Arrived at Hot Jam: 2018
When she’s not dancing: Engineer
Favorite songs: Too Darn Hot by Ella Fitzgerald; Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho by Sidney Bechet
When Sarah Forester began dancing, she didn’t know she was gay.
She danced Argentine Tango for five years, as well as exploring other styles, including Salsa, Bachata, Ballroom, Hip Hop, and of course, Lindy Hop. It was the Tango, though, that she found most illuminating.
“Especially when I started Tango, I definitely thought I was very, very straight—and actually ended up dating a guy who did Tango.”
But the dance presented a point of confusion.
“I for the life of me could not understand why people thought Tango was such a sensual and sexual dance.
“I was like, yes, you are close to another person. But there's enough etiquette. It just feels very formal and stiff.
“There's no spark, no chemistry; it's just very cut and dry. Nothing wild goes on.”
She learned Tango as a follower, dancing exclusively with male leaders.
“Tango is a very heteronormative dance, and women are follows, men are leads, and those lines are not crossed. Unless you are a teacher—and even then, you can only do it while teaching. It is very, very rare for them to cross lines on either way.”
But after a couple of years, Sarah found herself in a class where someone did cross those gender lines.
“I was in a follow-heavy class, AKA female-heavy class. And one of the women was trying to learn how to lead. And so I went to dance with her.
“And I lost my ability to breathe.
“It was fireworks. It was fire. I thought I was having a heart attack.
“And she was like, ‘Is everything okay?’
“And I have to be like, ‘Yes! Everything's fine! Nothing's wrong!’” Sarah’s squeak on the word “fine” as she recounts the story is unconvincing.
Somehow, though, she got through the rest of the dance. And armed now with her revelation, she continued dancing Tango—as long as the leads were male.
“I mean, no risk with men. Never have that issue again.”
Did she ever dance with that woman again? “Absolutely not.”
That Tango dance wasn’t Sarah’s first indication that she was gay, but it was the clearest.
“Of course, there were signs way before that of things that I could have seen as, of course, I was gay. But that was really the tipping point of oh, wow, Tango is a sexual dance. And I understand that now—dancing with another woman.”
Eventually, Sarah transitioned from dancing primarily Tango to learning Lindy Hop. For one thing, Lindy Hop was convenient. “Tango was a 45 minute drive, and there was a Lindy Hop class that was two minutes from my house,” she says.
But Lindy Hop appealed to her for more than its proximity. “I thought, I also want to do something that's just kind of opposite of Tango, because it's wonderful in so many ways, but it is a very intense dance both physically and mentally. There's not a lot of room for fun.
“But as soon as I started Lindy, it was energetic. It was exciting. It was hugely improvisational. And there's so much freedom to it.
“And I love Jazz music. And so it was just a really great combo.”
For Sarah, the Jazz music is key: Lindy Hop brings together her love of social dancing with her passion for musicals.
“Jazz and musicals are so intertwined. I love musicals with all of my being, and so much of Lindy Hop is so similar to the type of Jazz moves that they end up doing in the golden era of musicals.”
Moreover, in the Lindy scene, she’s found a space that feels openly welcoming for her queer identity.
“One of the largest things that stood out to me immediately was that not all the dancers were male/female in pairing. It was just friends dancing with friends, no matter what their gender was.
“And being able to see that helps in a couple of ways.
“One, that if I ever have a girlfriend, that I would feel comfortable dancing here because everybody's used to seeing two girls dance together and I wouldn't be outed immediately.
“But another aspect of it is that because it's not only couples dancing, and it's not only people that you're sexually attracted to, I don't feel predatory if I'm dancing with girls. Like, it doesn't have to be, ‘I want to date you; therefore I am going to dance with you.’
“It just feels like I can be comfortable dancing with anybody. Everybody’s dancing with whatever gender they feel comfortable with, or taking whatever lead they feel comfortable with, no matter what their gender expression is.”
And as she’s danced Lindy Hop, she’s found a new level of freedom in her movement and expression.
“With Tango, because it was so heavily leader versus follow, male versus female, a lot of the moves end up evolving based on both feminine and masculine energies, along with the footwear that you're working with.
“And so a lot of moves become hinged on how you're holding your body. More things get built into it where it is more and more difficult to complete those moves if you do not feel feminine and graceful as a follow.
“Or you have trouble getting into the lead sphere because so much of it's based around that opposite energy. Everything is so, so, so entrenched into the masculine and feminine energy.”
In Lindy Hop, she says, that pressure is lifted.
“I mean, they joke about man swivels, but short of that, nothing's off limits.
“Everybody can do any move, and everything's adaptable and changeable. And things aren't necessarily based on your ability to perform a certain gender.
“It is, can you kick ball change? The answer is no,” she says, laughing. “But that is the question.”
She thinks for a moment about what can make her feel unwelcome as a lesbian Lindy Hop dancer.
“If [dancers] really lean heavily on the ‘male is the lead, female is the follow’ [dynamic] and you only use gendered language as you're trying to instruct, that feels like going backwards eighteen years. Same with the whole like Jack and Jill contest. Some places are really good about calling them mix and matches now.”
Sarah’s found a welcoming home in the Lindy Hop scene and at Hot Jam, and she hopes that other LGBT+ dancers experience that same freedom. Her advice?
“You create the space that you make for yourself. If something makes you uncomfortable as a queer person, speak out against it. You do have people here who will listen and who are open to that feedback.
“Be loud, be proud? Is that too cheesy? Probably.”