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.