I read a great article in Time Out the other day about the positive mental affects of dance on your wellbeing, confidence, health and energy levels (take a look). Before you panic and think ‘but I don’t want to break into tap dance each time I’m stressed, and I don’t have time to learn ballroom to waltz away my blues’ I think the article makes lot of sense. If I think of the times I’ve been at my most stressed, or upset, doing something really active has always helped; going for a brisk walk to work off anger, running on a treadmill until you’re exhausted so you can sleep better, and a big night out spent dancing to loud loud music always gets rid of tension for me.
I have always passionately loved dancing, although I’m not a dancer. When I was very little my mum sent me to ballet (as most mothers do) in the hope that I would learn some grace (wrong), elegance (wrong) and coordination (so wrong it’s almost funny – once in primary school I took my school report home and I had 5/5 on everything except ‘Ball skills’ – hand eye coordination isn’t exactly by strong point). Above-all I was incredibly shy as a child so while I think I quite enjoyed the dancing I really hated being on show. There’s a brilliant pair of pictures my mum took of me at a ballet show; for the first she is in the wings and I’m happily waving at her, and then the next she’s in the audience and I have an enormous scowl on my face; almost as if I’m offended that these people are ruining my dancing experience by watching. So I stopped ballet and didn’t pick up any other dance lessons other than a brief stint of street dance in my teens. And now I wish fervently that I had kept it up. I love dancing, to pretty much anything; I love kicking and jumping to ska bands, moshing with rock, throwing hilarious hand shapes (sellotape stuck on my fingers is my favourite – if you haven’t heard of it just try enacting that action to a good strong beat), singing along and acting out dramatic dance sequences to musicals and power ballads, and yes yes yes give me more retro 20’s, 30’s, 40’s gorgeous hip wiggles, toe tapping, wrist flicking, pout inducing moves.
At my work we run social dances every so often – jive, ballroom, tango, swing, and then sometimes dance workshops as part of festivals; bollywood, tap dance, lindy hop etc. I always find these events really exciting because they attract Social Dancers with a capital S and D. I don’t mean professional dancers, although when they do come they are always amazing to watch, but people who dance in their spare time; as their passion; and Live and Breath their love for Dancing. These are the people that rock up to social dance events dressed head to toe for the genre of the day; think big puffy skirts and cute white socks for jive, figure hugging lycra and beaded headpieces for tango and their ballgowns at the ready for ballroom. And they are totally addictive to watch. Their feet fly across the floor, they spin so quickly and so elegantly and the women get thrown around sometimes with such force that you worry they’re going to go tumbling into the next couple but there they are again, on their feet, well into the next move. One of the best things about these events are the mix of people. All of the SD’s dance with each other – they’ll ask anyone, scouting for nothing more than a check that they do know their footwork so can be led. I neither know my footwork or particularly like being led anywhere but there seems to be an amazing freedom to be at a point in your dance abilities where you could happily dance off with anyone without anxiety or self consciousness.
Back in the 40’s and 50’s (and earlier) dances would be an amazing way of socialising and meeting people, and the common ground of already knowing the steps (because of course everyone learnt the classic dances) meant there was already a level of comfort between people’s interaction; no one was going to look foolish here. We just don’t have that now – unless you’re willing to hunt down your local Lindy Hop club (I’m tempted) and then follow the social dance season and make it an important element of your life and calendar.
SO let’s all dance more, and merrily, and spontaneously, and with precision, and elegance, and energy, and more than anything laughter!
My top 5 dance styles I wish I’d learnt:
1. Tap (it’s just damn cool and gives you lady tux wearing opportunities…and I LOVE tap shoes)
2. ALL jazz dance styles from Charleston to Swing to Lindy Hop (for the fun and the throwing and the jumping and the look – also check out this great little Lindy Hop How-to blog Swinglongandprosper)
3. Contemporary (because they float and fly across a stage like feathers)
4. Bollywood (one word – joyous!)
5. Salsa (hip wiggling wonder – and so I can visit Cuba and legitimately go dancing)