Own the Dance!

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The run of amazing coaching lessons continued last night. For some reason, this guy was speaking my language. I was sort of sitting there after the lesson just a little stunned trying to capture what I learned. And not just the little bits of technique he applied to the five dances we worked on. It was like there was some big cosmic message that I’m trying to wrap my head around and I’m not quite there. So I will likely ramble a little bit here. Or maybe a lot, I don’t know. Got lots of stuff rolling around inside my head so you never know what’s going to fall out.

Went over the bits and pieces of feedback with JoNY on the lesson before. She wanted to talk about future plans (they love to do that right after Showcase because they figure you are all fired up and ready to sign up for more). I wasn’t there yet. I was trying to find some big themes in the comments because that’s what I do.

On the positive side, I got some good feedback on posture. Not perfect but certainly better than its been. I couldn’t really come up with a perfect theme but one general consensus was that they wanted to see more styling. There were several comments about driving more in the lead and that seemed like a good place to go. I know we really wanted to talk with him about the Shadow open naturals we do in Fox Trot so we started there.

I do know that one thing that holds me back is my fear of looking silly. So when instructors try to introduce concepts like shaping or sway or even arm styling, there is always a part of me that holds back. And then the mind takes over and wants precise instructions on how to do something because I keep thinking I need to have something to go from. I mean I’m not going to reach inside myself and just try something because I might look stupid doing it. So you’ll get a little bit but I’m never going all out.

And that’s exactly what was happening when JoNY was trying to work with me. She was talking about leading with the rib cage which is technically correct but just seems odd. And I got into my protective mode and I think I said something like “you need to translate that into something I can do”. We made a few strides but nothing great.

So we get on the lesson with the coach and he actually says one thing that went counter to what OwnerGuy was telling us. The first step – the one that drives – needed to be straighter. If you try to rotate and drive, it isn’t going to work as well because you won’t have full power. The rotation in the turn comes on the second step and comes through shaping. He also fixed our arm position so she’s kind of giving me an arm bar. He tells us that there are several ways to do this but, given our height difference, the arm bar works because he arm is across my chest and not my neck. And it keeps us in a better position.

All good and all technical details I can deal with. Then he says to me that he wants me to shape the second and third step. And he says he’s not going to tell me how. He wants me to do what I think is right but then he tells me to over-exaggerate it. My mind is starting to come up with all the questions and then he says that there are no wrong answers. Anything I do is right.

I have no idea why that worked but it was kind of like flipping a switch inside my head. I’m not going to get criticized. I’m not going to be harshly judged. You mean I’m free to just do what I feel? What do I feel? Well, what the heck, let’s just give it a shot.

It was instantly better and by a pretty big margin. Then he tells me that I needed to do it again but exaggerate even more. So I did and we blew through the short side of the floor and started back down the long side. We got farther than we’ve ever done in that step. Mind blown!

So then he tells me a few things. First he says that I have enough of a background that I’m not going to do something ridiculous. Secondly, he didn’t want to give me precise instructions because he wanted me to do what was natural. He related it to how he tried to learn to golf and the pro had him so messed up thinking about all the pieces that he couldn’t really swing. Someone else told him to just swing and do what comes naturally and then that could be tweaked.

Admittedly, his style of more gentle course corrections fit my personality a lot better than the drill instructor approach. But the big thing was that it was OK to trust myself. To reach inside and dance my dance. No it wasn’t going to be perfect but it was going to be a better starting place because it was coming from me. Not me trying to imitate what someone else was telling me to do. But my body trying to interpret what it needed to do.

Suddenly my mind is whirling and he asks if there are other parts of other dances and I hit on the spot run in the Viennese Waltz which is always problematic because we never get to where we need to get. He asks to see it and then he tells me that I’m dancing all the steps up on my toes. The problem there is that you eventually lose momentum which is exactly what was happening.

He tells me that I need to create a little “wave”. Some steps need to be down and then rise and that will help keep the momentum going. There are six steps in the spot run and he tells me that I need to make at least one a down step. Again, he says he’s not going to tell me which one or how many to do. He just says you need to make at least one a down step to keep the momentum going.

Naturally, I decide that “ones” should be down. Well the “1” and “4” if you are counting to six. He also tells us not to look at each other but just over each other. That keeps our heads in the right place but by scanning the room, it keeps you from getting dizzy. Again, this was an almost instant fix. We kind of stumbled getting out and then he tells me that I need to lower into the “1” coming out of it to control the energy. We did that and we came out exactly where we needed to go.

