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.”