Friday, November 04, 2011

Thinking Dance

I've written about ballroom dancing before on this blog. It became an essay that appeared in the The Curator last March and also was one of my favorite pieces in my undergrad thesis.

I'm not done thinking about dancing or what its been for me in the last two years. I've resisted writing about it on here for fear of boring you or resorting to a short post that consists of large capped letters and many explanation points like this:


Not so good on the blogging front.

However, I've been thinking quite a bit about dancing this week as James (dance partner) and I head into DC Dancesport Inferno, or DCDI. It was our first ever ballroom competition last November and we're excited to return and enjoy the hyped up atmosphere of over 800 couples competing in two days. We're two levels higher than we were a year ago. I have a new dance shirt to go with my flowy black skirt. Basically, I'm pumped.

All of this has had me thinking on the role that dancing has played in my life since spring 2010 when I took the intro course at Penn State. I had done some small dancing before but never in such a consistent, community based way.

I do not believe that it is a coincidence that something that gives me such joy was given during the hardest, darkest semester of college and continued to be given to me through the next, difficult year. Dance has, to sum it up, been a "good gift". In the book of Matthew (chp 7), Jesus says this:

7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

I know this is very much about how when we seek God, He gives us Himself as the true good gift. But I have not escaped this thought this week: dancing was a good gift to me.

People dance for different reasons. James and I are very different in what gets us jazzed about being in class and on the dance floor. We've compared notes before but something he said this week while we had "dance partner social hour" making grilled cheese and tomato soup, highlighted the differences. He's very technical. He likes the details and the rules. He likes meeting those rules. it feels liberating to do something physical and accomplish a requirement through that work. For him, dance has been a good gift while working in a major he intensely dislikes and involves primarily work in front of a computer. And this bent of his towards the technical accomplishments possible in international ballroom style makes us better than I would certainly be alone.

I'm not like this. I think and talk about musicality more than any other aspect. I want the dancing to come from the music. James hates trying to "perform", especially in standard. He hates trying to look calm and chill for a waltz. I find it easy. I just listen to the music and let it do its emotive work on me. It's the process of music coming into the body like a spirit and working it like a beautiful puppet that fascinates me. Technique is only as good as it allows me to express that spirit more accurately, more beautifully. The creative process, the playing, the making up: that excites me more than anything. And this is why I love social dancing so much and why, after I leave State College [hypothetical situation. No certain plans], I will likely pick up more salsa and west coast. They involve more play and creativity with the music and your partner. But even in international ballroom styles, there is this element of channeling and performing that has been good for me.

We both agreed on this: all the mess of life comes out in ballroom. It's a place to let go, a place to safely express anger about life but aiming it directly at our stupid samba hips. A gift.

I could talk more about the different ways people interact with dance and the different creative thinking that goes into it. I probably will eventually since I'm interested in the very fractured dancing worlds at PSU, where the salsa people are pitted against the swing people who are vehemently pitted against the west coast swing people who really don't care as much about something as technical as a snappy, good tango. Or a vwaltz, heaven forbid.

But I won't. For now, I leave for this weekend in Maryland holding onto this thought: gratitude. I am grateful, almost painfully so, for the gift that ballroom has been for me in dark times. It was a gift. How could I ever treat it as if I earned the right to be there?


Annie said...

i think dance of any sort is a gift, and i love this post of yours, your story of how it has been a gift to you.

dolce vita said...

But there is beauty in technicality, no?

Dana Ray said...

Yes, Anjali, there is. I, however, do not see it as readily or at least appreciate it when I'm attempting it. I confess that I tend towards the silly Algernon from Wilde's play, "The Importance of Being Earnest" who announces to his butler that, "I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

This is a fault rather than a virtue.