Tuesday, June 03, 2008

...For a White Girl

Last night at salsa I was dancing with a guy from Kenya who told me that I had a nice strut...for a white girl. I smiled at him, startled, and he could tell.

"No one's ever told you that before, huh?" he asked me, grinning.

"Actually, you're the second person tonight who's told me that," I was able to say to him, wiping the smile off his face.

That was true--a guy from the Dominican Republic had insisted not half an hour before that I must have some latino blood in me--and the Kenyan guy would have been wrong anyway. I HAVE been told that before--both explicitly, although that's much more rare, and implicitly. Usually it comes from men of color, although there's a few white guys that have braved such a remark. It's an old joke: white people got no rhythm.

Like most stereotypes, this is mostly true, but not always. I've seen plenty of white people with rhythm, and I've met a Mexican girl who just could not dance. And I've met a few black guys who couldn't dance, and the Dominican guy who insisted I had some latino blood in my couldn't dance, either, although he tried damn hard. But in general, taking all things into consideration, yes. This is mostly true.

Dancing is so interesting. It's both a liar and truth-teller. A good dancer can be a bad person, and a good person can be a bad dancer. (Good people can also be bad cooks, and good cooks can be bad people. This especially annoys me.) Dancing (and cooking, but I'll leave off the cooking discussion until another post) is an artifice, after all; it's a set of pre-programmed moves, thought up before you existed, invented by someone else, and you are just following along in their footprints. Dancing, also, is NOT an artifice; dancing is just body language written larger and more expressively, and it takes a really damn good liar to lie with their bodies. Maybe it's more accurate to say that dancing can't tell an onlooker who you are as a person--all it can say is that you have a reasonable sense of rhythm, can follow directions, and might understand social cues. But it CAN tell an onlooker whether you're tired, or nervous, or clumsy, or self-conscious, or drunk. Or happy or excited. Sports aren't as good for this. You'd think they would be--sports and dancing are just ways of moving your body at specified times, and there's even some crossover--but they differ in an important way. Sports is about goals. You throw a ball because you want the ball to move from your hand to somewhere else; you shoot a basket because you want the ball to go in the hoop. In dancing, there is no goal in mind; there will always be another song, there is always another move. The moves themselves are the goals. It would be like if baseball became about the throws, moving your arm in the most aesthetically pleasing way every time, not caring where the ball went. Sports can tell you if a person is good at achieving his or her goals, whether that means getting the basketball in the hoop or practicing enough to get better. Dancing communicates mood.

Over time, though, both dancing and sports will eventually communicate character. Overcoming challenges is an important part of character, after all. I don't know much about sports, but dancing with someone, repeatedly over time, will tell you if your partner likes to dance with a few known partners or likes to get to know new partners, if the challenge of dancing with someone new is more or less attractive than getting better at dancing with a few people, if she's a snob because she turns down ugly partners for cute ones. It will tell you if the person has an overly large amount of confidence in their own rhythm or skills (and therefore a big ego that might not take kindly to being deflated) or if they like being the center of attention or would prefer you to do the twirling.

For myself, I know that my mental state plays a large part in how I dance; if I'm sad or unsure, I'm a bad dancer. Happiness won't necessarily make me a good dancer, though. Serenity, or maybe it's more akin to treating dancing as a form of active meditation, is the best possible state for dancing; to be of the music, not just in the music. Watching my partner helps me catch leads. And I dance terribly with lovers, which I'm sure the LT is excited to hear because I just convinced him to sign up for salsa lessons with me. (Hi, sweetie!) With a partner that I have a relationship with--and not just a friendship, because I dance fine with friends--I want to communicate more, I want to have a say in where the dancing is going. I don't know why only romantic relationships bring this out and me, and not just friendships. I've had only one boyfriend that I danced well with, and it's because he was an unbelievably strong lead, a swing-dancer of the "wrench the follow's elbows" type. Odd, especially since I don't have trouble (or very little) relinquishing dance control to leads who are complete strangers.

And yes, dancing is all about control, which is why it's so often linked to sex, only it's a lot more caveman than sex is in this enlightened day and age. In dancing, there can only be one lead and one follow, and unless you are very, very progressive, the lead is the man and follow is the woman. Which means, as the LT and I take our upcoming lessons, that even though I've been dancing a lot more, I have to follow his lead (not so hard) and his rhythm (HARD). I have to completely relinquish control of the dancing. Which can be hard, for a white girl.

1 comment:

l-t said...

Grumble grumble.