Top 3 Life Lessons from Partner Dancing

Last weekend I attended my first three-day congress for a partner dance style called Brazilian zouk, which consisted of back-to-back workshops and nightly dance parties known as “socials”. Only since returning home have I begun to process the full weight and significance of this experience, which I’d like to share with you now.

It sounds odd, but I tend to experience life through many layers, from the literal to the metaphorical. One of the things I love most about dance are the lessons it teaches me, not just about dance, but about life. Here are the top three lessons that resonated with me.

1) Trusting others.

One of the things I cherish about partner dances is the fact that they absolutely require trust; without it, the dance collapses. I distinctly recall feeling completely uncomfortable and “in my head” throughout the entire first hour of our last social. One of my partners seemed to sense this and suddenly stopped, halting our movements to just breathe with me, deeply, in and out, until our breaths were in sync. Gradually I began to relax; my mind became attuned to my body. And after that, our dance was magical.

No longer caught up in my thoughts, fully immersed in the moment, I found myself doing things I’d never done before. From doing all these crazy lifts, to free falling face-first towards the ground with my eyes closed and arms spread like an eagle, letting my partner catch me just seconds before I hit the ground — I would’ve never been able to do any of these things if the trust wasn’t there. Trust is built gradually, but when you allow yourself to trust, amazing things can happen.

During one of our workshops on “counterbalance,” a move that requires both partners to give equal force in opposing directions (this is a bad description, just Google it LOL), my partner urged me to give him even more of my weight, saying, “Just trust me.” As soon as I did, we were able to spin around more smoothly as a unit because our weight was distributed more equally.

I didn’t miss the symbolic significance of this lesson either. When it comes to relationships of all kinds, I have a tendency to omit revealing the darker, heavier aspects of my personality out of fear of being “too inconvenient,” “too burdensome,” or simply “too much” for people to shoulder. Instead, I only ever share whatever’s smooth, easy, agreeable, and easy to digest. But this only gives me a chance to be partially loved, partially known. Yet a friend reminded me that maybe I should let more people in; I might be surprised by who’s willing to help shoulder the load if I simply let them receive more of my “weight”.

Perhaps when I allow myself to trust others, our level of “connection” will increase and and the “dance of life” will become even more beautiful. And maybe I, too, will find myself doing amazing things I’d never done before.

2) Trusting myself.

The congress was as much of a mental battle as it was physical. We had to audition to take certain workshops depending on our skill level. Having not even danced a full year in this style, I was completely and utterly shocked to discover that I somehow made it to the “challenge level”. The Impostor Syndrome kicked in immediately; every time I stepped into an advanced or challenge level workshop, I kept thinking, “What the heck am I doing here?” I constantly had to fight the feeling that I didn’t belong, that it was a fluke that I’d made it to this level, that perhaps the judges mixed up my audition number with someone else’s and I landed here by accident (which is still a possibility LOL).

Regardless, when I pushed past the mental baggage and engaged in learning, I suddenly found that I was right there, doing it. Surviving. As overwhelming, intimidating, and humbling as it was to practice and receive constructive feedback from more advanced partners, I began to realize that maybe the judges were right: maybe, despite my inexperience, I was ready for a massive challenge. Maybe they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Maybe it was time for me to stop doubting myself and to trust in my potential. Maybe I’m capable of far more than I realized.

3) Being fully present.

One of our instructors who was teaching a workshop on connection said, “You can’t connect and be present with your partner if you’re always trying to anticipate what the next move is going to be, or if you’re always judging whether or not you’re doing things right. As soon as you do this, you’re no longer fully present anymore.” How applicable is this to life, in general? Yes, life requires planning and evaluation to keep ourselves on the right track — but it shouldn’t be too much so as to remove us from enjoying and responding to the present moment as it reveals itself to us day by day.

One of the things I love most about dance is that it constantly pushes me to stay in the present moment. As a naturally inhibited and self-contained person, I can’t even describe the sheer ecstasy and bliss of surrendering completely to the music, to the dance floor, to the movement — to reach a threshold where I finally stop thinking and start feeling. It’s freedom and therapy for a mind like mine, which is constantly berated with thoughts. The liberation and release; the decision to ‘let go’ of inhibitions and to ‘give in’ to the moment; the adrenaline pulsing through my veins and the sweat dripping from my hairline; the exhilaration of simply breathing and engaging certain muscle points — these are moments that remind me that I am very much alive.

I hope you, too, can find the things that make you feel alive, and once you do, keep doing them — even if that’s the only “utility” you see in engaging in these activities. We all need a lifeline, and I sure am grateful for this one.

– Celine


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