Dancing in Your Head – or – Kinesthetic Learning?

Every once in a while someone shows up in one of our classes that is confused as to their process of learning. A couple of years ago I had a very sweet, articulate and intelligent lady tell me that she was a kinesthetic learner, so my giving her information on how to be on balance was of no use to her. Yet when she went to stand on one leg her hips were frozen and she could not fully acquire an axis. Still she said, “I will learn to dance by following my husband.” I have seen this work with women that are very good at being in their body and if the men she dances with are well balanced and have enough skill to dance for two. But it has its limits and won’t take you to the heights that can be obtained by developing understanding, discipline and technique.

Ultimately she and her husband decided to do private lessons. I asked her indulgence in some mechanical coaching – at first she resisted, but she was resisting strangely enough because she was trapped in her head and she subscribed to a notion that women inherently dance better than men. This had led her to believe that whatever was going wrong in her dancing was the fault of her husband. Yet she was not maintaining an axis and yanking on her poor husband to the point he couldn’t even walk.

Geeks and Nerds

Live in your head dance in your head...

She thought she was in her body, but she was in her head… I could tell because her gaze was turned inward and her eyes were looking up and to the left, she was surrendering too much of her own balance to his lead. This caused her to loose her sense of her own body because she was allowing her steps to be his steps instead of feeling the lead and then taking a step, she was waiting until he dragged her from her axis and then she had no grounding or center. From where I stood it was an easy fix because the mechanical issue was easy to remedy: she simply didn’t have her body over her foot as she walked. We did impulse training and soon she was taking a step with the leader instead of making him drag her off of her axis.

In the end she did eventually realize she had been dancing in her head and not in her body. She is a professional woman with a PhD. She had lived in her head getting her degree and she lived in her head as she practiced her profession. Like so many academics, she had unconsciously slipped into a life style where she subconsciously believed her body was a vehicle to carry her head from point A to point B.

She had this revelation one night as she and her husband were doing the impulse training exercises I had designed for them. She said suddenly she was moving with a lithe and grace that she had never expected and suddenly she and her husband were floating together for a few moments. She said broke down and wept. When she finally got in touch with her body and began to move with grace and willingness, she realized how far from her connected to her own body she had been. She said this realization provoked a sadness that she had been so disconnected, but at the same time it released an elated joy in finding that she was graceful after all.

Men are renowned for doing this with emotions; they think they are in their intellect when they are actually acting out an emotion like anger or frustration.

If you are to learn something kinesthetically it is a good thing, but you won’t learn it from the right side of your brain. You will learn it by getting into your body, moving and listening to gravity as you go. So perhaps the oxymoron is if you “think” you are a kinesthetic learner, perhaps your brain says that to keep you from leaving your brain alone while you journey into your body. You will need to turn on your observer, turn off your thinking brain and allow the body to move freely, without forcing or micromanaging your activities.

The younger you are the easier it is to get in touch with your body, perhaps because as we educate and age our opinions and habits slowly send us further into our intellect instead of into our bodies. This is why – on the average the younger the quicker you will learn to dance. Some people do learn to dance just by dancing, but you won’t do that while hanging around in your head. And even that may have limits as to how well you can grow into an advanced dancer.

If feel you are having trouble connecting to your body, try playing. Playing has the potential to take you into your body in ways the intellect cannot. Plus it has the power to reconnect you with your body in the pure ways we did as children. Roll on the carpet, tumble, jump, run, kick, skipping. Play leap frog. Move in “contact improvisational” methods (Contact Improv Website) to get better at reading your partner.

Role Playing is a popular method of learning tango and is the fundamental ways in which all dance is taught. It is basically walking through patterns and movements that we are taught or observe in others. But this method of learning only goes so far and will leave the connection to your partner your body as it moves around your partner weak and contrived. Though this type of learning is valuable and necessary, in the end we are only acting like we are dancing tango by imitating what we think we see.

Creative Playing can be very useful in learning tango. Creative play would be diverging from tango the dance to find body skill sets that already exist within us that relate to how we function in the dance. Everyone has something they have done with their body that they already know how to do, like wrestling, martial arts, ballet, running, sports, walking et cetera. Try moving with your partner as you intentionally mess up our own posture so you learn the consequences and results of imbalance and posture. Wrap your arms around one another and try to mold and shape with one another into as many forms and shapes as your flexibility will allow. A gentle standing tickle session can be enlightening. Chasing one another around the room trying to corner or trap one another is helpful. Taking turns being leader and follower can open new doors of learning.

Constructive Playing helps your kinesthetic awareness. Try looking at the shapes and movements in tango and walk very slowly in and out of these shapes as effortlessly as possible. Look at the shape and juxtapositions of each partner, create that shape in the two of you, now walk back or forward one step, and then move back into the shape (Keeping mind that sometimes the shape is derived by being in ). Notice as you try this exercise: Are we still in our embrace? Is our embrace still comfortable? Are we facing each other? Can we soften and be malleable as we maintain this shape?

This type of exploration can help you break down the dance into its fundamental states of walking around each other and can offer new ways of communicating and interacting in the dance – and in so doing many times we come up with a new steps or patterns that are better suited to our kinesthetic abilities. Many times a self-constructed pattern is easier to learn, remember and use on the dance floor than one that is handed to us by an instructor or another dancer.

If you have lost touch with your body you can be reintroduced to your body via your brain so long as you engage the intuitive (right) side of your brain more than you engage the logical (left) side of the brain. If you find yourself trying to over analyze a movement, let go and move – pull out the stops, stop stopping and walk around the room until your footfalls are in unison with your partner once again! In these moments try something more playful, something less challenging – or something startlingly challenging to snap you out of your head and back into your body.

Thoughts to live and dance by…
Love & Light,