Boston Tea Party 2012: What’s Your Name?

I had an amazing dance towards the end of the Saturday late night of Boston Tea Party last weekend with someone I had never met before. You’ve probably been there: Dancing all night, too tired to keep going, but can’t muster the motivation to leave. I can’t really pinpoint what it was about the dance that made it great other than the stars aligned for several minutes of serious fun. At the end of that dance, we breathlessly exchanged names and thank you’s. If this was several years ago, I probably would have pressed for more details, at least a full name and a city of origin so I could stalk her on MySpace and get her to come to the next event (DCLX yo). Instead I smiled politely, turned around to rejoin some friends on the sidelines, and promptly forgot her name.

However I did not forget Nina’s knee spin

I slightly regret forgetting that name though. I didn’t think about too much at the time. Instead I continued a conversation with some friends. A couple of them had lived in DC before and I mentioned that another one of our friends was visiting DC that very same weekend. We were missed out on lunch at the best vegetarian place in the area and laser tag. As much time as it’s been since we’ve seen each other, I think we spent more time talking about the fun and frustration of being continuously ambushed by third graders than we did about dancing or music.

I hardly danced at all on Friday and Sunday. That’s not a complaint. It’s just the way it happened. Friday, I walked into the whirlwind of the event, getting registered and checked in, saying hello to dozens of people I had not seen in awhile, watching the competition prelims, and then planning and recording what was supposed to be a short video blog segment with Michael Seguin and Andrew Thigpen. That last thing turned into a two hour extravaganza featuring about a half a dozen other guests. By the time we were done, most everyone had gone to bed to get ready for the next day.

Sunday was the exact opposite, getting out of the hotel, watching finals, and saying goodbye to people. There was even some more video blog interviewing with Bobby getting some time with the event co-promoter, Steve Drzewiczewski, and me talking with Naomi Uyama.

I’ve already talked about how Naomi was my first teacher a million years ago.  At the end of that beginner series way back in 1999, she and her partner performed the routine they were going to do at The North Atlantic Dance Championships which was the big West Coast Swing/Lindy Hop/DC Hand Dance/Carolina Shag crossover event at the time. It was a cute routine done to a song by Little Richard that they sped up slightly at the end of every chorus. They won first place that year. This year we chatted about another one of her performances during some quiet time after the awards ceremony at BTP where she won first place in both the Invitational Strictly Lindy and the Invitational Crossover J&J.

People are always surprised to find out that I don’t travel very much. I cut back on dance travel awhile ago in an effort get my finances in order. Of course, now that I can afford to travel to events more, the irony is that I don’t dance all that much spending most of my time catching up with old friends or working on new projects. The weekend was also a good opportunity to spend some rare casual time with my ILHC compatriots.

I danced with only a handful of new people, and all of them asked me like the mystery woman. About half the time I got multiple dances in a row with people I like dancing with, but don’t know as well. The rest of the time I danced up two of my favorite follows. The funny thing is that I didn’t dance at all with my oldest and closest friends, even the ones I haven’t seen in a long time. That’s something I just realized while writing this. I see them, and I just want to know how they’re doing. Even if we were by the dance floor, and a hot song came up, we just stood there and chatted away until someone else interrupted and asked for a dance. The thing I noticed about the people I like dancing with is that they’ve been dancing long enough to be really good, but they still have that enthusiasm that reminds me of why I still enjoy it.

That’s why I liked hanging out with theBaltimorecrowd during the Jack & Jill finals. It was a good mixture of tension and giddiness that can only happen when you’re rolling into a pressure situation with an army of friends at your back. Michael Seguin likes to talk about emphasizing the reflected glory of comps by encouraging the affectionately known Baltimorons to go crazy even when people do something simple like not falling down at the end of a swingout. You can imagine their reaction when some of their own actually placed.

But before the contest starts, right before they call your name, even when you’re trying to convince yourself that it’s just a dance, your brain is overloading with every possible combination of embarrassing scenarios. I try to tell people to not be afraid to throw it down and leave it out there because for the next few minutes that floor belongs to them. But that’s hard to process while you realize that there’s a huge sweat mark developing under the sleeves of your shirt.

Contrast that toSeguinsitting by the door where the competitors make their entrance and yelling “I’LL SEE YOU IN HELL!!!” You’re just going to have to trust me that we sort of mean the same thing.

The biggest problem most people have with competitions is that they forget that there’s only one first place. And that never changes even if there are 2 couples or 20 or 200. What helps take the sting out of not making the finals is that long road trip, eating Chinese take out on the floor of the hotel lobby, and running around the hallways at unreasonable hours. That’s the stuff you brings you back and makes you want to catch up with those same people you competed against many years ago; talking about house payment structures or who got married or who has a new baby since you last saw them.

Jason has some interesting observations over on his blog  about the weekend. He and most everyone I talked to noted the lack of live music. Not that people didn’t know that going into it, but it’s such a standard feature of any Lindy event these days, both big and small, that it’s a big deal when it’s not there. But I started a time when that wasn’t the case. In fact most of the events we went to were westie events that had some sort of Lindy component to them, so BTP felt more familiar to me.

Bobby and I interviewed Ben Morris, a professional West Coast Swing Dancer who started out as a Lindy Hopper. He talked about the growth and development of each scene since he started and noted how Boston Tea Party caught on at the last possible moment when a crossover event could with Lindy Hoppers; that intersection in time when veterans like myself remembered and wanted a replacement for events like NADC, and were still motivated to pay for them.

However, I got the impression from many Lindy Hoppers on both ends of the experience scale, that that time is coming to a close. It’s a shame because I think there are things that dancers from both communities can learn from each other that can only happen from in person interactions on the dance floor and off.

Everyone likes to talk about the Invitational competitions, especially the Crossover Jack & Jill, but there was fairly minimal crossingover between the two dance communities even in the soul room. It mostly felt like Lindy Hoppers and West Coast Dancers were having two separate events in the same building.

However, there was one really cool moment at the end of the Invitational Strictly Lindy Hop division on Friday night. The DJ, who played the “pump up the crowd” jams cranked up Dynomite. Never one to miss an opportunity to rock out, Andrew Thigpen, started jumping up and down on in the middle of the floor by himself. Of course, the Lindy Hoppers picked up on this and flooded the floor around him. Their social momentum caught up quite a few westies in their wake, and soon everyone was making the hotel shake.

Unfortunately, the spell was broken the very next song as appropriate partner dance music was played. There is a lesson in that moment. Not necessarily what kind of music to play, but that there are other ways to get people to connect that doesn’t necessarily involve competitions or specially designated DJ rooms. Just because you don’t know someone else’s name or dance, doesn’t mean you can’t have a memorable time with them.

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