Friday, November 5, 2010

Letting Go

As a follow in partner dancing, I am faced with an interesting challenge: finding a balance between controlling my own movement and letting go to respond to my lead.

When dancing is at its best for me, I'm not thinking about what's next. I'm not counting or worrying about my technique or over-anticipating what the next move might be. I'm not even consciously focused on catching every lead. When I'm following at my best, I'm in a zone: my mind is open: actively taking everything in. My body though under control, is relaxed. There's no 'clutter' in my head. I'm alert but not tense. I am just dancing. There is simplicity in these moments: I hear the music, I see and feel and react to my partner’s movements to dance effortlessly with the song that’s guiding us both.

While learning to dance, I have learned that letting go allows me to be fully present in the moment. When I’m dancing I'm having so much fun. It’s reinforced for me, that when I let go, I have fun. In learning to be a better dancer and follow, I learned a lot about letting go.

What happens when I am fully present is that there is nothing to stress me out and I can truly engage and enjoy my dancing. It’s probably the closest thing to a perfect zen moment for me: the harmony of movement and music is my moment of joyful meditation. I’m lucky enough to have many such moments when I go out dancing.

To let go allows me the pleasure of having all my senses focused on the present moment. The past is done, with lessons captured and learned while the future is something to look forward to.

Here’s what I learned about letting go:

1) Breathe 
Breathing is essential but often taken for granted: it’s automatic. Letting go for me is often like a reset button. I find that focusing on breathing goes a long way to helping me reset. When I get tense, I start to stress: I think about my breathe and focus on taking in all that oxygen, filling my lungs, then exhaling slowly, pulling down my shoulders, letting some tension go. It helps me to relax which helps me to reset.

2) Have a Happy Thought Handy 
Smiling puts you at ease so I always have a happy thought handy. Some time ago, when things weren’t going quite so well in my life, I realized that my journal was filled with all this really sad, morose and melodramatic (really? I wrote that?!) stuff. I decided to devote my energies to remembering and immortalizing happy moments. So, I have a bunch of them always handy to whip out when things get a little rough. These memories are things that can automatically put a smile on my face. They remind me of what’s important which always puts me in the present moment and helps me to let go.

3) Be Responsible for Yourself 
Every dance has a basic set of rules and structure that you need to be responsible for. Know the music, know the basic step and know what the communication/connection with your partner entails. It’s just like learning a new language or subject; you need to understand that basic vocabulary to make the communication/connection work. Life is like that too – you can’t take on responsibility for things beyond your control. Letting go is all about accepting what’s within your realm of control and being responsible for it.

On Dancing Basics: Every dance will have its own set of rules and structures to follow but for me, they all have these things in common: Balance and Posture. If you work on understanding your body well enough that you can maintain your balance and posture when moving, this can only help you be a better dancer. 

4) Be Yourself: Trust Yourself 
No one is better at being you than you so why try to be like someone else? It’s great to have role models and to aspire to be as good as someone else BUT, you still have to be true to yourself. If you can't trust yourself then you won't be able to let go enough to take a lead from someone else. If you don't trust yourself you’ll be second guessing yourself every step of the way and you’ll never really understand who you are as a dancer and a person. The coolest part about letting go is you get to just be you. You're out there to have fun and enjoy the dancing and whatever aspects of life are out there to be relished.

5) Leave Mr. Critic and Ms Am-I-Good-Enough at the door 
It’s hard enough to engage in learning something that involves physical coordination. Now add to that the music and someone else who's lead you have to respond to. That's a lot all at once. I say, leave these two characters at the door. When Mr. Critic is telling you "better do it right" and Ms. Am-I-Good-Enough is whispering "don't mess it up!" it’s hard to focus on the now. If they're being stubborn about it, try focusing on breathing and smiling. Have a happy memory handy and better yet, find that guy or gal that you know that you’ll have a good dance with to reset: it’ll help you find that fun in what you’re doing which makes these two characters totally mute.

6) It’s just a dance and there's always another 
I don't spend time dwelling on bad dance because there is always another and I have so many good ones to feed my energy for the night. Every dance is different because of the music, because of who you're dancing with and where you are. Every night I’ve gone out dancing, there have always been those dances that just make me smile because they were just so good. Don’t let some poopy head ruin your dancing joy – its really not worth it.

7) When all Else Fails: Back to the Beginning 
When in doubt go back to the basics. If you trust that you are responsible for yourself and you find things are somewhat out of control, and then just stick to the basics. When you’re following and not quite sure that you are, clear out the styling, the fancy footwork and focus on the basic so that you can then focus on the lead. When you’re stressing out about dancing, remember why you do it: it’s supposed to be fun right?

There's listening and then there's LISTENING. I’m not just talking about what you hear: LISTENING involves what you see and what you feel. It’s really more about engaging your senses - all of them. Being fully present allows you to get to that zen moment with as little friction as possible. If you're too caught up in the wrong thing, it will be easy for you to lose sight of your lead and miss a cue. If you're thinking about the mistake you just made or whether or not what you did was correct, then you are not paying attention to what's coming next. If you’re too worried about styling the arm, you’ll likely miss the next move.

9) Have fun and enjoy the ride 
Here’s the bonus that you get with letting go when you dance: the pure joy of the experience. It’s uncluttered and simply lovely. Who doesn’t want that all the time?

10) Trust in the Best Possible Outcome
There is power in positive thinking, you put your energies in a better place and it can only beget more of the same. I'm getting a little meta-physical here but I've never gone out to dance with a negative thought in mind. I may be tired or nervous or sleep-walking, but I'm looking forward to dancing because of how much fun it is. Have I had bad dances? Ofcourse! But rather than give power to that bad dance to cause me to fear dancing or shy away from it, I'll shrug it off and possibly learn how to avoid it in the future.

Parting Thought
I’ve used this quote before but I love it so I’ll put it here again as a parting thought:

"While I dance I can not judge, I can not hate, I can not separate myself from life. I can only be joy.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dancing Penalty

My musings often take time to organize and form into coherent thoughts in my head before I can write about them but this one in particular has had a chance to sit and stir for a while AND given some recent stirrings in my dance community about injuries on the dance floor (see an older relevant post about Casualties of Salsa), I thought this should be amusing enough to share.

In social dancing, there are a few offenses that diminish the joy of dancing for people. Some are minor, some are most foul. I really don't think any should have to be "put up with" and wondered how this could be discouraged without coming across like a total bitch or ego maniac. Then it came in a burst of inspiration - what about a penalty box for dancing?!

Any sport that involves scoring (volleyball, soccer, basketball to name a few) have penalty systems. Yellow cards or Red cards are awarded to teams that commit minor or major offenses resulting in a penalty which provides the guilty team with a disadvantage. The system I'm suggesting draws from my knowledge of penalty systems but modified for dancing. There is no referee other than the your dance partner or neighbors and I'm assuming that everyone is out dancing for the fun of it.

The other part about penalties is that they are visible and there's a "ceremony" around it. With this system, the "card" is a metaphor for something more visible like a t-shirt or arm band that says something like "dance with me at your own risk".

I'm sure my lists are far from complete so please feel free to share and add as you see fit!

YELLOW CARD: Minor Infractions
The yellow card is awarded to dancers who commit minor infractions. 2 minor infractions are the equivalent of a red card (see the next section). A yellow card is essentially a warning message to dancers and allows them a 2nd chance to correct themselves

Minor infractions consist of:
1) Bad Body Odor
2) Stepping into someone else's line when they are clearly dancing in it.
3) Dancing and not paying attention to your partner (aka showboating)
4) Asking for a dance, listening to the music and then apologizing for not knowing how to dance to the song. By then whoever you've asked has likely lost the chance to dance with someone else.
5) [For Leads] Exaggerated shaking of the arms and lots of excess motion that confuses the heck out of a follow in terms of what's coming next.
6) Taking BIG steps: bigger then you are led into and bigger than what your partner can handle
7) Grabbing someone's hand and just walking out to the dance floor without a "Hi!" or "Can I dance with you?" when its someone you don't know.
8) Not saying thank you (in some form) after the dance
9) Not dancing with your partner: this one get a little complicated but its basically implying that not everyone dances at the same level and you should dance (leads especially) to your partner's level. Follows, if you're with a beginner lead, don't do too much fancy footwork and styling because it'll throw them off.
10) Dancing off beat
11) Dropping your partner but with grace AND helping them up right away to avoid further embarrassment.
12) Leading your partner into someone else's path or line
13) Following where you're not supposed to go

RED CARD: Major Infractions
The red card is awarded instantly for any major infraction OR after the 2nd yellow card is issued. This results in the dancer having to sit out of dancing for at least 10 songs or 30 minutes. Ideally he / she can sit in the penalty box: an extremely visible location off the dance floor that is closed off so that folks who are dancing can easily see who's in the penalty box. Once their time is up, they are free to come back on the floor but any subsequent infraction will result in a Technical Foul.

Major Infractions consist of:
1) Bad Body Odor to the point where the neighboring couples around you are also impacted by your smell.
2) Unconsented groping of any kind
3) Non-stop spinning in the first three 8 counts of  a song: exception to this is if you know you're partner can handle it already. Its a red card when you do it to someone you don't know and haven't given them time to warm up to.
4) Self-Dipping to the point of not supporting your own weight (if you get dropped that's your fault) If your partner doesn't assist you, they get a red card too.
5) Injury to your dance partner or neighboring dancer resulting in a that dancer having to stop dancing for a few seconds. If they can't dance at all - that's a Technical!
6) The "grip of death" which can result in injury to your partner.
7) Unsolicited teaching on the social dance floor
8) Not apologizing for major collisions on the dance floor: a major collision is one that results in the dancer stopping altogether because they've been knocked off balance or are in pain or in shock/disoriented.
9) Complex tricks on a follow who is clearly a beginner.
10) Stepping onto a crowded dance floor drink in hand and expecting the dancers to get out of your way.
11) Dropping your partner causing a serious bump or bruise or stop in their dancing. If you don't apologize or try to help, that's a Technical.
12) Taking up too much space on a crowded social dance floor.
13) Hogging your dance partner for multiple dances and not even giving them the opportunity to say yes to dancing again by just dancing with them and not letting them go.
14) Using too much force in the lead (likely resulting in injury to your dance partner)
15) Stopping to talk in the middle of a crowded social dance floor: if you want to talk, step off to the side, don't stop in the middle of a space occupied by so many people in motion!
16) Asking someone to teach you how to dance on the social dance floor, especially if you don't know them.

This is an offense that is basically not tolerated in social dance circles and results in the offender being kicked out of the dance hall/location. If one has already received a 2nd red card, then that is also grounds for a Technical.
1) Telling someone that they suck at dancing in a social dancing situation.
2) Executing a complex dip with a partner that is clearly NOT ready for it
3) Aerials on a crowded dance floor (really?): BOTH partners are out in this case, one of you should know better.
4) When you can't even stand up straight because you're too drunk
5) Dropping your partner causing major injury
6) Telling someone that they shouldn't be dancing
7) Playing bump-em cars with everyone around you multiple times in the same song.
8) Crossing over your partner's personal space after they've indicated where that boundary is
9) Making someone cry on the dance floor
10) Rude, raucous and disruptive behavior

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Dance Crush

Ah! So sweet, exciting, exhilarating, that scintillating feeling: dancing with your dance crush!

Social Partner Dancing is one big "flirt fest": its a celebration of movement and music with someone of the opposite sex (or role) and oh-la-la! how much fun it is with the added thrill of a crush.

And just who is the Dance Crush?
He's the guy who makes your face light up when he walks in the room... or the gal that makes your heat beat just a little faster when you see her. The dance crush is a dancer you've made a "mwah!" dance connection with on the dance floor. On top of that, he or she has caught your eye because there's something extra that you like about them:  something about a smile, a swagger, a sway, a certain je ne sais quoi that you can't quite put your finger on.

When you see your dance crush different things happen: your mind goes blank, your inner giddy school girl or spazzy geeky boy emerges. Forces of attraction conspire to make you orbit nearby. Sometimes you'll stick our your chest and want to preen like a peacock to show off your 'skillz'. Sometimes you giggle at every little thing and get all googley eyed. Sometimes you just spaz out from nerves. Sometimes you get weak in the knees (and boy! am I glad I'm a follow because at least, he's holding me up when that happens). Sometimes that slap happy smile (or grin) is just plastered on your face.

Its a thrill to be near your dance crush (oh, my beating heart!) and yearning when you're not (sigh!). Admire from afar if you wish but wait! There's this thing that you both do - dancing. What a perfect excuse to have them close. You're happy when they're near and then not so much when they're far.  A crush can be a doorway to something more if its mutual or temporary, a thrill to enjoy.

Crushes come and go and I've been lucky enough to befriend some of my former crushes and we continue to have great dances. I know because of the close proximity of dancing, that can create bonds and feelings of attraction (oxytocins) but these crushes are just a little bit different with a quality that's got a wee bit more on top of that dance connection. Here are some snippets or moments of "crushing" on someone:

I notice him as he dances with someone I know: someone new I haven't seen before. He looks good and he's smiling and having a great time. A few songs later, he walks up to me and offers a hand as he asks me to dance and then when we start, he sings with the band and oh my - what a voice! oooh! (swoon) I'm done for - the connection is very sweet and there's  a serenade to accompany it.... heaven!

He's got looks, and moves: we have a good connection but he looks so serious, focused. I catch his eye and smile and he relaxes and smiles back. Oh my! What a smile! I'm done for, a new dance crush. I start to style and he smiles even more. Before you know it, we've danced the next 3 songs. 

I'm walking outside, about to leave and he stops me on the side walk  and says "Are you leaving already?" I stop and talk and realize the bands not done. I decide to return and he walks me in "Save me a dance, I'll come find you." I find my friends (they were late) and start to dance. In a few minutes, he finds me "There you are, let's dance!" He's smooth and attentive, he feels the music so well, I close my eyes as he leads me to a soulful jazzy tune. The song ends and he says "That was lovely, thanks for saving me the dance." and inside, I swoon.

"I get so weak in the knees
I can hardly speak, I lose all control 
Then somethin' takes over me
In a daze...knocks me right off of my feet"
~from the song Weak by JoJo

A tribute to all my dance crushes: current, former and yet to come.

No matter how you cut it, the dance crush is a slice of sweetness whenever they're near; you get a high when you see them and even more so when you're dancing with them.

The room seems brighter, the mood lighter
Problems? worries? what are those?
A big smile: can't help it, shining, beaming 
or sly like a secret - I hope no one notices
My best friend comes over, I barely say "hi !"
I only have eyes for my dance crush.
Large, wide eyed
I hope I'm not drooling
or looking a fool 
for openly staring and stealing looks
Trying to be calm, be cool, be coy...
Easy does it, don't let it loose
but Oh-my-god! Did you see that? A smile, for me!
So fine, so divine
Can I get a dance? Will he ask me? Will she say yes?
So delicious, 
I'm swept off my feet
I dance like I'm the best there is
I pray no mistakes please
Whoosh! a Rush!
so sweet, I smile - another dance perchance?
the music stops...he leaves, she leaves
I sigh

Till the next time

AND if you're not quite sure you have a dance crush, here are 10 signs that you do!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shall We Dance?

Asking someone to dance can be a challenging prospect. After all, putting yourself out there, open to rejection, is never an easy thing to do.

I'm writing to share my thoughts on who should be doing the asking and how to respond. One of the best ways to improve your dancing is to get out of the classroom and onto the social dance floor. One of the biggest hurdles to social dancing (especially for a beginner or someone new) is the daunting thought of asking someone for a dance. I offer some thoughts, tips and entertainment to those of you interested in the topic.

[A small digression]"Shall We Dance?"
For me, this phrase is inextricably tied my childhood memory of a song in the movie The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner as the King and Deborah Kerr as Ana. The King had just seen a polka and Ana explains the dance with a song. He is supposed to be learning western ways and he asks her to teach him about the dance. [ Check it out through this youtube link. ] The scene demonstrates the joy of learning a new close dance and a little bit about the romance in dancing.. sigh! I had a big crush on Yul Brynner ...
[ok, back to the topic at hand]

I've often been asked why follows don't ask leads to dance more. In this modern day of feminism, it seems to be expected or taken for granted that its perfectly fine for follows to ask a lead to dance.

Here's an indisputable fact: there are 2 roles in Social Partner dancing - a LEAD and a FOLLOW.

A LEAD initiates the movements, provides direction during the dance, sets the tone for the dance, gives their follow's the cues on what to do next and make sure that the follows are taken care of on the dance floor. A FOLLOW responds to the directions of the lead, enhances wherever possible, oftentimes inspiring the LEAD and completes the movement of the dance. LEAD, then FOLLOW.

So, who should be asking? LEADs

"C'mon! At this day and age, women should also feel free to ask the guy to dance!"

Yes, that's true. Certainly when there are good friends around, a simple "hi!" is synonymous with "let's dance!". BUT, if you just think about the 2 roles: LEADS initiate. Its really that simple.

I remember something an instructor said in a workshop (the instructor is a lead): "Leads, MAN UP! When you see ladies waiting on the side, don't wait for them to ask you to dance, step up, ask them to dance and lead them to the dance floor!"

Easier said than done right?

There's a lot to do: the pressure, the stress of having to think of the moves, take care of the follow, etc.

BUT - here's the bottom line: it's your perogative! You can choose to ask anyone you wish! Sure, they might say no, but you do the asking and can determine you're dance card for the night.

General Guidelines:

  • Be nice, smile and introduce yourself. [check out simple rules for social dancing ]
  • If you're not sure, watch 1st before asking (that applies to the music too! Listen before you ask.)
  • Emulate confidence: even if you're not quite sure what you're doing, confidence can be the difference between a great dance and an ordinary one. So what if you only know 4 sequences?  Dance them with relish and smile!
  • When your out of  town, try not to be a snob against your fellow "townies": I've travelled to other congresses with folks from my own city and I sometimes hear "I'm not dancing with anyone from [insert home city here]" because they're so excited to dance with new people. I'd just like to point out that starting the night out with a fantastic dance with someone you know can help you both! You can both "strut" you stuff and show off your follow in a room full of strangers and they'll all want to dance with you (and your follow). [Yup - this one applies to follow's too.]
  • Don't make a lame excuse about a follow being so busy you couldn't ask them to dance. Here's a universal truth: if one wants something bad enough, they'll make it happen.
  • Sometimes, you just get a lemon: keep remembering, its only a few minutes, let it roll off your back and find a good follow/friend to dance with after that to get you back on track.
  • Sometime, you just get a lemon with a live band: ok, this takes longer... so wait for for the song to go for a few minutes before you ask a total stranger to dance with live bands. They've been known to play 15 minute songs and that can be an eternity sometimes... just let it roll off your back.
  • Don't be a dance hog - unless of course, she's ready and willing. Dancing multiple songs one after the other can be misconstrued as rude. I think its polite to dance multiple dances with someone, especially if you had a great dance to begin with, but, don't monopolize the follow's time. You can always ask them to dance again later.

As a follow, I don't do a lot of asking because I strongly believe for the dance to be successful, it relies a lot on the LEADS initiative right from the get go. There are exceptions of course, with good friends and people I'm familiar with, I greet them with a warm hello and they'll ask me to dance if they're so inclined. If not, no sweat. If I really want a dance with a friend, I'll ask if they don't.

Most leads tell me that it should be easy for a follow to ask a lead to dance: what guy would say no to a girl? Believe me, leads have turned follows down before. Skip to the "Never Assume" section below to make sure you don't take it to heart.

Follows, if you do ask the leads, I suggest doing it sparsely. I think that if you establish yourself as one that asks, then you don't get asked to dance. If its working for you though, by all means continue (go girl!) - see my universal truth below.

At the risk of giving away some feminine wiles, here are some ways to "invite" the guys to ask:

  • As you see a lead dancing to them music on his own, catch his eye and start jamming along with him. Anyone that into dancing will see you dancing and its highly likely that you'll end up dancing together
  • A warm smile and hello does wonders, especially if you reach out with both hands to great them.
  • Never look like a wall flower: I know this is hard when you're in a new place by yourself. Smile, dance to the music, walk around and find the "advanced corner" and enjoy the show. When you look like you're enjoying the music, you'll get asked to dance.
  • When you catch someone's eye that you want to dance with, just give them a big smile and slightly incline your head towards the dance floor - that's usually a good enough hint.

My universal rule: do what your heart tells you, without disrespecting those around you - especially with something as fun as dancing.

Accompaniment to my universal rule: don't take anything personally, its just a dance.

My personal policy is that I will dance with everyone at least once unless I've been warned ahead of time that the person is too drunk to hold himself up or is clearly not there for the dancing. I feel strongly that everyone has to start somewhere and I don't want to discourage people from dancing if I can help it.

There's always this "stigma" when you turn someone down. In the end, its just a dance and not some vital judgement on the character of a person. Here are something to consider when you do ask someone and they say "No."

Never Assume
There are always 2 sides to every story (and sometimes more as it gets retold by others). If you get rejected when asking someone to dance, don't dwell on it too much or read too much into it! There are too many reasons why someone would say no in that moment and life is much better if you let it roll of your back and move on.

Here's what I suggest: Don't take the rejection personally!

  • Don't come up with some story about why they said no. For all you know, the lady is pregnant and very tired and here you thought she hated your dancing.
  • Don't feel bad if you see the person dancing with someone else: they could be partners, boyfriends, best friends. Its not about you in that case, its between them.
  • Don't let it ruin your dance night.
  • If its someone you'd really like to dance with then ask again later but don't be a "stalker" I'd say after being rejected 3 times - move on!
  • When they say "next dance" assume they mean in it and come to find them. If they're not there, move on, if they are, well, you know what to do.

On the subject of saying "No"
I'm not advocating that one has to say "yes" every time one is asked for a dance. Follows/Leads if you're not up for it than just be polite and respectful: a simple "No Thank you" should suffice. Don't promise the next dance if you don't want to. Don't try to make an excuse.

Do I like getting rejected? No, but the truth is, I have no control over what other people do and I do have control over what I do. So, I'm suggesting that you develop a thicker skin and not dwell on the rejection. 

When all is said and done: do not to let some poopy head ruin the joy of dancing for you! Stay true to yourself, dancing is so much fun (here's why I love it) - enjoy it.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Retreat: removing oneself from day to day life to focus on something  else, usually spiritual or self-discovery.

I'm on the tail end of my latest vacation - a Salsa and Yoga Retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico (you can check it out the link to the right -> ) If you're even wondering if its worth it to try - STOP. It IS.

In the last 9 days, I've had the pleasure of meeting and getting to now some wonderful people that I hope to stay in touch with and see again. I've been bitten by mosquitoes and other small critters (ay!). I've eaten some amazing food and drank hot chocolate evey night. I've danced with some amazing dancers, worked on my own dancing and helped others with theirs I've returned to Oaxaca to see it lush and green and teeming with beautiful flowers amidst the colorful decorations of Mexican bi-centennial independence. 

Its my last day here in Mexico and I have one more adventure left - a temezcal spa treatment to "cleanse" me as I get ready to return to "reality".

My flickr photo blog will soon be flooded with the many pictures I've taken but before that happens, I thought I'd at least share some highlights from my trip.

I realized the bug spray has an expiration ... basically, one needs to spray every 4 hours or so before the bugs work up the courage to come back and bite you again.

Dancing is so joyful - I knew this already. I was able to just dive into it everyday, share it with old and new friends alike and watch everyone blossom as they too immersed in the dance.

There are so many stories to hear and share with people - even ones that I consider close friends. Time is always well spent when you start to share more and more of yourself, with people you trust and enjoy.

Oaxaca is a land of so many wonderful treasures: from the food, to the chocolate (yes, a class of its own), to the people, to the colorful windows and doorways, to the various flora and fauna that are thriving, now that the rains have come.

Lying in a hammock under the shade of trees, reading is a wonderful thing...I wish I could put a hammock in my 1 bedroom apartment back in Seattle.

Casa Colonial

Eating out after Salsa dancing is universal! I had my 1st taste of Mexican pizza at 4am on the streets of Oaxaca.

Mexican Chocolate: with milk, with coffee, just smelling it - warms my soul

I've had the pleasure to meet and befriend some wonderful women who I hope to see again soon in Seattle, in San Francisco and who-knows-where-else :D

Corn covered in mayonnaise, cheese, cayenne pepper and lime juice is AMAZING.

Dancing in the crowded floor at La Candela was incredibly casualty free.

I am still surprised by how infectious my joy in dancing can be: if everyone danced, this world we live in would be so wonderfully different.

Dancing is ageless; you can come to it at any time in your life and still enjoy it as much as if you danced all your life.

I wish I could continue, doing yoga for an hour, dancing 2-3 hours of salsa (or some other dance) everyday... despite the humidity and the bugs.

I'm lucky though, when I get back home, I'll have the comfort of my bed, no more bugs to contend with, will still have dancing to look forward to (oh yes!) and my family to laugh and hug again. I'll even bring back chocolate from Oaxaca so I can enjoy that for a little bit longer.

Almost everyone that came to the retreat has left... its quite and somewhat lonely but I'm happy and content.

The 1st trip to Oaxaca transformed my dancing and helped me take it "up a notch". I met one of my best friends on that trip. This 2nd time around is no different.

I'm sad to leave this wonderful place but I'm excited for the new friends I've made (we'll see each other again).

Salsa Retreat Sept. 2010 and Tumbao Instructors

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


One of my favorite venues for salsa dancing got a new home this week. Boy, did that stir the pot!

Having been through many major changes in my life, I am of the mind that change, while difficult, is a good thing in the long run. I attribute that to the suprising adaptability of the human spirit or the belief that things happen for a reason to ensure progress for the better or some combination of the two.

If there is one thing that change does do without fail is that it triggers re-examination of likes, dislikes, what's important, what's not and what one desires. It challenges you especially when its unexpected or unplanned and it can bring out the worst or the best in people that are affected. It also brings out fear which has a funny way of changing your judgement: something that was not that good (AND that you've complained about) but familiar, becomes that much better by comparison.

Reactions are varied: some embrace it wholeheartedly (going with the flow), some are repelled by it (resisting it when they can) and others, just like the turtle racing the hare, take things slowly but surely and adapt to it.

So, what's the change that triggered this writing then?

Every Monday night, there's a salsa practica at a place called Halo. Its located in Capitol Hill in Seattle (WA). Its housed in a building with a yoga studio. The most prominent display on the block is a a costume store. The space has a wooden floor for dancing and wall space to promote art from local artists. There are rolling mirrors and wall mirrors, fans in set corners to help cool things down when needed and speakers situated around the room.

