Two fingers of my right hand link with two fingers of the left hand of my partner. Together, we create a frame, within which are infinite artistic possibilities.
It is the staple of the dance. There will always be connection. A hand to my hand, a hand on my back, an arm around my shoulder, a look that tells me what comes next. However big or small it is, I know the connection will be there.
In that connection, all fear fades away and joy remains. Through it I know I can trust my partner to tell me how to move and how to create a dance that is full and beautiful. It is the language of the dance, how we communicate with each other, how my partner directs me, and how I respond.
I am what I would describe as a baby in the West Coast Swing world, a child that is filled with pure wonder and delight. It's still so new to me, like something I'm only beginning to understand. In criticism, I would say I'm quite rigid. My training is originally in classical ballet. Ballet follows a strict structure that can lead to rigidity when translated over to other forms of dance. The bonus is that this training has allowed me to hone the skill of knowing where my body is in space.
As someone new to the art and community, I can see its culture with the fresh eyes of a beginner. In October 2019, I attended my first West Coast Swing weekend event. I was not disappointed. I was welcomed with open arms in a way that made me feel safe and at ease. This is what I love most about the West Coast Swing community. It is a safe place for beginners to learn. It's an environment with contagious eagerness. And like the beginner I was, there was something for me to learn from each new dance partner.
It's the sort of community where you can ask anyone to dance. And odds are, if the person hasn't already committed to dancing with someone else or isn't on the verge of complete exhaustion, the person will say yes. There is also great freedom to ask without the fear of offending someone or following a particular protocol.
West Coast Swing became a part of my life when I most needed it. I used to have a job where I had to work nights. It left me feeling exhausted and worn down on my days off. The job itself was stressful. I often felt inadequate and felt high pressure to do everything right. But then there were the West Coast Swing dances, dances where I could make mistakes, and it didn't matter. In this activity, I could feel the tension leaving my body. I felt alive, and afterwards, my cheeks would hurt from smiling so much.
At this point, I have only learned how to follow. I guess at some point I should learn how to lead, but I don't think I would enjoy it nearly as much. Maybe someday. In the dances I have been to, I have been blessed with excellent leaders, people worth following. In this context, the follower can trust the leader because the leader is good.
The leader and the follower are two distinct roles that create the dance of West Coast Swing. These roles compliment each other to make something grand. The pressure lies with the leader to lead well. The leader has to know what he or she is doing. He has to be aware of the space and movements in a way that protects his partner. It is the leader's responsibility to plan and create. It is a role of high responsibility that corresponds to a higher level of control. In this, there is a freedom to decide what comes next.
There is a different sort of freedom that comes from following. To some extent, you are bound by what the leader wants to do. But within this structure comes the freedom to not worry about what comes next. In it, I can wholly focus on being receptive to what my partner wants. I can focus on following the lead and understanding what makes the movement feel right. I get to do what I would term the most enjoyable movements without the pressure of leading them correctly, with the creative license to add artistic flare. I have the freedom to be in the moment and to think only of the dance.
This freedom comes as I learn to trust my partner. There is risk, perhaps minuscule in comparison to other risks we take in life. But perhaps this partnership in West Coast Swing is meant to be representative, a simple way to understand something more complex.
Within the frame of the dance, there is a certain level of vulnerability. The follower has to let go of control. The follower has to trust. The converse of this is that the leader has to worthy of that trust. The leader has to protect and guide. When the leader and follower accept these roles, something beautiful is created.
I come to the end of the dance, embracing my partner in a friendly hug. I tell him thank you. We made it through. I let go and trusted him, and he proved himself worthy of that trust. I laugh a little, satisfied and happy. And in this moment, I know that sometimes trusting someone else is worth it. Sometimes there is freedom in following, freedom to create and freedom to enjoy the moment.
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