In the last year or so, I’ve been focused on getting more satisfaction out of my dancing. I’m still taking classes, and trying to improve my lead and technique. I’m still listening to a lot of music and collecting vinyl salsa records. I’m still dancing socially, although, not as much as I used to. This is partly because my local salsa scene seems to be in a bit of a lull, but also because I’ve become more picky about the music I dance to. However, one of the conscious choices I’ve made, in an effort to improve my enjoyment level, is to stop chasing stars.
What do I mean by this? Essentially, this means that I’ve stopped actively pursuing well known dancers/artists. Now this doesn’t mean that I refuse to dance with artists if the opportunity arises, but I’ve stopped going out of my way to dance with them. There are a few reasons for this, but before I get into that, I will give this a bit of context.
I live in Brisbane, Australia, which is a city of over 2 million. It has a reasonable salsa scene, but it’s not as big as other Australian cities like Sydney or Melbourne, or other bigger salsa cities like NYC, London, Paris and so on. We don’t get as much access to well known artists as these cities, although we do get the odd visit from Oliver Pineda and other great Australian dancers. Occasionally, we will get international artists, such as Vito and Stefania, who paid us a visit on the weekend. This was great, but it’s still quite rare to see salsa artists of this calibre in town. This generally means that the only time I get the opportunity to social dance with these dancers is at congresses, and that usually means interstate/international travel, which is expensive. Given this, and the fact I have a full time day job, I probably attend 3-4 congress-like events a year.
So why have I stopped chasing stars? In short, my experience has been that it’s often a let down. Allow me to elaborate upon why I think this is.
I want to start with this, because I’m a big believer in taking personal responsibility. This is probably the area that I’m in the best position to have some influence over the outcome. Having realistic expectations about a dance, or just about anything in life, is generally going to lead to perceiving an experience as more positive. However, let’s be real. I’m only human. While I try to consciously manage my expectations, I rarely succeed in doing this completely. I still find it not hard to get caught up in the moment. Having seen certain dancers on YouTube and doing performances that look amazing, and then finally seeing that person in the flesh for the first (and maybe last) time ever, it’s hard for me not to get my hopes up about how great it must be to dance with them.
The “Feeding Frenzy” Effect
Artists are in demand at congresses. Even if their names and faces aren’t plastered all over the marketing material for the event, and they are just attending as a dancer, they are known, and a lot of people go to congresses to social dance with artists. Obviously, at most events there are far fewer artists than non-artists. This creates an interesting effect, where people literally line-up or form circles around artists, waiting for a chance to dance with them. Sometimes it can get almost physical, with dancers vying for position towards the end of a song. Personally, I refuse to line-up for a dance. If there’s good music playing, I’m happy to take a chance and dance with a random person whom I’ve never danced with before, than to wait in line, hoping to catch an artist for a dance.
Artist Burn Out
The dance world is a super-competitive place, and event organisers demand a lot from their artists. I really feel for the artists in this regard. They will typically fly into an event, and there’s a good chance they are tired and/or jet-lagged. Often, they are expected to be at events early for a full day of workshops and private classes. Then comes tech rehearsal for the evening shows. Then they are on stage for the evening shows. Then there is the expectation that they make themselves available for a few hours of social dancing, which can last until 2 or 3 (or later) in the morning. At bigger events, this is the typical schedule for 3 or more days/nights in a row. Generally, most artists want to be professional and want to give their best all the time during events, but, under this kind of workload, combined with the lack of sleep, something has to give, and it’s usually the social dancing at the end of the night. Artists are only human, and they get tired like anybody else. This can make it pretty difficult to give 100% when social dancing, and can lead to some people misinterpreting this tiredness as a lack of excitement or interest (or even snobbiness or rudeness) on an artist’s part.
This is more of a problem for female artists, since they are far more at the mercy of their partner than are leads, and I really feel for them in this regard. All too often, if a lead knows a female artist has great technique (and many of them do), they will take this as an invitation to throw as much technicality into the dance as possible. Sure, sometimes super-technical dancing can be fun for both the lead and the follow, but it also requires a lot of concentration and energy. Often the female artists get danced into the ground within the first hour of social dancing, so they don’t have much energy left later on in the night, which is a real shame. From my observations, it’s not just the female artists that get over-danced, but most follows in general, but the effect is magnified for artists.
What I realised over time during my dancing journey, is that my most memorable and most enjoyable moments on the dance floor shared one important factor over everything else, and that is connection. Unfortunately, it took me quite some time to figure out that it’s not possible to connect with every dancer during every dance, despite the best of abilities and intentions, and dancing with artists is no exception. In my experience, artist status does not guarantee shared connection. In fact, from experience, I am probably even less likely to share a connection with an artist for some of the reasons above. It’s harder for people to connect with their partner when they’re dead tired and their feet are killing them. It’s nothing personal. It’s one of the down sides of salsa “fame”. It’s a shame, but that is my observation.
So that is why I’ve stopped chasing stars. The good news is that there are so many great dancers out there, known and unknown, that it really doesn’t matter to me anymore. If I get the chance to dance with a known dancer, and we have a great dance (or not), fine. If I spend all night dancing with random strangers, fine. I know that I’ll probably have some great dances with great connection either way, and connection is what I’m really looking for these days.
See you on the dance floor…