Although I used to go quite often (at times, several nights a week), I don’t swing dance much these days. After 5 years in the Boston scene as a dancer and sometimes organizer, DJ, and competitor, I burned out. In retrospect, I should have stopped going as often when I wasn’t having as good a time, but it was a deeply-ingrained habit and pretty much my whole social scene, and eventually, I stopped enjoying it very much at all. I still go out occasionally (like tonight), but it’s pretty infrequent, and often not that satisfying (like tonight).

I think what’s become most important to me in partner dancing (blues, lindy hop, salsa, tango, whatever) is authenticity. Without getting into a ridiculous philosophical discussion about what is “authentic” and “Quality” with a capital ‘Q’ a la Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I’ll just say it matters to me whether someone is having fun dancing. Or whether they are listening to the music and expressing something about it. To be clear, when I say “authentic,” I don’t mean being true to the dance steps originally done to a particular kind of music; it’s more about intent and motivation.

It’s easy, but unappealing to me, to go through the motions when dancing without backing them up with feeling. Sure, you can wiggle your hips sexily or do an 8-count sequence of steps, but is that how the song makes you feel? And is that what you want to share with your dance partner? Odd that it’s the same thing every song for so many people, regardless of the rhythm, melody, lyrics, theme, your current state of mind, etc.

Lately the best dances I’ve had have been with two extremes: the most skilled dancers and the least skilled dancers. The most skilled because they’ve learned how to express what they’re feeling, during the song, mostly within the agreed upon structure of the dance. They can use not only visual means but physical ones as well to have a interactive dialogue about the music (and more) as you dance. A great dance with a great dancer is like a great conversation: you each contribute, and walk away with more than you had to start with. You gain a new perspective on things, be it the song, your partner, or dance in general.

The least skilled dancers (at least some of them), on the other hand, aren’t inhibited by “not knowing how to dance,” and they just do it. It’s pure, and there are no hidden motives. It’s usually not quite as satisfying as a great dance with a really good dancer, but in the past few years, I’ve had some really enjoyable dances with folks who are just starting out.

As much as I judge, I don’t begrudge people these things. I mostly don’t go out dancing, and when I do, I try to make the best of it. I tend not to dance to as many songs when I do go out these days, I’m pickier about who I dance with, and I certainly don’t expect people to stop dancing themselves just because I don’t think it’s authentic. But what I’m looking for when I do go out dancing seems so elusive nowadays. Why go out at all if I know most of the dances I’ll have won’t be satisfying or good (to me)?

Interestingly, this actually relates some to my feelings about frisbee, if tangentially. I haven’t been playing much ultimate at all this year, by choice, in an effort not to get burned out on it. Captaining the team last year was a lot of work, and by the end of the season started to feel like a chore. That’s no way to feel about a hobby that’s supposed to be fun! So I’ve ratcheted it down a bunch this year, and am only playing when I feel like it. So far, so good!

posted July 15, 2009 – 12:15 am
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