Dances: Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Cha-cha, Rumba, Samba, Jive, Night Club 2
Sunday night I went out solo to the social dance Jeff and I usually go to. Jeff wasn't able to make it this time due to some personal commitments, so this was my first time going social dancing without my partner in a really long time! Well, it seems like it anyway. I guess I've gotten a little spoiled. I used to go just as often if not more when I was dancing on my own as I figured it was a good way to practice, following especially. Now that I pratice with a partner regularly, I find that I approach the social dance situation a little differently.
When I first started dancing, I was kind of terrified of social dancing, at least with some leads. They were so good and I was ever so not...and I just knew I would make a fool of myself and make them feel awkward and it was kind of a painful time, but I stuck with it and got through it. I remember slow foxtrot in particular being one of the worst for me following wise, which seems funny now as it's easily my favorite. And all the time, even with that fear and embarrasement, I loved it just the same. I remember in college I used to go to the dances to dance, not really to socialize or hang out (you couldn't hear enough to do that anyways), and so my level of enjoyment always had a direct correlation to how many good dances I had that night.
Well, last night I kind of expected I wouldn't dance much, since in general Jeff and I seize most opportunities to practice our standard on the busy floor, which means I'm usually dancing with him for most waltzes, foxtrots, vienneses, tangos, and quicksteps, depending on the mutual energy level. We then tend to sit out a lot of the Latin dances to breathe, drink water, and prepare to do it all over again, though Jeff gets dragged out pretty mercilessly time and again if he's sitting even remotely close to the edge of the floor. Since a lot of the leads there aren't used to dancing much with me any more because of this, I had thought I'd be sitting out more; but no, I didn't sit down much at all (okay, yes, I didn't do salsa and merengue), and I ended up turning down a viennese (I rarely turn any dances down). Somehow I didn't dance tango, but that's fine. I felt like got to dance plenty, and it made me wonder if perhaps being seen so often on the floor (as Jeff and I have been) had something to do with it. Chalk another one up for partnered practice.
As I was dancing, I was noticing how much more relaxed I've become with following, in terms of waiting for the lead, moving less independently, and just taking my time on my weight transfers and sliding my feet along as long as I need to until I feel the commitement. I still have much to work on this regard, of course, as Jeff knows too well, but I can't deny that it is quite dramatically improved since when we started practicing. And that was only 3 months ago! The other thing I realized though, that I didn't expect, is that as the evening went on and I danced with certain leads, I found myself start to tense up again, not just physically, but mentally. I found myself starting to worry about what was coming next, about whether I could keep my balance if he did that again, about how to protect myself from some jerky movements that threatened to throw me across the room. And as I slipped back into this sort of "survival mode," I remembered that this is exacty what social and most partner dancing used to be for me, pretty much across the board. It was about getting through the dance without dying, and hopefully having fun while doing it. This mindset that I think social dancing had forced me into had caused me to put up kind of a wall between myself and my partner, whoever he was, since it was essentially a lack of trust in his ability to lead me well, as well as a lack of confidence in my own ability to respond to that lead. It's interesting that this would be the case in a situation where I felt I was getting good practice to make my following better. All of this I think was rather subconscious...I was just realizing last night that one of my big stumbling blocks in my inability to follow has been, simply put, a lack of trust.
Trust is something that really can only be built over time, and a habit of trust is formed by regular experience and practice. In a dance partnership, it is vitally imporant, and I think I could say that a dance partnership is necessary in order for both a lead and follow to build that habit of trusting one's partner, a habit that's so critical for dancing well. I think it is more important for a follow, because she has to be able to let everything go, her own ideas about what should be done, and just have that confidence that her partner will lead her through those stormy waters and not lead her astray. If she doesn't, if she feels an uncertainty in the leadership, a roughness that she fears will cause her to founder, an imbalance that pushes her off her feet, she will try to protect herself by mentally examining every signal...even closing herself off to them in distrust. When she trusts her partner, however, she will let it all go...she knows he has it under control and feels no need to question his lead. I realized last night that practicing regularly with one partner has helped me build a certain level of trust in leads that carries over no matter with whom I am dancing, but that most of all influences the way I respond to Jeff or our coach, for example, versus other leads. In the past three months I feel that a good beginning has been made in the building of this essential element of trust in my partner, in his lead, and in us as a partnership (and that includes a certain trust and confidence in myself). I'm less subliminally afraid of him knocking me off balance, hurling me into corners, and otherwise upsetting our equilibrium than I think I was at first, even if I didn't quite realize it in those terms at the time.
I can't speak for Jeff, but I think that a lead would also find it important to develop a certain trust that his follow will go where he directs her, will be where he needs her, and make him look awesome while doing it. I don't think I've earned that kind of trust yet, but that, I think, is a worthy goal.
So that was my lesson from social dancing last night. Social dancing doesn't necessarily make you a better follow, but practicing with a consistent partner regularly builds the trust in a dance partnership that is absolutely critical for following (and leading) in general, and to that extent makes better followers and leaders.
Jeff and I are taking a week long hiatus from our dance practice this week due to other developments going on in our respective lives. Until next week then...