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." 

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