Apparently my post about experiencing loneliness and other negative emotions while at a dance resonated with a lot of people. I’m so grateful for the many people who shared heartfelt stories of their own struggles and feelings, and how they coped with them. (Check out “Vunerable” a moving photo essay by Sarah Warny Berg about the Herrang Dance Camp.)
There’s one particular manifestation of these feelings I’ve heard again and again over the years. It happens to people who started lindy hopping and then took an extended break for some reason (work obligations, having a child, moving, etc.) Their dance hiatus might last six months or several years, but the story is the same. They come back to their local venue feeling both at home and alienated at the same time.
“I don’t know anyone in the room,” they think, with rising concern. “Who will dance with me?”
They feel discouraged when they realize they will have to re-create their dance network. Often they are older dancers, feeling out of place among a younger generation of dancers. Perhaps they feel rusty in their lindy hop skills, but are hesitant to go back to class or catch up with the latest “trends” and styles of dancing. So they just stop coming.
I’m reminded of my mom and her lack of interest in visiting her home town in the Philippines. “There’s nothing for me there,” she says, when I bring it up. I think I get that now. For her to visit her old neighborhood and see that her home, her school, and all the other places she knew are gone would be a painful experience, not a nostalgic one. I guess you can’t go home again.
Similarly, you can’t re-create your first lindy hop romance, the giddy excitement of this new thing with your peers all learning together. But the good news is that you can rekindle that love affair with the dance (and other dancers). It just takes a bit more effort and intentionality.
Have you experienced this? How did you get past those feelings?
8 thoughts on “Lindy Hop and Loneliness, Part II: Coming Back after a Hiatus”
Yes, very recognizable. But there is something I can do : pay it forward by (daring to) ask more people to dance. The ones in the back included.
[Comment sent in via email:]
I too, took a break from dancing weekly, (kids, move across country, knee surgery). As I get older, it’s harder to feel relevant.
To fill the void when I couldn’t dance, I wrote about it. I wrote one novel, THE GIRL IN THE JITTERBUG DRESS, and then couldn’t stop (writing several more with dance as a central character/theme), along with a blog about vintage and everything 1920s-1950s.
Because I couldn’t dance, I tried to capture those feelings of when I first learned, and the thrill of a skirt wrapping around a warm thigh on a crowded dance floor. The excitement when you follow a lead you’ve never danced with before and get most of it right. I lived vicariously through my words.
[continued in next comment]
[part 2 of comment submitted via email]
Since my knee surgery, I’ve gained a lot of weight and am afraid to go out to well-known dance venues. I’m afraid of being ignored. Afraid of not being like the characters I write about.
I’m trying to find my way back to the dance floor. I don’t want to just write about it. We’ve started a small group of dancers in my little town. They only know the fat/old Tam, not the girl in the jitterbug dress I used to be.
Starting a scene is different than coming back to an old one or even integrating into a new one. I moved from SoCal to Texas eight years ago and barely ventured out. I hope starting small will lend me the confidence to go out to the bigger venues again, but for now, I take beginner steps.
Ahhhh I have so much to say about this hahaha thanks for sharing Rik! Obvisouly, the last 5 years has been on and off for me since I had repetitive injuries so I had to reinsert myself in the community a few times and also find myself another “role”. I can resonate to some of what you wrote, however for me the biggest struggle is this self-critical dialogue that sneaks up on me and leave me feeling like I’m not a good enough dancer “anymore”. I struggle to connect to the fun of a dance even though it used to be so easy to have fun. I tend to feel nostalgic of my previous self, the one who “used to be good at dancing”. I judge myself and what I can add to the dance conversation. I guess I feel like I don’t belong anymore, it’s not only about my skills but how my skills are judged by others and how they inform (informally) of my “value” within the group. Anyways, that’s how I feel. We can talk more off line. I am usually not super vocal publicly about this 😉
I’ve always appreciated your honesty and frankness about what you are going through. I’ve learned a lot from you as you have shared about your process of dealing with physical and emotional issues over the years.
I, too, took a hiatus. Only 5 months, but, I’m no one prominent in the scene, just a dancer.
It was generated by ski season taking precedence over dancing where I started off skipping dance nights here and there to head up to the mountains for the weekend and after a few weeks, forgot about the pleasures that dancing once brought me and got more enjoyment out of skiing.
Once the season was over, I found myself not missing the dance nor the community, especially since not one dancer “friend” reached out to me during that period. So I decided to take a full on hiatus. Completely removed myself from all Swing dance related things.
It was so refreshing! My Facebook feed filled itself with outdoor adventure posts and other things that had been otherwise over shadowed by swing related posts.
I did eventually return late that summer with a few warm hugs and happiness that I had returned from my absence.
I found that my decision to disconnect from the scene was indeed the right decision, since a majority of the dancers I had thought cared about my existence in the scene didn’t even notice I’d been gone.
My intentional removal from the scene and the responses of my return validated my decision to leave.
What I learned from this experience is that swing dancing will always be a social activity I can engage in regardless of how often I do or do not go. My hiatus was a social cleansing of sorts to realize that it’s just a hobby that will hopefully stick with me for many years, but may never be a lifestyle. Nor do I no longer ever feel “obligated to go” or “guilty” if I skip.
Cheers, let’s swing out, but not if it’s snowing. Then let’s go skiing!