I’ve always been drawn to watching ballet, ballroom and belly dancing. I have had a secret desire to learn dancing since my youth. At the same time, my several attempts to learn dancing showed that I didn’t have any talent for it. I tried zumba and other dancing classes at the health club and quit because I felt embarrassed being unable to move graciously.
My recent retirement restored my desire to try dancing and I thought, why not to go to a dance school since I have more free time? (I can’t help sharing here that retirement is the best time in your life. It’s not only a reward but a time filled with an important purpose, i.e. spiritual self-development. In my case it was recognizing the absence of God in my prior spiritual endeavors, and understanding yoga as a union with God rather than identifying it by only its physical aspect.)
Last October I enrolled in the Dance Manhattan school. I had no idea how to dance swing, tango, foxtrot or salsa in their authentic form so I signed up for all of them hoping to discover the kind of dance that I would like most. After learning the basics of all of them I realized that I like salsa. I was lucky to find a great Nieves Dancing school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. After a few classes I gained confidence that I could actually dance… well, in my own way. It was a revelation finding out I could move my arms and legs at the same time, which I’d previously thought impossible. Of course, thanks to my outstanding teachers, Wil and Dave! This is also a proof that we need genuine gurus when seeking true knowledge and skills.
Since starting to dance, I noticed several benefits to the mind and body. The question is not about comparing dancing with the benefits of fitness saying that it strengthens the lungs and the heart or assists in weight loss. I don’t think people’s primary motivation for learning dance is improving their physical fitness. Dancing develops more the emotional level of personality, helping a person to express their feelings. Traditionally dancing was a godly activity, and very often dancing is still part of many spiritual rituals. Maybe because it brings happiness!
We all know that three factors determine our health: what we put in our mouth, how clean is our body and home, and how calm and positive is our mind. Restless and neurotic mind ages us faster than fast food. That’s why we seek ways to pacify our mind through meditation and hatha yoga, for example. After my personal long-term practice of different kinds of meditation and yoga, I must admit that I haven’t succeeded in controlling my mind. Meditation might help in calming the body when you learn to stay motionless for a long time but the mind is still wild, even with a use of the meditational mudra, unless we make special efforts to get inside the mind and contemplate on it … and even then, just for a couple of minutes.
Even while performing Bikram yogasanas I remember my mind was always wandering: planning, recalling, and arguing with my ego and intellect. There wasn’t that concentration of the body that could turn off my mind’s chats. This kind of focus of the body and mind I found in practicing karate. This was what kept me going to karate classes for many years, not only its exciting kicks or katas. The same kind of relief for my mind I discovered in practicing salsa. In a class I miraculously forget about the troubles of our material world, my past or future. I am in the present, learning shines and styling. Yes, in my salsa classes I am dancing for my mind, to let it rest and forget who I am, how old I am and what to do and not to do in my life, at least for two hours. No wonder I feel a little younger each time after a salsa class.
In dancing salsa the mind is suppressed because there are many challenges for the body. Apart from the struggles with simultaneous movements of the upper and lower parts, you strive to look more or less artistic, and follow the rapid rhythms of Latin music. The entire body is engaged, most senses, the core is moving left, right and around. By the first hour everyone is sweating like in the infra-red sauna. So the body is working out, and the mind is “empty,” and the time is filled with emotions of excitement. Isn’t it amazing?
As a bonus, for this kind of ‘workout’, you can wear a dress and pumps (comfortable, of course, kitten heels maybe?). Another bonus is learning to feel and cooperate with a partner, a leader, in my case. It’s a hard task to ‘surrender’ to a man. But this letting go of my independence, and receiving harmony in return, is a metaphor for the many life lessons I’ve learned from salsa.
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Photo: razvan oredovici via Flickr