We are often asked why we dance. I could ask you why you breath, walk, swallow. For dancers, it is just a natural part of life. I do it because it completes me.
Why we get into dance is often a better inquiry or at least makes for a more interesting story. I wanted to step into a different social network. Where I started, it was the biggest activity club available so it seemed like a good place to make new friends in this new life that I newly stepped into. I enjoyed watching dancing when it was incorporated into movies, in specials on CBC, and in live productions. It made me dream of the freedom I witnessed in the dancers before me. In the club I joined, the first class I took had me hooked. There was this feeling in my body that was unlike anything I had experienced before. I was high for the whole evening following and barely sleep that night. My brain kept going through the motions and my body kept feeling that sense of exhilaration. Every class, this pattern of unrest continued.
From there, it just took off. The more I studied, the more I wanted to know. The more people I met who shared this common interest, the more I had a sense of belonging. A sense I had not had in the past. In my past, I had not experienced much stability. Not with my parents, not with my living situation, not with my goals. I had always felt like I was tiptoeing above the earth, but never putting down roots. Being part of this group of dancers that really were addicted to this activity, I had a social group I could go out with during the week and weekend and have a blast. I still have no other outlet in my life that could replace that.
I have heard that dancers are born. I do believe this. Many a kid has been dragged kicking and screaming to a class and never liked a moment of it. Others have danced around their life for as long as they could walk and never had a formal dance class. Then there are the adults like me who discovered dance past when most do and fall head over heels in love with it. It eventually becomes that they can’t imagine a day without at least thinking about dance. Adults who find dance get a choice in the matter. They didn’t start because a parent forced them. They started because they made a choice and now they have a fuller life because of it. How lucky are we to dance?
I have realized recently that a partner I have worked with over the years has a pattern of abuse with those he is in relationships be it professional, personal, or romantic. He was returning to abusing me as a professional partner. I had to make a decision. I could have just walked away. I could have just said you suck. I could have yelled at him for all he has done to the community. Instead, I gave him an option. I didn’t want to present an ultimatum. I wanted to present an opportunity to continue working together. The conditions of that working relationship would have to change though if it were to remain intact.
I have had abusive partners before – working and romantically. It’s a strange situation to realize you are in. The reason for that is it sneaks up on you . . . not really though. When it has happened, I have always known that something was off from the beginning. Yet, I chose to ignore that voice of reason that was telling me to run away as fast as I could. Even though I knew that something was off, I tried to work through it for pride.
I do believe in redemption and second chances because I have been presented them in my life and have been grateful for the opportunity to redeem myself. This is why I presented the opportunity for change with this partner. I did not want to continue working in a dictatorial relationship. One where I was being punished though I was not being bad. Whether I was a good dancer or bad dancer in his judgement was polar opposite from day to day.
Being told by someone that you are an embarrassment to the genre when you are actually and admired dancer in that community is confusing. Does he see something that the rest of them don’t? Does he see something that the world class coaches ignored or were blind to when I worked with them? It doesn’t seem like it could be possible. This is how abusers work though. They push you off your centre, sometimes in a subtle way that introduces the slightest doubt. Recurrence of this pushing accumulates those doubts exponentially to the point where you doubt everything. If you are in a situation where you are just down about everything, this can break you. I am lucky that I do have points of reference within this and many other communities who told me I was ridiculous to be believing a word he said. Especially with his known history of abusing partners.
His reputation with partners is that he disposes of them like tissues. I have been told that I am being overly generous even giving him a chance to make it to strike three. I agree to an extent. If boundaries are set, it can provoke change. Likely being the narcissist that he presents as, he will likely choose to just walk away. Dance is a privilege. Yes, it takes work. It takes health as well – mental, physical, and emotional. Having a partner push me off of my game with mental abuse takes away from this privilege. If he doesn’t smarten up, I will be choosing to walk away. The chance awaits him. Let’s see what happens . . .
