The end of the line

I went to Pirate Swing’s Saturday evening dance quite late, arriving just in time for the band’s final set of the night. I had just spent most of the day being frustrated at my cars, hopping around town collecting parts and racking up charges left and right on my credit card, spending forever trying to hook up the throttle linkage on the Mustang’s new carb, and generally despairing over the Corvette’s latest mechanical gremlins.

You’d think that going to dance would be a great way to cap off a terrible day with something positive. Ultimately, it didn’t quite work out that way.

I suppose it’s time to face the music and just admit it. My interest in swing dancing is flat out gone.

Slow and steady decline

This was a long time coming. Anyone who had an ounce of observational awareness could have probably guessed that this was eventually going to happen. I knew months ago that I couldn’t sustain my interest in swing dancing forever, but even I was a bit surprised that the final draw to the long, slow spiral downward would suddenly happen this past weekend.

Ever since I started focusing primarily on autocross, the amount of time I’d spend dancing dwindled down. At first, I had the energy to attempt to do both — there were plenty of moments three to four years ago where I’d try and squeeze in both a National autocross event and a local dance at the same time, running at Wilmington and Lincoln while still making time to dance in Cincinnati and Omaha, respectively.

But eventually, the pace of trying to maintain the same amount of energy in both hobbies had me exhausted, and I began to drop out of the swing dancing scenes. I tried having an autocross season, the months from March to October, and a dancing season, the winter months in which there wasn’t much in the way of motorsports happening. But even then, that started to fall apart, as upon conclusion of an autocross season in which I’d spent many miles going to places for National events, the last thing I really wanted to do in the winter time was continue driving many miles going to dance exchanges and workshops.

With travel to dances effectively out of the picture, I become more or less a local-only dancer. With a pretty healthy Ann Arbor swing scene and a Detroit swing scene that was reinventing itself, I had my choice of plenty of opportunities to dance locally. And yet…

That wasn’t enough to keep my interest, either. Having had a taste of traveling to new and exciting places to dance with new and exciting people, staying in one place and dancing with the same people over and over again quickly left me longing for the days in which I’d travel about. But that longing wasn’t enough to overcome the inertia of the travel fatigue I’d build up over the course of an autocross season. Catch-22.

The breaking point

It all came to a head at Pirate Swing. A great band, a packed dance floor, and plenty of folks I hadn’t seen in a long time, some to the tune of years, were milling about.

And I had no desire to dance, at all. After paying my 35 bucks and getting a wristband fastened to my left hand, I stood there, paralyzed for a bit, trying to take it all in.

Fortunately, I had something in my backpack that would allow me to stall for time while I recomposed myself: my camera, perhaps the one thing that offered me a minuscule amount of recognition among swing dancers in the Midwest. I put my stuff down in a corner, pulled out my Nikon D7200 and my Nikon SB-900 flash — a flash that I’ve had for years and provided lighting for, as far as I can tell, nearly half a million swing dance pictures — and got to work photographing social dancers on the dance floor.

But even that wasn’t enough. I took plenty of pictures, but something was off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, though.

Band break over, the band came back on stage, and the live music began to play. This was the last live music set of the evening. It was now or never.

I took pictures for the first handful of songs, eventually putting my camera down and having my first dance of the evening at around 11:30pm. I asked three people to dance, and was asked twice to dance. And that was it. In between dances, I’d shoot photos or chill outside in the bitter cold. The ratio of dancing to not-dancing was skewed heavily in favor of not-dancing.

It finally hit me as the clock ticked past midnight. I was at Pirate Swing not because I really wanted to, but because it felt like an obligation to go see and dance with people that I once knew well. Except I was doing a poor job of dancing with said people or catching up with said people.

I stuck it out for a bit of the blues set, but by the time 1:30am rolled around, I had had enough. My presence at the dance felt absolutely pointless, so I packed my camera bag, changed into a dry shirt, and made a beeline for the exit. I had hoped to pull off a French goodbye, but wasn’t quite successful. Lauren, one of the Pirate Swing staff who had flown in thousands of miles from San Francisco, managed to catch me attempting to sneak out quietly. I gave her a friendly nod and briskly made my exit, not even halting my steps towards the door.

I’d receive a text a little while later, accusing me of running away.

Guilty as charged.


What changed? How did I go from someone who looked forward to every opportunity to go dancing to someone who loathed the idea of stepping foot on to a dance floor?

The core of the problem, I think, is that all the delight and surprise has disappeared from my dancing. Dancing simply isn’t all that much fun anymore, most disappointingly telling when I dance with people I used to love dancing with in the past but now feel hollowness instead of joy afterwards. My current theory is that for the past three years, I’ve been stuck on autopilot — never having the time to put into improving my dance, my dances fall into the same patterns, over and over and over again, until I’ve become bored to death with what should be one of the most free flowing, improvisational dances out there. Seriously, you could pretty much write a script predicting how my dances play out.

If that is the case, then the solution seems straightforward: do something different when I go swing dancing. But the hole I’ve fallen into is deep, and it will take time and effort to climb out of it. The problem now is that with so many things competing for my time, I don’t know if I have the time and willpower to climb out of it.

I keep dragging myself to dances over and over again, hoping that by going to enough, somehow, somewhere, the spark will reignite and I will be back to my old self again four years ago. It isn’t working. And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result each time, I’ve passed the mark of insanity a long time ago.

It is hard to admit that I’m no longer a dancer after it’s been ingrained as part of my identity for so long. The idea of “this is what I do, and these are my kind of people” is probably what kept me going to dances long after all the fun of going out had subsided. My melancholy and self-imposed loneliness at Pirate Swing finally snapped me out of it.

I know better than to say that I’ll never go dancing again. There have been some situations, a bright spot every now and then, where conditions were just right and I could somehow enjoy myself on the dance floor. Dancing back in Champaign, for whatever reason, is something that makes me happy, as do small, intimate house dance parties. But for every dance that I enjoy myself at, there are a dozen where I don’t.

Time to take off the facade and tell people the truth. No, I don’t want to dance with you, and no, I don’t want to go to your event. Perhaps that will change in the future (the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yadda yadda etc.), but I wouldn’t bet on it.

To those dancers with whom I’ve had the good fortune to connect with off the dance floor, I’ll see you again. To those dancers with whom I haven’t, farewell and goodbye. May your future consist of an endless supply of dance partners, stages packed with excellent musicians, and smooth wooden dance floors.