One of my passions is dancing West Coast Swing. WCS is a partner dance with roots in Lindy Hop and those roots include the six-count basic, syncopated steps, and the complete and utter joy fanatics take in the dance. Beyond these roots, the similarities end and what remains is evolution and growth. Improvisation is the key in WCS and music is the master and this master compels both partners to constantly stretch and challenge themselves to ensure the notes being played are brought to a physical expression and the music brought to life.
As with any activity there is a spectrum upon which a person can rove and explore in WCS. From beginner to professional, from social dancer to competitor: each person finding that sweet spot in this dance that combines the technical with the imaginative. As in life, there are a lot of moving parts in WCS. Not just yours but also those of your partner and of those who may be dancing around you. And, in this dance, as in life, there are many rules.
Learning the rules takes dedicated time. And what every dancer knows is that there is a difference between learning in a controlled environment such as a class or practice session and learning in what one of my more influential instructors called “combat situation.” She was referring of course to the reality that is the social dance floor.
Learning the rules of dance and flawlessly executing those rules requires both a theoretical understanding as well as “floor time”. The time spent in theory allows the dancer to pace through and understand the moving parts and how they interrelate with one another. Floor time is where we dance; where we perfect the movement of the parts. It is floor time where mistakes are made and the real learning takes place. It is only with dedicated floor time can one dance from rules in theory to rules in action.
Once the transition from theory to action is made then the real fun can begin: improvisation. For it is only after knowing the rules that you can then bend them, twist them and break them in the name of creation and bringing the master to life. It is this ability to break rules, to improvise and create that makes the anguish of learning the rules with worth the hard work and effort.
And it is more than just breaking rules. It is about breaking the rules artfully and with grace; breaking the rules in such a way that all other moving parts are not impacted. To dance freely, creating and improvising in such a way that it does not stop others from their exploration of the rules. To watch as your rule breaking inspires your partner and together you now bring the music alive in ways that cause you both to be surprised at what you have created. The music is no longer a static predictable equation but more like a snowflake in which there are millions yet each one is unique.
Dance truly is a metaphor for life. Both are about evolution and growth. Both offer a spectrum upon which we are all capable of moving along in whatever direction we so desire. Like dance, life has a lot of moving parts that must be considered. And most assuredly, there are rules in life that require the patience to learn. The patience to learn the theory and then the drive to put in the floor time which is, after all, just another word for experience. And as in dance, so it is in life: the joy in learning the rules comes when we discover we fully understand them and can now so ably break them; when we are fully able to improvise, create and bring the music that is life, alive.