by Martha Ogasawara (11/99)

I'm sure that anyone who has been dancing for very long has faced the same dilemma. Is it better, in terms of what you're learning, to keep going forward, or is it sometimes necessary to stand still? I recently stood at the same crossroads and thought I would share a few of my thoughts with you.

I personally am involved with several forms of dancing. I do square dancing and round dancing in addition to C/W line dancing. Both square and round dancing are organized so that there are naturally built-in plateaus. Once you reach a certain level, you are encouraged to stop and dance at that level for awhile before you move on to the next one. But this is not necessarily true for line dancing. Although many dances are labeled as being, say "high beginner" or "intermediate/advanced", this distinction is often in the eye of the beholder. A dance that may be considered simple to an experienced dancer will often seem very complex to a relative newcomer. Not only that, but there is not really any way of judging when you have progressed from being a beginner dancer to an intermediate dancer or from an intermediate dancer to an advanced dancer. Basically, all you can do is keep learning more and more new dances until Eventsually you can keep up with the hard ones.

But often times a lot is lost in the struggle to keep up with all of the latest dances. All of your energy can go to learning all those new dances, when perhaps it might have been better spent towards improving your basic dance skills. Lately, it seems like there is a never-ending supply of great new dances just waiting to be learned. But therein lies the catch - the supply is truly never-ending. No matter how hard you try, you can never learn them all.

This year at our dance group we made a conscious decision to more or less put a hiatus on the number of new dances we would learn. Since we only dance once or twice a month, it takes us awhile to really get a dance down well. Therefore this past year we decided to concentrate our energies on quality rather than quantity. We wanted to learn just a few dances really well, rather than a lot of dances just sort of. Also, we wanted to spend some time reviewing our favorite dances from years past.

This was especially hard for me. I've always enjoyed the challenge of new dances, both as an instructor and as a dancer. I tend to have a low boredom threshold and easily get tired of doing the same old dances over and over again. Not only that, but I've always worked hard to keep abreast of all the latest dances. So what I ended up having to do was go "cold turkey". I basically cut myself off from all of my sources of new dances. That way, I wouldn't be able to keep finding "this great new dance we've just gotta learn!".

And what did I learn from this experience? I learned that moving forward (i.e. learning more dances) is not always the same as progressing. Sometimes you can learn just as much or more by standing in one place. I learned to redirect my energy away from learning new dances to polishing the ones I already know. I did this by giving myself some concrete goals to work towards - making my turns more crisp, improving my timing by really listening to the music, staying conscious of my foot positions, keeping my dancing centered, etc. etc.. And of course it's easiest to concentrate on that when doing a dance you already know well. In this way, even the simplest beginner dance can become a challenge, but only if you make it that way.

Then, do I think that everyone should try and limit the number of dances they learn? Not at all! Everyone's dance career will have it's own ebb and flow. There are times when it's best to just charge ahead. But if you find that lately, the more dances you learn, the less satisfaction you get from them, than perhaps it's time to stand still for a little and reconsider your own priorities. In the long run, you'll be thankful you did.