The Malinke say, “Life is Foli. Everything, all work, all sound, it is the rhythm. Every step we take is rhythm. Every word we speak is rhythm. So we’re all in this rhythm now. Everything is rhythm. There is no movement without rhythm.”
Partnered dance, that is carrying out pre-defined movements to specific rhythmic patterns, can seem completely foreign and overwhelming. This is when I hear people say, “I don’t have rhythm so I cannot dance.” Yet, this cannot be true, for as the Malinke say, “all is Foli, all is rhythm.” So, let us address the underlying fear and resistance to dance – the uncertainty at the root to learning this something new.
We prefer certainty, such as knowing how we will feed, cloth and shelter ourselves and the ones we love. And we have evolved to recognize uncertainty as a dangerous thing. Many years ago if as hunters we could not identify a new animal as prey we went hungry. If we did not recognize new predators we soon would have been no more. Here the desire of survival may have driven change, but we do not have that need with dance. So, given that change=uncertainty we have a typical catch-22!
Maybe not! Evolution has also given us the solution to this life conundrum of change vs certainty through play. Beau Lotto in his TED talk describes “play” as the only human endeavor where uncertainty is celebrated, where it makes play fun. After all, what’s the point of playing a game if you know the winner before it has begun? Play is also adaptable to change, open to possibility, cooperative as we do it with others, and intrinsically motivating. All characteristics of dance.
Playing with the music, movement, and partners I have gone from not knowing anything – even how to find the beat – to learning and teaching dance. I have repeated this process time and time again as I learn new dances. So learning dance via play works for me. It might be worth a try for you too Here are two ways of playing without the need for someone else, and without a big commitment of time on your part.
(1) The first step in learning dance is recognizing and connecting to that fundamental that runs through life, rhythm. (Remember life is FOLI.) Play the music as you go about your daily routine. Let your feet and body move as it sees fit doing the tasks that you need to do. Do not put any pressure on yourself to step any particular way. In this way we play with the music. And play is fun, right?
I cannot emphasize the importance of this. When learning something new practice and time is important. We often find that we are very busy and never can practice enough, but this requires no effort, other then turning on some music. We all can do that. A little effort may be needed to find music specific to the dance we want to learn, but that is pretty easy as there are 1000s of songs out there to choose from. Just use online search tools like google and online forums like danceforums.com to help find the songs that are meant for you.
I do want to provide one caveat here. If your music playing involves you mostly stationary, that is in the car, sitting in front of a pc, while reading a book….this is not going to work. While this helps a little, you get the most benefit from playing music while you are doing things, being active.
(2) Another dance as play learning tool? Step to the basic timing of the dance, but don’t worry about paying attention to where the stepping should be. That is whether you step forward, or back, or right, or left, or in place….just step out the pattern. For example, salsa is quick, quick, slow. Take two quick steps, then a slow step, and repeat. Do this whenever you can to the music and without. Play around with your feet and how you move to it.
There is a lot more to dance then steps 1 and 2. There are many ways to play and learn different aspects of partnered dance, but for me these are two fundamentals that I can easily do and still do no matter how good I am in a particular dance. And after all when it all is overwhelming and new, it helps to have a few things to make a start.
Heading off now to play, to dance. See you on the dance floor.