I’ve been told twice that I shouldn’t dance. I only listened once.
The first was when I was a beginner. Only a few weeks into my dance journey, my instructor became frustrated by my lack of ‘natural’ ability in Salsa. He point-blank told me “maybe dance just isn’t for you.” His advice didn’t help me at all. Because I was not grasping his ‘concepts’, he instead determined that I was not built to dance.
I didn’t listen to this teacher. I decided I was going to dance – if only to prove I could. Now, I get to travel and teach dance. I co-run a school. I co-organize two congresses. I’m so glad I didn’t listen. I’m so glad I chased my dream.
It doesn’t matter if your teacher or your friend told you that you couldn’t dance. It doesn’t matter if that little voice in your head tells you that you can’t. All that matters is that you want to dance. My determination made me a dancer. His opinion didn’t matter, because I wanted to dance. I was determined.
The second was when I was an intermediate dancer. This time, I listened. I listened because the message was worth listening to. It happened when I was very frustrated learning a new movement. I was getting angry at myself, putting so much effort into doing something I felt I should be able to accomplish with much less. That’s when my teacher told me:
“Don’t dance. Just walk.”
Just walk. I can walk, I said to myself. So, for the rest of the class, I walked. Turns were walking in a circle. Moving across the floor was walking forward. The complicated suddenly became the uncomplicated.
We have a tendency in dance to complicate the simple. At its foundation, the movements we use in dance are intrinsically natural. They require relaxation, strength and confidence, whereas tension and rigidity undermine what we are trying to express.
For dancers learning a new skill, the hardest thing is finding that place of relaxation. And yes, there is always a period in which learning something new will lead to unnatural, awkward movements. But, thinking about what is natural about the movement can help to reduce that period of awkwardness.
With new dancers, it’s getting the mind off of ‘dancing’. Steps become walking, frame becomes a modified version of a hug, and getting in sync can be as simple as breathing with each other. With experienced dancers, it’s finding where new, complicated movements overlap simpler ones – or even non-dancing activities.
Sometimes, taking a step away from how you are approaching something can make a world of difference. If we are too stubborn, we can blind ourselves to a new, easier way of accomplishing our goal.
Both my stories have a common element: determination. I’ve always been ‘determined’. Sometimes, it helps me. It can make me push through things. During these times, it’s called tenacity. Sometimes, it bogs me down and hampers my process as I get caught up in frustration and a mind-rut. During these times, it’s called stubbornness.
In dance, we need to embrace our tenacity but discard our stubbornness. We have to trust people, but we also have to trust ourselves and push through difficult situations. If tenacity comes easy for you, probably stubbornness will hinder you. If you find yourself easily influenced, you’ll probably be open to more guidance, but roadblocks may hit you harder.
Know yourself – both weaknesses and strengths. You can do it. Whether its in dance or in life, keep your eyes on your goal – but your ears open to an easier path.
Thought provoking and deep too.
About thirty years ago my friends and I helped a city near us launch a dance group. I’m sure our contribution was small, but still it was out there that we were going to their dances, we were dancing with people who were just learning and we were having fun. We were sharing what we loved and approached it as an act of love.
Fast forward 25 years and my then partner, a newcomer to the dance scene, she had been a musician, were in the community at a dance.
She was told by other dancers in the women’s room to sit out the dances as she wasn’t any good. She was spoiling their dance for them. When she shared this with me we quickly left the dance. I felt we weren’t wanted. I thought: it is hard to introduce people to dancing if they are greeted with that sort of attitude.
(You addressed this poor understanding of what dance is about in a post about social dancing. I shared it with folks I know in the dance community.)
This is sort of like what happened to you in the first place, but very different than what happened the second time. I really liked that second story. It showed a wisdom by the instructor. It is a story I can understand and try to apply too.
You have a nice ‘blog’ and thoughtfully address issues that often go unremarked. Thanks.
Thank you for the kind words, Patrick. I hope you both kept dancing anyways 🙂
I’m from China and have learned salsa & bachata for nearly three years. I love dance so much, so now I have my own dance studio with my friends. Your articles are great and I want to translate some of them to share with Chinese people, may I? With proper attribution, of cause.
Of course! Please feel free 🙂
your article normalized my anxiety and disappointment in myself as well as motivated me to be determined.. not to give up.
i started learning salon tango wif my husband more than half a year ago. i tot i had the flair for dance but in reality is my husband has it and he progressed to intermediate class smoothly. my teacher feels i am too tensed on upper body, hallow on torso, too tight on knees, and too light on feet. She always says, “breathe, breathe.”. I tot i am breathing..
Many times i would feel defeated and i would ask myself perhaps i dont have the right body so might as well quit to reduce stress for both my teacher and i.
These days i feel my upper body is less tensed but i still get constant comments that there is nothing in my stomach and hence my hip has no weight. i really dont know how to create that “weight”,
i take away here that no matter what people say about my body, i ought to remind myself that i want to dance..