Hard talk: what conversations should we be having?

Standard

With all the European Swing Dance Championship madness, I feel like I haven’t sat still in six months. Thanks to the vision of the event director, Sharon Davis, I had the unique opportunity to curate a series of lectures around the big picture of lindy hop. I tried to put together talks and topics that hit a number of notes like: health and wellness, conflict resolution, design in dance, community building, business best practice and historical perspectives. It was small – only five lectures, but meaningful. It did however leave me wondering about bigger conversations we want to have. Conversations around ‘value’ – whether business related for organisers and teachers or ethos related around role and gender, conversations around ‘power’ and what it means to be a role model in our scene – or any talent based discipline. I like bringing people together to discuss hard topics, to find the words and understandable language to improve understanding and empathy. I guess I want to know what you want to talk about? How can we keep the conversation going? Do you need help? How can we help you? I don’t mind moderating to facilitating the ‘hard talk’. It’s not about me, Nancy Hitzig, it’s about all of us and how we relate to one another and promote kindness, respect and personal ownership.

I’ve made a career around hard topics of conversation: money, legacies, wills and estates, human resources – artistic projects, dreams, schemes and everything in between. I don’t why that is. Maybe because I feel a relative amount of distance between myself and the cause or activity I’m fundraising for? Maybe because I’m often bringing an artistic vision to life and I don’t let myself feel bogged down with someone else’s perception of me? Whatever the cause, it often yields professional clarity or contractual clarity that makes it easier to deliver what I say I’ll deliver. There are so many topics we shy away from – perhaps we need to lean into them a bit more. Examine them with open hearts and heads and bridge the language/education/socio-economic gap…wouldn’t that be exciting? These are just initial musings, but I want to know – what do YOU want to address in the lindy hop community? What do you want to talk about? Let’s make those conversations happen with the right research, moderator and panel and in the most appropriate language where people can be heard. You tell me.

Reasons I love Lindy Hop

Standard
  1. It pushes me to be my best self through movement – whether it’s exploring my own musicality, inventiveness and rhythm, it pushes me to be better and more playful.
  2. It’s the best boyfriend I’ve ever had, I always say sometimes I’m more in love with Lindy Hop and sometimes Lindy Hop is more in love with me. My interest and focus has ebb-ed and flowed over the last ten years. I’m in a serious love affair these days – I have never been more inspired with the dance and with all of you on the social dance floor.
  3. It encourages me to dare, to take risks and challenge my preconceived notions of what my potential and ability is and could be.
  4. It changes. Cause we all change. It’s never the same, you never take that same rock step twice. I find this strangely comforting.
  5. And most importantly, it brings us all together. I get to meet my chosen family. My peers, my awe-inspiring colleagues. My beloved students, my like-minded mega babes. It is an energy and magic that rarely exists in other art/hobby forms and I am so grateful.

    The International Lindy Hop Championships feels like a strange homecoming – I get to see so many people I know and love in one place, celebrating together. I’m nervous – that’s the nature of contests – but I’m just so proud to be going and spending time with those I care about as we push ourselves and throw down. Boom! You can watch the live stream here! 

Definitions of Success

Standard

I’ve been thinking about the idea of ‘success’ lately in relation to dance. What it means to be successful, to find greatness and what that means for different people. This past weekend I went to Rock that Swing Festival in Munich and competing brought to light some familiar feelings and insights around competing that I thought I’d share. These are definitely coloured by my experience as a figure skater, solo dancer, jack and jill participant, partnered swing dancer, opera singer and burlesque performer. They are by no means groundbreaking, but might be helpful to someone else especially as people start preparing for London Swing Festival in May.

1. Define success before the competition. Why are you doing it? For the love of performing? For the thrill? To challenge your personal dancing? To place? Decide what success is before and then whatever the outcome take a moment to celebrate afterwards. You’ve worked hard.
2. Be kind to yourself. Unless it’s a showcase of some kind, you don’t get to pick the music, sometimes you don’t pick your partner or even the texture of the floor. The moment you walk on the dancefloor you’re winning – so don’t let other s#$% affect your state. Go back to what you defined as success. Sometimes it’s winning, sometimes it’s just sharing what you love with other people. If things go wrong, let them go. It’s just dancing! (I personally struggle with this, but you really do have to do it.)
3. Only wear things you’ve danced in before. This is something that I see far more in burlesque then lindy hop, but it still applies. Practice or social dance in the things you want to compete in. You’d marvel at how many things go flying or rip or tear when you haven’t tested them out. Wear that necklace or dress and make sure it’s not going to be more memorable then your performance.
4. Consistency is key. Practice your routine. Film yourself, watch the video and look for things to celebrate AND things to improve. Let yourself get comfortable with particular movements, tempos etc. It’s the easiest way to alleviate stress.
5. Look up. Maybe smile. Whether it’s burlesque, swing dance, cabaret – whatever – it’s about connection. Look up and connect with the people in the audience. Invite them in, make them a part of your success. They want you to do well and are on your side, let them give you energy. You’re in this together! That’s part of what makes dancing, performing and competing fun. If you lose this part it lacks the joy and life it deserves – that you deserve.

