A personal blog aimed at contributing, and paying homage, to the most sensual, beautiful dance of Brazil.
Once, I mentioned to a beginner that I like to dance with beginners. Her immediate response was “Why on Earth!?”
I have many answers to that. Because I like to encourage new people starting out. Because I like to help the scene grow. Because I get a kick from helping beginners dance at a higher level than they are used to. Because I like seeing their eyes light up. Because I like to sharpen my skills. Because some beginners really are very enjoyable to dance with.
These answers may explain my motivation, but they’re not a complete answer to the question. Social dancing in general requires physical skills, social skills and spiritual skills. Dancing with beginners and making it a fulfilling experience for both of you just requires more of them, in some ways.
Physical skills are the ones that we most commonly think of as dancing skills. When dancing with beginners, leading and following skills are especially important. A leader needs to be able to lead very clearly, and often alter his lead to compensate for the lack of experience of the beginner. A follower needs to be able to make sense of a lead that may be unclear or messy, to get the signal under the noise. For both roles, but especially the leaders, it’s important to not overwhelm your partner by doing more than your partner can handle, physically or mentally.
Social skills are important for making the dance night a pleasant one, no matter the level of the dancers you dance with. They help your partner feel valued and comfortable with you. Beginners are often nervous and uncertain about themselves while dancing with more experienced dancers. Good will and warmth projected through words, expressions (smile!) and body language can help them forget this nervousness and give themselves over to the dance.
Spiritual skills are about managing your own state of mind. They help you enjoy the dance you’re having now, and not compare it to past dances you might have had with advanced dancers. When you can do this, you can have a great deal of enjoyment dancing with a beginner partner. It should be about making as good a dance for you and your partner as you can, and not expecting your partner to do it for you.
Beginners themselves usually don’t have much physical skills yet, at least in the particular dance they’ve just started. But they can compensate with their social skills and spiritual skills to make the dance more fulfilling for their partner.
In my first Zouk congress, I asked one of the teachers to dance. The difference in our skill levels was astronomic. Fortunately, it was a theme party, and I was in a costume. For much of the dance, I made faces at her while stroking my fake moustache. She was laughing at my fooling around, and at the end of the dance she was smiling and giggling happily. It was a very enjoyable dance for me. I had managed to use my social skills to compensate for my lack of physical dancing skills.
For beginners, the spiritual challenge is to let go of feelings of inadequacy and self-judgment, and give themselves over to the dance experience. I often notice a huge difference when a follower stops worrying about whether she’s dancing well enough or doing the right thing, and starts to actually dance. She immediately starts to dance better, but for me as her partner, the biggest difference comes from feeling that she is present in the dance with me. In the last Helsinki Zouk Festival, my wife danced with a guy who took his first Zouk lessons in the festival. She remarked how he actually enjoyed the dancing and smiled at her, which is rare for beginners. The fact that he was not worrying and stressing about his dancing made the experience much more enjoyable for them both.
Of all these aspects of dance – the physical, the social, and the spiritual – I think the spiritual aspect may be the most difficult one. Many advanced dancers and even professionals struggle with it. But it’s definitely one that is worth developing, since our joy of dancing depends on it.
Author of this article: Jukka Välimaa