Saturday, December 31, 2011

Community: Diversity and Unity

When I moved to Seattle 4 years ago, I walked by a billboard about salsa dancing which has brought all sorts of joy in my life. I thought: dancing would be a great activity for a new comer: meet people, be active and have fun. Perfect! Now, I dance almost every night of the week and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

I remember the first time I walked into Halo (East Hall's predecessor) on a Monday night. I was so unsure of myself: new place, new dance and new people. It was nerve-wracking to say the least. I would sit and try to look calm yet inside I would project "pick me! pick me!". I would watch the more experienced dancers and think "I wonder if that will ever be me?". [NOTE: I am forever grateful to the leads that were welcoming to a total stranger: they asked me to dance  and helped to "find my wings" on the dance floor.]

Back then, I had no idea what the salsa landscape was like. It didn't take me long to find out that there are a LOTS of other teachers and studios and what? places to go dancing EVERY night?! Then there's this congress concept: a weekend full of workshops and dancing. Then I stumbled upon other salsa styles: casino, rueda de casino, on2, mambo, dancing on the 3, on the 5... holy smokes! And what's this? Performance teams? wow, does it ever end? What a rich, fun and interesting community I found myself in. It reminded me a lot of the volleyball community I left when I moved away from Massachusetts. There was diversity but still a lot of community: people supported each other by attending tournaments that were hosted in different locations. These discoveries happened quickly as I began to dance more and more: it was easy to meet all these different sub-cultures within the dance community. It was great to see and meet everyone from these different pockets out dancing in the same place on the different nights. Every now and again there would be a special event like an anniversary or birthday that would be in a different place, offering a pleasant diversion from the usual happenings.

Fast forward to 2011. There is still dancing every night but sometimes there's more than one place to go to. There are more studios that have opened, each with their own practica and/or social. Some places have closed, some places have re-opened and new places have tried to start and stuttered. There are now nights with 3 or 4 different events to choose from and instead of being able to go to one event knowing that everyone will be there, I now have to pick and choose which one to go to, based on where I think my friends and favorite dancers will be.

Its a hard life right? Going from only have one option to having to pick from 3 or 4. It's infinitely better that there are more venues to dance rather than less. But I miss being able to go to one place knowing that everyone will be there. I hate having to choose which event to go to: who do I support? I want to support all the different venues and studios because I want to keep salsa strong in the community but I can't go to every event.

What I also see is that studios have created more insular communities that no longer mix: its like having invisible borders. I love that the folks are committing time to teach and have their own studio space. I understand that providing a safe place for beginners to go and practice is must in order for these budding dancers to keep going. I'm sometimes sad to see that these "borders" now keep some folks from experiencing that same richness in diversity that I was able to when I first started dancing.  I know that as a dancer I improved because I was exposed to so many different styles and schools of dance when I went out.

As a whole Seattle's salsa community is welcoming. There's no shortage of choices for places to dance and people to learn from. But, I feel like there is more divisiveness now compared to a few years ago and it makes me wish for change. Our community is not so big that it can sustain all the different businesses and venues out there and I think there are ways that the different event organizers and studios can cooperate and coordinate so there are less conflicts when they run events. It would be nice to be able to attend an anniversary party without having to skip someone's fund raiser or a live band.

Its a tough thing to balance: running a business and investing in the community. I think though that keeping the  dance community alive and growing is in itself an investment for dance studios and related businesses. You can't entirely lose sight of one for the other. I certainly don't have good answers and I'm not sure how many other people feel the same way I do but as 2011 comes to a close one of the things I'm hoping for is that there will be more opportunities for events that bring together the entire community of salsa dancers while still sustaining all the independent businesses that keep the salsa dancing strong in Seattle.

Just sharing a wish... and hoping everyone out there has a wonderful new year celebration as we head into 2012: much love, more hugs, lots of dancing and whatever else your heart fancies.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Falling Back

Its been a while and after drafting and re-drafting at least 6 different posts, I decided that I should just post something.

This weekend we gained an extra hour of sleep which means our days get shorter and shorter. In the spirit of falling back, I share some things I learned about myself and leave some food for thought (to be expanded later on).

Falling back to some basic principles I wonder ....

..  I've experienced a lot, but there are still "first times" to learn from and this year has been filled with lots of "1st time"s

... how does one build community in the midst of change that seems to be subdividing us into smaller groups?

... the joy I feel when dancing remains but as I learn and grow, I realize how much more I enjoy that dance that connects me to my partner and the music.

... its hard to stay positive about yourself when you're learning about your own vulnerability.

... how does one keep learning and still maintain that initial sense of wonder to share if there are less people to share with the more you uncover.

... biding my time in a place where I don't belong is not as easy as it sounds.

Food for thought... I'll be back soon!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Adventures in Performance Salsa

My life of late has been a whirlwind of practicing for performances and trying to catch up to myself.  My everyday activities seem overshadowed by my dancing activities and I'm finally feeling like I'm coming back down to earth now that the winds have calmed down.

There comes a time in any dance crazy person's life (definition of dance crazy below) where the words "dance team" pop into your head. Its inevitable as you start to go to congresses, you hear about your friend's joining teams, you see performances and you start to wonder if that's the next step for your growth as a dancer.

Dance Crazy = dancing more than 3-4 times a week, taking classes and socializing with other dancers  after dancing. You should be contemplating or may have gone to a congress (or more). Your social calendars involves events with dancing or other dancers.

I've only been dancing salsa for 3+ years and love it, a LOT! It seems like I've been dancing forever. In that time, I've been on 2 dance teams and I wanted to share my thoughts on performing, just in case you were wondering too. I'm also not presenting pros or cons: everyone gets into performing for different reasons so I'm hoping this will just help bring out all the aspects you should consider if you're thinking about performing.

DISCLAIMER: I write to share my adventures and hopefully help others find their own answers to the same questions I ask myself. At the very least, I write to entertain. I try very hard not to malign anyone. BUT, just in case, I apologize in advance. My hope is that you can find a bit of wisdom to help you make up your mind if you're considering a team or nod in agreement and chuckle if you find yourself in the same circumstances. 

Why Perform? 
I saw it as a challenge and a next step in my growth as a dancer. Growing up, I played the piano and danced ballet. There was some sort of recital or even a contest or 2 that my teachers would always want me to participate in. Performance is a huge part of the training. It makes sense that the same thing applies for salsa dancing. Performing gives you a different purpose and perspective. For me, it meant working harder to perfect things and having a different sense of accomplishment for having entertained people with my dancing. Performance also introduces a new aspect of dancing that I wanted to explore more: choreography and that whole creative process around staging a dance.

And, its there but not the big driver: I had the FOMS (fear of missing out): everyone else in my direct circle seemed to be on a team, why not give it a go?

Here's the other by product of performing that's HUGE: confidence. My confidence as a dancer has improved. I own my dancing more. This is something universal: the better you feel about yourself, the better you feel about your dancing, the better dancer you become.

I'm NOT saying dance team is nirvana. Dance teams are as varied as they come and sometimes the experience can be sour and make you want to wipe your hands off dancing in general. If you ever find yourself with this aftermath and if you're ever loved dancing, don't let it rule you. Take the break you need to reset and come back to it. You'll find the joy in dancing that you had again.

Performance Art 
Whether you realize it or not, dancing is a performance art. A social dance is essentially an informal performance. You're out in the public, you dance with your partner, other people see you dancing. It can't be helped! The biggest difference with being on a performance team is that (1) you do it on a stage (or in the center of a dance floor or on a boat or where ever your dance director decides), (2) you're in the spotlight with your team and (3) you've got to dance "larger than life" so that the audience connects with you too. Its no longer just about you and your partner: now its also about you and the audience. You have to dance bigger, sharper, with lots more energy than your normal social dance. You have to also synchronize with other members on the team. You have to generate the energy to draw in the crowd and then feed of that energy to engage them and hook them in.

Choreography versus Social Dancing 
Dancing to choreography is different from social dancing. The connection is different: not all the moves you learn are naturally leadable on the social dance floor. There's also an element of acting, staging and synchronizing to consider. You'll learn more about tricks and dips and things that make the dancing "pop" more: the 'wow' factor. There's also this really cool creative process that happens when you see someone putting steps together with music, orchestrating how different people interact with each other on stage based on the music selected.

I've seen this dichotomy as well: good performance dancers don't necessarily make good social dancers. This is certainly NOT true for the world class performers that teach and bring everyone to their feet when they dance. Performers at that level are fantastic dancers in their own right and if you ever get a chance to dance with them on the social dance floor - go for it!

Social dancing is more about connecting with your partner. This aspect of partner dancing, while important, isn't the only focus of dancing in a performance. You may find that folks on a dance team are not necessarily the same people that go out social dancing. In fact, some people join performance teams less than 1 year into their dancing "career" and only have time for practicing and performing and nothing else.

My advice: don't leave social dancing out. Perfecting the choreography is one thing, but as with any other skill and craft, one must always improve the basis for those skills. For dancing, its the basics and techniques that allow you to dance on your own as an individual and then as a follow or lead in the partner dancing. Social dancing is the best way to practice your connection and ability to connect with anyone.

Practice, Practice, Practice There's a book that says in order to become an expert at something, you have to practice it for at least 10,000 hours. No matter what anyone says about meeting once a week, if you want to get good enough to perform, you HAVE to practice more than once a week and you have to practice with your partner and your team and the music. You have to listen to the music so many times that you can hear it in your head. You have become familiar enough to be able to pick up the choreography at any point in the music. Honestly? You can't practice enough.

Ego  There's lots of ego stroking. From the performance itself and even leading up to getting on a performance team. When you get asked to perform, its sort of a big deal, right? Its flattering. You might think, "Really? You think I'm good enough?". Or, if you haven't gotten asked you might think "What's wrong with my dancing?" Its a great affirmation to get asked to join or to be on a dance team.

Performing is an ego affirmation because if you do a good job, there's nothing quite like the recognition one gets from a public performance. Not to mention that group high that comes with accomplishing something you've worked hard on with your dance partner/ dance team. Depending on the community you're in, there's a lot of support for performers so that's always good energy to have. Seattle is one such community.

Its also a great way to get more dances. As superficial as this sounds, as a performer, you will get asked to dance a lot more, its just part of what people see on the surface.

IMPORTANT ASPECTS TO CONSIDER (because, surprisingly enough, no one ever really tells you these things):

1) No Matter What Anyone Tells You: you'll always need more time to practice!
This becomes even more true as you get closer to a performance! Before you know it, its eating up all your life. Just make sure you set your boundaries properly and try to be as explicit as possible with what you can or can't do and in the end, be responsible - if you can't put in the time to be ready to perform, don't expect to perform.

2) The Creative Mind is Constantly Changing [ just remember, things change ALL THE TIME]
I love the creative mind: its rich with all these really cool things. BUT, its always changing to see what works best. There's tweaks, and adjustments and... just expect anything. Know that NOTHING IS SET IN STONE no matter how much you wish it to be. Things happen, you have to adjust. I've been lucky to be surrounded by the right people to help me through these times so I have constant reminders. If you can't deal with this wonderful chaos, then its probably not a good idea to join a performance team.

3) Contracts & Logistics
Get all the facts about joining at team as up front as possible. Talk to the directors, talk to the team members, talk to former team members and do your best to research. These things can definitely put a damper on your experience and if someone's recruiting you, they're not likely to get into gory details and you won't think to ask. Just ask about cost (of joining, of performing), travel, lessons and additional training, etc. AND be really up front about your commitments and what you can do as part of the team.

4) When its stops being fun, its time to take a breath and re-evaluate
This is a big one: if there are fundamental issues and incompatibilities, its not worth it to stay and be miserable after giving it your best shot. There will always be drama whether you like it or not - a group of people always together, preparing, performing. Even if you love to dance, these circumstances cause stress and everyone has different ways of dealing with it. Try to give yourself the time to make sure you're doing this for the right reasons. Its easy to get carried away by the team and what the "right thing to do is". If you treat everyone with respect and make sure to check in with yourself about what you're goals are, then you should be able to know when something isn't worth staying for. 

5) Set your boundaries: team stuff can easily take over your life
No joke! I can't say this enough (its like the previous point) Its important to keep things in perspective and not let peer pressure dictate what you can or can't do. Just be clear about up front and be responsible for letting people know about what you can or can't commit to as far enough in advance as you can. I would say that you should expect the same from your team but that's not always easy to get. Just make sure you understand what your team is like when it comes to time commitments: the closer priorities are between team members and the director, the better the experience.

6) Don't forget to say Thank You! BE part of the fun.
Successful teams have leaders and team members who pitch in regularly and equally. They celebrate together and work together on things that aren't as successful. As soon as there is perceived inequity in anything, bad stuff happens. Say thanks to the people that deserve it and try to pitch in when you can and don't take anything for granted.

