I like language and I like dancing
I like spinning yarns and I like turning pirouettes
I like epic, sweeping quests and I like loud, sweaty parties
I like twists…and I like twirls
I’ve often noted how many similarities my two passions share.
Learning a foreign language is very like learning a new style of dance. You master some basic words—some moves, but for them to make sense, you need a grasp of the grammatical forms—the foundations of the dance. As you begin to root your moves in a strong foundation, you can progress more easily to stringing them into sequences—like sentences. In both language and dance, you want to enrich your vocabulary and in both cases, when you nail the accent, you show a depth of understanding. And, as we all know, to truly understand a language, it helps to learn about the culture it comes from: its ancestors, its food—the music that feeds it. Then you can start to tell stories, to express yourself fluently and fluidly, and to freestyle—to use slang, to play, to make jokes. To have a conversation.
And it was when I began learning lindy and salsa and bachata that the idea of conversation became even more poignant and applicable. At first, with partner dancing, I felt I must learn to listen better, in order to follow my partner. I became attentive, a rapt listener, following their tales with their twists and turns; and to their mood: the highs and lows of their sombre soliloquies, playful anecdotes, sultry love notes and euphoric exclamations; and I responded to them appropriately. But no one can listen all the time and I learned that even as you follow, you contribute to the exchange. I also learned that a good partner, in both dance and conversation, allows the other the space to add to the dialogue, to insert a joke, ask a question, even sometimes to change the subject. Sometimes you dance with someone and it’s a slow, considered, life-affirming exchange of ideas in which we say, “That’s interesting, tell me more,” or ask, “What do you think about that?” Sometimes we engage in a fast paced witty repartee, snappily one-upping, knowingly teasing or taunting, and you can spend the whole dance going back and forth with whip-smart banter. That is, if you want to. Sometimes, a partner is so charismatic that you give them your hand, and with it all your senses, and plunge headlong into their story, which, like all good stories, lifts you out of yourself and spirits you away, and you simply sail along upon it.
Just now, I am buried in the grit and grind of crafting stories—how to dig into them and make them soar and crash at just the right moments. I’m entrenched in how to vary the pace and tempo, how to endow the hero with the treasures and secrets she needs at just the right moment, how to give him the tools to claw his way out of the dark night of the soul and make it home with the answers. Naturally—and as you may have guessed—my quest has led me to Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with 1000 faces”. Amongst the countless enlightenments I’ve found in his writings thus far, I was particularly struck by this:
“Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure…Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulﬁllment or the ﬁasco.”
And how, once again, what is true in stories is true on the dancefloor. Because, isn’t that absolutely the case every time you step into the cypher or take the hand offered to you? Isn’t every dance a mini adventure of its own?
And in the adventure, as Joseph says, “There’s always the possibility of a ﬁasco. But there’s also the possibility of bliss.”