Finding a permanent partner is as or more difficult than finding a permanent life partner. So many factors have to be in place for it to work. You can be good on paper and horrible in real life. Just like a romantic relationship, a dance partner relationship has to have chemistry. Why? It can make or break the longevity of a pairing.
This does not imply chemistry to the point of becoming romantically involved with each other. That is usually something to be avoided, especially in the throws of a new dance relationship where everything is exciting, yet delicate. Many are sucked into the excitement to the point of crossing the boundary of just being partners. This is dangerous territory as the excitement of a new partnership mimics the affect of deeper feelings. It is usually better to let the new partnership glow wear off before determining if there is something deeper between you. This can be more easily said than done. You do have to feel amazing when you dance together. When I get to dance with a great partner, there is this building of joy that makes it almost difficult for me to breath, not unlike what I feel when I want to be romantically. It can be so exhilarating that I can barely sleep at night as I am on such an adrenaline high.
This dance chemistry has to translate to something beyond what the two partners feel when they are working together. The synchronicity of the movement will be captivating to the observer as you know each other’s balance and movement so well that you can compensate for anything that might go wrong during a performance. The audience should feel that chemistry between partners radiating from your pores. When you have the opportunity to observe it, you will understand what it looks like. Mesmerizing!
Beyond dance and physical chemistry, there has to be chemistry of communication. This takes effort to establish as everyone comes from a different background and expectation. It has to be good enough so no one is regularly getting defensive in discussion. If you have one partner more vocal than the other – especially in a negatively critical way – it can break the chemistry to the point of dreading any interaction.There is something to be said about setting rules of engagement in situations where there are egos at play. Yes, dancing is a beautiful art. However, behind that beauty are delicate egos that demand management.
When you are lucky enough to find that chemistry with a partner, relish it. Just like a romantic relationship, the chemistry has to be nurtured to maintain it. It needs as much attention as the dancing. Without chemistry, the audience will not be as drawn. Pick your partners carefully, pay attention to comments from respected observers, and be grateful everyday for the chemistry you have been so lucky to find. Some dancers are not fortunate enough to ever experience it.
Do I partner with someone whose reputation is not the best in the community for the opportunity to continue my career as I get older?
Being a mature dancer can open doors. With maturity, I can bring a track record. I can show dedication to the art. I can show that even sometimes when I stray, I still like to come back home. I can bring a wealth of knowledge. I can bring technique. I can bring experience from other shows. I can show you what I know because I have taught what I know. I can tap into training resources. I can open up my connections for you to tap into as well.
Being a mature dancer can close doors too. With maturity, I can bring intimidation. I can bring prejudices against me from previous projects. I can bring my biases about how things should be done. I can bring social stigma about my age when put up against younger dancers. I can bring limitations due to years of physicality.
I think whether the doors open because of my maturity falls mostly on my shoulders. If I am being self-conscious about my maturity, I will project that to those with whom I am working. I often find though that younger dancers I work with look at me with shock and admiration when they find out how much more senior I am than them. Apparently, I continue to not look my age neither aesthetically nor physically.
Getting back to the original topic of partners . . . when it comes to finding partners, I know what I bring to the floor. I know that there aren’t many partners my age kicking around, so I am dancing with men my junior. Some will not consider a partnership with me because of this. As long as I can keep up though and a chance is given, all is well. I do not think that I have to compromise with someone whose reputation is undesirable unless the partnership brings something to my life that is not available elsewhere. In life, I have choices. I also have the opportunity to sit back and see how things play out. With that in mind, I still have many years left to attract into my realm the partners and projects for which I am looking. I am thankful everyday for this.
I remember trying to find a permanent dance partner years ago to be such a stressful search. I was always sure that I was never good enough. It has taken years to gain the insight about what really allows for a good partnership. It isn’t what I used to think it was.
