On bad habits, and breaking them

From the age of 10 to 18, I danced. Many types–ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical. All of the independent variety. All of the variety that teaches autonomy, control, making movements as big as possible, and on your own terms.

At 18, I went to university and stopped taking these dance lessons. I started to learn social dancing. The kinds of dances you do with a partner–ballroom, salsa, bachata, lindy hop. My biggest challenge when I started social dancing was giving up my autonomy. The one complaint I would constantly get–“You’re back leading.” “Stop trying to tell the lead what to do.” “Don’t try to anticipate what comes next.”

Going from one form where you decide the movement, the intensity, the fluidity, to another form where you are completely at the beck and call of a leader–it’s weird. Anyone who’s ever met me realizes within five minutes that I am a loud, gregarious, and independent person. I don’t react well to being told to present myself a certain way, or to sit down and shut up.

But the thing about social dancing is that the follower is not just a lifeless puppet, at the mercy of a leader to twirl and spin and throw around the floor. That’s how I initially perceived social dancing. But really, leading and following is about having a conversation, where you might think followers are only listening, but really, they are also sending their own signals, communicating their own style with the lead.

The older I get, the more I learn to listen. I’ve always been able to listen, of course, but when I was young I thought I was the smartest person in any room and therefore didn’t need to listen. What could you possibly say that I don’t already know? was my thought. I know, I know, teenagers think they know everything. And I did. But I’ve learnt that I don’t, and I don’t need to. I’ve learned that I can listen, that I can take in what people have to say, but I can still push back. That doesn’t diminish my voice. And together, when we both listen, we both get what we want–a fluid, fun, beautiful dance. I can express my own thoughts and opinions and still learn what others have to say.

I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten quieter, but I’ve definitely gotten better at listening.

5 Replies to “On bad habits, and breaking them”

  1. I truly loved the comparison you made!
    Being myself only 22, I feel the path leading to maturity and wisdom is still very long. I’m still impulsive, arrogant in the expression of my opinion and knowledge, I’m not very good at listening. As you said, it definitely shows self-confidence and independence, but at the same time, it’s one of the biggest flaws I need to correct in the following years. In my teenage years I learnt how to respect myself, now I need to fully master the discipline of “respecting the others” and set aside my impetuous self.
    Who knows, maybe the social dance can be a solution for me as well?:)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A fun read! 🙂 Comparing dancing with a partner to a conversation makes sense and illustrates it so well that I can see you guys in my mind right now! 😉
    I used to dance as a teenager, then on-off as an adult, but always the solo, independent kind (jazz, street, dance hall reggae, latin groove, samba…). The only few times I tried dancing with a partner at a club (Southern France, salsa with Mexicans and Colombians) were always a fiasco!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a whole different ball game… my friend is an excellent solo dancer, she still does it semi-professionally and her performances are amazing. But one time we took her with us swing dancing and she was like, Nope. Hahahah.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow that was so beautiful written! I did not see it going there into dance analogy! I agree listening is a core skill and it’s not easy to break the habit of not listening but it can be very powerful skill to master! And it comes with patience which is a harder virtue 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

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