Monday night Salsa at Halo, to me felt like a local neighborhood pub (kind of like Cheers) for salsa dancers. Its a place that invited all levels of experience. The beginner dancer can come and enjoy the dance with less stress and pressure than going to a dance club. The experienced dancer enjoys the informal atmosphere. Its a great way to start the week - the venue opens by 7:30pm and ends by 11:00pm so its not that late for a week night. A variety of salsa styles come to dance: on1, mambo, casino and rueda de casino. In my humble opinion, it is the most welcoming place for any salsa beginner to get their feet wet with social dancing. The ambiance was homey, comfortable, welcoming and most of all familiar.

This past week, Halo Practica's moved to East Hall, located in the another building a few blocks away that houses the main ballroom, where salsa is taught and danced in on other nights of the week.

East Hall is now the new location for Monday night Salsa Practica.
East Hall is slightly smaller, more rectangular in shape [a difference of about 100 square feet]
There are no poles in the space to dance around (or with)
There are high ceilings in the new space
There is no yoga studio next door that puts a constraint on sound volume in the beginning of the night.
There is air-conditioning (though it wasn't operating on the 1st night)
The lighting is much brighter (there are some lighting changes to come)
The DJ booth is an actual booth and not just a table with equipment
There are nice benched on one side with shelves to store shoes on another. On one side there are windows mounted on the wall. By comparison, at Halo, there was an eclectic mix of sofa/chaises/folding chairs/side tables and lamps. (I believe there are more furniture additions to come into East Hall.)
The sound was a bit muffled because of the high ceilings (there are some changes on the way to fix that: curtains/fabric to hang from the ceilings) while at Halo, it was too quiet to hear because it had to be set to a lower volume so as not to disturb the yoga studio.
There were no "spots" or "corners" established yet: every dance hall has that "advanced corner" or that "beginner corner" or some other group's corner... because this place was new and very hot, the only "corners" were the "cooling corners" where the fans were located.

Opening night was PACKED! it got off to a slow start but in the end, there were lots of people, more than usual and lots of newbies and regulars made for a fantastically HOT (in all ways) night of dancing.

From my perspective, its wasn't the actual physical place that was important, it was the community that I fell into (still there) that I enjoyed. Now, I haven't been around as long as some other people in the community have been, so perhaps my attachment to the "old pub" just wasn't established yet. I kind of feel like the place got a make-over which is all good.

What follows are quotes from people about the new space and some descriptions peppered with my commentary [bracketed in italics] just to show you how varied the response was. I am not judging anything by writing them here, merely stating what I heard and my reactions where applicable.

"Its free so I came and if the dancing is going to be as good as it is tonight, I'm coming back for sure."

"Its too bright in here"

"The space is a LOT smaller" [Actually no, Halo was squarish and East Hall is a rectangle and besides, Halo had these beams that got in the way.]

"I miss those beams: I used them to dance" [???!!! apparently dancers used the beams as support or a prop to dancing or as a boundary so no one else and "cut into the slot" when is crowded!]

"The sound is bad" [But wasn't it just as bad, if not worse at Halo? I mean we couldn't turn up the volume till past 9!]

In the old space, there was a geography to learn about which groups of dancers hovered in which areas. In this new space nothing was claimed but the speculations on who would hang out where have already begun.

"I just liked Halo... I miss it already"

"This isn't bad, as long as they fix the AC"

"Its crowded tonight." [um, yes, Halo got crowded too... besides, tonight is free remember?]

"Do you think they will go back to Halo if nobody likes it?"

"We have to find a new place to go eat afterward" [This part is true, the group got somewhat splintered though my little group ended up finding a fantastic NY Style Pizza joint - yummy!]

My own reaction was positive overall. I had a fantastic night of dancing with folks that I regularly see as well as some folks I hadn't seen in a while (apparently the free night brought them out). There were some interesting interactions and I loved the new space because of the high ceilings and the fact that there were no poles to deal with. The heat was a bit much, but the old space was just as bad last summer, at least from what I remember. I got one of the best compliments about my dancing from a total stranger and some of the sweetest ones from people that I already know and dance with a lot.

Change is inevitable. I think its a necessary stimulus that can produce some of life's best work. Its never easy though, especially when the change involves something you are comfortable with or really love.

There was a time in my life when change scared me. I thought it far easier to resist and stay where I was. The truth was that staying in place was tiring and I found that when I let go, accepted the changes and looked for the positive opportunities that were there, lo and behold, there they were. I mean I still get afraid but I know that I'll be ok so the fear doesn't take over as much as it used to.

In the end, I trust myself and the people I interact with in a meaningful way. I believe that the universe at large generates flows that lead you to what's best for you, if you're open to seeing them. As things change, I become stronger, more able to face the next change and usually, blessed with more to be grateful for that I didn't have or notice before.

Time will tell what the changes moving to East Hall will bring... I have a feeling though, it will work out for the best in the end. The spirit of the place is still there in the people that come to dance every Monday night.

PS Shout out to the folks at the Century Ballroom: Hallie, Deron, Alison and everyone else there who have made dancing so accessible, fun, warm and a BLAST! We are so lucky to have you guys around :)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Dance Because

Dancing always brings me joy (with a few exceptions) and I become a broken record if you hear me talk about my experiences. Last night I had an incredible night of dancing because it involved so many dances (belly dancing, tango, bachata, salsa, mambo) with some rare surprises. It inspired me to write this entry as a tribute to dancing. There's no particular rhyme or reason to the order, I just wanted to share.

I dance because ...

  • its fun
  • its active
  • its such a high
  • its beautiful
  • it social
  • it brings me joy
  • it makes me smile
  • it enriches my life
  • it provides me with adventures to share and write about
  • it takes me out of myself: to follow a lead and listen to music and experience the purity of that connection
  • it helps me to just BE
  • it makes the trivial troubles of the day disappear
  • it makes my serious troubles easier to deal with
  • it give me so much positive energy
  • I can be renewed and energized
  • my mind and body are one with the music and the lead that I'm dancing with to make magic!
  • it cures my sinuses and helps me breathe
  • when I dance I can't be mad for very long
  • I can take flight: float, glide, spin, sway, shimmy, skip and play with someone else, in harmony to music
  • I can be bring out anything that's in me: 
  • I can be sassy
  • I can be sexy
  • I can be flirty
  • I can be goofy
  • I can be smooth
  • I can improvise and make something with someone else to a song that's playing in the background
  • I can interact with people just as passionate about dancing as I am
  • I can see good friends
  • I can meet new friends
  • I can have fun with total strangers
  • I sometimes encounter praise from unexpected sources
  • I get compliments from my peers and people I respect
  • dancing is a metaphor for life and many a hard lesson can be learned through dance with less dire consequences
  • I have stories that I can share about things that can happen out on the dance floor
  • I have electric connections that make my hair stand on end
  • I can be in the arms of some "hunky guy"
  • I love the hugs
  • I know that there's so much to learn: different dances, different styles, the music, the history
  • even when I have so-so moments, they are over in a few minutes, easily replaced by something better
  • I can, with someone else, create movement so in tune with music, its just too cool for words
  • amazing connections are such a pleasant surprise when dancing total strangers
  • amazing connections can potentially blossom into something more
  • I can close my eyes and still make magic
  • I can help someone else pick up their day
  • I can show someone else how much fun they can have
  • I can feel like a rock star
  • I learn something new about myself
  • I learn something new I didn't think my body could do 
  • I learn about how to deal with people
  • I learn to communicate without words
  • I am free to express myself, be myself
  • I can just be me without judgment: let go, feel, react, respond, create new energy
  • there's just nothing quite like the high it can give when everything is just right
  • I believe that if everyone danced, the negative energy in the world would have nowhere to stick to. 
  • I love it
  • its just a part of who I am.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Gratitude Break 07-26-2010

Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation. ~Brian Tracy

In my life, I have a lot to be grateful for and I make it a practice to at least once a day, think of something to say "thanks!" for. Every now and again, a public acknowledgment of what those things are is my way of giving greater thanks to the universe for all the unexpected and wonderful things that happen.

This past few weeks have been particularly stressful for various reasons. There was nothing major or life threatening. I just noticed that I was getting upset about things that I would normally have a higher tolerance for. My patience was as thin as tissue: random, unrelated events were inconvenient and irritating. A veritable "pain" in {insert the appropriate body part here}. These events interrupted the normally flow of life that I have. Its like feeling turbulence on an otherwise smooth ride and that turbulence generating a nagging worry that something worse could happen. I found myself stressing out more than necessary and working hard to make sure it didn't.

A few things happened in succession over the last few days and just like "That!" I'm back on my smooth ride again. The fact that this realization happened on a Monday, the start of a new week, the beginning of a waning full moon.... coincidence?

Anyway, the point of this post is to share what I have to be grateful for so here goes:

In the wee am hours of the weekend, an old friend who is happily married with kids found me online and we chatted for a bit. He recently went through knee surgery which was keeping him up (otherwise, we wouldn't intersect much at night, given that we're on opposite coasts). I commiserated on the knee having been through the same ordeal. We got to reminiscing and as he tells me how much he enjoys reading about my daily adventures, he reveals that when we first met, he had thought about asking me out. I laughed (virtually) and confessed that when I first met him, I had a mini-crush but I thought he was unavailable. He then told me that in the time when we first met, he had come to decision that he needed to be with someone Jewish and shortly after making that resolve, met his now wife. I joked about it saying that someone Chinese doesn't exactly qualify as Jewish and he said that I definitely have some "Jewish" in me. For some reason, this whole conversation just made me smile. I guess no matter how old the admiration or what the current circumstances are, when someone you like reveals that they like you too - that always feels good.

