In addition to my normal contra fix I’ve recently taken up blues dancing, and (in an inverse extension, since most people develop these dance habits the other way around) I’m now also attempting to learn Lindy Hop. For the second time. Some people may remember certain futile efforts in high school, back in the day when I thought it was cool to do four-wheel power slides in the gravel parking lot at North Asheville Baptist. It’s interesting in retrospect reflecting on those lessons with Chip and Kelsey, and Kelsey’s comments about having been part of the swing and ballroom scene, and having left, and how breaking with that community had been good for her. But that’s a different story.

Last weekend, June 28th, there was a blues dance in Richmond and a carpool from Chapel Hill, and multiple new friends with whom to couch-crash and develop beautiful late-night conversations. And I had the (Humbling? Exhilarating? Terrifying?) experience of being thrust into a brand new dance scene. This isn’t the sensation of walking into a new contra dance and not knowing anyone, or being unsure what the group’s stylistic detents are, or realizing you’re the only man in a skirt. Rather, it’s the distilled anxietous liquor, sweat-tinged and sickly green, of being absolutely, totally brand new. And sucking.

It’s a very good sensation to re-experience now and again. It’s also a good reminder of why sane people stick to their own bubble of experience and rest heavily on those skills which came to them easily, or were developed at a tender age when more people in the room were less coordinated. But I am not sane, and am rapidly exceeding the title of kid, and the only thing left is to bite that lime and take the shot.

The dance in Richmond was a collection of some of the best dancers in a 150 mile radius, along with a few invited beginners – precisely the learning environment you want. Not high on the ego-stroking, but effective. And gratifying when, five hours later in the dark, hazy rooms of a late-night after party, girls are leaving you at the end of a song with looks of pleasant surprise and saying “Thanks. That was a really fun dance!”

Fast forward to this weekend, throwing myself headlong into Lindy. Again there was an invitation from Chapel Hill, though from a different friend. And again I said yes, but the difference is that blues is slow. Lindy is not. Attending the pre-dance lesson didn’t work with the carpool, and the crowd on the dance floor at Loafer’s contained no beginners – at least, no beginner leads. And I had committed one of the seven deadly sins of the dance community: wearing suede-sole shoes as a noob. Suede soles are one of the universal marks of an experienced dancer. Wear such shoes, and nobody knows you’re a young budding Lindy virgin until they’ve already asked you to dance. I felt like David Sedaris speaking broken French at his friend’s Paris dinner party, surrounded by colorful, witty, highly-educated conversation and only capable of interrupting the room to say “I saw a rabbit, in the road, and he was happy!”

As Ken from the blues night in Richmond would later note, Lindy isn’t something you can just pick up in an evening. And although I did end the dance with a few non-abortive swingouts thanks to Tonia’s impromptu lesson, the overall sensation of the night was not one of success. Perhaps it would have been different in a different room with a different group. But these people were here seeking something from the dance that I couldn’t provide. I was the unfortunate left-footed schmuck who occasionally stumbles into a middle line at the Old Farmer’s Ball, and and receives a mixed bag of looks ranging from hold-still-so-I-can-wipe-my-booger-on-you to the equally uncomfortable just-because -you-suck-doesn’t-mean-you’re-a-bad-person. Although, I’ll say it again, it’s not a bad thing to remember what those looks feel like.

I’m not throwing in the towel. Ken offered to help me find some good Lindy group lessons around Winston, and I’m going to pursue that. But the lessons are going to be in order before I again poke my head into a Lindy ballroom. And next time….next time I think I’ll wear sneakers.

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