April 08, 2015

Over the last month I have been having a love affair.

It started with slipping away from the office once/week …
And then it led to Friday nights out. And then Tuesday nights. And Sunday nights.

You know you’ve got it bad, when it starts creeping into your everyday thoughts.
And dreaming about it at night: a full-blown (and totally unexpected) love affair.

You know how love can swallow you up, heal you, open you up, relax you, exhilarate you and bring you vast amounts of joy? That’s exactly how I feel.

salsa salsa-sketch-by-Sveta-Dorosheva

My love affair is with salsa dancing. Bizarre, but true. Let me tell you why I’m so in love with it … and why I feel I’ve gained some profound and unexpected insights from it.

Like any relationship there are lots of things I’ve learned:

being seen means being vulnerable means being strong

Salsa dancing is a partner dance, that requires you to connect on some level with your partner by looking into their eyes, as well as sensing where they want to go (without any talking).

It involves a lot of spins, turns and movement while remaining connected to your partner by the hands/fingers. Both partners are listening to each other’s body and sensing where they’re going.

So I noticed …

It can dissolve fears. Fears of being seen and seeing into someone. Of joyful connections with strangers. Of having them see into you, right there, as you are.

Who knew that looking at a stranger in the eyes could provoke such a curious response?

When I first starting dancing I noticed a little trepidation or shyness within myself, as a result of having to look at people I didn’t know directly in the eyes.

In some ways it can make you feel a little bit vulnerable. Vulnerable, as in open, receptive, relatable, listening, aware. You’re showing up, 100% as you are, right then and there.

it can heal trust issues

I learned that I have had some trust issues with men. And there are certainly reasons for that. I’ve had several freaky experiences in life.

And it’s not just based on my gender – I’m sure all of us have this on some level, because we’re human, and we’ve had a myriad of crazy experiences in life that shape us.

My point is this: salsa dancing is working that out of me.

Within the community of salsa dancing, the men are extremely respectful. I have never once felt any sleazy, slimy energy or a desire to take advantage of me. And surprisingly, even though salsa can be a sensual dance at times, I never sense sexual or lower chakra energy from my dance partners. If anything, the love comes straight from the heart.

There’s an immense sense of appreciation. Appreciation for whoever you’re dancing with in the moment. You see their character, whether it’s serious, humorous, driven, or just wakefully present.

You can see softness, strength, patience and even discomfort. When I can’t follow properly or get twisted up (I’m a beginner after all), sometimes I see a subtle pained look come across their faces.

When you’re dancing, you are 100% present with the other person. And there’s some kinda magic to being 100% present with another human being who is also 100% present with you.

a posture of confidence creates confidence

I also noticed that my posture sucks.

Now that could be because I’ve sacrificed my body to my business for the last 15 years or so – working as many hours as I could physically bear (because I LOVE what I do!) and not exercising at all (like I used to when I was younger). Or it could be related to some underlying insecurities or shyness.

Whatever the reason, while dancing my shoulders were curling in and down – kinda like an old lady hunching over – and my gaze pointed downward.

The body is an expression of what’s inside and by shifting your body, you actually shift how you feel on the inside. Through the practice of holding my body very upright and looking up/straight ahead during dance classes, it’s carrying over into my everyday composure and how I carry myself on a daily basis.

dancing is like learning a language

If you’ve ever learned a language through immersion, you’ve experienced this phenomenon directly: Some days you feel like you’ve totally got it down, and then the next day you feel like you don’t understand what anyone is saying to you.

I first experienced this when I shipped myself off to Germany at age 16, without knowing any German beyond ‘Good morning’. I had won a scholarship to be an exchange student during my junior year of high school. It took me a full six months to be able to pass the ultimate language learning test, which is understanding jokes within in a big group of people. The same thing happened when I lived in Spain for a year during college.

Learning to dance salsa is just like learning a language through immersion. Some days I think, “I’ve got this!” and then other days I step onto the dance floor and become a baby hippo, feeling heavy and stuck and twisted in the mud.

What helps: every time I dance, I focus on what I’ve learned, and on the small successes – and that fuels me. No wonder the salsa communities are relatively small (but growing!), because it requires a certain amount of discipline and mental strength to keep going.

I believe that entrepreneurs, people who travel the world, people who learn languages and salsa dancers all have a pretty similar skill set that has a lot to do with perseverance and openness.

As someone who’s big into self-awareness and striving to be a better person every day -interestingly, I’ve found salsa dancing to be yet another method that refines inner qualities, and strengthens perseverance, discipline and mindful-awareness with an all-out joyous form of movement. What do you think? What kinds of things do you do to enhance your mindful-awareness and build your character beyond meditation?

Here’s a fun song to dance to:

Happy feet + flower petals,

katie hess flower alchemist

*Gorgeous illustrations by Sveta Dorosheva.