So how do you like Spring 2018 so far? It seems that this year, April “showers” bring snowplowers (except for the main streets, the side streets, and the sidewalks of the neighbourhoods where I’ve been). Yes, the dismal weather has been pretty disheartening. Here we were making great progress towards warmer weather, with visions of the upcoming 13th season of Sidewalk Salsa dancing in our heads, when… BAM! We get hit with Ice-Storm-A-Geddon and the whole thing is set back more than a month.
Our progress in dance sometimes takes on a characteristic not dissimilar to what we’ve experienced in this crazy weather season—and I’m not referring to ending up wet and cold! Rather, in almost everybody’s dance career, we make great progress and then – sometimes when we least expect it – we end up plateauing, and sometimes even regressing in our skill, our connection, our musicality, or some other aspect of dance. And occasionally, we turn our bad feelings about “losing it” or “being off” into a reaction not unlike many people during the ice storm: sitting on the couch in our pyjamas watching Netflix.
Recognizing that skill plateau is a common – and temporary – occurrence is half the battle. If you’ve been learning and practising advanced techniques, whether it’s been fancy turn patterns, or advanced footwork, or intricate styling, a plateau is often a signal to return to foundations. When you take the time to truly focus on the basics with an intention of really sharpening foot placement, or turn balance, or connection through travelling turns, or precise timing to the music… whatever foundational skill it might be… a remarkable thing happens. You’ll find that when you begin to apply the higher level basic skill to your regular dancing, you’ve created an entirely new experience of the dance for yourself.
Here’s an example of what I’m referring to: In working with relatively newer salsa dancers, I find that many followers tend to lift their own arms during turns. This brings the elbow out to the side instead of keeping it down, pointing to the ground. After working with the follower, reminding her to keep the elbow down, most of the time, she acquires the skill and in doing so, improves the connection and frame with her partner through the turn. So far, so good.
Over time, that follower becomes more confident, learns more advanced techniques, and sometimes loses the strong connection through the turn. This can happen for a number of reasons, but mostly, I find it’s through simple familiarity with her ability to turn. It’s pretty much second nature and the foundational skill of connection inadvertently suffers. And, “by coincidence,” she plateaus in her advancement. She finds, for instance, that she isn’t quite getting the lead of more advanced dancers, or rushes to “catch up” during more intricate moves.
This is the time to return for some focus on foundations—in this case specifically, on connection through led turns. Once this has been strengthened and the skill corrected, the plateau is no more, and her dancing has reached a higher level.
So, setbacks in dance aren’t a reason to be upset. Just as Spring will eventually arrive in Toronto, so too can your dance get hot again with a little foundational focus when we…
See you on the dance floor!