So when I tell people (non-dancers) that I enjoy latin dancing in my spare time, I’m often asked about how I got into dancing and what’s so addictive about it that I can spend 5-6 nights a week dancing.
I was introduced to salsa classes in Melbourne by some friends a few years ago, and as with most beginners, I was very slack – only attending one class every few weeks. I was busy having a fantastic social life outside of dancing, as well as enjoying numerous other hobbies. In particular, I had one friend that I would hang out with a lot (several nights each week), going out, partying, watching movies, netflix, eating dinner together… just like in the sitcom Friends, I had a key to his apartment and made myself at home in this friendship. When I found out that he was uprooting and moving overseas early last year, I was very sad and started wondering how I would fill the upcoming gap in my life.
It so happened that around that time, there were several introductory workshops to new latin dance styles that I hadn’t tried before and which I signed up to (zouk and bachata). I immediately made new connections and was reminded of how fun it was to learn something different. The moment that my friend left for overseas and we said goodbye at the airport, I literally threw myself into dancing (classes, socials and workshops), and surprisingly, the emotional turmoil that I expected to ensue following my friend’s departure, didn’t occur, and I found myself enjoying a completely new lifestyle. Whilst dancing in itself is not a direct replacement for meaningful relationships, what I uncovered is that the joy it brought came from:
- Connecting, first and foremost, with other people. This is why I particularly enjoy partner dancing, for the brief moments of connection and harmony that I can feel during a song (or multiple songs). Talking to other people, I’ve also found that it’s not uncommon to seek solace in dancing during difficult or transitioning periods of one’s life.
- Learning and seeing progress through practise. At first I wondered how others were able to progress so quickly in their dancing with just weekly classes. Little did I appreciate at the time the hard work, including mental and physical discipline required, to become a better dancer. Whilst I’m still a beginner, I can say that in the past year and half that I’ve been dancing more seriously, I’ve come to look forward to going to classes and rather than seeing them as a chore on my path to being a better social dancer, I enjoy using my brain to learn new steps and seeing how my body responds and remembers new movements. I’ve also learnt more about how much there is to learn, and how popular dancing is (a whole new world I was never privy to before) – classes, social dancing, workshops, festivals and private lessons across a myriad of dance styles was completely new to me.
- Being aware of my physical body, the mind and body connection, and how it feels to move in different ways. I’ve also had similar experiences in yoga, where I’m learning to be more conscious of how my body feels, rather than moving without awareness.
- Creativity and being able to interpret a song how I like, allowing my energy to flow freely through music and connection.
- Community, which builds on the individual connections that we have during a single dance, and culminates in a large group of people who share a common passion and support each other in the pursuit of happiness within this passion as well as beyond. I have been amazed by the level of support that I have seen provided by people within this community, to encourage each other to continue learning, sharing their love of dance, supporting each other through performances and competitions, and building on this to create true friendships.
As it is, I’m still currently obsessed with dancing and enjoying it more as I continue to learn. My problem is that sometimes I am too goal orientated and wanting to reach the next step quickly (be a better social dancer, perform, or start competing), and I forget sometimes to sit back and appreciate the journey. I am becoming better at doing this, and reminding myself that everything in life is a journey, and that balance is important – it’s okay occasionally to miss classes or workshops if I’m exhausted or I have another non-dancing event competing for the same timeslot; and it’s okay to take my time to enjoy each level of dance experience.
So, a special thank you to my friend who moved overseas (and coincidentally was also the one who introduced me to salsa a few years back), and for the record, we are still great friends.
Chiara is the Melbourne-based founder of CIIARA.