THEOLOGY OF DANCE
The Four Principles of Good Connection
Dance is a language, and like all languges it has rules for communication. It's these rules that allow us to share blessing. Spoken language is arbitrary- the sounds used to convey a thought will be different depending on a language. The thought "I want you to spin three times to the left at 64 turns per minute " sounds very different in English than it does in Spanish. But the language of dance is not arbitary; it's the language of the body and there is only one way communicate to the follower that you want her spin that way, and it's based on the mechanics of our body. The language of dance is based on our biology and our psychology and even our spirituality.
There are thousands of rules to good connection in dance. But we understand connection through four broad principles. At Theology of Dance we teach that these princples of connection are not unique to dance; rather that they apply to all good relationship. This is because in all relationship flows from the one true source, God.
Bless, Don't Possess! (AKA Never Use Your Thumbs!)
Love in Dance
One of the very first rules I teach my students is the importance of not hanging on to your partner. This is commonly done by pressing down hard with the thumbs. This desire to grasp onto your partner happens for a reason. Men are used to woman who won't follow them or get lost, while women often don't know where to go or are afraid of falling down and want support. Clinging to your partner is one way to make sure that we stay connected and on two feet. Unfortunately this is the wrong way to solve the problem. It makes the connection uncomfortable, removes the freedom to do many patterns and makes it more likely for the couple to injure each other when one or the other rotate or move past the limits of our . In short, using thumbs make dancing boring, uncomfortable, and dangerous. That's not what we want dancing to be.
If we don't use thumbs then the couple has a new responsibilty. If he moves and she doesn't then the relationship immediately falls apart! If we don't use thumbs then each person must freely choose, each and every moment, with their entire being, to stay in the dance. The only way they can do this is to learn how to dance sufficiently well. For the trained dance couple their connection is based not on need but on their free and loving choice. The result is freedom to be spontaneous in a meaningful and loving way.
To love our neighbor means to be a gift to them, and allow them to be a gift to us. But they cannot be a gift if we already possess them or have a right to them. We use our thumbs with our neighbor by being jealous and possessive, or by assuming that we have a right to their componany and their time and attention. If we find someone we love we want to cling to them tightly; we are afraid of them leaving us, that they might choose someone else over us. But if we do that we make our relationship boring, uncomfortable and dangerous. The old cliche about letting a person go and if they come back to you you are meant to be with them is true! And not just once, but continuously.
Giving this freedom to the other person allows them to be a gift to us. This is an example of poverty of spirit. Poverty of spirit is a Christian form of detachment necessary for authentic connection. The relationship is then maintained not by force, domination or fear but by the free, continuous and loving decision of each person to remain in the relationship. This is what it means to love one another with your entire being. To love with your entire being is impossible without poverty of spirit.
God practices poverty of spirit with us. We are made by God for himself. He is the source our existence, our continuous "author." As our author he should have an authority over us- a right to us. But if he has a right to us we cannot make a gift of ourselves to him. So he immediately renounces that right to us, so that we can make an authentic gift of ourselves to him. God will never force you to be in relationship with him. You must choose each and every moment to maintain connection with him and follow his lead.
To do that we need to practice poverty of spirit. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will have the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God. Where is the Kingdom of God? Where God is King! And where is he King? In the hearts of those who freely choose to follow him- who choose, each and every moment, with their entire being, to be in the dance with God. So we need to make sure that we don't get attached to things like possessions or habits. Not merely "too attached." Rather no attachment at all! Nor even to good things such as jobs or homes or even family!
Even God in a sense is someone we need to let go off! Great saints do not choose to possess God, but to bless him by giving themselves to him. Children become small and cling, but followers become big, and throw themselves purposely on their leader with great confidence, never clinging, just connecting. In the Ascent of Mount Carmel St. John of the Cross tells us that to have what you have not you must go by the path of having not. The only way to truly have God is to give yourself to him!
