So You Think You Can Socialize

As I (slowly) look around for more dancing options, I am beginning to realize that the lindy/swing scene is a lot more “socially oriented” than the ballroom world is. If you want a dance studio that has regular lessons and private instructors for ballroom, your search is easy.  If you want the same for lindy hop or any form of swing that isn’t taught at a ballroom establishment, then you’re almost kind of screwed.

Dance classes are natural to me and easy to justify.  I started ballet classes when I was three or so and didn’t stop for ten years or thereabouts, so the whole “trained instructor gives a specialized lesson for a pre-determined amount of time” format is coded into my personality in ways that can overcome even my introversion.  Sure, I get anxious showing up to a new place, but it’s a class, so I don’t have to pretend to be normal, try to make small talk, or even make eye contact.  (I usually try all these things anyway because it would be rude not to, but there’s relief in knowing that if I fail, I’m not failing at the entire concept of “class.”)  Even better, I can usually justify the cost without thinking, because in my subconscious, “class” equals “learning,” and “learning” equals “good.”

A Battle With Myself You should do it. It will be good for you. You say that, but is the stress good for me too!? HUH!?

A Battle With Myself
You should do it. It will be good for you. You say that, but is the stress good for me too!? HUH!?

On the other hand, when you’re dealing with the format where you show up for a quick lesson and then have a party afterwards, my inner cheapskate screams “YOU’LL NEVER GET YOUR MONEY’S WORTH!”

This is partly because a social party doesn’t have the same “officialish” quality that a dance studio has, but mostly, it’s because my inner introvert sees the party portion as a trial and a huge investment of effort, and thus I must resist the urge to FLEE TO FREEDOM I mean, uh, go home and do adulty responsible things, uh, like going to the grocery store.  By myself.

I only started going to the parties at Mystery Studio after Instructorman assured me that he’d be there and would look out for me, and I seriously stressed out about the first few anyway.  (Sad note: Instructorman left the U.S. of A. recently.  Guess that’s one less reason to go back to Mystery Studio!)

I had an unoriginal idea of sorts: take someone as backup, so I can have a safe person to run to someone I already know to chat with, because that makes it much easier to shut down the introverted portion of my personality that’s constantly begging me to make a break for it.  Unfortunately for me, I don’t have any friends other than the Former Significant Other in the area who are willing to do that.

There are three problems with taking the F.S.O. as backup:

  1. While he said he’d go with me, he also pointed out that he is Super Busy and he can’t go on This Night or on That Night or That One Either, which makes me think that, quite frankly, he’s not going to do it at all.  If he can’t be bothered to part from his schedule even once to help me out, I’m sure as hell not going to beg him to do it.  I’ve got my damn dignity.
  2. The F.S.O. used to dance a ton before we met, but he refused to dance while we were together, never went with me to any of Mystery Studios social parties, and showed up for a single showcase.  He attempted to help me do the cha cha once.  Now that we’ve broken up, the F.S.O. is now dancing like mad again, and frankly, I resent that, even though it makes no sense and no difference either.
  3. I’m sure the F.S.O. would have suggestions on how to improve and that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but given that he was always fixated on my problems and what I could fix during our relationship (and I’m still mad about it), I would find it exceptionally difficult to take any advice without also telling him where he could shove said advice.

Going dancing with the F.S.O. wherever he dances wouldn’t quite work right now, either:

  1. He does blues dancing, which I’m not interested in at this point in time.
  2. I’d have to meet his current girlfriend, whom he met while dancing.  She does blues dancing a lot.  While I’m sure I’ll end up meeting her eventually, I am just not ready to do it in a context where she’s clearly superior to me.  And skinnier.  And more sporty.  Etc. etc. etc.
  3. Issues 2 and 3 from the first list apply here too.

So I suspect I’m going to have to invoke Ye Olde Discipline and force myself to pick something and go to it for at least a couple weeks straight.  Between the breakup, the moving and so on, there just hasn’t been a whole lot of willpower left over for it.  It doesn’t help that I remain self-conscious after my recent weight gain.  On the plus side, I finally have the exact rack I’ve wanted ever since puberty hit.  Yet I don’t have sufficiently supportive bras for dancing in, much less dance-appropriate clothing that fits the new bosom, waist, butt, etc.  I’ve been going to spin classes twice a week, but it seems clear I need to pick up the pace and do more of that, and give up the bottled Frappuchinos I so adore, and magically completely shift my eating and cooking habits, and and and, and there’s just not enough damn willpower in this body to do it all at once.