You can have two extremely talented dancers. The world can sit waiting in anticipation for a great partnership to emerge. How can it not when the pooling of talent should be synergistic? Often, the partnership implodes shortly after it emerges. Why? That’s a question that haunts dancers. How can two talented people not make a go of it especially if they were successful in previous partnerships?
What I have observed to be the greatest influencer of partnership success is vision. There has to be a shared vision. A shared dance career is too difficult if there is not a common and satisfying goal. I say it is difficult because there has to be management of mutual expectations. There has to be an agreed upon way to fulfill both partners’ goals. Unfortunately, partnerships are like marriage. There has to be give and take. There has to be stroking of egos. There has to be each partner gaining something each day on the floor.
The vision is often set out over a year or more. The growth into a partnership rather than just two dancers working together, happens over time. A year is really the minimum as there is time lost getting the partnership on track. There will be growing pains trying to adapt to each others’ style. It is rare that there is instant perfection. It is much like a business partnership. There is a business vision that has to happen, whether the dancing is professional or amateur. Both business partners have to have complimentary – not necessarily identical – goals. There have to be easily identified landmarks of achievement that are set out otherwise the success of the partnership is difficult to measure. Re-evaluation has to happen as well to make sure that the goals that were set match the current situation. Modification of the goals will happen – that is the reality of life.
If you are in a new partnership or seeking one, take some time to figure out what you need. What are your goals? What are you looking to gain from being in a partnership? What other life goals are you looking to fulfill along the way while you are achieving your dance goals? What do you need from the partnership for you to consider it a success? This is going to be different for every person. If you do not take the time to identify what you need, you can waste a lot of time growing a partnership that doesn’t give you what you want.
Partner dancers are inherently flirty. The dances we do with partners are not sterile. They tell a story. Typically a lusty one at that. This can misconstrue much to new people in the community. If they are not used to the level of intensity in the dancing, they can see it as an open invitation to more than just dancing.
Sometimes there is that open invitation. Sometimes there is not. I have found it difficult on many occasions and just blown someone off that was flirty while we were on and off the dance floor. There are emotions that are stirred by doing these dances because of what they represent. Yes, we may just be dancing for fun. However, when the physical connection happens with someone and you feel in-sync, it can be confusing. The same signals that we feel when we are attracted to someone off the dance floor can be triggered when we sync up with someone on the dance floor.
There is an adrenaline rush that happens. That signals the brain that something really good is happening. This trickles down to our logic saying, this feels good. This feels good because I am moving. This feels good because I am moving with someone. This feels good because I am moving with someone who is touching me. This feels good because there is something more going on between us then dancing. You can see how just having fun can trickle down to your brain confusing the enjoyment with attraction for the person.
In my past, I have tried dating people that triggered that adrenaline rush when we danced. Often, that chemistry on the floor did not allow for chemistry off the floor. This can be disappointing and lead to involvement beyond what was originally intended because of seeking that adrenaline rush again. Sometimes it is by being physically intimate. Sometimes it is by trying to dance together again to see if it can be recreated. I have friends that I dance with that give me that rush in such a way that I seek out dancing with them. I know better now than to date them and many of them I have befriended over the years and that ship sailed.
I have encountered that people I have chemistry off the dance floor with, I often have no chemistry with on the dance floor. This can be disconcerting as, like many dancers, I would love to find that chemistry in one package – on and off the dance floor – in one person. This is easier said than done. In the end it boils down to finding someone that I have chemistry with off the dance floor as we are likely going to be spending more time there. I can still go out dancing with them and have a good time, but just be more separate on the floor so that we can have a good time without doubt about our overall chemistry creeping in.
Trust is a strange thing in dance. We put a lot of trust out there without a second thought. We are trusting ourselves to do a good physical job. We are trusting other dancers to not injure us. We are trusting an audience to not condemn our work. We are trusting our reputation and bodies to choreographers. We are trusting media to kindly critique so that our public relations stay positive.
