We all have our passions — the things that get us really excited, that we love to talk about endlessly, that we happily allow to devour our precious free time and energy. But have you ever felt suddenly bored with something that was once your passion? That happened to me earlier this year with a hobby that has claimed much of the last six years of my life: social dancing. And after having a fantastic time at a latin dance party last night, I felt inspired to share the story of how my passion revived after languishing for months.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, “social dancing” is partner dancing that is completely improvised (in other words, not choreographed) and is usually done with a different partner for each song. At a typical dance with a good number of people, it’s unusual to dance more than two or three times in a night with the same person, and then only if you really enjoy dancing with each other. Your dance partners may be people you know, but more often they are strangers or acquaintances from the dance scene. Social dancing comes in many flavors — swing, balboa, blues, tango, salsa, bachata, cumbia, cha-cha, merengue, west coast swing, hustle, and contra, not to mention all the classic ballroom styles, fusion styles, and probably dozens more that I’ve never heard of.
Opportunities to social dance exist in any decent-sized city, but they aren’t always very visible, and it would be easy to live your whole life without ever stumbling upon such an event. So how does one come to be part of this world?
For me it happened towards the end of college, when I was persuaded to join the campus ballroom dancing group by a friend who was the director of its annual show. I had never danced before in my life, apart from a short-lived and ill-fated excursion into ballet at around age seven, but I joined the competitive ballroom team with the most fantastic partner a girl like me could ask for — someone just as clueless and just as invested in practicing and winning competitions as I was (i.e. not at all). Despite our lack of dedication, we managed to absorb the basics of most of the competitive ballroom styles, and we actually went to one competition (alas, no ribbons for us).
But at the end of the year, my partner graduated and moved away, and I admitted to myself that while I was totally enamored of dancing, the strict rules and scary makeup of competitive ballroom were not exactly my jam. (No offense to my ballroom friends! Props to you who have the patience to chase that sequined perfection.) I was also dancing in the group’s annual choreographed show, but working on the same four-minute piece with the same people for the whole year didn’t provide much room for growth as a dancer. Thus my transition to the world of social dance.
I started out in the swing and blues scene, a loosely organized affair full of friendly people, with more than its fair share of anachronistic and counter-culture types. Swing is a general term describing a collection of styles danced to jazz music. And when I say jazz, I don’t mean any of this new-fangled intellectual stuff but jazz from when jazz was pop, as well as modern interpretations of this musical style. Blues is danced to — you guessed it — blues music, and it’s a very interpretive, vernacular kind of dance that is much more focused on expressing the music and connecting to your partner than on executing “moves” per se.
For years, my social life largely revolved to around going to swing and blues dance events, choreographing performances in these styles, and teaching other people to dance them. But after a while, my interest began to wane. I would go out dancing and not feel the same thrill and satisfaction that I used to experience. I was content to just sit on the sidelines and listen to the music, or stay at home and not bother trekking all the way downtown for a dance event. What happened to all that passion?
It turns out, a little change of scenery was all I needed to get it back. Last spring, I decided to take some salsa classes to rev up my mediocre salsa skills before I travel to Colombia this September. Diving into this fresh musical genre and dance style reminded me what I loved about social dancing in the first place, which had somehow fallen by the wayside as I focused more and more on improving as a dancer.
The beautiful thing about social dance is that it fulfills a deep human need for positive, physical connection with other people. As I explained it to someone a few days ago, social dance is spontaneous, non-verbal communication between two people, maybe complete strangers, for a few minutes at a time with no expectations for the future. That’s what I love about it, and that’s why I do it.
It’s not about challenging my body and mind — I love becoming stronger and more agile, but I could get that from a competitive sport. It’s not about looking amazing and impressing other people — that can be incredibly gratifying, but if that were my goal I would focus on choreography and performance. It’s not even about the music — I love nothing more than making music and expressing the music of others with my body, but I don’t need a partner for that.
No, the real reason I social dance is because it creates a unique kind of human connection that is deeply satisfying to me. Once I understood this, the life came back to my dancing. I’m more excited than ever to go out, learn more, and practice this beautiful art form.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s totally normal to go through phases of waxing and waning engagement the various things in our lives, not just our hobbies but also our work, our homes, our friends, and even our romantic partners. When the enthusiasm for your passion wanes, it’s helpful to take time to reflect on why you chose that thing in the first place. Maybe you need a change of scenery, like I did, to remind you of the real meaning and value in that choice. And if you find that the value it once had no longer holds true, it might be time to move on. But hopefully, if it really is your passion, you will find that going back to its roots will bring it to life again.