Instead of making snap judgements about our partners or simply ignoring them when we danced, we were encouraged to try and understand them first. In physical - or dancing terms - this meant looking at their mood, posture, and movement, and adjusting to them as much as possible in the beginning of our dance. Through both visual and physical adjustments, we could enter their world and understand them. Once we had met them on their level, we could then attempt to increasingly invite them into our own world. My aikido teacher describes this type of behaviour as ‘Entering through form.’ It is difficult to communicate with our own or other people’s spirits, but we can grasp the spirit and connect with it through its physical form manifested in the body and its movements and posture, which is more apparent and palpable to us. ‘If somebody wants to dance fast and angry’, Andrew says, ‘and you want to dance slow and mellow, start fast and angry with them and try to gradually convince them to come the other way with you.’ ‘First seek to understand, then to be understood.’
He compared this with a conversation. If your field of expertise is mathematics and you talk to somebody who does not know much about mathematics, you first find out the other person’s level of mathematical knowledge, start talking to them on this level, and then possibly invite them further down your path of expertise if they seem willing to go along with it.
When Andrew demonstrated how he looked at somebody’s posture, body angles, and way of walking and adjusted his own movements accordingly, I felt reminded of a book by Nicholas Boothman called ‘Convince them in 90 Seconds - Make Instant Connections That Pay Off in Business and in Life’, in which Boothman describes the phenomenon of the likeable chameleon: If you imitate people’s posture and movements the first time you meet them, they will instantaneously like and trust you without knowing why. Another essential skill of the dancing ninja: chameleonage.
Another component of Andrew’s fusion class that coincided with ancient Japanese martial arts philosophy was ‘Love your basic.’ In the martial arts, we say ‘Keep a beginner’s mind’, which encourages martial artists to always keep working on their basic skills and never let themselves be fooled by the illusion that they have truly mastered their art, or even fully understood its basic building blocks. The more we search, the more sincerely we explore our basics, the closer we will get to the wisdom our discipline has to offer.
In terms of dancing, we were specifically encouraged to make our basic step interesting rather than letting ourselves get bored with it, to put it exactly where the music called for it, and make it match the respective flavor, energy, rhythm, and atmosphere of the music, to experiment with it and use it to full effect.
In terms of emotions, Andrew suggested developing an open mind that did not give preference to one emotion over another. Anger, sadness, jealousy, all these could be expressed in dance as well as happiness and lead to new interesting discoveries.
Beauty of Doing Nothing
In another exercise, Andrew encouraged us to discover the beauty of doing nothing by simply ‘listening to’ or ‘feeling’ what our partner was doing rather than superimposing our own opinions and impulses on the dance immediately. This resulted in a better connection and a better understanding of what our partner was doing, as well as a more enjoyable and relaxed dance.
Find Love in a Hopeless Place
Another point connected with the beauty of doing nothing in a different way was the thrill of the ‘stop’ moment after a build-up of ‘go-go-go’, demonstrated in an exciting solo performance by Andrew to ‘We Found Love’ by Rihanna, a song he had never heard before that tricked him into an extended stretch of jumping spins he committed to early on in a long winding-up crescendo after the first chorus - before the song finally allowed him to come to a much deserved stop and take it easy in his new chill out pose.
The lyrics in the catchy chorus ‘We found love in a hopeless place...’ serendipitously reinforced the idea that any partner, any music, and any part of a song has the potential to rock. Andrew’s dance sample was also a great lesson about texture and clearly revealed the essence of interesting: nothing is exciting if it just keeps going, and nothing captures the heart if it is stagnant throughout. The idea that dance, mostly understood as physical movement needs stops and moments of doing nothing in order to be interesting was another point that may sound obvious but is often forgotten or neglected.
Leading the Follow, Following the Lead
A recurring theme throughout the weekend were lead and follow roles blending and overlapping. True to his likeable chameleon philosophy, Andrew explained that even as a lead, his dance consisted to about 75% of following, and that the better we got, the more we would start following our partner (even as leads).
He spent parts of his Saturday class giving followers hints on how they could temporarily take over the lead, and some leads discovered that the way their follows moved gave them fresh inspiration for their next leads. The bottom line was that we should respect and follow our partner, no matter whether we were acting as ‘leads’ or ‘follows’ in the dance.
During Saturday night’s party I made the acquaintance of yet another type of dance I had never heard of: Contact Lindy. Once again, it was love at first sight. Well, maybe not only sight. Love at first touch may be a more appropriate description considering the way people connect in Contact Lindy, a form of Lindy Hop that allows everybody on the dance floor to constantly remain in flux and dance alone, with different partners, or even with multiple partners as the music unfolds.
Connection, as Andrew aptly said, is a world in itself, a term as elusive and difficult to define, and yet as basic and essential as love. We can connect on a visual level, through touch, sound, smell, and taste - these are all sense connections, of which touch may be the most visceral. We can connect through rules, moods, concepts, ideas, and experience. We can connect over time or within moments. In Contact Lindy, connections are made and dissolved in a large group of people within a short time. This can help us reinforce the sense of importance any connection with any human being holds, and encourage us to respect each connection we make, give it our best, enter and leave with care, commitment, and gratefulness.
The basic parameters to work with in Contact Lindy are: dance alone, dance with partner(s), and dance to the music. Rules for this enjoyable group activity include respecting, committing to, and using one’s own and other people’s momentum, matching the speed and intensity of the connection people offer, and consistently telling one’s own story throughout the song (which manifests itself in choosing a consistent basic like ‘six-count’ or ‘bouncy’ for the entire song), while adjusting to others in order to connect and dance with them.
This resulted in a fun fusion of independence and interconnectedness, freedom and commitment, belonging and responsibility. It was my first experience of Contact Lindy, and I got nothing but a mere glimpse of its possibilities, but I was thrilled to discover another game that was fun and at the same time, stimulated the skills and efforts I want to work on in my daily life.
Tell your own story. Only then can you crosspollinate successfully with others and enrich their lives as well as your own. Open your mind and energy flow to other people and, like the Dalai Lama says, make it the focus of your life to connect with as many people as possible. Forget past and future and let music remind you of the unique value of each moment. Open yourself up to spontaneous eruptions of love - hopeless and fearless - like cherry blossoms in spring or autumn leaves in autumn. Go with the flow and stop at the top. See what is new and cherish the view. Roll through the goal and dance out your soul.
Constantly seeking for new ways to connect and create harmony, I consider myself blessed that in random moments full of sudden purpose I occasionally encounter the touch of love, and that I am healthy and wealthy enough to keep working on this ultimate technique myself.