I teach New Style Hustle dance workshops. It’s a cool 1970s partner dance remixed with modern street dance elements, and I love it. I always do my best to make sure my students have a solid foundation in the dance. The goal is to get them to a point where they no longer need me. However, at the end of the day, the single most important factor in partner dancing is not the moves but the element of connection, which is probably the hardest to teach.
What is connection?
While it is difficult to define connection, I liken it to be quite similar to the concept of Qi energy in Chinese culture:
Qi = The circulating life force that flows through all living things.
I believe partner dancing is simply the joining of our individual energies to form what I call connection. You cannot see it, but you can feel it. When there is connection, there is an energy field that binds two people together, and they are no longer separate entities. They are now a single unit continuously changing and adjusting to one another. When there is connection, two individuals become complementary forces that give rise to the power and potentials of partner dancing.
How do you teach connection?
It’s tough, but it’s a question I often ask myself. When teaching a dance class, it is easiest to fill it with challenging movements the students can then practice for the duration of the class. Most often, students are taught a routine. However, if the mentalities behind the movements are not taught, then we are just left with a class full of students who have learned how to move, but no idea as to why. I am not challenging the importance of the motions – It is what makes the dance after all. But I believe that movements can be strengthened immensely by helping students understand that the physical act of dancing does not manifest on its own. Movement is but just a small piece in the larger scheme of things. It’s the result of something within and it’s much more difficult to define.
In asking myself these questions, another question naturally presents itself...
How do you teach love?
We are dealing with the ineffable here, so perhaps we can find clarity by considering a similar topic we as humans have obsessed over since the beginning of time. We’ll focus on romantic love as that relates best to the world of partner dance.
Common answers to this question usually result in the different ways love can be expressed:
Remembering anniversaries, taking your loved one out on dates, sprinkling hugs and kisses throughout your time together, and of course, having hot and passionate sex.
Then again, I can’t help but to think that love is already deeply engrained in our DNA, that maybe it doesn’t need to be taught. Maybe this question doesn’t even need to be asked. Though, I would argue the contrary because while people may feel love, many are actually quite clumsy when it comes to showing it. Anybody who has been through teenage romance will agree. You might even know a few adults today who are still the clumsiest romantics you have ever encountered. Likewise, while some people are great at showing it, they may not necessarily feel love. These are your cheaters, players and home wreckers.
If we were to apply these concepts of love in dance, then we begin to notice that even when there is a lack of connection, people can still go through the motions as if there is connection. This would be comparable to a tease or even a one-night stand versus being in a relationship with someone who truly loves you. If you were to dance with a girl you have no connection with, you can go through the motions and maybe even give her the impression that there is a connection when there really isn’t. It is physically possible to dance, but it means nothing if the motions do not appeal to your emotional core. Still, once in a blue moon there is someone you really feel a connection with, and when you come across this person, you can’t help but gravitate toward each other. When you dance, it feels so good that you don’t even care what you’re doing anymore. Perfect moves are no longer a priority. You’re just happy to be in their presence, basking in the ever elusive feeling that is connection.
The great thing is that true connection is a powerful force. While, like love, it is hard to describe without the liberal use of poetic techniques, the existence or lack thereof is rather easily felt. I always notice when people have connection because it is coupled with the biggest smiles, endless laughter, and they are absolutely inseparable. I also notice when my students don’t have connection and are just going through the motions. There is less eye contact, less energy, and we are left with just a bunch of empty moves. I’ve felt such strong connections that I’ve completely lost track of time and before I know it, it’s 4 a.m., and we’re the last ones on the dance floor. I’ve also experienced such weak connections that made me not want to dance ever again.
I’ve been asking, “How do you teach connection?” But maybe before I even consider that question, I should take a step back and ask myself an even more important question:
“Can you teach connection?”
I don’t think you can. What you can do, however, is to help your students discover it themselves. To my surprise, this actually happens quite naturally. I often yell “SWITCH!” so my students can practice dancing with different people (or in other words, they can practice “loving,” or at least going through the motions of “love,” with different people). I’ll keep yelling “SWITCH!” throughout, but by the end of class, certain students will stop switching and choose to stay with a specific partner. While it may be a bit frustrating because it messes up the rotation, it is also a blessing in disguise. I know that when I yell “SWITCH!” and my students stick together, I have succeeded in helping them find connection.
Maybe that’s all you can do.
While I can’t teach connection ... while I can’t teach love ... What I can do is help my students discover it themselves. And for those who are lucky enough to find it, I can then teach you how to show your love and harness that connection. Tell her you miss her. Call her. Take her out. Make her feel special. Spin this way. Spin that way. Lead her onto the dance floor. Take her on a ride. Then finish it all off with a dip.
I love you, too.
by Jason Lam