- I live a block away from a beautiful pond.
- I miss dancing on a regular basis something fierce.
- Now that I’m not teaching fitness, I’m not working out and partner dancing is the only thing I can think of that I’m motivated to do multiple times a week.
- There is a West Coast Swing school/club one block away from me, on the edge of the pond, and it has been there for a decade, unbeknownst to me.
Intermission: Here’s a couple of fab West Coast dancers:
I hear about it over the weekend and head down to the first possible lesson on Tuesday evening. Beforehand, I call the teacher on the number on the website. He is pissed off I am interrupting him but I want to ask, “I’d like to come take lessons, but I lead. Is that a problem in any way?” He purports not to understand my question. I repeat it. He says it’s not a problem.
- I danced West Coast Swing in London for 10 years.
- My dance partner and I used to perform it in various queer settings in the UK.
- I was the first woman to ever perform an official Showcase as a leader, leading my teacher Ralf in a West Coast Swing.
- I haven’t danced West Coast since coming to the States in 2000 because the form they do here is different than what I know and people don’t find it easy to follow me as a result.
I chat with some of the other students beforehand, mainly because the lesson starts 20 minutes later than scheduled. It is held in a cramped room with a disgustingly filthy floor – but nothing as gross as the nearby bathroom I am to discover later. Eventually we get started. “Guys on this side,” says the teacher, “and girls on that.” I line up with the men. I get looks. I’m the only one crossing the artificial and ridiculous gender line of partner dancing.
As we rotate from one partner to the next, the older women have no problem dancing with me. The younger women are unhappy about it. The youngest – a college undergraduate – says to me, “What do you think you are doing?” “Leading,” I answer. “Why would you do this?” – her tone is very antagonistic. I lean in close. “You know, don’t you” I whisper, “that the only organ I use when leading is my hand.”
The teacher is hostile to me. He may be pissed off that he has to dance as a follower because there are three “extra” leaders. He may just find dykes repulsive. The first time I dance with him he tells me I have a violent lead and that I must be much more relaxed. The second time I rotate to him, he tells me my lead is too weak and how is the follower to know what to do. This becomes the alternating pattern throughout the lesson.
However, he is very professional, knows his stuff, and knows how to teach. We cover a huge amount of material and although I cannot get into the basic step he teaches, I think his system is impressive.
After the lessons (the advanced students have been having a lesson downstairs), there is a dance from 9:30 -11:30 in the main hall. It has a big picture-window view of my pond and a lovely clean wooden floor. I just sit and watch. The level is amazing – the crowd is huge (maybe 100+ dancers) – and as West Coast is a “Jack & Jill” competitive system, everyone dances with everyone else. (Jack & Jill means that instead of competing, as a couple with your own partner, you pick names out of the hat and dance together spontaneously.)
However, all the inviting is being done by the men. All of it. Four or five men my age ask me to dance and when I say that I lead, they act like a bucket of shit has been poured over their heads and they flee. There isn’t a single same-sex dance couple on this very crowded floor.
Intermission: Here’s what the scene (of which I was a founding member) looks like now, in one of the greatest dance venues in Europe:
I’ve been pioneering these kinds of things all of my adult life and frankly I am no longer in the education business. I don’t want to smash barriers or demonstrate a new way. I don’t want to battle heterosexism in the dance world anymore. I just want to study dance and then dance. I love to dance. I love to lead. And these two things have sent me right back to the early 1990s when I was, I believe, the first UK woman to officially qualify for bronze/silver/gold medals as a leader. Life is short. Been there, done that.
What to do now? Suggestions welcome.
Final Treat: Denise Jordan and John Lindo - one of the great West Coast Swing dancers and a frequent same-sex dancer - doing a slow West Coast: