Friday, March 22, 2013

The Opportunity to Dance

Most people who see me regularly have heard me talk about this issue, but I'm going to make some use out of my blog and put some of my thoughts into writing. Before I get into the issue at hand though, I want to give a little bit of backstory about my relationship with dancing. I hope that telling my story will make my end point clearer, so just stick with me for a while here.

I've always loved music. Deeply loved it. I was a bored kid in my earlier years because it was too hot to go outside and play, my brother was much older, and we didn't have cable tv, but the bright side of that is that it gave me time to sit in my room and listen to music. I almost never do that anymore because I'm so busy and music has become a backdrop for other activities, but I loved to sit there and do nothing else other than listen to my cassettes or CDs. As I got older, I looked forward to New Year's Eve with the family because there was always dancing to feed my need for music and I felt free to just freestyle dance. I was a terrible dancer, mind you. I had some rhythm but absolutely no technique. I just didn't care though - it always made me smile and laugh.

Then came the summer of 2006. I interned in Dallas and had probably the best summer of my life enjoying time with newly found friends in my free time, of which there was a lot. A couple of them were Mexican or Colombian and knew how to dance salsa - culturally, it's just something they grew up on. They taught us basic techniques and I remember struggling endlessly to not look like a robot and to stay on rhythm, but the music always energized me enough to make me want to keep trying. I learned through a student organization back at college more than just the basics and what drew me into salsa, aside from the music, was that there was a structure I could follow to dance correctly. Engineers aren't the most creative of people outside of our fields. I have creativity about me in specific parts of my life, but when I see advanced dancers I know that I'll never be quite at their level. Still, salsa gave me a ray of hope that I could grow my creativity and my love of music all in one!

Before long, I was actually going to salsa clubs. I hadn't ever been to a dance club I didn't hate because it seemed like clubs were places where desperate people go to try to do dubious things and it was always too noisy and too dark. Salsa clubs were almost the exact opposite - they were places where people went to be themselves, have fun, and be respectful (generally) of others. While I was always self-conscious about my novice abilities, I always felt welcome and was grateful for it. I'll never forget one friend I made who was clearly a way better dancer than me and I didn't understand why she, at her far superior experience level, ever wanted to dance with someone who fumbled around to do more than about 10 different techniques. I found out one day when we danced though - she laughed and said "you're always smiling! I love it!" That made me realize a couple of things. For one thing, I hoped I was smiling too much. For another though, it struck me that different people get different things out of dancing from different people, and that's a big part of what makes it magical

Once you learn one dance though, you just want to learn more and more - it becomes a slight addiction! From that same organization I picked up merengue, cha cha, and bachata, all much easier than salsa, granted. However, I lost my social group of fellow dancers when I moved to Seattle and was on hiatus for a couple of years. However, I came across west coast swing at an intro lesson to, ironically, re-kindle my interest in salsa where the teachers also knew west coast swing and started noodling around in it. I pretty quickly swooned for west coast swing because of the variety of contemporary music that worked with it (pretty much anything in 4:4 rhythm with a mellow enough tempo). And just last year I started on kizomba after being invited by my salsa instructor to try it out! What's interesting about that is how quickly it's catching on worldwide despite being so new.

What's so addictive about dancing? If you're not already a dancer (by that I mean someone who goes out and dance on some semi-regular basis), then it's probably not so obvious. It's a combination of a few things though. For one, it's beautiful to be in harmony with another person and with music all at the same time. I feel like whenever there is harmony in nature, there is God, and where there is God there is love - so can't we all use a little more love in life? Secondly, once you learn the ropes in your first dance style - it's much easier to do other stuff. It's like when you start working out regularly - the first couple of weeks suck, but then it's never quite so hard again. Thirdly though, and maybe most importantly, there's the sense of community. Dancing really helped me gain a lot of confidence in myself. There's no distinction among skin color or sex or economic class or age or anything like that in dancing. I've even danced with women well into their 60s and saw them light up on the dance floor like they were 20 years younger. There's few activities out there that brings people together in a positive way like dancing - all around you is smiling (possibly sweaty) people, laughter, and hugs.

Of course, as a lead it can be hard sometimes to find time to practice on your own enough to stay sharp out there and so sometimes you can get a little bit in your own head as you mess up details a lot and discouraged as I have recently. However, earlier this week, I went dancing west coast swing at Century and had an experience that reminded me of why dancing is worth it. A girl asked me to dance to a song that I didn't know and she said "oh, it's a waltz" to which I frantically replied "oh no! I don't know how to waltz!" Her more than welcome response to me was to just do whatever I wanted and make it up as I go because that's what she does. Amazingly enough, it really worked. For those 3-4 minutes, I felt like a real-life dancer. I took all that I had soaked up from dancing west coast swing and salsa and watching others and by roughly matching the beat I just did what came natural. I was on a high all night from it because it's such a rare experience to dance with someone and be on the same page the whole time where even your screw-ups and theirs come out looking superb. As I mentioned earlier with harmony, I think most dancers will remark that there are only certain people they absolutely click with when they're out there - you may have fun with lots of people, but it's a small number that you uniquely mesh with.

Why did I spend all this time explaining my interest in dancing? Because I believe the opportunity to dance is a right everyone should have. There's an antiquated law that the state of Washington is conveniently interpreting to hinder that opportunity. They've decided to shakedown Century Ballroom for an astronomical amount of back taxes they never before asked for but got negotiated down to $92,000, and while they've fundraised about $63,000 of that, they have until May 1 to come up with the rest. If you at all liked reading this post, I implore you to thank me by donating a few bucks to Century. I know there's a lot of great charities out there so maybe it seems silly to donate to a small business, but they help people right here in Seattle and create an opportunity to dance in a really positive way with their affordable classes and affordable social dancing. They've been a Seattle institution for 16 years and have earned our support - so please provide it. They're working on trying to get a bill passed to repeal this tax - it's a silly tax because it's hard to define who it's levied on so it's intrinsically unfair, but it also discourages a good activity. That's like charging a sin tax on fruits and vegetables - it doesn't really make a lot of sense. Please tell your representatives in the Washington legislature that you support dancing in Seattle and not this crazy tax. And last, but not least, get out there and dance your hearts out. Enjoy life - don't let it slip by.