I’d always said meditation was not for me. I was way too busy keeping up with life. But one day I contemplated that if I couldn’t sit with myself, how could I expect others to sit with me? And my journey into meditation as a practice of mindfulness began.
So what exactly is Mindfulness?
By definition, it is “the quality of state of being conscious or aware of something.” In essence, it refers to the state of focusing on the present moment. Studies have shown the more we can be aware of the present moment, the more focused we become, which leads to elevated moods. This has impacted its growth in popularity over the last decade, with a particular boom in meditation apps during the pandemic.
Meditation is the most common form of mindfulness practice today. For too long I thought it could only be done in a strictly sitting position until I realized the true embodiment of mindfulness was learning to integrate it into your daily life: while walking, washing dishes, exercising, and, yes, dancing.
Mindfulness and Dance
Dance is often touted for its numerous health benefits such as stress reduction, fitness, and building self-confidence. However, dance can also be used as a form of escapism from everyday stress, leading in some cases to dance “addiction” as a vice.
The idea of integrating mindfulness into dance can thus offer us a tool for being present with the reality of life while moving through it and finding inner peace. Let us discuss some ways you can begin to build mindfulness-based techniques into your dance world.
1. Be aware of the present moment
It is easy to get lost in thought patterns such as “Am I doing this right?” “Shoot! I missed that move!” I also find students often get caught up in the count of 1,2,3 and start dancing to the numbers in their heads and rushing without reference to how they land with the music.
Reprogramming your attention on your partner and sound can help focus you. Simple things can go a long way: give your partner your full attention, notice what they’re wearing, and acknowledge them with a smile. Can you listen to the pulsation of the music and let go of the count in your head?
Similarly, can you tune into your surroundings so you’re vibing with the room and the energy of the dancers around you? A friend once told me a great story of walking into a NY salsa social once and listening to a song when all the dancers in the room hit the same musical break together. Imagine the synergy of the room it took to be there.
2. Focus on breathing
A great exercise between dances or in the middle of a dance is to focus attention on your breath. What is the quality of it - slow or fast? What is the synchronicity of your breath to the step, and that step to the timing of the music? Becoming an observer of your breath without controlling it allows you to become an observer of your energy on the dancefloor without directing it.
3. Mindfulness Mantras
At what point in time does the mind begin to stray and where does it go? Give yourself a few words you can use to refocus your mind if it starts to wander in the dance. This mantra can be something as simple as “I am dancing in this moment. In this moment, I am dancing.” This allows you to kindly bring your attention back to the present moment and tune back into yourself.
4. Be open to challenges
How many times have you tried to work on spins only to get upset because they weren’t sticking? I can’t tell you how many times I found myself so frustrated that I just kept going and going in anger until I ended up just wanting to cry as I saw myself continually getting worse.
In practices and social dancing, it is easy to get frustrated if we’re having a tough time, and if we find ourselves continuing the practice from this place of frustration, then we are just reinforcing habits of anger. Instead, we can choose to welcome the challenges as learning opportunities and work through them. Allow yourself a moment to stop, breathe, and laugh it off. And when you get back to it, approach it from a place of acceptance.
5. Express Gratitude
I can always tell when someone is out of touch with their ego when I thank them for a dance and they say “You’re welcome”. Gratitude invites humility as a virtue, which goes a long way toward dropping the lines of beginner and advanced on the dancefloor. Acknowledging the shared moment of energy from both ends is so important and places us all on the same playing field no matter who we are.
We live in a world that can be stressful at times, and the more we practice working through it, the more patient and adaptable we become with our lives. This helps us redirect our energy and invite joy in. Building a discipline does not always have to be through sitting meditation. Mindful dance technique is also a practice that can help you gain more awareness of your surroundings and your connection with the present moment.
It is also a tool we can use to nurture more attentive and thoughtful dance communities.
Written by Ana Masacote
Ana Masacote is an award-winning Afro-Latin dance specialist and arts leader who loves engineering spaces for community connection and conversations through the arts. She has spread the salsa bug to more than 30 countries and is the founder of Dance to Power, an online Afro-Latin dance platform. Through her social impact initiatives, Ana advocates for LGBTQ inclusivity and gender and racial equity in the arts.