Crisis of consent and gender in a social dance

Standard

Over the last two weeks, it has come to light that a highly respected international lindy hop teacher abused his position in the scene and sexually abused many young women. I am dumbstruck. I am outraged. I am profoundly concerned with how we move forward as a global community. The survivors who have come forward to share their experiences are incredibly strong women and I can only empathize – but I don’t think that’s good enough. I started lindy hopping a month shy of my 19th birthday, in a scene where I was the youngest person by four years for several years. I learned from Steven Mitchell, I have friends who’s dancing was dramatically shaped by his mentorship. We have suffered a sucker punch as a community. There are far smarter people then I am having a thoughtful and vital dialogue around creating a safe space and environment where vulnerable people are protected in our scene. These conversations surround vital codes of conduct, social monitoring and tactics.

I wanted to touch on something I’ve been thinking about over the last few days that’s aligned but slightly tangential. I think we’re having a crisis of consent.  I should say that this all came about after a conversation with my teaching partner where he asked, ‘why are you a better leader, then I am a follower’? Well! When I started dancing, there were many ‘creepy old men’ in the Toronto dance scene. I learned how to lead because it meant that I could save friends from these leaders by cutting in on the next song. It was a survival skill for the social dance floor. I will say that Toronto Lindy Hop have done a strong job of hearing and reacting to community members’ concerns since this time, but why did we all have to wait years for this kind of feedback and conversation? In the 10 years I’ve been dancing, I’ve been groped, grabbed, held on to and pulled on to the dance floor. I have had men say in appropriate things to me while dancing, hold me to close and not ask consent. It is a light hearted environment where I often rely on my humour to get me away from these leaders. And it’s worked well! But I feel like I can do more. I know leaders who here in the London scene get pulled, bullied and guilted into dancing because somehow by spending their personal money and choosing to spend their free time in a ballroom entitles another person to dance with them whether or not they want too. Why can’t we say no? Why do we feel shame around calling someone out on inappropriate conduct on the social dancefloor? Why is does the responsibility fall on the organizer when it should be on each and every one of us to socially monitor each other? Dancing is sexual – we touch – but it is consensual! In that, you must ask. You must ask for a dance verbally or non-verbally (if there is a language barrier) but there is a need for consent. There is also a need for entitled behaviour to go fly a kite. If someone says no to a dance kindly, take it with grace. What if everyone led and followed and everyone valued dancing with each other regardless of gender or traditional dance role? That would be a world where there was lead and follow balance and perhaps higher understanding and empathy towards one another. How do we make this better?

I teach, I am a community leader. I have a responsibility to keep my friends and students safe.

I also have a responsibility as a woman to diminish male patriarchy on the social dance floor. We are equals in this dance. We need each other in either role. It is when we value one partner more than the other that we create the kind of power and hotbed for bad people to do bad things. I feel that we do value leaders more and there is an element of misogyny in that because leaders are often men. It’s movement after all – something that isn’t necessarily gendered. I’d love to see more performance and teaching partnerships of men dancing with men where both are agile and strong and one isn’t camp-ing up the ‘follower’ role. It feels like a bit like a panto.

I also think the conversation happening now is the most important in my and our personal dance history. How do we equalize the value of leaders and followers, how do we hold ourselves (every community member) accountable and ensure the safety of vulnerable people and what do we as a community stand for? The lindy hop community is growing and that brings more people and not all people are good – but how do we make sure we know that we have done our best to be a place where everyone can celebrate, dance and collaborate? I am having that conversation with myself and my peers and I ask you for help, guidance and your perspective.

Year in review: 2014 – all killer no filler

Standard

Alright, so 2014 is winding down and like everyone it’s a good time to reflect. I can say with all sincerity that 2014 has been the most powerful, transformative and exciting year of my life – thus far. In 2013 I embraced risk, I quit my job, I moved halfway around the world and I chose to walk away from projects that brought we tremendous joy but all with an eye to focusing on my personal skills, well being and art. 2014 has ended up a pastiche of unimaginable accomplishments. Things I never dreamed for myself…that’s something. I spent many mornings, many moments thinking “I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing”. I recognize how precious that is.

In 2014, I taught more than 120+ hours of lindy hop and burlesque. I met a record number of people and struck many deep rooted and meaningful friendships. I debuted in two international burlesque festivals, I performed in five countries and was sought out for the first time in my cabaret and lindy hop career. I graced the pages of a national UK magazine, the iconic stage of Madame Jojo’s in Soho, ate late night Punjabi deli with a Carnby Preacher in New York, rode in a Fiat Convertible in Northern Ontario with a cabaret showgirl, made cobbler with old time newly engaged friends, ate brunch with occasion-inducing lindy hop instructors, watched my best friend get married by Sable Beach and celebrated with many bottles of bubbles.

