Anthropology 150 class, the Professor was talking about various marriage customs around the world.  There’s your good old monogamy (the ostensible custom of choice for most of the Western world, also my personal favorite), and various forms of polygamy, from polygyny (one man married to more than one woman ala harems) to polyandry (one woman married to more than one man).  There can be different benefits to the different kinds of marriage, like having more workers to carry on subsistence farming in the case of polygyny.  In fact, this kind of polygamy is so popular that when we say the word “polygamy,” everyone assumes that we’re talking polygyny.  But there are benefits to polyandry too, and it is the norm in some parts of the world.  In Tibet, where land is incredibly scarce and birth rates must be kept down to ensure survival, often one woman will marry all of the brothers from a family, ensuring that the family land will be inherited intact instead of split up between the brothers.  While to us the idea of one woman being married to more than one man seems sorta perverted, the kind of thing guys write letters to Playboy about, for these Tibetans, it’s a simple matter of sensible economics.

The class was a little boring, and my mind started to wander.  I started thinking, if I were to be married to more than one guy, who would I marry?  It was purely theoretical, so I considered all the guys I know, even the ones who are already taken.  Most of the guys from dancing were immediately dismissed.  Joe was definitely on the list, and Justin, a theology grad student who’s been showing up on my radar lately (he told me the most awesomely geeky joke the other day).  I considered Trey , and then crossed him off.  For one thing, I can’t imagine him living in the same house with Joe and Justin, much less sharing a wife with them.  For another, I still don’t want to have to care in any way what Trey does or doesn’t do.  As a friend, he’s fun.  As one of my primary relationships, he would make my life miserable.  Then I thought of Rudy, the smoothest Lindy Hopper I’ve ever danced with.  He parties a little too much, and drinks more than is perhaps healthy, but he’s been happily linked with his girl through some major ups and downs for a couple of years now.  And he likes to think about things.  And he’s got a lot more maturity under his belt than most of the guys I know.  I think I could get along with him just fine.  And he would definitely be fun to dance with!

So, you know, just in case the world is suddenly transformed into the sort of place where polyandry makes sense, and if the Catholic Church would suddenly decide that this was a good idea, and if they were all suddenly available, Joe, Justin and Rudy are mine.  Dibs!

DorothyLast year I wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz for Halloween.  I saw this awesomely cute 1950s sundress pattern from Vintage Vogue that would have been perfect.  Just wear a little white blouse underneath, tuck a stuffed dog in a basket, find some red shoes, and I’d be set as the cutest swing dancing Dorothy you ever saw.  Unfortunately I didn’t really have the money to buy the fabric, and then I ended up not going to any Halloween parties because of a conflicting commitment.  Since then, however, I have managed to acquire the pattern, the fabric, and the red shoes.  All I’m missing is the stuffed dog and the basket, and I’m good to go.  Well, and the time to actually make the dress.  But I have hopes!  High hopes.

This weekend my ambition was to cut the fabric for the dress.  Then life intervened.   First, on Wednesday I broke the news to Trey that Robert Jordan, his absolute favorite author, had died.  Trey was upset, and I gave him a little crap about not being able to share his grief because he hadn’t lent me his copies of Jordan’s books.  When I arrived at swing that night, Trey greeted me with an entire shopping bag full of books, not only the first eight in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but a few others Trey thought I might enjoy.  Trey knows me a little too well.  I did enjoy the books, very much.  So much that all I’ve done with my free time since then is read.  Not a single shred of homework has been done.  I did manage to get the fabric, pins, and sewing shears out, but they’ve sat abandoned on the dining room table ever since.

Then on Saturday I decided to go up to Columbus for the swing dance.  I’ve been wanting to get up there for some time.   I know that traveling a little more is one of the things I need to do to take my dancing to the next level.  Plus there are lots of good dancers up there who make it down for our dances on a regular basis.  Still, I’ve been dragging my feet about it.  The thing that finally got me up there was that Trey was teaching a West Coast for Lindyhoppers workshop before the dance.  I do love West Coast, and the chance that there might be enough Westie leads to actually get some good dances was a powerful incentive.  So I went, and had a great time.  But it pretty much killed any chance of getting anything done on Saturday.

Here I am Sunday night, with a paper to write on Judaism and an obscene amount of Aquinas to read.  I know that I have no business doing anything but homework at this point.  But every time I walk past the dining room, I see that pile of fabric with the scissors and the pincushion perched on top.  Surely it wouldn’t take all that long to cut out a dress, right?

This past week I watched a new baby dancer from my university’s swing club get hooked on swing dancing. She came to the lesson and dance on Monday for the second week, then to Balboa Night on Tuesday. On Wednesday she ducked out of class early and totally ignored stacks of homework in order to come to Wednesday Night Swing. It reminded me of when I got my first taste of swing and went dancing three times in four days (there was no Tuesday Night Bal back then).

Dancing is addictive. When you find the dance that is really yours, the one that just gets you, you start fiending for it, spending all your available free time dancing, finding the thinnest of excuses for why you should ditch the rest of your life to go dancing. They say you’re really hooked when you buy the special shoes (something my friend has resisted so far). Some have questioned whether you can really be addicted to more than one kind of dancing. I think that often we have one dance form that’s our dancing drug of choice. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t easily have multiple addictions! Like addicts who hit several kinds of 12-step meetings, you’ll find swing dancers showing up at salsa night, belly dancers taking a shot at Lindy, and ballerinas who find they have a natural posture for ballroom.

I consider myself to have two dancing addictions, and am adding a third. Lindy Hop and the other vintage swing dances (East Coast, Charleston, Balboa) are my drug of choice. My life-long love of swing music and vintage style, plus the easy availability of vintage swing dancing in my area (I can go dancing at least four nights a week without having to drive more than fifteen minutes) ensures that this will probably stay my drug of choice for a long time. But I’m also addicted to West Coast Swing, which totally captured my heart last December. I’ve been willing to do crazy things to dance Westie, including spending money I don’t have on workshops I’m going to forget, and driving two hours each way to dance for an afternoon. Lack of ready cash is the only thing that has kept me from doing more, and I’m actively looking for ways to overcome even that obstacle.

Then this semester I signed up for Beginning Ballet. When I was little I took lessons for a few years with a professional ballet company. I loved it, but quickly learned that I did not have the body of a ballet dancer and never would. When band lessons started, I decided to play the trombone instead. Now I’m back to the ballet, and just like when I was a child, I love it. I love the calmness of it, the way you do these amazing things with your chin up and your back straight. I love the grace, and how the most commonplace movements become full of beauty. I love the way my body does things I never knew it could. I even love the way I look in my leotard and tights. (It’s amazing – I put those things on and suddenly I look like a dancer.)

Mostly, though, I love the way that ballet is improving my Lindy. The recurring issues that I’m always, always working on are my balance, especially on spins, and keeping my feet underneath me. Ballet is all about that. Twice a week for a month now I’ve been practicing being controlled and balanced, making smooth weight transfers and keeping my body properly aligned. It’s making a difference. Wednesday night I hit a break when I was dancing with Trey. I was balanced on the ball of one foot with the other foot in the air, and I stuck it for the whole break until Trey let me down again. I couldn’t have done that a month ago. It was freaking awesome.

If I was pushed, could I choose between my dancing addictions? I don’t know. I know that I can’t not dance anymore. I am a Dancer. I need to dance. Could I be content only dancing Lindy? Only Westie? Only ballet? I don’t know. Each one satisfies my heart in a different way. Each one contributes, in its own way, to making me a more well-rounded dancer. Without the ways that Westie and ballet are helping me improve, my Lindy would soon get very frustrating. Without the interaction of the social dances, ballet would get very lonely. Without the fun of Lindy and the training of ballet, Westie could soon become just a dance I’m not good at. Each of my dance addictions contributes to making me a more complete dancer.

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