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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Wolfgram

Stoicism and Ballroom Dancing - The Things You Cannot Control

Lately, I’ve been thinking about control a lot. Those of you that know me know how I like to run my life, and that’s with everything optimized, efficient, and color-coated on my Google Calendar. Although myself and many other people strive to be in control of their lives, that’s not always how the cookie crumbles. Sometimes situations are out of your hands; you can’t stop the snowstorm we’ve been having here in Minnesota, nor can you force a friend with the blues to feel better.

The same goes for dancing. You can practice your Triple Swing for hours, drilling your technique every day and working your butt off to make sure you put on a good show, but at the end of the day, you can’t control whether or not the DJ plays a bloody Jive.

I’d like to split this up into two articles. This month we’ll talk about control. What can’t you control in your dancing? What can you? Next month then, we’ll talk about how words of wisdom from the ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius help us balance ourselves and succeed despite lacking control in many aspects of our performance.

So, when you dance, what is out of your hands? 1. The Music

If I had a nickel for every time I danced a Triple Swing to a Jive song or a Viennese Waltz to a piece 30BPM too fast, a lot more things in my life would be Swarovski studded. We can always adapt to poor choices of music by modifying our choreography on the spot or taking much smaller steps, but music is something out of your hands that will potentially limit your performance. Accept that your blood pressure will be much higher after this awful quickstep, and instead choose to focus on dancing the best you can in spite of that.

2. Other Couples

It doesn’t matter how awesome at floorcraft you or your partner are; if that one rambunctious couple with the sharp elbows had a few too many pixie sticks before hopping on the floor, you can say goodbye to your bruise-free bodies and hello to taking four ibuprofen when you walk off. Keep an eye out can minimize your chances of impact, but sometimes you just can’t stop them from charging you. The important thing is to not be phased when you stumble. Just recover with a smile on your phase and keep putting your best on the floor.

3. The Judges

Sometimes judges will look at you for the worst three seconds of your dance and make their decision right then and there. Sometimes judges think your dress looks ugly and won’t want to see you dance more as a result. Sometimes judges think American Rhythm should be done on straight legs. The point is that judges are humans too, and therefore, fallible. You could have put the best dancing the world has ever seen on the floor and for some reason or another been awarded a second place. Ballroom is a subjective sport, and so we can work to influence the judges’ decisions, we cannot control them.

4. Your Partner

The necessity of teamwork is both the beauty and frustration of ballroom dance. You can work as hard as you can to support your partner, to lead or follow effectively, and to fight for you two to put on an awesome show. At the end of the day, however, you’re only 50% of the partnership. You can only do so much in your body until you need the cooperation of another person to succeed. You can’t control if they’re having an off day or are injured or just screwed up a couple times. You can only dance yourself as effectively as possible to make their job easier.

All of these things seem pretty important, but it’s important to not let them negatively impact your attitude toward the dance. We’ll discuss later how to do this, but the question still remains: what CAN you control?

1. Your Dancing

And everything about it. It’s your decision to put in the hours of practice and the money for lessons. You control what you learn and how much of it you apply. You’re in charge of your body and your mind and can use both to your advantage as you put your best dancing on the floor every time. There are a lot of things you might not be able to do right now, but given enough time and effort, you can craft your dancing to be exactly what you want it to be. Focus on that, and divert your effort away from what you cannot control and over to all of the things about your movement that you can.

(Published in Sheer Dance magazine March 2019)

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