The following is a questionnaire that Skye Humphries filled out for an article entitled “The Party’s Just Begun” that appeared in August 31, 2008. It only used a few sentences out of the 12 page response that Skye sent back. It’s a print magazine, so it’s not available online. Skye sent this to me last summer just to read. I thought it was too interesting not to share so I asked him permission to post it here. Since it’s pretty long, I’m chopping it up into four parts. You can find part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.
How were you introduced to dancing in general? Were you a trained dancer before going into swing? If swing was your first exposure to dance, what drew you to it/ made you want to become a dancer.
I always had an interest in movement- though not necessarily dancing.
I used to want to be a clown. I loved the old movies of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. My brothers and I would recreate slapstick scenes, walks, and a million other little motions we watched in those old movies. I loved the way those guys moved, I loved the way their specific movements felt when I watched them and later when I tried them myself.
Chaplin can make you laugh, and then cry, and then cheer all without saying a word. He is devastating. I loved the way he can bring out the essence of some small action. His work is dancing- pure dancing- practical and elegant and beautiful.
My mother danced Lindy Hop. She always thought I would like it. She used to show me old dance clips from films like “Hellzapoppin‘” and “Day at the Races.”
I was blown away by the films and was interested in the dance, but I was young and never really thought that guys danced. It certainly wasn’t something that was considered cool.
Finally she convinced me to try it. Bill Borgida was giving a class for teens (I was 11 or 12) and I went with some friends from my school whose parents also danced.
We went to a school called ACS (the Alternative Community School) [where] we were encouraged to pursue our own interests and develop our own ways of learning. We started teaching a class at our school almost immediately and brought our friends into the dance. Our school gave us space and time to practice, and allowed us to shape our curriculum to reflect our interest in the dance.
History, sociology, politics, media- our teachers were very encouraging and allowed us to find the connection between dancing and the rest of our studies.
There was an amazing community of dancers in Ithaca who created a great atmosphere and ran great dances. We started going out and dancing socially all the time. ISDN (Ithaca Swing Dance Network) also put on great workshops with the top international dancers and teachers, and they were always supportive of us kids.
My friends and I went out together dancing, and then Bill started a little performance group and we started doing gigs around town.
Soon we started running and directing our own group, and started performing, competing, and eventually teaching on our own.
Personally, I felt very uncomfortable in classes at first. I was a slow learner and had trouble understanding what the dance was about; Lindy Hop is so open-ended and personal that it can be quite difficult to learn in a traditional class setting. I had a hard time learning the counts and remembering all the steps.
But I remember the frustration of classes just melting away when I started to go out dancing. I grasped very quickly the freedom of the dance once I was on a dance floor. I saw how I could turn my weakness at recreating or remembering the movements of the teacher in class into strengths on the dance floor. Where I couldn’t do some part of a step, I learned to find my own way through things. I learned quickly how to make things my own.
For me it was my mother, my friends, my school, and the strong community of dancers in Ithaca that got me to dance; and once I started it was the incredible freedom of the dance that kept me dancing. It was the way I was able to find my own way of dancing that encouraged me so much. Lindy Hop encourages individuality and self-expression through embracing community rather than rejecting it.
Of course I found the dance intoxicating as well. Lindy Hop brings people together to music and that is a classic combination. Humans have been doing that forever. There has never been anything more potent than that.