I just finished reading this wonderful article on The Proactive Follower. What a joy to have these concepts so succinctly expressed! Oh to have known them sooner.
I will not waste your time by reiterating the article itself. Today, instead, I am going to shift the angle a bit deeper into my own experience and talk about some of the things that have and often still do prevent me from being a proactive dance partner. Let us start with Fear.
Fear is by far the most common source of trepidation, insecurity and perceived judgement when I dance. Fear, however, is something that never goes away, but the acceptance of the thoughts that it induces while dancing massively affect the outcome before, during and after the dance. All new dancers are familiar with ‘I cannot do this, I will not get it correct’, ‘He/She will not dance with me, I am not good enough’, and ‘Oh no! I have made a mistake, what do I do now?’. These thoughts often lead to a focus on the most familiar moves (the basic(s) for the whole song), underselling of oneself before the dance starts (apologizing when asked to dance) and freezing, often with a fearful or lost expression.
Fear seems to affect Flow, Dance and Presence the most. The affects of Fear on Flow and Dance are covered quite nicely by the previously mentioned thoughts, but Presence can also be affected by a few others. Distractions such as expectations in the way the dance goes (‘Why did you not do the moved I asked of you?’ ‘You did not say anything!’), social fears (‘How much eye contact is appropriate? Will he or she want another dance after? Why does he keep talking? I just want to dance.’), awkward music (‘What do we dance to this? I do not know how to Balboa!’), and awkward dance partners (‘Where do I put my hand? Is this too close? La la la doing my own thing with you attached!! OK dude, totally not appropriate.’) provide a myriad of reasons to not be ‘in the dance’.
Comfort is another proactivity preventer. Comfort, especially in relation to the people and places one dances and practices, makes a huge difference in not only the Learning of dance, but the Rhythm as well. A community, any community, that welcomes new people with open arms is a community worth keeping. Same goes for dance friends and partners. Comfort with the music one dances to is also key and helps to accelerate the understanding of Rhythm in dance, both in your partner and in the conversation you are making about the music.
Comfort in oneself and one’s body is essential. Acceptance of mistakes, especially when first starting dance, and acceptance of not ‘just knowing’ how to move and connect and frame and tension, etc. can provide a very intimidating environment which can also create a self-perpetuating low self esteem. Dance is billed in these times as an activity performed best by professionals (which it often isn’t) requiring years of study and hard work (which it can) and only if you have the right body type (not necessary), instinct (what does that mean?) and an insane drive to compete (well, probably a little doesn’t hurt). This image can leave one intimidated and uncomfortable with Invention and Learning.
Two last fairly intertwined items that have not contributed well to dancing: Ego and Impatients. Ego contributes quite nicely by making one think that how one dances is good enough because one is already quite good (excellent, in fact. Nobody can compare to moi). It also imparts a certain snobbiness towards those who are not at your level (below and above) and can leave a deep seated dissatisfaction with the dance and no obvious reason why. Ego slows down progress to a crawl and even discourages it. Ego also prevents one from seeing the reality of how one is actually dancing and thus Learning how to improve. Being the center of dance awesomesauce denies your Presence in the dance and can make it a One-Sided Conversation.
Impatients often manifests with Ego when there is a decided difference in experience and how important that difference is. Some of the most uncomfortable dances one can have is with somebody who is ‘better’ than you and, as opposed to patiently dancing with you at your level, he or she impatiently forces you up to their level (in the case of a lead) or silently judges you (in the case of a follow) through out the dance. Impatients also applies to Learning when one seeks the end result of a lesson, especially if many of the sub-moves or topics have been learned previously. In partner dancing this makes for a difficult learning experience because having learned the move(s) with one partner does not mean the next one will have them as well. Dancing with a new and different partner is a learning experience every time one dances. Having the patients to learn what each knows and is comfortable with is often a challenge, though one that can lead to wonderful results.
In conclusion, there are many internal and external stigmatisms that affect and can differ the experience of dancing. So where does the Joy of Dancing fit in here? The Joy of Dance comes from this: When one Accepts and lets go of Fear, dis-Comfort, Ego and Impatients the door to the Joy of dancing is made available to oneself. I did not write this article with the intent of providing information on the how; that will be for other days. But I did write this to put into words the things I have seen in myself and others that have prevented me from becoming a more Proactive dancer.
And where a Proactive dancer dances, Joy will surely follow.