WEST COAST SWINGKatie: An Example To Follow

by I. J. Wanadans

Long ago, in the dark days before I was a Rebel, last summer when I was wallowing in "runthood," I was in California watching people dance. I was amazed, dazed, plastered to the wall. I only danced with whoever I could see was a beginner, knowing I probably wouldn’t get turned down. I wrote then about how this awesome dancer came walking up to me and asked me to dance, not once, but twice. It was a profound experience. She said she was engaged to be married but I figured she was just putting me off since the goo-goo eyes I was making were pretty obvious. I couldn’t understand why she was asking me to dance.

Several days later I saw her at another venue, and after many great dances with incredible guys she starts walking my way. I’m looking over my shoulder figuring she sees someone behind me who she knows. Darned if she doesn’t ask me to dance again! I’m way past heaven into nirvanic bliss. However, on further inquiry regarding her fiancee she doesn’t pass the Dr. Laura test: Do you have a ring and a date? For some reason unknown to me this girl, named Katie, just loved to dance with everybody ... even me!

So I bumped into her again this summer and she’s genuinely happy to see me. She shows me this huge glittering ring and introduces me to her fiancee. I ask her when the date is and she says it hasn’t been set yet. So I guess she passes half the Dr. Laura test! She’s happy to dance with me and over the course of several meetings I watched her more closely (which was really easy for me to do!) If it sounds like I’m "fawning," I am. God never said, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s fiancee." Anyway, I began to notice something amazing about her that was much different than any girl in the room. She was dancing with absolutely every guy available, no matter his level.

You have to understand, this girl is one of the top dancers in every room she walks into. She could have her pick of only the best, placing in most Advanced contests she enters. Yet she consciously chose to "work her moves" with every "leader" she could get her hands on. All the guys, no matter their strengths and weakness, all felt relaxed in asking her to dance.

She was truly a "trip" to watch. Walking onto the floor with one guy in hand she would say "hello" to a guy walking off the floor, and say, "let’s do the next one." Needless to say, Katie danced all night long, non-stop! She never worried that someone’s weak lead would "ruin" her dancing. She used each man as a challenge to improve.

Walking off the floor after dancing with me she actually apologized! I’ve got this stupid smile on my face like I just ate a banana-split (very sweet, whip-cream light, ice-cream soft, and chocolate-syrup gooey), and she tells me, "I can’t believe I’ve forgotten so many of my syncopations on passes," as if she had disappointed me because she could have made us look better. Now, I could have taken that as an insult, realizing that my lead was so uninspiring that all I could think of were simple passes. But she was truly happy to dance with me because I gave her the opportunity to re-connect with "lost" material.

Many ladies only want to dance "up" and so they sit all night long just for the few dances they catch with the "good guys." The guys at their level are somewhat intimidated because it’s hard to "follow up" after such a "good" dance with a "Pro." And the guys "down" from them won’t approach, knowing certain rejection (or an un-spirited "charity" dance). What a terrible "pecking order" this sets up in our dance Universe.

I marveled at a Champion dancer recently who went unknown into a local Honky-Tonk and danced with every guy who asked her. She said, "If I can maintain my balance with guys who are constantly knocking me off, I can certainly maintain it with guys who don’t. If I can be sensitive to weak leads and adapt, then I can easily ‘hear’ clear leads. If I can protect myself from injury with guys who lay out land mines, I can survive the rare mistake of a man who is fully conscious of the risks." She danced all night long and had a blast!

When I hear "dancing with these lousy leads ruins my dancing," I can only think about all the opportunities to improve that are lost. Does it ever occur to these people that if everyone only danced "up," mathematically, no one would be dancing? And did it ever occur to them that they have reached the level they are at because someone "up" from them took the time and made the effort to dance "down" with them! Are they truly so self absorbed to think they don’t owe the "favor" to someone else?

There was another girl in California who came out dancing with a "wrap" around her wrist. I asked her what it was for and she said that a guy had hurt her on the floor. I was afraid to dance with her. She stood around most of the night not dancing. In her mind all men are responsible for 100% of any injury she might suffer. How do you think men respond to this attitude?

I don’t know if Katie every suffered an injury, and I can’t guarantee that she won’t suffer one in the future. But I think I know exactly how she would have handled this. She would have allowed the injury to heal before going out to dance again, and then worked on her own sensitivity to potential dangers and escape routes. Somehow I feel certain that Katie has already worked on ways to protect herself from over-zealous leaders and unexpected hazards, and not to simply push blame elsewhere.

The same is true for the men. It’s so easy for a guy to dance with a good dancer because the whole universe of moves is open to him. Whatever pops into his head he does, she follows. Whatever lacks, she saves. It’s much harder to quickly assess the level of your partner, scan through what moves will work best and what won’t, and then execute them within the context of the music. This takes great intelligence and finesse and is true at all levels of dancing. Merging with your partner is what dance is all about. Mindlessly running all your moves on every partner, regardless of who they are, is better served in "free-style" dancing. Guys will often come off the floor and say, "She couldn’t follow." I can’t help but wonder what choice of moves they made.

Just like the Champion dancer in the Honky-Tonk, if you can succeed leading someone who’s not sensitive it will make your lead crystal clear to someone who is sensitive. If you can look good with girls who are "too heavy" as well as those who are "too light," imagine how easy it will be to merge with someone who’s "just right."

And lastly, for all the guys and gals who only want to dance "up" I have some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that you will look good. And that is because a skilled dancer has "given" his skills in your behalf. The bad news is that you are a burden, a load to be carried. And the only way to become less of a burden to those "giving" in your behalf is to "cut your teeth" dancing with those "down" from you. In the dancing world of give and take, until you learn to give you will only be a taker.