It’s Frankie Manning’s birthday today, and also World Lindy Hop Day. And since dancing has done so much for me in such a relatively short period of time, I’m going to gush for a minute.

Perhaps a lot of these positive personal changes are a result of age and experience, but I’m pretty sure Lindy found me at the exact right moment, so there’s something to be said for the perfect storm.

Sometime in the summer of 2013 when I was finally coming out of a pretty dark place, Duncan showed me a Movits! video that had some of the Harlem Hot Shots in it (SO MUCH CHARLESTON). I immediately fell in love with a random Swedish hip-hop swing band in a way I’d not fallen in love with a band since I was a teenager, and the ‘oh-swing-dancing-is-a-THING-and-wow-it’s-kind-of-awesome’ wheels started turning.

It took 9 months (and my friend Kate mentioning she’d been thinking about trying swing dancing while we were eating ice cream) for me to go to my first lesson. And another 6 months to the tipping point, when I was considering giving up, but the perfect combination of circumstances and people landed me in ESDS, and something clicked.

I met, and continue to meet, some of the best humans I have ever known. I have incredible friends – family, really – that have come from dancing. I discovered a worldwide community where I’ve been welcomed with encouragement and enthusiasm. I now know such a huge variety of instensely intelligent, introspective, strong, and talented-in-all-kinds-of-fields people that I may have never known if we weren’t all doing this crazy dance together. How lucky is that? On its own.

But there is so much more. For one thing, body image. Lindy is for everyone. You don’t have to be some model perfect looking human being to be a good dancer, you just need some rhythm and an ability to have some fun. People of all shapes and sizes and ages do this dance and they all look awesome because they are freakin’ enjoying themselves. It’s a nice big ‘fuck you’ to the imagery we’re constantly bombarded with about what’s good-looking and happy.

And personally, after dancing for a while and realizing my body could do all this stuff I never thought I’d manage even a year before, my self-image got a lot more positive. Of course I have days where I’m like, oh my god, I hate all my clothes and I feel like garbage, but for the most part, I feel pretty damn good. I am the same size I’ve always been, I’m just stronger, healthier, and happier about it.

After my first full weekend event (ELX 2015), I felt so badass, I went out and bought the first bikini I have ever owned. (I did need a new bathing suit, it wasn’t just a random decision.) I was 31. I never, ever thought I’d feel comfortable enough to wear a bikini in my life. Then I christened that sucker in Lake Baikal.

So the confidence boost in general is pretty transformative. I mean, in addition, if you had told me a few years ago that I’d regularly be going up to strangers asking them to dance, I’d have looked at you like you were an alien from a strange and distant universe. I am so not that person. It’s still pretty hard to be fair, but I do it all the time. I’m constantly amazed at this. (And at the fact that I can do Suzie-Qs, which is like some kind of disconnected foot magic.)

I also know that mustering up the chutzpah to do the whole quitting my job and finally going on this massive trip I’d thought about for so long thing had a lot to do with the nerve, direction, and general belief in myself that was not previously present in such high doses.

(Also also, I bought a bike, which I’d never have done if I hadn’t started dancing, but that’s a whole other life-massively-improved-by-self-reliant-transport story.)

All of this from just going out and dancing 2-3 times a week. It has been better than any gym or therapy or medicine you could ever offer. I am still the same person and I have as many shit days as anyone, but I bounce back faster, and my good days are even better. And I’m only ever a day or two away from being able to swing out and forget any stupid thing that’s bothering me, even if only for 3 minutes at a time.

So. I am relatively certain, in a way that I am not often about many other things, that, barring injury or illness, I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Frankie said that if the whole world danced the Lindy Hop, there would be no wars. Obviously that’s some wishful, utopian thinking. But a big part of Lindy is connection, and if you can connect to another person long enough to enjoy a swingout, a circle, and some quality lindyface, you can think a little further than your own wants and beliefs. That’s a damn good start.