Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dancing at the DMV

Have you danced at the DMV yet? It's an out of body experience, and I did it recently as an exercise to build my boldness. It wasn't perfect, but still a huge step forward for me. You should try something similar yourself.

I had a long wait in a crowded place, so I practiced dancing. I suspect it was highly entertaining for a hundred people or so, but since I dance in the crowded clubs anyway, I decided this was a good exercise. Afterward I felt good for improving my dancing, even if the setting was outside the norm for me. I wasn't always comfortable, but I faked it and tried to ignore a few hundred people waiting their turn like me.

 (To really understand how much of a big deal this is for me, read my previous article from 2007: "I Can't Dance Like Nobody's Watching")

In California we have this really great place commonly known as the "DMV" (Department Of Motor Vehicles). You handle things like drivers licenses, vehicle ownership, take driving tests and the like, and they are one of our state's shining examples of government agencies at their finest. My teenage daughter was getting her driving permit (yes, I'm that old), and I worked my Dad role for a couple hours.

It's an artful space (not), with a few hundred people crammed into a space designed for about 75. The security guards are constantly barking "Sir, please stand over there" or "You can't wait here, this is a fire lane..." or "No... you have to exit the opposite side of the building." The huge crowd mills about like cows awaiting the slaughter. The guards don't get paid enough for the abuse they endure, but they keep pushing the herd around as needed to comply with the rules of the place.

My daughter's number was G448, so that tells you something. I had a long wait, but my daughter wanted her permit THAT DAY, and darn if I don't get pushed around by a few select women in my life (they win).

Good thing I'm a dancer, or I might never get to lead.

There seemed to be about 100 chairs around the room, but these were dwarfed by the standing population. After about 20 minutes of standing with other cattle, some gentleman who thought his number (G229) would be called soon , gave up his isle seat to my daughter. (He stood for over 20 minutes!) I was standing next to her seat. My daughter was sitting to my right, and i had a wall behind me and people standing close in front and to my left.

So what did I do?

I started doing one leg balance exercises... Nobody could see me at first, since I was only lifting my other foot about half an inch of the ground. After the lady in front of me left, I tried doing things with my free leg, working my dynamic balance and playing little games.

Those exercises get old after 20 minutes or so, but I kept switching legs and trying other little movements, like slow body rolls, along with chest and shoulder isolations. I'm sure some onlookers were amused, but I'll guess few noticed.

Then the big test. After another hour my daughter's number was called and she went over the "testing area" for her written test. I followed and carved myself a standing spot where some others were waiting. It was facing a few hundred people in chairs. Nobody was too close to me so I hit the playlist "Salsa Music" on my iPod, and started working on my shines subtly at first, then doing 32 count sequences.

I didn't just do things I was good at, I worked things out (some things pretty badly at first), then doing them slowly, figuring out what to refine, working up to the music's tempo. I ignored everybody around me for at least 15 minutes, and just practiced. I got nervous a few times, but just worked through it.

By the end I was having fun and ignoring a huge set of people. When we left, I smiled and felt good about myself. I improved my dancing, made decent use of the time, and felt good practicing ignoring others as I built my skills. It didn't change my dance life, but it's a step in the right direction.

If you haven't done it yet, find an odd place where a few others could be watching, and do some practicing. It builds your skills and, more importantly, builds your confidence. That's a wonderful asset in the clubs, and most people could use the practice of ignoring what others think while we grow.

Highly recommended!

Let me know which unusual places you've practiced in!
I've already given two cousins to the war and
I stand ready to sacrifice my wife's brother.
--Artemus Ward


  1. This is awesome! I remember as a teenager, we did something like this in a group at a busstop or in front of a snackbar. Today I have a heart to do some little, hardly visible foot-lections. But never things, that would look "bad" :-)
    I' ll pick up your idea and see, in what way I can do this :-)

  2. The DMV in Virginia can be just as excruciating. My last dealing with it included 2 trips with long waits only to be told in the end that I didn't need to be there anyway. I didn't do anything real obvious but I agree that standing in line is a great place to do some isolation exercises. It keeps the circulation going, too. I generally work on my heel-toe-toe-heal for the Foxtrot while pushing the basket in the supermarket.

  3. I'm a little too self-conscious to dance in public places. But I have practiced shoulder isolations when driving down the highway. It really forces you to keep your arms still!

  4. Don,

    I love in New York City, and I practice in the subway or where ever I go. People usually look at me like I'm mental, but there are so many people who are familiar with mambo culture and these individuals stop and talk to me. I've met some cool people like this.


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

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero