Or what dancing has taught me about life
When I lost my father to cancer in 2011, I was devastated. My dad was the love and center of my life and that of my family’s, and the experience was beyond painful. Dancing was where I mainly sought release and healing. And I haven’t stopped since.
At the time, I was into Brazilian Samba, which is festive, playful, freeing and all about joie de vivre.
Then I combined it with Latin Salsa, which is all about openness, grounding, giving and receiving and setting boundaries.
I was a walk-in student for all the dances that I learned, starting off with Brazilian samba back in 2011. I made a few inquiries, then basically just showed up and winged it, shyness, insecurities and all
Next, I braved Bellydance, which celebrates feminine strength, self-acceptance (body issues!), self-nurturing and overcoming limitations.
Then I fell in love with Flamenco, and it teaches me passion, empowerment, balance and commitment.
Here, I juxtapose specific lessons I got from dancing and the ways they translate to the rest of my life.
I was a walk-in student for all the dances that I learned, starting off with Brazilian samba back in 2011. I made a few inquiries, then basically just showed up and winged it, shyness, insecurities and all. Eventually, I became a solid part of all the groups I chose to join, and I got around to learning each dance to a level that was recital- and even performance-worthy.
Dancing has taught me to have that trust and belief in myself enough to dive headlong into activities that interest me. Fears have a way of disappearing once you ignore and shove them aside, or when you confront them, much like darkness disappearing when you shine a light on it. As my reward, I eventually “found my samba feet,” was able to perform many times with the group in different venues, and was able to imbue my dancing with that festive, joyful and sexy-confident spirit that’s a trademark of Brazilian samba. Such attitudes have definitely spilled over to the way I tend and try to approach life and relationships.
A key thing about flamenco, one that makes it so hard to master and also such a beautiful art form to behold, is that to dance it well and correctly, the upper part of the body has to be stretched upwards towards the heavens and the lower part solidly grounded downwards to the earth—the heaven-earth dichotomy that’s a trademark of the dance. Another must-have is the perfect combination of technique and emotion, as there can be no effective performance if either one was missing or lacking.
In life, this translates for me to work-life balance or having a well-rounded approach to living, achieving my goals without over-focusing on certain areas while neglecting others. It means using stress and time management techniques regularly. Stretching upwards is all about regular meditation and feeding my spiritual side, while grounding is all about carrying out the necessary actions to further my goals, whether they be goals for the day, or for the long-term.
Whenever I set out to learn something, I do it with a specific end in mind. For dancing, it’s usually a scheduled recital or performance, or for use in social dancing. This gives me the incentive to learn the basics right so as to have the right foundation to build upon. Knowing the basics makes correct and effective styling and improvisation possible, as there are no short cuts.
What helps me have a clear purpose in life is being attuned to my core values. With all the things that may draw our attention and use up our energy, it’s good to remind ourselves of what we set out to do in the first place so that we don’t get (too) distracted or waylaid from our true life and soul purpose.
I purposely strove to learn Latin salsa, and consequently other social Latin dances like bachata and kizomba, because these are partner dances and I wanted to learn how to follow a man’s lead—both on the dance floor, and subconsciously translating into real life. For strong, independent women like me, this relating skill does not always come naturally, and I wanted to address the deficit.
I am happy to share that I have significantly learned to be open, to make myself vulnerable, to compromise, to go with the flow, and, of course, to exercise my boundaries when needed, both on and off the dance floor. I continue learning to understand and respect the male psyche more so as to have more fun and spontaneity, and to avoid unnecessary pain and difficulties in the dating arena.
So you think you can dance? You learn the basics in dance class, but the test of the pudding is on the dance floor! When you can follow any guy’s lead; when you know how to listen to the music, tune in to your musicality, and stop counting; when you’ve found your groove and know your preferred music and footgear; when you can dance decently at least, and like a pro at most, with whoever asks you to dance on any given salsa night; when you’ve trained and rehearsed enough to give a noteworthy performance…these are the indicators that yes, you have learned a dance indeed.
Real-life relationships are the best way to gain relationship experience. I wear my battle scars like a badge of honor, and use my learnings to have happier, more fulfilling, and less challenging relationships moving forward.
When I took bellydance classes, I knew that at some point, I would have to don the traditional bellydance costume, which exposes (what else but) my belly for an entire audience to behold. The prospect was more than daunting, but I made it to the finish line—the recital!, where I performed victoriously and joyfully, albeit with “eyes wide shut”! It was pretty much the same in my experience with Brazilian samba, particularly for what we call the fantasia costume, which consists of a bejeweled bra and fringed hot pants, and a headdress which is bigger than the rest of the costume combined. It took me three years before I agreed to wear THAT in a performance! Both bellydance and samba are gloriously sexy and sensual dances that celebrate femininity and the female form, and there is no way one can dance those effectively while crippled with body self-consciousness, let alone self-loathing.
Dancing both brought up my body issues as well as helped me overcome them significantly. My experience with dancing has basically been about getting over my body and on with my life. I will never have the “perfect” size, weight and shape, but this has not prevented me from dancing and performing well, and from looking and feeling good and sexy in my costumes and dance outfits. As long as I’m putting in the effort to be healthy and taking care of my body, I let self-love and attitude take care of the rest.
I had the privilege of being part of the acclaimed flamenco production La Luna Roja in November 2017. I am an intermedio student of Centro Flamenco and the cast for this first Philippine flamenco-ballet included superstar flamenqueros and professional musicians from Spain, and the Centro’s amazing core and advanced level dancers. Our choreographer and director were top-notch artists, which meant the demands were high, the rehearsals grueling, and the high-level production brought about physical, mental and emotional challenges that practically drained us all. The experience was a real test of grace, strength, commitment, and passion!
There is nothing as freeing as busting out of one’s comfort zone. Freedom for me is also about thriving in high stress and demanding situations. It’s breaking free from the confines of one’s ego, enabling one to take instructions well, to take criticism gracefully, to deal with difficult people and situations and stand up for yourself when necessary, to keep going against the odds, and to develop a success mindset that gets you to the finish lines you have set for yourself.
Em Guevara, a long-time lifestyle journalist-turned Professional Life Coach, currently works as a part-time editor and writer at Asian Development Bank. As a Life Coach, she loves helping women to Work Smart, and Love Smart. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.