Social

Google defines dancing as “moving rhythmically to music.” This is a definition we all intuitively accept. Dancing – it seems obvious – is moving.

But I believe in our rush to move, we leave something important behind.

We forget a crucial fact: in order to move, and in order to dance, we must do so out of the spaces between movement. We must start with stillness.

We might liken a dance to a night sky. As there would be no stars without the space between them, so there would be no movements without the stillness between them.

This is an important idea for dancing in general, though I would argue that in partner dancing it has a particular importance that should not ever be ignored.

Here is what we do, when we partner dance: we default to moving. We are constantly thinking about how we should be moving, and what movements should come next.

For followers, in salsa, for example, we say: always do the basic. Always mark time. I once heard a famous couple criticized because the follower wasn’t always moving her feet. Followers should always be stepping, preparing themselves for the next possible movement.

We also, as followers, if we see a moment of pause or suspension from our leaders, tend to snatch the opportunity quickly. We have seen a moment and we will take it! We get, I would argue, selfish and disconnected from our  partners. We think, “aha! Now I get to do something fancy! Now I get to do what I want.”

The sin for leaders regarding stillness is to ignore it. Many leaders think they need to constantly be in motion, constantly providing moves for their follower to do, or else the follower will get bored. When two people are emotionally connected however I would argue that being bored is impossible, and stillness properly integrated into a dance does not just help facilitate that kind of connection, but also provides leaders with an opportunity to listen to what their follower has to say with their body.

This mentality of constant, perhaps even frenetic, movement, I believe, is problematic because it is antithetical to four things I love dearly: presence, connection, listening and intention.

Instead of defaulting to movement, I suggest, perhaps we should default to stillness.

When we are still, we are present with one another. We do not have to worry about our technique or our creativity or doing the right thing – we simply are one another.

When we are still, the noise drops out, and we can connect with each other more deeply on an emotional level.

When we are still, we have the time and energy with which to listen to one another.

And when we are still, we start from a baseline out of which we can use our bodies intentionally to communicate with one another.

Now to be clear, the type of stillness I am talking about varies immensely. And one does not of course have to be completely still, and most certainly not all of the time. One simply has to choose to move out of a base of stillness. Stillness takes form such as a 6 second long hug at a beginning of a dance; it may be the simple suspending breaths on counts 4 and 8; it could be a break in the music where you simply stand and look at one another; it could be counterbalance in an extended movement, when your eyes meet for a split second across the distance of your extended arms.

As a leader, to initiate stillness shows followers that you are present with your follower. It shows that you are eager to communicate on a level that goes beyond simple steps. It shows them that you care about your connection. It shows that all of the movements you will initiate come out of partnership and intention. (For more on which, see this recent post on leader qualities.)

As followers, this enables you to be truly, incredibly in tune with your partners.  Sometimes in classes followers are told to “have patience” or to “wait.” “Don’t anticipate!” instructors admonish. But I argue that in doing so these instructors do not quite get at the heart of the matter. Instead, I would insist: Be still. Listen.

When a leader stops moving, I know, I know, you might really want to keep moving. You might want to keep doing a basic or to take this moment to do something cool with your hips or your hands and shine. But if you also go still, and you wait, then you and your partner share a beautiful moment of tension and suspension, in which you are both ready to hear the slightest signal from one another’s bodies. You could then choose to move – but in this case it would be a moment of intentional communicating, not for the arbitrary sake of constant motion.

For both leaders and followers, out of stillness comes a platform for truly communicating. Instead of moving willy nilly just because that’s what you’re supposed to do, movement becomes intentional. Every move conveys an emotion, an idea, that your partner can interpret, and volley back to you.

Consider an exercise of standing in closed position with a partner with your eyes closed. Stand still. Don’t move. As a leader, transfer your weight slightly back and forth between your feet, ever so slightly. Your follower should be able to feel this and move with you. Go back to standing still. You can breathe together, literally. With stillness, this is possible, as you slow down and feel each other. In a state of stillness you can do other intentionally feeling things such as slightly tap your fingers, tilt your head, pop your rib cage, shake your shoulders gently, wait for a second or two then do a subtle roll of your abdomen. Each of these movements is a communication for your partner and your partner alone. An audience could maybe see this if they’re looking for it (and personally am watching for it like a hawk), but they don’t know what it feels like.

So I do not mean to say that when you dance you should never be moving. You should. And I don’t mean to say that followers should never move when their leaders give them stillness. Because out of stillness comes opportunities to connect, and to communicate with your body.

But I believe that the default when we dance should be stillness. The default should be presence. The default should be listening. And then, from that platform, movements can all be intentional, emotional, interesting, connected. Instead of rushing ahead with movement, we wait and move in synchrony.  This is because our movements are not given but intentional acts of communication, ones that convey affects such as love, joy, sensuality, passion, tenderness, fire, playfulness, or whatever you’d like.

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Last night at a social, a bachata leader told me that he loved me.

I said, “I love you, too.”

While this isn’t altogether  too uncommon an experience, it is something I think about quite a lot. This is because I feel it quite a lot.

People tend to understand this, though usually they wouldn’t call it love. Most people – and especially non-dancers – when I tell them I experience love on the dancefloor, say that dance is too shallow for love. It’s superficial. It’s connected, sure, and maybe also intimate, but it’s not love. They tell me, often, that feeling something akin to love on the dance floor doesn’t mean anything in real life, because these leaders don’t know a damn thing about me, and I don’t know a damn thing about them. We don’t go shopping together. We don’t call each other when we’re sad. We don’t stare longing out the window and compose florid poetry about one another.

But I argue that dance love is perfectly real – just of a slightly differently flavor.

There are some smart metaphysicians out there who will tell you that separation is an illusion. As humans, we evolved to perceive the matter in the universe as discrete bits that manifest as things such as solids, liquids, and gasses. We see tables; we see trees; we see animals; we see other humans. To our limited senses, these are all very distinctive entities. To some degree, this is true. But to another, it is simply an illusion, as all matter is simply a super condensed form of energy, interlocking into different chemical and physical forms that are constantly in flux. To be clear, this is  science, not some form of new age spirituality. Humans perceive separateness, and do experience consciousness separately. But it’s not necessarily the most accurate depiction of reality.

By my account, to love is to see beyond this illusion.

To love, for me, is to collapse barriers. To love is to dissolve separateness. To love is to experience a sense of unity, or oneness. What this looks like in the practicalities of day-to-day life is something akin to empathy. It is coming to see someone for who they are, and accepting them. It is acknowledging what makes a person different from you – what constitutes the separation that has come to characterize their life – and embracing it wholeheartedly. It is offering yourself genuinely and openly to another person. It is coming together, despite all the things throughout your lives that have kept you apart.