LAST WORDS....I'm still on a performance team. I'm enjoying the people I'm with and still learning a lot (sometimes so much, my head feels like its going to explode!) and still challenged by the experience. Its been challenging to keep things in perspective, but I'm doing that too. So far, so good! Do I absolutely love performing? The jury is still out: my love for connecting with people on the social dance floor still far outweighs the joys of performing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

To Date or Not To Date a Dancer

That is the question.

Whether its better to date a fellow dancer or not is a topic that comes up every so often within social dancing circles.

I realize broaching the topic of relationships can be like taking a dive off the deep end so before I do that, let me explicitly say that I am not any kind of expert on relationships. I do not judge any opposing views to mine as "wrong". Everyone will have their own answer to this question, I simply offer up my thoughts on the matter.

So What Do I Think?
Dating to me, is a means to finding my "partner in crime" for the long haul. There are 168 hours in a week. I sleep, on average, about 5 hours a day and have a full time job. Assuming I have a normal 40 hour work week give or take, that leaves 93 hours (out of the 168 hours in a week) to do other things. Of that time, I spend easily 20% dancing and then another 10% on dance related social activities. Needless to say, dancing is a big part of my life (though its not the only thing in my life).

Personally, I'd love it if my Prince Charming is a dancer! The benefits are obvious (but I'll write them down anyway):
  • We both love it! We share a common passion and we can understand each others passion for the dance, no need to have conflicts over "why are you spending so much time..."
  • Dancing with someone you're attracted to is simply scrumptious.
  • Romance will never die: all we have to do is pick the right song and dance to it.
  • We'll have the same social circles, so integrating into each other's lives will be a bit easier.
  • I'll have a dance partner for life: oh! what fun.
Does that mean I'll say no if he's not a dancer? Nope, not at all.

I'm crazy about dancing but that's not the only thing that I do. I'm open to dating someone who's not a dancer but he should be able to understand how much dancing means to me and that every so often, it would be lovely to share a dance together.

As dance crazy as I am, dancing isn't life (its a reflection of life) but life is much better and fuller and happier with dancing in it. Life is comprised of my loves: my passions, my family, my friends, my activities and my Prince Charming (when he comes along).

    At the heart of it all, the answer to the question is "It depends on the people involved." There is no formula that you can plug into that will give you the right answer to the question because there are so many other factors involved when it come to a relationship.  That being said, there are certainly indicators that can help determine whether or not one should date a fellow dancer. I've grouped them into red, yellow and green flags. Red flags are like STOP signs: indications that should basically tell you to steer away from dating a fellow dancer. Yellow flags are signs that make you go "Hmmm!" and finally "green flags"  are fuel for the "YES!" answer to the question.

    Jealous, much? This works both ways. If either you or the other person in question is the jealous (or possessive) type, well, dating another dancer is just asking for drama. People can get CLOSE when they're dancing and it just doesn't make sense to stir that pot if its already boiling.  

    NOTE: There are some cultures that do not condone social dancing once you're attached. I suggest you find out about cultural biases sooner rather than later!

    Dance High Does NOT Equal Relationship Success The dance high is deceptive. It has such a strong pull that it becomes almost like blinders. As a social dancer, its the occupational hazard that's part of what make dancing so much fun. Its something that happens in the moment of the dance: there and gone again, sometimes lasting longer than just the dance. Its just really hard to ignore so, beware: dance highs fade and the high can totally cloud you're judgment. You'll see everything in your favorite color and then when the high fades, and people's true color shows, you'll be left wondering what the heck happened and who changes all the colors? If you still haven't been able to distinguish the dance high from normal interaction, then you're probably inviting all sorts of drama by dating another dancer.

    He/She is as Great Dancer so they must be ...? Just that, a great dancer. Don't attach any more significance to being a great lead or follow unless you have evidence off the dance floor. Simply because a follow is amazing, doesn't necessarily translate to her personality. A lead may be a gentleman on the dance floor but a total "get me out of this crowd" persona off the dance floor. A follow could be passionate and expressive as a dancer but a totally reserved. I'm not saying that one's dancing doesn't reflect one's personality. I'm just suggesting that dancing is not the ONLY thing you should be basing personality on. So, if you made a conclusion about someone simply based on their dancing, just remember to add "only when they're dancing" until you do see that it is part of their personality off the dance floor too.

    Dancers at Different Levelswatch the person grow and blossom! Its great to grow with someone. It totally sucks getting "left behind". As long as each party is loving and supportive, the fact that both are dancers can certainly help to strengthen the relationship.