Jet Skiing - A First
I went jet skiing for the first time and had so much fun that despite the loss of my favorite pair of sunglasses (it jumped off my face mid-jump and I couldn't let go to catch it because I was hanging on for dear life!) I was unphased. In the past that one incident alone would've put a damper on everything but what happened was the opposite and it was really quite refreshing. Instead of dwelling on it, I promptly forgot about it, and had a blast watching my niece and her cousin (6 and 5 years old  respectively)  laugh and enjoy their turns on the jet ski!

A Totally Unexpected Outcome
Recently, I discovered that I bought a fake product from a bad seller. I took the time to try to fix it with some help (no go!), work with the manufacturer (who told me it was a fake), contact the seller (who, was clearly no longer a seller in good standing) and check policies about sellers (the guarantee had expired). I realized that based on all that, I wasn't going to be able to get anything back as compensation for a broken fake. I was making my last call to give feedback on the seller and follow-up when the representative I spoke to gave me the best resolution possible: a one time exception resulting in me getting a brand new replacement, from the real manufacturer with a net of no extra cost. BONUS!!!

Another First
A student and enthusiast of a dance called Kizomba, I was helping my teacher out at a workshop. It was a small class and we got to work one on one with everyone there. I got to dance and help some folks figure things out for themselves. All in all, a great time. At the end of the workshop, I received some money from my teacher for helping out. I realized that this is my first "official" dance teaching gig since I was paid to help teach. WOW!

Always There
I was drinking my ice cold vanilla latte on this wonderful sunny Monday as I was heading back to my office. I was feeling pretty good about being given a discount even thought it expired yesterday when I realized what a wonderful weekend I had just had, listing in my head, all the things that made up the weekend. A large part of it was the time I spent with my sister and extended family and it dawned on me right then that I will never be afraid of being alone as I grow older because I've been blessed with additions to my family and an extended family that will always be there for me (in addition to the wonderful friends that I have).

The Tumbleweed Effect
You may be surprised to see me write this as I am normally quite grounded in science and technology and not likely to be seen as "holistic" at first glance. I am very much a believer of what I've referred to as the ultimate karmic reality: "what comes around goes around".

So - if you fill your life with thing that you are happy to do and be with and be grateful for, then the universe conspires to keep you there, rewarding you with more of the same, often times in ways that you will not anticipate.

The universe as a whole, leans towards happier balance so that despite some of the bad things that can happen, there is always something that will offset it to put it right again. Some people only see the negative and thus choose to live in that space, blind to the positive things that do happen.

Why? Given a choice, be grateful for what's good: live in the good space and see what unfolds.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Step By Step

Social dancing, while fun, can also be a source of stress for the beginner dancer. For me, dancing is such a joy that when I started to social dance, I didn't have any problems progressing from my 1st set of classes into having it be such an integral part of my life.

No matter what happens with me and dancing in the future, I will always be an advocate for it. Dancing in any form has much to offer. If you have any inkling at all about the potential that dance can have in your life or are even curious about the pure enjoyment and joy it can bring, I'd like to help push you along.

So what's stopping you?

"I can't dance because...."
  • I'm a klutz
  • I'm too uncoordinated
  • I have no rhythm
  • I don't want to make a complete ___ of myself
  • It looks hard and I don't have time to invest in it
  • I don't want to
Here's the simple answer to everything except "I don't want to.": Dancing can be as basic as walking to a beat. So, if you can walk, you can dance.

OK, fair enough, you may not buy that but if you're still reading, I'm assuming that you have some interest in it already and have taken 1st steps. You may be contemplating taking it up again or are just plain curious. Here's some advice or things to consider as you start. My hope is that it helps you discover how fulfilling and wonderful social dancing can be: to grow and connect with yourself, movement, music and the world around you. If not, at the very least, if should be mildly entertaining ;)

BREATHE and Remember "Why am I doing this?"
What starts out as the reason to try something new can vary from person to person but to sustain it, the reason has be something worthwhile.

For me it was curiosity and then by golly, I had so much fun, I was hooked.

You've probably started because of one or more of these (or variations of these) reasons:
  • its always been on your list of things to try and now, the planets are aligned or you have time or its just next door
  • you saw people dancing and said - hey! that looks like fun, I wanna do that too
  • a friend (or friends) urged you to join in and you're finally giving in or open to it and say "why not"
  • you're new in town and want to meet people while doing something active
  • you're interested in someone and you know that they dance so you're thinking if you learn to dance, that would be one way to get to know them
  • you're seeing someone who loves it and want to be able to share a dance with them without looking like a total spaz... not to mention how much he/she will appreciate it (MAJOR Bonus Points!)
  • YOU want to look THAT GOOD [you've seen some performance, you tube video, random dancing through a glass window, at a club, on the beach, etc.]
  • you've broken up with someone that dances and want to show them up "see what you're missing? Yes, I've gotten to be really good at this."
  • you love the music and would like to groove to it
  • you're ready for something new and different that's active an involves other people and isn't too expensive
So, whatever got you to start, you have to eventually find something worthwhile to continue it. If you find yourself stressing over this new activity take a moment and breathe to remember why you're doing it in the first place. If the relieves your stress great! If not, then read on and see if the other tips help you relieve that stress.

Patience, Grasshopper.
Often, the biggest reasons someone takes themselves out of the path to social dancing "nirvana" (or any new learning nirvana) is themselves: you are your own worst enemy. It boils down to you being your own harshest critic which is totally stressful and not much fun. How can you learn something new (keyword - new and therefore unfamiliar) when you're constantly judging yourself? In the beginning, you gotta turn that critic off! Duct tape that critical mouth shut and focus on staying open to learning. Remember the joy in discovery? That's what you want to focus on. Keep it in perspective, especially for the 1st 6 months or so. Its not going to happen overnight.

When you find yourself being overly critical of yourself - STOP.
When you find yourself getting impatient for results - STOP.
If you feel silly - LAUGH and SMILE
If you make mistakes - its yours, own it, correct it for the next time
If its not what you thought  - that's alright, now you know better.

All in good time grasshopper!

 [In case you're wondering "Patience Grasshopper" comes from an old TV Series back in the 70's starring David Carridine called Kung Fu. The protagonist is a shaolin monk whose master would always give this advice to help the monk as a boy, cope with everything that he had to learn.]

It Starts One Step at a Time 
This is metaphorical and literal at the same time.

People often bite off more than they can chew when they are eager to do something. I'm suggesting you go smaller than that, and take a NORMAL pace. This is so true for anything that involves movement and body coordination. TAKE SMALL STEPS. You're learning new movement patterns to what is likely new music so don't get ahead of yourself. When you take a step, stay balanced with you're weight underneath you. Big steps will get you off balance. Its all about keeping your feet under your body . One of the biggest mistakes a beginning dancer can make is to take HUGE steps in the beginning. Not needed. Think about getting from A to B in the calmest way. Stick with your natural stride and stay balanced.

Metaphorically speaking its a well used cliche: you need to be patient with yourself and take things one step at a time  Set yourself up to succeed and establish a reasonable expectation when you're first learning to dance. You can feel progress with each step, and even if you have to adjust your stride, at least you're still making progress. As you get more experience and figure out the best way to learn and your body just has the movement down or the music is starting to get under your skin, you'll make bigger strides and the satisfaction you feel will just grow from there.

Find the Right Teacher
Not everyone learns the same way so if you're stress is associated with the person that's teaching, learn from someone else! All it takes is the right person to learn from and BAM! you're in it for some time. Not everyone that teaches is a good teacher. If your not happy with who you're learning from, don't let that stop you from what could be one of the most fantastic things you'll ever do. Spend a little time to research on other options, go out and talk to people in the scene. If you see someone who you love to watch dancing, ask them for their advice (politely, not in a stalker way). I find that if you begin with "I love the way you dance!" and then follow-up with asking them for who they would recommend as teachers, that's usually a good start.

Place no blame on you or your teacher: you can't be mad about something you didn't know about before you started doing something. Did I confuse you yet? If you're problem is that you're not learning from the right person - it's not your fault, or theirs for that matter. Things just didn't fit. If you hold a grudge, what good will that do you? If you put yourself down, even worse! Take a breathe, remember why you're dong this and try to find someone else to learn from.

Practice Makes Perfect
Dancing is a complex learning: its not just about steps, its about music, counts, rhythms, step patterns and working with someone else who's going through the same thing you're going through: learning something new. The only way to get really good at it is to do it a LOT: do the steps, listen to the music, count to the music, count when you're stepping, visualize when you can't do it, and please, go out dancing! A class is a nice safe environment but nothing teaches more than actual experience. It takes time to establish yourself in something new and that applies as well to being recognized and eventually making friends with the dancers you see in the places you go out dancing.

