Last year I wrote a short blog post about my dance history and how starting lindy hop has ignited an ever-burning dance frenzy. At the start of my second summer as a swing dancer, I thought appropriate to write down some of my thoughts on dancing and the philosophy it entails.
LESSON #1: Sometimes you need to let go and let loose.
Being a follower is not always easy when the dance is supposed to be improvised. Often I have to remind myself to ease into the flow, breath out and let my body take charge. Following does not go well with thinking too much. This usually confuses my body. If I’m in the right rhythm (aka in the rhythm of the leader), then all will flow in the right way. I can’t explain it, it just clicks. Thinking too much or counting will keep the dance from being spontaneous and smooth. Just enjoy and dance! Concentrate solely on the one you are dancing with, keep eye-contact and smile. You are in your own little groovy bubble, enjoy it!
Last autumn I also started to learn a new swing dance, Balboa – a dance created to suit the faster jazz rhythms and eye-catching swivels. Balboa was much harder to get into than Lindy. Not only had I to learn the technicalities of taking minuscule steps all the while maintaining a small bounce and a graceful posture, but also I had to familiarise myself with keeping a solid upper-body connection to a stranger.
LESSON #2: It’s ok to sometimes feel uncomfortable.
– just be sure to note how uncomfortable you feel and why. Is it because you are doing something new, and hence you feel out of your comfort zone? Then proceed to see if the feeling will reduce as you gain more confidence. If you are feeling just miserable even after you learn new moves – consider changing the dance. Learning Balboa forced me to reflect on my fears, personal space and social anxiety. Being close to someone is sometimes the scariest thing (for a Finn I assume). However, conquering this fear and continuing on despite it, has left me feeling more confident and with a new, exciting dance skill!
Being self-conscious is the worst jam killer. We often think that we need to be perfect, do all the moves always in perfect rhythm and with all the right swag for us to look “good”. Or that only professionals have the right to preform. But if you study professionals or performances, you’ll find that what captures peoples attention and hearts, are not the elaborate moves or their right hand gestures. What gives a dance performance the ooze is: attitude. If love for dancing/movement shines through you, it doesn’t matter if you just do the basic step, you will look good. The cringiest performances are those in which you can visibly see and feel the unease of the dancers. They feel uncomfortable and sticky which will in turn catch on with the dance and then the viewers. So just let yourself loose and don’t be afraid to show how much you love to dance.
Lesson #3: Forget the audience, and dance for the love of it.
As you are dancing, don’t ever think about yourself through the eyes of others. Your dance will suffer if you are stuck thinking about how silly you look or what moves make you look better. Usually the audience sees right through this and the dance will be even more cringe-worthy. The solution: ENJOY THE DANCE YOU ARE DANCING. Sweet and simple. Just enjoy and let that shine through – This instantly transforms the dance within and also will be a joy to watch.
Swing dances, especially lindy hop, is such a forgiving dance style. The crazier and funnier you are, the better! There are no rules, just good timing. The point is to have fun. However, the dance does not begin from the dance floor – it starts already in the audience. Dance parties are complicated social jungles that can dishearten the socially anxious individuals – especially in the beginning. As I gets to know more people in the dancing community, the awkwardness of standing alone and searching for company starts to fade. But even after two years, I sometimes find myself feeling nervous as I slowly approach the dance venue. The key is to be relaxed and approachable – which is not always possible. Make yourself a goal: I will dance with 5 different people tonight / I will talk to and get to know one new person.
LESSON #4: If you want to dance, just say so!
Don’t sit around and wait for someone to notice your eagerness – go boldly to ask someone for a dance. This has been really hard for me in the beginning. 95 % of the time you will succeed – but sometimes you will be rejected. Know this: the horrifying feeling of being rejected wares off after awhile. Just assume that it isn’t personal! Calmly move on to your next target. Be polite, be considerate and most of all have confidence in the dancer within you.
If you are interested to know more about the swing dance world, I highly recommend watching the ravishingly joyful document Alive and Kicking by Susan Glatzer (available on Netflix).
Let’s jump, jive n’wail to see what the next year of dancing will bring!