I am officially the new girl in town—that town being the beautiful and fabulous San Diego, which I moved to about three weeks ago. Despite the perfect weather, killer job, and happening city life, I have a bit of new girl-itis. I don’t know how to give people directions, I’m alone an awful lot because it takes some time to build up a solid friend base, and I’ve been scouring local magazines and newspapers to see what’s going on in my neighborhood to keep myself occupied. Some nights, I’m terribly depressed. Others, I’m optimistic and excited for adventure. But really, at the end of the day, I just want to feel like I belong here. Essentially, I’m an island that would much rather be a state, province, country—hell, a peninsula for the sake of connection.
Luckily, my mother is one of the most tenaciously outgoing people I know and I’ve certainly learned from the best. I have no problem with putting myself out there. So when I read that U.S. Bank had partnered with downtown San Diego to offer a number of summer events to the public and would be hosting a free swing dance class inside the bank on Thursday evening, I bought myself a pair of polka dot Keds and walked about a bajillion blocks to Kettner, eager to dance and meet some new people.
And I did. I danced my little heart out (note to self: get your cardio right!) and mingled with some great people. I joked with the men I jitterbugged with. I met a girl named Angela and we got to know each other between spins on the floor. At the end of the night, we exchanged numbers and I promised to let her know the next time I’d be going out to swing dance. She even offered me a ride home.
I danced with a guy named Nolan who could tell that I had some previous experience and wasted no time pulling out the big guns and twirling and whipping me around. I was rusty and laughed at the misconnections that were so obviously my fault. Regardless, he was a perfect gentleman and thanked me when our dances were over.
When I danced with the instructor, Joel, we were all smiles and made a little lindy hop magic. Afterward, he asked if we’d danced together before. I told him no, unless he’d been in Phoenix a few years ago, to which he simply said, “Steve Conrad!” Yep, the dance world is a small, communal one. Already a connection back to my hometown as Steve is the swing master back in Phoenix. (He even has his own meme!)
Because the weather was gorgeous (we were dancing at sunset and close to the pier) and U.S. Bank has a front patio, we moved our dance party outdoors. And that’s when something pretty cool happened. We ceased to be a closed-in community event and opened ourselves up to the public. As passersby rounded the corner or passed our block, heard the music, and saw the flurry of fancy footwork, they’d pause and watch. Some people took pictures or video of us. All of them smiled. It was a beautiful moment of connection.
And here’s where the saving the world piece comes in. On a personal level, I needed that night of swing dance desperately. I craved connection and community—and that’s what you get on the dance floor when you go out social dancing, an incredibly diverse group of people together for one purpose. Hey, you’re here and I’m here. Let’s dance!
And it’s that simple. Nothing else matters. Not where you’re from, what you believe in, how you eat your eggs in the morning. Everyone comes to the floor with tabula raza. And you build social relationships from there, from a good place, from a nonjudgmental place.
In today’s world, I think we’ve lost some of our ability to connect with each other in person in a pure, friendly, community driven way. Sure, we’re dialed in and communicating all day through devices and gadgets, but that’s such a solitary undertaking, even if there’s someone on the other side waiting for the ping of a cell phone or computer.
What happens when we truly lose the skill set needed to interact with each other in a genuine way? When we become depressed hermits because we don’t feel like we belong? When we start to detach from a world that’s increasingly becoming less and less personal? When we don’t interact with people who are different from us? Take a look at the news and you’ll start to get an idea.
And I know that’s it’s naïve to make a grandiose statement like “swing dancing can save the world” when it’s an activity that doesn’t resonate with everyone. I’m not expecting everyone to have the same experience I do when I rock step. And while lindy hop flash mobs on every corner of downtown San Diego would be incredibly entertaining (and would personally bring me so much joy), I know that it wouldn’t fix everything that’s broken in our society. It wouldn’t even come close, to be honest.
But perhaps building relationships, forming connections, and enjoying the hell out of life with other people could. Perhaps if we offer each other more and more ways to connect, to grow together, to learn how to respect and trust each other in public spaces, maybe the world would be a little lighter, a little happier, and a little more understanding—one dance step at a time.