Category Archives: Dance Tips

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

How I Got Happy by Giving a Damn About Everyone

**JOY** **JOY**  **JOY**

Lately, I’ve been feeling like a laser gun firing happiness at people. I don’t know about everyone else, but this is how it’s felt from my end.

I feel liked I’ve transformed into a different person in the last week and a bit, and it all started when my friend told me that I stand out, which got me researching about auras and how they work. My friend told me that I’m the kind of person that people notice when I walk into a room, walk down the street, or just get in people’s general vicinity. And before he’d even told me that, just two weeks ago, a completely different, non-mutual friend had had to let me know (because it was so out-of-the-ordinary) during a lindy event that she had known when I had entered the room and walked past her from behind, even though she hadn’t seen me, and even though I hadn’t been to that dance in more than a month. She’d “felt” my arrival. At the time, I’d simply thought it was interesting. But from other comments from other people in the past, and from talking with others about it in the attempt to confirm whether or not this is in fact really the case, I’ve come to accept the fact that I really and truly do have a very strong presence.

The event that really made me believe was a Canada Line train ride I and my friends took, where we were talking and laughing the whole way. There was a little boy on that ride, standing beside us with his bike, with his dad, and I’d seen him looking at me, but I’d thought he was looking at our entire group because we were pretty loud.

“Nope,” my friends confirmed. “He was staring at you the entire time. And kids don’t lie.”

Older people will do things to act like they’re not looking, but kids will openly stare.

I used to be super-negative and frustrated about my dancing because I thought that my experiences were my own and mine to suffer alone. I thought that I was just another person that no one noticed and could just ignore. Now that I’ve learned that I have a particularly powerful aura, I’ve become a lot more positive and happier, and not even on purpose. It’s like, the knowledge that I can impact so many others without even knowing it has made me a nicer, friendlier, happier person that I can honestly say I like, because it feels good to radiate this positive energy that makes everyone feel happier.

That very evening, following my experience with the kid on the train, was the first time I felt this radiant joy filling my entire being. I had left my friends so I could attend a monthly fusion dance, where I could feel happiness simply exploding from my body. And it felt like everyone I talked to, danced with, or communicated with that night couldn’t help but get a little infected by that energy. i saw so many big, genuine smiles that night, got so many sincere positive comments, and got asked to dance like crazy, even when I was working the door for an hour, where it is unusual to get asked to dance at all. I couldn’t have had a bad dance if I had tried, because every dance feels awesome when you are that happy. This was reflected in pretty much every lead I danced with making a comment a cut above the generic, “That was awesome.”

I posted on Facebook about the event later that week (I’ve been posting dance updates on Facebook rather than on my blog for a really long time now, because I’ve been too lazy to write actual blog posts about my experiences):

“I have taken to smiling when I partner dance. Not fake, plastic smiles, but big, genuine smiles.

A lead mentioned I must be happy because I was smiling while we were dancing (when I responded to his question about why blues had fallen in priority — due to its ability to make me miserable), and I responded, “I’ve decided to smile when I partner dance because it makes me happier and my leads happy.” In fact, I hadn’t ever consciously decided on doing such a thing, but I guess I had subconsciously.

I bumped into a lead friend at the Canada Line platform yesterday and had a conversation with him about presence and auras. He had been my very first dance at FUSE on Friday, and he told me he could feel my bubbly and happy energy, and that the dance was awesome even though it was his first one and he hadn’t even warmed up, and he had a terrific time all night, filled with positive energy. I have no idea if it had anything at all to do with me, but if I can help make someone else’s dance night awesome, then so much the better.

I had to stop dancing blues because it was making me too unhappy, and me miserable is the complete opposite extreme of me happy. And if you’ve seen me at my happiest, then you can imagine what misery means to me.”

In response, a friend commented:
“I agree with the random lead from Friday. I think you might have been my first dance at Fuse too – I hadn’t expected to lead so early on – but you were super happy and smiling and it was a really wonderful dance. Thank you!”

I know three people that shine with the happiest of auras that make everyone happier when they are around — I can’t help but feel happy just by seeing them. I am not one of these special, vitally important people, but, it’s knowing that I can be that kind of person sometimes that has made me change.

The thing is, I don’t think I have changed for myself, but for the knowledge of my ability to affect others’ happiness. It’s okay for me to be miserable if I’m being miserable by myself, but I don’t want to bring others down with me.

So it’s not like I go around pretending to be happy and putting a fake smile on face, thinking I’m some kind of super-hero that spreads happiness.

^ not me.

^ = not me.

Rather, I feel like I am becoming a genuinely happier person, grateful to know I have friends who genuinely like me (including those genuinely happy people), and happy to have survived my bout with negativity.

