Saturday, 2 June 2018

How does it feel?

I have a serious weakness as a dancer. Well, I have more than one, but let's focus on what gives me the most trouble. I've been trying to think of a way to explain it, and I think I finally have it.

I know very few moves, or at least I can't remember many. If I take part in a class, I'll struggle to remember a sequence that's being taught, and embarrassingly, I often get a little extra attention from the instructor. So, I'm weak as a dancer but, strangely, it's also in some ways a strength.

If you were to ask me about a very basic Salsa move, for example - let's use Kentucky - I would struggle to explain it to you. I know I go into it from guapea, and that I wrap the lady to my right side initially. I think I have to keep the left hand high and the right hand low at that point, but from there I'm lost. Ask me to demonstrate the move, though, and I'll show you. Ah yeah, I'll say to you, that's Kentucky - that's how it feels.

When I'm watching an instructor demonstrate, I'm trying to absorb what I'm being shown. Was that turn clockwise or anti-clockwise? Where are the instructors hands and elbows? What about the footwork? Whoa! Wait a minute! I'm not actually getting a lot of this stuff.

I'll try to mimic the movement, slowly, and eventually I'll know how it feels. Yeah. Remember that feeling, and recreate it. Then, one of the ladies will stubbornly hold her arm in the wrong position or turn the wrong way, and I've lost any sense of how the move should feel. Back to square one, with the minutes ticking away.

One of the ladies, who developed a good measure of contempt towards me, recognised this weakness after a while, and exploited it. She would stubbornly and deliberately react in entirely the wrong way during a class - Modern Jive at first, and then she started showing up at the Salsa club I frequented. It was easy to get me to leave two dance clubs, just by making sure my progress as a dancer came to a screaming halt.

I mentioned it could be a strength, didn't I? Well, if I've practised something enough times to know how it should feel when done correctly, or at least my version of doing it correctly, then it just comes naturally. I may not dance with a high level of technical competence, but I dance with feeling, because I'm constantly using how everything feels as a reference.

I blame Tai Chi. What I realised during my practise of Tai Chi was that the movements were performed slowly for a reason. At every position in the three dimensional space around me that a movement travelled through, my brain picked up how that movement felt. Something about the soft, flowing nature of Tai Chi also transferred to my dancing.

If other dancers had seen how I trained the basic footwork of Salsa, they might have found it strange. No music - just me counting, and counting slowly as I moved equally slowly. Actually, I was placing my left foot forward, stepping in place with my right and so on, at the speed of a Tai Chi form and with the same flow.

What I'm describing is an example of the Zen concept of mushin. Literally translated, it means "no mind", but it actually means to have practised something so many times, and have become so proficient, that we are barely aware of any conscious effort. We simply do the thing. I've found that this state requires a certain level of confidence, and a certain level of relaxation.

Anyway, that's it. I dance with feeling, literally. That's good with something I've practised hundreds, or even thousands of times. With something I've learned over the course of an hour? The feeling isn't so deeply embedded in my memory. I'm a good dancer, I'm told, but a bad learner. I accept that.

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