So if you’ve been following my escapades for the last few years, you’ll remember that I started ballroom and latin dancing a little over 2 years ago. Outside of a few vacation breaks and a week off here or there, I’ve been dancing weekly and progressing at a pretty steady pace. What effectively started as a whim has turned into a passion that borders…obsessive? No…habitual? No. It’s a passion in and of itself.
For me, dance continues to be an extension of expression that I often find is lacking in my life, not even through voice. It’s a healthy mix of anger, joy and sadness that would be seen as “out of character” for me or unhealthy to express in social life. However, as many of us continue to pursue greater and more fulfilling challenges in our professional and personal lives, an emotional outlet is no longer an optional luxury. Dance (for me) is this sort of outlet and is certainly a core part of my life that keeps me emotionally balanced.
It’s more than that though. More recently, I’ve been working with my amateur partner and we were talking about things that makes us keep coming back. After going around in circules for a bit (as per my style in these kinds of conversation), it struck me. Dance is about focus and control and in more ways than one. Here’s what I mean.
In our multi-faceted and ultra-engaged world, our attentions are often diverted in many directions, almost always at the same time. In our careers, we pride ourselves (and oftentimes boast in resumes) in our abilities to juggle many things at the same time. In our complex private lives, we have to manage the multi-dimensional relationships that make up the fabric of our social lives. When you throw in family, kids and social media, it becomes abundantly apparent that we’re overloading ourselves. While many of us would generally go home and turn on the TV to “unwind”, I find that this type of stimulation leaves me wanting and sluggish. Dance, or at least practicing dance, has provided me an outlet to focus. Work on one thing at a time. Is my toe turned out correctly? How’s my frame and posture? Wax-on. Wax-off. The zen of dancing comes not because it is simple, but because it is extraordinarily complex and that you need to focus on one thing at a time in order to improve.
This balance ties intimately with many of the emotional benefits I’ve previously espoused. Moreover and ironically, this level of focus has allowed me to improve on multi-tasking at work. I’ve found myself being able to jump from task to task with neither a loss in concentration, nor a need to refocus on the task at hand. It’s an unexpected side effect, but one I’m sure anyone working in a hectic workplace would find welcome.
If a person’s body is one’s castle, then wouldn’t it make sense to know how it works? Unfortunately, we still don’t come with an owner’s manual (and don’t ever be fooled into believing we’ll ever have one), so the best thing one can do is to test, explore and learn how it all works. While yoga and other forms of exercise are reasonable attempts at helping one do so, I’ve personally found that the practice of dance has allowed me to do this fully. The full-body precision necessary to dance (lead and follow) correctly is mind boggling, and even with only a small handful of years dancing, I’ve discovered things about my personal physiology that I didn’t know possible (but seems so obvious now). Even as a novice, I’ve also discovered things about others physiology that I didn’t know existed, but now allows me to guide others as if it were (partially) second nature. While I’m not even implying I’m good at this, I’ve found that even a small bit of precision and control goes a long way.
The ability to control my physical actions and posture has allowed me to excel outside of my dance life. I feel like I’m less clumsy (in the afternoon when I’m more awake) and I simply look more confident when I’m in front of crowds, even if there’s a 8.0 scale earthquake in my boots.
On Other Benefits
I was at a high school alumni association event not too long ago, and I’m reminded of pieces of that night, specifically on how young people can feel isolated in a city as large as Toronto. It’s not too long ago that I, myself, moved to this fair city and felt much the same way. Many of my friends at the time lived back in Waterloo (my alma mater) or out of town, and many still do. Without a strong circle of friends, I had to discover my own community, and I was fortunate enough to find dance.
I have nothing but the best things to say about the dance community. They are some of the friendliest and most open individuals I’ve met in my short (but not insignificant) life. After all, one spends most of the time mere inches face to face. You are either very friendly already, or you become friendly very quickly. Learning how to dance has allowed me to meet many interesting and intriguing individuals from all walks of life, and you don’t even have strings attached to feel emotionally committed to any one of them! It’s like speed dating on steroids, with no weird social stigma or awkwardness hanging over your head. Furthermore, by knowing how to dance, I know I can pick up and go to another city, and be accepted into a community where the common language is motion to music.
In our fast-paced, whirlwind lives that we lead, we often find little time to look after ourselves, forcing more and more individuals to eat improperly (eating only salad is just as bad as eating only meat, people!), with little regard to heart health, stamina and strength. Going to the gym and seeing a personal trainer will certainly do the trick, but who wants to run on a treadmill or just lift weights. It’s boring and my ADHD sensibilities kick in far too readily in my ripe old age. Dancing is already a full-body workout (cardio, strength and stamina all in one) and is different almost every time (either because of music, partner or the dance itself). Even when practicing routines, there’s always something new that the 5 year old in me stays engaged the entire time.
If my last thousand words didn’t sway you to dance, why not try this reason on for size. Not to sound overly nerdist, but doesn’t dancing appease every aspect of the role-playing gamer? It raises all your core stats – Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma and Willpower, just to name a few. There are real quests to improve yourself and the rewards (while not exactly in the form of arcane weapon or spell) are just as valuable. It also gets you out of the house and away from your actual roleplaying game and focus on playing the same kind of game in the real world. The stakes may probably not be as high, but they’re real nonetheless. These are the reasons I dance (as much as I do) and why I think you should give it a shot too. What are you waiting for?