My friend Anderson and I have created a tradition of visiting Harbin Hot Springs about once a month. It's a hippie-fueled nudist hot springs resort. The cafeteria serves really good healthy food, the library is a nice quiet place to catch up on reading, and the sun deck is a nice place to sit out and get your vitamin D. What draws me, though, are the large warm pools and the lack of internet access, a combination which conspires to give me a chance to stare off into space and ponder things.
Harbin also hosts events every day, most of them reaching so high into the hippie scale that I can't imagine showing up for them. Last week was an "unconditional dance party", which I'm told is a room full of free spirits dancing around as bizarrely as possible. Needless to say, I watched the clock carefully to make sure that we were busy during the hours of the dance, so that there would be no chance of attending it.
When I brought it up to Anderson, he told me a story:
Some of us, including his girlfriend, went to Bay to Breakers, an annual foot race / citywide party which is characterized by blisteringly fast Africans running and drunk revelers in furry costumes walking down the racecourse.
We were neither running nor costumed, which ended up causing a bit of a situation. When Anderson's girlfriend spotted some friends getting drunk and marching around in costumes, she left us to hang out with them. When he asked her about it later, she told him that she didn't want to spectate; she wanted to participate. We weren't part of the event like her friends, we were just watching it pass by.
This affected him, because he realized that it was true. So, he told me, he didn't really want to go to the dance either, but if he did go, I could count on him dancing as hard as anyone else. Full participation.
I sat in the large pool after hearing that and pondered it. When I travel I'm never content to spectate. I always participate as fully as possible. Back in the homeland, though, I do sometimes just spectate. I decided that I would make a point to recognize the difference and act accordingly.
My opportunity to do so came sooner than expected, at an event called the Superhero Street fair. My friends were all going to the event, and I had joined with no knowledge beyond the fact that I'd get to make and wear a cape. When we showed up, I realized that I had just paid to get into a techno dance party. Four stages with an equal amount of DJs blasted out electronic music to the schools of people clustered around them.
Full participation would mean dancing.
I have an uneasy relationship with dancing. I had never danced until one night on a cruise ship in 2006. My friend dragged me to the ship's nightclub, and a pair of girls we'd befriended were dragging me onto the dance floor. They had exceeded the amount of prodding that was polite, and I was nearing the limit of polite refusal. And there was one more factor at work: on the stage was a guy named Sean who was the worst dancer ever recorded. His movements assaulted the music and insulted the rhythm. He stationed himself at the front corner of the stage in his sweat stained polo shirt and danced as hard as a human could dance. I knew that even if I was a terrible dancer, all eyes would be on Sean.
So I danced. And it was fun. Lots of fun. At the end of the night the last girl left the dance floor, and only Sean and I remained. We awkwardly finished out the song and went back to our rooms, both happy to have danced. Something about this event happening away from everyone I knew, save my friend, and in the middle of the ocean, made it feel like a secret. I never danced again, even though I knew how much I enjoyed it.
But there I was, at the Superhero Street Fair, with Anderson's words of full participation ringing freshly in my ears. I saw the spectators standing off in the edges, making fun of the dancers, and could see that they were having far less than the dancers. Anderson and Todd were in the middle of the dance floor, flailing around with giant smiles on their faces.
I'd like to say that I gave it some thought and decided that dancing was the right move, but I didn't. My body acted on my subconscious' authority, not mine. As I thrust my hands into the air, clutched them into fists, and pulled them down to my hips while smashing forward with a pelvic thrust, I thought, "Uh oh. I guess I'm dancing."
Once I pelvic-thrusted across that point of no return, I danced the night away. I left with blisters. Score one for full participation.
If you ever wanna try "unconditional dance" again, check out http://ecstaticdance.org/ or
WHOA! What an amazing point, and so easy to over look this. I always read what you have to say with interest but have never felt compelled to chime in before. This post is too good to ignore. It is so easy to be the guy standing on the sidelines making excused and critiquing the actions of those actually involved, I am sure we have all been guilty of this more than we would like to admit. Everyone should take this post to heart and make the effort to join in and participate in the world around them. Anyways, yeah... I liked this post.
I read Talent is Overrated just a month or so ago, right before you, coincidentally, and it's really changed the way I think about this exact thing.
Namely, I realize I was raised in an environment that rewarded intelligence & competence over effort, and that's a big part of the reason I spectate instead of participating, because I care about how good I'll look doing something; I was raised to think that's what matters.
Now, and it's a slow process, still really hard to change that decades-old habit, I think of the important thing as being deliberate practice, and how much of it I can get. That means thrusting myself into situations where I am *not* good, out of my comfort zone.
I'm still basically inept at breakdancing since I haven't made time to practice outside of class yet, but at the end of class our teacher has us do a dance-off: we take turns walking out and showing our moves, just like actual breakers in a club would. Only we're uncoordinated, shaky beginners.
Worse yet, sometimes really talented people show up. Last week these two kids, couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 years old, showed up and one of them could do headspins, maybe 20 continuous spins without hands touching the ground. Clearly practiced constantly.
When my dancing looks more like someone having a seizure, doing it in front of a 9-year-old with a headspin beanie on is very challenging to my ego.
But when I reframe it and think of the dance-off not as a performance but just as bonus time to practice and get feedback, everything changes.
I guess really it's no different than your pickup work years ago. You have to reframe the activity so you stop worrying about what doesn't matter and get the real value out of it.
Thanks for the post.
More than fifty years ago, my mother's father went to a dance. Back then that was how you met people.
The room was divided into two sides. The guys were standing near one wall, and the girls were at the other. In the middle were a few couples dancing, but more prominent was the wide open space that separated the two groups.
No man's land.
"Where the Hell is Matt?" is a video of a man named Matt Harding who was sponsored by Stride Gum to travel all around the world and film himself dancing.
I was first exposed to the video attached above when I was in seventh grade when my teach played it for my science class on earth day. She was trying to show us how much of an awesome world we are surrounded by and how much we need to feel obligated to take care of it.
I was awestruck. The wanderlust only took seconds to creep through my twelve year old veins. The video quite literally effected my life and I just could never quite pinpoint why. Obviously the sense of adventure it stimulated within me is most likely inevitable with all who have seen the video, but to me there was so much more to appreciate. The simplicity of his silly dance captivated me. The people in the background who occasionally joined in made me want absorb myself right into the video. And that is just what I did.
So about a year later, the video was still on my constant radar screen. I shared it with just about everyone I knew. Eventually I did my research about the making of the video and somehow signed up to receive an email about Matt's travels. Little did I know that signing up for an email list that I did not fully understand would have such a lasting effect on me. About a year after that I got an email saying, "Matt is coming to your area and he wants to dance with you!"