Sunday, August 5, 2007

Humbled Again: But Still in the Game

I'm at the Granada, it's around 2:40 am and the crowd is thinning and winding down. The last song of the night is about to start. I see one of my favorite follows across the room and our eyes meet. I had seen her earlier in the night, but she was lost in the crowd until now. I walk toward her, knowing this is going to be the perfect ending to a great night of dancing. We both grin like little kids, knowing play time is about to start.

She is one of my favorites because she is also a musician, and if I give her appropriate space, we always hit the breaks, and her styling is generally an excellent expression of the music. It works out that when I dance with her, I look much better than I am. We've danced countless times over the last couple of years and I've had plenty of guys asking me who she is because they want to dance with her also.

Then the music starts. It's an upbeat Cuban feel, but we both look at each other with blank looks.

I couldn't hear the "one" in the music. I turn my head sideways like that old RCA dog, thinking that might help. It didn't.

Neither could she. We both say aloud with perplexed looks, "I'm not sure where the time is..." and we shake our heads as we move in place without committing to any specific timing. You wouldn't know if we were doing salsa or the hokey-pokey at that point.

Musicality means dancing appropriately to the music. It helps if you can feel the time along with the overall feel of the music. However, no matter how much you know about music overall, any one tune can trip you up from a timing perspective. It is rare for me; maybe once every couple of months I'll hear a tune and for a while I can't find the one in the music.

After about 30 seconds of us trying to figure out exactly where the time is, a new section of the song starts, and I know I've found one. I mention "I've got it" and start moving with an LA salsa feel. She still looks at me and says, "I don't hear it... I'm following." She assumes I have it right, since she knows my history as a drummer and that timing is one of my strengths. She's not feeling it, but making the most of the situation.

It went down hill from there. The tune has an obvious Afro-Cuban feel, but I'm over my head. And I know it right away. My partner knows how I should be dancing, because she dances with guys who have that authentic Cuban feel. She tries to help me verbally, but I realize that although I get it intellectually, it's beyond me at this point to get the right feel.

That happens: My partner dances with a wide variety of leads, and some of them dance on2 or even if they are on1, they don't slot dance with an LA style concept; they dance a rounder, Cuban style. My partner knew what should be happening, and she expected me to reflect the music since that is my norm, but in this case it wasn't going to happen. I don't have the control, or the right feel for this music.

Being musical is about being on the time, hitting the breaks and endings, but it is also about reflecting the feel of the music. Most of the time I'm in the ballpark, but there are still some tunes where I'm over my head.

We all are a work in progress, and some nights if we are stretching we'll have a tune or two that isn't our best. I still had a blast overall, and someday I won't look so white when that music plays. At this point in my growth, I just get humbled and shown my Dual Perspective Concept continues to hit me in the head regularly.

I may know more than most about the music, but we all have plenty to learn.

Here's the funny thing: It didn't ruin my night. I did the best I could with where I'm at now with my dancing. I didn't beat myself up, as it's not news to me that the Cuban style is something I enjoy watching, and I know exactly what it looks like, but it's beyond my ability at this point.

It's just a matter of time, and you and I don't need to beat ourselves up for the areas where we are a work in progress. As long as we are working on improving regularly, it's tough to get too bothered when something doesn't work.

On those occasions where you miss the mark, feel good about being in the game rather than standing outside the club, looking through the windows at everybody else dancing. Someday we'll be there, but being humbled is also part of the process of growing.

We all have those moments where we feel a little silly. I'll be out again next week, working on my dancing; I hope you're doing the same.
First-rate brains hang around with first-rate brains; second-rate brains
hang around with third-rate brains.
-Leo Rosten


  1. *Drats!* for not asking the DJ the name of the song afterwards. Long shot, but I'll track him down and see if I have any luck.

    Meanwhile, excuse my awful "explanation" of dancing Cuban: "You know... just end up over THERE instead of straight in front of me." LOL


  2. Arg, I came piling in specifically to ask what the song was....


  3. Damn! Reading this must have jinxed me, as I had the same problem last night on a song. I listen to salsa music all the time and thought I could always find the beat, but this one left me completely flustered!


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