I’ve been reading and exploring a lot of Buddhist material in my personal life these days, so I’ve taken that as inspiration to write a little about some Zen-like bits of experience that I’ve picked up while learning to dance over the years. Each of the three experiences I’ll relate was with a different dance teacher, and I hope they don’t mind my mentioning their names here. This will be a 3-part series, with one teacher per post.

1) Beginner’s Mind from Chad Kubo

Chad Kubo is a local swing and lindy hop instructor in San Francisco. He ran the Doghouse Saturday dance party for many years and was a co-founder of Lindy in the Park. After taking several beginning lindy hop classes with various local instructors, I finally settled on taking beginning and intermediate classes with Chad & Brandee at the Metronome Ballroom.

Before Chad taught Lindy Hop he trained and taught as a martial artist for many years. I don’t quite remember all the specific forms he studied, but I did appreciate the synthesis of martial arts principles that he incorporated in his classes, including classes on aerials technique. He frequently talked about how to use and redirect a partner’s momentum on the dance floor. I remember a great demo he did of how keeping one’s connected hand lower than your partner’s center of mass is more effective for moving them on the dance floor.

Chad also had a running joke about repeatedly practicing basic footwork until you had it in muscle memory: “The martial arts masters say that you must perform a motion 1000 times before you have mastered it…and you’ve only done your basic step, what? 12 times? Keep practicing.”

Th real Zen lesson Chad imparted to me that I want to share is about having a Beginner’s Mind when attending a class. He was referring to the fact that sometimes students in his classes would come to him with previous dance experience or having learned lindy hop with a different teacher and would question his teaching. I think that anyone who has taken a dance class has met that student…the know-it-all who knows, or thinks he knows,  more than the instructor.

Anyway, I liked Chad’s idea that even if you think you know more than your instructor, you can still be respectful of the instructor, clear your mind of previous knowledge and come to the class with a truly open mind. Absorb all you can from your instructor while you’re with them, and then, when you’re on your own you can synthesize and decide what you do or do not want to take away from the lesson.

Okay, that’s it for today…next time, the Zen of Ambidexterity with Steven Mitchell.

Zen Thoughts on Learning to Dance (part 1)