A while ago I put up a post about a video from SF Globe that you can find here, which is useful to read before continuing this post. Half an hour after putting up I received this comment:
and this is from one of MY favourite dance teachers/partners/friends.
My initial thought was “Oh dear god I’ve been horribly arrogant.” After all – I’d criticised SFG for failing to understand what was going on in the video by claiming ownership of a particular community… and here I was totally failing to recognise one of that community’s major figures.
For those interested, Jean Veloz is a living legend who was a star of swing dance on the silver screen and a fabulous live exhibition dancer between the 1940s-80s, who then came out of retirement in the 90’s to continue being kickass at community events worldwide. Admittedly I had to go and learn all of that after watching the two linked videos – particularly recommend the one from Groovy Movie. You can learn more about Jean through her own website.
So… are they going to take my swing dancer card away? Should I be embarrassed about not knowing the history of my practice? I mean, I do for other dance forms don’t I? But how much of that is being specifically a dance scholar in those styles? I sat for a while after receiving that comment alternating between mortification and a ton of questions, some of which I think I have answers for, and some I’ll be posing to you.
At the end of the day, my social dancing is… umm… social! It’s a practice that links me to a community, and one which I very much love. But is my practical participation enough to identify me as a member of that community? I mean, I know some of the historical/contextual information, but clearly I also have some very large holes – do they matter? I’m sure that for some members of that community the answer would be “Yes.” But would they be right?
So what defines this particular community’s membership? Practice? Knowledge? Skill? Contribution? Investment in the values of the community? Self-identification? A mix of all of the above?
My hypothesis is that all communities have different rules, worked out from a combination of the social norms of participating members. I’m going to show my linguistic side here when I say that there is a difference between community participation and community membership – but going to admit that I’m lost about where to draw the line.
Also, where are the boundaries of the community? Swing dance has local, national and global chapters, as I’m sure do many practice-based social groups. I’ve participated at all those levels, but where am I actually a member? Given that I’ve just moved countries, do I have to be accepted by the Columbus community in some way before I can identify as belonging there? What constitutes acceptance?
My ties are strongest to skill practice and to values: dance as a method of positive community building; dance that can be shared with everyone; dance that seeks communication with others. I call myself a social dancer because I’m always somewhat carrying those values with me wherever I go, and because I can identify others who share those community values around the world. So perhaps I can hold on to my swing dancer card for now…
…and I’m glad I got the chance to discover Jean Veloz and work towards not getting it wrong.