Being intentionally kind & generous makes partner dancing (or anything else) a way to evolve, to move closer to what everyone wants: happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment. This is not related to “falling in love with my dance partner for 3 minutes,” which is self absorption, all about how wonderful it feels. Being intentionally kind & generous is a choice, not an emotional whirlwind: choosing to make my partner’s happiness more important than my own, and acting on that. Intentional acts of love are powerfully evolutionary.
Dancing for my partner instead of myself
Dancing for myself is dancing to get something – anything – for me:
• to express myself artistically
• to keep my brain functioning and my heart healthy
• to develop my skill or refine my technique
• to boost my confidence & self-respect
• to win respect from other dancers
• to win contests, look cool, be noticed, get laid; to win applause or money
Dancing for myself – even as artistic expression – is self absorption. Self absorption is pretty shallow: hey look at me! That includes “look at the cool art I made.” Partner dancing offers a possibility that goes much deeper: dancing for my partner instead of myself. If I’m dancing for my partner I’m not trying to get anything. I’m dancing to make my partner happy without being concerned about my own happiness; I trust that’ll take care of itself.
Intentional kindness & generosity
Kindness & generosity are wonderful no matter what, but practiced intentionally they’re transformative. Intention is critical; habitual good-naturedness is pleasant but not transformative. Being intentionally kind & generous with my dance partner aligns one part of my life – my dancing – with how things really work. We don’t get what we really want – happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment – by taking what we can, looking out for #1. “It’s all about me” doesn’t make anyone happy. Happiness comes from being kind & generous, from giving away rather than holding on, from voluntarily surrendering the #1 spot to someone else. Partner dancing can be a chance to practice being kind & generous, to cultivate that. Aligning my dancing with reality is a step toward making my whole life work.
Present and focused
Being present and focused on my partner is the key. Presence in body in body and mind is being all there, attuned to my surroundings, undistracted. Focused on my partner means all my focal attention goes to him or her; I can navigate, avoid collisions and take in the music (the water we swim in together) with peripheral attention. I have little or no attention left over for what other people in the room might think of our dancing, or concerns in my life that lie outside that room.
Self absorption vs. love
Self absorption is the most pervasive and intractable barrier to human evolution; it’s also a barrier to connecting with my dance partner. Self absorption is the opposite of love, of connection with my fellow humans. We dancers tend to get self absorbed about our dancing: Oh this feels so wonderful to me! or Look how cool I am! or Damn I really blew that. To whatever extent I’m dwelling on me, positively or negatively, I’m self absorbed, and that keeps me from connecting with my partner. Being intentionally kind & generous disrupts self absorption by taking the focus off me and putting it on my partner. Focusing on myself while I dance, no matter what form it takes – working on my excellence, being embarrassed by my mistakes, developing my skills, being concerned about how I look or how much fun I’m having, thinking people are admiring me or laughing at me behind my back – is self absorption, and self absorption sucks.
It’s natural for children to be self absorbed, but ugly in adults; it’s infantile. Politicians and celebrities seem to vie with each other to provide the ugliest examples of self absorption. Self absorption is considered normal, which makes it invisible; most of us have no idea we’re self absorbed. But we are, all of us. If we partner dancers weren’t self absorbed, we’d all focus on making our partners happy all the time, unconcerned about ourselves and oblivious to everyone else in the room except for the attention needed to avoid collisions & such.
Partner dancing with intentional kindness & generosity is a way of disrupting self absorption: focus off me & my concerns, onto making my partner happy. Disrupting self absorption is the first step in getting out from under it to a richer, fuller life, a life lit up by love. Partner dancing with intentional kindness & generosity is a way of working toward that goal, of making spiritual progress, of evolving as a human.
Intentional kindness & generosity is an act of surrender, a conscious choice to take the focus off me and put it on my partner. I consciously choose to stop looking out for #1 and instead devote my dancing to making my partner happy; I make my partner #1. Like everyone, I have the misguided but compelling fear that I mustn’t surrender, that I must watch out for myself and guard what I have or I will be diminished; people will take advantage of me. And I do need to watch out for myself in many circumstances. Watching out for myself becomes a problem when it’s habitual, when I do it all the time. Habitual suspicious guarding cuts me off from the richness of life all around me; it has the opposite effect of what’s intended.
Partner dancing can become an opportunity to surrender, a safe place where I can set all my self-importance aside and be unselfish, devoted to my partner. Surrender is what it takes to be deeply happy, to be connected with my fellow humans. Selfishness is intrinsically unhappy; generosity is intrinsically happy. Selfish is isolated; generous is connected to the human family.
Dance as work, dance as play
Children dance for joy, they dance because the music makes them want to move; they love to move. Children simply and unabashedly love their bodies in motion; they dance with innocent self absorption, which is just fine in children. That’s why we humans dance in the first place, that’s where it all comes from: the joyful, unskilled, self absorbed dancing children do naturally. One reason we’re drawn to dance as adults is we miss the playful, joyous energy we felt as children, and we hope that dancing can give us some of that back. And it can; dancing can be a way to fall back in love with your life, the way children are, by falling in love with your body in motion.
Partner dancing is intricate, skilled play with another person; learning to do it takes a lot of hard work. Working that hard at something, it’s easy to start thinking of it as just work; something I struggle with, strive to improve at, but don’t necessarily love or even enjoy. The enjoyment, the play gets buried by the work; dance becomes another job. If I do that, I lose the unique value of dance, the thing children know instinctively: dance is all about joy, dance is play. Dance is a chance for us adults cut loose and play, and to fall back in love with our bodies in motion.
When I lose touch with play, I also lose touch with creativity. Creativity is spontaneous & unpredictable; it’s never what you expect, it’s always something new. Hard work and discipline support the development of dance skills, and skill is necessary for partner dancing, but creativity lives in the realm of play, not the realm of work.