I was speaking with a prospective client this week (for my non-Salsaholics work) about creating a workshop for their leadership around the theme of “Be Inspiring.” So, I had cause to reflect on what it takes for an individual to… well… be inspiring. I’m not sure I yet have a good answer for what might encourage sustained inspiration (as opposed to the endorphin and dopamine blast that comes from a so-called motivational speaker, leading to the analogous effect to that of eating mediocre Chinese food: an hour later and you’re apathetic again!). What I do know is that for a leader to be inspiring to others, s/he must feel authentically inspired themselves. Inspiration is infectious, but only if the individual truly and deeply feels it.
The same question can apply in the dance realm as well. Most dancers have had the experience of enjoying a truly inspired dance with an incredible partner. It’s that singular dance when, even if you are tired after a long evening of dancing with many different partners, something in that one, particular, special individual spurs you to have what becomes your Best Dance Of The Night. What does it take for either a leader or follower to inspire their partner like this during that unique dance? What more does it take to create that inspiration in a way that sustains beyond the single piece of music?
Is it a matter of skill? It certainly helps if at least one of the partners knows what s/he is doing on the floor. But even among highly skilled dancers, not every dance can be called “inspired.” Does it involve being able to “dance what the music tells you” as I repeat very often in class? Being able to instantly interpret the music into the perfect movement is likely a necessary condition, but certainly not sufficient, that is, to be able to truly hear the music and translate it into improvised choreography as opposed to rote patterns. How about connection with the partner? Does great dance connection translate into an inspired dance? It is as self-evident as it is unlikely to have an inspired dance with a partner with whom you do not connect well. So with regard to connection—again, necessary but not sufficient.
So what is the source of magical dance inspiration?
Remember I said a moment ago that inspiration is infectious? This provides a clue to two important conditions that I believe must exist for a particular dance to be experienced as inspired. First, at least one of the partners must themselves feel inspired either by the song, or the fact of dancing with that specific partner, or both. This brings in my oft-repeated mantra of connecting with the music and the partner. For example, from time to time, I’ve attended a social or shown up at a club when I see someone who was a favourite partner in the past, whom I haven’t seen in years. The thrill of excitement I feel when asking her to dance sets the stage for inspiration. (This more often applies to certain partners who I might see almost every week, too!)
Second, there must be great physical communication between us that transcends the straight lead/follow signals. In an inspired dance, we are both immediately present, co-creating a performance in the moment. This means that an idea my partner has must be instantly and non-verbally conveyed to me, and vice versa through a near-telepathic interaction. In these moments, neither of us is leaping ahead to try out “that pattern we just learned in class.” Our full-aware focus is on each other and the music. No one else exists (possibly aside from that couple who just danced into your slot…).
Presence, connection, communication, focus, built on skill and practice. That is the alchemy of great dance. Be Inspiring and inspired!
See you on the dance floor.