We recently celebrated Thanksgiving up north of the 49th parallel, and I know American readers will be reveling in their gratitude soon. Like all of you, I am thankful every single day for my ability to dance. During Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, my news feed was flooded with posts about the positive impact of dance. Although we appreciate having dance in our lives, Melissa West-Koistila’s poignant article “Calling It Quits: Why Some Social Dancers Are Hanging Up Their Dance Shoes” echoes the sentiments of many dance communities and this is an unfortunate reality. West-Koistila succinctly summarizes three common frustrations faced by social dancers: the rise of the “faux pro” dancer, dance class “warfare,” and boredom. Although these concerns are legitimate, sometimes we need to generate positivity and adjust our attitudes. I’d like to share a story that will perhaps put things into perspective when our frustrations get the better of us.
I’m going to be a little bit cheesy now and tell you why my mom is my hero. I know, I know, first I told you what I’m thankful for and now I’m going to talk about my hero. I realize this isn’t a seventh-grade writing assignment but my story has a point and I’ll get to it, I promise. I look up to my mom in countless ways but mostly, I admire her perseverance. While I’m not sure if I’ll ever be as strong as she is, I am very much like her in that when I start a new hobby, I get hooked. When I love a book, I can’t put it down and I often read it several times. When I hear a new jam I like, I play it on repeat incessantly (in the shower, in the car, at work…). When I began salsa dancing, I started to spend most of my spare time practicing. I definitely inherited this love of learning and somewhat addictive personality from Mum.
Mum was never into Latin dance–although, she was a disco queen in the 70’s–but more than anything else, she loved to ski. It always brings a smile to my face when she describes getting through a work week by looking forward to Friday when she could drive for six or more hours to the nearest ski resort for the weekend. Road trips are long when you live in prairie Canada, but she treasured every minute of it by blasting her music and enjoying the exquisite scenery. She would stay and ski for as long as possible, then make it home in time for work on Monday morning, tired and sore, but still smiling. If she didn’t have any friends who could join her, she would go by herself and meet new people. Many of us can relate to this when we first started dancing. Perhaps we didn’t know anyone, but that didn’t stop us. Maybe we had to travel a great distance to go to our first congress, but we went anyway. This is true passion and it’s incredible. Mum has described her skiing experiences as liberating, exhilarating, and pure joy. This is exactly how I would describe dance and I never want to think of it any other way.
I turned twenty-eight this week and while this age may not be a milestone for everyone, it is a significant year for me. When my mom was twenty-eight, she was struck by an unexpected turn of events that would forever change her life. She was faced with a debilitating injury which came as a result of an underlying spinal deformity; this forced her to give up skiing. Several years later, the condition grew worse and she could no longer drive. Soon after that, she had surgery that went horribly wrong and now, she can no longer walk or experience a day without pain.
Despite all of the hardship she has faced, the past ten years have allowed her to finish two university degrees, become a grandmother of three, win a battle against breast cancer, and write the first draft of a novel. I have never met another person who has gone through so much, yet still fiercely holds on to that which makes her happy. Although she has wanted to give up more than once, she remains resilient and strong. When it comes to dance, she is my number-one supporter and without her encouragement and love throughout her own personal struggles, I would never have become the person I am today.
Here’s the point I promised you: at any moment, the activity you love to do, that which you pour your heart and soul into, can be ripped away by the cruelty of time and circumstance. I’m sure my mom had no idea her last time skiing would be her last time. None of us know when our last dance will be. When you find your passion, hang on to it. Live it, breathe it, and appreciate every moment you have with it. Don’t dwell on the drama that can sometimes accompany the world of dance. Why should it irritate you if another dance company is successful? Celebrate with them, congratulate them, and keep dancing. Use this positivity to fuel your own hard work. What happens if you don’t like how an instructor teaches their class? Respectfully agree to disagree and take classes elsewhere. Why let it bother you if your students take classes with other instructors? Remember that everyone learns differently and may need a different teaching approach. Appreciate the fact that you have helped someone and encourage them to continue on their learning journey, no matter where it takes them. Go ahead and wear your team/school t-shirt with pride, but don’t use it as warfare. We all love the same thing and maybe we love it differently, but not one of us has the right to say, “I love it more.” Whether you take classes, perform, use tutorial videos, travel and learn, or go to social events (or all of the above), we are all part of the same community. Yes, I’m talking about the “faux pro” dancers too! Some people take dance more seriously than others and that’s ok. If you can identify with the description of the “faux pro,” try to remember that you were once a beginner too and it is always important to make everyone feel welcome.
Life is too short to generate negativity where only positivity should be. For many of us, dance is an escape from everyday worries, so it certainly shouldn’t become another stress factor. If you’re bored or feeling like you’ve reached a plateau, take West-Koistila’s advice and switch up your routine! Take that new kizomba class that’s being offered in your city or check out a fancy shine pattern on YouTube. There is an endless supply of material to add to your dance repertoire, so challenge yourself. If you think you need to take a break from dance in order to recharge your batteries and regain a new appreciation, do it, but don’t hang up your dance shoes permanently. Be thankful for what your body allows you to do every single day because it’s beautiful but it’s never guaranteed. Don’t dance because of anyone else’s expectations or judgment. Dance because you love to dance, and because you can.
Here are some little moments to be thankful for. Add your own and avoid hanging up those dance shoes:
When your partner gives you a cheeky glance and you both know to do a body roll at the exact same time. #dancergratitude
When you try out that tricky move you’ve been learning and it finally works. #dancergratitude
When you’re in a silly mood and your partner picks up on it and joins you in a completely ridiculous dance. #dancergratitude
When you don’t know anyone and/or you can’t speak the language where you have travelled, but you can still have amazing dances with the locals. #dancergratitude
When a friend shares their snacks with you during a full day of workshops. #dancergratitude
When you take a workshop with your favourite professional dancer and you realize they are super goofy and down-to-earth. #dancergratitude
The first time someone tells you “you’re a great dancer!” #dancergratitude
When someone picks you to dance with during their favourite song and it’s pure joy. #dancergratitude
When you make a new friend in dance class or at a dance event. #dancergratitude
When your dance friends become some of your best friends. #dancergratitude
Why are you grateful for dance? Share your favourite moments on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with #dancergratitude and #latindancecommunity
by Sarah Liz Vuong