Someone once said to me "I'll bet you've never had a bad night of dancing."
I agreed right away. Then I had to think for a few minutes just to make sure. There was only one bad night of dancing I remember. It was on a really hot summer day - almost 100 degrees outside - which was even worse indoors.The venue was HOT and crowded and I was hot, sweaty and irritable. I felt like a bumper car: every time I danced, I was stepped on and/or bumped by some other person. I was dancing with a friend and I got stepped on with every eight count that we danced.It was ridiculous and I was livid! I thought "Seriously? Am I not going to be able to dance without getting hit?" I got so mad that I just stopped dancing. I told my partner how sorry I was but I had to leave the dance floor right away. Thankfully, my friend took it gracefully and walked me outside. He stayed with me until I was able to return to the dance floor. I needed to cool down after that meltdown (literally!). The rest of the night was actually a lot of fun, but I remember the night mainly because of my meltdown which inspired a blog post that I wrote called "Casualties of Salsa".
What makes a good night of dancing? This question has been a topic of discussion for my peers who have been growing as dancers and whose definition of what makes a good dance has changed. For some people, a good night has to start with a solid dance: start with a bad dance and the rest of the night is ruined. Others make sure that they only dance with the dancers that they know they'll have a good dance with. Some leads take pride in asking as many follows as they can to dance. Others aspire to make sure every dance they have is enjoyable for their dance partner. Still others who are working on improving a certain technique will only enjoy dancing when they can practice and execute that specific technique.
For me, dancing is joyful so a bad dance night is an oxymoron. On any given night, I may have a dance or more that I did not enjoy, but I know I'll be able to dance a good dance some time during the night. Bottom line is that I don't let the bad dances drag me down and I relish every good and "super-tacular" dance that I have. So as long as I can have a good dance, I'm good.
Over the years, I've been lucky enough to have access to some wonderful teachers and dancers who have contributed to my growth as a dancer. It is a constant source of wonder that I find myself improving in ways that I never really thought were possible. Consequently, it is also inevitable that what I enjoy about dancing will change. Its like discovering the power up options in a video game: after getting enough of them, you just want to find them and keep powering up all the time.
When I first started social dancing it was about being able to dance all night long, non-stop, with as many people as I could. It's a lot like the first time a kid figures out how to walk - they just can't stop. When my nephew first started walking, he basically jogged and ran in circles for what seemed like hours. He would start with that wobbly duck walk, pick up the pace and start running in circles and do that until his legs got tired and he would stop, laughing and giggling the whole time. Every now and again he would lose his balance and fall. Unfazed, he would just get up and start running again. That's what dancing was like for me when I first got hooked: I could never get enough.
As I've learned more about dancing I realize my dance joy now consists of three things: musicality, mastery of technique and connection with my lead. The sweet spot has just the right balance of playfulness, connection, and musical expression. Balance doesn't mean all three elements are equal, sometimes there can be more of one than the other. Essentially, a good dance is a wonderful convergence of instruments, rhythms, lyrics, harmonies with the movements from leading and following. My lead is tuned in to the music and clear about what he wants me to follow. I have room to play and add my voice in response and my lead weaves my response back into the dance.
What's interesting about the sweet spot is that its possible to get there with less experienced dancers. Don't get me wrong, I'm far more likely to hit the sweet spot with an advanced and experienced dancer. I can't deny that when I'm dancing with a superstar who leads a move that I've never done before and I nail it, that's a pretty amazing high. When I'm dancing with a lead who's new to the dance, its also a high to see them having fun, relaxing and every now and again, taking my lead on the music to play with it. It doesn't happen all the time but as an experienced follow, I can assert my voice earlier and influence the outcome of the dance: I got such a kick out of falling into my on2 mambo rhythm with a beginner lead who was open enough to pick up on the rhythm and maintain it for the rest of the song - fantastic!
Now that I have a more refined definition of a good dance one might think that its harder to have a good dance night right?. Not so. One of the great things I feel about becoming a better follow and dancer is that I can adapt to almost anything so my chances of hitting the sweet spot are better then ever. I've improved what I can contribute to a dance and added more dimensions through which I can experience the joy of dancing.
I believe that if you stay true to what makes you feel good about dancing you'll have a good dance night: let go of the dances that don't give you joy and go after the joy that you find in dance