Update: I wrote a follow up post in response to a comment received on this post. You can find it here.
SF Globe… you got it wrong.
A few days ago this article popped up on my news feed: She Looked Like a Normal 90 Year Old. Then The Music Started. Oh My God.
Total click bait I know, but I was in the mood, and elderly people dancing always makes me smile even if they are being hijacked by a facebook algorithm or million… so I clicked it!
SF Globe… you got it wrong.
From looking at your website, I can see that you’re largely devoted to click-baity video and feel-good articles, and I’m not going to judge you for that. But I am going to point out that you have, in this case misrepresented the facts of what your putting up for us to see.
It’s not that the woman in the video link isn’t a pretty damn cool dancer, she is! Kudos as well to her for keeping dancing well into her nineties. But this isn’t spontaneous birthday grooving, nor are the her guests so moved they can’t help but join in – some of them might not even know her name! This is a formal community tradition that is probably happening in a town near you tonight, if you live anywhere in the U.S.A., the U.K., and probably a majority of places in Europe. And it’s a community that I share.
Here’s what I can see from watching this video: this woman is a swing dancer – a social dance form. She’s probably done it for a while now, since she knows lots of the step patterns and she’s got some great style going on. Give me five minutes alone in a dark room with google and facebook and I could probably tell you exactly where she dances, and what days and times, but that would be creepy and stalkerish and NO.
Lots of social dance forms have a tradition at dance nights that if it’s been your birthday that week, you get to join a birthday jam. Someone plays a song, and you dance with as many people at the event that can fit conveniently into that song. I’ve been birthday jammed myself and I love it. Some people love it so much that they chose to carry on the tradition into private birthday parties, especially when they have a lot of dancer friends. There are cities and groups I can’t HAVE a party among without it dissolving into social dancing, and I am all kinds of ok with that – so I’m not going to argue with their statement that it’s her own birthday party, it could well be. It’s not uncommon even for social dance scenes to THROW the birthday party of a particularly contributory member, or one who’s reached a significant age.
This woman, whoever she is, is much MORE to me than click bait. She’s a representation of how communities can come together and enrich the lives of everyone part of them. It’s a video about how dance can bring together disparate groups of people in the practice of a skill, and protect marginalised groups, such as the elderly, from loneliness and isolation. It’s a powerful point in the favour of historical, social dance forms being maintained and practiced today, with absolute contemporary relevance. SF Globe completely missed out on the chance to have any one of those great discussions with us, which is kind of disappointing even if I don’t actually read them regularly. We could have educated people about the amazing, vibrant and powerful dance world, but we didn’t.
So I’m sorry, if you were expecting more from the link, but this woman isn’t some kind of unheralded Twyla Tharp, I’m sorry she just isn’t. She’s a human being, who is part of one if not several cultures that allow her to bring joy and dance into the world of the people she socialises with, and I wish her absolutely all the best on her birthday. I congratulate San Francisco on having some great dance in their area, and I’m sorry that story got put to one side in favour of the cheap click.
I don’t know whether I have to hammer the point home here, but just in case: you might not see culture when it’s happening. You can make judgements that misrepresent people and ideas if you have a gap in your cultural knowledge. That’s not necessarily your FAULT. But if you’re publishing your evaluation of an individual out there for people to see, let’s try and contextualise what we’re seeing before we turn people into unnecessary click bait, rather than relevant contributors to something far richer, and far more worth talking about. Please?