There is something I absolutely love about people who dance with their whole hearts. Whether they are grooving and having a fantastic time, or they are swinging out with more energy than the average person has in their pinky — it inspires me. It’s one of the many, many reasons I love dancing — and in particular swing — as there is a particular expression of one’s personality which is inherent to dance.
The most frustrating dance to watch is one without personality. For example, as a follow, I believe I should constantly attempt to express myself: in fact, I am most underrated as a follow when I choose not to fully present my own art through dancing. Whether I get intimidated by advanced leads or bored by beginners, I am doing a disservice to the art which I so dearly love when I don’t give my own flair, my own personality, my own attitude.
Take the dance with Frankie and Dawn: right in those first few moments, Frankie sends Dawn into a simple turn, and she stops, comes back, and says with her body “not so fast, hot stuff. I got something for this dance, too.” She proceeds to goof off, take over the lead, and mess with Frankie for the entire rest of the song. This video is so simple, yet so beautiful: there are no aerials, no new and challenging footwork patterns. But their is a simple love of dance, expressed through personality and attitude, which is impossible to miss.
Then take Jo and Kevin — the show was repeatedly stolen by Jo! The way she throws around her entire body (literally! even her head at 0:53!), and uses all of herself to dance. Throughout the dance, you never doubt Jo’s presence or contribution. I love how sharp she is with her kicks at 0:35. And I love how she shrugs and shimmies her shoulders, rolls her hips, and points her fingers to emphasize all her movements.
In fact, I was considerably less interested in the video when the footwork was more complicated, where I believe Jo lost some of her attitude — look at 2:14 – 2:17. I know it’s an incredibly short time period, but I completely lose interest in what she’s doing. I don’t know what about this moment loses me, but it always takes me a second to pick back up and be invested in her movement — but of course, I pick it right back up again by the time Kevin and Jo shimmy together, and when Jo yells out at the end, I almost feel compelled to do the same.
The thing that Dawn and Jo have in common, for me, is that they express themselves in the dance with their entire bodies. They give attitude, to both their leads and the audience. They are invested in their dance, and you can see it in their footwork, their shoulder-shrugs, their pelvic thrusts, and (maybe most importantly) their facial expressions.
When a follow shows her personality, I get invested in her movement. I get excited about her variations, intrigued in her mistakes, and I laugh at all the goofing off. It doesn’t matter if she’s nailing everything or if she barely knows how to rock step — if she loves what she’s doing and throws her whole being into the dance: it’s art. And I love watching when two people are dancing art.
The hardest part of this post is explaining how I have incorporated this belief system into my own dancing. Many of you who know me closely know how Michael Gamble changed how I approach dancing: right now, I am working on always contributing to the dance, no matter what; on never being a passive follow, because that’s only so much fun to dance with.
Thus, I am focusing on expressing my happiness, my sadness, my horniness (no joke), or whatever else comes to me through the song, through the inspiration of my lead, through the dredges of my day, or for whatever reason. And most importantly: even if it makes me mess up, which is always the concept with which I struggle most. This has significantly changed my dancing (for the better!) in a way that others have repeatedly noticed, and I’m so excited about where it’s taking me next.
Thus, my challenge to both leads and follows is to do the same: always contribute your own style, your own variations, your own attitude. The way you dance is art, and any presentation of such art should be uninhibited and, at the most basic level, for yourself. As long as you dance like you love it, with your entire body, then others will continuously be inspired by your movement.
Inherently, if I am able to express my love of dancing, I know I will create something beautiful.