How to tune into your senses?
From the very beginning of your life, you investigate the outer and inner world using your senses, not only for learning purposes, but also for emotional processing. And dancing is primarily about sensing and feeling.
Your emotional reactions can also be guided by your thoughts. How often are you judging yourself and your partner while dancing, thinking about mistakes or trying to do the movement correctly? Doing the movement and sensing it are two very different states. Doing is more associated with thinking while sensing is a state of awareness and presence. It is your sensory capacity which will make your dancing magical, for you and for others.
If something that you see, smell, touch, taste or hear feels bad, you will reject it. What you sense triggers a feeling. You would also associate different sensory qualities in your dancing with different emotional words like smooth touch, bright look, pleasant scent or salty kiss at the end of a competition. The feelings rising out of sensing can be the safety of a smooth touch, the happiness of a bright look, the arousal caused by a pleasant scent or the gratefulness of a salty taste.
Your senses and emotions go hand in hand, like dancing with another person.
But the term “sense” has many meanings. Be aware of and also explore your sensory potential, which exists beyond traditionally recognized senses by which the body perceives external stimuli. Your “intuitive sense” and your “good/common sense” will guide you in resolving problems and challenges. Only your entire energy resonance will connect you with others in the most complete way.
Partnering is sensing
How to feel yourself and your partner better?
Partnering involves the experience of your own sensing and your partner’s subjective state of sensing. By activating and tuning into your senses, by awakening them, you are ready to perceive, to partner.
First you have to switch off the noise in your head. Stopping thoughts is essential to start feeling your energy effectively. When you are possessed by your thoughts, you are not truly aware of your senses.
Sensing means being present, here and now. Already by putting two fingertips together you become aware of the touch, you perceive it. A small gesture like that immediately makes you present, not by thinking about it but sensing it. When your mind focuses on that sensation, it uses less of its energy for the head and quiets your thinking naturally. Being in tune with your senses means being in a state of awareness, therefore present.
Your dominant sense is sight. You perceive up to 80% of all impressions by means of your sight. For the quality of your partnering this is an important fact. Seeing is extremely important for all kinds of reactions.
In Latin, the sight refers to your partner and your perception of performing in space. Latin style allows a range of looser connections, even without the touch. If you don’t see your partner's movement, you will not be able to react to it fully. As it is impossible to play Ping Pong with eyes closed, it is impossible to partner in Latin if you don't see your partner, especially when you dance without a physical connection.
In Ballroom, due to consistent body contact, the usage of sight is different, dancers use sight to focus on the performing area (orientation on the floor, floor-craft). Nowadays, some women in Ballroom dancing are extended so far back, that what they see mostly is the ceiling and not the performance area.
Touch is the first sense that humans develop after being born. Pressure, temperature, vibration and pain are all part of the touch sense and are attributed to different receptors in the skin. Fingertips are very sensitive, as well as hands, lips, face, neck, tongue and feet. Be aware of this, try not to touch your partner in a way that includes just muscles and joints. The real transmitter of information is the skin. Touch mostly with awareness of your skin, especially with fingertips as they are the most equipped with nerve endings, every fingertip has more than 3000 touch receptors. Mind the length of your nails, so that your fingertips can be fully in function.
What to do when the pressure of the touch doesn’t feel right? Men often apply higher touch pressure than women, and women would then comment that the feeling of the connection is too strong or firm. And the opposite, men would often wish to sense the woman's touch as a bit more concrete, fuller and filled in with the sense of her body weight. Touching with particular pressure (soft, light or strong, hard) will influence how you feel that touch.
Does it feel right? It is important to recognize that feeling. If it is not right, you need to adjust it both ways, as a touch receiver and as a touch giver.
When you go shopping and you see an item of clothing you like, you first touch it and then you decide if you will try it on. And only when the touch of it on your skin feels right, then you buy it.
Different types of touch that you receive from your partner will evoke different feelings, after thoughts and reactions. For instance, hardness of touch may evoke mental concepts of stability and rigidity. Roughness can lead to thoughts of difficulty, while heaviness conjures up impressions of importance and being grounded. Your touch, when softer and warmer, can signalize safety and trust, it can calm down or even invigorate your partner. The potential of senses can connect us beyond the actual physicality.
Every person feels and reacts to touch differently. You need to recognize what kind of touch suits that particular moment in your dancing. Ask your partner for a feedback, discover your magic touch together. Even iPhones have smooth, rounded edges in order to convey a sense of ease. Touching means closeness, it bridges the distances that separate you from your partner.