It is really hard to explain how good it feels to have someone come in and just make what is a relatively simple tweak and have it work so well. It is exciting to know that big progress can come so easily. And I wanted more!

The next dance was Tango and specifically the Viennese Crosses. He watches us do it and then he tells me he’s going to back lead me through it and he basically pulled me off my feet. That’s how much momentum he was generating. It was all about driving and not trying to rotate on the first forward step and even the first backward step.

JoNY and I did it and tried to do what he wanted and we almost covered the entire long side of the floor which is something we’ve never done before. I think he got excited because he called OwnerGuy out and had him watch us do it again. We got farther that time. Again, mind blown!

By then, I’m thinking this guy is some Dance Yoda and I’m going to do whatever he wants. We move on to Mambo because that was our struggle dance at Showcase. He asks to see it and he tells me it is fine but I’m not really getting into the character of the dance.

Side note – we had a small conversation about my solos and he wanted to know why I enjoyed them so much. I said it was really about getting into a character and telling a story. He said that’s why he liked doing them as well. It was like having permission to be someone else. I swear this guy could read my mind. Which is why he brought it up with Mambo. He said I should try to treat even the heats like the solos. Find a character and play it.

I’ve talked before about one appeal of dance to me is that the different styles all have a different feel and that when you do a bunch of different dances, you can experience all kinds of things. But I don’t know that I totally embraced that with Mambo. All that talk of Latin hips and knee bends and I instinctively go into the mode of “that’s not me”. OK, but now I was given permission to not be me. And knowing I wasn’t going to be judged harshly on whatever I did.

What he wanted was to dance the thing with kind of extreme forward poise. To the point of bending at the hip and having your upper body out over your feet. Its a weird feeling. But he said that it gives you more flexibility in the lower body and makes it easier to do some of the fast things that Mambo requires. So he had JoNY and I try that. He talked even about doing our side by side stuff facing each other. Turning it into kind of a mini Mambo competition – like if I move more, then she moves more and so on.

He again brought OwnerGuy out to look at our new Mambo. I’m not really sure what OwnerGuy thought but he said something about how it looked different and a little more exciting. He said something I’ve heard before that Mambo is danced in the floor. Dances like Waltz are danced above the floor but dances like Mambo are danced in the floor. Its a strange concept but I could see it doing it the way he was suggesting.

And I’m going to say that I never would have tried that with another instructor. I needed the environment where it was safe to reach inside and just do what I think a Mambo would look like. As he said again, “you know enough that you aren’t going to do something totally ridiculous”. So own the dance, don’t let it own you. At this point, I’m kind of thinking I should just move to wherever this guy has a studio and just say “sign me up coach”. That’s just how powerful this lesson was.

At this point, we are near the end but I don’t want to quit and I don’t think he did either. So he asks me if there was a dance where I couldn’t quite find the character and I quickly said Rumba. I know what people say Rumba should be and I honestly struggle with that part. He tells me not to worry about what other people say. At a basic level, he asked something about Rumba – I wish I could remember the exact quote but it was something to do with Rumba being a dance where we are doing something together.

So he sends JoNY away to put on music and tells her not to come back until he says so. He tells me to just dance a few boxes but to put my movement into her. Again, that may not be an exact quote because it was late in the evening and my mind was already six stage blown. She came back and I did what I could and you could see the happy look on her face because she truly felt what I was doing.

In that case, it came down to being more assertive on the lead. He had mentioned that earlier in the lesson as well. What he saw from me was that I’m the type of leader who is concerned with my partner and not wanting to do anything to hurt her. And he said that I needed to not worry about that because even if I tried to be more assertive, I was never going to get to a place where I was cranking her around in a bad way. That’s not the words he used but it illustrates the concept.

I wish I could pull this into some kind of coherent closing point but I’m not sure that I can. Other than to say when someone can reach into you and tap into potential that maybe you didn’t realize you had, its a powerful experience. Maybe that was more coherent than I thought.

Forgive the shoes, I couldn’t find a better picture

Oh, I’m still on the fence about sharing any of the routines here. I’ve gotten used to sharing them with friends. But it would be a big thing to put them here. Not entirely sure I’m ready to pull back the curtain that much.

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