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Bringing Swing to Ukraine

The music began and, as it always does when I hear that big bass thumpin’ along and the tsss tsss of the snare with the clap of the high hat, my body just started going, kind of like cartoon characters when their legs are moving real fast but they’re not going anywhere, the fight or flight response kickin’ in before you are even aware, yet instead this is more like the dance or glance response, either let go or just stand there and look around at how you have no idea what to do. Yet all too quickly I realize that there are five girls staring at me who have absolutely no idea where to begin, the glance response firing from all cylinders, although they seem to have confidence and control over their bodies and what they do. In the same whiff of realization it becomes clear to me that I have no idea how to teach women how to dance, as I have only ever danced the man’s role and so I spend moments of gleeful laughter and confident confusion trying to figure out to give these eager girls the same confident confusion, so at least we’ll be in it together. As it becomes clearer and clearer to me that they are eager for more, their thirst clear in the way have already begun to move free of the form I have taught them, I begin to just run around and dance with each one of them in turn and spin them freely and wonderfully and they smile and as they laugh and turn away I move on to the next and on the tip of my toes feeling light as air live in the fantasy that must be the moment I am in, yet really is only just beginning.

Long story short we decided to perform Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” inspired in our choreography by the movie “Swing Kids” about a group of German youth who protested the stifling inhibition of expression during the war by letting their souls shine through swing. The feeling of dancing on stage was a first for me and I hope not a last, and what I learned along the way will be invaluable to me as I continue my search to strike chords of empathy with all forms of art.

Yet above the liberation and the power you feel when you flip a girl upside down, what I gained was a friendship that I know will last for ages. Far closer to me than Nastia, my actual dance partner for six weeks, Nadia has become an integral part of my life here in Ukraine. To tell her story would be a book (I am thinking about writing such a one) but suffice it to say that now that she is in it, I cannot imagine my life here without her.