Using common sense in dance connections
Latin-American countries, the expression for a dance hold is abrazo – embrace. Dance partners do not hold each other, but merge into one moving unity. The connotation of “hold” can indicate inappropriate muscle toning, so I would suggest the term connection. Connection manners should transmit the feeling of acceptance, welcoming another person.
In Latin dancing, physical contact mostly occurs through hands, arms and through the frame-embrace. Only a few figures are danced with full body contact.
The touch is an exchange of energy; it talks. But only if you are self-connected first, by feeling your body from within. When your hands are in an imaginary connection with your own gravity center and solar plexus, then you provide to your dance partner the feeling of wholeness and body weight. Connecting points – hands, arms or frame-embrace – should always be calm and under control to allow the information to be transmitted clearly. You have to learn to talk and to listen through touching, because you are giving and receiving through touch nearly simultaneously.
The fullness of connection can be recognized by embracing all three spatial dimensions – vertical, horizontal and sagittal (the depth). You can incorporate the sense of all three dimensions in every connection with your partner, being connected just with hands or in frame-embrace. Perception of your own vertical dimension will increase your sense of body weight. Acknowledgement of the horizontal dimension will increase the sense and intention of merging together into a shared world. The awareness of the sagittal dimension will wrap everything around and add the sense of depth, surrender and embrace.
The management of space within yourself and between you and your partner will allow efficiency in execution of spatial structures with awareness.
Every dance style has specific connecting manners which protect the character of the dance.
In Ballroom style, Tango has the most intimate and unique frame-embrace which is different from other Ballroom dances. Nowadays, it is unfortunately often substituted by an exaggerated, as big as possible frame. The male right palm is therefore in another place. The same goes for other Ballroom dances, many male dancers are placing their right palm nearly under the woman's armpit. The message of that kind of “new fashion” frames is quite opposite from its original symbolic meaning. Frame-embrace was supposed to speak about coming together, merging into one and not the opposite. In general, the grace and function of the vertical dimension has been overpowered by the horizontal one.
In Latin, due to no rule regarding consistent physical contact, the variety of connection designs is endless. In Ballroom, there is a clear standard: the man's left and the woman's right hand are merging. In Latin, the standard, which was introduced by Mr. Walter Laird – the hands are held palm to palm – is disappearing. Connection manners that acknowledge fingertips and hand embrace are often neglected. On the other hand, you are used to being fingertip sensitive, you would rely on the magic of your fingertips all the time using your touch screens.
Hand connections in Latin are not necessarily providing the connection when they are merely holds. Many male dancers are holding their partner's right hand around the outside edge of the hand, with their thumb far over the woman’s wrist. Is this for protection or control? It could be seen as grabbing, when it should be more humanly connected. A simple hand shake teaches us how to embrace each other's hand as a sign of acceptance.
Mr.Walter Laird and Miss Lorraine Reynolds, International Championships, 1962
You immediately feel when there is a good vibration between you and your partner. The right “intonation”, the energetic linkage is based on trust and the feeling of safety.
How to provide the sense of safety for you and your partner? It can all be done by paying enough attention to your own sense of being grounded and being aware of your breathing. Take a deep breath and then you trust. With taking a breath you are moving yourself, your conceptual mind out of the way. And then you are ready to meet your partner. Try to really see each other before you connect physically. Touch each other, feel the softness and the warmth of skin, step into each other’s energetic coat consciously and let the energy run. The flow of your energy is meeting the flow of your partner’s energy. It is only through movement that meeting is possible.
Your energy will flow where your attention will go. Therefore, it is of vital importance for you and your partner to activate senses and tune into them. Being connected through senses, energy and breath takes you to another level, where your physical readiness and liveliness is meeting your emotional and spiritual dimension.
To achieve that, it is important that you give space and time to each other. You need to be ready to listen, not only with your ears, but with your entire sensory capacity. There is a saying: “When you speak, you speak about something that you already know, but when you listen, you might learn something new.” Listening can make you bigger; by listening, you master your compassion.
Dancing hand in hand, together – to get there.
Source of inspiration
Vermey, Ruud. Latin – Thinking, sensing and doing in Latin American Dancing. Kastell Verlag, 1994
Laird, Walter. Technique of Latin Dancing (1st edition 1961, 6 times revised). London: IDTA, 1988