Partner dancing can open doors into unexplored parts of yourself. It does this by forcing you to use your mind and body together as one unit, while holding another person in your arms, moving to music. That’s an awesomely potent combination of forces.
What’s absolutely amazing to me about partner dancing as self exploration is that you do it with a partner. You can’t explore for your partner; you’re each on your own voyage of discovery. But you’re traveling together, supporting and encouraging each other; my favorite dance partners make the most exquisite company for self exploration. Discovering new things about yourself in the company of another human creates an extraordinary kind of bond.
The more joyful the dancing – the more love spills out of it – the better it works for self exploration. Joy is simply the feeling of love spilling out of you; under the influence of joy you’re more real, less concerned with petty shit. That’s the kind of state you have to be in before self exploration even becomes possible. You don’t get anywhere with self exploration if your mind is wrapped up in everyday affairs. But once love starts pouring out of you, you can learn about yourself simply by watching yourself in action.
The goal in learning to dance is to make the dance steps & technique part of you so you can forget about all that, forget about yourself, forget about the petty shit, forget about everything and just be there with your partner and the music and just dance, dance with joy and wild abandon. Ecstatic dancing for real.
You have to learn to dance – develop skill – to be able to communicate with your partner & dance together. But joyful dancing doesn’t depend on skill; it’s like connection in that regard. Joy comes from pouring yourself into the dancing, loving your body in motion, as much as you possibly can, wherever you are in the process of learning to dance. So don’t think you can or should put off joyful dancing until you get “good enough.” Dance with all the joy you got, any and every time you can. Including dancing by yourself if you don’t have a partner and the music moves you to dance anyway. This is frowned on in some partner dance circles, but feitctaj, y’know?
Dancing’s gotta have love
Dancing has to have love in it to be any good for self exploration & personal growth. You can really get somewhere if you’re dancing because you love to dance, because you love dancing with the person you’re holding in your arms, you love the music that’s playing, because all of that is what gets the joy flowing. If you dance for other, more calculated reasons, the joy doesn’t get going.
For instance. some people dance out of obligation, in adherence to certain rules of social dancing that govern who you should dance with, how often, never saying no, etcetera. I don’t buy any of those rules; I don’t believe in dancing out of obligation. I believe that dancing out of obligation is actually much ruder, in a deep way, than a simple “No thank you” because your partner will always be able to feel it if you’re dancing with them out of obligation.
I dance for love, and love’s gotta shine through the dancing somehow, as friendship & warmth, as the shared enjoyment of holding each other, as desire to help one of my students, or in some other form. That can only happen if I want to dance with that partner; dancing because I’m supposed to is not dancing out of love. I do not want to dance with someone if I’ve danced with that person before and we discovered that we don’t connect, i.e. we don’t particularly enjoy dancing together. If you enjoy dancing with someone in particular, your eyes will light up when they meet across the floor: “Yes! You! I want to dance with you!” And eyes lighting up like that is never a one-way deal: you’re both delighted to see each other, delighted that you’re going to have a chance to dance together. Connection is never one-sided.
I don’t believe dancing and obligation go together at all. I believe partner dancing should be completely at will, and that no one should ever feel obligated to dance, period. Dance because you want to dance, with the people you want to dance with in particular, the people you just love to dance with; don’t dance out of obligation. Dancing out of obligation does not help “grow the dance community” – your partner will be able to feel it if you’re dancing out of obligation and don’t really want to dance with him or her. It’s an awful feeling; I know from experience. You should think twice about subjecting anyone to it.
Musicality: women are usually better at it
In most couples of relatively even dance skills, the woman will have more developed musicality, because women have to learn to dance responsively from the very beginning, and musicality is all about responsiveness, responding creatively to the music. The early stages of learning to lead involve a lot of thinking and lurching and very little responsiveness. That makes tuning into your partner’s musicality a great leveler, men: as you start to see that your partners are actually quite a bit better at dancing – embodying & interpreting music – than you are, well that’s a big ol’ humble pie slappin’ you right in the face, guys. Eat it up, and learn from your partner.
Musicality is intensely personal: it’s how the music makes you want to move, you in particular: it’s your own personal and ultimately private interpretation of the music. It’s private, but you can share it with your partner by dancing together respectfully, and the more I dance, the more I appreciate the musicality of my favorite dance partners. Their musicality – in many cases far more sophisticated and developed than mine – challenges me to respond musically.
Musicality is the best tool I know for busting up the traditional lead-follow relationship, because it is so personal: how the song makes you want to move will never be the same as how it makes your partner want to move. Really dancing together is harmonizing with your partner rather than singing in unison; fitting 2 different embodiments of the music together rather than expecting 1 partner to submit to the other.
Loving your body in motion
Loving your body in motion is an advanced stage, but not of dancing; it’s more a matter of emotional maturity and self-acceptance. Dancing is a wonderful opportunity to love your body in motion, but as long as you’re at all concerned with what you look like or what people think of your dancing it’s not gonna happen. Loving your body in motion isn’t self absorption because you’re not focusing attention on yourself; it’s more like a glow, it just comes through you. It’s what you get if you dance, and keep dancing, and get over yourself, and love starts to spill out as you dance.