WEST COAST SWINGI'm A "Rebel" Now

by I.J. Wanadans

I’ve never had a good experience at the Press Box (affectionately known as the PBox). This is the legend of all California dance joints. I guess my planets were never aligned properly when I walked through the door because I never felt comfortable there. On the three or four occasions I was there I had few dances, got turned down a lot, no one seemed to care that a newcomer was in the room, and my slot always seemed to get squeezed. So on this night I was tinkering with the idea of finding another place to dance on Friday night but eventually decided, "What the heck, go for it." This time it was much different.

The minute I walk in I’m only charged $5 instead of the non-member $6 and told to go to the DJ booth to sign up for a free membership. "I’m from Georgia," I said, questioning my good fortune. "Sign up and you’re in," I was told. In seconds I was standing there with my very own "Rebels Swing Dance Club Membership Card." O, boy, wait ‘til I get home and show all my friends this!

But a lot more truly significant things happened that night and almost all of it good. There appears to be a definite "pecking order" to the room. Starting at the DJ booth and going clockwise there is a short row of tables and seats. These are never sat in by anyone except Illuminaries, Champions, Icons, and their close personal friends. This is the quarter of the floor we all hope to dance on sometime in our lifetimes.

Then there is the "door" area, the side of the room facing the DJ booth (from about 4 o’clock to 7 o’clock). There are tables and chairs but no one ever seems to sit at the tables in the front row because they are always dancing. Behind this group are more tables where more of the "socializers" hang out.

On the other side of the room, facing the Illuminary/Icon area, is the bar (7 o’clock to 11 o’clock). This seems to be where people dance, but hide. Being a bit claustrophobic and insecure, this is where I usually sat. It was almost like I was invisible. I was easy to ignore. When I asked people to dance they would often say, I’m going to sit this one out." Whenever I did get on the floor my slot seemed fair game to everyone. My partners seemed generally annoyed.

This time I decided to place myself right by the door (five o’clock). Hey, I’m a Rebel now. This vantage gave me a "v" point of view of the whole floor. People had to pass by me coming through the door and going to the restrooms. People had to see me. I was recognizing people from my last trip, some from conventions, some from dancing at the Hacienda the night before. I started asking people to dance and got lots of yes’s. Hey, I’m a Rebel now!

It’s A Male Thing

The night before at the Hacienda I began to realize that I was allowing a "male thing" to happen. Girls, have a seat. Only the guys will understand what I’m about to say. On all my previous trips to California I was much too self-conscious and allowed myself to be intimidated by the "big dogs" (or any dog for that matter!). "How could she possibly enjoy a dance with ME after dancing with HIM" the thought process would run. Oh, do the other boys ever feel the thought patterns of a runt! No respect, not even the time of day.

And certainly the girls didn’t want to be with a runt either. Somehow it dawned on me that everything is relative and although I may not be quite as good as some guys, I certainly wasn’t chopped liver. And besides, who’s to judge? Suddenly I was dancing like the IJ in Atlanta, relaxed, moves flowing through the brain, the girls are saying "Yes, yes," and the ones that turned me down earlier in the evening are now watching with regret. Maybe I’m not as much a runt as they thought. Suddenly no one seems to be encroaching on my slot. Was it the sudden power and authority of my dancing? Was I achieving a small measure of respect? I figured at least I’m not invisible any more.

The Stare Down

Back to the PBox ... I’m having a groovy dance on the door side of the floor and one of the "Icon’s," a really, really, big dog, ventures over to the same side and decides to pick his slot right behind mine. We both have comfortable, equal sized slots. As the dance progresses he starts expanding his slot, "expressing himself," into mine. The old process would have said, "Oh my God, I better give the big dog what he wants," and squeezed my partner and I into a tiny little square. By squishing my own self worth it’s no wonder my partner’s gave me no respect. This time though I decided, "Hey, this ain’t no convention spotlight dance. I’m a Rebel too!"

I gave no ground. We began having very close calls, near hits ... I’m still doing my thing, giving no quarter. I look over and the guy is still working his routine but now I recognize he’s staring right at me with this I-need-more-room-so-get-outta-my-way look. I respond with my own stare back with a look that tells him, "sorry buddy but me and my consort are expressing ourselves too and we need all the space you do." The stare continues, all the while he’s whipping his partner through all these awesome moves. The Big Stare contains lightning bolts streaking from his pupils, fire out of his nostrils, smoke out of his ears, the fury of an enraged bull. Then just as suddenly, the stare stopped. It was over. He had a great dance. So did I. His partner was hugging him and thanking him. My partner was hugging me and thanking me. I’m thinking, "hey, this Rebel thing is pretty cool."

And so the night went on. I’m dancing with everyone, people are approachable. I’m so used to Southern hospitality that I should not have just expected people to notice and take an interest in newcomers. If you get up and say, "here I am," of course they will respond. People in California are like people everywhere. We’re all human.

The same thing happened at the Skippy Blair intensive that I attended. If you let people know who you are by expressing yourself fully on the dance floor, they recognize and respect you for whatever level you’re at. If you walk around with your tail between your legs people get nervous about being around you. I didn’t say two words to Carlito Raffoli during the Skippy weekend, yet when I left he offered his hand to me and said, "Have a safe trip to Atlanta." All this because I expressed myself honestly and unabashedly on the dance floor. Days later at the Phoenix convention I bumped into him and he said to me, in typical Carlito fashion, "get out there and make a girl happy." I am definitely a Rebel now.

Rebels Don’t Shrink

I had a similar experience the next night at In Cahoots. I’m dancing and enjoying myself when this guy starts imposing, no, really blowing into my slot. Same kind of situation with him behind us. This time I look over and he has plenty of room "down line." He’s just not caring about me and my partner and is just assuming that we’ll clear out. What a jerk! Inevitably my partner "heels" his partner and feels terrible about it. She also recognizes that he has plenty of room the other way. Neither of us can figure out why such a good dancer would be so oblivious to us. Rebels don’t shrink so I tell her not to worry I’ll take care of it.

I turn us so that my back is to them. I figure I’ll take whatever "hits" that might occur. I tell my partner to be patient as I’m going to maintain this orientation. I start doing push breaks, but with each succeeding break I move carefully back with my 1, 2’s. I can feel my back touching the back of the other lady. Not only do I give no ground but I slowly start to "encroach" on their territory. I know that the "stud’s" partner is nervous about getting "heeled" again but I’m being careful, just staking out more and more real estate with each push break.

Soon I notice my partner is smiling because the guy started using the available space in the other direction. All of a sudden, he had the problem to fix, not me. He had the worried partner, not me. I demanded with my body language that he recognize our presence, especially since he had the capacity to fix the problem in the other direction. Some good dancers dance with less awareness and consideration than you would expect. But that’s no problem for me because "I’m a Rebel now!"

HGH