My friend told me he purposely prevents himself from reaching those highest states of happiness — of pure joy and unbelievable happiness — because he knows they will always be followed with a crash that is just as strong.

I’ve experienced and will probably continue to experience both sides of the coin, but I’m not going to be cautious with my happiness. If I’m going to be happy, I’m going to experience happiness to its fullest.

Because happiness is life’s greatest gift, and I’ll be damned if I let my fear of the crash deny me the experience.

It’s like my dancing — two weeks ago, my dancing the entire week was garbage, and this week, it has — no exaggeration — been the best it’s ever been. I’ve had so many of my biggest click moments in the last week — things I have been working toward from the very start and could just never get — come at me all at once. I could have stopped dancing after that draining and miserable week, deciding to take a break to recuperate, but I just kept dancing through it, and the happiness of this week erased last week away.

Happiness is greater than — is stronger than — misery. And to me, feeling happiness in such a pure, unadulterated form is worth it.

We live in a society where people feel guarded with their happiness, because we are afraid that others will take it away. This is justified. Some people see a happy couple and feel spiteful and hateful and think about all the reasons why they shouldn’t be together, because, deep down, they are jealous of their happiness. Some feel sad or depressed because they don’t have this kind of happiness themselves. But the genuinely happy people see these people and feel happy for them and their happiness. Yes, this is a weak example that has holes in its logic, but I don’t really feel like racking my brain for a better example right now, so this will have to do.

True happiness is having so much of it that you want to share it with everybody. Guarded happiness will never feel as good.

I was so angry in my last post (Too Much Hate: Can We Really Dance Like No One’s Watching?), because I couldn’t understand how people could go out of their way to steal people’s happiness. I understand people not going out of their way to make others happy, but to make it your business to take innocent happiness away is just about the wrongest thing you can do.

It’s funny, because I just typed in, “How I Got Happy” into Google to see what was already out there on the topic, and got back a book called A$$hole: How I Got Rich & Happy by Not Giving a Damn About Anyone & How You Can, Too.

And that’s how I got the title to this post.

Finding that title was like a click moment: I wasn’t happy when I didn’t give a damn about anyone. And when I posted my last article, I really hadn’t given a damn, about anyone.

But now I do give a damn about others — because I’ve felt misery so purely and intensely so many times and so often now that I can’t even count the number of times I have been reduced to tears or to blinking tears back in public, all dance scene induced. And if I can’t prevent people from feeling this kind of misery, then I would at least like to contribute to getting them as close to the dancer’s high as they possibly can, so they can at least get a taste of the “happy” extreme.

It’s this — this giving a damn — that has allowed me to feel happier than I’ve ever been.

I’m not saying that this is your route to happiness, but it was mine.

Happy dancing is the best dancing of all!

Happy dancing is the best dancing of all!

 

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Filed under Dance attitudes, Dance Tips

Too Much Hate: Can We Really Dance Like No One’s Watching?

Dance like no one's watching, even if they are.

Dance like no one’s watching, even if they are.

I am sickened.

I am repulsed.

I know that I can be a bitch and that I can be mean and that I can be too blunt and that I can be unfriendly and that I can be downright unlikeable (heck, I don’t even know if I like myself). But I don’t go out of my way to hurt people. I don’t go out of my way to discourage people from doing things they enjoy just because they aren’t good at it.

It shocks me just how hateful people can be.

Today, I discovered just how much hate I have surrounding me. I’ve always known/suspected it was there, but now it’s been confirmed, and instead of feeling embarrassed or sad or humiliated or depressed or mortified by it, at first I was neutral and thoughtful about it. And now, after having some time to think about it, I am just plain mad.

My friend told me that, when I first started dancing, people — complete strangers — would come up to him and ask him, “Why are you encouraging her?” I was so bad that they wanted me to quit. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t quit. They had no idea who I was, and yet they went out of their way to try to get me to stop dancing. They didn’t personally know me or my friend, but still felt that *I* was their business. And they weren’t even ballsy enough to do it to my face — they had to try to go through my friend to do it, even though he hid this information from me until now because he didn’t know how I would take it. And I had it confirmed that people were the exact same way when I started solo dancing. I have had, and still have haters in every dance scene — EVERY dance scene. That, I am okay with. What I’m not okay with is the fact that people would go out of their way to try to stop a person they don’t even know from dancing. That they would take the trouble to go that far with it. The reason why my friend even told me this was because he’d asked, “Why did you even start dancing anyway?” and I’d said, “Because it was fun.”

I honestly think that I liked dancing more when I was horrible at it than I do now. The happiness I have lately been feeling while dancing was the kind of happiness I felt when I first started partner dancing — ballroom, salsa, swing, etc. — it made me SO happy to dance these dances, even though I didn’t know what the heck I was doing (and how could I have, when all I had were 30 min worth of beginner lessons for each?!).