    Dancing is one big Flirt Fest: Flirting is natural consequence of dancing. There may be attractions beyond that dance connection BUT on the dance floor, that's very hard to distinguish. So, if the flirting off the dance floor is just as good as the flirting off the dance floor, then take it as a good sign that there's a healthy attraction and go from there.

    The Talk of the Town: Part of the challenge with dating someone popular in a social circle is that you too will be popular by default.  Which means there's scrutiny whether you want it or not. Just be aware of that and figure out what works for you. If you like privacy, then you have to realize when you're dating Mr. or Ms Popularity, that's all going to go out the window. Just be prepared!

    Let's Keep this Quiet, ok? If you like privacy, then you have to establish that from the get go. If you want to hide things, just be careful because that will put a strain on the relationship eventually. I believe when you care about someone enough, you shouldn't hide it if you can help it. You can be discreet, and in most cases that wise in the beginning. To hide a relationship with someone you care about sets a precedent that you can't be open about someone who supposedly means a lot to you: its a contradiction and when it goes on for too long, leads to all sorts of drama and stress.

    Dancing is my life! The degree to which dancing rules each person in the relationship is also important. If dancing is #1 and will always be #1, then you, the significant other, will have to deal with that (or vice versa). I've seen relationships where one is a dancer and the other isn't and there's a wonderful balance. Its all a matter of knowing where you stand and where the other dancer stands and matching up expectations.

    They Get It: Another dancer will understand what the obsession is with dancing. They'll understand why you do it, why its so much fun and what drives you to dance. So much of the success of a relationship is based on how well both people communicate and understand each other. This is just one manifestation of that and one that, when shared, can only help.

    You have the Same Dance Goals If your views on dancing match AND its not the one thing that rules you, then that's a good thing. Its one less thing to worry about that could cause potential conflict.You both can collaborate too which is also a ton of fun.

    Dreamy Dancing is always a prelude to ... if I have to fill in the blanks here, then you've clearly NOT experienced that electric connection so go read about it in my other blog article.

    I believe the answer to this question really boils down to a trade off:

    Are you willing to risk that the POTENTIAL DRAMA from a failed relationship with a fellow dancer will far OUTWEIGH the POTENTIAL BLISS of a relationship that works?

    I know that I don't control how someone else feels and reacts, I can only control what I do and how I act. I know that when it comes to drama generated by other people, I may get sucked into it for a time, but, I trust that I can extricate myself intact from that drama when necessary. So, for me, the potential bliss far outweighs any potential drama.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Tips for a Great Congress Experience

    I've had some fantastic congress experiences in the last year so I thought I'd share some tips in case you're considering going to one or have already gone and didn't have as good a time as you hoped. If you're already a pro at the at congress experience, feel free to share your tips by commenting to this post. If you've never gone to one before - DO IT!

    plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
    I'm writing this specifically for folks (like me) who like to know what plans are ahead of time and make decisions accordingly. In the world of congresses, there is a LOT in flux all the time so plan for change - it is a constant.

    A long weekend of workshops and dancing for anyone at any level interested in dance. There are events all over the world for all sorts of dances. Just check out this site Worl Salsa Festivals to get an idea of just how many there are. [NOTE: This site isn't the only resource to use, just search through Google or any other search engine of choice to find out.] I've attended salsa and bachata congresses so my experiences reference those dance types specifically. A congress is an event that bring together dance fans, dancers, instructors, musicians and performers from all over the world. You have the opportunity to take workshops, see performances and dance with folks from other cities / states / countries.

    Its like dance camp  - for adults!

    The event lasts over a long weekend and is typically held in a hotel near the airport of the host city OR in a hotel with the capacity for large functions. Festivities usually start on Thursday evening and end by Sunday. Occasionally, there will be Monday activities targeted to folks that decide to hang around a little longer before heading home. Thursday starts with a pre-party at a local club or at the hotel. Workshops are held Friday, Saturday and Sunday followed by performances and then social dancing with DJ (and/or live band). The peak of quality of performances and attendance is typically on Saturday as many people tend to leave sometime on Sunday.  

    WHAT DO YOU WANT?  Workshops, Performances, Social Dancing, the Experience or All of the Above?

    If you go for the workshops, be warned that schedules generally don't get published until closer to the event itself. So, if you're going just for the workshops, you may have to decide things with not all the information available. Bear in mind that schedules are pretty fluid: they can change during the event as well. Check the  performer and instructor lists to give you some idea about who's going to be there that might be teaching. Workshops are typically held during the day through early evening (10am to 6pm) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The levels of the workshops can vary. If you're looking to experience a variety of instructors, this is certainly the right venue for that. If you're looking for very specific techniques and training, this is likely not the right venue unless you schedule privates with the instructors that will be there (an additional expense that you will have to coordinate with the event coordinators and/or instructors themselves).

    There will be a mix of  "headliners" and local teams performing through out the weekend. The program schedule for who's dancing when is also one that doesn't get finalized till the event gets closer. The performer line-up will be updated periodically so you can see who will be performing. Typically Saturday performances have all the big names and will be the longest one. If you're going for performances, then you should shoot for Fri, Sat and Sunday night stays. Performances are typically from 9:30 to 11:00, before social dancing begins.

    Social Dancing
    Social dancing happens every night till wee am hours (3am, 4am, sometimes 5am). After performances wrap up, there is usually a small break so that the venue can be setup for social dancing (chairs are put away, etc.) so dancing sometimes doesn't start till midnight depending on the performance schedule. At some congresses, there will be dancing before the performances begin but that's usually attended by a smaller group. Depending on what you're after for social dancing, this has been my experience about the 'flavor' of  each night.

    Friday nights are like going to a "new place" for the first time. There will be lots of people and I think in general, some initial trepidation to ask newer people to dance. This is where if you go with a nice group, you'll be able to still dance and then from there, new dances can take off. My experience has been that with the group I go with, I can dance comfortably with people I already know, we can get warmed up, strut our stuff (yes, there's a little of this element to show that you can dance, you're in a brand new venue with people that don't know you) and then continue with the rest of the night.

    Saturday is the "big" night - everyone and anyone will be in attendance. If you're like me at all, I feel a bit lost when there's so many people. These large well attended nights can sometimes feel like a combat zone to me. I feel like I need to "work" to get a dance and that's when I feel less comfortable. There's a feeling of people watching to see if you're any good and of course, lines of people waiting to dance with the superstars. If you're someone that thrives on the large crowd and energy Saturday is definitely the best night for you.

    For me, Sunday is the best night. Its not as crowded because some folks have left to go home and everyone that's there for performances or event organizing is way more relaxed. They can let their hair down and just kick back and enjoy the night. Also, you've now spent 2 or 3 days at the event and have met more people and danced with more people at workshops and other social dances so you're not "new" anymore. There is no more "saving energy" since its the last night to party it up! I find it more relaxing and definitely a lot more fun. 

    Most of the time, the congress workshops and activities are packed into 3 days, there's really no time to explore the surroundings. Sometimes, the surroundings are basically the airport that you arrived in. So, if you're thinking about the overall experience, do a little research about where the congress if being held. There are all sorts of different places from a sunny beach, to a cruise ship or an all inclusive resort. 

    Tip #1: Go with the right group of people
    I think this can make or break your congress experience unless you are truly one of those extroverts who just thrives being in a  new place with new faces. For me, it can be bit overwhelming and the company of familiar friends is very welcome. Not only can you share the experience with people you care about, you can also dance with your friends and "strut your stuff" to get your dance mojo on before drifting out into the "wild" to meet with the rest of the people around you. Being with friends won't stop you from enjoying the experience of meeting new people or doing something different . Dancing is such a social thing, its just that much more fun for me to share a congress experience with friends who are just as crazy about dancing as me.

    Tip #2: Get Some Sleep Beforehand and After
    Seriously, there's very little time to sleep if you want to do everything that's available so get sleep before hand! If you can afford it, give yourself time to recover when you get back. There are breaks during the activities for eating and napping so use them wisely. Sometimes, between performances and dancing, you may be able to take a catnap. Dancing usually goes till the wee am hours, so you have an hour or more (depending on the venue) after the performance to catch a quick reboot before heading back out the dance you socks off.

    Tip #3: Ask Someone Who's been to that Event Before
    This isn't always possible but because schedules and event information change so much prior to the big shebang AND you have these great ticket deals way in advance of all the juicy details. It helps to find out who's been to the event before and what to expect. You can also contact the event organizer directly with specific questions.

    Tip #4: Go with the Flow
    Change is a constant so don't be wedded to anything and be flexible and open to new things. You can plan a little bit but the best experience will probably be a combination of doing what you wanted and keeping an open mind. Don't be afraid to try anything once and don't be shy! I've been blessed with some of my more memorable dances and interactions with people as a result of things "not going as planned".

