Category Archives: Dance Progess

What Makes “the Best” Dancers?

There's a noticeable qualitative difference between people can dance, and people who can DANCE.

There’s a noticeable qualitative difference between people can dance, and people who can DANCE.

 

My concept of what makes a good dancer — of what separates a “wow” dancer from an excellent dancer — has changed a lot from when I started dancing to now.

Back when I didn’t know how to dance at all, I thought the best dancers were the ones who could make me do moves I didn’t even know how to do, because they were so skilled at leading moves that *anyone* could follow them. My goal as I became better at following was to be able to dance/keep up with the “best” dancers (re. the internationally famous teachers/anyone known to be exceptionally good): it was my gauge to tell how much my dancing was improving (being able to follow everything being led smoothly and “perfectly”) — having dancers who were previously disgusted dancing with me give sincere expressions of enjoyment.

It was when I attended the Denver Fusion Exchange (DFX) this January that my concept of a “good dancer” started to change. Nervous as hell, I asked two of the most well-known blues dancers/teachers in the world to dance, and was absolutely delighted when they agreed to dance with me again and again multiple times that weekend. From what I saw, they did not turn anyone down, regardless of whether they had danced with them before, and regardless of their dance level. If they were already supposed to dance the next song with someone else (which one pretty much always did), they would promise their next dance to the person who asked them, and would always go and find them and dance their promised dance with that person. These two dancers were a whole different class/level of dancer. Getting a, “That was awesome!” from either of them was enough to give me the biggest dance highs of my life up until that point — my next ten dances after my dances with them would be ridiculously, insanely good because of the elevated emotion I got from knowing they had enjoyed our dances as much as I had.

But I put them at another level not because they were pretty much the biggest names at the event, but because of their ability to dance with anyone. I don’t know if I’m 100% accurate in making this assumption, since I never actually asked them what they were thinking, but I believe that it didn’t matter to them who they said yes to, because they were/are such good dancers that they can have a good time dancing with anyone.

 

Are you a human or a dancer? I'm a human dancer. :)

Are you a human or a dancer? I’m a human dancer. 🙂

It’s this — this ability to dance and enjoy yourself regardless of your partner’s level or dance experience — that I think is the hallmark of “the best” dancer — what separates “wow” dancers from merely excellent dancers. So many of the dancers I know that are known for being “the best” in their scenes, or even in the international scene (although usually fewer in this case, in my experience) only dance with other awesome dancers. They ignore and turn down the beginners to intermediates for not being “good enough,” unless they are current or potential students. They like to stick out, show their stuff, and show off. Some won’t even dance with their own students.

To be frank, if the only way you can enjoy yourself while dancing is when dancing with high level dancers, then I honestly don’t consider you to be all that spectacular a dancer. To depend so much on the level of your partner to enjoy the dance itself is really rather ridiculous. You don’t have to be a good lead to lead a good follow — I know because I’ve led both highly skilled follows and ones who learned their salsa basic step through doing zumba. With advanced follows, you barely have to lead anything for them to know what they are doing and follow it perfectly (not in a backleading way, but in a hyper-observant and sensitive way). A tango friend even told me that one of the particularly cocky/bad-attitude leads isn’t even a great lead — but because he only chooses to dance with the better follows, he can delude himself into believing that he is actually one of the better leads.

I think it’s stupid to get to the point where you only dance with the best dancers and think no one else is worthy of dancing with you. When I was learning to lead salsa and practicing my leading on the social dance floor, I felt most accomplished when I led dances with absolute beginners and still made them follow the moves I was leading. While, of course, I would probably prefer to dance with more experienced leads for the most part, I can have incredible dances with beginners who only know a handful of moves, by adding my own grooves, styling, flavour, and personality to the dance. For example, two weeks ago, I ended up dancing with a lead who only appeared to know two Cuban salsa moves and was leading just them the entire dance. I started playing with the “out” parts of the basic (sorry, I don’t know how to spell the name and tried to Google it and couldn’t find it, so I’m not even going to attempt to), and by the end of the dance, I had the lead joining in on my made-up styling, sticking his tongue out at me in jest, pretending to kick me, and just having the best time ever. It was one of my most fun and playful dances. This week, I got another beginner, so I started playing more with my musicality and styling, and he gave me so much room to play that we both had an amazing dance.