Every summer, free dance events bring new beginners out every single week. Heck, every day, dances bring out enthusiastic new dancers. And the great majority of these dancers suck. How can they help it when some, like me, have never, ever danced before?

What. the. fuck.

This is not okay to me. Maybe I am the exception because I “stand out” and just particularly suck at EVERYTHING until something in my brain finally clicks and I finally get it, but I am disgusted to think that this could be happening to potential new dancers everywhere. The average person would simply curl up and die after hearing about even one person dissing them like this, but I don’t think I would have. It would have just made me even more determined to get better. But I am the exception. How can people be so cruel that they are able to do shit like this? WHY? I really want to know what drives people to go the extra mile to discourage others.

I have sucked at every dance I have ever taken on. Belly dancing, ballroom, salsa, swing, tango, west coast swing, kizomba, zouk, lindy, blues, fusion, hustle, hip hop, funk, popping, locking, house, waacking, breaking (dunno if I am missing any?). It’s almost unbelievable how bad I was at EVERYTHING and how hard it was for me to learn anything at all. I sucked so exceptionally that I had haters like this. And I had to experience the hate almost all within the same 1 to 2 years because I was taking on all the dances at the same time.

And I don’t suck anymore. I worked my ass off to get the simplest thing that every other person would pick up easily. I mixed up every dance and still mix up my dances. Just yesterday, a friend commented that my house looked like salsa and tango, and I looked at my reflection and fixed it right there and then.

If I knew who the people were who tried to get me to quit, they would immediately go on my blacklist, along with some incredible, most-sought-after leads who are so full of themselves that they think it is okay, or in fact their right, to fuck with a person’s feelings and make them feel unworthy of dancing with them. GET OVER YOURSELF. You had to start out somewhere yourself — please check your ego long enough to remember how you felt. I would rather dance with a nice person than a superb, but supremely arrogant, dancer.

I don’t think dance scenes can make me miserable anymore, after what I’ve just learned, because I don’t think they can have the power to hurt me anymore. Just prove yourself to be a person like this to me, and I won’t respect you enough to care about how you choose to treat me anymore. 

I’m going to make even more haters from this post. I’m going to lose more “friends.” I’m going to have people talk shit behind my back while not saying anything to my face. And I don’t give a fuck anymore.

I have my handful of friends who have stuck by me through my Canada Line craziness (if you don’t already know, I practice dancing on public transit and random public places, mostly the things that I most suck at) and all throughout my transformation into a legit freak pointed and laughed at on a regular basis for my decision to dance like no one’s watching, even though they are. I can say that I have friends who have proved that they support me and stand up for me without me having to be fake and changing who I am so they will like me. Can you say the same?

I’d rather know who my real friends are than surround myself with friends who only like me when I don’t suck at things and when I have to change who I am in order to fit in.

If you enjoy doing something, please keep on going. Please don’t let others make it their business to make you feel so bad about yourself that you have to quit. If you want it badly enough, you can find a way to do it, and even if you can’t, people don’t have the right to take away the happiness you derive from a simple activity. Don’t give them the power to do shit like that. Tell them (in your head, if you must) to fuck off and leave you alone.

To learn to dance like no one’s watching is a powerful, powerful thing.

Sorry and not sorry for all the profanity. It gets the point across.

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Filed under Dance attitudes, Dance Tips

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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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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Filed under Argentine Tango, Dance Progess, Dance Tips

Opening My Eyes

open eyes

Time to start opening my eyes…

Last night, I finally opened my eyes to what should be natural and common knowledge in partner dancing:

To make eye contact and smile at your partner and have fun are just as important as how well you follow or lead.

You see, because the only dance I have a decent amount of actual training in is salsa, I am never really comfortable enough to make solid eye contact with my partner or even look like I am enjoying myself, because I am too busy counting beats and trying to make sure I am following properly. (It’s nerve-wracking following advanced moves when you only actually know how to follow a few basic steps!) It’s always a mix of fun and “don’t eff up”-thinking. In dances where there is no count, I close my eyes to heighten my sense of connection, and rarely even “see” my lead during much of the dance.

Today I looked up and saw my lead look directly into my eyes and smile at me. I smiled back, and it turned into a genuine smile, as I was able to relax a bit and worry less about screwing up.

It’s the most common knowledge and natural behaviour ever (to smile and make eye contact with your partner while social dancing). Two follows have even addressed this directly and told me how important it is.

But it took that one split second during that one dance for me to “get” it.

The most important connections come when you open your eyes, really pay attention to your partner, and make the dance fun for everyone.

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