I’m in a room filled with enthusiastic dancers and one self-righteous critic. She leans in close and mutters, “No one here can dance”. I smile politely but cringe inside.
When people scoff at how others dance, I want to remind them that not everyone can afford to drop thousands of dollars for private lessons. Many dancers are struggling to get by as students or single parents. I started dancing when I was in grad school completing two Masters degrees. Private lessons wasn’t an option for me for many, many years. Most people would love to invest in their dancing, but it isn’t always feasible. It isn’t fair to mock people who have the passion but don’t have the financial means to do the kind of training others do.
Let’s also not forget that most of us get into dancing just to have fun. Not everyone seeks to compete or perform. Some dance to be more expressive or playful. Some are experimenting with new concepts and ideas. Not everyone wants to dance the same way or the same style. Others seek to innovate, not recreate… and let’s be honest: innovating and experimenting is a wonky looking process, and everyone deserves a safe space to explore and create their magic.
I realize that the path I’ve chosen for myself isn’t necessarily the right path for everyone else. I love private lessons and practicas and seeking feedback. And yes, I know a lot of people get exasperated by the skill level in their scene and wish their peers would train more. However, if I want to raise the level in my scene, I need to be someone who inspires and helps others, not shames them or shuts them out. Serious dancers have the power to create glass ceilings in their community and they have the power to break them.
It’s easy to get self-righteous as we progress. I know several beginners who grew very critical of others once they got serious with their training.
When I find myself falling into judgement, I know it’s ego (which is driven by insecurity) sparking that. I turn my attention inward to focus on how I can better my dancing – or how I can help support others along their journey.
Dance communities are small. So much is gained by being kind, supportive and helpful of one another. I’m less interested in judging what my peers are doing and I’m more interested in finding ways I can inspire or invite people to explore new concepts and ideas along with me.
And I love sharing what (or most importantly, who) has been helpful for me. Serious dancers and scene leaders can gently offer guidance to those who are struggling, lost or going down the wrong paths for the result they seek.
True scene leaders help each other UP the ladder, not kick them down to the ground, block the ladder or scoff at how no one knows how to climb a ladder. You never know why people are where they are and why. It’s worth staying humble and kind. ❤
We may never know what issues people are facing which make them think, act and react in certain ways. Be helpful rather than judgmental. – Mufti Ismail Menk
Windsocks. Usually seen outside car dealerships, dancing and waving in the wind to capture your attention. I’m pretty sure one of those windsocks just got off work and came out to the venue I was at and asked me to dance. It was a beautiful, evocative fusion song. But I didn’t get to do fusion to that song. Instead, I got windsocked.
The dance started off nicely enough. He pulled me in for a nice embrace and a gentle pulse. Then he broke into open position and began waving… waving his noodly arms and body as he became totally caught up in the freedom of moving his body as he channeled the music. I think his mind waved off too because he seemed totally oblivious to my ideas and invitations.
It happens in fusion. It happens in blues. It even happens in lindy. It seems to happens in dances where technique is not a dominant focus of the dance.
Have we somehow given the impression that technique isn’t necessary? Do people believe some dances are so easy that they don’t need to learn actual moves – much less how to execute them? Many classes teach moves but gloss over technique. It took me to YEARS to realize, “Oh yeah… technique. I should probably work on that.”
Yes, technique is hard and dirty work. And we dance for fun, right? Sometimes that windsock dance is fun – it’s free and playful and kind of mindless. And I get it. Some people just want to play. If they don’t like technique, they may gravitate to fusion or blues where they feel more freedom to play. But any partner dancing is a technique driven activity.
Fusion is no exception. Unfortunately, some people may not know what to do with fusion songs. Perhaps they never really learned blues movement and idioms, or the fundamentals of west coast swing, tango, jazz or general dance technique. They may lack skill in one dance, much less know how to skillfully blend dance styles or apply movement to a different music genre.
That skill and technique is what makes it fusion. Otherwise, it’s just freestyle social dancing.