make-room-i-gotta-dance

In contrast, my dance with a more advanced lead that followed was absolute crap. He grabbed my hand as soon as my dance with the beginner lead ended, and I was getting a strong vibe from him that he wanted me to show off and make him look good, since I had been doing a lot of fun stuff with my arms and the music during my previous dance. I felt incredibly annoyed by this, and so I didn’t style at all during that dance. He styled all of his own movements, throwing in so many rondes, sweeps, etc., and leading me in the sharp style of a performance lead, and I gave him absolutely nothing to work with. 😀 I had to pull my hands out of his at the end of the dance, because I think he expected me to want to dance with him again, but I hate dancing with people who dance to show off. I don’t mind complex moves and hyper-speed dances — in fact, I can really enjoy them — but only when it’s what the lead is feeling in the music, not because he wants to perform/show off for his imaginary audience. I also hate it when people ask me to teach them on the dance floor, because my dance time is my time to let my mind go, not to think for my dance partner’s benefit.

For almost all my dances now, I can have enjoyable dances with even the most beginner leads because I have learned to dance within my own body, so that, even if the lead is leading nothing but a forward and backward basic step in salsa or step-touch in blues or absolute basic walk and ochos in tango, I can still enjoy myself, rather than being bored out of my mind and just waiting for the song to end so that I can run away. (Tango is the worst for this — just this week, a new lead who moved here from another country pretty much ran away (sped-walked) when I tried to talk to him and later approached him (so, two times), because I was dressed uber-casually and I bet he thought I was the most terrible dancer ever and just didn’t want to even give me a chance.) True, I don’t want to dance an entire afternoon/night of dances with beginners, but I also won’t make pained faces and noises and make my dance partner feel like a terrible person for eating my time. As long as I’m dancing and feeling the music in my own body, it doesn’t matter what my lead is doing. Every beginner I have danced with lately has gone away extremely happy. The cuban salsa lead who stuck his tongue at me even said I was “a delight to dance with.” 🙂

There are two follows in our blues dance scene who are considered the best dancers, both with incredibly different dance styles, and I remember every lead describing one as incredible because she was always moving, always dancing, and making every move and lead look good regardless of what was being led. I never full understood what they meant, but now I am beginning to. When you love the music so much and feel the music so much that that you never stop dancing and making the dance your own, no matter who is leading it, is what I think is the mark of the very best follow (and lead). There’s really no such thing as a bad dance when you can dance like that. I have my moments of pure following and moments of letting my personality really shine. I wish the follow were still living in Vancouver (I’m pretty sure she moved away) so that I could observe more closely what the leads were talking about now that I am starting to understand it, but I’m thankful to have learned from her anyway, even through word of mouth.

I’ve been dancing with a lot of advanced salsa dancers lately, and have been finding that the best dancers are the ones grooving to, feeling, and loving the music, and are also the ones who put me in break-away (blues term) the most, to give me time to do shines (salsa term) and just do my own thing. They can do crazy moves, but also know when it is appropriate to just chill and feel the music together.

inspirational-dance-quotes-kobi-yamada

I have the same philosophy for solo dancing. I recently had to name my favourite dancers for a dance audition I attended last weekend, and I had never really thought about this before and so just wrote the names that came to my head. I wrote down three local street dancers and two west coast swing follows (one local and one international). The quality they all had in common was that they were all 100% about the feeling, the music, and the enjoyment of dancing. They’re the ones you know are losing themselves in the music, letting themselves go, letting themselves be outrageous, letting their personalities shine through. I dislike cyphers because they make most people put their game faces on and try too hard, looking to really shine and impress others when their turn comes. So they dance too big and it looks a bit off, because they care too much about doing tricks and showing people how good they are. The people I wrote down as my favourite dancers are already so good that they don’t need to try too hard and just dance like themselves. As a result, they are more interesting for me to watch than the people throwing down the massive moves.

