Dance Proudly In Your Own Skin

Have you ever been told in a dance class that you need to look more like somebody else when you dance?

I have, like so many others, been exposed to this idea that the way you look is okay, but it’s nothing compared to this other person doing amazing things over there.

I can approach this from many angles on many layers, as both a dancer, student, and teacher. Truly, no matter the hobby, we are all individuals, and nothing can change that. Let me explain this from my point of view as a dancer in the Latin scene..

Photo by Leah Roth

Photo by Leah Roth

I am a white, Jewish American who loves to do Latin dances. No, I didn’t grow up around them. I was born in Kansas where I started dancing classical forms, and later trained harder in them once my family and I moved to Atlanta. It wasn’t until I was in college that I heard a salsa song and really listened to it for the first time. Does that mean I love it less? The answer, of course, is no. I can love salsa just as much as someone who has grown up around it their whole life. For some reason, some people in the Latin dance scene may have a low expectation of me to succeed in salsa on first glance because I am not, let’s say, Jennifer Lopez. Being white has nothing to do with my ability to have “rhythm,” or not have it, for that matter. I have rhythm because I love music and hear it as a science.

The same can be said for other genres, like ballet, for example. Misty Copeland became the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, and the world went wild. It is inspiring as she broke the mold as a black woman in a typically”white” dance world who is an amazing ballerina. Just think of how many incredible dancers representing all genres are out there- Asian, Indian, Filipino, and thousands more- and they are wonderful dancers, just because they are and they wanted to be and they worked hard to be, not because of the color of their skin.

I have every inch of respect for the history of Latin dance, knowing the race and culture from which it stems from. In fact, I think it is important for us to know as much dance history as possible, not just from one genre, but from all of the genres, because when we get to the bottom of it, dance is dance, and we are all trying to get as much joy from it as possible. Understanding the influencers of this genre allows me a gateway of relation to grasp the feeling. Of course, race is a touchy subject in any conversation. But I think it is worthwhile to base dance instruction for dances like salsa, bachata, rumba, etc, on what it is supposed to feel like. when you can both physically and mentally grasp the feeling, it will show on the outside, not only to you, but to others.

I open, welcome, and embrace all of those who want to dance, and I will not hold them to any different standard based upon the color of their skin. I tend to look at everybody, and I mean every BODY, because physically, we are all built differently, and we also all learn differently. So, the next time that you are in a dance class, and you are told to look more like someone else, feel free to reply with pride, “how can I look like them when I look like me?” You are you, and it cannot be changed. Instead, teachers should be trying to help you become your best self in whatever you choose to do. The key is to help dance students grow, develop, and progress, NOT to morph them into someone else. As corny as it is, just be yourself (: