Dancing and the Dream State
Richard Powers

Everyone has their own pet theory of what dreams are, and what they mean.  With due respect to Jungian dream analysis, current dream research shows that most dreams are a meandering path woven into a story by the "interpreter" function of our brain.  This meandering path is sometimes based on our life, or past dreams, or films we've seen, and sometimes nudged into new directions by the random firing of neurons.

Then once a dream has begun, the interpreter function of our brain then fabricates the next step in the dream from the previous moment.  It's like driving down a winding road at night-time.  You can only see what's in front of your headlights, with no idea what's around the next bend.  The difference is that with a winding road, there is something pre-existing but unseen around the corner, whereas in dreams, what's around the bend doesn't exist yet.  Your dreaming mind will fabricate the next part, just as you get to it.

That's why one of the most common dream scenarios is that you suddenly have an exam that you didn't know about.  Or you've never attended a course that you're taking.  Or you find yourself on stage in front of an audience, to perform a choreography that you've never learned.

The reason why these dreams are so common is because your dreaming mind truly didn't know it was coming.  It hadn't arrived at that bend yet—it just created that exam, class or performance.  Of course you didn't know about it.


In this respect, the Follow role in improvised social dancing is similar to a dream state.  You can only see what's in front of the headlights, so to speak, at the moment.  The next moment is still around the corner, unknown.

For Follows, understanding the significance of this analogy will actually improve your dancing.

When first learning to dance, some Follows approach following as if it were a multiple-choice exam, trying to guess which figure their partners are leading, just in in time, even trying to out-guess what they will lead next.  There are inevitably some misinterpretations, as Follows occasionally launch themselves into a guess, to find out that it was actually something else.

Instead, following works out much better if you stay in the moment, split-second by split-second, as you go through each corner.  Just keep stepping in the timing of the dance and see where it goes.  Enjoy the winding path.


Then many Leads discover that this approach works for them too.  Beginners often think that leading means planning what to do and when, in advance.  Perhaps planning several moves ahead.  And that's how leading is usually done for the first year or so.  Then one day the Lead notices that he's planning less, and spontaneously being with his partner more.  His "informed instinct" has improved to the point where he can sense where her momentum is going, and he stays with her, going through that corner without a plan in mind, discovering with her where it will go, as in a dream state.  The result often flows better for her than a plan that he came up with in advance.  It's fun to discover the path together.

            Your state of mind

The fact that dreams are partially shaped by the random firing of neurons does not mean they are meaningless, or impersonal.  How you respond to these dream scenarios is very much you.  Do you respond to that unexpected exam with confidence, or with dread?  That usually depends on your response to life in general.

Dreams can sometimes be scary.  But since you're awake when you're dancing, you have some control over your response.  Each dance figure begins with the first step.  Just take that first step, with no idea of where it will go next, but with confidence that you'll have some idea what to do when you get to that next corner.  Through practice, this process slowly increases your confidence, as experience increases the frequency of success.  Increased confidence follows success, as you'd expect.

In dancing, it also works the other way around, for both Follows and Leads.  Your success in dancing improves by beginning with a confident attitude — knowing that if it doesn't work out one way, it will work out another way.  With this approach, you'll enjoy dancing more, and so will your partners.  They'll quickly see that you're having fun, with a more confident air, and that you also trust that your partner will work things out well, one way or another.  Your partner will sense that trust and ready-for-anything attitude.

Self-confidence isn't thinking that things will always turn out in your favor.  Self-confidence is knowing that (1) you can usually make them turn out well, one way or another, and (2) that you're adaptable enough to quickly synchronize with the direction things are going.

They say that in life, you become what you practice.  You can practice dancing through winding paths in the safe environment of the dance floor.  Then you can apply this approach to your other activities, with confidence.

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