In doing so we do what St. Paul tells us: Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. (Phillipians 2:5-6)
Keep it Clean and Clear
The ancients put great stock in the art of rhetoric- that is the ability to express yourself well, not merely with logic, but also with emotion. If you listen to great speakers or read great writers you are immediately struck by their ability to get across complex thoughts and to convey those thoughts with great and perfect emotion. Martin Luther King Jr is a great example of this- listen to his I Have a Dream speech. He is poetic and flowing, using dynamics and inflection. But he is very clear about his message, and he doesn't take too long to say what he means. He seems to hit all the right points in all the right ways.
The purpose of language is not to get our way or win an argument. The purpose of language is to convey ideas, to learn about reality, and to understand one another. It's to connect us and bring us together. It's to share our inherent goodness. Language is the based on words, which come from the Word- Christ. So saints are interested in using words, actions, and even the way we dress to communicate this blessing. Saints want to speak both in truth and in love, and so we always look for a better way to convey our thoughts. We work on the right combination of words. We work on inflection and dynamics. We work on body language. These are all things that impact the person we communicate with. When we communicate without thought to all these elements of communication we risk putting up barriers between us, or even driving ourselves apart. It's only by understanding these aspects of communication and being thoughtful of them that we are able to connect fully with one another.
Saints also work on understanding others. They know that what comes out of a personn might not accurately say what they really mean. They know that as fallen creatures something is always hidden. So saints learn to seek the goodness in others, even when it's hard to see. When a saint like Mother Teresa looks at a beggar and see Christ she displays this ability to see the true person.
In every kind of dance each movement is meant to convey the perfect information and blessings! It shows the music, it looks beautiful, and feel comfortable. Serious dancers are obseesed with this perfection in comunication, which is why they spend so much time learing and perfecting connection. To learn and master the rules of connection takes years of lessons and practice.
Having said that dancers avoid
No extraneous movement! Too much arm movement is called static. once had a student explain to me how he was watching more advanced salsa dancers and how they kept moving their arms. So I Youtubed "Top Salsa dancers." None showed great arm movement in the connection. If a leader moves his arm to much then he's prepping his follower only to not lead anything. If the lady moves her arms to much then she can't feel the lead.
We describe this as simpleness, not to be confused with simplicity. Simpleness means that we something can be quite complex, but it's done with great grace, with purpose, and in the most efficient way to create the work of art. This is important! The most efficient way to move around the dance floor is simply to walk, but no one just walks at dance. Instead they pick beautiful choreography and then do it cleanly and clearly.
Keeping frame Frame is a pretty complex subject. Proper frame is in a constant state of change, but it's purpose is to create a medium through with the leader and the follower communicate-through which they feeleach others bodies. The woman needs to know what the man leads, an dthe man needs to know what the woman can do, so the connection needs to be constant! It's more like building skeleton instead of a picture frame. Generally speaking beginning followers should usually have their hands in front where she can see them, and have good tone in her arms. Leaders should do the same. Good leading is not telling her what she is doing, but what we are doing!
Properly weighted and properly balanced We tend to stand in split weight, but when we walk all of our weight is either on one leg or the other. When we come to a pause in danceits important (especially for beginners and especially for followers!) to in a sense
Sharing a common center a
Flow from the heart aaa
Love in Dance
In our own lives it's very easy to keep God hidden from us. Just add noise and distraction! So we need to make sure that we don't get attached to things like videos or TV's or Facebook. Not merely "too attached." Rather no attachement at all!
Leaders Initiate, Followers Respond
Love in Dance
One night at an event I was watching a couple dance. The man was clearly a beginner, and so to be helpful she was doing what she was supposed to do, and by extension, what he was "leading." She was deciding when the turn would happen. She was deciding when to let go and when to reconnect. The man's face had a bewildered expression the entire time. So I went up and asked to dance, and she said yes. The music began, she tried the backlead, and I did nothing. Then I started to lead and a look of sheer terror came to her face. She had always danced with guys who didn't know how to dance, and they always did what she told them. Here now was a man who knew what to do, he wasn't going to be back led, and now she had no idea what to do!
