The Hardest Dance


“A subject is available for relationship; an object is not.” (pg. 104)

The Community of Truth Diagram in The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer strongly resonates with me, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a visualization of how I think of the dance learning process, whether you’re learning different moves in one style of dance or learning multiple styles over time. It also reminds me of Why Tango by Veronica Toumanova, which claims that learning tango is like learning a language. In both cases you must build a relationship with the subject of your learning, through practice, lessons, etc. in order to progress.

In a more personal way, this diagram stood out to me because of a conversation I had with Karen a few weeks ago. She had taken her first non-tango dance class and afterwards asked me, “did I pick the hardest dance (meaning tango) to learn first?” I said no, and here’s why: I think the first dance style one ever seriously studies will always be the hardest, because it is that person’s first experience learning to move in any kind of dance way. (To be clear, I’m discounting shower free-stylings, happy food dances, and the like here.) Your body then begins to build a memory of not just the steps you’ve learned, but also of the way that type of movement feels. From there, each new dance style you learn seems a little bit easier, because, if nothing else, you’ve at least gained an understanding of how to learn to move your body in dance.

So, in that vein I think of this diagram, but opposite. I see the knower in the center of the web, and the elements that build your ability to dance as the subjects on the outside. For example, in learning a single dance style those elements include learning new steps and technique, dancing with different partners (if it’s a partner dance), practice, learning the opposite role, etc. As you pick up each new element of the dance style you’re learning, you build a relationship with it and begin to connect it to all the other elements. Zoom that out to learning multiple dance styles and I see it as one by one you add each new style you learn to the outside of the web, and you find points of familiarity among them. Maybe in two of them you move your feet the same way, or a few others share similar steps, or you hold your posture the same way in another couple of styles. You build connections between the dances through these points of familiarity, and, at least in my experience, that helps each new dance style you learn a little bit easier to understand.

Of course, the trick is to build relationships among the different dance styles you may learn, without allowing them to confuse the unique individuality of each style on its own. Then again, isn’t that the trick of life in general?

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