Photo: Illustration from Dąbrowska, Grażyna. Taniec ludowy na Mazowszu

The Importance of the Embrace

I found myself not too long ago in the basement of a old, Krakowian palace, today turned into a bar and venue. The place smelled of age and stories. As I got a drink, the bartender told me that much history had passed through the place, it being a gathering spot for political dissidents and patriots during the long years of foreign occupation.

But I wasn’t there for politics. No, I was attending a Polish folk dance, complete with traditional instruments and steps.

The music at this dance was a repetitive, atmospheric type, and I quickly found myself drifting off into imagination land. I imagined what it would be like to be a Polish peasant during the high middle ages. When knights on horseback could ride through your fields on a whim, destroying your crops and bringing famine to your family. When wars called in far away kingdoms enlisted your sons, stealing away able hands in the prime of their lives. Or when plagues flowed out from central Asia, bringing with them years of decay and death.

The Why We Dance Project

Note from the Editor – Please everyone give a warm welcome to Rebecca from New Zealand! Intrepid explorer, dancer, and creator of the “Why We Dance Project.” She is documenting her dream dancing summer, and interviewing people along the way. What a fantastic opportunity to ask people why they dance.

Another day, another airport…

Two months ago, I left everything behind. Well…not everything. A sizeable bag followed me onto the plane holding all I needed for over four months of dancing and globetrotting. My dream was to attend Swing and Blues dance events throughout the USA and Europe – to learn everything I could from some of the most influential scenes in the world, and most importantly, from the place where it all began.

Due to a happy coincidence I was able to leave my old job with enough funds to support my ambitious plans. Well, probably enough funds…in any case, I was ready for a change and the opportunity was too good to miss. This would be my first trip to North America, and the third to Europe. I was no stranger to travel but it was going to be my longest trip traveling solo, a whole four and a half months. In the States, my biggest fear was crime. In Europe, I was worried about communication. I bundled these concerns into my suitcase and hopped on the plane, excited and nervous to see what experiences this adventure would bring.

Photo: Monika Natkaniec

The Importance of Dish Washing

One of the things I absolutely love about the dance world is that it is filled with interesting characters. No where else in my life do I find such a density of people who are doing genuinely interesting things. People from all walks of life. In different stages of their lives, going through different things in their professional and relationship worlds. The spectrum of possible experiences is vast. I enjoy this.

Now, if you put a bunch of these people together for a dance retreat weekend, the results are magic.

Allow me to set the stage. Dance retreat weekends are dance events that take place far from everyday, civilized life. They are usually held away from urban areas. Sometimes the setting is a beautiful, natural environment. Sometimes it’s at an old, charming building. But always it is something other than our modern, hectic world.

Imagine feasting with friends, sharing wine with somebody new, and then dancing until the dawn breaks. All in a romantic, rustic palace in the countryside. Sounds nice, no?

In addition to the specialness of the physical location, there is a sense of community building that comes with retreat weekends. They are rarely micro-managed by the organizers. Instead, attendees understand that they will be expected to contribute to the production of the event. There is a great diversity of jobs that need to be done to make a dance retreat weekend work, so everyone finds something that they can help with. Kitchen detail, DJs, workshop leading, decoration, fire building, the list goes on and on…

After arriving, everyone scuttles around, exploring the space, learning what is what and who is who. It can sometimes be a little intimidating, like the first day of class at a new school. Like all other primates, we are social animals, and we have a need for finding our place within the tribe. Me? I like washing dishes.

Anybody who has worked in a kitchen knows that without a good dish washer, things don’t go smoothly. The flow gets clogged up, the chef gets angry, the servers get frustrated, and ultimately the diners themselves suffer. A good dish washer will keep a watchful eye on the kitchen to make sure everyone gets what they need before they even know they need it. A dish washer’s job isn’t just to make sure that the dirty dishes get cleaned, their job is to make sure that the creators in the kitchen have they tools they need to create. I enjoy this.

There’s one retreat weekend that I have in mind at the moment. It is Open Blues Fusion Hangout and Festival, which is coming up in August. I attended last year and found my place in the kitchen. This year I cannot wait to see everyone again and meet many more new, and very interesting, characters from the dance world.

