Twice since last Thursday, the same snippet of conversation has happened to me, prompted by the question, “So what do you do?” After explaining that my primary occupation is an Executive, Leadership, and Career Transition Coach, and I do organization culture work, I also toss in, “…and I also teach dance at Bloor and Spadina on Thursday evenings.”
Person I’ve Just Met: “Oh, are you the ones who do that dance thing at the corner?”
Me: “Yes, we host Sidewalk Salsa, a free, open-air dance party every Thursday evening after our class.”
PIJM: “Wow. Yes, I’ve seen you. I’ve gone by that corner many times.”
Me: “Cool! Next time you’re walking by on a Thursday night, why don’t you stop by and dance?”
What I’ve learned over the thirteen years that we’ve been hosting Sidewalk Salsa is that many people are shy about dancing in public, about dancing altogether, or about their lack of dance ability, that is, the fact that they haven’t yet learned to dance. (The other thing I’ve learned from many young, university students is that alcohol does indeed lower inhibitions and make someone believe they can look like contestants from DWTS or SYTYCD when they actually look like contestants from The Gong Show.) Short of serving alcohol on-site – which would likely result in us being shut down faster than you could say “beer goggles” – what does it take for a person to muster up the courage to try a step or two, whether it is at an open venue like Sidewalk Salsa or coming into their first class at Salsaholics Anonymous?
Certainly, it takes a bit of courage combined with an, “I’ve always wanted to try this” attitude. After teaching literally hundreds of new dancers over the years, I’ve found that it also takes one more thing: A willingness to shift one’s mentality to a “Beginner’s Mind”. This shift is indeed a challenge for many people. Those who are successful, extremely competent in whatever it is they pursue in their lives, and especially those who are with another person and don’t want to appear unskilled in front of their friend (most often a male with a female), often find it extremely challenging to make the “Beginner’s Mind” shift. So what exactly is the Beginner’s Mind?
It’s actually a concept borrowed from Zen practice that suggests an openness to learning without preconceptions, and an eagerness to acquire the subject, no matter what it is, and no matter what level of knowledge or skill you have already attained. A Beginner’s Mind accepts that learning may happen at any moment or opportunity, and that walking by a street corner on a random, summer, Thursday evening may be the right moment to both dance and learn “like no one is watching you.”
If you are a true beginner at dance and may have only taken a lesson or two, it is even more important to adopt the Beginner’s Mind, and if at all possible, join Sidewalk Salsa on Thursday evening. “But I’m not good enough” is a sentiment that arises from a Judger’s mind, not a Learner’s mind, and certainly not the Beginner’s Mind. A Beginner’s Mind thinks, “I am always good enough to take my practice one step further” out there when we…
See you on the dance floor.