Leading Lady

One of the things I love about dancing, although it took me a long time to get used to it, is following. I like that there is one part of my life in which I am not in charge and I don’t have to make decisions. I like the old fashioned idea of men asking women to dance, although I’m not averse to doing the asking. I like the idea of being swept off my feet by a handsome man… (hey, a girl can dream!).

On the social dance floor the majority of people will be dancing in male-female couples with the man leading. But you do see female-female couples and (less often) male-male couples. I have a few good friends who really enjoy switching roles, and I know a number of women who lead very well and men who follow very well (some with way better female styling than me!).

So far in my dancing life (which is still less than three years), I’ve not been keen on leading. I have a lot to learn as a follower, and I haven’t felt the need to lead. Until recently. I took a kizomba class not long ago where, for a warm-up exercise, we switched roles. At first I wasn’t keen, but I actually found I enjoyed the experience. And this led me to think that maybe I should give leading a go…

So I’ve started taking beginner’s salsa classes ‘as a boy’, and it’s challenging! Switching everything around to the other side, thinking ahead and working out a move, leading the girl to go where you want her to – it’s hard! But it’s also fascinating. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a follower so far, which I hadn’t expected. I can see how annoying it is for the lead if the follower leads themselves, or moves around too much – it can be like trying to catch a flapping bird.

So ladies, followers, remember what all your good teachers have probably said to you a thousand times: don’t lead yourself, and if he doesn’t lead you, don’t go! The leads will never learn how to lead you properly if you do.

Acceptance on the social dance floor is a lovely thing. It’s great to be in an environment where everyone can dance with anyone, and when people stop and stare it’s just because you’re doing something awesome.

Kizomba with Charlotte

Sisters doing it for themselves

Connection

I’ve been thinking a lot about connection, both on and off the dance floor. In life, aren’t we all just searching for a connection? Searching for someone who is on the same page as us, someone who gets us?

And yet sometimes it feels like we’re not even reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

On the dance floor it should be easy to make connections. We are all dancing to the same tune, after all (in theory!). But a true connection is a rare thing.

Kizomba (one of the many different dances I now do) has taught me a lot about connection, which I try to bring into all of my dance. In kizomba the follower (usually the girl in a male/female pair) often closes her eyes to better feel the lead and in turn make a deeper connection. It sometimes amazes me that my body knows what to do and where to go with just the subtlest of touches, and that I can understand a lead often from someone I’ve never even met before without any verbal communication.

In all dance my aim is to connect both with the music and with my partner. Whether it’s a fun, fast salsa with a cheeky lead or a slow, sensual bachata or kizomba full of emotion, what’s the point in dancing if you don’t connect? In my mind, you might as well be dancing alone if you are not connected when you are dancing with your partner.

Leads need to be aware of the space around them when dancing, but if the lead spends more time looking around than he does looking at his follower the connection will be lost. I’ve had whole dances where the guy has barely looked at me, perhaps through nerves or inexperience, and it doesn’t make for a great dance. I’m not asking for constant eye contact – that would be creepy – but a good mixture of eye contact and generally looking at each other in order to connect is important for me in most dances.

In fact, this is something I would say is important in most day-to-day interactions. I don’t expect deep eye contact (or deep connections) with most people I interact with daily, but if the person serving you in the shop seems disinterested and barely looks at you, or if your colleague does’t have time to smile in your direction, that makes for a pretty lonely day.

Of course, in kizomba you don’t have the eye contact to make a connection with, so you have to connect in other ways (chest connection is the main thing, but it’s more than just being physically close to someone). In a good kizomba dance I feel like I’m dancing in a bubble, just me and the guy, connected as one moving object drifting around the dance floor. That’s what I’m looking for in all dances.

But this dance floor connection doesn’t have to be any more than that. I have found that it can be possible to have an amazing connection with someone when the time and the music is just right, and never even get to know their name or see them again. It’s sometimes simply about sharing a moment.

So what about off the dance floor? Connections made whilst dancing can be difficult to interpret, and sadly might not exist once the music stops. That’s where things get difficult. You can find yourself thinking, “but we had such a great connection…” and wondering why what you had whilst dancing simply doesn’t exist elsewhere.

I’ve made some of my very best friends on the dance floor, and met some of my favourite people in the world, but I’ve also had a lot of single moments of connection with people I may never see again. Connection can be brief and fleeting, but that doesn’t mean it has any less value than those connections which last a lifetime.

So are we all just looking for a connection? Yes, I believe we are. Whether on the dance floor or off it, finding connections with people, whether in friendship, romance or something else, seems to be a vital part of this thing we call life.

What is Fitness?

As part of my VeraflowΒ dance fitness instructor training studies I’ve been asked to look at the question “What is fitness?“. Curious to look at more opinions than my own, I asked my Facebook friends what fitness meant to them, and here are the highlights.

Fitness.png

A lot of friends spoke about “having decent energy levels” and “being able to do things“, and interestingly a lot of people mentioned mental health. One friend said “fitness is being able to do what I want to do without wondering if my body can do it“, which I thought just about summed up how I feel about fitness too.

Another friend commented, “fitness helps me clear my mental state after I’ve sat behind my desk at work all day“, and I couldn’t agree more. No matter how bad, stressful or busy my day has been, a session in the gym with my personal trainer or a night of salsa dancing will always make me feel better.

Lots of people referred to having a “better quality of life” due to fitness, and said that fitness is something that makes them happy.

One friend summed it up perfectly, “Fitness is the opposite of that depressing feeling when the hill is too steep, or the bag is too heavy.Β It’s about being able to enjoy life and the world around us for as long as possible.” Yes. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling abut fitness recently. I’ve been noticing how things that used to be a struggle or make me tired are so much easier now. For example, I went to London for the day last weekend, and I found myself taking the stairs instead of the escalator, jogging up them without a care in the world. Even standing on the escalator used to exhaust me before, but I’m fitter now and much more able.

