You can learn a lot from someone just by watching, especially if you learn HOW to observe.
On some nights, when I am out at a dance social or even at a practica, I might not have the energy to dance every song. Sometimes, I am not even sure I have the energy to dance at all. But I try to remind myself that the learning doesn’t just come from what you do, it also comes from what you see.
My initial fascination with dance definitely came from seeing people dancing, seeing the movement, the expression, witnessing the joy and energy that came from dancers who were feeling the music. Yes, their inspiration stemmed from the feeling that came from within them. Something I couldn’t see in a tangible sense. But, it poured out from them through their connection to the floor, to their partner, to their smiles, to their gritty, passionate style and flavor. And THAT- what I saw, was what drew me into wanting to dance. The desire to do what those dancers were doing came out in me because I saw that desire in them.
As we learn more about dancing or any discipline, we learn more details. And so our observation and learning becomes more detailed. This is how I am able to pick out some concepts in mine or other dancers that perhaps we all need more practise with.
In my last entry, I talked about giving some tips to a beginner dancer, just because I knew that what I observed was missing in his basic steps would help him improve his dancing in a big way. I knew this because those kind of tips that people shared with me improved my dancing considerably as well. The problem was that I didn’t feel like an expert myself in executing the movements to the level that would be clear and obvious to this dancer. But I shared my opinion anyway, and I think it made a difference. I felt it in his dancing right away, when he tried implementing the tip- which was to use smaller steps- that night in our next dance.
Perhaps because this aspect of dancing was already now at the front of my mind, my subconscious was picking up on dancers who were using this concept really well on the dance floor. Later in the night. I was tired and thought I should probably head home. I wasn’t going to last through much more of my own dancing. But as I sat down and was putting on my regular street shoes to head out, I saw a dancer in front of me whose movements caught my attention. I was mid shoe- one shoe on and one shoe off- but was so mesmerized by his dancing that I just sat there frozen, watching. I didn’t want to miss anything.
I couldn’t stop smiling and almost wanted to grab the dancer who I had given the tip to earlier in the night. I wanted to tell him to come over and watch this smooth lead in front of me. I wanted to say, THIS IS WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT! Because this lead who appeared to be more experienced, was doing exactly what I had suggested to the beginner dancer- using smaller steps.
More than that, though, this very expressive dancer in front of me hardly looked like he was traveling or trying too much at all. He made every move look so effortless, almost making the woman he was dancing with look like she was doing too much work. But it wasn’t that he wasn’t doing anything. It was just that this dancer knew how to keep things smaller. Not less expressive, just more contained. His steps were right under him, and because he knew that taking bigger steps out of balance with his center would not be efficient, he didn’t step, he just pivoted, or pushed into the floor more, which gave him such a grounded and connected look overall.
And I was so grateful to have taken the time to sit and watch. Because although I wasn’t the one up there doing the dancing in that moment, I imagined what it would feel like to do what he was doing. And I know what I want to replicated in my dancing the next time I am out there in order to gain more of that centredness and fluidity. I am certain that what I learned from watching this dancer will stay with me for a long time. Perhaps even a deeper learning came from that than if I was continuing dancing song after song, repeating the less centered, less connected feeling I might have gotten myself into the habit of because I didn’t take the time to observe it and change it. Until then.
I made sure to tell the dancer how he had inspired me to want to go back to learning salsa again. It’s the dance I started with, but it’s the dance I first learned in a very non-connected, non-fluid way. This dancer reminded me that it shouldn’t be that way. That the flow that I feel in the current dances I focus more on- like kizomba and zouk- can also be, and SHOULD also be in dances like salsa. I just lost sight of that very important component because I forgot about one of my favorite ways to learn- to watch the dancers whose style and movements appeal to me. To see what it is that they do to achieve this. To be inspired by what I want it to look like rather than continually putting the less connected, less expressive movements into my muscle memory.
The dancer said that I had given him one of the best compliments he had ever received. He also said he hadn’t been dancing salsa for long, but he had gone to many congresses to also observe how other dancers move and create and connect. And that is what helped his learning get past a certain level. Then he took this and made it his own.
The power of observation. It can inspire, set a spark, cause a huge shift in our learning that can be exactly what we need to get to that next level.
Next time you go out and dance, remember to also take a break to watch others as well. You don’t always have to be dancing every song, all night, in order to improve. You might be surprised at the insights and improvements that could come into your own dancing when you take the time to watch others too.