Dodged the Exit Interview and the Date

At my last lesson some months ago, I agreed to come to another one of the Friday night parties.  I did so because I liked Instructorman and had a lot of fun as his student.  But then I  remembered just how interested the studio folks were last year when I went on vacation instead of going to their big dance competition.  I got asked so many times why I wasn’t going that I got to a point where I almost wanted to scream, “YES I’M GOING TO VEGAS TO EAT EVERYTHING AND GET FAT THERE AND LOVE IT AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!”  I kept my mouth shut because I’m an adult and all that, and instead, I stuck to my tried-and-true tactic of politely repeating the same information.  Yes, I’m going to Vegas, not the competition.  Yes, I’m going to Vegas, not the competition.  Yes, I’m going to …

Going to the Friday party meant I would probably be subject to similar well-intentioned but rather pointed questions about why I’m not dancing at Mystery Studio anymore.  They’re the kind of questions that make you realize even though you friended everybody on Facebook, your relationship with the studio and its instructors is, in the end, deeply related to their bottom line.

And now that it’s been so long, I think the window for going has come and gone.

Finding a new place to dance is slowly ongoing.   Chain studios are out of the running due to the similar costs.

In terms of integrating dance into my daily schedule, alas, no place is closer than Mystery Studio.  That means I have to start calculating in lesson time vs. drive time.  Say it takes me a half hour to get there, and another half hour to get back – is forty-five minutes of dance time worth the total hour lost in the car?  Is fifty minutes on the dance floor?  An hour?

Arm Styling Technique varies by the dance!

My Kind of Arm Styling
Wonder if I can find an actual dance style like this?

As far as style goes, the now former Significant Other talked up West Coast swing as well as lindy hop as good options.  From his description, blues dancing will probably not be my thing, on either a skill level (mine’s too low to have a chance in hell of looking like I know what I’m doing) or social one (it apparently attracts a fair share of “creepers,” who will almost certainly irritate the bejeesus out of me).

So I signed myself up for a small West Coast swing class at a local center the other Friday.

The Good:
1. The gathering hinted at a scene that is indeed more laid back, in more ways than one.  I shall call the teacher my group had Bananaman, as he was wearing a shirt with bananas on it, and a name like that is just too good to pass up.

2. The event organizer also taught the more advanced class.  She seemed highly involved in general, and managed to slip away from other conversations long enough to talk to me after class while I was prepping to depart.  Interestingly, she was quite observant, and identified my background as East Coast or maybe Lindy Hop right off the bat.

The Bad:
1. This particular group, though convenient in location and meeting time, was very small, and not a whole lot of folks were my age.  The event organizer specifically recommended other options, noting that she really wanted me to be able to see more of the active scene.  The challenge here, of course, is that these options aren’t as easy to get to and would involve either taking mass transit or parking in places where it’s probably easier to win the lottery.

Please Not Right Now I'm interesting in step step triple step not you!

Please Not Right Now
I’m interesting in step step triple step, not you!

2. It also highlighted a social difficulty that often occurs in group classes, and it’s one I don’t know whether I’m entirely ready for or not: sooner or later, somebody in your class is going to hit on you.  At this particular event there was one gentleman (who I am sure is generally very nice) who was a little too interested for my comfort.  I swear I wasn’t just imagining things, either.  In our society, whenever a non-friend man compliments you on your necklace and even tells you the brand, he’s interested.  The only plainer signal would be him trying to give you his number, and I left before risking that.

Worse, when the class is as small as this one was (there were two male students, one male teacher, and three female students) and you rotate partners, there’s simply no escape.  You are going to have to deflect this person’s attention repeatedly over the course of the night.  It’s like a few minutes of polite torture followed by a few minutes of relief when you have other partners, and this gets repeated over and over until the class ends.

Instructorman worked long and hard to get me to stop looking at the floor.  Even though I knew better from a dancing perspective, I started looking at the floor again because the fellow misconstrued eye contact as interest on my part, and as a result it was just a lot easier to pretend that I was focusing on the path I was supposed to do my steps along.

Broke and Broker

0 Lessons Left, 0 Balance Either

0 Lessons Left, 0 Balance Either

At the beginning of the year, Mystery Studio increased the cost of its private lessons.  It’s a reasonable increase for them and one I imagine they needed to do anyway, but the overall cost has now hit my maximum comfort level.  Thus I am in a bit of a pickle, for as much as I enjoy ballroom, the hobby was pretty costly for me to begin with and now it’s just omfgaslfkjas;lfjas;lfkj.

I have to admit there’s a level of involvement in the ballroom scene that I’m simply not able to finance and that limited time cannot achieve.  One lesson a week is all I can manage, and I’m unable to float the whole plane tickets/hotel/food/registration/dance fees/outfit gig, which restricts me to local competitions.  There are quite a few, fortunately, but even then, the required fees can be an issue depending on when the competition falls!

