Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Quest for Dance

I had a difficult time coming up with a title for this article.  Before I settled on "quest" I had cycled through: "object," "purpose," "reason," "motivation," "point," "endeavor," "plan," and so on.  I was trying to convey that dance can be more than just a fun social activity.  I wanted to share an idea of how to enhance the experience for new follows and to inspire a vision for doing so. 

Now, as leads, we dance for a number of reasons: it's exhilarating, athletic, artistic, and in a word, its just plain cool.  It's also a great way to meet people and socialize, at least once you advance to the point where you can dance, think, smile, and even talk all at the same time.  Which, if you are a type A personality with a concrete sequential learning style, is no small achievement!

So, dance is fun for everybody!  Enough said, right?  Well, not so fast, I think there's more - much more!

Let's expand our horizons a little, open our eyes wider and think more deeply about this.  I believe we will notice that there is a lot more potential here than what we see on the surface.

What am I getting at?  Well, think of it this way.  Remember the last time you opened a door for a lady?  Remember how she smiled and thanked you?  Remember how positive that whole experience was?  You endeavored to show someone a kindness, to honor them and to bless them in some small way, and they responded in kind.  Plain, simple, beautiful.  Now, take that little experience and multiply it a thousand times over.  That, my friend, is a potential of dance.

Think about it for a moment.  You really like dancing with intermediate and advanced follows - yes, you know you do - especially if they already know you well and are your dance friends.  The dancing is great, they can follow almost any move you offer them with aplomb, and there is essentially zero social risk of being turned down for a dance. Dance heaven, right?  Yes!  And that is why we tend to dance mainly, or perhaps even only, with our more fantastic follow friends.

Yes, you're smart, you've already figured out where I'm going with this.

Just a quick scan of the entrance area of the dance hall, or off to the sidelines, and you will see them: the new follows.  Some of them are are not so new but are actually intermediates, who, for whatever reason, are just not asked to dance very often.  While most of them tend to hang back and pretend to be intensely interested in their cell phones, or in talking with their friends, some of them will stand right at the edge of the dance floor, smiling bravely, as dance number after dance number is played and no one offers to dance with them.

Now, you are a man.  You are hard wired to admire courage wherever you see it.  You recognize it in your friends.  You respect it in your enemies.  You even find yourself strangely drawn to it in the world of nature: in animals, trees and mountains.  Open your eyes.  Think about the courage displayed by these follows.  They put a lot of effort into looking nice for this dance, they did their best to learn during the pre-dance class, and now they stand there, dance number after dance number, waiting for an offer to dance that rarely ever comes.

It's not hard to realize what they must feel like.  You know what it's like to be rejected for a dance.  If you have had the rare and invigorating experience of being turned down by multiple follows in a row because the first one you asked just happened to be the leader of a clique, then you begin to understand a bit of how these follows feel.

Remember, you can usually just go and ask another follow, if one is available, but these follows don't really have that option.  They know what this looks like to other people, and to their friends.  But worst of all, they suffer the merciless abuse of that mean little monkey voice within themselves that is always berating them about how they are too tall, or too this, or too that, and how they are just not pretty enough, or smart enough, or something enough.  You know, kind of like your own mean little monkey voice that tells you that you're never going to be a success, and are never going to make a significant or valuable contribution to anything, and that everyone is going to think you're useless.  Yes, that voice! - only theirs is a lot meaner and even more vocal than yours!

Like brave little soldiers they just keep weathering the rejection dance after dance.  Many of them can only be worn down like this for so long before they finally give up and try to slip out of the dance hall unnoticed.  Should we actually be surprised if they never want to try social dancing again?  That is a real tragedy, because many of them could have become fantastic dancers if they had only been given the chance.  Remember, every excellent follow you have ever danced with was once a new follow.

Men, their courage deserves to be recognized, and even more importantly, it deserves to be rewarded.

So here is our challenge, our "quest" if you will, our mission, if you are willing to accept it: let's open the door for these ladies - the door into the fantastic world of dance.  Let's be like gentlemen used to be.  You know, like they were before the whole world devolved into a bunch of self centered, narcissistic children.  Instead of just dancing with our fantastic follow friends, let's offer to dance at least once with each new follow, and let's do this first, at the beginning of the dance evening.  When we have done this then we can dance with our fantastic follow friends.  It will be the best of both worlds.

Let me explain some ideas of how and why to do this.  You can come up with even better stuff than this on your own, but still, you may find the following suggestions amusing, and, if you are a new lead you might even find them helpful:

You already know about the importance of mouthwash and deodorant, so I won't mention that, but dressing sharp is far more important than most us rough and ready guys are aware of.  Trust me, a guy dressing a bit more formally for a dance means way more to follows than you realize.  Just a simple tie makes a big impact.  Anything more, and the power of it just multiplies exponentially.  The simple fact is that follows feel honored and respected when you make some effort to look the part - or, as ZZ Top sings: "Every lady's crazy bout a sharp dressed man."  Of course, you could try an interesting sociological experiment and show up in your pajamas,  your barn clothes, your sweats or maybe your cutoffs and filp-flops.  You could then observe the "are you kidding me?" type facial expressions of the follows, but honestly, that seems kind of cruel.  Just trust me on this, the average follow cares way more about how you look than you do. 

