I’ve been marking my university students’ final essays, and will soon proceed seamlessly into marking their final exams. Everyone was given the same assignment: write on a topic related to the course according to certain specifications. And everyone wrote something completely unique, different from every other student. They all took the same course, attended the same classes, read the same textbook, did the same exercises… well, at least some of them did the exercises…
And they all wrote completely different papers. Different topics. Different styles. Different arguments. Different literature cited. Completely different. Not a similarity between any two in the bunch. Amazing, right?
I hear some of you responding, “Huh? Why would any two students come up with the same final paper unless one plagiarized the other, and that’s strictly verboten in Canadian universities? And, of course, you’d be 100% correct. Full marks. (Yeah, you can take the professor out of the classroom, but you can’t take… et cetera, et cetera…)
We wouldn’t expect two students to write the same paper despite sharing the same in-class experiences. Why, then, would dance students expect to come out of the same classes and attempt to exactly replicate the steps and patterns learned in studio when they’re on the social dance floor? Yet many people do precisely that. They stick as closely as possible to the studio patterns they’ve learned. As a leader, they repeat by rote the moves taught by their teacher. As a follower, they either claim, “I haven’t learned that move yet,” when a leader takes them into uncharted territory, or worse, they “followsplain” why the leader is “doing it wrong” (trust me on this one).
The joy and challenge of the social dance floor is to transform what you’ve learned in skill and technique and make it into your own dance (still within the framework of salsa or your dance-of-choice, of course!). You add your own flavour, your own references to other dance experiences, you own ways of connecting and flowing from one move to the next. You make it your own.
Just as I wouldn’t expect any two students to submit similar papers, I wouldn’t expect any two dancers to dance that closely alike. And yet, I see this very often, especially among less-experienced dancers. They will invariable run through a series of rote studio patterns from beginning to end, rinse, and repeat. My life-and-dance partner used to say that she could tell the studio at which particular leaders learned by the series of patterns through which they led her.
This week when you go to dance in the wild, instead of replicating the patterns that you’ve learned, “cite” them: take individual ideas from the various elements and combine them in new ways. Add ideas from elsewhere. Sprinkle with your own flavour, and make sure you stay connected to your partner, to the music, and to the floor. And you can even grade yourself, as we…
See you on the dance floor!