Last week I began a series of short essays linking up Martin Seligman’s work on “well-being” in Positive Psychology as described in his most enjoyable book, Flourish, and the benefits of social partner dancing. How does Seligman define well-being? Great question! Well-being, according to Seligman, is the intention of Positive Psychology, constructed from five elements: Positive emotion, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments—denoted by the acronym, PERMA. In the previous entry, I connected the “P,” positive emotion, to dance. Today, it’s Engagement.
During a great dance – perhaps your Best Dance of the Night™ – you experience a feeling of being at once lost in the dance with your partner, and completely at the centre of the music, the dance floor, the world… indeed, perhaps even the entire universe. Time stops, and the two of you are completely immersed in the moment, the music, and each other. Every move feels inspired and is effortless. You and your partner flow as one, and together with the music you both experience an almost transcendent feeling of I-wish-this-would-never-end.
As Shakespeare once put it, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” More to the point of this article, this describes the experience of Engagement, the second component of well-being. When it happens to you, the moment is, of course, wonderful. Some people may have yet to experience such a moment in their dance career. How might we set the stage, so to speak, to better enable dance engagement?
For time to stand still and for an individual to be in flow during an activity, we can expect that a certain level of technical proficiency might be required. This doesn’t necessarily mean having an extremely high level of skill or prowess. You don’t have to be a professional-level dancer to get into flow with your partner on the dance floor. What you DO need to be able to achieve is a level of skill where you don’t have to be constantly thinking about the technique that you’re employing, irrespective of dance level. For example, if you are dancing to a count in your head, you will never be in flow. If you are trying to reproduce a particular pattern learned in your last studio class, you will never be in flow. If you are thinking of the cute person that you just noticed across the dance floor with whom you will dance next, you will never be in flow. On the other hand, if you are mindfully present with your partner and the music; if you each follow the other’s subtle cues, signals, and invitations; if you find yourself leading or following into graceful moves and you can’t figure out how you got to that point, you may well be experiencing that elusive quality of flow, and total engagement in the dance.
What you will also be experiencing is a flow of energy and vitality that characterizes the human potential version of nuclear fusion: more energy is produced than expended when two come together and join as one. This can be true of any great relationship – dance being a metaphor for life – and one of the ways in which dance contributes to one’s well-being. Up next: positive relationships.
See you on the dance floor.