Don't expect new follows to attempt to make eye contact with you.  The best you can expect is for them to look in the general direction of the dance floor and smile, as either no one has informed them about the advantage of making eye contact, or they feel it is too forward, or they feel that if they make eye contact with you, and you don't approach them, they will then feel even more rejected.

So, to begin, pick out the shyest follow available, approach her directly, smile enthusiastically, and say something like: "Hello, would you like to dance?".  If you are feeling especially refined, then bow at the waist slightly and offer her your right hand with as much flourish as you can manage.  Your goal in asking her in this way is to honor her and to communicate to her that you recognize her as a person of value.  You also do this to make her look good in front of others, especially her friends.

If you had the foresight to learn her name and commit it to memory during the regular rotation of the preceding dance class, then replace your initial "Hello" with her name.  If you do not yet know her name then introduce yourself as you accompany her to the dance floor, ask her name, and make every effort to memorize it during the dance even if you have to ask her name again before the dance is over.  After the dance, unless you are sure you can remember her name from now on, write it down in a small notebook (the one you use to write down new dance moves will suffice) with a short description.  To address her by name at the dance next week is to especially honor her.  To fail to do so is a sadly missed opportunity to show her respect.  No matter to what depths our society continues to fall, a person's name will still be important to them.  Because of this, you can really bless people, just by remembering their name. 

Back to the dance.  Smile.  As you begin to dance with her, you will quickly become aware of her present level of dance ability.  Adjust your dancing accordingly.  Use moves that are challenging for her but still attainable.  When she does a move particularly well and you are genuinely impressed, compliment her spontaneously, enthusiastically and immediately.  When complimenting, always say what you really think (within the bounds of discretion of course).  Never compliment her if you don't really mean it.  If it's not genuine, then as a gentleman, you should never say it.  And remember, she's got her intuition thing running full blast all the time.  If you think you're going to slide past that, you're dreaming!  This also goes for complimenting her attire (including shoes).  Yes, I have it on the best of authority that such compliments are indeed appropriate and appreciated, as long as you don't belabor the issue excessively, and as long as you present them in a pure, cheerful and matter of fact manner.

Smile.  If she is very new to dance, and she asks you to show her how to accomplish a particular move, do so with kindness, grace and good cheer, and be sure to praise her with genuine enthusiasm when she does it well.  There is nothing that will encourage her, and fill her with new-found confidence, more than well earned praise!  This author has had the fulfilling experience of new follows calling to their friends on the side lines during the dance to watch them as they accomplish complex and artistic new moves: "hey Mary! Jenny!  Look at this!!"  It's something that our fantastic follow friends don't normally say.  See what you're missing?

Just as a side note:  Make every effort to protect your follow from injury on the dance floor.  This crucially important imperative will be explored more thoroughly in a future article entitled: "Protect Follows."

Smile.  I know it is really hard to smile while trying to dance at the same time, but do it anyway even if it means stumbling over your own feet and looking foolish.  Hey, it will give you both something to laugh about, and you will both feel more at ease.  Your smile means a lot to her and it raises her esteem in the eyes of others (especially her friends) at the same time.  Laughing while dancing is a very good thing!  The more she is laughing, the more she is enjoying the dance, and the more fun it is to dance with her.

Now, I know I'm going out on a limb here, but try to talk.  If the dance music is particularly good say something about that, or say something positive about the quality of the other dancers or the dance club in general.  It will help your follow to feel relaxed and at ease, and will deliver her from feeling self-conscious.

Smile.  Near the end of the dance determine whether this follow would like you to end the dance with a dip or not, and whether to deploy a slight dip or a full dip.  Believe it or not, most follows expect to be dipped and will feel let down if they are not.  It appears important to them also, that their friends see this.  If in doubt, ask your follow first.  Remember, they are all individuals and they are very different than we are.  Their concept of what personal space to maintain, in different situations, is different than ours.  Remember, these are beings who carry on conversations in the restroom!  Yes! It's true! They really do that!  So don't assume that they are like you - they are not.

Smile.  At the end of the dance, as you thank her for the dance, offer her your right arm with forearm held horizontal. Do this with a slight bow.  Be forewarned however, a considerable percentage of follows (about 30% of them) will have no idea what you are doing!  Some will refuse your arm entirely.  Many will giggle awkwardly and attempt to reciprocate with some strange elbow bumping ritual (is it some kind of gang sign or something?)  Others will understand (kind of) but will take your arm with their right hand, leaving you in the very awkward position of having to escort them off the dance floor, toward their awestruck friends, while walking backwards!  In this, our modern and enlightened age, it seems that only those follows with some knowledge of history will immediately understand that this small gesture is meant to honor them, compliment them and show them your highest level of respect.  This is where those Jane Austin movies will save you.  You can think I'm strange if you want to, but I positively LOVE Jane Austin!!!