After years of struggling to get into a masters program, I not only completed my Masters but graduated with distinction. I had the opportunity to live in San Francisco and align with so many old and new friends, for which I am so grateful.

London is my new home and cannot replace Toronto, or those people, but it definitely feels like exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. I feel like I’m becoming my best self here. My long time dance ambitions have life, vibrancy and voice here! In a way that I never imagined. I’m so inspired, excited and ready for what will come next.

There have been so many quiet moments of fear, uncertainty, longing, heartache and unsureness. I have felt overwhelmed. I have missed hugs, or kind words from good friends. I have felt far and sickness in the pit of my stomach. I have friends going through incredible challenge and I feel powerless and all I can do is be present as best I can through Facebook, Twitter, text, Skype and Facetime. But these feelings are normal, expected, necessary. My friend Nikola always says that when your heart grows it’s bound to ache a bit. In these moments, I always try to slow down, be grateful, be kind and be indulgent with myself.

This weekend, I attended a day’s worth of workshops for my new job in Harrow and at St. Joseph’s Hospice. Seeing 120 six year old kids totally mesmerized by an orchestra concert with Dame Felicity Lott and it reminded me why we create art – to broker music experience and the process of bringing people together. To create magic and community. In many ways lindy hop feels the same way. It has the same impact on my heart. On Sunday, in front of many of my dance students I won the solo charleston contest at our Christmas Ball (a personal first). I still remember in 2009 going in for back surgery and thinking….will I be able to dance again and that fear. What a triumph! It felt like an affirmation that I am on the right path and that 2015 will bring challenge and previously unattainable chance.

Things I learned in 2014:
People are home.
If I focus on my own personal vision, magic happens.
Others believe in my artistic gifts – am I ready to pursue them with drive, focus and fervour?
If I listen to my gut and it will steer me well.
Worrying less is often better.
Kindness is mandatory.
I make no excuses or apologies for loving you all boldly, with my whole heart.
Gratitude trumps shitty days always.
Alignment makes more sense then chance.

For 2015 I wish you: 
Good health.
Ease.
Joyful adventures.
Walks in the woods.
A favourite new dress or pair of shoes.
And many moments with those who bring out the best in you.
I’m ready to fall in love with 2015 and for 2015 to fall in love with me. After my graduation, I remember looking at my parents and saying, “this doesn’t feel like an end, it feels like a beginning.” I’m so excited friends to see where this adventure goes and to connect with you along the way.

To my friends, family, fellow students, dance students, teaching partners, dancing partners, work colleagues, peers and worldwide community…for what has been the most insightful year in my life to date, thank you. My heart is open and I’m ready. Happy new year to you.

 

A one, a two, you know just what to do…

Standard

Five years ago, thousands of lindy hoppers gathered in New York City to commemorate the 95th birthday of Frankie Manning, the ambassador of lindy hop. What had originally been planned as a birthday celebration became a tribute to Frankie’s life, as Frankie passed away a month shy of the celebration. I was lucky enough to take a few workshops with Frankie (because I’ve been dancing that long – oy vey). I didn’t know him personally but I can tell you that his generosity of spirit, liveliness and joy were contagious. He lived to see the dance he loved so much fall out of favour and come back to life, spreading to the far reaching corners of the globe.

The best part of Frankie 95 was the hang. Seeing friends from everywhere, together, in that room. Dancing, listening, talking, reminiscing. I still remember everyone dancing to a song on the overly crowded ballroom floor and hearing a break coming in the music. Everyone prepared…the whole floor lifted together to hit the beat. I always say it was as though everyone was listening to the music in the same way at that one moment. The magic of lindy hop (and partnered dance in general) is how it connects us. We need each other – the partner, the band, the ballroom – all of it.

I have many friends travelling to Frankie 100 in the next two weeks. I wish I could be there, I’ll be thinking of you. Please, have a wonderful time, be patient with the overly crowded dance floor and remember to take in the grandeur of our community coming to together for this special moment. We are so lucky. THIS is what we do in our spare time! WTF!? Drink it in. Savour it.

Five years ago, I was in New York City for Frankie 95. I was in pain. I didn’t know why. I danced hard two nights and could barely walk the other two nights. A few weeks later I got the results of an MRI. I had a herniated disc. I needed to stop dancing…ASAP. I realized that was the last time I felt the same amount of uncertainty I feel now. I didn’t know if I’d be able to dance again. My body was against me. Shoes and socks were my enemy.

Five years later, I’m dancing hard, teaching often and still in love with the dance. Lindy hop and the people I’ve met through this dance are a gift. My mobility is a gift. Frankie Manning and his joy were and continue to be gifts. This crazy adventure is a gift. I feel an immense amount of gratitude. As we roll up to Frankie’s 100th birthday, I ask you to reflect on the things that inspire wonder in your life. Whether you’re in New York, London, Toronto, Seoul or wherever, we are connected, together, linked by this silly dance and are constantly reminded that it “t’ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. Let’s make Frankie proud.