Making a Moment

As I dive deeper into the lindy hop and swing dance community, I can’t help but get a little meta about it, especially after witnessing the after-party from CBUS6 yesterday. You see, up until this past weekend, I’ve been the sort of community who attends the local events only; weekly and monthly dances.

This past weekend was CBUS6, i.e. the sixth lindy exchange based here in Columbus. It was a fantastic event, made awesome because the planning committee worked hard to make sure there was an equal number of followers and leaders. When the last official dance was over, I was invited to join the remaining locals at a committee member’s house to help eat the leftover food and hang out.

There were hardwood floors perfect for dancing in socks, so even though we had danced all weekend, we got to be really silly and dance like 1980s Cosby, do the mashed potato and the twist, and even the Jump On It dance (via The Fresh Prince of Bel Air).

I got to watch people whom I consider expert dancers talk about technique, which was certainly eye-opening because I don’t know the names to any of the moves that I do on the dance floor when I swing and lindy hop. I’m lucky in that I can pick up moves after a couple of trial runs, so I’ve never really had to take official lessons. Which is about the time the user researcher in me blinked and realized what was going on: I’ve been performing ethnographic research on this community since I joined in late August.

The swing dance community in Columbus, OH is amazing, hands down. The people are welcoming, fantastic dancers who don’t care about your skill level as long as you love to dance as much as they do. I knew there was much going on behind the scenes that I hadn’t access to, being a new member, so man, was it awesome to see these guys at work!

By the luck of simply being present, I got to watch as a new competition couple asked the advice of two veterans about their choice of song, and what they could do with it. Which brings me to the title of this post, “Making a Moment.”

As the five of us sat in a parked car on the side of a residential road listening to the chosen song of the new competition couple, one of the veteran dancers said, “This is a great song. You have the opportunity to have a lot of nice moments.”

I was struck by her choice of words. Moments? I had heard that word used before, in a very similar fashion. When I took ceramics, I made a piece called The Frog Prince. A ceramic masters student at the time walked past me while I was building the piece, complimenting me on the “great moments” I had captured.

 

I love this piece because it has humor. The prince puckers his lips, looking confident and hopeful. The girl, with her lip curled in disgust, leans as far back as gravity will allow before actually falling over. She is so desperate to reject his advances that her hair whips with the force of her movement.

I feel as though in the arts and artistic endeavors such as dance, we aim for making “moments.” The thing is, I’m still not entirely sure how to describe a “moment” to someone outside of the community, be it the ceramic, painting, drawing, or dancing community. Is it something perfectly captured in a sliver of time that triggers something in our minds and emotions? Is it something ephemeral, or is it static? I’m not entirely sure. Having heard this word used in two different, yet possibly related fields, it makes me wonder…

Could I make a “moment” in a website or physical design, i.e. something meant to be used, rather than observed? The moments mentioned earlier put the audience in a passive role: you study the ceramic piece; you watch (and cheer) the competing dance couple.

Perhaps making a moment in interaction design is too much like trying to make an experience, which just rubs me the wrong way. I can’t make an experience, because only the person having the experience knows if they are having an experience, or if they are simply experiencing something in a line of all the other somethings in their day. I can provide an environment which has a collection of variables which may very well lead to an intellectual/emotional/physical experience. But I can’t create the experience.

But it seems I can create a moment, at least with clay. So what is it I would have to do in order to capture a moment using technology as my medium?

Think, think, think…

Ethnographic Methodology

If there is one thing I have learned from my trip to Nigeria, it’s that ethnographic methodologies are to be respected. It is not an easy endeavor to forgo all of one’s cultural assumptions to fit into a foreign culture. Having a father from said foreign culture certainly helps, as he was able to translate, roughly, what everyone was saying. But goodness, it is so very frustrating to not speak to one’s extended family! Even worse, I know French well enough to have a stilted conversation, and the fact that one of my relatives also spoke French, is the only reason why I didn’t go crazy with a sort of odd loneliness.

We were, at all times, surrounded by family. The house that my father had built for us wasn’t finished in time for our arrival. The original plan was to have a visiting area downstairs, and private quarters upstairs. When we arrived, the first floor was a floor, and the second floor had no doors. This meant that when we woke that first morning in our tents (to prevent mosquito bites that could bring malaria), our extended family was jabbering at us in a foreign tongue, peeking through the tent windows wanting to see us.

You see, in Nigeria, I’m white. I was literally called “whitey.” You have no idea how surreal that felt. There are no words to describe the battling emotions of confusion, amusement, surprise, and partial insult. I’m neither black nor white, I’m a pretty little mixture that my relatives simply couldn’t get over. They thought our skin was so clear!

This is because they were spared my pubescent years. My acne was horrendous, I assure you.

I am not very good with crowds, so more often than not I spent my time in my tent trying to sleep off my misery from having countless types of bugs bite me. I was, literally, a delicacy. My mother and I were ravaged; the remainder of my family was ignored. It was absolute misery. I was afraid to scratch the bites in case I broke my skin and got an infection, but not scratching meant I felt like I was going nuts. A quarter of the time I was in a Benadryl-induced haze, trying to cope. When I was out in the visiting room, I did my best to learn Ijo (ee-jaw) from my relatives, and take photos of the children.

The children were hilarious. You pull out your camera and they are immediately posing like veteran models.

And that’s it for today. I’ve uploaded a sample of my photos to Flickr, if you’re interested. I need to take photos of my sketch diary. I’m planning on making a Blurb photo book of the photos and diaries from the entire family so we have a comprehensive memorial of our adventure.