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My birthday was on a Wednesday this year, which meant that no one was free to do anything with me beyond wish me a happy birthday on Facebook.  Well, that’s not entirely true: one of my housemates bought me a slice of cheesecake.  People especially weren’t able to spend a late night dancing, which is what I wanted to do.

Last year, I took swing dance lessons for two months.  The first month, I learned the basic moves of swing dancing in the 100 level class.  The second month, I learned that I should have waited until the 200 level class was offered again, and taken it, instead of taking the 300 level. Though I learned a few moves from that class, I never perfected them.

Having not danced in several months, however, I decided to attend the half hour lesson before the dance began, where I quickly made an easy spin into a game of Twister.   Luckily, one of the instructors was on it, telling me to just walk forward.  Really.  I even learned a move that I hadn’t learned before, so it was a good lesson, especially since I hadn’t practiced the other basic moves in a while, which work best when the music isn’t that fast.

Then the dance began, and while I danced with some people I knew from the dances after my classes, many of them were people I had never met before.  One of the former I recognized after I started dancing with her for a few minutes, as she kept trying to hold on to as little of my left fingers as possible.  Since this is the hand that does most of the spins and communicates most of the moves in swing, I kept trying to hold on to more.  For some reason, she was fine with my right hand, which was grabbing her left hand the same way that my left hand was grabbing her right.  Luckily, the other people I danced with were more pleasant experiences, minus one, which I will detail in a little bit.

Now, there are two places near me that host swing dances.  One of them hosts dances on Monday nights, and that is where I took my lessons.  The other place hosts them on Wednesday nights, and it was to this place that I had gone that night, not only because it was my actual birthday, but because the other space has birthweek boys and girls dance in the middle of a circle of clapping people, while people switch in and out to dance with them.  There also isn’t the benefit of a practice lesson (though there is time to practice dancing, as both dances start at 9:30, and the birthday dance is usually between 10:30 and 11).   Unbeknownst to me, the second place also had this tradition, but with a bigger dance floor and a bigger circle of people clapping.  Still, dancing with my first two dance partners in this human corral went well.  They were good dancers; I was a good lead.  The third dancer was also good, but she danced with me for much longer than the other dancers had, and I could tell that my basic moves were not sustaining the level of excitement usually generated when one swing dances.

Then my fourth partner appeared.

Now, I had danced with her earlier that night, which should have warned me against encouraging her to cut in, since I can’t refuse anyone a dance in that situation. Not that she was a bad dancer.  More like she had her own idea about how to swing dance, and it involved two things: breakneck speed, and lots of orbital spinning.  Now, as the lead, it’s my job to communicate what moves the two of us are going to do, except that every spin I did ended with her circling me at incredible speed.  Having failed to stop the running woman from orbiting me the first time I danced with her, I decided to go with her high-speed orbits this time, but it is not a pleasant experience to know that, if you let go of your partner, she will fly off into space.  And by space, I mean outer space.  Of course, no one else tried to cut in, as her trajectory formed a barrier around the both of us that would have killed anyone trying to penetrate it.  My only option was to survive until the end of the song, which I did.  Luckily, I had done most of my dancing for the night before the insanity of my last birthday dance partner, and so I was able to retreat to the safety of my favorite dancer there for one last song, before time forced me to head home.

I thought then, as I do now, that dancing with someone tells you a lot about that person, even more so, perhaps, than their hobbies and interests. It’s one thing to not be a good dancer due to technique; it’s another to not be good because you are out of sync with your partner, or not paying attention to the signals your partner is giving you.

In other words, good dancing comes down to two things: being receptive to the other person, and compatibility.  Followers, whether they be male or female, are following the other dancer, so the lead has to be clear about what he or she wants to do, and communicate that to his or her partner.  But being a great dance couple involves more than that.  You must both approach dance, each other, and life in the same way.

Also, it helps not to go too fast.

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