    Tip #5: Have a GREAT TIME!
    This goes without saying and doesn't need a whole lot of explaining but its important enough so, here it is!
    Leave your worries behind and soak up the experience: eat, sleep (if you can) and dance (lots) !

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    Dance Diversity

    Someone once asked me to characterize what I love about the different dances that I've learned and enjoy.I couldn't answer it on the spot but thought it would make a great post so here it is.

    Discovering dance has opened up worlds for me. I am always learning something new: about me, about movement, about the people that love the dance and why they love it, about the origins of dance, about the places where the dance is alive, about the music and its structure. Dancing is one of the easiest and most gratifying activities to get into: it has so many riches and rewards. There's a little bit of something for everyone.

    SO - what's the deal with so many dances? I know, for most people, its hard enough to learn ONE new activity that's quite complex: new movements, new music, new connections with new people. Me, I just love the variety. I love being able to find the common elements, the threads that connect the different steps and movements. I love being able to respond to whatever music is playing with the right moves. I love that no matter what song is played, I can dance to it.

    Dance is universal. Its cool see how different dances relate to one another. There is something primal about moving your body to music and its even more exciting when I can do that in sync with someone else without saying a word. There are dances that challenge me technically, dances that just make me smile and bop my head, dances where I melt into my partner's close embrace and yet others that, once the music starts, just seem to run right through me so that my feet and body just react without thinking.

    Here are the top 10 dances that I really enjoy, in no particular order:

    SALSA: This is the dance that has currently holds me captive (3 years so far and still going strong). I started learning the LA or On1 style of salsa. I love the dance because its sensual and fun. There's a call and response aspect to it that's much like the flirtation between a guy and a girl as they basically try to say "look at me" to each other ... and sometimes to the people watching. I think there's such joy in the music that you can't help but dance to it. Its energetic and fun: when you see people dancing, you just want to join in.
    MAMBO: I discovered mambo about a year and a half into dancing salsa. There was this "On2" thing which no one could really explain well to me and as I took different musicality workshops until I learned that this particular on2 style came from New York. A large part of why I'm learning this dance is the teacher that helped me discover how much there is to dancing it. It challenged me in a way that I hadn't been challenged before because it taught me new techniques. I learned more about the structure of the music, about the evolution of the dances and met some amazing people along the way. Its enhanced my dancing in so many ways - I continue to learn something new every time I dance it. When everything works, the dance is smooth: explosive and then chill with effortless transfers of energy.

    CASINO: Salsa from Cuba. For me this dance was like the "swing" version of salsa. There's this revolving connection between the follow and the lead. I learned it when I discovered Rueda de Casino which is a dance with different couples in a circle and a caller directing the circle on what to do. Instead of just dancing with one person, you're dancing with everyone in the circle. There's a stronger sense of community in the dancing because everyone is interacting with everyone else in the circle. Talk about a party! There's an energy unmatched by any other dancing really because of the collective group. Whether danced in a circle or not, I love the idea of the lead and follow revolving around each other: one is "macho" - grounded and strong while the other is just as commanding - sensual and always flirtatious.

    LINDY HOP: Whenever swing music plays, any heaviness in my heart fades away. The music has a bounce that lifts my spirits in a way that no other genre of music does for me. I get to move to the suave voices of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and cool grooves of so many wonderful musicians. This dance connection is one of compression and extension - like a rubber band that just springs back and forth. Lead and follow use each other's energy to create dynamic movement with the freedom to still express one's own personality. It can be insanely fast and energetic with kicks and lifts. It can be groovy and cool; smooth with just that hint of peppiness. The springiness of the dance is what makes it fun and the light-hearted music is just hard to resist.

    WEST COAST SWING: Partner dancing to pop music with elements of Lindy and Salsa - what's not to like? This dance to me is a combination of salsa and swing to music that I can sing to that's modern and hip (as in hip hop). What fun! I don't get a chance to dance this a lot but I love the connection in this dance. The connection between lead and follow extends and contracts with such smoothness. Unlike Lindy, its less bouncy, more like dancing on ice.

    BALBOA: This is what I like to dance when swing music gets FAST! Its a close embrace dance with the push and pull of swing, with the small crazy feet movement coordinated to a crazy fast song. 