If you have the right studio or teacher, there will be places for you to go and practice that's not a club. Go for it! Spend a little time to research and practice what you've learned because it is the only way to get better.

There are other types of events that can help as well: camps, congresses or vacations related to dancing. These are not for everyone but they will definitely help you get immersed in dancing. There are dance events all the world! You can always combine learning to dance with going somewhere you've never been! Double the fun an adventure.

Whatever you do: practice!!!!

Reach Out and Ask Someone
While the world of dance has it's fair share of attitudes good and bad, I think its safe to say that everyone that's been dancing and loves it will NOT be shy about talking about it. Go out and practice and spend some time to watch the more experienced people dancing and then reach out and ask.

Take a Break
Sometimes, you just need to step away. So do that and if there was some hook in you that was lost in all the stress, you'll feel it again and at right moment, it will reel you back in.

My first social dance was swing dancing and while I was getting into it, I met someone and fell deeply in "like". Things did not work out and because I associated the dancing too much with being with him and I just got sad about dancing. So, I stopped and within about 6 months, I got the bug again when I ran into some people dancing outside on a beautiful day. I started dancing again and realized that the joy of dancing is pretty pure and shouldn't be associated with anyone person. So, here I am! Dancing again and forever

Parting Words: On Learning
I'm the type of person that LOVES to learn. I could just spend my whole life in pursuit of learning things but the practicalities of that get in the way. So, while I realize that not everyone is as crazy about learning or takes to it as easily as I do, I still want to make a point that learning in any form is a good thing.

It is a challenge to knowingly place yourself in unfamiliar territory. On top of all that, as adults, we've already learned to measure and judge how we do things: "Is this good enough?" As a learner, you're new to it, so how can you be good at it? When you 1st start, you've got to turn off all your "fears" about that "new" thing and focus on what got you there in the 1st place. Those judgments are not just about grading yourself but also about how long its taking you. Everything has its own pace and timing - you've got to respect your own learning process.

Imagine the unabashed abandon young kids have when they experience something new. They dive headlong into it, asking questions, experimenting doing what they do without a single self-editing thought. It's interesting to them, so they ask, they do, they talk about it: what drives them is the pure fun they have of whatever it is they're interested in learning more about. NO JUDGMENTS. Take my niece, she loves dinosaurs. She's only 6 and is a veritable encyclopedia! If I need to know something about it, I'll ask her and she'll  know the answer. I am in awe at how a 6 year old can easily name and give a profile for almost any dinosaur that I come across at a toy store.

As you start to learn something new give it time without sabotaging it.

Here's a quote that just about sums it all up for me and what's true about dance in this quote is just as true about learning:
"While I dance I can not judge, I can not hate, I can not separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance." 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dance Face

This is a tribute to my fellow dancers whose enthusiasm and love of the dance is expressed not only through their movements but also on their faces. These are the looks that I fondly refer to as "Dance Face".

A Quick Note: I focused on the faces that bring me joy and smiles. There are many other faces that evoke things that are not as enjoyable and I didn't write those down. Why dance if you're not having fun?

The “Blue Steel" Dance Face
A somewhat serious dance face: pursed lips, cheeks sucked in, brows a little furrowed and chin down with eyes not quite focused on you (his or her partner). This is a look that tells me my dance partner’s alter ego has appeared and I feel like I’m in a movie moment sharing a wonderful dance (usually) with my leading man.

The "Seriously Sexy" Dance Face
This is the look that says “Oh yeah, I’m getting my sexy on!”. This face invites an interaction that is intense and seductive. The lead only has eyes for his dance partner: he is the dark, brooding leading man, smoldering as he turns to face his leading lady. The lady is a seductress: fierce, strong and untamable as she only has eyes for her lead.

The "Cary Grant" Dance Face
I’m dating myself but if you don’t know who Cary Grant is, he’s one of my favorite leading men of all time. He always played that quintessential gentleman, polite, cool, always pleasant, never phased by anything, using humor to mask anything unpleasant. This look exudes confidence and ease; often accompanied by a relaxed smile and a twinkle in the eye. This interaction is guaranteed to be flirtatious and gracious with a light and breezy air.

The "Serious" Dance Face
For me, dancing is a joyful celebration and unless I’m dancing to “save my life” – it happens sometimes when I’m with a really good lead and the music FAST! – I just smile when I dance. For some people though, their visage is serious, formal and sometimes severe. This doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying themselves, it just means that they’re focused on what they are doing. If you’re dancing with this person what you need to look for is their reaction as soon as the dance ends. If you have a “mwah!” dance with this dancer, odds are that when the dance is done, a huge smile will break out on their face like the sun breaking through clouds.

The "Passionate" Dance Face
A face full of passion where you can sense every note in the music and every beat of the song directly through this person’s face and body. Eyes sometimes shut or half-open, mouth open and body fully engaged in the expression of the dance. When you’re dancing with this person, you’ll feel their passion flow through to you. It can get “mucho caliente!” on the dance floor.

The “Oh-My-God Did I Do That Right?" Dance Face
Questioning, unsure, this look is one that’s usually on a beginner’s face. It’s a face that’s puzzled, worried and concerned: "did I do that right?" If you encounter this face, just smile right back at them to take the edge off and help put them back at ease.

The "Oops!" Dance Face
Whether it’s a misled move or a missed lead, this face is almost an apology that gives away that something didn’t go quite as planned. Handled with grace, it’s usually accompanied by a smile or a shrug. Sometimes, you can see the “teeth smile” plastered on their face. For the serious dancer, you may see that rare sheepish smile break out. For others, the “O” mouth and then smile that turns a "faux pas" into a playful moment.

The "All Smiles" Dance Face
Ah! So infectious! This dancer’s joy is evident all the time and one can’t help but smile when one dances with them. There's no need to guess: this person is thoroughly enjoying the dance because it’s written all over their smiling face.

The "What's my next move?" Dance Face
Eyebrows furrowed into a frown and at times raised high thinking. Their eyes are looking up to the heavens or off to the side as they figure out what’s next. Sometimes, I can see the brain churning as my lead is thinking about the next move he wants to make.

The "Here Goes!” Dance Face
This look oftentimes follows the “What’s my next move?” face. It conveys the energy that a lead musters up to focus on doing some new move that they’ve just figured out or learned. There’s oftentimes a gathering of energy – like a big inhale as if to say “Ok. Let’s do this.!”. When the move is done, there’s a relaxed smile of accomplishment or relief that says “well that didn’t go too badly”. Otherwise, it’s a shrug to shake it off “ok, gotta work on that more.” If everything went as planned – then check out the “Nailed It!” Dance Face for what comes next.

The "Nailed it!" Dance Face
This is the look that both lead and follow get when, like magic, everything flows and just falls into place. It could be that you’ve just executed a complicated move or that you both have hit the right accents in the music, made the right shines that are the perfect compliment to each other without saying a word. I love that secret smile that just comes out because its like you both uncovered something between the 2 of you that’s simply mah-velous!

The "Adoration" Dance Face
This is the face that I see on a lead when his follow pulls off a move that they can fully appreciate. It’s a face that displays the full admiration for their dance partner after she’s done a particularly lovely shimmy or body roll or turn or footwork or anything that “stops” them for a moment. Sometimes, their eyes pop open as if to say “wow” and always a smile and a compliment - "mwah!"

The "Eyes Closed, This is Heavenly" Dance Face
Eyes shut, face serene, with a smile that hints of sweet secrets. This face conveys the ultimate trust that a dancer places in his or her partner. No visual is necessary: just close the eyes, focus on the connection, the music and movement and let go to enjoy a lovely, likely heavenly dance.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Intimacy and Social Dancing

There's a very fine line dividing a beautiful sensual dance from a crass distasteful one.

This question has come up a lot in my discussions with fellow dancers so I thought I'd share my thoughts on it.

Just how close is too close when dancing? When do you cross over from being tastefully sensual to being overtly crass?

Let's start by breaking down each word: Intimate Social Dancing

INTIMATE: By definition, intimate is an adjective that characterizes a close or warm personal relationship or a friendly, warm atmosphere.

SOCIAL: Implies a community; a group of people interacting together, enjoying friendly companionship and having a good time. There is an sense of openness in that everyone is welcome to participate.

DANCING: Is an activity that one actively engages in: a series of rhythmical steps with body motions in time with music.

Social dancing is an activity that embodies the interaction between 2 people (usually a guy and a girl or a lead and a follow) which involves music and movement: engaging body, mind, spirit, and feeling. It is personal, intimate, communicative, social and public all at the same time. It is also creative, spontaneous, individuals dancing in response to each other with a structure and convention framed around it. Leads initiate and follows respond and enhance what the leads initiate.

In my view, all social dancing has some level of intimacy because of the connection that is established between the lead and follow to the music. That unspoken communication is a form of intimacy on it's own. There are certainly some dances that require closer physical contact than others, and that’s where all the “fun” begins.

I often get asked how I feel about dancing in a close embrace: for example, during a bachata moderna or when I'm dancing the blues. My answer is pretty simple. There are many styles of dance and if close embrace is part of the dance style that’s how it should be danced: that close embrace is part of the appeal and one the reasons I enjoy dancing.

