Sometimes you feel that you want to liberate yourself from social constructs, personal limitations and other peoples’ expectations. But you don’t know how.
Dancing is the answer.
Humans across different cultures and countries have been expressing themselves through dance for thousands of years. From social and spiritual to physical and health benefits, dancing is a complete form of expression that allows you to liberate yourself.
Liberate yourself like Zorba the Greek
There is no better way to encapsulate the essence of dancing than the closing scene of the 1964 movie “Zorba the Greek“.
The movie is based on the classic Greek novel “Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas” by Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba is a hard-working, kind-hearted, restless individual who fully enjoys life, food and dancing. When an intellectual, bookish, middle-class Englishman arrives in Crete, he meets a peasant named Zorba and hires him to work in his father’s mines. Although the two of them couldn’t be any more opposite of each other, they gradually create a bond and become friends.
In the last iconic scene of the movie, when everything has gone wrong, both of them are found sitting by the sea. There, the uptight Englishman asks Zorba to teach him how to dance. The music from their iconic dance later became popularly known as Sirtaki.
As they start off slowly with hasapiko dance, the young intellectual is struggling to follow the steps. He looks clumsy and is trying to make his feet follow what Zorba is doing. As they gradually move to the more up-tempo hasaposerviko dance, he gets more into it and loosens up. Then something incredible happens. He lets himself go completely while his body and soul take over. This is a moment of liberation for the young man. At that moment, he realises that Zorba is not really teaching him how to dance, but rather how to embrace life and live it to the fullest.
My Zorba moment
When my wife and I first started taking Cuban Salsa classes many years ago in London we knew almost next to nothing about dancing. We didn’t understand much about rhythm, musicality, or body movement.
Initially we had a dance instructor that didn’t have much experience herself, but also didn’t have much relation to Cuban culture either. For nearly 4 months, we were only taught how to put our left foot forward, our right foot back and do some basic turns. The students would usually ask questions such as “How many degrees do I need to turn my body to the right?” or “How should I position my right foot?” while the instructor would focus on technicalities.
Something was seriously missing.
Although we wanted to be in the best possible shape for our upcoming trip to Cuba, we were not feeling much excitement or confidence about dancing. But we were feeling excited about our trip and our plan to visit all kinds of music venues and salsa clubs.
When we arrived in Havana, we realised that not only we have overestimated our dance skills but also that the locals were dancing much better from how we have imagined it. They were dancing with great passion and could do very complicated patterns. This had an impact on our confidence and for many days we avoided dancing out of fear of embarrassing ourselves. Even in Trinidad de Cuba, famous for its music schools and night clubs, we didn’t find our lost confidence.
However, when we arrived in Vinales everything changed.
Dancing with the locals
Vinales is famous for its Cuban Cigar tobacco farms, and iconic red valley. When we booked a local guide to lead us through the valley, we could never have expected that we would meet the equivalent of Zorba the Greek. Our local guide turned out to be a kind-hearted, restless individual who enjoys life to the full, just like Zorba.
He walked us through the valley, and introduced us to local farmers. While we were standing inside a tobacco farm, we told him how much we liked Cuban music and dance but how much we lacked confidence in our dance skills. He just smiled and said “Well, it is very easy! All you need is to understand the rhythm, the rest will take care of itself”. Then, on the spot, he started dancing with us. It all felt so easy. Here I was with a local in the Cuban countryside teaching me how to embrace dancing and let myself go.
This was my Zorba moment.
The same night he invited us to the local dance venue by the village square. The place was totally packed with both locals and tourists. When we met him he was with a bottle of rum. After spilling some of it on the ground to thank his ancestral spirits, he gave us some to drink. Then he showed us how to dance. Perhaps it was the rum, maybe it was the ancestral spirits, but that night we danced like we have never danced before.
This was a turning point for me. I realised that dancing was not so much about performing mechanical steps but more about learning how to liberate yourself, transcending your limiting beliefs.
The liberating power of dance
My experience in Cuba was a big eye opener.
Cuban music with its polyrhythmic complexity is a living organism that has evolved over a long period of time through constant experimentation and influence from different cultures and ideas. Similarly to Greek music, Cuban dance is not about perfect execution. It is about self-expression and learning how to liberate yourself.
All our Cuban friend did was to help us focus on feeling the rhythm. Through the simplest of moves allow our bodies to be taken over by the music.
How is it possible to spend so many months dancing and not discover the liberating power of dance?
Our dance instructor was more focused on teaching us the right steps rather than helping us express ourselves. Instead of learning how to dance we were only learning how to move mechanically around the floor using. When the goal is to learn how to execute a specific choreography for a competition, then this makes sense.
But real dancing is not about learning a choreography or doing exhibitions. Real dancing is about kinaesthesia, musicality, rhythm, non-verbal communication, spiritual connection, improvisation, and intuition. It is about finding your flow and letting go of everything that holds you back.
Dancing is about learning how to use your feet and body in a natural way, and express yourself through movement. It is about learning how to liberate yourself from the artificial constraints of your mind.