Monday, August 24, 2015

Learning to Dance: The Tao of Following

Crawfish Festival 2014, Breaux Bridge, Lousiana.

Two of my goals for my Louisiana sojourn have been to:
  1. Learn to dance; and then 
  2. Go out and do it.

It's now been about  year and a half since I took my first dance lessons (Cajun, Zydeco, and line dancing) and here's where I am:

On following:

There are pleasures in following that I did not anticipate, especially for a recovering control freak like me:

  • I'm not the driver; my partner is. I don't have to worry about what's behind us or around us, that's my partner's job. I can relax into the process - physically and mentally - in the trust that he's going to get us around the dance floor safely and smoothly.  And when the occasional fender bender occurs, oh well, all I need to do is smile and shrug and keep on moving. 

  • There is a beauty in being fully mindful of only the moment I am in, so I can feel my partner's cues about what we will do in the next moment. I have to work at this because it is easy to become distracted and for me to lose that connection. It can also be tempting to try and anticipate my partner's next move, which means I am living in a future moment that may or may not be real, and it disrupts the fluidity of the present. 

  • I adore roller coasters.  The physical rush of controlled danger, of g forces, of going up and down and around. A lead partner who knows how to facilitate the twirls and turns and spin-outs - as the follower, it is like being on a roller coaster. A head rush. 

On the fear of being observed and judged by others while I'm dancing

Whereas this form of self-consciousness would have been paralyzing before Louisiana, somehow it disappeared early on in my Louisiana dance quest. Seriously. There have been a number of times where a dance partner and I are the only couple on a dance floor and I don't even think about it. Some reasons why this is true flows from my role as the follower:
  1. My dance partner obviously has the confidence to be half of a sole couple on the dance floor, and I take on the cloak of that confidence. 
  2. As a new dancer, I am so focused on what my partner is doing that I have no brain space left to worry about onlookers. To do my part as a follower, I need to stay fully in the moment. 
  3. And part of it is a choice that is similar to that made by Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) when she decided to walk the Pacific Crest Trail - she had to tell herself that she did not fear mountain lions, bears or rattlesnakes or else she couldn't have embarked on the walk. I had to let go of self-consciousness about my dancing in order to achieve my goal. This was big-big because there was a time when jumping out of a plane was less scary than dancing.

Crawfish Festival 2014, Breaux Bridge, Lousiana.

Monogamous versus polyandrous dancing


Monogamous dance couples can practice steps and routines together, blend their rhythms, experiment with new steps or timing or patterns, and develop what can be a moving art form on the dance floor, a joy to watch. Even monogamous couples who are unvarying in their dance styles can demonstrate through their body language the pleasure they derive from dancing together.

A downside, of course, is that a monogamous dance couple can become stagnant to the point where one partner feels desirous of new moves - some spice - whilst the other wants to stay in his comfort zone.   

Crawfish Festival 2014, Breaux Bridge, Lousiana.


A woman without a regular dance partner must become polyandrous.

Benefits of multiple lead partners for new dancers:
  • Practice in how to stay present so I can go with the lead's flow
  • Practice in how to stay present so I can avoid trying to anticipate the lead's next move, which gets me into trouble
  • Constant exposure to new moves (originally I wrote "constant learning of new moves," but see re: geometry in Learning to Dance: Solving for X.)
  • Regular receipt of feedback that promotes improvement 
  • Regular receipt of feedback that promotes acceptance of feedback in this and other areas of my life ("acceptance" doesn't necessarily mean agreement; it means receiving without pushing back) 
  • Once I know a particular dancer's moves, then I know what to expect, therefore, there is some predictability (in a good sense), resulting in less stress for me as the follower

Disadvantages of multiple dance partners for new dancers:
  • A new lead brings the great unknown, which is a little anxiety-producing
  • Conflicting feedback from different partners on best practices, which can cause consternation to a new dancer - at first. (Over time, however, I've learned to take what I want [or that I am ready for], and leave the rest.)

Crawfish Festival 2014, Breaux Bridge, Lousiana.

My favorite dance partners

The best dance partner is not necessarily the most knowledgeable or the most skilled. He doesn't necessarily have the greatest number of moves, or the showiest. 

My favorite partners are those who:

  • Are such skillful prompters in their lead role that they make me appear to be a far more accomplished dancer than I am. They even make me feel more accomplished than I am.

  • Dance because it's fun and that's what they care about for themselves and for their partners. When I mess up, they don't give one shit about that - they are dancing for the joy and they want me to have joy, too.

  • During a slow dance, they dance slow. Some leads like to dance fast to a slow song. Slow is sexier.

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