In my role as educator (one of several that I adopt in my professional life), I think of three ways of knowing as I guide my students, be it in a formal university classroom or in the more informal setting of a dance studio (okay… gym… 😉 ). There’s cognitive knowledge—information, facts, and good ol’ fashioned “book learnin’.” There’s skill-based knowledge—how to do stuff, including when and where to employ which techniques. And finally there’s more existential knowledge, the knowledge of being: how you show up and engage in the act of being you in a particular situation. Capturing these three ideas succinctly in French we have savoir (cognition or knowing), savoir faire (doing), and savoir être (being).
Each of these has a place in our embrace of learning to dance salsa with Salsaholics. The obvious starting point is the skill-based doing as this is the primary focus not only of our lessons, but of pretty much every dance lesson in the city. We learn the Foundation moves – basic step, spot and travelling turns – and put them together to develop a Repertoire of combination patterns, the elements of which can stand on their own or recombine into new patterns and blocks of choreography that often characterize one dancer’s style from another.
The first element, cognitive knowledge, is also an important aspect of our Salsaholics classes. In learning the various combinations and patterns, we think about the structure of the dance overall, and how flow works throughout the way we combine individual elements into a cohesive whole. We focus on music and what the music is communicating to us as leads and follows, and how we can in turn communicate those musical ideas to our partner. There’s also a psychology to being a great dance partner that combines good communication and connection with safety, “listening” to the other person through the connection, and understanding how to respond in the moment, being completely present with and for the other person.
Finally, we come to the more esoteric existential or “being” knowledge. We ask ourselves, how do we want to show up for our partner on the dance floor? What role are we assuming and putting on for the public? Is this intended role the one that actually shows up and performs on our behalf? Or, are we actually affecting a different persona, becoming someone who, perhaps in hindsight, we might wish not to have demonstrated. As a simple example, in class when we practice our fundamental moves, many people often step through the routine much in the same way that they might walk through a supermarket or down the corridor in their office. When I encourage them to think like, and become a dancer, they carry themselves differently, acting with a new awareness of possibility in their (dance) life. Watching my students transform with this sense of being and becoming a great partner dancer is like watching the dawn come up over a dark horizon.
Three elements of complete knowledge: Knowing, doing, and being. Bring awareness of these three aspects with you to the social, the club, and even (especially) to the lesson and you will grow immensely as a great partner dancer. I’ll watch for you when I…
See you on the dance floor!