Registration opened this past weekend and I claimed my spot. You better hurry if you want to claim yours. See ya in the kitchen and on the dance floor.

Interested in reading more about Open Blues? I interviewed one of the organizers, Konrad Urban last fall. Check it out!

Making Good Judgments

In the English speaking world today, there is a popular saying that goes, “Never judge a book by its cover.” This saying has changed over the years, as languages always do.

As a young child, I remember learning this saying as, “You can’t always judge a book by its cover.” It has changed from a cautionary warning, to a command. “You can’t always…” has become “Never…”

I’ve been thinking about the role that judging plays in the dance world. We have explicit competitions, but also many informal judgments, including the fundamental decision as to whether or not to accept a dance with a partner. I would like to explore why books have covers and how we practice making good judgments on outward appearances, both in books and dancers alike.

Let’s start with why books have covers. They are there to help you decide whether to read the book or not. If you decide to read the book, the cover helps you form a pre-judgment on what the book will try to say. After reading the book, you can go back and see whether the cover did a good job summarizing the book or not. Authors, editors and publishers put a lot of effort into crafting the covers of their books. They try to capture the spirit, the truth, the meaning of their books. Like most things in life, their success in this regards is in the eye of the beholder.

The Importance of Storytelling

I had planned on publishing a lot of content during the Christmas holidays. That plan has been pushed aside in favor of playtime with my niece and nephew. When a 2 and a 5 year old say, “Come play Uncle Greg!,” I cannot refuse. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past several days on the floor, playing games and using our imaginations. In a round about way, this playtime has given me some inspiration for going into 2019.

The tagline of this website is, “Telling Stories from the Social Dancing World.” Telling stories is really not all that different from playing with young children. We are creating meaning in the world. Playing dollhouse means that my niece learns how to sit at the table and who cooks in the kitchen (Daddy). Playing with action figure toys helps my nephew figure out good people from bad. From a very small age, we learn to swim through a metaphorical ocean of symbols, woven together through stories.

More importantly, we never stop swimming in this ocean. The story archetypes never fade in importance as we grow older. The Hero still sallies forth to defend, the Villain still tries to foil the Hero, and the Fool still carries on in ignorant bliss. Leo Tolstoy once said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Our ability to be moved by these stories is what has allowed our species to thrive in this world. Stories allow us to pass down knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation. They give meaning to our world.

I could go on a tangent here and talk about how politicians, businessmen, and people who crave power use our sensitivity to stories to control us. Amongst these people, this is called controlling the Narrative. There are billions of dollars that go into Narrative research, so that our sensitivities can be better exploited. Science has uncovered exactly how to push our emotional buttons, and there are plenty of people willing to do so. Hell, they’re even training Artificial Intelligence to do it nowadays. Perhaps I will do a post about this at some point. But not now.

What I want to talk about now is the importance of storytelling in our social dancing world. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our actions on and around the dance floor are always informing other people’s stories about ourselves. Ask yourself how many times you have explained to someone how you started dancing. This is your origin story. Every time you travel to a dance event weekend, you are Tolstoy’s stranger coming to town. If you are a teacher, your teaching choices not only inform your students as to how to do something, but why it is important. If you are an organizer, the very act of choosing a name for your event sets the stage for the story… “Kick-Ass Competition Blues” is a very different setting than “Feeling Fulfilled Fusion.”

We all continuously move through this ocean of metaphors and symbols, the only difference is how we choose to play our parts. Those who are aware that they are telling stories get to choose how to play it.

This is why I started to this website, so that people will have the opportunity to actively tell their own stories. So that they can take hold of the role they are playing. So that they can share what they have done and why they did it with future generations of dancers.

As Christmas passes by and the coming of 2019 approaches, I want to give a HURRAH! to everyone who decides to take an active role in playing their part; whether that is beginner, professional, organizer, musician, DJ, MC, venue owner, wallflower, lush, party-er, romantic, hanger-on, and on and on… may you go forth and dance!

Ok, I have to get back to playing with my niece and nephew. My nephew has just announced that Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer is a Myth. He’s absolutely right, only now I’m not sure what part Uncle Greg has to play in connecting the dots back to how real Santa is? Never boring, this story we call life.