We experience this kind of love to varying degrees with different people. For most people, the collapsing of barriers is most intense with a spouse. They become like one. But it also happens intensely with family members, with children, and with close friends with whom they experience a lot of resonance. It is also possible to experience it with complete strangers. When I meet people, I can quite literally feel their humanity pulsing around them. I don’t know much about them, but  I attempt to see them in this moment as clearly as I can. I attempt to experience the world through their feelings and their eyes, and to acknowledge our shared existential frailty. I feel a very real kind of love for them, even if its not the closely bonded type I have with close friends and lovers.

All of which is to say is this:

When I dance, I try to collapse barriers. 

I think, to some extent, we all do.

When we dance, we are very much ourselves. It’s pretty impossible, I think, to lie about who we are when we dance. And so therefore we are vulnerable with our partners. We meet each other rather existentially naked.

And then we communicate. We move. We feel. We connect. We make eye contact. We see into each other’s passion. We melt into each other’s current emotional state. We get swept up in the music. We get swept up in experiencing the moment through our partner’s feelings, through our partner’s bodies. We learn much about who they are, in these kinds of moments.

We also do incredibly romantic and loving things when we dance. We keep avid watch on the couples around us to protect each other from wayward elbows. We flirtatiously laugh as we stare into each other’s eyes. We hold each other gently. We press our foreheads against one another. We smile as we sway. We inhale as one on the count of eight, experiencing anticipation and suspension together.

This, to me, is entirely real. Sure, sometimes people just don’t really get the whole presence thing. Sometimes, people are distracted. Sometimes, people only dance with me only for the sake of trying to convince me to fuck them later. But I do generally find that most of the time, the people I dance with are there genuinely because they want to be present with me for those four minutes.

And yes, absolutely, I feel it with some people more than others. With some leaders I feel pretty lukewarm. I enjoy their presence but there isn’t all that much electrifying about it. But with others, with leaders who are present with me and with whom I feel both vulnerable and met, my heart beats relentlessly and joyfully, as though on ecstatic fire. If I dance with them a lot of over time I experience added feelings of safety, gratitude, softness, and warmth. I have intensely fond feelings for people with whom I lovingly connect week after week.

I think this is a real, and intensely beautiful thing. I suppose I could think of what I experience and feel on the dance floor as not love, but I don’t see any good reason to do so. Given how vanishingly short life is, I’d rather take every opportunity I can to feel more rather than less. Dance gives me that. And, especially, giving myself to dance gives me that. Love on the dance floor, in this way, is one of the most potent forces in my life that makes it feel beautiful, and exhilarative.

 

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DANCE ADDICTION

(Hi. I talk about “addiction” in this post. I do most certainly recognize that a psycho-chemical relationship to some activity such as dancing or running is not as dangerous or psychologically damaging, usually, as true forms of addiction (eg, gambling), and especially potently chemical ones (eg, alcohol). I choose to use the phrase ‘addiction’ because there can most certainly be a compulsive set of behaviors and feelings around dance, as I do experience and observe in others. But this is addiction lite, to be very clear.)

 

 

I once wrote on this blog was called What happens when you dance for love. 

In it, I talked all about my addiction to dance. I am–I have been–compelled to dance in part because it provides a space in which I feel cared for, adored, loved, and connected intimately to another human being.

This got me thinking about the wide variety of ways in which people can become or consider themselves addicts. Sure – this whole love thing I have going on is pretty powerful. But there is plenty else going on.

So this is what I’ve got – a list of 9 things that keep me (and many I know) coming obsessively back for more:

1) Physical activity

Physical exertion is known to secrete all sorts of addictive feel-good molecules.

Beta-endorphin and dopamine are both secreted in high amounts while exercising, leading to feelings of joy and even ecstasy. Beta-endorphin is in fact what accounts (by and large) for “runner’s high” – and why people develop somewhat real chemical addictions to running.

The same thing happens with dance, or at least with the dances which require exertion.

Interestingly, it is the phenomenon of emptying the lungs of air which accounts for the bulk of this chemical effect. So these ecstatic and addictive feelings are the greatest when the heart and lungs really get pumping — in the fast and furious sort of dancing. Yet it can also happen when you do not move at all — all you have to do is laugh.

2) Synchrony

Millions of years ago, our primate ancestors got most of their emotional highs from grooming.

As fire was invented and tribes developed into larger social systems, however, humans required ways to bond in larger groups. Thus the systems that had previously just worked for grooming began to develop for other activities. Specifically, singing and dancing.

Research has shown quite definitively that vocalizing or moving in synchrony creates powerful neurochemical effects–ones that simultaneously bond communities and foster feelings of joy.

3) Touch

All that being said, “grooming” is still an incredibly powerful high for us. One-on-one physical touching is still incredibly powerful. The impact of physical touch cannot go understated–and most people (especially single people) do not get enough in their regular lives.

Touch stimulates the release of oxytocin – the “love hormone.” This stimulates the release of beta-endorphin, dopamine, and serotonin. Touch is known to reduce stress levels, to lower blood pressure, and to improve camaraderie and even the success of sports teams

Add the chemical effects of touch to those of physical activity and synchrony, and you are faced with something powerfully addictive.

4) Music

Music is an extraordinary part of human experience that can also reduce stress, facilitate catharsis, take one on a journey, and create feelings of love and joy.

Dancing without music can be great. Certainly. But it is the submission to and submersion within music that makes it such a transcendent and even spiritual experience.

5) Community

A lot of people who dance begin because they don’t have particularly strong social lives. I personally began dancing at a time in my life in which it was almost impossible to have friends, due to some mental health issues. So dance, in this way as in many others, really saved me.

Dance provides a way of immediately having a bunch of friends, even if it’s your first night and you’re technically a stranger to everyone there. Being a stranger doesn’t last long. Soon enough dance provides the sense of continuity and community that we all crave.

6) Love, Connection, Intimacy

The  power of connection and romantic love while dancing is probably my own personal greatest addiction.

Dance is a world in which we connect. When you step onto the floor with someone, you are fully with each other. You are present with one another. Ideally, you are all that exists for each other. You take care of one another. You act as guardians, and even confidants, as you vulnerably open up to one another.

You can also experience a lot of intimate, romantic physical contact. You trace your fingers along your partner’s shoulder blades; you interlock your fingers with theirs; you accidentally bump noses; you inhale against one another’s chests.

For  people who really value intimate connection – and especially those who are single – you really can hardly do better than dance.

7) Improvement

Many dancers are addicted to betterment. I personally find that every single time I go out dancing I feel a tiny bit better than the time before. I cannot stop. I love getting better. Not only does it feel good to progressively master a craft (as if, hah, dance could ever be mastered), but it also feels good to see the ways in which your partners and the communities around you react to your dancing.

The better you get, the more people notice, and the more frequently people ask you to dance.

(I talk about improvement in the posts Should you care about technique and How to know how good you are.)

Which brings us to…

8) Validation

The validation you can get on the dance floor is truly like no other. Strangers ask you to dance – this is flattering. Partners ask your name after a dance – this is flattering. People watch you dance with wide eyes – this is flattering. Men or women express some sort of sexual attraction or interest in you – this is flattering. Partners connect with you romantically or flirtatiously while dancing – this is flattering. People assent to going home with you at the end of the night – this is flattering.

I don’t know if, as human beings, we enjoy anything more than we do getting positive feedback from the people around us.

In dance, we can receive that feedback in terms of our sexuality, our appearance, our skills as dancers, as party-goers, as sartorialists, as friends, as romantic partners. As so many things, in so many ways.

And then, as I mentioned, the better we get at dancing, the more potential we have to be validated by people who are themselves already talented dancers, or who are highly valued in terms of the social hierarchy. That is powerful stuff right there.

9) Gambling

To cap it all off, the human psyche relates to dance like it relates to gambling. 

Having a “great” night is pretty unpredictable. You never know when you’re going to stumble into a new favorite dancer, or connect really well with someone, or have a string of great dances, or be the only follower in the room and spend the whole night with leaders fighting over you.

Unpredictability is why gambling is so addictive to the human psyche. We feel compelled to invest our time and money in it on a regular basis just in case this is the big one. 

So thus many of us find ourselves going dancing every single night, because we never know when that unpredictable and oh-so-juicy flood of dopamine is going to hit us.

 

These nine reasons – and I am sure many more – are by and large why I found myself dancing every single night for years. I was always well aware of it, but that wasn’t enough to stop me. These days, having been doing it for long enough (as often happens to people after a few years), the vice-like grip the gambling aspect of the dance has had over me has lessened.

Nowadays I function perfectly well only dancing about 4 nights a week.

For anyone who knows me, this is a vast improvement.

Have I missed anything? What do you think?

 

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Last week I wrote a post diagnosing 9 ways in which we subconsciously participate in sexism in our dance communities.

(You can read it here.)

This week I want to follow up on a highly related topic. I cannot address everything that needs to be done to remediate sexism. But I do want to get the ball rolling by talking about feminism — and what role it might play on and around the dance floor.

So I ask the questions: What should the role of feminism be in dances that come out of heteronormative histories? 

What can we do to promote equality and safety in our dance spaces?

First to address: what do I mean by ‘feminism’?

I mean – wanting equal rights for both genders. I mean – liberating ourselves from gender norms. I mean – being a woman who doesn’t have to be submissive and demure. I mean – being a man who doesn’t have to be the emotion-less, alpha-male breadwinner.

I know a lot of people think that feminism means something else, something more, maybe something about hating men – but they are by and large incorrect. I think my definition is probably the most broadly accepted definition by feminists and dictionary writers alike these days.

(And I do also, very much so, endorse an intersectional feminism, which means, learning from and attending to the situations of women and all people beyond white, middle-upper class women.)

Here are 15 ways in which I believe we should use feminist insights to improve the quality of our dance spaces.

1. Detach gender from lead/follow roles

As I addressed at great length in last week’s post, our communities associate men with leading – which gives them an aura of dominance, strength, and ability – and women with following – which gives them an aura of meekness, weakness, and obedience.

First, we need to do away with the idea that those things are necessarily true about being a leader or a follower on the dance floor.

Second, we should dissociate men from leading and women from following. Men can do both; women can do both. Men can be strong; women can be strong. Men can be leaders; women can be leaders. Men can be followers; women can be followers.

We can do this by discontinuing language around The Man and The Woman roles. I do that on this blog and I admit that it can be a challenge – it makes my grammar unwieldly. But I do it anyway because it’s important. Instructors can also stop addressing ‘men’ and ‘ladies’ in class and instead call them ‘leads’ and ‘follows.’ Even in classes in which all the leads are male and all the followers are female, it would still be helpful to use this terminology to help everyone subconsciously shift their gendered perceptions of the dance.

2. Ask.

Ladies: Women are used to being chased. We are used to being pursued. We are used to being asked for our attention. If we have to go up and ask men for attention in a bar or on the street, often that signals some sort of desperation (or feels like it does). At the very least, standing back and waiting for men to do the acting is simply a habit for the vast majority of us.

The reality however is that in partner dancing, any male leader whose worth even the tiniest bit of salt is ecstatic to be asked to dance. Men are turned down all night long. Even some of the best male dancers I know profess to being regularly turned down.

So being asked for anyone is actually a very pleasant experience.

If you’re afraid of asking, start safely. Ask people you know. People you’ve met in class. People you’ve danced with before. If someone has asked you to dance before, there’s a pretty good chance he enjoys dancing with you, so he is a reasonably safe bet. And if you get rejected, shrug your shoulders and move on. You have no idea what’s going on for this guy – why he might not want to dance right now. There are so many fish in this sea, just go grab another.

Men: Ask! Keep asking! And be aware of how you react to women asking you. If it turns you off, ask yourself why, and see if it has anything to do with latent, silly notions of gender normativity sitting in the back of your brain.

Also be mindful about who you ask to dance. Do you only ask women in short skirts or under a certain age? If so, you’re missing out on a whole lot of dancing – perhaps the best dancing you could get – from women who simply choose to dress humbly or who are older and have a wealth of amazing dance background. Many advanced dancers know this and actually will gravitate toward older women.

It’s also reasonably common for male leads to ignore female followers if they have sexually rejected them in one way or another. Get over it. This is both immature and signals to followers that you only value them sexually.

3. Say no.

Some people make it a rule for themselves to always say “yes” to a dance.

Some don’t want to say “yes” but do anyways because they feel uncomfortable rejecting people.

To which I can only say: bullshit.

Say no.

If you don’t want to dance with someone, for whatever reason, that’s completely fine. Personally, if I ask someone to dance, I’d rather them say “no” to me than dance with me if they’re not 100% into it. It’s like sex. I have no desire to be with someone who’s not into it.

And if you end up in a dance that you didn’t know was going to be so uncomfortable in one way or another, change it. If your leader grips your hands too tightly, shake them so they loosen up. If your leader holds you too close, back up. If your leader really doesn’t get the point and is hurting you in any way, drop their hands and walk away.  I mean it. We might have this crazy idea that we need to suffer through uncomfortable dances… but if we all communicate empathetically and like adults, it’s completely unnecessary.

4. Be okay with no.

When someone says “no” to you for a dance – this goes for everybody, but I’m particularly looking at you, fellas – accept it.

Accept it the first time they say no.

Don’t tug on their hands. Don’t say “c’mon.” Don’t give them a puppy dog face. Don’t be stroppy and storm off in a huff.

You have no idea why this person said ‘no’ to you, and it’s none of your business, anyway.

5. In fact, try to get excited about “no.”

We shame people a lot in our community for saying “no” to dances. I think this is wrong, though I do understand where that impulse comes from.

But imagine if we were all empathetic communicators, and when we said “no thank you” we still did so with love in our hearts. And imagine if those who heard the words “no thank you” were actively glad that the person was honest with them, and stood up for their own needs?

When I ask a friend to dance then notice he looks tired I am very glad that he hesitates to say “yes,” because it means I can insist he sit down and take care of himself. Sometimes we don’t get what we want, but others do. We can be glad for them (I do recognize this is easier if they are nice about it).

6. Followers: Don’t follow everything.

As you follow… as a woman or a man or whatever you like.. you don’t have to follow everything. That’s an over-simplified, rather sexist view of how the roles and genders work.

Following doesn’t have to be – shouldn’t be – blanket submission.

I prefer to think of following as an active yes. In every move of the  dance, the leader gives me an option. The leader says: here, this is what I think is cool at this moment. Don’t you agree? And 98% of the time my answer is yes. I acknowledge that this dance needs a clear lead and a clear follow in order to function. I enjoy following so much. But every once in a while something comes my way that I don’t want to or can’t do, so I simply don’t.

You don’t have to follow everything. If something makes you uncomfortable; if a leader is too close; is a move is too sexual… straight up don’t do it.

And leaders – if your follower rejects a lead, or asks for a different quality of connection or move, that should be reason to be glad, too. Don’t take it as a burn – take it as a compliment that a human being who has needs is willing to be vulnerable about them with you.

7. Women: If you don’t want to wear high heels, don’t. But do if you wanna.

A lot of women think in Afro-Latin dancing that you have to wear high heels (and/or dress a particular way) because people will think less of you otherwise.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

At the beginning, it might seem like the best dancers all wear super spikey heels and slanky outfits. But as you progress in the dance you learn that what actually happens at the very highest levels of dancing is freedom. No one cares what shoes you wear so long as you dance well.

Now, I talk a bit in this video about why you, for the sake of your technique, may want to choose to wear high heels. But I also talk about why it isn’t necessary. If you dance better in flats, wear flats.

Leaders like quality follows who connect well with them when they dance. That’s it.

8. Let same-gender partners dance together

I think probably 100% of the time I dance with other women, men come up and try to intervene. “You should be dancing with me!” “Don’t you prefer to dance with men?” “I’m here to save you from dancing with each other!”

Actually, we are very happy to be dancing with each other.

Leave same sex dances alone. If they wanted to be dancing with different genders, they would be. .

9. Learn the opposite role

It is still very common – for people to cat-call and holler…or, more usually, giggle… at same sex couples on the floor. 

This kind of behavior indicates that people think this is “weird.” If you learn the opposite role, even just a little bit, however, you will help de-stigmatize it. You will help make the dance floor a more comfortable place for people who enjoy dancing opposite roles. You will also learn what is good and what is challenging about the opposite role, and perhaps develop more empathy and respect for people who ordinarily dance it.

10. Dance with people who have learned the opposite role

It’s reasonably common for women to dance with women. Just like with sexuality, we in the West find this fairly acceptable. We do objectify it—men will watch with lustful eyes and make lewd comments—but we accept it, most of the time.

It’s much less common for men to dance with men. And it’s quite common for men to feel very nervous or even repulsed by the idea of dancing with other men.

I understand that we all grew up in a culture in which cis-heterosexual men are not supposed to have any kind of physical contact or emotional intimacy with other men. But this is wrong, and times are changing. Other men aren’t an attack on your masculinity. They aren’t going to molest you. They are simply guys who enjoy following and think you might be fun to dance with.

11. Make space for your follows to contribute to the dance

Some leads give moves and expect you to follow them and that is that. And that’s great – I have no problem with this. Sometimes, all I ever want to do is follow, follow, follow. I do enjoy that aspect of following – the “obedience.” If you are a musical leader, I will be happy as a clam.

Other leads, however, think about ways to draw their followers into the creativity of the dance. They might give them space to shine, or pause on a few beats to let them improvise, or listen to their bodies and their movements to come up with leads better suited to them (to be clear, the followers still don’t have to take up the offer if they don’t want).

Both methods are great but only the second one feels empowering. Only the second is co-creative. Only the second makes you feel enchanted by your follower’s brilliance. If you lead, perhaps consider thinking about how you can listen better to your follower to meet them where they’re at.

12. Take stock of who you patronize 

Many of us (most likely all of us) have a subconscious preference for male instructors, DJs, and promoters. This comes from Western culture at large, from the culture of dance specifically, and also from the natural tendency to give deference to the lead in the lead/follow dynamic.

But female organizers in the scene can also be super talented, super smart, and super badass. Ask yourself: Which instructors do you like the most? Which DJs? Do you think that there may be some subconscious sexism lurking in your preferences? Try deconstructing your views and giving female experts more of a shot.

13. Communicate

One important thing we can do to help create safe spaces for each other is to communicate openly, honestly, and empathetically.

This means off the floor – such as when we have discussions about feminism, or when your friend informs you that you drunkenly took advantage of her while dancing the night before.

It also means on the floor – such as when your leader dips you but you have a bad back, or when you’re feeling drained and would like to have a more simple dance.

If we can all respect each other’s opinions and desires, and support one another, than we can help everyone take care of themselves as well as better connect with one another.

14. Emote

At the heart of feminism is the desire to erode gender norms. A part of that is telling men that they don’t have to be cold, burly, manly, or whatever. Women don’t have to be anything specific, either. We can simply be human beings. We can have emotions. We can be vulnerable.

So much of what holds us back from expressing ourselves when we dance or truly connecting with our partners is fear. Fear of being rejected. Fear of letting go. Fear of appearing silly. Fear of doing traditionally female things like displaying emotions. I see people holding back on dance floors all over the place.

Daring to emote while you dance – to really express yourself or to really emotionally connect with your partner – can help you break your own walls. It can teach you that it really isn’t all that scary. In fact, it’s actually quite thrilling – to be personal, exposed, and vulnerable in the company of strangers.

15. Take care of one another 

It should go without saying, but we should all want the best for one another, and should stick up for each other. I have altogether too often (really, multiple times) been sexually assaulted by a friend at a congress and had others just sit back and watch. Of course I can fight  for myself, but if we were all on the same page together about supporting each other’s autonomy, it would be much harder for those of us too drunk on booze or dance to take advantage.

I think this also means calling each other out on shitty behavior in our day to day lives. Sometimes we don’t treat each other all that well, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we are disrespectful. Sometimes we are judgmental. Sometimes we are dismissive, or treat people with indifference to their feelings. We should of course try to not be these things. When we suck at that, though, if our friends called us out, we would be held to a higher standard of respect both on and off the dance floor.

 

Or something. 🙂

 

And… that’s my list. These are the insights I believe feminism has to bring to our dance communities, and the ways in which they can help bring about a more safe – and exciting – space, for all of us.

I am super curious about what you might think about this. Let me know in the comments or elsewhere. <3

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sexism in salsa

The partner dancing that we do today – whether it be salsa, or west coast, or bachata, kizomba, or zouk – has emerged out of a long tradition of sexist behaviors. This is a simple fact of history.

Fortunately, paralleling great feminist strides in our culture as a whole, that tradition has really begun to collapse. One great example of our progress is the fact that women, once shamed away from asking men to dance, now ask men to dance all of the time. Quite literally all of the time.

This is cause to celebrate! Progress is happening!

However: this progress is by no means complete, nor necessarily as quick or transparent as we would like to believe.

In today’s post I elevate for discussion several ways in which we subconsciously participate in and perpetuate sexism. These habits of ours are all quite different and I am certain that no one will agree with me on all the points. But that is precisely what I am hoping to do with this exercise – I want to bring up some potential ideas, get feedback, and talk about what needs or does not need to be done.

What follows are 9 ways in which I believe we accidentally participate in sexism.

*(For the sake of making some of the points about sexism in this post, I use heteronormative language. We associate leading with men and following with women – so I wrote this post associating leading with men and following with women, something I do NOT do in the rest of my blog posts. You will also note that some of the critiques did not apply to women but to following; however, since by and large following is still associated with women and that which is feminine, I believe the critiques are at least helpful starting points for discussion on gender norms in dance.)

 

1. “Ladies: don’t think, just follow.”

“Ladies, don’t think, just follow” is a common piece of advice. It might be, in fact, the most common piece of advice given in group classes. It is a piece of advice I have given many times myself, and which I repeated to myself constantly in my initial months and years dancing. “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think.”

Yet there are two problems with this piece of advice, and specifically with associating it with women.

First, it is in some sense factually incorrect. Even while it is important as a follower to avoid anticipating moves, thinking is still an incredibly important aspect of following. While I dance I am constantly aware of my surroundings, noting habits in my leader, and attempting to attune my dancing to his. Sometimes I do close my eyes to better follow. I do try to stop actively engaging my conscious mind. But I a) am still concentrating like crazy, just in a different way, and b) do not do this all of the time. I do this as a choice, which I strategically make with my thoughts, based on my active judgment of what’s going on in the dance and the kind of following that is required.

Secondly, this phrase reinforces negative stereotypes. The brilliant London-based salsa instructor Toan Hoang recently asked me: “what do you think that does, time and time again, hearing instructors shout over the music in classes: ‘ladies, don’t think, just follow?'”

This is what it does: it subconsciously reinforces the idea that leading–the “male” role–requires thinking, and following–the “female” role–does not. It tells us that men should think and women should not.

2. Polarizing leading and following

We tend to think of leading as just leading and following as just following, but there are nuances to these roles that are often unfortunately lost on the surface.

As much as leaders choose which moves to do, high level leaders will also spend a significant amount of energy listening to their followers. They will get a feel for what works for the follower, and will be able to pick up on signals in her body regarding what kind of movements would work best on. This, in some senses, is a bit like following.

Followers, in the other role, do by and large follow the movements provided by leaders, but they also suggest. They also subtly guide the course of the dance. They also, at high levels, use specific movements and kinds of tension in their body to indicate to the leader what they would like to do. They sometimes hijack and it is appropriate.

If we taught leading and following like this from the get-go — as a pattern that was more interactional and less polarized than we think of it now — we might be able to help people have dances which are more like communicative exchanges and less like strictly “male”/”female” role play.

3. Forgetting the power of ‘no’ and misconstruing power dynamics

In partner dancing, by and large, yes, leads (men) are “dominant” and follows (women) are “submissive.” Nearly every person who partner dances will tell you that this is a part of why they enjoy the dance.

But it is important to be wise to an important facet of the typical dominant/submissive relationship.

In BDSM communities, it is well known that even though doms appear to have all the power, it is actually the sub that is the most powerful person in the relationship. That’s right. Doms look like they have the power, but they actually don’t.

Why? Because no matter what the dominant person suggests, it is up to the submissive to say if it is off limits or not. The safe word is the key to power dynamics in the bedroom. It enables the submissive to call the shots and to ultimately set the boundaries around what happens.

In partner dancing, we don’t have a safe word. But we don’t need one. The follower can simply deny a move being led. All we need to do is to recognize that right. This means, among other things, getting rid of the follow everything being given to you mindset, and it means not just accepting but being actively glad when followers assert what they are and are not comfortable with. This would enable us to inhabit lead follow roles, and even in a gendered way if we want, without sacrificing the nobility and power of female followers.

4. Ladies Styling

It is often said in partner dancing that men are the support, and women are the beauty.

Or that men are the frame, and women are the painting.

Or that men are invisible, and women are showcased.

This results in classes being, by and large, for men to learn moves and connect, and alternative classes in “ladies styling” being for women to learn how to be pretty.

This is bollocks. Complete fucking bollocks.

Men can be aesthetic, too. Men can move fluidly and beautifully while they lead. Men can shine. Men can dance. 

And women are most certainly a part of the power and structure that make a dance look–but more importantly feel–good.

In fact, I would argue that focusing on “ladies styling” actually detracts from the quality of the dancing. However much energy women/followers devote to their styling is exactly the amount of energy they can no longer be spent on listening to and connecting with their leaders.

5. John y Jane couples

Daniel y Desiree. Ataca y Alemana. Sergio y Gaby.

Jordan and Tatiana. Hugo and Stacy. Kyle and Sarah.

There are a small number of teaching and performing couples who go by the female name first, but by my best guess (scanning congress websites and the like) they constitute no more than 10% of performing couples. I am being generous with that number. I’d bet my life savings it’s actually no more than 5%.

This is a norm we inherited from the rest of our culture – to always say Mr. first and Mrs. second. But that doesn’t make it right. 

And I want to state here, unequivocally, that I do not blame this entirely on the couples. Sure, they are the ones who choose their names, but we are the ones who consume them. I am 100% positive that we subconsciously admire and patronize male-led partnerships more so than female-led ones. If we want our leaders to step up their game and represent gender equality then we, as their patrons, have to step up ours, too.

6. Teaching moves

Most lessons, especially those offered right before a social, are designed mostly for men. They teach “moves.”

The instructor might say dozens of times in the lesson, “leads do XYZ, and the followers will just know what to do.”

Um, no. The follower won’t automatically know what to do. There is a distinct skill set – a distinct ability to read what a leader is intending – that following requires. Classes very rarely talk about this.

Placing the emphasis in classes on moves gives priority to men’s (leader’s) education in the dance and leaves women in the dust. It also turns the dance into a set of directions the lead gives the follower, instead of a two-way line of communication between them.