In this example the men in her experience had all lacked the skill and confidence to initiate in relationship, and so to compensate she learned to backlead- that is the follower would initiate and the leader would respond. In a dance a skillful man can lead dozens of patterns out of any pose. How is a woman supposed to know which one to take? Despite what a woman would like to believe she can read a man's mind! So she needs to wait until she hears the lead and then respond. Initially this means that she needs to negate her will. She'll keep good frame and keep her weight on one foot or the other.
Some relationships by nature are lead-follow. In particular, government, teaching and business are all relationships in which one person leads and a nother person follows
Many relationships are not lead - follow by nature. For example, hiking, having a meal together or playing a board game do not have a clear lead or a clear follow.
Principle 4: Small Leads, Big Follows
When I lead a pattern the last thing I want to do is force my follower through it or to constrain her freedom. I've decided where to go and what pattern. The how is not my decision! That comes from the music and the imagination of the follower. Great leaders are able to convey a great deal of power and confidence in a very small lead. In return, I expect the woman to fill the pattern with power, energy and passion. If I need to push or pull her constantly to get her through the pattern it doesn't feel good to me, nor does it feel good the her.
Leading. There are two basic kinds of frames- stable and dynamic. Stable frames are ones where the man and woman move in the same drection at the same time. Waltz, rumba and salsa all use this frame. Dynamic frames are based on open breaks, where the couple breaks apart then comes back together again. This frame is the default in swing dancing. If I am leading a pattern in a stable frame I want to supply no more than a small percentage of her power-less than 5%. The rest comes from her. If we are open breaking then the size of the lead is what I worry about, and that's no more than an inch, maybe two. That allows the woman the freedom to express who she is in the pattern.
Following: Whatever a direction and movement is lead continue it until lead other wise.
Continue until you are lead to stop
Grounding is described as the connection of a person into the floor. It's better described as the lack of tension in a persons legs. This is important because the energy of dance comes from being grounded. We tend to subscribe to the "bowstring" theory of human anatomey- just as a Bowstring is most ready to impart energy when taught, so too our muscles are most ready to impart energy when taut. However, that's not how muscles work! THe provide power when the go from loose to tight, not tight to loose! So after every
What Dance Says
Great leaders know that great followers are capable of great things. In fact they usually are better at doing thier roles than is the leader! Beacause of this he trusts them to implement and express his plan, knowing that they will fill out the missing parts. Leaders sin against this principle when they try to micromanage their follower(s). Followers sin against this principle when they look uneccessarily to leaders for guidance.
For example-there was an episode of Top Chef Masters in which the contestants were given chefs from the previous show Top Chef. While not of the same caliber as the masters these were all excellent chefs, some of the very best in the country, all of whom were well known in the industry and who ran their own kitchens. Michael Chiarra treated his assistants like common sous chefs, giving each a specific task and micromanaging each. Each spoke with resentment of not being appreciated for the skills that they brought. Rick Bayless gathered his team, told them his plan and asked for input. Each chef gave his thoughts, he assigned broad roles and lightly managed his team, and he won going away. Each spoke of the joy of being part of the team and being able to use their skills to the fullest. Yet not a single one usurped the plan.
Spiritually I refer to this as the Elijah principle. In the Book of Kings we follow the story of Elijah, the greatest of the prophets (who appears with Jesus at the Transfiguration.) Near the end of his story Elijah is waiting ina cave for the Lord to speak. There is a strong wind, and a great fire and a mighty earthquake, but God is not in a single one of these. Then there is a still small voice, which Elijah recognizes as the voice of God. God rarely speaks in booming voice. Rather we need to listen for his small lead.
Elijah, as follower, never did anything half-way. From the way he boldy proclaimed the word of the Lord to Ahab to his confrontations with the false prophets on Mt. Carmel to his reliance on God's providence showed how he filled the pattern God defined with great zeal. All great saints show this. St. Francis with his radical embrace of poverty while Mother Teresa heard only God's small prompting on a train before forming a worldwide religious order. Even St. Therese, she of the "little way" followed God with great passion and energy. This passion, energy and (perhaps her favorite word) confidence in her next step characterized her life and left an obvious impression on her sisters.