And I mean besides all the reasons that everyone else says: it’s fun, it’s exercise, it’s social. Of course I do it for all those things. I also enjoy the people that seem to be attracted to this dance: outgoing, funny, nerdy people that are on the whole friendly and welcoming to anyone who has even the slightest interest in what a rock step is.
In my almost twenty three years of life, I can’t remember being this happy with anything else: violin, tennis, speech and debate, even ballet (which for all intents and purposes, should share the same category as swing dance).
Many people, including members of my own family, don’t know that I struggle with depression.
It was hard, and still is, to admit it. I was brought up to believe that one’s feelings could ultimately be controlled through, if nothing else, sheer willpower. But in my sophomore year of high school I found myself circling a cycle of depression I could not break. My self-esteem was at a record low, I felt guilty and fake for pretending that everything was okay when everything was not, and the want/need to cry was a constant weight that I often gave into.
I persisted as long as I could, but eventually I broke down to my best friend Ellie and she encouraged me to seek professional help. And even though I did not follow her advice immediately, I eventually sought out and received much needed help.
Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to have such close friends for confidants and those who listened patiently and were there for me. All of them were people I had met through swing dancing. And because I was so involved with the swing dance club (at this point I was acting President), I was forced to continue a normal social life even though part of me desperately just wanted to go underground.
Now I realize how necessary those times were. Swing dancing got me out of my room and interacting with people multiple times a week. Swing dancing gave me sufficient distractions where the cloud of depression felt lighter. Swing dancing provided me with strong social circle that gave me support when I needed it the most.
Swing dancing was also an activity that made me feel happy. When you deal with depression, it can feel like the weight of the world is slowly crushing your chest. Even more so, when you pretend that nothing is wrong because it feels fake and a lie. But when I dance (because this is still true now) I get this elated feeling of what I can only assume is pure happiness. I feel lighter, I do not feel like I’m lying when I’m smiling at my dance partner or my friends.
Sometimes even just listening to the music lifts some of the weight of depression.
Even now, when I can say I honestly have not experienced that level of depression in over two years, I notice how much happier when I get to go out and dance regularly versus when my schedule forces me to miss dance opportunities.
I want to continue dancing “until my feet don’t move any more”. But I also want to continue to be a contributing member of this community. I love giving to the swing dance community because I feel the return is ten fold. Even if I end up having a regular job and just teaching/DJin/event planning/whatever on the side, I will to the best of my abilities continue to do so.
I know that “swing dancing makes me feel happy” is a very common response. But I honestly feel that without swing dancing and its community I would be a different person. And I don’t think I would like that person nearly as much as I like who I am now.