If instead of moves we taught “how to be good partners,” classes would be good for both leaders and followers, and we would think of men and women as equitable partners in making a dance go smoothly.

(I talk about these ideas at great length in the post “Is it always the leader’s fault?” Also, for an example of things that I think could be taught in beginner classes, see Maximizing the Purity of Your Connection)

7. Male instructors dominating classes

I have only once personally ever gone to an Afro-latin dance class taught by a couple in which the woman spoke more than 50% of the time.

(In swing dances it happens much more often.)

Sometimes even in classes when following is being discussed the male instructor does the talking… even though he is not the resident expert on following.

Men simply dominate the hell out of teaching class. In part this is because the emphasis of the class is on “moves” and men are the ones teaching how to lead them, but this is also because we simply don’t make space for women to talk.

8. “Hijacking” and the language of hijacking

Hijacking is what happens when a follower doesn’t obey the lead, and instead does whatever she feels like doing. This is a serious sin in most dance communities. It is nowadays however much less so in west coast swing.

There are two important issues having to do with the idea of “hijacking.”

First is the act itself. What’s so bad about hijacking? Done tastefully, safely, and occasionally, “hijacking” can be a great way for a follower to be playful and musical with her leader. This might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I do know a lot of advanced leaders in the Afro-Latin dances who are on board with this sort of thing. In swing nowadays, though it didn’t used to be, this kind of behavior is actively expected and even beloved.

Second is the language of hijacking (another great idea of Toan’s). To “hijack” is to do something negative. It might even be to do something violent. It’s to interrupt the natural, good flow of things. It states unequivocally that the lead has the right thing in mind and the follower does not. This kind of language can be especially problematic if the follower “hijacks” in order to protect herself.

The language of hijacking might be less problematic if leading and following weren’t currently so divided along gender lines. But as it stands, it helps create a sense of the woman overstepping her bounds on the floor.

If we change our language around “hijacking” we may be able to shift this kind of moralistic duality. We could also perhaps migrate the act from that of “taboo” to that of “skilled art one engages in smartly once more experienced in the dance.” I suggest using words more like “making a statement,” “being proactive,” “playing,” “exercising agency,” “changing the direction of the dance,” (Toan’s favorite), “contributing to patterns,” or my favorite, “co-creating.”

9. Catcalling, ogling, or giggling at female-female dancing (and male-male dancing)

(This item does not really apply to swing dances, which have by and large normalized same sex dancing)

When two women dance together, we cat-call. It’s a sex show.

This is terrible because it fetishizes female-female coupling.

When two men dance together, we stare and laugh. It’s funny. 

This is terrible both because it derides the connection two men can have together (indeed, it makes it laughable that men can connect at all), and also because it finds the idea so funny that a man would stoop to the “female” role of following.

Seriously get over it, everybody. When same sex couples dance together, it’s because they want to dance together, not be a show. And if they happen to want to be a show for the sake of being a show, it shouldn’t (usually) be. For the sake of disrupting our culture’s fetishisization of same-sex dancing, I suggest ignoring attention-seekers.

(If, on the other hand, you’re laughing at your friend because they’re so hysterically bad at the role they are trying to play, then by all means, be my guest.)

 

 —–

From same-sex couples to ladies styling to re-thinking lead/follow dynamics, I have gone through a diverse array of ways in which we subtly promote or at least participate in sexism within our dance communities. (I talk about ways in which we can remediate it here.)

I do not mean to say that we do this on purpose. This is just like when people are casually sexist or casually racist in their day to day lives. No one wants to be the bad guy. None of us necessarily are. It just so happens that the world we inherited was not very nice, and sometimes even doing our best we fail to see the ways in which we oppress one another (and ourselves).

Also, I want to be clear that there are many ways in which we are sexist that I did not talk about. I chose to focus on sexism that is unique to dance and left more of the “standard society stuff” alone. Some “standard society” instances of sexism include, for example, pushing beyond a follower’s comfortable levels of intimacy while dancing, getting drunk and groping/assaulting followers, the often disrespectful hookup culture at congresses, deferring to male promoters in the scene more than female promoters, or considering men more as authorities on how to dance than women.

I will most certainly be discussing those topics in future posts.

Yet for now I would love to hear what you think here. I believe these are some really important issues. And a lot is at stake here, including how we define “leading” and how we define “following.” So it’s a big deal. But change is coming anyway. We may as well be mindful about it and do what we can (such as take steps I talk about in this post) to facilitate thoughtfulness and comfort in our dance spaces.

 

 

To stay up to date find us on facebook. 🙂

 

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angels in dance

I have a friend who leads like I imagine the angels do.

I can just picture it: Gabriel, Peter, and this sweet guy from Jersey, all chilling in the back of the club with a queue of ladies and gents waiting to dance.

This leader, my friend, is angelic in the most real and important way. He once told me that he consciously tries to make every dance as amazing as possible for the followers he is with. I know this sounds simple, but a whole hell of a lot goes into it. For any given dance he takes note of the qualities of your initial connection, gauges your emotional state, and crafts each move of the dance in a way as to help you feel safe and happy. He is committed to not just your pleasure but your comfort and joy. This, he says, is the essence of a good leader.

I agree.

What about a good follower? A good follower does much the same. A good follower listens. A good follower responds. A good follower tunes into your  emotional energy, feels your interpretation of the music, gauges your type of connection, and provides the kind of response that is satisfying for you – the leader – on those levels. A good follower, like a good leader, meets her partner where she is at.

Dancing with these kinds of people can be heaven.

Being one of these people can also be heaven…

But you know what else it can be by the end of the night?

Exhausting.

Being a caring dancer can be really fucking exhausting.

Partner dance is care

Partner dancing is an intimate act. It’s two people, moving together. It’s communicating. It’s being present. It’s relationship. It’s teamwork. It’s union. It’s sex, but better.

What distinguishes partner dancing from solo dancing is the relationship you have with your partner. Dancing is as rife with opportunities for mutual positivity or mutual negativity as any other time two people interact with one another.

Any time you interact with someone, from passing completely random strangers on public transit to making love to your own spouse, you have the opportunity to show them love and make them feel better, or not. You have the opportunity to smile at them, or not. You have the opportunity to be empathetic, and to listen, and to respond lovingly, or not. You have the opportunity to embrace a human being, and to make them feel at home in the world, or not.

Partner  dancing – like any act between two people – is an opportunity to take care.

Taking care is giving energy

Yet the thing about taking care of people is that it’s hard work.

We all only have so much emotional energy.

Say you wake up in the morning feeling springy. The sun is bright, and the sky is blue. You bounce out the front door. “Life is beautiful,“  you think. You buy a few dozen roses, and you pass them out to all the strangers you pass on the way to the office. All of these people smile brilliantly at you… they’ll probably remember this moment all day. You put positive energy out into the world. You showed them love. You took care of them.