Perhaps more importantly, I don’t particularly care much for where I am now – not enough to pay more for maintaining the status quo, anyway.  When I first started and realized I could not pay my rent while taking multiple lessons a week, I settled into a routine of one lesson early in the week, maybe a group class in the middle, the Friday evening party, and one day-long, local competition during the year.  Sadly, that one lesson a week doesn’t really get you anywhere beyond “wedding reception ready.”  It’s not enough activity to get you in shape and the skill gain is slow because of how little time you devote to it.  You can’t progress to different levels in terms of the competitions, because you aren’t there/doing any winning there.  You end up being at this weird level where bronze classes are boring, but you’re not qualified for silver in any respect.  Can I get a brass level, or something?

Play Me Your Tiny Violin

Play Me Your Tiny Violin

I’ve hit a point where I’m tired of going to weekly parties, tired of paying the cover charge every week.  (Attend four, get the fifth one free! Or is that attend five, get the sixth …?)  Sure, $15 isn’t much ($12 for members!), but that’s $60 for one month.  That is a lot of delicious mocha frappuchinos, my friends.  The parties and their fox trot mixers feel more like obligation, and what fun is that?

So it may be time to look for a cheaper studio and/or a cheaper style of dance.

It may be an opportunity to look into a different style of dance (which would, in an ideal world, be cheaper too).  When the Significant Other shows me videos of the lindy hop/swing/blues competitions that he’s gone to, there is something appealing in the more relaxed vibe.  Oh, a more diverse audience is all on the edge of the dance floor, clapping along and cheering?  That’s what I like!  Oh, she’s wearing a dress she clearly picked up at a store somewhere and a pair of canvas tennis shoes?  That’s cool by me, plus, I got something like that.  Now, I’d cover those shoes in rhinestones because sparkle, but the accessibility is a plus, as is being less tempted by outfits with boob fringe and butt ruffles.  (“You can wear me,” they say, but they lie.)

Now, while the Significant Other used to dance quite a lot, he’s still seriously burned out to a degree where it’s all but impossible to convince him that dance studios in general aren’t just a bunch of money sucking leeches and the hobby itself isn’t simply a continuous whirlwind existence that’s been crammed into a suitcase.  It’ll be years before he believes that it’s possible to land somewhere in between “dancing once a week” and “making a career out of competing.”  It’ll be still more time before he’ll accept that dance studios are no more parasitic than the homes of other hobbies, and probably even longer before he actually starts to enjoy dancing again.  So any dabbling in these other styles would be just me.

I still haven’t entirely decided what to do at this point, though the momentum is starting to favor going elsewhere.  There’s the unfulfilled wish to wear a Floaty McPrincess Dress, as well as the everliving dream of coating my entire damn outfit in bling and blending in anyway.  I’d also miss Instructorman’s sense of humor if I went elsewhere, though I guess that’s an inevitable part of the “going elsewhere” process.

Around and Around We Go

I Just Can't So tired, can't pretend otherwise.

I Just Can’t
So tired, can’t pretend otherwise.

Posture Posture Posture
Mystery Studio has a lot of television screens about the place, and wouldn’t you know it, they were playing the videos from the Winter Showcase.  There I was, blue dress, bad hair and all – I looked waaaaay more exhausted than I thought I did at the time.  Why, I seemed downright downtrodden and soul squished.  Like I was thinking, “What fool got me up for this and how can I punish him for it and is it over yet did someone say ‘coffee?’  No?  Damn …”

Instructorman immediately pointed out my posture in the video, which was as described above.  It was like an “Ah hah!” moment for him, but for me, it was more of an “Oh crap.”  The Significant Other has been hounding me about my posture for ages now, and I thought I was doing pretty good as a result.  But it turns out that it’s one of those cases where you think you’re standing up straight – but you’re not standing up straight enough.  In essence, I am standing up straight enough for day to day life – but I’m falling short of the dancer’s pulled-together, controlled posture.

Rotation Rotation Rotation I've waited ages to use this gif.

Rotation Rotation Rotation
I’ve waited ages to use this gif.

Rotation Rotation Rotation
As I am a beginner in the world of American smooth, we’re spending an enormous amount of time exploring the surprisingly complex topic of body positioning.  To do it properly, you must place every limb in a very particular way – the connection between partners must be just like so, your head must point at just such an angle, etc. etc. etc.  When you do all of it right (or rightish enough), ta-da, it looks like you kinda know what you’re doing!

