Connection. It’s that one thing that everyone says is super important and yet it seems to evade most of us, not only in dance, but in life as well.

What is connection? To me, it’s the result of an agreement between two people to:

  • be respectful to each other
  • be attentive to each other
  • be considerate of each other
  • adapt to each other
  • and in dance, to connect to the music, together.

The other day I was chatting with a salsa friend of mine who said:

“I’m guilty of not focusing on my partner if I LOVE the song.”

This is one of the most common things I’ve heard and seen: the struggle between connecting with the music vs connecting with your partner.  Hell, I’ve struggled with this, myself, many times where I’m really feeling a song but I’m dancing with someone who either doesn’t feel it at all or doesn’t feel it the way I do.  I’m pretty certain we’ve all been there.

Most people I talk to about connection in these circumstances say there are really only 2 options:

  1. Give up on what they want and focus entirely on the partner.
  2. Screw the partner and focus on themselves.

Because I hate feeling limited, especially to these options, I looked for ways to give my partner freedom of expression without completely sacrificing my own. In order to do that I had to improve my understanding of the different elements of dance (timing, technique, body mechanics, etc). So I did. But even with great technique, a huge repertoire of movements, and knowing the music inside out, I still didn’t feel connected. I kept confusing being on the dance floor and physically touching someone else for connection.

It took me some time to finally see what was missing and once I set my intention, I realized developing strong connections and healthy relationships really boils down to the existence and clarity of three elements.

Desire, Choice, and Commitment

Since connection is the possible outcome of an agreement between two people, it’s important to know what you want, to make a decision about how you want to approach it, and commit to being present and following through. If any of these 3 are missing or unclear for either person involved, the connection ends up being insincere, incomplete, and or unfulfilling.

Let’s look at those elements as they relate to dance:

Lack of Desire

Sometimes you’ll see people dancing, not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. There are many artists who fall into this category where they love performing salsa and teaching it but they don’t really have an interest in social dancing. Sometimes at events, you’ll see them dancing but you can feel that they don’t want to be there.

Lack of Choice

Sometimes we want to dance but not with the person who’s asking.  This happens to a lot of us and often stems from our discomfort and our inability to say “no.” When we feel obliged to say “yes” then it’s not really a choice.

Lack of Commitment

Sometimes we want to dance, and even want to dance with the person that asked, but once on the dance floor, we get distracted and look like we are lost in our own world.  We start focusing on all the styling, partnerwork, and footwork we learned, being musical, not bumping into others, who’s watching, etc.  We want to connect with the person in front of us but without prioritizing them, it’s hard for us to focus when there are so many other things fighting for our attention.

This holds true outside of dance as well. I recently helped a friend move whose brother was there but not particularly helpful.  In his case, he was lacking all 3 elements.

Lack of Desire

When she asked him for help,  he already had other plans. He grudgingly canceled them to help with the move and would often bring up the fact that he canceled something for her, before and during the move.

Lack of Choice

He said yes but it felt more like an obligation to him because he’s her brother.  A situation where, as a friend, he might have opted out.

Lack of Commitment

Though he did show up to the move, he spent most of his time on his phone instead of moving things. So, even though he agreed to help, he wasn’t committed and didn’t follow through and actually do what was necessary.

When you look at your dances, your connections, your relationships, and the other agreements in your life, how many things are you doing that you don’t want to? How many things have you said “yes” to out of a feeling of obligation or lack of choice? How many times have you agreed to do something, and instead of actively participating, you merely showed up?

Connection does not have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it. It’s definitely less work with some than with others, but it’s rarely impossible.  And forging that connection is easier when all sides come to the table honestly, feel empowered that they had options and made a choice, and put their efforts into honoring their agreement to connect with each other, first and foremost.  We have to remember that: showing up isn’t enough, physical contact without intention is superficial, and a “yes” where a “no” was impossible is not as sincere.

Going forward, remember to ask yourself how and what you’re bringing to the equation:

  1. What do you really want to do? Are you being honest about it to yourself and others? (Desire)
  2. Do you feel like you have options? If so, what are you deciding to do? (Choice)
  3. Can you and will you put a conscious effort into following through on the choice that you made? (Commitment)

Be mindful. Be purposeful. And I’m sure you can have much more fulfilling relationships on and off the dance floor!