For improv driven dances such as blues and fusion, having a wide vocabulary of movements to draw inspiration from (and being able to skillfully execute them) is a huge benefit. As dancers, we steal ideas and movements from other styles. Learning other styles helps you steal more.
Windsocking might be good for those who are still building their general dance skills, technique and vocabulary… and perhaps there are people who simply want to express and feel the music without taking it to other levels. That’s ok.
However, I believe there is magic in learning how to do something skillfully – especially when it involves a partner. Invest in learning various dances – technique and all. Dancing can be more than just freedom and expression. It can be absolutely magical.
I’m in San Diego for a dance event, but I feel incredibly sad. These weekends are supposed to be inspirational, energizing and rejuvenating. Sure enough, I find myself profoundly inspired by a tango performance that is the epitome of what I hope to become; it’s magical in every way.
However, my failure to find a skilled, dedicated partner has me feeling especially ungrounded. I’m suddenly feeling the angst of unfulfilled potential. I feel incomplete. I feel unchallenged and bored. I thought I had something unique to build upon; something that would attract an amazing partner who shares my aspirations. But right now, I feel that my “magic” is gone and I’m losing hope. I feel lost in the crowd. It hits me hard today and the confluence of all this has me nearly in tears.
I have time to kill, so I seek a place for lunch. I find myself at Café Gratitude; by the name alone, I know I will be at home here. I order a green drink and a black bean burger. The waitress brings the drink first. “You are complete,” she says as she places it before me with a reassuring, loving smile.
I’m a bit startled until I realize that “Complete” was the name of the drink I had ordered. The irony of this flashes through my mind as I take a sip. I don’t feel remotely “complete”, so I quickly distract myself with my phone until my food arrives.
And then it arrives. I turn from my phone to see a waiter holding my veggie burger before me. “You are magical,” he says with a powerful gaze into my eyes. He says this as if it were an indisputable truth. He says it as though he is commanding it to the universe. He says it like he intuitively knew that I’ve written myself off.
That’s when I got it. I ordered precisely what I needed to hear. I needed to be reminded that I AM complete – even without a partner. Perhaps my magic hasn’t worn off just yet – maybe I still have a shot at being a captivating dancer and living my potential after all. At Gratitude, everything on the menu is named with a word (i.e., worthy, extraordinary, brave) that is then used to present the customer with an affirmation.
I went to Café Gratitude for lunch. Yes, I got fed. But in a most unusual way, I also got validated. I felt that my soul got the hug it needed. I got reassuring whispers from angels and encouraging nudges to keep going. I heard the very things that I felt the greatest doubt about.
They could have just served me lunch and left me with a great impression of an amazing plant-based menu, awesome ambiance and flawless service. But I felt touched by their business model. I felt impacted by the experience. I felt re-centered and grounded by their thoughtfulness. One waiter, Rowan, talked about the company and menu names with such conviction and passion that I teared up.
The little things count so very much. Café Gratitude didn’t just serve me – they impacted me. And I really, truly, deeply needed that today.
Last week I jumped into a beginning tango class when I noticed they were short on followers. The first guy I rotated to looked at my fancy-schmancy tango shoes and said, “You’ve done this before”, to which I affirmed. He lit up and say, “Great – I’m in good hands then”.
I saw a slight buzz kill when I smiled and said, “Actually, I will follow exactly what you lead. Otherwise, you won’t learn anything.” I was kind – but intentionally blunt – so he understood my intention. He got it right away and smiled with understanding when I only did part of what he led. Later he thanked me and expressed how helpful that was.
Most ladies show up in a class and execute the move – regardless of what the lead does. The ladies do their part, the lead does his but they aren’t connected. They just happen independently of each other at roughly the same time so it ends up looking like a successful execution. At the end, the lead is smiling because he thinks he did it right and the girl is making a mental note to avoid this particular guy once open dancing starts.
Basically, the guy pays $15 to develop delusions of competence. And we wonder why people don’t get better despite all the classes they take.