Thus far in my smooth career, I’ve mostly felt like I’m running backwards in an attempt to avoid getting run over by a Mac truck.  This time, since I did the positioning stuff mostly rightish, there was an entirely new sensation present: I am totally going to tip over backwards and die.  I am very used to looking where I am going, and my feet are what take me there.  It’s so simple and straightforward, you really do forget how comfortable you get with visually confirming the location you know your feet are going to.  This backwards whirling business made it feel as though my natural locomotion was somehow inverted and the back of my head was leading the way instead.  I vocalized this with an “Oh dear God!”

Instructorman was thrilled.  He was like, “‘Dear God’ what?  THIS IS GOOD!  This is the rotation waltzing should have!”  I must trust that I am not necessarily going to land flat on my ass by default, because there’s no way around doing the whirligig thing.

Winter Basketcase 2014

No, I Have Not Slept Well Are you sayin' I look tired or something?

No, I Have Not Slept Well
Are you sayin’ I look tired or something?

On Monday of last week, the hot water heater in my old apartment broke, flooding the whole place.  Nothing quite like the smell of wet carpet padding mixed with fresh dirt, lemme tell you.  (There’s also nothing quite like locating two really freaked out cats and shoving them into carriers.)  On Tuesday, the Significant Other hit a gigantic pothole that blew a tire and cracked the wheel, and as a result he had to borrow my car for a day before he could get a rental.

Monday and Tuesday nights were spent at a hotel.  Getting two stressed cats out from underneath a hotel bed isn’t much easier than getting them out of a pile of furniture and boxes, but I just couldn’t handle the guilt factor of shutting them in the bathroom for two days.

On Wednesday, a small miracle happened when the furniture delivery guys and the Comcast guy showed up at the new apartment on time.  On Thursday, there was great panicking and packing, as the old apartment was a freaking mess and the movers were supposed to come Friday afternoon.  On Friday, the movers showed up over an hour late.  I couldn’t trap the cats in the new apartment’s bathroom for their safety as I’d planned, but they ended up being safe where they were because they’d gotten themselves wedged under the couch and would move for no one, not even a person with wet food and kitty treats.  (This was OK by me, as I was also feeling increasingly bad over the number of times I’d pushed them into small enclosed spaces for reasons they could not comprehend.)  On Friday night, a guest came to visit and help us unpack.  I couldn’t find the sheets for the guest bed.

On Saturday, the Winter Showcase happened, I think*.  My hair was bad and my dress was wrinkled, but I made it and had some makeup on my face, dagnabit, and I considered that nothing short of a victory.

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Figuring Out Loosening Up, #1

Owning Your Okayness Sometimes, being okay is okay.

Owning Your Okayness
Sometimes, being okay is okay.

Since we’ve started smooth dances, I’ve noticed that I stare at Instructorman constantly.  Smooth has made this more apparent to me because you’re supposed to do that elegant head-to-the-side-gazing-nowhere-joyfully thing, and I very rarely do.

Instead, I’m watching to see where his eyes go, in order to better judge whether or not he’s seen the various couples that may or may not crash into us.  (Conclusion: Usually, he already has.)

I’m watching to see whether or not I’ve managed to do something passably.  (Conclusion: Mostly pointless, because when I really do screw up, I can already tell.  When I really don’t screw up, I can’t see his expression change much at all.)

I’m watching to see his mouth in case he says something.  (Conclusion: This is a persistent conversational habit.  I have difficulty hearing, and lip reading helps me discern what was said.  In a typical conversation, however, you are usually more than a few inches away from the person you are talking to.  Furthermore, if I do the correct head pose, he’ll be talking towards my good ear.)

I’m watching because not looking at the person you are dancing with seems weirdly distant.  (Conclusion: Yeah, it is, but that’s part of the correct smooth form.)

I’m watching because I just can’t think of another thing to do with this freaking noggin on my shoulders.  (Conclusion: Do something, but not that weird head ducking move from earlier this year.  Don’t look at the floor either!)

And lastly, I’m watching because it’s a comfortable habit.

If I don’t stare at Instructorman, I immediately feel like a child stepping into uncertain territory – my person is smaller than I expected in a world larger than I anticipated.  What am I doing, again?  I was supposed to do this thing, yes?  Maybe?  Now I don’t know.  Where am I in the space?  Am I in the space I was supposed to be in?  Where is Instructorman?  In an instant, the familiar becomes strange, and I hesitate to act without guidance before me and stronger arms as a known limit.

I tell myself, “you are an independent adult who has moved on her own a million miles away from family and friends, no problem.  You hold down a job, no problem.  You even manage to clean and cook like an adult every now and then!”  So why is looking away from Instructorman so dang weird?