On my lesson yesterday there was one main theme and that was connection!
I’ve written about this aspect of my dancing/ballroom dancing before but once again we revisited the topic.
I kind of wonder sometimes how Ivan decides what we will work on during lessons. Since he’s independent and doesn’t follow a particular syllabus, it’s free form. It’s great in my opinion, though I still have no idea what “level” dancer I am. I guess we’ll find out when we go do our next comp. Ivan did tell me that at the next one it would be the last time I dance in bronze. Who knows, though. I certainly have no idea which steps are what level….I just know our little routines or possible steps, and every once in a while Ivan throws in another new one.
In any case, unlike at chain studios where you buy packages and are promised to learn say, Bronze I, in a certain amount of lessons, or you buy a package of lessons to learn a showcase number, or whatever, I pay as I go. If I have extra money one week, I can have an extra lesson. If things are tight, I can cut back. It works great for me!
But because of this, there is no particular agenda for the lessons. When I came in the studio, Ivan was working with another one of his students on a particular step in Cha Cha. When we started, he wanted to work on that step with me right away. It was like, he needed to be complete with it or something. He’s shown me it once before so it was good to refresh my memory, but it still needs a LOT of work. It’s just a very fast step.
So we worked on that particular step, open hip twist, I think he told me, and then we danced some swing. I mentioned to him that I’d seen how Marieta did it on Monday’s class and it was different than I was doing it. She created much more up and down swing in her movement than I’ve ever created. I was like, “Ivan, tell me what’s right, here. Let’s go over the basic. Because if you don’t correct it, I will keep practicing it this way and it’s not right.” It’s almost like I’m going to have to continue to ask him to push me more, correct me more. This is not necessary when Intense-diva-Ivan is out to play. That bitch will just take control and put me in the right position. But most days it’s puppy-dog-Ivan. We have lots of fun, and he still makes corrections, but I think maybe there is more he could be telling me but isn’t. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings or something. But I addressed it specifically with him that I want corrections. Lots of ’em!
Anyways, the lesson then became about connection. Of the three instructors I’ve had, I think only Ivan really knows what connection feels like. I almost wonder if it is a little bit of a lost art among most instructors. But it is one of the defining characteristics of ballroom dancing, in my opinion. It is the thing that makes it possible for two pieces to move as one. Without it, you have two people dancing alongside one another doing their own thing. With it, magic, unity, synergy.
I think the biggest issue I encounter with connection is that I’ll have it, then lose it. I’ll relax and release the tone in my arms that makes the connection possible. Break at any joint, my wrist, my elbow, or my shoulder, and the connection fizzles out, even for just one second. I then overreach to find it again. I’m so new at it, I don’t always feel when the connection has been severed. To really be connected is much more than just the physical touching, but includes eye connection, and body connection.
Ivan can and has lead me using just his eyes or his body language but this is much more challenging and I have to be completely focused on him, his energy to make it work. One lapse in concentration, one errant thought about what I’m supposed to be doing, and poof! It’s gone.
I’m still sussing out exactly how every move is supposed to feel when connected. I’m noticing that there is a huge difference between how dancing the Cha Cha feels alone in Inna’s class and connected with Ivan on my private lesson in my very own body. It’s like I have to find the sweet spot between dancing myself and my body (which takes a lot of energy), and being connected to Ivan, but not hanging on him, not making him push me around the floor, and basically “moving my ass.”
Connection, as far as I understand it, isn’t about him moving me. I’m supposed to move myself but I think I’m late, slow, stuck, a lot of the time so he helps me out. The thing is, if he always helps me out then I think things are right because we make it to the next step. If he wasn’t there, however, I’d be sunk. He did once pull away during a spot turn and I immediately understood what I was doing wrong. I was leaning in too much, thus off-balance, and creating extra force on Ivan. So sometimes I try to connect too much! It seems to oscillate between the extremes of being completely absent, such as when I break at my shoulder, to being too forceful, creating extra work.
Ivan likens it to driving. When we are connected properly, he’s driving a Ferrari. He gently invites, asks me to rev my engine, and I move. When we are not connected properly, he’s driving a truck. Each gear shift is clunky and slow.
I’ll admit it – sometimes I’m a Ferrari and sometimes I’m a truck, and both can be true in one single dance.
By the end of the lesson Ivan said that I was doing so much better. That is true, but I also wondered if that was partially because Ivan was so focused on connection. Sometimes I think he isn’t really being connected to me, either. I mean, we are all human. I still look to him as my leader, superior, teacher, and if he isn’t present enough to connect, my connection is probably going to be lacking as well. But I can be responsible for my own dancing, too. When something is asked of me, I respond. I feel differences in Ivan’s lead all the time. If he is especially excited, he can get forceful (especially in Samba). We’ve also danced without touching, or even with just a gentle lead. So part of how I show up as a partner depends on how Ivan shows up in the moment as a partner.
It makes me realize that I can come to class with my own agenda. If connection is important to me, I can set that context by taking a few breaths and a moment to center before we begin moving. I can invite Ivan to connect with me from that space, instead of always expecting him to do it all. I mean, it is supposed to be a 50/50 partnership in an ideal world, right? That may not be possible just yet at my level of dancing versus his level of dancing, but I still think it is a goal to strive for.
At this point, I just feel like I am rambling because I’m still trying to figure out what connection means. There are so many aspects to it – from feeling it physically, to tuning into it if all I get is a body lead with no touching, to how I’m showing up as a partner on one end of the connection. Just like all the fundamentals (swing, sway, basic steps in every dance, etc), I feel like a person can revisit them over and over and over and discover a new aspect to something he’s been doing for a long time. There is always a way to go deeper and arrive at the same place but see it with new eyes, knowing it for the first time.
So, what did I learn on my lesson yesterday? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe not every lesson has to end it a neat little package of learning. What I did find is that the process continues. The adventure goes on and on.
But this I know: connection is a vital part of ballroom dancing and I’m going to work to be great at it! When it works right, it feels awesome. I want more of that and I’m thrilled that I get to practice it on each and every lesson.
Because my teacher also doesn’t have a structured approach, I’ve recently been wondering the same–which figures are which level, how many figures have I not yet learned at bronze level, etc. So, I poked around online to find the syllabus. If you go to this link http://usadance.org/dancesport/forms-and-resources/rules-policies-and-bylaws/ and download the rule book, the syllabi are in the back. I printed the international latin syllabus and am checking off what I learned. This also give me a punch list for practicing on my own, which I need to do more of if I want to progress at a better pace.