But what if you passed out roses all week, and no one expressed any care or even gratitude for you back? You might be able to get by feeling good about it for a while, bolstered by your sense of virtue and good ethics, but after some time of constantly putting all this energy out into the world, you will probably really start to yearn for some back. We are, unfortunately, limited human beings, who require as much nourishment from the world as we put into it.

At the end of a long, caring week without feeling cared for back, you might feel a little bit tired and a little bit sad. You might not feel like you could do much at all. You might not even feel much like you could buy one or two roses.

All you want to do is lay down and sleep.

Or better yet have someone come give you a rose of their own.

Emotional exhaustion on the dance floor

When I dance, I want to give 100%.

I want to be fully present with my partner, and I want them to be fully present with me.

I want to take care of my partner, and I want them to take care of me.

I want to love my partner, and I want them to love me.

I have noticed over the years however that if I cannot find a happy meeting ground – if I cannot find reciprocal energy of attention and care in a dance – I leave it feeling emotionally drained. If this goes on many times over the course of the night I go home feeling exhausted and sad.

This can happen for any number of reasons. My leader is indifferent. My leader doesn’t pay attention to me. My leader never makes eye contact with me. My leader is physically rough with me. My leader doesn’t seem to know or care how the quality of the lead affects me. My leader puts me through turn patterns without giving much thought to musicality or my experience. Perhaps most commonly – my leader is caught up in their own world.

It also happens when my leader doesn’t notice – or cannot appreciate – the kind of care that I can give or am giving.

I don’t care if it’s someone at their first lesson or a pro whose been at it for decades. Even though the ways in which people can be caring vary based on technique, anybody on the dance floor is capable of care. Anybody is capable of demonstrating appreciation for you as a dancer and as a human being, as well as connecting with you and trying to give you the best experience possible. They might not be particularly good at it, technically, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the love that counts.

Takers and givers

A friend of mine once told me that she thinks about people in the world in terms of givers and takers.

On the dance floor, the angels, the ones who care, are givers.

People who are oblivious to care are takers.

If you don’t go into each social and try to nourish and connect with your partners where they are at, you are a taker.

But if you go into each social with a big open heart and a desire to connect, support, and show appreciation to your partners, you are a giver.

Should you consent to dancing with a taker?

I don’t typically consent to dances that I think will be emotionally draining.

If I have boundless emotional energy to give, I’ll say yes to everybody (who appears to be respectful). If I think the leader who asks me to dance is well-intentioned but clueless about this sort of dynamic, I’ll still say yes. I don’t feel drained by people who are loving in whatever capacity they can be.

If I am not feeling particularly boundless, or simply having a rough day, I will say no to anyone who doesn’t make me feel cared for. Sometimes I literally cannot bear my emotional energy being drained any more. Sometimes I need to feel cared for more than I can summon the will to care for others.

But if I dance with a giver…

If I end up with a partner who connects with me, finds my strengths and weaknesses, supports me, smiles at me, enjoys the music with me, or attentively makes art with me, then I feel cared for. I feel loved. I feel safe. I feel happy. I feel energized. My energy increases.

This is just like if someone makes me dinner, or opens the door for me, or simply smiles at me when I pass them on the street. It is a gesture that sends a message of openness, intimacy, and love.

This is super cool – the energy we get from gestures of love – it’s one of the best things in the world. We all experience it every time we go dancing, or simply walk down the street, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.

Here’s what’s even cooler, though:

Dancing when both people are givers.

If I get into a situation in which not only does my partner care for me, but also in which I care for them back, my energy does not just grow, but grows exponentially.

I feel actively energized in being able to care for an angel – for someone who is a giver.

I give; they give. Then I give more; then they give more.

And this isn’t just me, this is everybody. It’s human nature. When we care for people, we feel needed. We feel important. We feel reciprocal and connected and alive. We actively want to do good.

Caring reciprocally magnifies itself.

This is exactly the stuff that magical dances are made of.

It’s each person doing everything they can, putting in 110%, to make the dance good not just for themselves but for each other.

You tune in to your leader; your leader tunes in to you. You settle into their frame, and they embrace yours. You figure out how to support their balance, and they support yours. You touch them lovingly just so, and they smile or touch you lovingly back. You wink, they smirk. You don’t just get comfortable with one another, but you transcend that. You become joyfully at home with one another.

There is nothing in the world more energizing than this: when you can dance for someone else, and it means that you are nourishing yourself at the same time.

There is no longer a push or pull, a him versus her, a fight for safety or peace.

There is, instead, only mutual love, and something I think of as genuinely healing.

So I recommend…

That when you go out dancing, you think about dancers not just in terms of their technique, or even their connection, but rather their attention to and appreciation of their partner.

Perhaps pay attention to your own heart and dances. Take note of when you feel the most drained, and when you feel the most enlivened.

Nourish yourself on the dance floor. If you’re feeling exhausted, let yourself be exhausted. Perhaps seek out a dance with one of your favorite angels, who could help restore you.

Nourish others on the dance floor. This means taking care of them while dancing with them, but then it also means providing space for them to care for themselves. This may mean letting them seek dances elsewhere.

And maybe most of all take note of the people who have really cared for you (and others) over time. Express your gratitude. Give back. Recognize that a good dance is never really just a good dance. It’s a relationship full of focus, attention, support, care, and love.

Be an angel. It’s what you, your partners, the community, the planet, need.

 

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IMG_0998

A friend of mine – a follower – brought up an interesting point at the end of a bachata social last night. Her eyes trailed over me, slanking about in my pleather leggings and lace I’m-not-sure-if-thats-a-bra-or-a-shirt top, with a pair of stilettos slung over my shoulder. She laughed, then gestured around at the crowd of women changing their shoes. She asked me: “how do you deal with other followers?”

“What?” I responded, distractedly. My hair was getting tangled in my stiletto buckles.

She rolled her eyes. She said “how do you deal with having other followers around?” I stilled. “How do you cope with women who are talented dancers, who have clearly been doing this forever, who it’s clear lots of talented leaders enjoy, who are good looking, or who are otherwise slanking about in pleather leggings and lace almost-shirts?”

We laughed. I hugged her. I said, “Fuck if I know.”

But I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

This is a really challenging issue for a lot of people, and has been for me, personally, from the very beginning. My heart swam in self-doubt for a lot of my journey. I have since learned how to overcome the bulk of the weight of that (no small thanks to simply improving as a dancer), but it is still ever present, looming at the peripheries of my vision, ready to pounce should I have an off night or moment, for any reason.

