When Master asked me to write about Taiji from the point of view of a dancer, I thought it was a rather insurmountable task. I feel that I know so little about both. Yes, I have danced what is collectively known as Salsa for 18 years, but the old adage is that the more you know, the more you don’t know. I have been reluctant to put anything on paper.
The topic of how in Taiji we don’t teach patterns (i.e.: push hand pattern) came up during last night’s open house in Hong Kong, and I found myself talking about how my Salsa teaching is congruent.
Due to a rather heavy Ballroom dancing influence; and commercial influence, the Salsa instructions I see in most places do not develop dance skills that pertain to the folkloric and cultural nature of Latin America. They are trained to perform, entertain, and to score points during competitions.
Most dance studios teach with the music off. If and when the music is briefly on, it is more than likely not Salsa.
My students in Shenzhen often ask me to recommend other teachers to them to experience different flavors in the dance. There was a particular couple coming from another part of China. I did some research on them and concluded that what I saw in the video are a couple of beginners, and my students have already better understanding , if not better skill. Unfortunately, the video was dark and I could only see the movements, and not the face of these dancers. When the night of their demonstration came around, I saw a couple who I suspected were the people in the video via their movements. In any case, I kept on dancing the night away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of foreigners gesturing at me, giving me the thumbs up, nodding their heads, taking videos and photos of me. I went up and asked them where they are from. It was none other than one of Salsa’s Mecca: Puerto Rico – home of awesome bands such as DLG and Puerto Rican Power. I was elated that I was recognized by them. Conversely, if I went to Puerto Rico, and was able to taste great wonton noodles, I too, would take photos with the chef!
After we said goodbye, I returned to the dance floor and found that a circle was formed watching a performance. And it was none other than the same people I had deemed beginners. Their dancing was a function of a bunch memorized patterns and was completely oblivious to the music.
When I look back at the video lessons with my students, other than the basic step rhythm, and music, nothing else was needed to be emphasized. This would be equivalent to the positive and negative circles in our gong fu. Like rhythm, gong fu could only be caught not taught – Master shows us time after time the same thing and we have a higher and higher level “understanding” as long as we practice and develop the skill, not the pattern.
Similar to the basic steps and rhythm in dancing, it is a lifetime’s worth of learning.