For me dancing is a special pleasure because it’s something I never expected to be good at. So every achievement and improvement gives me real delight.
I wasn’t particularly well coordinated as a child, and I was utterly hopeless at school discos because I didn’t like the music, didn’t know the standard steps and got embarassingly distracted by the flashing lights… It wasn’t until I was about 17 that I had the opportunity to learn latin dancing, and started to realise that this was actually rather fun! As inevitable with any new skill, I wasn’t very good to start off with (one partner crushingly described my dancing style as rather childish)… but I grew to enjoy it.
At university I carried on with salsa, and added ceilidh dancing to my repertoire. And I found I could cope well enough at discos – here what really helped was being able to be reasonably uninhibited without needing to drink so much alcohol that I became unstable… But also my musical abilities helped me to respond to music and its rhythms – and in turn I learnt a new way of appreciating music.
One big block for me was believing that I lacked a memory for dance steps. But a very good friend of mine, whose ability to learn and remember new dances seemed utterly miraculous, pointed out that this was a skill that she had learnt – and so gave me the confidence that I could too. (She also gave me some useful general pointers – e.g. avoiding excessive bum-wiggling!) The same friend separately encouraged me to become involved in martial arts, which also contributed through improving my balance, posture, coordination and stamina.
So now, rather to my surprise, I consider myself a reasonably good dancer. I’ll never be as good as someone who has danced all their life, and specialised in dancing. But in different ways I’ve picked up a lot of transferable skills (I apologise for the rather cliched term, but it is appropriate in this case!) that mean that I now consider dancing as something I enjoy and do reasonably well.
Even more strangely, people sometimes ask me if I’m a dancer, or tell me that I move like a dancer in daily life – I think that’s probably because between singing and martial arts I have fairly good posture. (I should say that not everyone shares this view – the friend I mentioned above often tells me I let my feet down like an elephant when I walk around!)
Anyway, the most important thing is that I love dancing! I love the social and interactive element, I love the music and the sheer physicality and sensuality of dancing. (I’m very much into tango at the moment where these elements are all strong!). I also love the way I can sometimes find myself in a space of flow where it’s just my body, my partner and the music… and my normally busy mind calms down and stops chattering. A very physical and social meditation.
There’s a huge difference between doing something that you’ve always done well, and doing something that you once couldn’t do, but have learnt. It’s so satisfying to be aware of progress! Dancing has taught me a lot about how to learn – about being patient, about accepting and building on your mistakes, about not apologising or being self-conscious about being a beginner. About taking pride not in achievement or performing flawlessly, but in willingness to learn and explore and discover.
For me, dancing is also a reminder that the limitations that used to be part of my self image – judgements like “I’m not a good dancer and I never will be” – are just temporary. If I choose, I can challenge those limitations, redefine my self image, and grow.
And so every time I dance, I am reminded that changing and learning are not only possible, but deeply satisfying!