I’m glad I am surrounded by such good role models guiding me in the right direction during my dance journey.

I know some people are going to interpret this post the wrong way or try to use it against me by saying I am a cocky dancer who thinks I am so great (heck, a salsa dancer did that [spread rumours about me to salsa girls he went out with, and maybe other dancers, saying I thought I was such a great dancer when I wasn’t] two years ago when I did nothing to him but simply acted uninterested in dating him, when his primary purpose in the dance scene was to score dates). In fact, I know I have a long way to go as a dancer, and I never plan to stop learning and growing, because I see dance as part of my life, now, rather than a mere hobby and something I do purely for fun.

I can’t wait for my attitude to evolve even more, with the goal of having a fantastic time dancing with anyone and everyone! 🙂

dancing

 

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Filed under Argentine Tango, Blues Dancing, Dance attitudes, Dance Progess, Dance Tips, Hip Hop Dancing, musicality, Salsa Dancing

When Dancing = Playing: Dance as a Playground

Which dancing baby do you think is the happiest?

Which dancing baby do you think is the happiest?

The dance floor has become my playground! Dancing is playing! I think this is the goal I will strive to achieve now in every dance scene.

A few tango leads this week reintroduced the concept of “dance as conversation” to me, but that description does not resonate with me anymore. I think of dancing as playing! This week at tango was the first time I was able to add myself to the dance, where my feet and body suddenly found a voice of their own to use to express myself and interpret the music. It happened out of the blue during the middle of a night of dancing at a milonga — one minute I was a passive follow, the next, I was an active participant. I remember one particular dance with a tango lead — the dance directly after the one in which I’d spontaneously started adding my own adornments/embellishments/styling. He’d said near the start of our tanda, “I gotta say, I’m liking the embellishments” and gave me extra room to play when I told him I was bullshiting and didn’t even know what I was doing. With that okay from him to keep going, I threw myself into that dance, playing within the confines of the dance he led for me to play in. At the end of our set of dances, I pretty much yelped with delight: “Thank you for letting me play! I had so much fun!”

As I later described on Facebook:

“It was the best feeling ever! I got to play and really express myself in the dance! I changed the quality of my steps and movements to capture the powerful and tender moments in the music. I used my free leg to capture the little things, with kicks, flicks, sweeps, longer steps, trailing sweeps and steps, taps… it was like a switch had flicked that had turned on my ability to dance and express myself in the music. It was like I had been doing it all the time, even though I hadn’t even being doing it several dances into the night. At one point, I got so into it, I think I took an extra step that wasn’t led and apologized for going overboard (this was during my first dancing using styling) and my lead said it was okay, because tango is a conversation. It was the first time I ever experienced dancing tango like a conversation, and I LOVED it. Because “I” finally had a say in how to feel and express the music. I got to dance the last four tandas this way!”

As I said, I don’t think of dancing as a conversation anymore. “Conversation” isn’t the right word to express what I feel like I am doing when I am have my most awesome dances. Thinking of dancing as a conversation makes me think too much. And I don’t dance well at all when I think too much. It puts me too much in my own head and is intimidating. I dance best when I am not thinking at all.

Dancing as playing = my happiest, most enjoyable dancing.

Dancing as playing = my happiest, most enjoyable dancing.

In blues, I remember that call and response can involve taking turns by bars of music, and who wants to be counting out bars to make sure they aren’t hogging the spotlight or not taking or giving enough time to the person who they are dancing with? As a follow, we are just supposed to speak up at specific moments to influence the course of the dance, because if we are “too loud” then it is no longer a “conversation.” Dancing starts to involve worrying about how your partner is perceiving you, and about showing off for/impressing your partner or the people around you. “Am I too boring?” “Am I contributing enough to the conversation?” “Did I miss something?” “Did I misinterpret a cue?”

I don’t dance this way at all. (Alright, I guess I do actually get intimidated by dancers who I know are really good, sometimes.) Me, I just want to have fun. To me, the music and whatever my lead chooses to lead provide the playground for me to play/dance in. The playground is different every time. How much energy I decide to put into my movements, how I decide to go along for the ride — this depends on how well I think the dance playground created by the lead matches the music. As such, during dances with leads who find ways to capture all the beautiful nuances in the music, I can spend an entire dance pure following and be happy, while during other dances, I am inspired to pepper everything with my own movements, to highlight the moments my lead chooses not to acknowledge but that speak enough to me to make me want to show what I hear. This is not the same as back leading and not following what is being led, but rather working with what I am given and finding a way to have the most fun possible and stay truest to the music.

Dancing as conversation is too much about, “I talk, you listen; you talk, I listen,” because talking at the same time is rude.

Playing is just pure joy and carefree dancing!

This might not make sense to you, but it’s how I’ve come to look at dancing. And now, when I dance, I am the happiest and most carefree I have ever been!

😀

Let's all dance like we're carefree kids again! :)

Let’s all dance like we’re carefree kids again! 🙂

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Filed under Argentine Tango, Dance attitudes, Dance Progess, Dance Tips, musicality

Dance Dance Revelation

aha-moment

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!

^ how I felt

^ how I felt

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.

relax

Staying relaxed in the face of frustration is everything!

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.

relax

So, even at my most frustrated, it all comes back to telling myself this.

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Filed under Dance Progess, Dance Tips

Too Many Dances

Too-many-choicesYou know you’re tackling too many dances when you’ve started getting lectured by both your instructors and friends about the need to just choose a few dances and stick with them. I know they’re right, but I just can’t do it! I like too many dances, and get bored too quickly and easily. And, if I leave a dance alone for two long, I lose everything I worked so hard to get.

Here is why I do the dances I do and why I can’t bear to let go of them:

Partner Dances

Blues/Fusion — my favourite partner dance, and the one partner dance I still actively work to improve (aside from hustle). The connection is the best, and good micro = my favourite. I can’t decide whether I like blues or fusion more, but in Vancouver, we combine the two, so I don’t really think too much about the distinction. Fusion is awesome because it lets me bring together elements from every dance style.

Beautiful blues/fusion -- my favourite partner dances!

Beautiful blues/fusion — my favourite partner dances!

West Coast Swing — the partner dance that offers me the most freedom to do whatever the hell I want, and insert the most style and personality into my dancing. I’ve had some truly spectacular dances here, where I’ve really gotten to connect with and move to the music while still staying with my partner. This is my favourite partner dance to watch, because of the enormous amount of room for musicality and creativity on the part of both partners.

west coast swing miles and tessa

You can do so many things with West Coast Swing!

Salsa(/Bachata) — my most competent partner dance, and the only dance for which I have had progressive lessons and lessons at intermediate and advanced levels, which makes them the only dances where I actually know what I am doing and reasonably understand signals and techniques. I love salsa spins and bachata dips! 🙂 A good rueda is also super fun!

salsa-spin

Those spins! The hips! Signature salsa. 😉

Argentine Tango — This is been my favourite dance numerous times, though actually going out to dance it has soured my feelings and kept me from returning numerous times. I feel like I could fall in love with this dance (and probably already have, in the past), if I were only given the chance to practice and get the feeling of tango ingrained in me. Every time I start to get it, I lose it all over again due to dancing it so rarely and getting so few dances when I do try to go out, so each time I dance it is like starting from scratch. I’ve pretty much cut this dance out. It’s quite depressing, because I like it so much. 😦

argentine-tango

The most difficult dance to do, and mot difficult scene to break into.

Swing — I like the energy and excitement, the crazy lifts, tricks, and solo movement. If I knew how to do more, I would probably like it a lot more, but I only know the basics and follow what I can. I would love to learn more of the advanced moves.

lindyhop

The most energetic partner dance, for sure! With the triple step, swing dancing can replace a workout!

Ballroom — I like the variety that keeps a night of dancing entertaining. My favourite has been (dunno if it still is) a good Viennese waltz, because I find the speed thrilling (to have covered the length of an entire floor in just seconds, and wonder “how did we end up here?” 😮 ). Also, I’ve only ever followed it once, but I really like the bolero. Again, I only know the absolute basics of mst of the dances, but it’s fun to follow a good lead and learn new things along the way! 🙂

waltz

Ballroom is an excuse to dress to the nines, and has the most gorgeous lines.

Hustle — This has been really good for teaching me better dance connection, and it’s great how connected it is to street dancing. I haven’t gotten enough chances to social dance it to really get it into my body, but it’s fun.

the-hustle

So much history in street dance, but I can’t find any street dance-related photos to put up.

Zouk/Kizomba — Zouk was at one point my favourite dance, and I really want to get those hypnotic kizomba hips!

zouk

Zouk wins the prize for the craziest head styling. Kizomba takes the cake for the most hypnotic hips. I used to love the connection of zouk, until I discovered the even better connection of blues.

Solo Dances

Waacking — my favourite dance to watch, and the dance that feels the best and most comfortable to do. I love how much character and energy is involved!

waacking

So much character, fun, and excitement in waacking!

Popping — the dance I find the coolest to watch, especially animation, waving, gliding. ticking, and strobing. This is the street dance style that frustrates me the most, so I spend the most time drilling and training to try and get it. I’m still offbeat. :/

Popping

The most (intentionally) awkward and awesome dance. This is the one that gets me in trouble on the Canada Line all the time. 😛

(Nuvo) Burlesque — my favourite dance to do, because it feels fantastic, and I love it. There actually is technique involved, and the choreo is always effing awesome.

nuvo-burlesque

Nuvo burleque — my favourite!

Belly Dancing — the first dance I ever started taking progressive lessons for, though I was never serious enough to get any good at it. This was the dance that introduced me to isolations, though I was super-lazy about practicing them. I learned shoulder shimmies from this! I love all the hip movement, and the choo-choos!

belly-dance_1

Belly dancing = my first dance.

Hip Hop — the first solo dance I ever got serious about practicing and drilling. Consequently, the down groove feels more natural to me. Hip hop was what got me started with free styling. It will always hold a special place in my heart because of this.

hip-hop-dancing

Down and angry is how I do hip hop.

Soul Grooves — the grooves that feel the best to my body. A soul groove was one of the first and only grooves I’ve ever done properly, with the right look, and was the first one I was able to correct on my own, by practicing with my reflection on the Canada Line.

grooving

Soul grooves feel sooo good!

Funk — I am still not at all funky, but I would like to be. The grooves are fun and happy. I used to try to use them in my free styling when I first started, but don’t really use them anymore since they don’t feel like a natural part of my dancing.

this_is_funk

That would be cool, to be funky.

Locking — I only just recently started taking locking seriously, and am now struggling to correct a lot of the technique I used to do completely wrong back when I was just taking classes for fun and not practicing. Lockers always look the happiest, and the speed is crazy. It’s getting more fun now that I am getting used to it and can start to follow faster choreography.

locking

Everyone confuses locking with popping, and I don’t know why, because they are so different!

Top Rock/Breaking(Groundwork) — also essential to my free styling, because the majority of the cyphering I have done has been through toprock/breaking. Learned a lot of important concepts and really like the footwork. I still don’t have the right look or feel though, unfortunately. I also like the groundwork, but don’t have the time to really build up my strength for it.

toprock

So much to explore in toprock alone!

Dance Hall — More cool ways to move my body. A lot of them remind me of belly dancing, but with a different feel. I really want to get jukin and ticking.

Dancehall-Dancers-Dancing

Jukin!

House — I still don’t get house, but the up feeling feels good, and the dance looks so happy. I’ll keep trying and hope that it will one day click for me.

house-sponge-bob

Couldn’t find a good photo of house dancing, unfortunately. It looks a lot cooler and happier than this!

All of these dances offer different things, and I can’t pass up opportunities to do them. As a result, I am mediocre to bad at many of the dance styles, but I still haven’t made any decisions to commit to any.

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The Curse (and Blessing) of Sucking at Everything

hooray_you_suck_yellow_chick_pom_pons_black_bkgd

The more new things I try, the more I see how much I really and truly suck at everything when I start out. While most people are average and can at least pick up new things fast and get the general concept, I am the one who just doesn’t get it.

As a result, I’ve spent most of life avoiding new activities.

It wasn’t until university that I actually started pushing my comfort zone and letting myself be the slowest student in the class, again and again and again.

I thought about this while walking home today, and came to a revelation that I think begins to scratch the surface of my learning style, and why it is so exasperating.

It shed new light on something my old capoeira teacher told me, that has helped me survive and battle on whenever I have felt like I will never get something that everyone else but me seems to get:

“You take longer to learn things than other people, but when you get it, you can do it better than most of them.”

Over the three years that have passed since he gave me this assessment, I have come to put more and more stock in what he said, though I simply accepted it without trying to understand why that would be the case.

I thought about it today, and I think it’s starting to make more sense, for the following two reasons:

 

Reason #1: Body before brain

Most people can grasp concepts pretty quickly, so they can get the gist of a move and keep pace with the lesson, even if the execution is not all that great

I, on the other hand, usually don’t get the move at all. I think it’s because of the following.

I learn in a two-step process: my body needs to get the feeling of the move and internalize it, after which my brain can start analyzing and remembering the movements.

I hypothesize that, when visual learners see a move, their brain immediately starts analyzing and breaking it down and translating the move to the body. In contrast, when I see a move, it goes completely over my head. I can’t begin to grasp what I just saw unless I mimic it and let my body figure out what just happened, after which my brain will finally begin to work out what the move entails.

This means I take twice as long or even longer to learn something than everyone else who is learning with me. This also means that I might be able to copy a move (correctly) while an instructor is demonstrating it, but won’t be able to even remember the move at all, how it works, or how to start it, when left to my own devices. Even if my body starts to get it, it’s a whole different process to get my brain to understand it. This is where the verbal explanations are imperative for my brain to make the connection.

But it’s important to note that verbal instructions will also go over my head unless they accompany a visual demo and I am allowed to follow along while they are taking place.

Well-intentioned people who ask me to “watch before I do” don’t understand the extent to which my body learns before my head. I need to try, and apply, before my brain is free to think.

In a sense, then, I guess, I need to work on my multi-tasking.

I need to get my brain to wrap around concepts while my body is figuring them out, rather than always having to wait for my body.

I remember a moment yesterday during toprock when I was literally frozen on the spot because I had absolutely no idea what came next. I had to have the movement demonstrated and explained while copying it to get “unfrozen”. This was because my brain hadn’t started working yet.

Because of the way I learn, I pay much closer attention to precise technique, pay attention to and ask about how a movement should feel, and just ask a heck of a lot more questions than everyone else does. I crave corrections and feedback and details, all in an effort to get my brain to finally “click.”

I am usually beyond frustrated when the click doesn’t happen at least once, because that means there is no way I will get the move unless I get another opportunity to be taught it.

However, when I do get a move, it becomes natural and effortless and lovely.

 

Reason #2: The sole upside of sucking

Because I’m usually the only person in the class not to “get” a move right away, or am only able to get a taste of what it feels like to do the move properly at the very end of the class, I practice like hell to get it.

It’s easy to let moves slide and forget about them when you get them and can keep up with everyone else, but when you suck as badly as I do at new things, it makes you work twice as hard to get them so you don’t fall behind.

Most of the things I am best at and that come most naturally to me now are the things I sucked at the most and worked crazy-hard to get, though I forgot about all the hours I put in until I have to learn a completely new move and have to go through it all over again.

Every drill I have done for the past 16 days has been based on something that frustrates the hell out of me because I can’t get it, so I think I would say that much of what has driven my improvements in dancing has been simply my annoyance at how much I suck when I have to learn anything, and my frustration over not being able to learn at the same pace as normal people.

It’s a curse and a blessing, I guess (though more of a curse, from my perspective). 😛

I’ll leave you with a different take on sucking. 😉

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Why I Dance

Robson Square Sunday Afternoon Salsa

My first happy memory of dancing: Look — I’m even smiling!

Why am I still dancing now that my dance class challenge is over?

What started off as a challenge to not completely suck at dancing has transformed into something much bigger and more important.

After a year of dance classes and social dancing, dancing has become a lifestyle.

I feel like something is missing when I go a single day/night without dancing. I would consider travelling for dancing, just to get a taste of how other cities and communities interpret a dance. I want to get better at different dances to better appreciate the intricacies and special characteristics that you just can’t understand until you really “get” a dance.

I “hear” music for the first time, and all its various components, and am finally starting to be able to interpret it on my own and dance with myself.

Many people start dancing because they want to meet someone. While that is perfectly valid, I started dancing for myself, and still do.

Here are the factors that do (and don’t) keep me dancing:

I DON’T dance
-to look cool
-to show off
-to meet guys
-to find a boyfriend
-to be “better” than others
-to perform
-to enter competitions

I DO dance 
-to have fun
-to make new friends
-to meet people from all walks of life, of different ages and backgrounds, sharing a common passion
-to gain new skills, constantly learn new things, and open up new worlds my mind was previously closed to
-to constantly improve — my dancing, self-esteem, confidence, social skills, coordination, bodily awareness… and the list goes on
-to explore different cultures
-to discover new ways to move my body
-to discover new ways to appreciate music
-to keep my brain stimulated and body active
-to expand my creativity in new ways
-to expand my mind
-to be able to lose myself in music
-to forget stress
-to discover insanely good connections with other dancers
-to discover how to connect with myself and the music and the floor, without the help of other dancers
-to learn how to really listen and communicate, and add my own input in a way that flows and jives, and does not interfere
-to try things I always believed I couldn’t do, and find out that I CAN
-because it makes me happy

So I’ve told you why I dance — Why do you dance?

why dance?

Why do YOU dance?

 

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Finding the “click”

I understand

I finally get it.

It finally happened.

The “click.”

That moment when dancing stops being about steps, where you stop having to force technique – stop wondering if you are doing something right, because it just feels right – and suddenly, you are simply following, and understand perfectly what your lead is communicating.

That magical moment when you body absorbs a dance, and you feel it in your bones.

French Simpsons

Remember that Simpsons episode where Bart goes to France on a school exchange and can’t speak any French, but finally experiences a “click”, where he is suddenly able to speak and understand French? That’s what finally “getting” a dance feels like. 🙂

If you’ve ever moved to foreign country where you don’t speak the native/dominant language, it’s like that moment when your ears seem to readjust, and you suddenly understand and keep pace with the conversation, because you finally understand the language itself.

Today, I sensed a change in my tango dancing from the very start of my beginner Argentine tango class, to the end of my intermediate lesson.

Everything about my tango dancing felt different today. I felt grounded for the first time, and that is what made the difference. Whereas in the past, my steps would always feel somewhat off-balance, and, at times, a bit uncertain, today, my steps felt sure. My upper and lower bodies detached themselves so that my torso stayed with my lead of its own accord, and let my lower body twist and turn on its own. My feet landed firmly on the ground — tango feet, rather than the salsa feet, that have up until now stubbornly forced their way into my tango social dancing. My center of balance felt steady and sure, and I remained poised to follow whatever my lead threw at me, regardless of how fast or slow.

For two hours, I felt what tango must feel like for tango dancers. I felt attuned to every twist, turn, lean, push, pull, lift, and weight transfer made by my lead. With both of my classes short on leads, I got to practice many of my tango moves with my tango teacher, and he didn’t correct me on any of my following except for a new adornment (styling) we had learned that day (I was doing it too quickly), and he even said that I followed a new move that he had just taught perfectly. He didn’t need to tweak anything.

Also, when I had to practice a move at different speeds with a lead, he prefaced our turn by shaking his head, saying we wouldn’t get it, but we did it again and again, over and over, at fast, slow, and varying speeds, without screwing up once, and he told me “Very good!” at the end. I was only able to keep pace with it because I was, in fact, following his lead, rather than trying to perform memorized steps.

As long as a lead led a move with proper technique, I was able to follow it precisely. It was like my skin had sprouted sensors that allowed me to tell exactly what my lead’s body was telling me.

Ironically, I discovered that, if you dance tango with the right technique, it is virtually impossible not to follow exactly what your lead leads — and also impossible to back lead. I literally could not do my tango moves today unless the leads in my classes led them with proper technique: You can’t step forward on your own if a lead has your weight completely centered over your feet, you can’t cross if your lead does not twist his torso and push your forward, because your body will be stuck beside his.

I ended up pissing off a lead in my class who expected me to back lead my moves. He literally told me, “It’s your job to twist your own body.” and wanted me to take my own steps forward and determine the direction my body went by myself.

I couldn’t have done  any of it myself, even if I had tried.

For two hours, I got to feel what tango can really feel like, and I loved it! Tango feels amazing to follow properly!

Reaching this state today came at a high cost: I had gone tango dancing at a milonga the night before, and I had one of the worst dance nights of my life, where couldn’t follow any of my leads, no matter how superb their leading was (I even danced with the teacher at the milonga, who all the best follows thought of as an excellent lead). I think it was probably because I had spent the four hours right before it taking classes in cuban salsa, salsa ladies’ styling, merengue, and intermediate salsa, and was too salsa-headed to switch over to tango mode. It was like I knew what the proper technique entailed, but couldn’t make my body do it. My feet kept taking salsa steps (stepping with just the balls of my feet), leaving me light and unbalanced. It didn’t help that I hadn’t danced tango since New Year’s Eve, and that this was only my third milonga.

It wasn’t until the end of the dance — when I asked a follow what I should be watching if I wanted to learn something from observing the dance floor, and she pointed out a particularly good follow to me — that I learned about the concept of grounding.

“Watch her. She’s very grounded,” the follow told me.

Until then, I hadn’t even realized that tango was a grounded dance.

For some reason, the concept clicked and found its way into my dancing today.

It changed my tango following completely, and tango just felt “right”.

So I’ve found the tango feeling once, but don’t know if it will stay.

I think the handful of dances I experienced and that talk with the follow really helped bring me into the tango mindset, but I am not sure how to keep it.

My dance schedule doesn’t have much space in it to fit tango social dancing in, and my reputation in the tango scene has been destroyed by Saturday’s dance experience (tango leads watch you and never ask you to dance again if they see you dancing badly), so it will be tough to enter the scene again, especially so soon after showing just how bad I can be.

We’ll see what happens.

But the point of this post is to celebrate the fact that all my struggles with tango finally came together and allowed me to wrap my head around the dance, if only for two hours.

I finally experienced the “click”, and it has made all of this worth it.

So if you find yourself discouraged by a dance, I urge you to keep at it! When you get it, you will know. And that is when you will finally begin to understand the magic and addictiveness of dancing. 🙂

delirious happiness

When you experience that “click”, you will get a taste of delirious happiness. 🙂

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