The joy of partner dancing cannot be contained in words. The best expression of it is in the dance itself or the music that sets the stage for it. I do my best to share the wonderful connections that I make through partner dancing because it is a large part of why my life is as joy-filled as it is. Its my small way of giving thanks and in the process, perhaps convincing others to give it a go and get in on the fun.
Someone else said it best:
“While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. That is why I dance.”
quote by Hans Bos
The really cool thing about Hans is that he is neither a dancer or a writer himself. He made this observation while watching people dance.
When it comes to social dancing its all about the harmony of music and movement: there is lead-follow interaction that has some structure and then, there's that timeless natural flow that comes from the simple pleasure of a guy and a girl doing a dance to a song.
This is where "home base" should be for partner dancing. Whether you're a beginner or an advanced dancer. Both leads and follows share responsibility in making dance connections solid ones.
For any of you learning a new partner dance, make sure you learn about what it takes to establish a solid connection. If you've got good instructors, you already have some exposure to what it takes to do so. If you haven't been exposed to that many dance instructors yet, here are some basic highlights from a blues dancing weekend that I've found to be helpful for any social dance.
As I said in part 1 of this series, good connections begin with an introduction which allows you to settle in with your partner: Feel the music, figure out what to do, say a nice hello and off we go.
There are some other things besides knowing the basic step of the dance that help to establish a solid connection:
Its hard to get a good connection if you're not yourself. This goes beyond dancing a little bit. If you "force" something, it shows. Take deep breath, remember how much fun this is and shake away your shields and any negative energy. A lot of what I'm suggesting happens differently for each person so do try to stay within your comfort zone. You may find (as I did) that your comfort zone will open up to allow for more and more positive things but don't force it. It'll come. The only exception to "forcing" is the "fake it like you own it" that helps you with the confidence thing (see Part 2 on the Uncertain Connection).
A dance with solid connection should have a quite a few of these between lead and follow. Some people dance with what I call "dance face". Dance face takes different forms but the most common is the far away look, not quite at your partner but off to the side, serious, concentrated and sometimes pursed lips, kind of like the Blue Steel look that Derek Zoolander perfects in the movie Zoolander. That's cool, personally, some of these dance faces have brought smiles to my face and then when my leads notice my smile, they smile back and the connection we have is instantly enhanced. Natural smiles are infectious: its universal how a smile puts everyone at ease.
I don't mean a stare down here - I mean normal eye contact; like when you're having a nice conversation with someone. As a follow, sometimes I'm a little coy with the lead to see what happens. Why not right? Its part of the dance and if he's cute oh-la-la!
Or, I imagine this very polite and pleasant conversation, like you're talking about the wonderful weather we're having:
Lead: "Would you please walk down this way? I think you'll like the view"
Follow: "I will and thanks for clearing the way."
Lead: "Now, why don't I turn you around and show you off? Then we can settle into a nice comfy cuddle."
Follow: "Of course!" BIG SMILE "Thanks for letting me do my stuff and while I'm at it, I'll get my arm out of the way to make it more comfortable for both of us"
Give and Take
As with any good connection, there's the perfect balance of give and take: lead and follow. The lead provides the direction and the follows execute to match each other to the music that's playing. Just like physics (or close to it): for every action, there is an equal reaction.
Just the right mix of Fun, Flirty Playfulness
Timeless is the interaction between the opposite sex: its meant to be light-hearted, flirty and fun! There's an element of play that has a different energy between a lead and a follow than there is when you're dancing by yourself. I say have fun with it! you don't have to go overboard and cross over any lines. A solid connection will have some element of flirtation and fun or whatever mood is set by the music.
These connections are the ones that leave me perplexed. There's a lack of consistency: sometimes the dances are great, other times, not so much. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, leads don't ask you to dance and then suddenly, they do again.
Call it the phase of the moon or something in the water but even the best of us can have an off dance. Whether its me or the lead, as long as there was a good connection at some point, that all that I try to focus on. We are all evolving as we dance, styles can change as we learn from new teachers and try new techniques. Sometimes, this too can affect a connection. In the end, we all find our natural voice and at that point, things settle into the solid connection.
There are leads with whom I've danced with while I was still learning who have my eternal gratitude. I know those early dances were sometimes awkward and disconnected and yet, sometimes after taking a "break", they continued to dance with me. Now that I have grown as a dancer and follow, I can take pleasure in paying them back when we continue to dance with no more "off again" connections.
And the ones that do not to ask for a dance? They should dance with who they enjoy dancing with. I would hope to dance with them again because we connected at one point but if not - its all good. There are dances aplenty for us all to enjoy.
Ah, the heavenly dance! For me, this dance is effortless, ethereal and supercalifragilistic! My lead makes me feel like I'm dancing on clouds. We've entered another level of unspoken communication where everything falls into place - just so - in perfect unison with each other and the music. Its the solid connection taken to the next level.
There's a purity in the unspoken connection that's unique to partner dancing and for this connection, its like being in the zone. I'm laughing and smiling and just having the best time ever. I'm not 2nd guessing or anticipating anything, just flowing through the movements that I'm lead through with the music and adding to the dance by punctuating things with my "voice" which often times overlaps perfectly with that of my lead. My lead is also in that flow with me and he's taking what I'm putting into the dance to add to his lead.
I am so lucky that I've connected with quite a few dancers in this way. We don't always pull off the moves we want but it doesn't matter - its all part of the dance. One of my favorite leads expressed it best, he said whatever connection we have to the music, we have the same one. We hear the same things and have complimentary movements to dance together in such a way that it looks like we've danced the song a ton of times together. A series of perfectly timed movements without a word spoken, to the right measure in the music: its truly a beautiful thing.
Its the whipped cream on top of the ice cream sundae of connections. The solid connections are enough to keep me coming back but these connections are the ones that really make everything that much sweeter.
If you dance with someone long enough, you get to this level because you know each other so well. If you're lucky (and I have been soooo lucky!) I've met (and still dance with) leads where the connection has always been that good since the 1st dance we shared. The quality of our moves and the level of difficulty have gotten better over time - we're even able to ad lib and come up with totally new stuff together and the connection: "mwah!" always.
Can there be anything better? Life is pretty good when dances are full of solid and "mwah!" connections.
Stay tuned for the final and fourth installment.
In the meantime, to the leads who have made my dancing experience so rich: you guys are the bomb diggity - thank you so much!
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