Swing Dancing Gives Introverts Opportunity to Find Social Footing

CJ Blair, Columnist

Oberlin may be known in particular for its stellar musical community, with its Creative Writing and Art departments following not too far behind. But what about dance? I’m not gonna pretend I know much about the Dance department at Oberlin, but I can tell already that social dance is a surprisingly strong component of campus life, with impressive attendance at all the swing and blues dances thus far. When I revisited swing last weekend, I was struck by a thought that had always been on my mind, but hadn’t fully materialized until then: Why don’t people dance anymore?

I’ll get this point moving with an anecdote. Last weekend provided a bit of a detour from the regular irregularities of Oberlin College. My girlfriend came to visit from the University of Chicago. I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you I was secretly hopeful that she’d be weirded out by the campus, or that I didn’t go out of my way to make her feel that way. But, as I already knew, she is just as liberal as me and she loved everything Oberlin was about, so I wasn’t altogether shocked to find her more intrigued than deterred.

After stuffing ourselves with kugel at Shabbat and almost getting lost in the Arb, I took her to the swing dance in South Hall. I needed to go to one social dance every week for my Beginning Swing ExCo, and I considered this a last-ditch effort to pull her out of her comfort zone. Turns out that happened for both of us. I had so intricately plotted this moment that I blew over the fact that I had only been to one swing lesson. I was trying to teach her moves I only half knew myself. After a few generous pointers from my teacher, we were at least a passable — albeit clunky — couple of dancers.

You might wonder why I signed up for swing if I’m so quick to voice such an odd experience about it. Well, part of it is that I’m a tenor sax player and I’m in love with the music, but the real reason is this: I’m an introvert.

That may seem counterintuitive at first, but let’s consider what an introvert is. An introvert is a person who doesn’t necessarily dislike being around other people, but one who is mentally and physically exhausted by it. Introverts are people like me who love time with friends, but, at the end of the day, they really can’t get as much accomplished unless they spend some time working alone. Introversion and shyness aren’t synonymous, but many times, they do go hand in hand.

One of the most fascinating things I’ve found about being an introvert is that, even though walking into a room full of strange people is a monumental challenge, over-the-top and flamboyant actions somehow seem more approachable. This is why I go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show in drag at every possible chance, but shy away from even the tamest parties. Exhibitionism and introversion are polar opposites, but it’s that extreme lack of similarity that somehow lets them work in tandem with one another. Absurd, grandiose actions exist in a different dimension to the minds of introverts. Such actions are so unfamiliar that you have to throw away everything you think and believe to even attempt them. In that sense, they’re comforting to people like me. If I know my deficit of social skills won’t matter for something I might do, I don’t feel as intimidated about doing it.

Therein lies the reason I’m enrolled in Beginning Swing. It’s something I’m very enthusiastic about but totally unfamiliar with, which keeps me from knowing if I’ll only ever be terrible. I think one of the saddest parts of present American life is that social dance is nowhere near as big as it used to be. With a few exceptions, public dances are quite rare, and this takes away one of the biggest outlets for introverts to explore public expression.

I’ll end with a sort of call to action, for introverts and extroverts alike: Go dancing. Just try your hand at it. It’ll be terrible at first. I can almost guarantee it. But if you learn even a couple basic steps and just forget that anyone’s watching, you may well find it to be a rush unlike much you’ve felt before. Take it from me. As a force to get you acclimated to putting yourself out there and building momentum to be lively and social, there’s nothing quite as effective as dancing.