Dancing Salsa in a social setting, and especially Rueda de Casino, can be an intimidating experience. You have to dance with so many different partners from all walks of life, while at the same time remember your steps and moves. Yet, engaging with others is the most effective way to learn faster, gain confidence, and broaden your mind, as long as you allow yourself to immerse in the experience.
Dancing – An opportunity to broaden your mind
As we saw in my previous post people across different cultures have always loved coming together in groups to celebrate and dance. As humans, we are deeply social animals and naturally like to connect and synchronise with others. However, apart from the obvious benefits of socialisation there is a more important underlying one. We are good in learning from others. The more people we engage with, and the more diverse their background, the faster and the broader we learn.
Multiple partners wisdom
Most salsa classes are structured in such a way that everyone dances with everyone else during class. Although a partners dance there is constant rotation of partners. Initially I thought that this was strange and sometimes I would get irritated. As I would start connecting with someone, I would suddenly have to switch to someone else. How are you expected to learn if you are constantly changing partners, each at a slightly different level and each with their own idiosyncrasies? Shouldn’t you just dance with the same partner over and over again until you both become really good? The simple answer is no.
The only way to improve your dancing skills and broaden your mind is by exposing yourself to multiple partners at different social settings. Everyone you engage with has a small piece of wisdom to offer. Everyone interacts with you in a different way and sees you from a different angle. When all the small pieces of wisdom come together they lead to cumulative knowledge that is hard to find when practicing with the same partner.
Respecting and accepting others
Having danced with hundreds of partners over the years I can say that not one partner is the same.
I have danced with men, women, and transgender. I have danced with people of all ages (early 20’s to early 70’s), with people who are sorter, taller, stronger, softer or stronger than me. With partners from all over the world and from all cultural backgrounds. With partners that were extravagantly dressed to sporty types. Every single person I have danced with has offered something unique, reacted in a different way to my signals, and brought different perspectives. They made me more humble and respectful but also more flexible and effective as a dancer and as a human being.
There is no such thing as a “typical” dancer.
Many people may look athletic or young. Some may look clumsy while others may look a bit older or less fun. None of that matters. Once you are on the dance floor all that matters is how well you connect with the other person. There is no room for biases and preconceptions. If you allow it, you will be surprised from how much you can learn from others, especially those that wouldn’t be your typical partners.
Getting feedback with no filters
The idea of dancing with strangers of all ages, experience, and background can be extremely intimidating at first. What if you make mistakes? What if they don’t like you and judge you? The truth is that it doesn’t really matter. You just have to work through your fear, and engage with others in an open and trusting way. It is surprising how much you can learn from partners you’ve just met and have danced with for only a song. From the way they hold you to the way they will react to your signals and how they connect with you, it can be an extremely rewarding experience that can broaden your mind.
Every time you move to a new partner there is a sense of exploration. Your senses are heightened and you pay attention to the feedback you get from the interaction. There are little a-ha moments where you realise that a move you thought you knew well doesn’t really work with your new partner. Perhaps they have less experience, maybe they are not used to your signals. Whatever it is, it makes you think and adapt on the spot. There is no time for discussion or being defensive. You just accept the unfiltered feedback and move forward. Over time, you learn how to be more empathetic, flexible, and respectful of others.
What if you could get instant and unfiltered feedback from people you work with? How simpler and less political your working life would be. How much less stress and time spend wondering what others think about you. Of course, not all of the feedback is always accurate but there is something truly liberating in receiving unfiltered feedback. It helps build quicker connection and trust while it helps us focus on what matters without the usual noise.
In most types of partner dancing there is a leader and a follower. But despite who leads or follows the two partners need to complement each other, like yin yang, and create a greater whole. This is the beauty of dancing. Two different individuals coming together and connecting into one, irrespective of their background or differences. In fact, it is when people overcome their biases that they can truly connect, complement, and elevate each other.
However, many times this connection fails to materialise. Often, when you dance with the same partner for a long time, perhaps someone you are in a relationship with or even just a friend, you can easily become complacent. Familiarity can make it easy to blame your partner for every misstep while becoming blind to your own limitations.
The key benefit of constantly rotating partners, like in Rueda de Casino, is that it leaves little room for blame, while it guarantees participation, inclusion, and shared ownership. Furthermore, it provides a comprehensive and unfiltered feedback that is hard to get when dancing with the same partner, making you more humble, empathetic and respectful.
As the American philosopher John Dewey said, genuine learning is by nature a participative, democratic experience. Like in Rueda de Casino, an essential part of learning is becoming a member of a learning community, irrespective of subject, and allow a situation of discovery.
Every person you dance with, and every little piece of feedback you receive, it all helps grow your wisdom. Similarly, every person you engage with is an opportunity to learn something new and become wiser. It is like a mirror that will help you learn a bit more about yourself. Don’t let the opportunity go past you. Engage with others and broaden your mind.