So what is fitness? It will be something different for each person, depending on your own individual journey. Perhaps for some it’s running a marathon, and for others it’s simply being able to get out of bed each day. For me, fitness is being able to live the life I want to live, being happy and healthy, both inside and out.

What does fitness mean to you?

Dance: challenges & respect

I found this great image on Google which sums up how I feel about salsa:

Today’s classes were challenging and I think we all moved between these various steps. I’m generally anywhere from “I want to do it” upwards, with brief moments of “Yes, I did it!”.

The most important thing is that we’re all on the steps together, trying to get to the top, and helping each other up. In the class environment it doesn’t matter if we try something and fail, or if the class is a bit too tough. It’s all about having a go and trying to learn something.

Let’s remember, fellow dancers, that we are all in this together. Let’s respect one another, help one another, and most importantly have fun together. Be kind to one another, and remember that you are dancing with another human being. Make eye contact, smile, and laugh together when it all goes wrong. Learn together, try new moves, and be humble.

Let’s make sure the dance floor is always a happy, respectful place.

Keep Dancing

I went to see the Strictly Come Dancing live tour in London today, and it was FAB-U-LOUS! It’s always amazing to see the professional dancers of course, but what I really love about Strictly is when they take someone who never thought in their wildest dreams that they could dance and help them to become an amazing dancer and performer.

This year it was Susan Calman who stole everyone’s hearts. She wasn’t the best dancer, but she went from zero to, well, Wonder Woman in a few short weeks and all with a fantastic positive attitude.

Susan Calman & Kevin Clifton

In today’s show she took a moment to speak to the audience and reminded us all to never let anyone tell us we can’t do something. She reminded us to accept challenges and try our best, to try to be the very best versions of ourselves that we possibly can be.

When I started dancing just over two and a half years ago I went into it much like Susan, without much belief in myself or my ability. I had never really danced, and I certainly didn’t have the typical look of a dancer. But I gave it a go, and like Susan I always try to give it my all and do my best. Sometimes I find challenges which I’m not ready for yet (like a recent dips and tricks class I took) but I just bookmark those things as something to come back to later when I’m more experienced. After all, when I started I couldn’t even do a basic mambo step.

I’m not lucky enough to have a Kevin Clifton of my own, someone dedicated to helping me improve my dance skills, but I do have a lot of fantastic friends and dance partners. We learn and experiment together, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

At the end of the day, I just have to remember that there’s nothing I can’t do, and that all I need to do is to strive to be the best possible version of me. Oh, and of course, I just need to keeeeep dancing! πŸ’ƒπŸŽΆπŸ•ΊπŸŽΆ

Why stop with dry January?

I decided to start this year with a healthy month of no alcohol, chocolate, cakes or biscuits, and I’m pleased to say I’ve made it to the end successfully! But why stop there?

As soon as January ended everyone around me was asking if my ‘diet was over’ now and if I could go out and get drunk now, and I’ve been trying to explain that it’s just not like that.

I’m not on a diet. I can have any food I want, and I can drink alcohol if I want to. I’m just choosing to limit what I put into my body at the moment.

One of the hardest things about nutrition and eating healthily is making the right decisions and not slipping into old habits. If I’m ‘trying to be good’ I find it hard to have any chocolate around me at all. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl, and if I don’t ban chocolate completely I’ll eat every chocolate in the box.

In the past I’ve been guilty of comfort eating, and that’s a habit I desperately want to break. Food shouldn’t be a reward or something I have for consolation. It should be something I have for nutrition or something I enjoy because I want it, whether alone or with friends.

Alcohol? Well I can take or leave it to be honest. I like a nice cocktail every now and then, but I honestly haven’t missed alcohol at all in the last month. So why fill my body with all of those extra calories and all that sugar? Luckily my evenings are filled with dancing, and alcohol doesn’t help me one bit when I dance – I’m better without it!

So, ‘dry January’ is over and February is here, and I’m going to try to maintain my new healthy habits. I’m not saying I’m never going to have alcohol, chocolate, biscuits and cake, but for now I’m doing just fine without them.

Running through the fear

I went for a run today. That might not seem particularly remarkable – after all, I started the year with a 5k Park Run. But it took a lot to get me out of the house today, and I nearly used every excuse in the book to persuade myself to stay home.

It was raining, which would have been a brilliant excuse not to go out for a run. But that wasn’t even the half of it. Today was about the fear of looking stupid, of people looking at me and thinking “god what does she think she’s doing?”. Because I still don’t see myself as a fit person who can stick on a pair of running shoes and a pair of leggings and go out for a run. But I am, so I did.

Run 200118

I ran 4 miles (6.4km), which is the furthest I’ve ever run to date. I took my time, I stopped to take a couple of photos, and I didn’t push my speed. Today wasn’t about running fast, it was just about running.

Bristol Harbour - a beautiful backdrop for a run, even in bad weather

Bristol Harbour – a beautiful backdrop for a run, even in bad weather

And it felt great. It was a challenge, without being too difficult, and I can honestly say I enjoyed the experience of running outside in public. One of the unexpected highlights for me was smiling at other runners. I hadn’t realised that was a thing, but it was like we were all part of some secret running club. All winning at life because we chose the run over the sofa on a soggy Saturday afternoon.

Running is a great way to exercise the body and mind. I find it very therapeutic to put on some good tunes and just run. It clears the mind, and it makes you feel good. I’m ready to take on the world now!

quote-7Today’s running soundtrack was Paloma Faith’s latest album, The Architect. Finding the right music is important I think, and this album really works for me! What music do you run to?