Last week, I wrote about how to great great collaboration between followers and leaders on the dance floor. The more experience you have, of course, the better you’re able to do this. But what if you’re not as experienced as someone else who has been dancing for years? Is it still possible to create great dance engagement?
My answer, as you might expect, is yes you can. But, it takes a willingness to adopt a “learner’s mind,” regardless of your skill level.
What do I mean by a learner’s mind? It means adopting an attitude that a mistake is okay, that it’s an opportunity to learn and improve. Another way to look at it is that what one person might call a mistake is, for another person, a new pattern. As a follower, a “mistake” is almost always the result of a leader being unclear, or attempting to lead a pattern that is beyond the follower’s skill level. Both of those faux pas are on the leader. Responding (as I have heard many times) “Oh, I haven’t learned that one yet,” suggests an expectation imposed on the follower either by her/himself or by the leader that s/he should have indeed learned particular combinations. It’s often accompanied by the follower putting on the brakes, so to speak, rather than simply completing the move to the best of her ability.
In this case, a learner’s mind in the follower enables him/her to experience the moments of dance and enjoy whatever new movements s/he is offered. By allowing her/himself to complete even unfamiliar moves, s/he gains confidence, experience, and the ability to more easily follow those unfamiliar patterns. In other words, in learning she enjoys great dance engagement.
What about the leader? If s/he is constantly worried about replicating a studio pattern, other, arguably more important aspects of the dance tend to be ignored: connection, frame, timing, and joy! A learner’s mind for the leader applies two ways. First, the leader allows him/herself to be imperfect, to take one or two aspects of what was learned in the studio and apply just those elements until they become part of the leader’s muscle memory. Eventually, enough elements come together so that the pattern originally learned in the studio – or a close enough, or even improved facsimile – emerges. Second, the leader pays attention to, and learns how her/his follower responds. Each dance becomes an exploration of possibilities with this particular partner at this particular time with this particular song. The leader, with a mindset of constant learning, grows in real time with the follower, thereby creating great dance engagement for both.
A quick story: A woman with whom I frequently dance was a relative beginner. She had the characteristic hesitation of putting on the brakes right after a travelling turn, and sometimes as I was initiating the turn. She once asked me for suggestions on how she could improve her dance because she admitted that she herself felt “heavy” when dancing. After we finished the social dance (and after reminding her that I don’t teach on the social dance floor, but she insisted that I give her suggestions), I pointed out this putting-on-the-brakes phenomenon. I explained to her that having more trust in the leader would enable her to flow through the turn and enjoy the dance more. We danced another song deliberately focusing on this idea of flow. Within a month of being open to a learner’s mindset, her dancing improved tremendously, and she now can follow creative and challenging patterns. As a result, I noticed a marked difference in her musicality, and more importantly, in the way she enjoys dancing.
So, in addition to your dance shoes, pack a learner’s mind to accompany you to your next social.