Monday, May 25, 2009
The Joy of Paradigm Shifting
Here's a thought that occurred to me while I was in New York last weekend for Frankie95. It puts me in mind of a conversation I had with Eugene (who was within a month of learning his first Lindy Hop steps) a couple of weeks back during which he complained about follows who didn't completely give in to his lead. A little bit of prefacing may be necessary.
About a decade back, I had visited Manhattan for a week or so. I remember attending what might have been the last night of the Louisiana Bar and Grille, which was one of the popular venues of the time. I remember getting kicked a lot on the dance floor and believing that it was more than I would have been kicked on a similarly crowded dance floor at home in Los Angeles. I theorized that Manhattanites, due to living in such crowded conditions, were very unlikely to put a premium on personal space. Residents of the Big Apple regularly spend their time in very tight spaces - subway cars, elevators, even sometimes the outdoors seems crowded to me. As this is apparently the case, it makes a lot of sense that the Lindy Hoppers of New York deal with their dance space in exactly the same way.
Now for a person like me, who gets kind of itchy when I'm around big crowds, this can be a big issue. I've always put a premium on good floorcraft, the notion that dancers should be aware enough about their surroundings that they don't bump into other dancers. It was something that seemed important to me from very early in my career. I consider myself more than adept at the basic skills of floorcraft. At the very least, I apologize to a dancer if I kick or step on them. I help them if I have injured them in some way. More often than not, unless I'm really off, I'm pretty good at avoiding collision. It's important to me on a primal level.
The two paragraphs above appear to be examples of two opposing paradigms. Paradigms are ways of viewing the world. In the first view, dancers take up their space and pay little to no attention to the dancers around them, expecting the same from those around them. In the second, dancers are responsible for their own safety and the comfort of those around them.
What happened at the Frankie event, was that I spent Friday night incredibly tense. Gritting my teeth and squeezing through the crowd was about all I could manage. I got kicked a lot, and I heard at least a few other visiting dancers complaining of the same. As it stood on Friday, I was getting dances, but on my part they leaned to the side of paranoia. It happens a bit with me when I'm in very crowded spaces. Even just walking through the ballroom was difficult and it made those initial exchanges, the asking strangers to dance bits, harder to do.
Mind of course that there were many dancers at the event that were not from Manhattan, so please take the blanket statements with several grains of salt.
On Saturday, it was even more crowded. How was I going to get any dancing done in that mass?
I'm not really sure how it happened, but at some point I accepted that the rules were different in this place. People would bump into me from time to time and I'd just have to deal with it. There were more important things to focus on, for instance my partners and their fun and safety. When I made that switch, I smiled a lot more and found it easier to ask people to dance and to make slightly better first impressions than on my tension-filled Friday night. I had an incredible night, even after one of my shoes finally gave in to months of abuse.
Which brings me back to my conversation with Eugene. He had complained of follows who just wouldn't follow the way he had intended. My response to him was that no one can expect that the person they're dancing with has the same rules and technique that he has. Part of the joy of Lindy Hop is bridging the gap between those varying points of view.
Sometimes you just have to go outside of your comfort zone to learn how to be comfortable.