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Practising Non-Attachment in Partner Dancing

Today's title sounds like an oxymoron, because it is. Dancing is the art of feeling (CWDS slogan hah..), but today I will elaborate on why learning to practise non-attachment in my dancing has helped me grow as a dancer and person. In my opinion, there are 2 types of non-attachment; Having the confidence to open up, and learning to draw boundaries.

I have heard from many students saying how dancing is sometimes scary and emotionally taxing to them especially when they are not confident in their dancing. I hope this article provides some insight to how I personally dealt with my insecurity in partner dancing!

The past few months of quiet (due to the worldwide pandemic) has given me much needed time to slow down, think and reflect. I am penning my thoughts down hoping it helps someone out there who is facing a similar struggle.

Disclaimer: This article reflects my reflective perspective and does not represent all dancers' opinions. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below. Here are 3 things I have learnt about non-attachment as a Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced dancer (in chronological order):

1) Non-attachment and detachment are of 2 worlds.

As a dancer, failure is part and parcel of our process. Yet, it is the single hardest thing for us to process.

Non-attachment means being present in our evolution, but not getting caught up in it. Detachment means entirely withdrawing from growth.

When we are non-attached, we practise our art with freedom, find harmony between dance moves, and peace with the body's energy. Non-attachment means looking forward to our routine in spite of.

As a beginner dancer, this lesson was an invaluable one that kept me dancing.

Detachment on the other hand, is being distant and withdrawn. We often detach ourselves from mistakes by pretending issues don't matter and we feel defeated and without hope. Many times, hurdles discourage dancers from wanting to continue their practice, and hence completely giving up dance.

Most beginner dancers starting out in their journey will feel this especially in the initial stages of their dance journey. Desolation is something we have all felt in some point of our dance journey.

The opposite of desolation is hope, and hope can be embodied in the simplest way such as gentle encouragement on the dance floor or in dance classes. I hope we will never forget this, and reach out to our community more =) After all, we all want to be in a community that is inclusive and diverse!

2) Non-attachment means being true to ourselves.

More often than not, dancing makes us look into ourselves. We often search for our self-confidence and self-image through dancing. Self-revelation can be very daunting, but recognise that it is okay to feel this way. Our natural reaction is to run from discomfort, to withdraw from what's making us feel raw. Because of this, we need to remind ourselves to push through our problems or problematic movements. We can only do that in dance by continuing to practise our dance. As a dance teacher/leader in my community, I sometimes catch myself overlooking some of the problems my students face because of how ubiquitous dance insecurity is to beginners. I want to change that. I want to be able to be a trustworthy confidante to my community, with an open heart and mind. As a dancer myself, it is only natural to stick to what is comfortable and I often catch myself bored of what I am learning. That's when I realise my boredom has absolutely nothing to do with the dance, but rather the confinement I put myself into.

In partner dancing, a follower is usually a woman, and a lead to be a man. I had been dancing as a follower for a big part of my dance life, and was getting bored of classes (more than a thousand hours of dance classes for this). I switched it up and properly started learning the lead's part when I turned 17 as I felt it was an adult thing to do (hahaha). I've never looked back since! I was so worried what people would think of my <initial> terrible leading. I was afraid of starting afresh as a beginner leader. Practising non-attachment allowed me to expand my repetoire and proudly make a million mistakes as a leader. I was finally growing as a dancer in a way I always wanted, and it was liberating - I can now dance with everyone on the dance floor!

3) Non-attachment to haters.

Transitioning from being a dance member of a community, to building one's dance community is a big change. What I didn't realise would happen when I first made this change almost 4 years ago is the intense scrutiny and criticism I received as "public figure". There were many people who gave outpouring support and encouragement when I first started, but with that came a minority group who criticised every move I made. Progressing to a become "a face" to our dance community was all sorts of wonderful, magic and traumatic. But hey, I'm still here! I've learnt that the only way to move forward, is forward motion. A word of advice I will give to all young (experience or age wise) teachers-to-be is to block out <aka practise non-attachment to> the noise and focus on your work. I received this very same advice from every single successful dancer I spoke to at that point in my life. It took more than 10 people telling me the same thing to truly try to not attach myself to criticism. There is constructive criticism, there is valuable feedback, and then there are the haters. I learnt to slowly differentiate the latter and I am still learning every day. Non-attachment is a journey! The only way to outgrow negative people is to project your energy (and angst =P) away from them and into your art. If someone doesn't like the way you dance, then dance more than ever. If someone doesn't like your presence, show up at all your favourite dance festivals anyway. When you learn non-attachment, you learn liberation =)

As you can see, non-attachment has changed for me over the years. It is never the same to anyone. Non-attachment as a concept in partner dancing may seem strange at first, but at the end of the day, it's about creating a healthier relationship with yourself.

Practising non-attachment has helped me connect better to my dance community, my dance students and myself. Drawing boundaries will help you grow better as a dancer and provide a better relationship with yourself.

Practising non-attachment is not just about creating boundaries, but also having the courage to be honest with/open up to ourselves, our dance friends and dance community. As my friend Glenn so eloquently says; As much joy as dance brings us, it can also bring us a lot of pain and frustration when we attach our personal worth to our abilities and progress. I hope this reflective article gives you confidence to a better dance journey!

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