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.

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 I dance…Β 

Why do I dance? It’s simple really. Dancing makes me happy. I dance because I love the music. I dance because moving my body and learning new things excites me. I dance because I can. 

I love my dancing friends and family. The dance community is a truly special place and I can’t imagine life without it now.

Tonight was the first night back this year at my regular class, where it all started, Salsa Souls. Although I now dance various styles in different places, and I enjoy travelling to congresses and events elsewhere, Salsa Souls will always my dance home – where my heart is. I owe so much to the teachers there and the amazing friends I’ve met there.

This year, as I approach three years on the dance floor, I feel like I’m ready to dial it up a notch. I want to get good. So, I’ll work on my shines and footwork, I’ll try not to anticipate the lead, and yes teacher, I will learn to spot when I turn!! 

Why do I dance? Why on earth wouldn’t I? 

A reason to leave the office…

I’m lucky enough to be able to say I love what I do for a living (selling holidays to Japan) but a couple of years ago I realised there simply had to be more to life than your day job. I used to spend hours at work, in front of a computer, getting less and less productive as the night went on, and I realised I was in danger of losing my passion for my career.

I was saved by salsa. After trying a class one evening I found myself hooked, and soon started finding every chance I could to dance in order to have a reason to leave my desk at the end of the day. Getting out, meeting people, learning something new and moving my body gave me a new reason to be alive, and before long I was happier and healthier than I had ever been.

Learning salsa led me to also learn other Latin and African dances, and now I dance salsa, bachata, cha cha cha, kizomba, semba, merengue and I’ll have a go at anything else you throw at me.

I’m back at work this week after a lovely Christmas holiday and started the week with no dancing in my diary. Classes all seem to be starting again next week, so I resigned myself to probably having a week of working hard and late, and not having the usual release that dance gives me. Without a reason to leave the office, would I just end up working late? Probably.

And then I was saved. Some of my wonderful dance teachers decided to put on an impromptu kizomba social dance tonight, lots of my friends were going, and before I knew it I had a reason to leave my desk at six on the dot, and something to look forward to all night.

Tomorrow I’m booked in for a Zumba class so I can shake my funky stuff a little more, and I’ve found some salsa for Friday now too. 

Dance not only gives me a reason to leave the office, it makes me feel great, and it’s one of my reasons to live now.