    BLUES: Oh, the blues! This is basically a dance for the wee am hours where everyone is a bit tuckered out from swing dancing but not willing to end the night. Its cool and hot all at once. Its a close dance that has the most opportunity for personal expression while still having the potential for the strongest connection without as many rules and boundaries as the other dances. It looks deceptively easy but the truth is, the best blues dancers have such awesome connections to their partners and to the music. Now this, is dreamy dancing (though Kizomba and Tango are close... I talk about them later). This dance speaks volumes in the smallest movements sometimes. I've had blues dances where I never made more than 2 steps forward or back with my partner and others where I've walked across the length of the dance floor. If you let it, this is the dance where the music speaks to lead and follow in different ways and both can have a beautiful conversation about it on the dance floor.

    BACHATA: This dance stole my heart when I went on vacation with a group of friends in the Dominican. I was crazy into volleyball then and we had befriended the activity directors of the resort we stayed at. It turned out that the head of the group was a former volleyball player (he was good!) and the rest of the folks were a dance troupe called Chocolate. They taught us how to dance bachata and that's what started it all. I'm happy its grown so much in popularity! This music is the latin equivalent of swing music to me (even though the content is almost always about tragic love of some kind). I smile when I hear it and it draws me to dance no matter how tired I am. As I've danced it, I've been able to bring in elements from salsa and swing. I love that playfulness of 2 people being able to just do footwork while still being connected: its wonderful! You can dance close, you can dance apart, you can dance like tango ... ay, que rico!

    TANGO: This dance has an elegance that is unparalleled. To me, it looks amazing and the connection captures what I sometime feel is the epitome of the interaction between a lady and her leading man.  This dance captures the elegance of  walking. It takes this mundane activity and brings it to new heights. Its dramatic, its subtle, its stylish. In the arms of a good lead, I feel like I'm walking on clouds. The lead and follow walk as one and to truly follow this dance, I have to just listen and focus on my partner. There's a stillness in the movement and a connection with my lead that is unmatched (in my view) by any other dance. 

    KIZOMBA: This dance captured me because its got the elements of so many of the dances I've already talked about AND the music feels like the pulse of a heartbeat. Its a younger dance compared to all the others I've mentioned so it brings together elements of tango, bachata and blues. Danced in a close embrace, like a tango, it has less of tango's formal elegance. What this dance does have is that it captures the softness of the connection between a lead and follow. As I'm falling into my lead's embrace, I can feel the music pulse like a heart beat and when I'm in sync with my lead, its feels secure and comfortable in that embrace. I feel like I can just let myself go, moving in concert within this snuggly, comfortingly warm embrace and as the song progresses, it becomes more intimate: a dance to swoon about for sure. When I'm done dancing with someone who knows how to lead this dance, I always need a few seconds to acclimate myself back to 'reality'... mmm-hmm!

    BELLY DANCING: This is not a partner dance but its on this list because learning to dance it has helped me to come into my own as a dancer. Belly dancing is HARD. Its teaching me to isolate body movements in ways that I never thought I could. As a consequence, its allowed me to more freely express myself as a woman and a dancer. I do not have the svelt, sleek body of a ballerina, nor do I have the voluptuous curves of say Jessica Rabbit.  It was hard for me to figure out what felt good, much less looked good when I danced these supposedly sensual dances. I felt really awkward doing a shimmy or any type of movement that was considered "sexy" or sensual because I thought I looked ridiculous. Learning to belly dance has basically taught me that every woman's body can move beautifully in its own way. I'm still a novice at it but its great fun.  The power of a shimmy, shoulder roll or a body roll when dancing is never to be underestimated and I have belly dancing to thank for that.

    Closing Remarks...
    There are many other dances that I've learned over the years (like cumbia, merengue, cha-cha, waltz, fox trot, two step... ) but the ones I've listed above are ones that I've invested a significant amount of time in or have made a significant impact in my life somehow and are the ones that I enjoy the most.

    I'm lucky to be in Seattle - a city where all these communities of dance thrive and are so open and encouraging. The only small drawback is that these communities don't frequently intersect and so, I don't have enough days to do all the dancing I would want to.

    I have a dream though, that I'll try to work on to see how far it goes: dancing heaven for me would be a place where I could dance all these dances with all my favorite dancers (leads and follow alike):

    "Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing.
    It's the rhythm of your life.
    It's the expression in time and movement,
    in happiness, joy, sadness and envy."

    - Jaques D'ambroise