Saturday, June 23, 2007

You're So Creative--What's Wrong With Me?

On a forum I frequent, someone asked, "How do instructors and advanced dancers keep coming up with something new each week?"

My first thought is: Forget about it! It will almost never happen, and when it does, it will happen without your forcing it. Most are recycling old materials, and recombining existing patterns to "create" something others think is original. But it's rarely "new" or even remotely original in the bigger picture.

Even the most creative people will tell you most of the time they are "...standing on the shoulders of giants" (Isaac Newton - 1676).

Part of it is a decision to look for and/or create new materials. Once you decide that's part of your mission, you'll do it more often. By default, instructors know they need a different pattern next class, so they are constantly looking for new materials, and ideas they can integrate into their existing patterns.

Something totally original is not really likely, but combining what you already know into different patterns, and finding variations on existing patterns becomes easier over time, as your personal vocabulary grows.

One of the biggest factors is exposing yourself to a wide variety of materials, including non-salsa dances. Go social dancing as often as possible, purchase instructional DVDs, watch YouTube videos, and take classes from different instructors. All these provide needed input and you'll start "creating" your own patterns which are often fragments and/or variations of other patterns.

One guy I know loves "hand tosses" which he started in his West Coast Swing days. This guy took some humble hand toss patterns and "created" tons of variations on the ones he knew. Today I don't know anybody who can put together more interesting combinations than he can.

When he gets going, people are in awe; he looks very creative because can do them fast, slow, while turning or pivoting from side to side, all to the point where he can look like a circus juggler throwing and catching hands from nearly impossible angles. Just about every time I've watched him do this, his partners start laughing and enjoying themselves. When you ask him, he can show you how it started; a large set of the little pieces that today he creatively combines based on the music and how his partner is reacting. It's never the same twice, but everything built from a large set of building blocks he has created.

Did he create something new? Yes and no... he took existing moves but built very interesting combinations that most others haven't mastered. He sees something he likes and integrates it into his combinations, giving him another variation.

Don't be afraid to "steal" moves/patterns from everybody around you. Even the person you don't like probably has one or two interesting moves you can build on. The ones who think they are being creative probably saw someone else do something similar or they are recombining things they have seen in the past. They may not know that or admit it, preferring to believe they are extra creative, but few people create new things out of thin air.

Playing jazz music gives me some insights into the process (others may do it differently):

  • Learn the fundamentals so well you don't have to think about them.
  • Expose yourself to the best of the past so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
  • If you like the way someone dances, find out their influences and seek out those dancers or dances.
  • Find three primary instructors/mentors over time.
  • Experiment with what you already know, creating variations.
  • Steal great ideas from others, modifying them to fit your style.
  • Put yourself in different situations so you are constantly growing.
  • Occasionally try a different instructor, club, and/or dance style to get a fresh perspective.

At the end of the day, there is very little truly new.

Oh... and gathering more patterns doesn't make someone a pattern-monkey, just like learning new vocabulary words doesn't hurt your writing. The more words you have available to express your ideas, the more precise you can be in your writing. More patterns can give you new ideas, as long as you don't use them mindlessly. More on that subject in another article.

I don't mind death. I just don't want to be there when it happens.
-Woody Allen

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful article! I say YES to every point of your insights, you've shared with us. Thank You!


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero