Look Before You Leap (And How To Salsa Dance)


“Look Before You Leap.” For skiers and snowboarders, it’s common knowledge. It’s a warning that should we should probably heed. It’s safe.

Sometimes, though, inspection can turn into obsession, and we can spend our whole life studying as an excuse for avoiding action. In which case, I think we should just jump.

I think we should do insane, irrational things. I think we should look ridiculous. I think we should feel ridiculous. I think, sometimes, we should leap before we look.

After all, life inside a comfort zone is hardly life at all.

Here’s a story: when I shyly stepped into salsa dancing class wearing my mismatched socks, I was pretty nervous. I had never done something like that before. My dancing prowess goes about as far as that awkward flailing thing that white boys do. And dancing sober? Not a chance. In addition, salsa dancing is a partners’ game; I went to solo to group lessons. None of this sums up to a comfortable situation. However, it turned out well for me. I know, now, how to salsa dance. I’m not very good, but it’s a new skill under my belt and another experience for the chamber. I also had the unexpected pleasure of realizing that I was not the worst person in class.

Count on this: Any time you feel nervous about throwing yourself into an intimidating situation, understand that there will be someone there who is more awkward than you are. And they are brave. They’ll eventually be good, and they’ll eventually be teaching the next round of awkward and nervous learners. That’s the process: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Still, jumping into these things is daunting. Here are some things I’ve learned:

1. No preconceived notions allowed

If you jump in expecting one outcome, the only thing you can be certain of is that you’ll receive a different outcome. Folks in Ireland are not all drunk all the time, not everyone in Alaska is an Eskimo, and not everything is the way that our cookie cutter cultural narratives make them seem. Don’t let your past repertoire limit your thinking. This is a new experience and should be treated as thus. You’ll get the most out of BJJ if you allow yourself to soak up BJJ, in itself. Likewise, if I’d closed my mind to what I thought salsa/tango dancing was, I’d have deterred myself from entering those lessons in the first place.

2. Study

That being said, it helps to study. Like, really, immerse yourself in your new adventure. Buy a plane ticket to Rome in the heat of the moment, before you can give it second thoughts. Then, immediately, buy a bunch of books about Rome. Study its history, its people, its language, its culture. For salsa/tango/any skill, really: watch videos onlineSkiingstudy the greats. As Ryan Holiday said, “No one is ever going to teach you enough or hand it to you on a platter. Books and articles, and ask questions—an endless amount of them.”

3. Submit to the process

This goes along with the whole “no preconceived notions” thing. Go with the flow. Submit to the process by which your instructor teaches. Sometimes, it’s going to feel ridiculous. You’re going to feel like a fool. Learn to shrug it off and laugh at yourself. One of my favorite quotes is by Fyodor Doestovsky and goes: “I could not become anything: neither bad nor good, neither a scoundrel not an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner, taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything; that only a fool can become something.” As Ludacris said, “Act a fool.” (100% wrong context for this quote, here, I know. Just go with it.)

4. Make Friends

You know, salsa dancing classes are a great way to meet people. The people that go are thrilling; they’re, at least for me, not who I usually run into during my daily routine. Some of them are fantastic salsa dancers. As I said above, some aren’t at all great at dancing. I find it to be a good practice in humanity to be interested individually in each person that I meet through classes like this. The benefit of taking a leap out of your comfort zone is quickly reduced when you hole up in a corner and close off your mind. You quickly eliminate most of the adventure that you signed up for. Plus, there are cute girls at salsa dancing classes.

5. Be present (practice mindfulness)

I wouldn’t consider myself a worrier. But I am human. If you’re human too, and if you’re at all like me, sometimes you have trouble staying in the ‘here and now’. What I mean by that, is that you probably have thoughts like:

  • Is there an essay I’m forgetting to write?
  • Am I going to get a job after I graduate?
  • What did she mean with that last text?
  • I wonder how many likes my profile picture got.
  • Am I going to get fired and kicked out of school and is the world going to end?

Fuck those thoughts; You’re here to dance. Shake ’em out, breathe, and fugetaboutit. Focus on your feet. Your instructor will tell you not to do that, but it’s better than focusing on things that make you anxious. Focus on your breath. Better yet, focus on the music. That’s what you’re there for. The world has a funny way of sorting itself out without need for your anxiety.

6. Play

This is the most important thing to remember: you’re here to play. (Why do writers always save the best point for last, anyway?) So, go ahead, learn the basics, the twists, turns, steps, and then let go. Laugh. Smile. “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different,” Vonnegut said. In your average day, you can only be so productive, so serious, before you burn out and end up worse off for it. For this reason, I prefer to introduce a certain amount of ‘distractions’ into my life. I like the break the routine. These are hardly distractions, though; they are the life blood of my work. What I do in my leisure time is what inspires me to create and innovate in my work time. So instead of stressing about taking the leap, instead of completely dissecting it and turning it into work, I like to let go, and simply feel the music.

image – Shutterstock