When I step on the stage, I am putting trust in myself. There is no opportunity to back out as I have made a commitment to my audience, myself, my co-dancers, my co-creators, and artistic directors. Even if I am feeling a lack of preparedness, I have to trust myself that it will all come together. I have to trust that my training will have my back should I fail to recall something. I have to trust that my body is intelligent enough to stay within the theme of the choreography should I mis-step and have to improvise until I rejoin it. I have to trust that I am in adequate physical shape to pull off the endeavor I am about to present.
When I step on stage, I am putting trust in the observer. I am trusting that they will respect my work enough to stay and watch. I am trusting them to keep my pathway on the stage clear. I am trusting they will cheer me on when I am high and cry with me when I am low. I am trusting them to give feedback that will help me grow in my art. I am trusting them to judge my body and art kindly. I am trusting that they will respect me enough to not thieve my work. I am trusting that something in me will inspire and move something in them. Does this happen every time? Of course not, but in opening my soul to them, I am putting a lot of trust in the observers.
When I am working with partners, I am entrusting them with my career. Dancing is not a safe activity. This is especially true when you have multiple dancers in a confined space giving it their all in their own way. I have to trust that they will be present enough not to clobber me as we are working. I have to trust that a partner will not use too much force when partnering me so that no bodily injury harm or dislocation happens. I have to trust that if a partner is feeling anger, vengeance, or annoyance towards me, that they will not physically lash out and do me harm. I have to trust that they will share the stage in an artistic work and let me shine when I am due and I will do the same for them. I truly am trusting them with my career.
Trust is a word that encompasses so much of my dancing. Outside of dance, I often force myself to trust even when my gut says not to do so. I tend to give trust because I feel it sometimes a societal obligation – not many things make me feel obliged but this. Whenever I dance, my soul is exposed and vulnerable. This is part of the beauty of dance and is a privilege to be able to do so daily. Be mindful of the trust you give in your dancing and see if it changes your perspective on your co-dancers and your interactions.
Finding that perfect partner can be difficult. Does that perfect partner exist? That’s a question I have mulled over for years, fifteen to be exact. I do believe so, though I am not sure if I will find him. I am not whining, I just know that I am luckier in measurable success than personal relationships. I know other people have found that partner and they live their lives together inside and outside of dance. They have a connection so strong that they cannot see either life without that one person in it.
That perfect partner can be just someone that is for dance purposes. There may be nothing beyond dance between the couple. When they dance though, it changes their world. It is those moments that they regularly create when everything around them disappears. They are so connected that no else on the dance floor matters.
I think many of us find these fleeting moments in competition and social settings when there is such an adrenaline rush happening. You are so present that time slows down. You can stretch every step so well that you find new movement and reach in your body that you never knew existed. With your partner you may find a new interaction that you never saw before. I have been in these moments when my partner has not. This nirvana happens every time I perform, whether it is solo, partnered, or in a group. For that period where I am performing, time nearly stops. Time allows me this laser focus. I can hear more in the music. I can feel more in the rhythm. I can see more happening around me. I have changed sensation in my body.
Imagine if you had a partner with whom you could create those moments every time you touched. The minute you moved, you felt so tuned into the other person that it became like an addiction. An addiction to movement. An addiction to sensation. An addiction to another person. That is what a perfect partner can feel like. I guess it is a similar feeling to the rush of being in love with someone which is equally addictive. I am curious if the same part of the brain is involved in kinetic and romantic love. It would make sense why that rush from connected movement can make it hard to tell whether you just really enjoy dancing with someone or whether you are actually falling for them romantically. Hopefully, I will find that perfect partner one day.
The other day, I had the opportunity to witness something inspiring. I was waiting for rehearsal to start. I had arrived early as it was being held in a location different than usual and I wanted to make sure I would find it in time to warm up. There was a pair of dancers working together in said studio. They were both gifted dancers that I respected. They both could have large egos because of their accomplishments, but they did not. They were humble, hard working souls. What I witnessed was an exchange of energy on many levels.
