Category Archives: exchanges


My dancing tends to be an exploration of my inner state. So often I go through life barely acknowledging the things brewing within myself. I am working toward the next goal, getting stuff done. I think that this state of being was who I am long before I moved to NYC, but it is an attitude that is well matched to this city. When I put on my jazz shoes and there is music and a floor, everything changes. I, the massive klutz, become graceful. I slow down and my mind stops planning every little detail of the upcoming week. Suddenly I am aware of my own inner life.

At different points this has been a curse. I deal every day with unusually high levels of anxiety. For the most part I ignore it until I need to take medication for the tension headaches, and then I push on and ignore it more. Dancing breaks that down and I feel it viscerally. There is no ignoring and no getting away from myself. When I first began blues dancing this inability to ignore my own state, and my desire to be good at this thing while being just a beginner combined into a terrible spiral. I was doing something to provoke anxiety. I was feeling all of the anxiety all at once for the first time. I didn’t know how to handle it. I learned that I would become more and more stressed as the night went on. Stress would make my muscles clench and my body rigid, which ruined my frame and my following. Knowing that my following was worse than normal would cause me stress and this would become a repetitive loop. It took a few panic attacks where I shut myself in the bathroom to hyperventilate to learn that there would be nights that I would have to pull myself out of the dance. I could go home even if it meant that I had only danced half an hour.

As I’ve improved, both at dancing and at managing my anxiety, things have shifted. Sometimes I would have a moment where everything was shut out but the sound of the music and the feeling of my body. I could focus so clearly on where I was and what my partner was asking that there was nothing else. These moments were addictive. Beautiful shining moments that kept me coming back. Eventually they would get longer; from a moment to a phrase, from a phrase to a song, from a song to a series of songs. I’ve recently begun mindfulness meditation, and when I’m doing well with that, it is not unlike those moments.

This weekend past was a triumph for me. I’ve usually taken a long time to resolve my anxiety once it is the state I am in. For me it is not as simple as something anxiety producing being done, I usually spend some time still being wound up and worried for a while. I had a week of finals and a last looming final on Monday. Yet I was able to go to the Saturday late night and have perfect amazing moments of dancing. Moments that I was perfectly in tune with myself and my partner. Moments that make me happy and soothe. I had a night filled with these moments, entire songs with new partners and familiar partners. If all dancing felt like this, I would never need a break for it is so refreshing on its own.


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Filed under blues dance, exchanges, following

Am I going to break you?

I’m pretty sure it’s been made clear before that I dance as both a lead and a follow. I’m also a woman. I tend to take classes and workshops as a lead because a) I tend to remember the information a little better if I had to lead a movement and b) I’m a bit more experienced as a follow so it is my leading that needs the most improvement.

This past weekend I was in a class of tricks. The class was working on a lift and rotating through partners. I hesitate to call the thing we were doing a lift since there was not actually any picking of people up. The follow mostly does a little hop and that’s the full extent of air. The instructor even demonstrated herself doing the movement all on her own. So very shortly after we’ve been given instruction to go ahead and try the full hop we rotate. A woman maybe 2 inches taller than myself walks up, smiles and asks “Am I going to break you?” For a moment it felt like she punched me. I looked to the man she had just been dancing with, who was about my height and maybe a little leaner and replied “well you didn’t break him”. Looking back, I can understand that she might have been speaking from a place of insecurity about her own body, but it hurt as a judgment that seemed to have a large component of gender involved. It reminds me best of a snippit of an article I read about someone who transitioned from presenting as female to presenting as male.

my experience is related to how other people treat me—what they assume based on physical characteristics. For instance, I’ve always been really small. I’m the person friends lift in the air when they hug me, the one who always gets stuck in the middle seat on car trips, who crawls into tight spaces to retrieve missing items, who wins limbo contests. I’ve never been the go-to person for any type of strength-related task. But early on in my transition, an older woman pulled me aside at the supermarket and asked me to help her carry three cases of water bottles to her cart. Wow, strangers expect things of me as a man, I remember thinking.

And though I’m a largish person, who does lots of physical activity ( I can, and have recently, run with another person on my back. RUN!) people worry about breaking me.

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Filed under blues dance, community, exchanges, learning, socialization


One of the things that I think has the potential to be the most magical part of an exchange is being hosted by a local dancer. I have hosted a dancer or two in my time, but I don’t have the sort of situation which would let me pack my house full of dancers spending the weekend. I love the near magic that happens when a house full of compatible people come together and have a blast together.

It is the magic that happened when a good friend of mine took me to my first out of town exchange and made sure that we were housed with friends of his from the scene he had moved away from. Years later some of those people have moved to the same place I now live, and we have a friendship that was probably ignited with that spark.

I love the occasional getting together to cook a huge meal together (usually undertaken by a culinary minded guest). I love the blaring of music that happens while people are showering and changing and primping.

I think in many ways these little things are what makes the dance community a community that is larger than just the people you see every week or every month, but into a community that makes me feel like I could go anywhere in the US and have someone to say hi to.

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This weekend find me in Pittsburgh

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 9.39.37 AMI’ll be at Steel City!

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Those things that are difficult

I have occasionally worked on my solo dancing. I don’t like it. I become really self conscious which causes me to tense up, which changes how I’m dancing which makes me judge my movement, which tenses me up, and it becomes a terrible spiral of judgement and anxiety. The last time I worked on solo dancing was a little less than a year ago. I decided it was important to have the jazz vocabulary that others expect me to have. I’d been covering my lack of knowledge by trying to mimic visually. This is only so useful since I’m not well coordinated. I tended to bop around and generally stumble around until partners upped direction. So I choose some of the jazz movements most commonly used by blues dancers and go comfortable with them. Comfortable being a relative term.

Now I’ve given myself a new challenge. I’ve signed up for a riffing contest. I have no expectations of winning, or even being a finalist. I do feel that I need to spend some time getting comfortable with my movements. I’ve asked my practice partner to spend some time working on vocabulary with me. I’m hoping to come up with a couple of comfortable variations. I also want to work on solid transitioning.

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Filed under competition, exchanges, learning

What Color is the Sky

This past weekend I had a long and rambling conversation that covered all sorts of topics. One of the topics, which I keep poking at, talking and thinking about is appropriation. I’m not entirely comfortable being a person with a trajectory into the high middle socioeconomic class, of European heritage and dancing (primarily) blues.

At some point the conversation wrapped around to the nature of blues dancing and my friend echoed a point made by a teacher to her once. Africans being poly-theistic (but not having the same polytheisim when they were brought to America) mostly had gods that resided in the earth. Christianity (forced on them) a god that resided in the sky. Their lives on the earth were troubled, difficult and sometimes downright agonizing, yet they were promised eternal heavenly bliss. So one of the embodiment of blues is the tension between earth and sky. This I can identify with. I grew up rural, but live in the big city. I am the most educated of my family. I am expected to make a starting wage which will be more than both my parents combined. My parents both moved from east to west, and I have moved east. I have roots, but they are shallow and I actively keep them from being exposed. Tension I know. Tension I understand.

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Filed under blues dance, community, exchanges, learning, socialization

Getting home

Traveling back seems to have been much more stressful than traveling out. Of course the first parts of my travel didn’t include huge amounts of sleep deprivation and fending off exchange plague. Exchanges are always useful for the dual tasks of changing and cementing.

– My desire to skip out on workshop classes.
– My enjoyment of things made by David Keogh. Funny story, I heard someone announce it was the last song of the set and they were going to have a guest up to sing. I bet my conversation partner what song it would be; I won.
– My love of the social community surrounding dance.
– Some of my “exchange friendships”. I wish these people lived closer, but I so enjoy catching up months at a time.

– Some of my views surrounding what is blues thanks to Mapping the Music class and a talk with Greg.
– My feelings toward the sensuality vs sexuality of dance.
– I gathered the starts of a few new friendships.

By the time I arrived home, I was very very glad to be here. I think getting away from it all was necessary. I hope to keep the frenetic pace of the year up.

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Filed under community, exchanges, learning, music, socialization