Weirdo Weekend and a Tale of Two Manga Legends
Weirdo Weekend 2017 just concluded couple weekends ago. There were lots of beautiful moments through out the event, but a particular one from Giselle Anguizola stood out for me.
Giselle sings and taps for her band in NOLA, G & the Swinging Three. She shared that when she hears other vocalists up and down the Frenchmen St., she actually tries to avoid listening to them. This may sound counterintuitive, but it helps her limit the influence of other vocalists on her own style and flavor.
I was ecstatic to hear her story. And I realized I had been seeking for more of that perspective from the dance community for a long time.
This goes back to my childhood years when I got serious about sketching and illustrated storytelling. It was a time in Taiwan when possessing the newest issue of Jump Shonen, a weekly manga anthology, would make you the most popular kid in class. There were several iconic works from the era that collectively shaped not just my life, but an entire generation of Asian youth. (Yes, yes, it's as if I'm describing Don Quixote or George Orwell... but just bear with me.)
One day, I got my hands on a popular manga instruction book (I am as shocked as you are that I can buy a kindle version of this 1985 book off amazon) from 鳥山明, the creator of Dragon Ball Z. In the last chapter of the book, the legendary author gave a piece of advice to all aspiring manga artists. If you want to be great, he said, carefully and relentlessly study the works from artists that you admire.*
Some time later, I came across an interview with the venerable 手塚治虫, who created Astro Boy. He too, offered a stern advice for all aspiring manga artists. If you want to be great, don't focus on studying other's work, so you can discover and cultivate your own style.*
So, crap, what am I supposed to do?
As a kid, I didn't understand how the two seemingly competing perspectives would co-exist. And for whatever reason (maybe because I always had some defiance genes), I chose the self-discovery and self-expression route. Or perhaps, it chose me.
It is a less traveled route of the two, and I have to admit that it has not always been easy to stick out like a sore thumb. But to me, it would have been even more difficult to fight my impulse to explore and express, however weird or different it may be.
Now, I understand that both perspectives play important roles in the growth any art form. One is responsible for preservation and popularization, while the other for diversity and innovation. Yet, with the rise of internet and social media, I sense that we are getting a much stronger force of the former than the latter. It seems that as lindyhop becomes more popular, so does the desire to codify and conform.
This is something I have felt in the hip-hop community as well. A local dance pioneer, Vid "GraVIDy" Cotarta spoke to this phenomenon during a Bay Area Diggs Deeper panel discussion. He reminded us that, "Hip-hop is what you are, and you're supposed to express that... sometimes you feel like, if I want to be hiphop, I gotta conform to what hiphop is. That's the stupid thing I've ever heard, because you are hip-hop! You go make that sh*t! We did!"
This is why I was so ecstatic to hear Giselle share her story. I wish we can all dance a bit more weird together.
At the Saturday evening dance, everyone seemed to be dancing with an extra ounce of freedom and risk-taking. For the second year in a row, I said, "man, I wish we can all dance more like this every day, not just during this workshop weekend."
But I think Giselle summed it up best when she told me that --- she wanted to call the event "Everyone Else Is Weirdo Weekend".
*: These were what I remember from 25 years ago off the Chinese version of the book/interview. Naturally, the wording is imprecise. But the intentions of the words stayed fresh with me despite the passage of time.