The first level was their exchange of experience. They both came from different dance backgrounds. One was more experienced than the other. That was not getting in their way. I could hear their banter back and forth. There was no one trying to dominate the conversation. There was no one stuck in the mind set that one partner must be the leader or the one in charge due to traditional gender roles. They were exchanging information back and forth verbally and physically. They were in sync with each other and working together for their greater good.
The second level was their exchange of kinetic energy. The recycling of energy was interesting to watch. You could easily see the transfer of motion from one body to the next. There was no force involved. You could see the stored up potential energy that was used to initiate movement. There was little muscular work. It was flowing from one body to the next. It looked light. It looked easy. It looked effortless.
The third level was their exchange of emotion. When one smiled, the other lit up. When one withdrew internally, the other pulled away. When one got excited, I saw the excitement rise in the other. Their energy was so in-tune that it was within seconds that one’s change of emotion became the same change of emotion in the other.
What was happening though was that there was give and take. Yes, one had more experience than the other in the genre they were working in. Yet, no one was being condescending. No one was getting upset. They were working toward a common goal for mutual benefit.
Often, egos get in the way in partner and group situations. We forget that we are all in this together. We forget that our personal goal is less important than the collective goal. When we can put our personal goals aside and work together, transcendent experiences happen in our relationships, projects, and gratification in dance.
It has become apparent that the less technical dance communities that I am involved in are closed off. They are not welcoming to many people and they keep to themselves. When I compare those communities that have highly trained dancers versus those that do not, the highly trained dancers are often the most friendly and welcoming to those who are learning or are from a different genre of dance.
I was at an event last evening and I ran into a dancer that I knew. He was not from the latin dance community, but he is an amazing dancer. He saw me dancing with my friends and was concerned about dancing with me. He did not want me to not have fun because he did not know how to do what I was doing with my other friends. I told him that I didn’t care if he knew the steps. I knew he would feel the music and express it in his own way. I knew it would be beautiful as I have seen him full out in his own genre and he is mind-blowing. It made me sad though that he could feel the judgement in the room from those who were far less talented and trained than he. It almost prevented him from stepping onto the floor with me as he was afraid his lack of knowledge would make he and I embarrassed.
It shows me that there is a lot of toxicity in this community. I have seen it before and it makes me sad. I have been to other events in other cities where the dancers of the same genre far surpass the best in my community. What I find curious is that those dancers who surpass those in my community are more friendly, humble, and inclusive. They are not making people feel uncomfortable to the point where they do not want to step on the floor. They are the dancers that ask everyone and make everyone feel welcome. My community tends to exclude instead.
I have an amazing friend in my community who always adds people to our community by telling them they should come dancing. He has recruited so many people. Lovely people. Some of them have stayed. Many of them have exited again though because of the judgement and exclusion that happens in my community. It baffles me that the people who are higher ranked in this community want to keep the community so small and closed off. There is so much for them to learn about dancing. There is so much they can learn from dancers of different genres. Yet, consistently, they balk at chameleons like myself who are better trained than they. They ostracize those that are new and wanting to learn. They keep to themselves in their little circle of comfort which they know with whom they will show well on the dance floor.
They need to give their head a shake. Communities, businesses, festivals, and the like cannot have longevity if there is not continuous growth. There will always be an out flux of people, so to keep it even static in numbers, there has to be at least the same amount of influx. If you want to grow though, the influx has to be higher. This means showing kindness to the beginners who are interested to join. This means stepping out of your circle of dancers at risk of not having a perfect dance, but to make someone new feel welcome. This means being welcoming to dancers of different genres who come to your event who could blow your mind on the dance floor, but maybe not in the way you do. There is so much talent out there. There are so many people seeking community especially in big, busy cities. Put your ego and judgement aside. Welcome everyone. You may be dancing with a star of today or tomorrow. Likely, they will not exclude you once they make it.