Photo by Stuck in Customs via CC

No, it’s not a reference to the nativist, xenophobic nativist movement from the mid 19th Century. (I’m sure that’s what you were all thinking of when you read the title of this post.) It refers to me last night in salsa class.

After missing two consecutive weeks of class (due to a knee injury and a social engagement), I was thoroughly lost upon my return. There were at least three new steps, two new turn patterns, not to mention the moves I had learned three weeks prior and had forgotten. Warm-ups were tough and uncharacteristically I found myself stumbling several times.

However when it came time for partner work, my know nothingness actually paid off in spades. As I stood in front of my partner, one who had previously joked about my past attempts to back lead, I shrugged and told him that I had no idea what was going on. “You’re going to have to lead me,” I said.

And he did. Like most of the men in the class, he had greatly improved over the last few months and was much more confident. Last night, not only could I relax and let him and the others (save one who was truly incompetent and off beat every time we danced) lead me, I truly couldn’t correct them if they made a mistake because I would be the last to know if we had made a mistake.

Another thought occurred to me as we moved faster and faster through the steps and as I moved from partner to partner–this dance doesn’t have to be adversarial, me vs. him. That’s how I had been thinking about having “let him” lead me, as though this meant giving up and becoming his personal rag doll that he got to toss around as he wished. I think this often grated on me, especially when I felt like I knew more than my partner. But in the few weeks that I had been gone, the complexity of the practice had increased significantly. Instead of just one or two turn patterns per turn, we were now doing six or seven. That combined with the increased speed of our movements made it feel like we were actually doing some real dancing together. It wasn’t about going move for move, tit for tat. I know it sounds hokey to say this but it all felt much more cohesive, like the two of us were actually interacting and creating something small together on the dance floor.

I wonder if I should skip next week’s class just so I can have another shot at being a “know nothing” on the dance floor.


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