Dear tall women of the world, I have a message: please start swing dancing!
You see, I’m a tall follower: about 5’11” flat foot, so you can imagine what it’s like when I’m wearing my heels. [Well, let’s just say that one time at Camp Jitterbug, Peter Strom walked by and I realized I was looking over at him and not up at him.]
My last few years spent lindy hopping and loving it have taught me two things: (1) there’s no reason why your height should disqualify you from dancing (at either end of the spectrum), and (2) it would be really nice if more leaders were used to dancing with tall followers.
If that first part doesn’t make sense to you then you’ve never been a tall women living in this world (or a short man). Growing up taller than most of the guys you know does things to how a girl views herself*, how you view your own femininity, and the things that you “let” yourself do. I know tall girls who won’t wear high heels (that’s pretty common actually). They basically feel like being tall is bad enough already, why would they make it worse? I think that there are tall girls out there who haven’t even considered taking up a partner dance, because they feel like it’s not for their kind of person; that they won’t find guys to dance with, that it would be awkward (for the other people), and that it’ll just be another place where they aren’t the right size**.
But that’s the thing about lindy hop! It’s a dance of the people, and people are all different. This dance form is adaptable and it’s made to work on lots of different types of people.
If you’re a tall girl like me, who is happy in her height and doesn’t really think about it: yay! I’m not talking to you. If you’re a tall girl who feels like your height keeps you from being able to do things that other girls take for granted, I would just like to say: swing dancing is not that thing. If nothing else, let my experience prove to you that it’s possible!
And of course, know that it’s a tradition as long as the art form:
This past weekend, I had a bit of a realization about another aspect of this issue. I was at a small workshop with a bunch of shorter guys, who looked (and felt) like they’d never seen a girl my height let alone danced with her. My realization was this: I really wish there were more tall followers in the lindy hop world, so that more leaders (short leaders AND tall leaders) are used to dancing with me! Because in my opinion, the biggest part of the difficulty with height differences in social dancing is a matter of what you’re used to.
See, the other part of this equation is that I swing-grew-up with a guy who’s a good bit shorter than I am (see above photo). Since we started dancing together at about the same time in the same scene, we’ve always been figuring out connection and height difference without trying to, and we’ve never had a problem with good connection (even in things like balboa). Our great connection seems to prove that it’s not as much about the height difference between two partners (within a certain range, I suppose) but about how you deal with it. Aaron knows how to deal with tall followers; not a lot of shorter leaders do. And tall leaders get thrown off by dancing with me too!
Let’s put it this way: I frequently get smacked in the head when I’m social dancing; mostly by beginning/intermediate leaders. Sometimes, they’re going for a turn where they want to keep the hand connection and then OOPS, my head was there and they lose the connection and things go random. Now, my head was always there, in the same place it was a minute ago; the frequency of this occurring makes me think that it’s their habits which are not allowing for the difference that dancing with me creates. As I said before, I’ve danced with short guys who don’t have any trouble connecting with me (and I’m sure very tall leaders have a lot to say about the challenges of connecting with a really short follower) so it’s not just a “tall followers don’t work with short leaders” thing.
The difference is: a tall leader and a short follower is a common occurrence, so leaders get used to accommodating it. My situation (tall follower + short leader; or tall follower + medium and/or tall leader) is unusual, and leaders have to learn on me what the heck to do with it. And THAT is why I’d like more tall followers in this dance! So that more guys get exposed to what it takes to lead a tall follower***.
I also want this to happen so that other tall girls get to have the awesome things that I’ve gotten to experience, being in the lindy hop community. There’s something about this relationship, this scene, that has made me feel more comfortable in my femininity and my prettiness in a very comfortable and friendly way. I think it might be the way that we celebrate each other; whether it’s cheering for a friend competing in a jack ‘n jill, or when the guy you’re dancing with pulls some sweet footwork and you can’t help but whoop a little at the awesomeness of it all; there are a lot of confidence boosters built into this world.
BUT I DIGRESS. My point is: if you’re a tall girl, get your booty into lindy hop classes, and learn how to swing out! You’ll have fun, and you’ll make the world better for tall girls everywhere.
*The fact that girls are supposed to be short and cute and pocket sized is something that this culture gets across verrrry well, whether it means to or not.
**Before you go saying: “But super models are tall!!” Sure they are, but I’m not a supermodel. Supermodels aren’t hot SOLELY because they’re tall, that is just something that happens to also be true about them. In terms of the overall American view of feminine beauty, it involves things like being short enough to go on your tippy toes to reach for a kiss… AND before you think I’m sour about this; I’m really not. It’s just the facts of life, and I find it all pretty interesting. Being tall is GREAT in so many ways! But we tall girls are a kind of minority, and there are interesting things that come with that.
***Through writing this post I’ve realized that I have more notes on being a tall follower (like about how you can’t let the consciousness of it/habits grown from a regular life of being tall affect your posture); but this is already pretty long, so those thoughts will have to come later.