Finding Flow on the Dance Floor, Part 1: Social Dance as Sport
“Flow is a harmonious experience where mind and body are working together effortlessly, leaving the person feeling that something special has just occurred…This is because flow lifts experience from the ordinary to the optimal, and it is in those moments that we feel truly alive and in tune with what we are doing.”
- Susan A. Jackson and Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi
It has been called flow, peak experience, optimal experience, the zone, and deep play. The concept has been widely experienced and researched, and yet it remains elusive. Generally understood to be a rare, short-lived, and unexpected occurrence, it can’t be controlled, summoned, or grasped. However, the pure joy and freedom it brings prevents us from just dismissing it altogether. We continue to seek these moments because they hint at something greater and validate the time and effort we spend in their pursuit.
For the social dancer, flow provides the unrivaled feeling of deep connection with his or her body, the music, and another human being. Every social dance – from salsa and Argentine tango to the ballroom dances and west coast swing – requires physicality, musicality, communication, problem-solving, and creativity. These exhilarating challenges open up opportunities to experience flow. Although we can’t guarantee its occurrence, we can approach the dance in a way that will maximize our receptivity and, therefore, our likelihood of achieving that feeling of transcendence.
Because dance has so many layers or levels of meaning and understanding, it helps to approach flow in social dance from several different angles. Though there could never be an exhaustive or comprehensive list of approaches to the dance, my research of flow and the social dance experience have revealed four main approaches that help illuminate and cultivate flow on the dance floor:
Social dance as Sport.
Social dance as Game.
Social dance as Conversation.
Social dance as Art.
Part 1 will address how social dance can be approached as a sport. Please see also Parts 2 through 4 for how to approach social dance as a game, a conversation, and an art.