Flexible Doesn't Mean Sloppy
Richard Powers

Some of my students were raised in a relatively strict tradition where there is only one correct way to do anything.  Therefore their first reaction to the flexibility of social dancing is that it feels sloppy or incorrect.  Or they may get the idea that, "there is no correct way to dance."

Compare these two statements:

                       There's no right way to dance.

                     There's no one right way to dance.

These two statements, differentiated by a single word, are almost the opposite of the other.  The second one is saying, "There are many right ways to dance."

And about that first statement, I'd like to clarify that there are definitely better ways to do social dancing, and they involve precise skills.  Flexible doesn't mean sloppy.  For instance, partnering techniques are quite specific, and are constantly fine-tuned.

One student at a Waltz Weekend was raised in a strict one-way-only tradition, and at first she had difficulty with the overlap of two kinds of flexibility.  She was hearing that (1) there is more than one correct way to do a dance form, and that (2) each partner is a bit different from other partners.  When these two variables combined, it seemed like chaos to her, and she was uncomfortable with this at first.

She preferred that the teacher tell her that there is only one correct version of each social dance (which simply isn't true, sorry).  And she wanted the teacher to work on the men until each of them danced exactly alike, so she wouldn't have to adapt to differences from one partner to the next. (And that's never going to happen either.)

But as the weekend progressed, she warmed up to both kinds of flexibility.   And she came back to the following year's Waltz Weekend, then to the third, and the fourth.  From her initial negative reaction, the combination of these two kinds of flexibility has become her favorite part of social dancing.

Similarly, when I read student essays, I find that the students who are most enthusiastic about this flexibly adaptive approach to life are the ones who came from the opposite tradition, initially expecting there to be only one correct answer for anything.  They had the greater revelation, and they loved it.

The bottom line is that whether your initial response to flexible adaptation is warm or cold, it's a fact of life, in a world that is changing faster than ever.  And many of my students have told me that these instant-adaptation skills, that they learned in social dance class, not only made them better dancers, but also helped them in their careers.

I want to clarify that my advice is not because I have a personal affinity for alternate paths.  I'm quite grounded and pragmatic, with a Stanford Masters degree in engineering.  What I'm saying is that when you realistically analyze the dynamics of social dance, you ascertain that (1) after many decades of evolution, there are now many different ways to do any given social dance form, not just one.  And (2) each of your partners is different, and you adapt to their differences.  It's the true nature of the situation.

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Whether your personal preference is rule-based or highly creative, social dancing is always in constant flux.  So is life.

The ability to adapt to a changing situation is a skill, one that will save you many times throughout your life, beyond dancing.

Adapting to changing situations also keeps us engaged in the present moment and more alive.  Be here now.

And we learn more by adapting to dance partners.

And we become a friendlier and more skilled dance partner.

It's not sloppy.

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