Had a revelationary experience today that really helps me understand myself and how I approach dance and life.
I went to my weekly hustle dancing session today and had perhaps the worst partner dance connection I have ever had, period: I couldn’t remember the basic step when I started and kept continually losing it and the count, my arms were doing a funny swaying they’ve never done before, I had no follow-responsiveness in my right arm, my arms wouldn’t go directly over my head for spins, and I couldn’t follow any of my leads. Even with 100% patience and support from every lead, who explained moves step by step and in detail and corrected every little thing I was doing wrong by both demonstrating and explaining how to fix the problems in my steps, I couldn’t follow anything. I was a worse follow than someone who’s never danced before.
I was frustrated and slightly panicked, because I can’t recall my following ever having been that bad before, aside from maybe a west coast swing dance I attended directly after a salsa dance, that I unknowingly spent trying to dance west coast swing with salsa feet, which I failed miserably at.
So anyway, there were ten minutes left to dance, and I called out for help — for one last desperate try to fix my appallingly bad connection.
I asked if we could go back to the very basics, and my friend told me to close my eyes.
I did, and suddenly, I could follow again! — even the new move another friend had spent 15-20 minutes trying to help me get, that I still couldn’t get smoothly by the end. I asked my friend to try it with me after I had opened my eyes, and he told me he had already made me follow it two or three times while my eyes had been shut!
Closing my eyes fixed my connection by forcing me to focus on the connection, rather than focusing on the steps. My friend told me I had been backleading to compensate for bad leading, but I told him I hadn’t been intentionally backleading at all — I had just been desperately trying to figure out how to follow at all.
I tried shutting my eyes while dancing the last two minutes with another lead, and I was able to follow another move I hadn’t been able to follow all night, despite having three leads patiently trying to explain it to me and help me get. You have no idea how relieving it felt to get that connection back again!
My revelation from this near-traumatic experience was this: my body becomes incredibly wound up when I get frustrated. I can’t pinpoint exactly what changes, or where, but it massacres my connection and my ability to dance. The worse I get at dancing, the more worked up I become, which makes my dancing even more terrible.
I started my first dance caught off guard, not remembering how to do the basic step, and in trying to recall how to make my body do it, I did not establish an appropriate connection with my lead. When I remembered the general step, I focused on performing that basic step rather than focusing on building a connection with my lead. The more I became aware of how badly I was following because of our poor connection, the more my following degraded, as I tried desperately to remember how steps were performed, rather than simply listening to my lead.
And so it continued for almost the rest of the night, where I was too worked up to feel what my leads’ fingers were telling me, or to feel the beat and listen to the music.
Closing my eyes enabled me to stop focusing on trying to learn steps or remember how to do old ones, and instead let me concentrate 100% on connecting with my leads and listening to what their connection was telling me.
Every time I have had painfully bad dance nights, it’s because something happens that really flusters me. For example, I jump into dances I have not danced for a while without taking the time to reorient myself, and, if I’m still figuring out the frame, basic step, feet, etc. in the middle of a dance and can’t get moves right, it flusters me and ruins my technique and dancing for the rest of the night.
This week, I had danced lindy hop, blues/fusion, and tango in between this week’s hustle session and last week’s.
That night in Denver when I fell into pieces because I felt like I couldn’t connect with anyone? It all started with one dance with a terribly, terribly bad lead whose leading was so bad that he gave me the lead for the last half of the dance. His following was even worse than his leading, which frustrated me to death because I had world-famous dance teachers sitting directly behind me, and I couldn’t help but think of how bad they must have been thinking my leading was if they had happened to be watching. I lost my state of relaxed happiness, and it deteriorated as the night progressed, making me less and less connected with everyone, until I hated myself for not being able to figure out why I couldn’t feel a good connection with anyone I danced with.
This also explains my difficulty with learning new partner dance moves (and dance moves in general). When I get paired with a slower lead who really doesn’t get the step at all, I start to panic. And when I panic, I stop feeling the connection and start to focus desperately on trying to learn the step. In contrast, when I get a lead who feels like he knows what he is doing, or is calm and confident enough to make me feel like we will get there, I relax, get connected, and learn the move quickly.
I was able to learn how to follow tango leg wraps in one hour at DFX because I had a calm, patient, and competent lead to figure them out with — you should have seen how mind-blown and excited we were to have unlocked them! Also at DFX, I was able to do crazy Z-axis moves I had been too freaked out to get during SFF, because my group had a professional dancer/acrobat and very competent, confident group members who made me feel like I could I trust them and kept me calm enough to learn and perform everything.
It’s frustration, panic, and desperation that hold me back the most, in life and in dancing.
It’s when I learned to stop worrying while dancing with dance teachers that I was able to start having awesome dances with them. It’s only now, that I have started panicking less during my solo dance classes, that I have started learning and absorbing at a much faster rate.
It’s funny, because I was just thinking the other day about how dance is the thing that has really taught me how to relax, in the same way that yoga and meditation do for other people. I realize now that I still have a long way to go.
Anxiety, fear, worry, low self-worth, perfectionism — characteristics that have defined me for the entirety of my life — are all things I need to work to diminish to make my dancing and life better and more enjoyable for myself.
I’m going to work on taking the time to breathe, collect myself, and stay calm, positive, collected, and happy.