Power of Dance

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a KjzzFuzion perspective article on dance and power

“When the power of love overpowers the love of power the world will know peace.” – Jimmy Hendrix

Dancing can bring a lot of positive changes to life.  Our KjzzFuzion keywords allude to the power of dance in personal development, growth, self-esteem, health and many other soft skills.  However, some dancing experiences can be very unpleasant.  This article explores the partner relationship in social dancing and how to overcome some toxic dance encounters.

Let’s consider the relationship between two dance partners in parallel to a romantic couple. In a romantic relationship, it is clear that one person exercising power over the other person is not only unhealthy, but abusive. We also know that abusive behavior is never worth enduring or tolerating.

The signs of inequality and potential abuse in a romantic arrangement are sometimes insidious and hard to spot, those signs are even less conspicuous with dance partners.  People often don’t see signs of abuse or assume they are representative of the norm within the dance community.  The structure of lead-and-follow is often misinterpreted as exerting power over another person.  This may nurture a controlling behavior from leads.

However, a truly successful dancing relationship is based on respect and trust where open communication, consent, and equality are crucial.  Joe Demers, creator of the Drag Blues style of partner dance, explains that the experience shared between two partners is about true collaboration and synergy, not control.  Demers demonstrates this in his 2015 TED Talk by always asking his dance partner if she agrees to his lead before every dance.  (Source: “The Power of Partner Dance.” Joe Demers, TED 2015.)

Abuses of power are usually recognized when the partner being controlled begins to feel less safe and becomes anxious. If the situation persists, the partner being controlled has issues with confidence, self-esteem and self-respect.  This is true of any type of relationship and it includes a dance partnership.  (Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D, “When Your Partner’s ‘Caring’ Feels More Like Controlling,” Psychology Today, 14 April 2016.)

The first step in combating abuses of power is to recognize and correct the behavior.  However, whether you are in the role of lead or follow, you are charged with helping to make your partner feel safe and at ease in the dance experience.  Leads and follows should remember this before asking or accepting a dance.

Here are four basic rules for a respectful and healthy dance relationship:

  1. Maintain good hygiene
  2. Do not try to impress
  3. Thrust your partner’s abilities
  4. Listen to your partner’s feedback
  1.  Maintain Good Hygiene

Whether you want to go out for fun, meet someone special, exercise, or just to socialize, being a dancer with good hygiene is extremely important for you to stay on top of your game.(“Dance Hygiene – Why It Is Important To Have Good Hygiene When Social Dancing.” Serendipity Dance Studio, 3 March 2017.)

Maintaining good hygiene may seem obvious and irrelevant.  You may also ask:  How is hygiene connected to making a dancer feel safe?  Social dancing requires a lot of close proximity between two dancers. Feeling at ease with another person can be challenging in itself, without having to worry about body odors. Creating a safe space for respectful collaboration and for comfortable proximity starts with reasonable hygiene and avoiding powerful perfumes or colognes.

  1.  Do Not Try to Impress.

“Overstyling, pushing a partner past their limits, and other behaviors that scream ‘Me! Me! Me!’ can completely ruin your chance at connecting with your partner.” (Laura Riva, “Making Magic: The Elusive Art of Connection.” Dance Place, 22 May 2015.)

Dancers may feel the need to show off their skills but they should never forget that they are sharing the dance experience with another person.  If the other person is uncomfortable with certain movements, it is important to respect those limits, and work together.  Social dancing is about teamwork and bringing out the best in each other.  It is not a competition.

  1.  Trust Your Partner’s Abilities.

“If you put up a wall between yourself and your partner mentally, you will lose connection.” (Laura Riva, “Making Magic: The Elusive Art of Connection.” Dance Place, 22 May 2015.)

Respect your partner’s dance level and what they contribute to the dance experience.  Do not believe the lie that you are “better” than your partner because you are at a different level.  You are simply at a different level or more advanced, not “better”.  Believing you are “better” creates a wall between partners or a condescending approach to the dance experience.  It will break trust and erode self esteem and creativity.   Avoid this trap and increase opportunities to improve and refine your dance experiences, skills, and creativity with any partner.  Building trust and respect is not always easy, but it remains a crucial component of a healthy and dynamic relationship between partners.

  1.  Listen to Your Partner’s Feedback.

A system without feedback is doomed for failure.” (“Importance of Feedback in Dance.” Vibity, 17 March 2017.)

Trust and respect also means taking the time to listen. Partners can learn a lot about themselves from each other.  Create safe spaces to share feedback openly and constructively. Listen to your partner’s thoughts and comments, and adapt your routines to their strengths and needs, as well as your own. Think of your partner before you think about the final performance.

Individual behavior dictate whether dancers have a positive or negative social dance experience.  One condescending or even abusive person is enough to ruin the experience for others.  Adapt these basic rules to create a safe environment for your partner.  Make the dance a fun experience for learning and developing together.  Do not tolerate anything less because in the end, having a positive experience is one of the main reasons why we dance.

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