One question everyone asks me
Dance, dancers and dance classes are all increasing every day in India. There is a dance at every corner of the street teaching some form or the other. Is it good? Are they teaching what is right? Is the quality of shiksha given the way it should be?
Today, most students going to a dance class feel they are going to a magician. They feel a dance teacher is a someone who has some supernatural powers who with his or her miraculous blessing teach the dance and its technique within a few days or may be a weekend or if it is difficult may be a 10-day workshop. Many have forgotten that a dance is an art that takes a lifetime of learning and a short lived dance learning only produces half-baked products and no one really enjoys a semi-cooked meal.
When I was just a new pup in the dancing scene, I thought as soon as I lapped up a few more moves and took a few more classes, I would be a good dancer. I tried to go to every class possible, thinking I was just a few classes away from being the best dancer.
Well, here’s the good, bad and ugly. You can have fun dancing in the first four to 12 weeks, plus or minus six-18 months, depending on personality and previous dance experience. If you want to be an elite dancer, the average is a three to five year work in progress to get to the upper 20%, then another three to five years to get into the top few percent. By the way, with my personal experience, these are exact timelines, with no room for variations.
It has taken me almost 15 years to be recognised as a good dancer. When I was new, I thought dancing was easy and in a few months, I would achieve stardom. I watched hundreds and hundreds of dancer and dances. And would think to myself, ‘Look at all those other guys doing it’. Some were heavier, smarter, dumber, less coordinated, uglier, older, younger, less athletic, less coordinated, unable to rub their tummy and patted their head at the same time. A few looked like they needed medication to calm down a bit. It seemed if they could do it, so could I and today I know the new guys on the dance floor look at me that way.
If you could dance anything, including the Munnis, Sheelas and the Macarenas, a little Michael Jackson moonwalking, jazz, ballet and/or pole, river or country line dancing, and you would do it in public in front of a group of people. You would probably be having fun in a week’s range. If you did gymnastics, martial arts, cheerleading or other sports requiring balance and body control, your timeline would be significantly shorter than some others. If you are like me, someone who never danced in their lives, it may be a little toward the longer end of that scale. Remember fun doesn’t take long but real competence does.
Here’s the funny thing: It really doesn’t matter except you! Nobody looks at me and says, “What a loser, he took two years to do things others were doing in six months.” In some areas, I started much slower than others but I’ve also blown past many of my peers who started with me because I worked on fundamentals longer then most, which allowed me to accelerate my learning after a certain tipping point. But there are always a bunch of new people starting to dance and they don’t know I was a slow starter.
I remember my teachers telling me, “Sandip, just have fun, enjoy the music and the company of your partner.” Well, guess what? I’m the type of person who doesn’t find my personal incompetence fun. For me, I needed a baseline of skills and it is then that I started to have fun with it. I see other guys having fun the first few weeks they are dancing. But I hated asking someone to dance with this type of line: “Would you like to dance? Oh…! by the way, I only know about two-three moves, and I’m not sure how they really fit together yet, so be patient with me…”
There are some people who have looked like me during their start-up period, but their personality is such that they didn’t care. I wish I were that type of personality sometimes, but that is just not within my comfort zone. But I always knew once I passed a certain point, I would also be having fun and I wanted to be in that above average group.
Today, most of the time I have a great time, but I always look forward to being a stronger dancer. It’s certainly like all the other arts, you never truly master dancing, you simply learn how to enjoy the ride and look forward to the next step in the journey.
Now, even as a more mature pup, I still drool sometimes, watching the more mature dancers and wanting to be at that level. But we all get to a point where the ride is fun, even if we get a few bugs in our mouth along the way.
If you are wondering when you’ll be good, realise that “good” is a sliding scale that changes as you become more mature. Instead of shooting for being “good” by date XX, you might consider getting better regularly, picking up new tricks every week or month. What is fascinating is if you just don’t stop, and you continue to learn, you’ll look back and be amazed at your progress.
Keep taking lessons and classes, dance as much as you can, find a few other people at your level, and keep refining what you know. You may do it faster or slower than me, but don’t stop learning. Enjoy your ride and stick your head out the window, enjoying the music blowing by: it’s worth the effort. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing slowly… very slowly.
I will close my article today by quoting my guru Ms Ewa Maria. She would always tell me, ‘Sandip, for a dancer. Dance is life. When we go through ups and downs of life, we don’t stop living, we keep going. Same way keep learning and come what may never stop dancing.’
Sandip Soparrkar is a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement Award and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]