Some of the best adventures in life result from those wonderful and unexpected connections that you make with other people. I am very lucky and extremely grateful to have made so many wonderful connections in my life so far. My connections in dancing have certainly added to these adventures and have all contributed to helping me grow in becoming a better follow.
So, to give weight to how important this topic is and so I don't write a blog article that turns into a short story, this begins Part 1 of a 4 part series where I'll share my views on dance connections.
As much as there is so much joy in partner dancing, I hate to admit that not all connections are equal. Some are so memorable, I can still remember them years after and some are just memories I don't want to re-live. I do believe that every connection teaches me something about myself and makes me more confident in who I am.
In my perfect world, anything to do with dancing would only be a joyful occasion. Reality often reminds me that this is not always the case. The good news is, there are ways to make more of the good kinds of connections and less of the "undesirable" kind.
Dance is a microcosm for real life and the social interactions and connections on the dance floor are a hotbed of metaphors for those same interactions off the dance floor. So, based on my experiences so far, I'd like to offer some general advice that will lead to more positive connection on the social dance floor.
BIG UMBRELLA GUIDELINE: A nice, simple introduction is always the best way to start.
There aren't words enough to describe how important this. This rule applies whether you're dancing with someone for the 1st time or not. It can make all the difference in making or breaking a connection. I'm just suggesting that every interaction should start with a nice "Hello".
If you already know the person, then that can take different forms:
1) A hug
2) A kiss on the cheek
3) A chest bump
you get the general drift.
So with social dancing - BONUS! There's this song that's playing in the background.... AND it has an introduction too!
Here's what I suggest:
1) Take the 1st few 8 counts to establish the beat/rhythm of the dance. One of the hardest things for me as a follow to do is to dance off beat. Its almost as bad as scratching your nails on a chalk board. When you take the time to establish your rhythm in a comfortable position (Open embrace or closed), you're able to take that few seconds to smile at your partner, listen to the music and set yourself up for the rest of the song.
2) Get a feel for your partner and their dancing style. I don't mean feel her up. I mean start by checking to see if you're connected by moving side to side. Execute a few basic moves(cross body, inside turn, outside turn) and then rev it up if you think she can handle more. I'm pretty sure that if you're opening move is to throw your follow into a quadruple spin,its not the friendliest way to say "hello" unless your dancing with a whirling dervish (no offense intended). Instead of that nice hello, you'd be saying "Let's see if you can handle THAT! Show me what you got!" Not exactly the most friendly of hello's.
3) Get in to a flow and then build up the moves. Most leads that are learning will have a set of moves that they'll want to just run through and that's ok because we all have to practice what we learned. BUT, its a bit jarring to do a move that doesn't quite fit so well with the music. Just because you can do something in time and on beat, doesn't make it "fit". LISTEN TO THE MUSIC - if it means not dancing right away, then take the time. I can't tell you how many lovely jazzy songs have been not quite as lovely because a lead decides to execute these series of quick fast turns and direction changes that just don't fit as well as smooth variations of cross body leads with turns, sweeps and flares that help express the music so much better. Its just as bad to try to dance in a tightly closed embrace to an extremely fast and happy song: not only to you (the lead) run the risk of crossing the line into being a pervert, but you also just kill all the energy of the song and will force your follow into an extremely defensive stance which just ain't nice.
4) Try to match your partner. Yes, for advanced dancers this could mean toning down quite a bit. Ever seen a ballerina dance with a head banging rocker? Its probably quite entertaining for the people watching but I'm willing to bet that as a far as a connection goes, not so much. Its a much better dance experience all around if you can match each other. Key words: Match Each Other which implies that its a 2-way street! Don't force it, don't stress it and whatever you do, don't belabor it! If something doesn't work, don't get upset. Humor is a good alternative to most situations on the dance floor and at the very least, just smile (that's what works for me almost 100% of the time). If you make a mistake and own it, no apologies necessary: sheepish smile, keep on dancing and your golden. If you're dancing with someone new, who's to say you didn't plan it anyway? In rueda (which is a group dance) when a move goes horribly wrong our caller will call "reset!" and execute a basic move to get everyone together again. You can do this too - just come up with your reset move, smile and move on.
The final catch all: I'm diverging a little here to share a personal belief that a mark of a good follow is that they can match any lead. The key word is CAN. Just because one can do something, doesn't mean one chooses to do so or likes it. Social dancing for most people is about the joy of expressing music through movement with another person. Everyone has their own wants about what that is and if someone only chooses to dance with people they know they can connect with, that's their choice. Don't make it into your issue. Personally, I believe that there's more great connections to be experienced out there all the time. By giving everyone a chance - at least give one dance - I can always find them. If it turns out those few minutes are not so good for me, then I can choose to decline the next time that person asks.
These are my general rules to achieving nice connections all the time. There are exceptions obviously and then what do you do when the other person is just not cooperating or operating with the same rules? I try to address that a little bit in the next parts of this series where I talk about specific connections. I've generalized the connections I've experienced into different types/categories which I'll get into in more detail.
Here's a preview of what they are:
The Undesirable Connection: This is the connection that, for whatever reason, leaves you with a bad taste. These are the experiences that reaffirms the things that you don't like in interacting with people and give you the opportunity to handle them with grace (or at least minimum damage).
The Uncertain Connection: Though I think this is unique to a learning situation, its still happens in real life so I want to give it a category of its own. Often this connection will lead to another type as time passes.
The On-Again-Off-Again Connection: I think that description says it all and like the Uncertain Connection, it can evolve into another kind of connection over time.
The Solid Feel Good Connection: These are the connections I strive to have the most of as follower in dance as well as a person navigating through life.
The Mwah! Connection: Heavenly, my "top 10", totally whack! Ideally - all connections should be like this. These are the connections that are so memorable, you'll find yourself talking about them years after they 1st happened and hopefully they are happening still. Life would be a dream if all connections were like this one.
The Electric Out-of-This-World Connection: This connection is old black magic that makes your head spin and leaves you bemused, sometimes bothered and totally bewildered.