Just before writing this post I was at a conference on engineering education at the Gold Coast in Australia. Before the actual conference started in earnest, I went for a surfing lesson. It had been a while since I had last been surfing so I thought it would be good to start with a lesson.
While I was surfing I was struck by the similarities between dance and surfing.
It also occurred to me that surfing could be a good hobby for developing attributes that would make you a good dancer. In this post I will explain why I think this and how you could use surfing to improve your dance.
There are obviously differences between dance and surfing, but there were two major similarities that I noticed:
- The use of small balancing muscles
- Extended awareness beyond my body
As time progressed while surfing, I noticed that my balance was starting to drop off along with my ability to move smoothly from one position to another. I looked like I was tired, but I felt fine. The reason for this was that my large muscles were fine, but the smaller muscles that were now being worked harder had fatigued. Because they were small, they did not make me feel tired. Even though I didn’t feel I needed it, a short rest before paddling out to try catching another wave helped a lot. I stood with better posture, I was better balanced and I was able to move more smoothly from laying on the board to standing on it.
The first lesson here is that when practicing dance it might be worth taking a break even if you do not feel tired. This need not be a break where you do nothing. You could try another dance or even just another figure so that different muscles are used. Then when you go back to the first dance or figure, you will be physically recovered. This will then help you put appropriate effort into working on mastering whatever you are working on – you will not be held back by fatigued muscles.
The second lesson for me was that there is another activity that can help develop good dance attributes. I frequently talk about how important it is to develop attributes for dance by engaging in other activities. I have spoken about yoga, martial arts and aerobics, but until now I had never thought of surfing. If you want to improve the strength in your feet and ankles so that you have better balance, then I can easily recommend surfing.
When you’re surfing, you need to feel the wave through the board. By feeling the wave through the board, you are able to determine how hard you need to paddle, when you can stop paddling, when you can lift yourself up and when you’re ready to stand. This kind of awareness is much like following a lead or feeling a follow respond to a lead.
However, it is a little different and this is where the benefit comes from.
If you have trouble extending you awareness to your partner’s body, then you might find that surfing shows how you to do this. The reason is that while not feeling your partner really is of little practical consequence, it’s just not great dancing. Surfing is very different. When you can’t feel the wave, you fall and often find yourself underwater. This is good motivation to start paying attention to the kinaesthetic signals as opposed to visual or auditory signals – motivation you will not have when dancing.
However, the signals form a wave are also more significant and there is no doubt in your mind what it is (you do not ever try to guess what the wave is thinking). This can make it easier to simply focus on the signals, and increase your ability to extend your awareness. Once you know what it’s like to feel these kinds of signals, you will be better able to feel them when dancing. This will make you a better lead and a better follow.
What to do now
If you don’t surf and thought about it, then you now have another reason to give it a go. If you are ever on holiday by the beach and there are surf lessons, then take one. Notice what it’s like to feel the wave so that you can expand you awareness. Notice also how you feel extra muscles working around your ankles and feet. Noticing these two things will help you identify the muscles that you need to work on for better balanced dancing and what it is like to be fully aware of something (or someone) that you’re physically connected to.