I love learning different forms of dancing – the variety in the steps and interaction with my lead allow me to express myself freely within the context of the music that we dance to. For me, an intimate dance, requiring closer physical contact has a strong appeal. Dances like Tango (I’m still a beginner), Kizomba, Blues and Bachata allow for a closer connection where I can experience the warmth of an embrace with another person: I close my eyes and the rest of the dance unfolds like magic.

Here’s the key to the “magic” of being able to enjoy the dance without crossing the line:

Both parties are there because they enjoy and respect the intimacy of the dance.

Translation: [pardon the directness] you’re not there to pick up some random person and get laid! You’re there for Intimate Social Dancing.

I’m not going to pretend that this type of dancing doesn’t lend itself to a different kind of intimacy off the dance floor: of course it can! I have many friends who’ve expressed that one of the biggest attractions is how enjoyable that close physical proximity is when dancing with someone of the opposite sex (not to mention the “thrill” if said someone is the object of one’s dance crush – oo-la-la!) On the dance floor however, it’s still a social (as in community) activity and one must be respectful of the people one interacts with on the dance floor and during the dance. That’s why there is some structure on how the dance is danced: even a dance as loose as the blues, still has the basic foundation in that lead-follow connection.

Everyone has different definitions for their personal boundaries and space. There are different degrees of close embrace. As a lead, one should understand that and respect what the follow you’re dancing with is willing to allow. That just comes with the territory. If you’re not sure about how someone will react when you first dance with them, just observe them dancing before you ask – “look before you leap” as it were.

Now, there are many occasions where this close contact can have very different results so I’m addressing those occasions in the form of Q&A. These have been collected from various conversations I’ve had with fellow dancers. Not all the answers are my own – many of them are compilations of responses that were shared during those discussions. Hopefully they help you answer your own questions and at the very least provide you with some entertainment along the way.

“I just don’t want to come across as “that creepy” guy when I’m dancing – how do I do that when I’m getting that close to someone I’m dancing with for the 1st time?”

It’s all about approach and intent. People give off a different energy when they are approaching with “shall we dance?” versus “I want to get in your pants!”. If you approach like a gentleman with respect and admiration, that’s always a good start. Just because that dance requires you to get close, doesn’t mean you have to start close right away. Take advantage of the introduction and ease into the close embrace. The lady or follow will tell you when it’s close enough. You should feel her relax into your lead and off you go.

I would also suggest that leads learn about the different styles of close embrace by taking a Tango or Blues class. There are ways to approach your partner so that it’s not an “in your face” or intimidating approach. Little things like open by inviting and then slowly closing the embrace will help.

“What if she/he just doesn’t want to be that close?”

Remember respect? It comes with the territory – everyone has different space boundaries and don’t force yours on who you’re dancing with: it’s just one song, one dance. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to dance with this person again afterward. In the meantime, be polite and handle it with grace and poise.

“What if I physically feel something from my lead that’s telling me he’s a little turned on by the dance?”

Let’s face it – this is an “occupational hazard”. I mean how can you not get turned on when you’re dancing with someone hot, to this wonderful music and the whole time you’re in a close physical embrace? I’m so lucky to be a woman because at least the physical manifestation of being turned on is not as obvious as a man’s. Here is definitely a moment where the line might get crossed.

The underlying assumption must be true: both parties are there to enjoy and respect each other and the dancing. Here’s some suggestions on how to gracefully handle the situation:

For the lead: perhaps adjust the closeness of the embrace until things subside a little so that it’s not so obvious. Your close embrace can be offset enough for you to maintain the close contact. You don’t have to say anything or make it a big deal. If you have the gift for just the right touch of humor for the occasion – a small smile or shrug to lighten the mood then that might help. Just remember “occupational hazard” and focus on the dance.

For the follow: remember “occupational hazard”, if you trust the intent of your lead, then don’t make it an issue. I tend to just ignore it and if my lead makes the appropriate adjustments, the dance continues and nothing more needs to be said. If my lead does say something to apologize, I’ll acknowledge it lightly as well.

NOW, if the lead does not adjust and the follow is uncomfortable, then follows – by all means, apply some “defensive” dancing maneuvers to distance yourself from your lead and remember that the dance doesn’t last forever.

Finally, if it really is uncomfortable for you, then either party should be able to excuse yourself from the dance – politely – and part ways.

“Oops, my hand accidentally brushed against (insert sensitive body part here)! What do I do?”

Same as above. It's an “occupational hazard” even in the not so close social dances. So. handle it with light humor (if you can), poise and grace - don't make it a big deal unless that line is really crossed. If someone is feeling you up and you're not cool with it or the touch/contact is uncomfortable for you, you're well within your rights to step away. You can just tell them you have to excuse yourself and leave.

“Wow! That really was a woozy of a dance… hand me a cigarette – please!”

Let’s face it folks – this is a high like no other really so why not enjoy it? Intimate Social Dancing is one big flirt fest and a celebration of how fun the interaction between the sexes can be.

One last word of advice:
If you feel like there’s something extra special beyond the dance, make sure you wait before acting on it. I think there are times when the “dance high” can be confusing and it can take a while for that to subside. Save yourself some drama.

If you have intentions to get to know a person beyond the dancing, it might be best to approach gently on the side with some small conversation and then setup a different time to pursue something off the social dance floor.

Don't let your dance high carry you away to never never land as far as relationships go. I never assume that someone is interested beyond the dancing unless he makes a definite move to get to know me off the dance floor. I'm excited for those opportunities to get to know someone off the dance floor, especially if there's already a strong dance connection. I mean what girl wouldn't want a leading man in her life that can literally sweep her off her feet?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Birthday Week to Remember

Another time out to share from my personal life - I've had the best birthday week ever and its the best way to start a new year. So I'd like to pay tribute to the events and people that share it with me.

Facebook deluge of birthday wishes:
Overwhelming! I heard from folks all over the world starting from Sunday forward. I started to say thanks to each one and then couldn't keep up.

Starting with a gift for my sister: We have birthdays that are 3 days apart. So I took the kiddos for a weekend so that she and her hubby could have time to themselves. I had a blast - we went to see How to Train Your Dragon and just had a great time together.

The usual things turned out to be FAN-tastic: I think i didn't realize how good my life is - truly - until doing nothing special for my birthday turned out to be quite special after all. I decided not to plan too much and just enjoy the things I do normally with the people I know and it worked out better than I could've hoped for.

A cupcake to kick-off the day: After volleyball the day before my big day, my friend got me a cupcake from Starbucks and it was a perfect way to start things off. I had it for breakfast in the morning.

Ah! The Surprises are always so much fun: On my birthday I had so many surprises, the birthday greetings flooded my inbox. An impromptu birthday dance in mambo dance class. Then at Bachata night, I had cupcakes, brownies, flan, chocolate, german chocolate cake, dark chocolate... it never seemed to stop! One can never have too much cake for a birthday!

The Firsts:
I had my 1st ever birthday dance! As much as I love to dance, I spent most of my birthdays playing volleyball somewhere and celebrating in a different way. I got to dance my very 1st birthday bachata dance and it was a BLAST!!! thanks to everyone that made it special! Here's link to my birthday bachata:

 I got one of the best compliments ever while dancing with someone at the Bachata Social. I had just finished spinning through a few moves when my lead stopped leading for a second. He shook his head quickly and smiled and said "Oh! My bad, I was just watching you spin." I thought, well there's nothing wrong with that is there? THANKS!

On Thursday I got to dance my 1st Salsa Birthday Dance and BOY was it fun! I didn't even have a chance to be nervous because once the music started, I had one great lead after another come out to lead me and spin me and dip me. I was swept of my feet! I only wish I could have planned it a little better and got a video.

 An evening at the Spa: with my sister despite the onset of a migraine was just what the doctor ordered. I got scrubbed and soaked in olive oil/honey/milk/cucumbers and thoroughly massaged. I was so relaxed by the end of it, there was nothing left to do but sleep.

 A weekend with family with lots of food and hugs: I went to Portland with my sis and her family and we had such a great time. The kids were awesome and we got to play, eat, walk around, drive around... there are great pics on my flickr stream but this one sort of shows the culmination of our eating adventures where we feasted on meat (after eating a LOT of donuts!)

Dancing at Folklife was soooo much fun - I'm so glad I got to dance the rueda with such a great group of people. The dancing that followed was just as fun and the rest of my Monday night was marvelous - like it always is ;)

Love, Joy, Dance, Hugs, Smiles, Food and Wonderful Friends and Family - there's nothing better.

much thanks, always

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sleep Deprived but Still Dancing

I thought it worthwhile to mark the events from the past weekend, after all, its a milestone of sorts and despite being sleep deprived, its been such fun.

This past weekend, on Fri 5/14 and Sat 5/15, my salsa dance team BDS Extreme, performed for the 1st time! I danced all weekend long from Friday to Sunday, with different groups of people, different dance styles,  across 2 states on about 11 hours of sleep total (counting 2 naps that I took). Needless to say, I had a BLAST!

