Since I started dancing, my obsession has always been to look good. To practice and rehearse every movement until it looked beautiful for anyone who might watch it – starting with myself and hopefully ending with my teacher. I would spend as much time as I could in front of a mirror to make sure that arms are bent in the right way, legs nice and straight, shoulders down, keeping the frame and darn it, to finish the movement before starting a new one.
This obsession, however, has been unhealthy for me in two ways: the first one being a sense of profound dissatisfaction with everything I do, especially when trying out new styles or taking part in drop-in classes. The discomfort coming from unknown techniques is still there and I tend to need highly communicative teachers as well as a friendly environment to keep my motivation strong.
The second unhealthy consequence is that by focusing on the looks only – and by being unhappy with what I see – it becomes very easy to forget why I dance in the first place: to express myself in a way I cannot do otherwise. To connect my body, mind and soul and enjoy a moment where those three are actually present, together, and happy. And last but definitely not least, to share this moment with like-minded people from every possible background who have become true friends over the years.
This is also why I have been dreading social dancing so much. If you think about it, it is a sort of deadly recipe, especially as a follower (well not really, but you got the idea): you are letting a stranger lead you on a song you may not know, improvising everything, and all this in front of other people who may or may not watch you and decide, based on that, if you are a good dancer or not. And this could in turn impact your likeliness of being invited to either dance again or spend the rest of the night as a piece of wallpaper. Eek. Thanks, but not for me. I’ve been trying to avoid this type of situations as much as I could, really.
One element of Brazilian Zouk is helping me overcome this fear and learn to let go: the embrace. You do dance quite close to your partner, which again can be uncomfortable at the beginning. But the embrace is more of a metaphor to me. It means, first of all, a sense of safety, acceptance and warmth. Safety, because of the dance trust, the respect of each individual journey and the commitment to adapt to different bodies, levels and styles. Acceptance, of the imperfection resulting from that moment. The music might be hard to feel. I may not understand every message the leader will convey. They might over- or underestimate my skills. But we will try and listen to each other. And make up for not always being on time, or messing up that step, or not doing that head movement which could have looked cool on that particular beat. Warmth, because of the focus on connection, the ‘body conversation’ resulting from it and the wish to enjoy the moment together – whether it’s one, two or three songs. Shortly, it is in many ways the opposite of what I aspire to in my usual dance practice.
That said, I will probably never give up the ambition to refine my technique. But I hope social dancing will support me improve this humbling, healthy and liberating goal: being present in that moment with someone else, and embrace it fully – my own limits included.