There’s this thing in Swing Dancing. We don’t say “no.”
At least, that’s the cultural norm. I have often comforted beginners by assuring them, “Don’t worry – they’ll say yes!” The difficulty is that this cultural norm creates an obligation which can be, at times, mildly annoying to more advanced dancers. There are those who dislike having their right to say “no” taken away – I have even personally written about our right to reject, once upon a time.
While I still believe that it is everyone’s right to say no for whatever reason, I have also come to believe that this cultural norm is actually inherently important to the swing dancing scene. In fact, I would argue that this “obligation” creates the welcoming and loving community of which we are so proud in the Swing Dancing World.
First, let’s look at other dance worlds. The first one that comes to mind for me is Ballroom Dancing. I have not been out many times, but I have always felt excluded from that community. I could not tell you why it is, but the only times I have been regularly asked to dance at a Ballroom Dance event is when I was introduced by someone who regularly danced in that community; when I went alone, I was ignored and actually rejected to dance regularly.
The other dance community which comes to mind is Argentine Tango. While I loved the three or four years of dancing Tango, I found the community intimidating. To ask someone to dance in tango, you use a cabaceo: you make eye contact, and you nod, and then you meet on the dance floor. It’s terrifying – and if you actually use your words, the likelihood of rejection increases dramatically. Furthermore, the cabaceo allows for easy and repeated rejection with no penalty to the person saying “no” – it is as easy as looking at the floor.
WHEN I ASK SOMEONE TO DANCE
AND THEY TURN ME DOWN:
In Swing Dancing, asking someone to dance is much easier, with a very low risk of rejection. This cultural norm of accepting dances has created a community with low penalty, meaning a community with a low chance of rejection; moreover, rejection is often paired with a deferral: a promise to dance later. And it is this cultural standard of saying “yes,” I believe, which has influenced other fantastic aspects of our community.
My theory is that the low penalty in our community is one of the biggest contributors to the open and welcoming atmosphere which is so common in the Swing Dance community. When I ask someone to dance and they answer with “yes,” it makes me feel accepted. The special part of the Lindy Hop World is that any person – no matter their clothes or personality or age or gender or whatever – will be accepted.* The Lindy Hop world is a friendly one.
This idea comes in the wake of Lindy Focus, which I believe is one of the most amazing, community-driven events in the world. We laugh, we cry, we get drunk, and we stay up late – but most of all, we have a culture of love and acceptance which is incredible. We are exceedingly proud of the open and loving nature of the Lindy Hop World. We brag about it. We revel in it. At least, I do. And saying “yes” is an important foundation on which that world is built.
So for a moment, I would like to celebrate this odd little “obligation” that so many of us feel: because the Lindy Hop world is a badass community to be a part of, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
*This assumes two important things: (1) That you love Lindy Hop; on the other hand, if you don’t, you probably don’t want to be part of our community anyways; (2) That you are not actively antagonizing anyone in our community (the most common example I know if is when a lead actively makes follows uncomfortable), which we do not accept, end of story. A tentative (3) is that you understand that the “pretzel” is not a real move, and should be banned from the Lindy Hop Vocabulary except for in jest.