Here's the link to the video of our performance on Friday at the Belltown Dance Studio
Here's the link to the video of our performance on Saturday at the Mambo Lounge in Portland, OR for Gemini's 6th Anniversary party.

A picture of my dance team in our costumes after the 1st performance:

My stream-of-consciousness recollections of the weekend:

rueda dance practice at the Wallingford Steps - so nice out... BDS Dance Social, wearing swishy red skirt and heels... with make-up!... oh the wonderful comments I got (thanks!)... it was so much fun to dance... Jill and Jill contest... leading a lead... 1st performance and no casualties (woot!)... some amazing dances with new and favorite leads... blues at the bistro, swanky, chill, oh so smooth...mmm-hmmm!...road trip to Portland... getting to know my team mates... "Squirrel!"...the Jupiter hotel - gotta love a hotel that has their own brand of condoms :p ... practicing out on the driveway... dancing before the big performance... waiting for the performances to impromptu bachata backstage while waiting (oh! that was fun)... 2nd performance, better than the 1st ... more fantastic salsa dancing, on1, on2.... hotcakes and hash browns with bacon, sausage and ham (uh-huh... 1/2 a pig I think)... 3 hours of sleep...chill ride back (thanks!) AND in good time... kizomba dancing mmm-hmmm! ...salsa church with "MWAH!" more great dances...rueda practice... ice cream!!!... ran out of steam took  a little nap... rooftop party with a lovely sunset as the backdrop, beautiful evening, lots of great food and company... salsa, casino... hugs.... finally, sleep

AND because I believe that expressing gratitude begets even more to be grateful for here goes:

  • Thank you to Javier , Holly and Jim who choreographed and coached our team.
  • Thank you to my team mates for pushing through and getting the dance down, even to the point of improving it from Friday to Saturday.
  • Thank you to my friends who came to see the performance, who gave me their support even though they couldn't make it, who wished me well and said many wonderful things.
  • Thank you to a total stranger who stopped me to tell me that I did a great job and that it was wonderful to see how much I really enjoyed dancing during the performance.
  • Thanks to my rides there and back: for driving and some great conversation.
  • Thanks for some rockin' food at the hotcakes and steak house (i'm still full thinking about it)
  • Thank you to all the leads I danced with, I had some "mwah!" dances all weekend
  • Thank you for salsa, blues, bachata, rueda, casino
  • Thank you for rooftop parties with lots of food, great weather, great company to talk and dance with
  • Thank you for all the joy, despite lack of sleep, that I was able to be a part of

Monday, May 10, 2010

What Now?

I hit a point in my dancing progression where I've asked myself  "what now?"

There are many stages to learning and some academics may even have their own models for the different stages.What I'm writing here are the stages that I went through and where I currently am almost 3 years into salsa dancing.

This progression may sound familiar - I  think that everyone goes through some form of these stages though its possible that the order may be different. Anyway, I'm writing to share and maybe help other folks who might find themselves in the "What Now?" predicament - something that can happen several times in one's dance progressions.

Beginner: Unsure but interested; having fun with the dance but not sure enough to go out dancing beyond the classroom. You're just starting and are enrolled in some sort of beginner class. You've decided to try salsa dancing for one, some or all of these reasons: your friend dragged you out, the newness is fun, the social part is fun, there maybe some attractive people in class you'd like to get to know more (instructor not excluded), its something active to do, you've always wanted to try it because it looks fun/cool.

Advanced Beginner: Its been anywhere from 2-6 months since you've started and you've gone through a few of the beginner series and have a little bit of an arsenal to play with for dancing. You may have even started to take lessons from other instructors (oh yes, there are many out there!) You're getting to know your classmates and are maybe starting to go out social dancing at least once a week.

JUNCTURE: At this point some people fall off for one reason or another: it was fun but you're not willing to spend more time to get better; you met someone and their into something else; its not floating your boat any more; you've had some bad dance experiences and have been turned off; other stuff in your life just is more important.

Intermediate: You've "graduated"! You're about  year into dancing and someone said that you're good enough to make the leap to intermediate! You're more confident, know more moves, you're actually out social dancing 2, maybe 3 times a week and are starting to notice what the more advanced dancers are doing. you pick out your favorites as you watch them and think to yourself - "I want to dance like that!"

JUNCTURE: At this point you either become a total addict, or you decide that perhaps its time to back off a little bit and focus on something else. Basically, if you've caught the bug, you're hooked and booked! You'll find yourself dancing almost everyday, taking lessons from 1 or more teachers, attending salsa congresses, talking about dancing and hanging out with dancers all the time.

Advanced Intermediate: About a year and a half close to the 2 year mark you find yourself at another weird spot. You know enough to know that there's a LOT you still have to learn. You're all of a sudden finding that all you ever do in your free time is dance - yes, you are now officially a salsaholic. If you're still stuck in the taking classes mode and haven't gone out dancing then you're not really addicted yet and should really consider social dancing more. You're probably contemplating the next congress or 2 and even starting to branch out and try venues outside your established comfort zones.

JUNCTURE: For me, this was a key juncture. I was starting to wonder how long it would take me to "get better" to the point where I would be happy with my dancing. I was a bit frustrated because I didn't think I could ever look like these professionals who were so polished and precise. I took myself away from the dancing scene I did know and vacationed in Oaxaca and learned from someone new. I met some great people and the instructor I learned from had a style I could relate to (and some advice from an ex) I was re-energized! I hit a new stride and my dance confidence went WAAAAAAY up. [This is KEY by the was, the confidence going up... it really changes your dance, and for the better!]  I decided that I didn't have to look like anyone else, I should just be me! I wanted to be the best follow I could be while social dancing and all of a sudden, all my doubts disappeared, I found my own style and got great feedback and started to really enjoy the dance. I'm able to turn off my own self-critic, still be open to learning and incorporate all the other dances that I knew about into salsa.

Advanced: All that dancing got you here :) Its likely to be going on year 3 to 5. You've established a routine of your favorite places to go and are getting more play time with the folks you've been watching and looking up to. You're still taking some lessons and likely going to congresses. You're friends list in facebook has grown because of all your new dancer friends. Its weird (but nice) when this happens but you're likely to now be the one that people want to dance like. You're dance card is always full and when you go to your familiar haunts, there's always someone you know and can say hi to, get a hug, get a dance and off you go.

Its another JUNCTURE: Where do you go from here? You've maxed out on lessons, may have even taken privates with one or more instructors and still get a high from all the dancing. Your non-dance time is quite limited and people outside of dance only ever know you to be dancing. The euphoria is still there but something might be missing or you're starting to wonder what to do next. So what now?

These are the options I compiled for myself and from talking to others in a similar stage:
  • Life is good: You are happy with your dancing, the people you're meeting, its a great place to be and nothing more needs to be said.
  • If you haven't already, dance with other teachers; attend congresses where you get exposed to teachers/dancers outside of Seattle
  • Explore other latin dances: chacha, merengue, bachata, cumbia
  • Explore other dances: blues, swing, tango
  • Back to the basics or "Everything old is new again" there are nuances that you may discover by going back the basics or taking basics from some other dance.
  • Learn the opposite role (if you're a lead, follow and vice versa)
  • Explore other forms of Salsa: casino, rueda de casino, on2 mambo, sohn, etc.
  • Understand the music more
  • Join a performance team
  • Find a dance Partner to dance with and practice for social dancing
  • Find a dance Partner to dance with and practice for performance
  • Help out with or start to contemplate teaching

What did I decide to do? pretty much almost all of the above except for performing with a partner

1) Join a Performance Dance Team and experience choreographed Salsa
2) Took  lessons to improve other related dances: mambo (salsa on 2) and understand the structure of the music more.

3) Continue to go out social dancing making sure to vary the dancing when I can: salsa, bachata, casino, rueda, cha-cha, swing/blues
4) Learn new dances: Dabble in a little bit of West Coast Swing, Belly Dancing (its fun and I have a long, long way to go; Kizomba,  which is a fusion of some of my favorite dancing AND the music is just lovely: I dabbled in West Coast Swing but am not quite ready to give up more for it.
5)  Learn to lead (salsa and bachata)
6) Started to discuss dancing with my fellow dancer friends and in some cases, we coach each other on moves that we do and the styling that we have - its great fun to collaborate and even be able to help someone else find their own stride!

To say that I still enjoy dancing is an understatement, unlike some of the folks who dance as much as I do (or did) who have hit the "burn out" period where they need to step away from the dancing, I haven't gotten there yet and I think I won't because of the variety of dances I'm learning all at once.

Is there ever an end to learning? I don't think so. I maintain that as long as you are willing, there is always something to learn. Take dancing: it is framed by music and movement and created/performed by people. There are so many different kinds of people in the world who provide an unending supply of creative juices on top of a rich history! There will always be someone new to dance with or some new song that is made. The only reason you would stop learning is if you don't want to anymore.

In the end, at every juncture, its really more about answering the question "Is dancing something I still love doing?"

For me, the answer is still unequivocably is YES!

Share your thoughts, let me know what you think and if you have other ideas to share - please do!
Happy Dancing