My salsa dance addiction started in 2002, at the beginning of a 12-year divorce from hell.
Dance was my exercise. My escape. My solace.
I lived in Toronto, within minutes of salsa socials and studios. I was a single working mom with a live-in nanny for my then one- and three-year-old kids. When they went to sleep, I went dancing, five nights a week.
It was as if I had another life: Working by day, dancing by night. No matter how badly I felt, all my stress disappeared on the dance floor. Dance changed everything in my mind and body.
Ten years ago, I shelved salsa and transitioned to west coast swing dancing, which was gentler on my aging body. West coast swing is an improvisational, playful smooth partner dance to music ranging from blues to pop. The dance features an extension-compression style of partner connection.
Now, I’m recently separated and I’ve added salsa back to my dance repertoire. I love moving to the beat of Latin music. I needed something uplifting to take my mind off the loneliness and despair, so I’m dancing at least three times a week.
Dance has become part of my therapy; it’s helped heal my racing mind and empty heart.
It’s wonderful to be part of a dance community – we’re all vaccinated and masked – and it’s become a “date” night with myself. I can find classes and social dances almost any night of the week.
But here’s what I realized: I’m always drawn to a dance that represents exactly what I’m working on within myself and how I connect with others.
Dance is a Non-Verbal Conversation
Partner dancing is the physical expression of how we communicate with others. Each dance has a non-verbal conversation.
When I first learned to partner dance, I needed to learn how to follow my partner’s lead. Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not. I had to learn to loosen my grip, relax my arms, not grab the leader’s hands or hold on tightly.
I had to relinquish control and be the follower.
Let me tell you something: Anyone who likes being in control, taking charge, leading conversations and asserting oneself will have trouble “following” on the dance floor.
The same way back-seat drivers can get in the way when someone’s behind the wheel of a car, a follower needs to give their partner time and space to feel seen and heard. It’s hard not to be a back-seat follower – anticipating what the leader is going to do next and then moving before being led. Bad followers essentially take control over the dance like one would take over a conversation.
Dance is about human connection
Harvard and MIT professor and physician Dr. Ming Wang describes the “pre-lead” period in dance – a brief moment leading up to the dance where there is a pause and expansion in the body to indicate the dancer’s intention:
The dance is about the compromise and negotiation when two people work together to form a unified experience.
Dance teaches us to wait
Waiting has always been incredibly difficult for me: Waiting to speak, waiting to be heard, waiting to be understood, waiting for closure, waiting to see how our separation will unfold.
Dance is the perfect way to learn patience, trust and the importance of waiting for your partner to initiate and lead the next move.
Followers have to let go of the leading hand so the leader can guide the next move.
Waiting to see what the leader does next has its advantages. Because the follower is given the space to decide how to respond rather than react, it takes away the temptation to back-lead or rush into the next move prematurely.
The power to pause
The pause is used to check in with yourself before communicating with your partner.
There is tremendous power in staying still, silent and not responding until the follower has all the necessary information before making the next move. This information is captured from making eye contact, listening to body language and watching for unspoken cues.
Enjoying the pauses makes for a more fluid “conversation” that is improvisational and dynamic. Rather than attempting to squeeze in all the steps and turns, you can wait a few beats, be patient and let them occur in sequence.
There are also pauses in the dance, especially in salsa dancing, where the leader gives the permission or opportunity for the follower to do some solo moves – this is called shines or styling. This is where I freeze up. But I’m now learning to use my body as a musical instrument, to better connect with my sensuality, creativity, expression, music and myself.
Dance gives me permission and space to be present
I dance out of pure joy. The joy of motion. Expression. Improvisation. Playfulness.
Dance makes me feel totally in the moment. I’m just being. I’m present. In the moment. Right here. Right now. In flow.
I’m not thinking or planning. My mind isn’t racing.
I’m simply one with the music. I’m interpreting, responding and communicating through music with my dance partner.
There’s a powerful beauty with my body BEING the instrument and feeling the music going through me. Dance has helped me transition from my previous paralyzed, catatonic state to a place where I’m creating space to explore new options and move on – both on and off the dance floor. Moving with self-confidence and grace has opened up my mind, body and spirit.
I truly believe everyone should dance as though no one is watching you, as the old saying goes.
Harness the power of creativity every day
Why not infuse energy into your work and meeting days? Turn up the music, get up and dance free-style.
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