I think also, as a quick aside, that this may be a particularly pressing issue for women, and, generally speaking, followers. I know that men deal with self-esteem issues most definitely. I do. But as women we are encouraged from birth to compete with one another for male attention, to judge our self worth based on what men think of us, to be wary of one another, to backstab one another, to be mean girls. This is exacerbated by the surplus of followers relative to leads in many dance communities. The latent competitive feelings we have become pressurized and magnified by the presence of so many other women, making us feel simultaneously doubtful of our own worth as well as resentful of others.

I am certain that I am not the only woman in salsa who “hates” particular follows because of jealousy, or resentment. “God, I just hate her so much,” I have not infrequently uttered to my closests friends. The tendrils of possessiveness and fear are quick to pounce. I really try not to think and to feel this way, but the impulse is there. And the impulse to doubt myself, especially when I am new to a particular dance, is also there. “God, I just hate myself so much,” is just an easy, if not easier, sentence to fall into the habit of thinking.

So how do we deal? How can we cope with the surplus of amazing dancers and beautiful people around us? How do we still be good people and feel love for everyone on the floor–including ourselves?

I can’t say I have all the answers – but I do have some that work for me:

1. Acknowledge that no one is malicious

Not a single person on the dance floor is out to make you feel bad. Well, come to think of it, it’s possible that some people out there wouldn’t mind if you felt jealous (I have been, horribly, one of them), but the vast majority of people have nothing but love for the dance and for each other in their hearts.

No leaders, or followers, will reject you for a dance because they think you are an unworthy human being. You have no idea why anyone ever says yes or no to a dance – it might have to do with the way that you dance, or it might have absolutely nothing to do with you at all.

No one intends for you to feel bad, ever. In fact I am quite sure they would like for you to feel nothing more than warm and fuzzy… they just may be too caught up in their own lives to go out of their way to help you achieve that. That’s simply human.

2. Acknowledge that all have their own insecurities

You know that woman slanking about in her pleather and stilettos? She is just as human, and she wrestles with just as much insecurity, as anybody else on the floor.

I grant that a degree of confidence does often come with improving one’s dance ability. I grant that some people become cocky and even real assholes about it. But far more often than not, people that you find intimidating are also worried about their dancing, about the way they are dressed, about the way they look, about their reputation, and about how many dancers love them and want to dance with them.

I don’t care how apparently badass someone is… we are all human, and we all feel concern about the approbation and love of others.

3. Cultivate emphathetic joy for others

This is probably the most important and helpful point for me.

We tend to live in egotistical little clouds. I can’t condemn any of us for this–it’s incredibly natural. We simply think about ourselves, our joy, and our pain, much more than we do that of others.

But if we step outside of ourselves… can we experience joy because we are grateful for the joy of the people around us? It really helps me when I see two people do a super badass dance to think “wow, how amazing that they’ve worked so hard to dance so beautifully and can relate to each other so subtley and intimately” instead of “oh god I suck so much.”

When I focus on the positive emotions that other people are feeling, and think about how great it is that joy is being added to the world in any measure, it keeps my own negativity and doubt from creeping in.

4. There is plenty for everybody

Even while I have always felt envy for people at higher levels of dancing than me, and even while I was a super beginner, there were still so many people with whom I developed great, loving dance relationships.

These relationships often occurred within a similar level of dancing… we were reasonably compatible in terms of our range of dance abilities. Of course they didn’t, and still don’t, always. I have great connections with people at a whole range of dance abilities.

But my point is this: there’s no need to think that you are deficient, or that you won’t find anyone to “love” you or dance with you, at any level of dancing. You definitely can, and will, and I am sure already do.

You might not dance ten times a night with the local hotshot, but you can certainly do ten a night with someone who values and enjoys you precisely for who you are, in this moment. And there is not a single thing wrong with that. We are all at different places on our journeys and can connect to different people differently.

5. Improve at the dance; be improving and proud of it

Not everybody cares all that much about being a “better” dancer, in terms of technique and the like.

But a lot of people do.

If you do, I advise that you simply accept where you are, enjoy it, and commit yourself to growing as a dancer. When you do so, it can give you a degree of pride in yourself and how far you’ve come, and can even make you excited about how much further you have to go.

I personally find that the more I improve, the more I realize how much more improving I could do. Dance perfection is an ever receding horizon… so I recommend enjoying the journey, more so than focusing on a destination that doesn’t really exist. Improving at dance can be seriously validating and addicting… so I even sometimes find myself being grateful that I have flaws. It means I get to keep working on my dance.

6. Invest yourself in the community

If you are envious of more experienced dancers or worried about your own dancing and worth, you might want to try investing in the community. Engage people off of the floor. Get to know them. Do nice things. Become their friends. See them as equally imperfect and equally lovely human beings.

When you do this, you not only might be able to learn about dancing from your new friends, but you will be able to demonstrate to them–and to yourself–what it is about you that makes you special. You are fun and funny and kind and sweet (or whatever, maybe you’re a dick but in that way people can appreciate) and this is apparent to everyone you interact with.

Perhaps more importantly to you, investing in your community can also mean that you end up dancing more often with people who have been in the scene longer and have more experience than you do.

7.Take pride in everything you have to contribute to the dance and the community

In any given dance you do, you don’t just have your good frame, your muscle control, your knowledge of how salsa rhythms work.

You also have energy, radiance, cheer, charm, and the like. People can love dancing and socializing with you for so many reasons. Your skill as a dancer is just one of them (if an admittedly important one). So if you are feeling self-conscious, just remember that you are a whole package, and any single aspect of you does not define who you are, or how much people enjoy dancing with you.

8. Take pride in your own journey, values, and story

Each of us has a specific background. Some people have been dancing for decades, some even before they could walk. Seriously, this is a thing. Sometimes parents carry infants in slings while they dance.

For better or for worse, that’s not 99% of us.

We are simply not in that position.

But what you might be is a warrior in your own way, having lived through a tough life, discovered dancing, fallen in love, and undertaken your own dance journey.

We all can only be who we are — no more, and no less. And we come from particular locations with particular difficulties. So I recommend giving yourself a pat on the back for everything you have managed to accomplish thus far. I mean this in terms of dance technique but also other things, like personal growth, overcoming tragedy, and the like. And screw anybody who judges you harshly or dismisses you… they simply don’t know your story; they can’t understand what makes you beautiful.

You are totally, remarkably, a badass, and please don’t ever, ever forget it.

 

🙂

So this is how I deal with being surrounded by talented, beautiful followers all of the time. This is how I sooth the nervous, threatened mouse in me, as well as tame the selfish and voraciously competitive tiger.

There is of course the one final option for mitigating your confidence issues – the one many people choose, and which is the most blantant – which is to have patience, work really hard, and get super talented. Improving helps alleviate feelings of being threatened, for sure. It can create confidence. But I want to be clear, and this is why I didn’t address this method above, that it still never does away with doubts completely. That has to come from the inside.

(For more on the hate and competition issue, this is an excellent article.)

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