So ladies, speak up. Tell the lead what you are feeling. Class time is feedback time. If you didn’t truly feel the lead, tell him that. Ask him to give you a stronger lead. If you don’t know what was wrong, ask him to experiment together on various adjustments.
Leads, if she didn’t execute what you expected, ASK HER what she felt. Don’t assume she just didn’t do the move correctly. Please seek to understand what she experienced especially if you’re not sure why it didn’t go right.
Did she feel the lead?
Was it clear enough?
Did she feel it was safe to execute?
Was she able to execute her part?
Followers don’t execute moves for a variety of reasons – and not just because we are confused, incompetent or thinking about unicorns. If I don’t feel safe doing it (i.e., the guy is trying to dip me but I sense he doesn’t really “have” me) I’m not going for it. Sometimes the guy has me on the wrong foot when he starts the big move. Sometimes he feels so ungrounded I’m just trying to protect myself from falling over. Sometimes he’s skipping a critical part that my movement is contingent upon. Those little things might render me “unable” to do the move.
So ladies, tell him what you need if something isn’t working. Focus on what you want or need instead of what he did wrong.
I believe in being an honest follow by following precisely what is led (yes, this will frustrate the lead, but no one said learning is easy). Being a true partner means actively contributing to both people learning the move and the technique being taught.
Remember, if the guy isn’t leading a move correctly, you aren’t able to learn the move properly either. Participate. Communicate. Help the guy figure it out with you so you both get something meaningful out of the class. Because that’s what you are both paying for. Unless you really are just seeking delusions of competence.
It was the first night of Whole Being Weekend, a spiritual retreat of hugging, eye gazing, singing, dancing and connecting with other beautiful souls. A band was on stage, some were lost in ecstatic, playful dance; others deep in mediation. This first night was about getting people relaxed and connected. The music shifted to an upbeat tempo and an announcer asked us to find a partner. The room burst into a flurry of people rushing to pair up.
As people swarmed around me snatching up their partners, I followed their lead and happily grabbed the first person I could. We playfully danced with that person for a moment and then were told to “find a new partner!”. Again, the room exploded with a frantic scramble of people delighted to find their next match.
But I was slow to part with my first partner because we shared a warm hug upon parting. As I scanned the room, most people were paired up. But one man was lingering on the fringe… clearly available to be chosen, but was awkwardly waiting. Maybe he was shy, or simply hesitant. Perhaps he felt like the new kid on the first day of school in a new country. He seemed painfully aware that he had yet paired up.
I made a mad dash to him, darting around pairs and jumping over cushions before landing before him with delightful eyes. I didn’t say anything, but everything in how I arrived conveyed the intended message. I CHOOSE YOU.
I wanted him to feel integrated, to feel valued, to feel like he belonged here. I didn’t pair up with him because he was the last man standing; I grabbed him because I saw a man who deeply needed to be reminded that he mattered. That he was worth choosing.
For the rest of the weekend, I made a point to make a mad dash towards the person standing at the fringe, the ones who looked like they weren’t sure they would ever be chosen. And during our minute together, whether it was dancing, singing, or eye gazing, I sought to embrace each person with complete gratitude, delight and unconditional love.
The ones who get chosen last might just be shy. But there might be something broken within them that makes them hesitant to connect. They might question their desirability, their appeal, their worthiness. I know the pain and awkwardness of being unchosen; the last one standing, the new girl, the only one raising their hand when asked, “Who doesn’t have a partner?”.
In Being Less Horrible to Others, I challenged myself to find something beautiful in everyone who passed by me – and it tremendously changed how I see people – and what I see in them.
It is so incredibly easy to pass over people as we seek out those who we deem most desirable. But the ones we want may not be the best ones for us. Sometimes the very thing you don’t want is your greatest teacher.
That weekend, the man who had yet to be chosen became an invaluable teacher for me. He reminded me of the tremendous power we hold in how we interact with others through small acts.
Choosing him with such delight may seem like a small act. But sometimes small acts have huge impacts (positive or negative!). Which is exactly why I’m learning that doing the small things with kindness and warmth matter so very much.