A personal blog aimed at contributing, and paying homage, to the most sensual, beautiful dance of Brazil.
Most of us dance because we enjoy it. It is enjoyment quite unlike anything else; at the highest levels we feel profoundly connected to our partner, as one with the music, filled with joy and creativity. But often this enjoyment eludes us. We feel like we can’t let go. We worry whether we’re good enough. We can’t feel the music. Our partner irritates us. We’re grasping for the joy of dance, and it escapes us – or we’re so preoccupied with moves and technique that we feel no delight, and grow irritated.
We try to increase our skills and to grow as dancers. It is very rewarding to feel that one is improving. But beyond a certain point, mere increase in skill does not increase the joy we feel in dancing. In the last years, my dancing skills have grown a lot. But I can’t say that I now enjoy the dancing itself more than I did three years ago. The dance flow I felt as an intermediate dancer felt just as good as it does now.
This does not mean that we can’t enjoy dancing more as our skills increase. But it is not inevitable. In fact it can go the other way – and quite often does. Some dancers develop “pickiness” as a result of dancing regularly with great dancers, not enjoying dances with the less skilled as much as they used to. My wife tells me she generally prefers to dance with amateurs in congresses, as many professional teachers dance like it’s work for them. I remember one incident when a friend of mine was feeling crushing disappointment after dancing with a professional who was clearly bored – and went on to recover her good mood by having a great dance with a friend of hers, who was an intermediate dancer. Myself, I have had times when obsession with technique has ruined my dancing mood. Thankfully, it has always gone away after a while.
Joy is not something that is only result of our external situation. We don’t feel emotions as an inevitable reaction to something happening to us. The emotion we feel depends on our evaluation of the situation. If we recognize what happened as good, we feel positive emotion. If we recognize what happened as bad, we feel negative emotion. The way we think affects this evaluation, and so affects how we feel. If we dance to feel joy, improving our approach and attitude can sometimes help us more than improving our physical ability.
One way to improve our attitude is to let go of our expectations. Happiness equals reality minus expectations. This also applies to the enjoyment we feel while dancing.
We have all kinds of expectations. We expect our dancing partners to have certain skills. We expect them to be able to lead or follow in a certain way. We expect to be able to dance well enough to meet our own standards. We expect we can do movements we’ve successfully done before. We expect to hear the kind of music we like.
When all of these expectations are met, we get no extra satisfaction. After all, it was what we expected. We can still enjoy dancing a lot, but not because our expectations were exceeded. When our expectations are exceeded, it will feel satisfying. However, when our expectations are not met, it can be very frustrating. That frustration will ruin our ability to enjoy dancing and connect with our partner.
This is something I see all the time. I often notice it in myself. Let’s say I danced particularly well last week, with high levels of creativity, musicality and engagement. This week I’m not doing as well. If I hold on to my memory of last week’s dancing, and think it’s how I should be dancing, I grow frustrated because I’m not dancing as well now. This frustration prevents me from enjoying dancing. Another situation is that I have expectations of my dancing partner. I feel like they should dance in a certain way. When they don’t, I grow frustrated, and lose the ability to enjoy the dance.
Beginners are also plagued by their expectations. The most common is that they expect they should be better than they are. They think they should be learning faster or dancing better, or that the experienced dancers expect them to do better.
Others face the opposite problem of pickiness; they expect their partners to be more skilled than they actually are. One may dance often with advanced dancers, and grow frustrated with others who don’t have the same skills. Another may go to Rio, get used to the level there, and be unsatisfied with the level in their home city afterwards.
Expect nothing and accept everything. That is the only key to happiness.
The cure for these problems is to let go of the expectations, and accept what is. This is easier said than done. It can be very difficult to change our mindset. But I’ve found that when I can do it, it works. My partner will have flaws, and may make mistakes. We all do. As long as I can accept her as she is, those flaws or mistakes won’t destroy my enjoyment of dance.
Let’s say I expect my dancing partner should do a move in a certain way. She doesn’t. If I didn’t let go of this expectation, I might get annoyed. If I accept my partner as she is, and the way she dances, I can let go of my expectations, and things that annoy me. I can adjust to my partner freely. If she can’t do some move, I just do something else. If she moves “wrong”, I just accept that as the way she moves, and adjust.
We can apply the same idea to many situations. My partner has studied a different style, and many of my leads don’t work the way they should? I drop the idea that they should work, and see what we can do together. The DJ keeps playing Ghetto Zouk, and I prefer remixed pop and lyrical songs? I stop thinking about it, and see what I can do with what’s playing now. My partner has poor coordination and sense of rhythm? I stop worrying about it, and rather give my whole attention to making the dance as good as possible. I’m dancing worse than usual? That’s ok, no problem. The idea is to stop worrying and to stop expecting things. Rather than be frustrated because the world won’t conform to our expectations, we let go of our expectations and adjust to the way the world actually is. As a result, we enjoy dancing more.
This is not a cure-all. After all, how our partner dances really does affect how much we enjoy the dance. So does the music that is played. It is not all just our expectations. But surprisingly much of it is.
Author of this article: Jukka Välimaa