One effective way to avoid this awkwardness, and still manage to escort your follow off the dance floor and back to her friends properly, is to end the dance by taking the follow's left hand in your left hand and turning yourself slightly about one quarter of an inside turn to arrive along your follow's left side.  As you execute this fluid motion, deftly place the follow's left hand over your presented right forearm.  Your follow will then almost invariably understand what you are doing and will feel both flattered and appropriately honored.

As you arrive with her back at the sideline, be sure to thank her for the dance again, in front of her friends, and be both sincere, enthusiastic and expressive.  If it was a great pleasure dancing with her, then by all means say so!  Never fail to give an appropriate and deserved compliment.

For the next dance, with another new follow, be sure to adjust what you do to that individual follow, but always be the same degree of a gentleman with all of them.  This way they will know you are not playing favorites, and thus they will not fall prey to any dreamy visions of rainbows and unicorns.  This way you will protect their feelings from being hurt.

Make it your goal to dance with every new follow available.  Hopefully other leads will join you in this quest and together you will be able to dance with those follows who might otherwise have lost heart and left the dance hall.  They are maidens in distress.  If you can manage to not trip over your own armor in your attempt to rescue them from the dragon of neglect, then you, my friend, have arrived!

Your object in all of this is simple.  Provide dance opportunities for follows, and make those opportunities the most positive experiences possible.  Where they would otherwise feel rejected, you can make them feel welcome and accepted.  Where they would otherwise feel inferior, you can help them to recognize their real, special, precious value.  Where they would otherwise struggle at learning to dance, and might even give up on it, you can inspire them, give them confidence and launch them into a bright, beautiful future in dance.  Where they would otherwise feel lonely and down, you can be a friend to them.  A dance friend - nothing more, but nothing less either.  And that is enough.  It is all they really need.

Now, in truth, I must tell you one additional thing from my personal experience.  There is something really fantastic-special that happens when a new follow learns to perform a dance move really well and she is complimented and praised for it genuinely and enthusiastically.  Her face just lights up, with real genuine joy, and her smile at that time is simply beyond price!  Even the best dancing I can do, with even the best of follows, cannot hold a candle to that experience.  There is nothing in dance (and trust me, I love to dance!) that will ever compare with seeing someone so very, very, really, really happy!  I dance for this.  Life is fantastic!

Another very surprising thing I have discovered is that this does not just happen with new follows.  I have found, much to my pleasant amazement, that some very advanced follows will brighten up the same way and even more powerfully when they receive a genuine, spontaneous, enthusiastic and well deserved compliment.  One would think that such accomplished follows would not need any compliments at all, but in reality, they are the ones who appreciate them the most!  Life is amazing!

Advanced follows can also be made happy by dancing really well with them.  Seeing them really brighten up and genuinely enjoy the dancing makes all the time struggling through the dance classes and all the time practicing so extremely worth while!  You know you have arrived when a great follow excitedly thanks you for the dance, and expresses that she looks forward to dancing with you again in the future.  Life is beautiful!

So, as you see, dance can be much more than just a fun social activity.  Dance provides you with a beautiful opportunity that you rarely ever encounter in other areas of life - the opportunity to really bless people, to really lift them up and make them feel like a million bucks!  In so doing, you will also be inspiring other leads to do the same thing with resulting powerful, positive results that will multiply throughout your dance club, and in the wider dance community as well.  Dance is a gift that you can give.  Give it with enthusiasm!

There are risks of course, but they are relatively small.  Some may misunderstand your intentions, and others may think you a bit odd, but remember, when your motivation is right, it no longer matters what people think about you, and when you reach that point, then you are truly free.

I will end with a few random thoughts, quotations, and a link to a video:

Several times a day we find ourselves making a choice between protecting ourselves, or, in compassion, extending an act of kindness to others.

Here is a link to a video that that inspires thought:

"Have a green tree in your heart, and perhaps, a singing bird will come." -- ancient Chinese proverb

What is in your heart, is who you are.  Who you are, determines what you do.  What you do, can really help people.

Never make the mistake of seeking happiness as an end in itself.  In fact, renounce your search for personal happiness, and cast it behind you.  Seek instead only to do that which is right, and to be a real blessing to others, and you may inadvertently discover real happiness that you did not expect.

You can do real, substantial good in the lives of other people who will truly benefit from your kindness.  Dance provides you with the chance to do that.  You will not regret it.  Don't miss it!

All the best to you, fellow dance enthusiasts,

Wylin Tjoelker    Dance Club Review

P.S.  Your thoughts will make more sense to many people than mine have.  Please share them by clicking on the "no comments" link directly below.  We all value your insight.

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No doubt there is something important that I failed to mention in this article, and I greatly appreciate any comment you would like to share that will benefit our dance community, so by all means bless us with your insights by commenting below :)