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Social Dancing Woes: Part 1

Why you need to stop worrying and enjoy the music.

Bangalore, India is the city I live in. I was born and raised here. Bangalore is 15557 kms from Havana, Cuba; 15015 kms from Santo Domingo; and 7504 kms from Luanda. Yet, on four or five nights of every week, you could go out to a club where a DJ plays music from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Angola and several enthusiasts of Afro Caribbean culture gather and dance the night away.

The people at these socials are of all kinds. The Social is a real melting pot of careers, languages, religions and nationalities, united by their love for dances and music from thousands of kilometres away. I feel especially happy to be hosting and facilitating one such Social with my colleagues. It gives us much satisfaction to watch dancers get together, network, de-stress, have a few laughs and connect through these events. We have over the past few decades, collectively managed to create a community of Afro-Latin music and dances; albeit a small and niche one.

Yet, in the smallest of communities, the smallest of disagreements can cause waves of tension amongst members. Here’s an example from our local community: The social we host every Wednesday has, since its inception, been an SBK social. We decided early on to play near equal amounts of all kinds of music, Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba. We wanted to be inclusive. What we found was that in this equal playing field, there is a race to be first among equals. There’s an unfounded insecurity that one or the other style is being overlooked. Whispers are often heard that one should “not go to ABC party”, because there isn’t enough XYZ music there.

It bothers you as an organiser when members of your community are unhappy with your event and insinuate partiality or bias. So my colleagues and I had several conversations with each other, our DJs and organisers of other events to understand this problem. Here are some of our findings:

  1. DJs at an SBK social genuinely attempt to play an even ratio of the three genres. However, the DJs job is to play for the crowds, and on a given night when the crowd at large is responding better to a certain kind of music more than others, a few more tracks from that genre might slip into their sets.

  2. The DJs spend tons of time researching and curating their music. They watch and learn from other DJs, constantly upskill and really try to cultivate their taste in music by exposing themselves to different kinds of material. DJing requires not only skill, but also artistry. The DJ at your local social is an artist (or one in the making) and we as an audience owe it to them to respect that artistry. We do this by trusting them to do what they do and go on the journey they’ve designed for us.

  3. There’s good music of all kinds, and while we might all have preferences in terms of what we like to dance, being open to exploration and discovery is never something you’ll regret.

  4. Your supposition that there wasn’t enough of your preferred genre played, is most likely a confirmation bias. When we are hyper focused on something we tend to develop a myopia of sorts and miss the big picture. For instance, on the same night, we’ve been told that there was too much bachata by one person and too little bachata by another!

Organisers and DJs alike love it when their audiences have a good time at their socials, and want nothing more than for everyone to walk away happy. This utopian expectation is not always met, unfortunately and sometimes people are bound to walk away less than satisfied. It’s a reality I’m learning to live with as an organiser.

As a dancer however, I almost always get my money’s worth from every social I go to. How do I do that?

1. Prepare my mental space.

It is important to walk into a Social having shed your day’s baggage at the door. Hit pause on all your troubles as you step in and think of the forthcoming few hours as a therapeutic break from reality. Let the next few hours be about the movement and interactions you experience on the dance floor.

Prepare physically.

Dress for the occasion. Carry your dance shoes, a change of clothes for extra hot nights, deo spray, etc. Have a light snack.

2. Focus on the fun aspect of my dance interactions. A social is designed to be just that- Social. Try to approach each interaction with zero% judgement and 100% empathy.

(Of course, acknowledge the fact that everyone has boundaries.)

3. Be curious, not judgemental-

Walt Disney famously said this. I try to approach all kinds of movement with the same attitude- Curiosity. The decision to do this paid off for me personally in a big way. I was someone who danced Salsa and Bachata exclusively. I had no interest in exploring kizomba and had several preconceived notions about it until one day I gave it a shot and every judgement I had made previously got shot to hell!

I can now dance to 100% of all songs played at every social. Paisa vasool!

4. Don’t like a particular dance style??? That’s fine too. Take this time to get to know a few folks. There’s no bigger takeaway from social dancing than the opportunity it gives you to network with people. This is true around the world! As part of the Afro-Latin community, you have the rare opportunity to fit in, anywhere in the world, thanks to the nature of social dancing.

In conclusion, I will take you back to the fact that SBK have travelled thousands of kilometres to be here with us and bring us together. Let’s enjoy the fact that it is possible for us to experience these cultures and let’s not sweat the small stuff!

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