Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dancing Like Nobody's Watching (Part 2)

A couple years ago I wrote an article titled "I Can't Dance Like Nobody's Watching" and it outlines my struggles with that concept. This is an update to that article.

I guess it's the guy in me. I'm not wild showing off my weaknesses in public. Dancing solo for me is like public speaking for most people. In the past, I would rather have died or sat in the corner instead of "dad dance" in front of a group. In the last month I actually danced solo in front of a large group of people. A small step for mankind, a baby step for me, but a HUGE victory over the voices in my head.

Dad Dancing

As a young musician, I saw hundreds of dad dancers as I played music at weddings and corporate events. It instilled a major fear in my head: "What if I look like that someday?" Of course, many had had enough to drink that they had no idea how they looked, and they were having a blast.

Dad dancing would have been a huge upgrade for me; sitting like a potted plant just made me feel like a loser when everybody else was having fun, even the dad dancers.

I secretly respected the fact that they were on the floor dancing, and I wouldn't even do that. Sitting was "safer", it didn't confirm I couldn't dance. Sure I could play an instrument, but I'd think, "He's dancing?? Him??? I sure can do better than that. He's so off the time, off the music, it's embarrassing me... " But I just sat there watching.

After taking a hip-hop class for much longer than I'd like to admit (over a year), I crossed a major bridge over the last month and I hope I can inspire a few others to do the same.

I danced solo inside a circle of dancers at a class! "The Circle" is a long tradition in the hip-hop culture. (See "Another Inspiring Video..." for an example in tap dance.)

It's one of the hardest things I've done in my dance life. For some reason, the partnering thing was always much easier for me. I'm practically fearless in that arena. What I don't do well as a partner dancer I accept as part of the "work in progress" aspect of my dancing. I can quiet my inner voices and focus on my partner rather than worry about my weaknesses at that moment.

In classes I've watched others dance in the circle since I started. I've been totally chicken to do it myself, even though I've seen a few others even weaker than me (some even out of control dad dancing). I had to give them great respect for doing something I was afraid to do. I'd watch and say, "Someday I'll dance in there, but today isn't that day...."

My pressure is completely self-generated. I was mildly embarrassed by what I did in the circle, but the others were respectful that I had the guts to go into the middle and grow. The instructor actually stopped the class and told everyone I had been in the class over a year and that was my first time. They applauded and I laughed, felt relieved and knew I had crossed a milestone.

Thankfully there is no video evidence of that day, and now I'm practicing more. I'm still not even close to fearless in that area, but it's a great baby step and I'll do more over time.

Obviously I ventured far outside my comfort zone and lived to tell about it, and you will too. I still struggle with some music, and I dislike dancing after the pros, because the contrast is so major I'm embarrassed. I want to look like them, but they are thousands of hours ahead of me.

I'm still among the least skilled in the class at this point. I can't say I love being so weak at something in public, but someday I know people will believe "he's a natural" as long as I practice enough. The same applies to you.

Dancing solo makes you a stronger dancer, but many of us will cycle among "scared to death", "embarrassed by current skills" and "proud we are in the game". It's easy for me to tell others: "With enough practice, anybody can learn to be comfortable doing it." (I have plenty of experience with that concept as applied to playing music: after a few hundred practice hours people always believed something was "easy" or "natural" for me. It always made me laugh to myself.)

When you get a chance, I recommend you solo dance to a wide variety of music because it makes you a better dancer, even if the individual session isn't great. Learning to dance while everybody is watching is a stretch for many of us, but it's a worthy goal over time. Sometimes we just have to stretch ourselves and if I can do it, so can you!

Just knowing I will do it again in an upcoming class increases my practice.

You can practice solo dancing anyplace you hear music, even if that music is from your own iPod. In other words, I have no excuse not to improve in this area, and I hope you take up the challenge, too. Dance where you can, and look for little victories on your path.

Be proud you're still in the game, and don't stop until you dance the way you want.

Let me know what you're doing to improve your ability to dance solo in front of others.

Another Inspiring Video...
I Can't Dance Like Nobody's Watching
Taking Classes: It's Easy For You
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
--Oscar Wilde


  1. This is fabulous ...you are really talented. If you are interested in looking for a platform check out desitara.com which promotes talent like your's. Check out this amazing singing talent http://u.nu/2gs5b

  2. This is a very good accurate, slightly amusing article. I look forward to seeing more.

  3. I'm in my 2nd month of Salsa and all of your posts are so revealing and I'm learning quite a lot. It's great that you're sharing all this info, most people would write stuff like this in private journals and/or not write at all.


  4. Prithvi: Most of the time we tend to pretend we love the process. Everybody has points where we get stuck. I walked the same path playing music, so I get to see how it works in a parallel activity. If we keep growing, so many things take care of themselves.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero