The first in my Lindy Hop According to Bruce Lee series. Read the second post.

To fit in with an opponent one needs direct perception. There is no direct perception where there is resistance, a “this is the only way” attitude.

Having totality means being capable of following “what is,” because “what is” is constantly moving and changing. If one is anchored to a particular view, one will not be able to follow the swift movements of “what is.”Brue Lee


bruce lee statue by jonrawlinson flickr
I found this quote on page 18 of Bruce Lee’s book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, which I’ve been perusing lately for inspiration. I relish getting inspiration from unexpected sources. This particular source deserves deeper examination.

Before I delve into answering, “What the hell is Bruce Lee talking about, and what does it have to do with lindy hop?” let me share one more:

A so-called martial artist is the result of three thousand years of propaganda and conditioning.

Why do individuals depend on thousands of years of propaganda? They may preach “softness” as the ideal to “firmness,” but when “what is” hits, what happens? Ideals, principles, the “what should be” leads to hypocrisy.

(From page 22.)

Lindy hop is also mired in “propaganda,” so to speak.

We bring in ideals from outside lindy hop. We absorb ideals from videos, new and old. We take on the ideals our role models demonstrate and teach.

And for some, the way we perceive lindy hop history gives us the strongest ideals of all.

Lindy hop has been around for over 80 years. It has graduated from adolescence and moved into early maturity. The dance changes much more slowly now. While there is strength in maturity, the risk is stagnation. As lindy hop continues its march toward uniformity, that risk becomes more palpable.

The risk of stagnation appears as your own dancing matures, also. Are you stuck on an endless plateau? Lucky for us, Bruce has some excellent advice.

Accurately Perceive Your Partner (And Yourself)

To mesh with your partner, you need accurate perception.

There’s no chance of accurate perception when you’ve got a preconceived notion of what you or your partner should be or should do, a “this is the only way” attitude.

Follow reality in social dancing. Reality is constantly moving and constantly changing. If you are attached to a particular ideal, you will not be able to follow what you and your partner are actually doing in the moment.

If you are attached to “shoulds” and ideals, your dancing will stagnate, and your mind will be unhappy.

Do Not Be Attached to Your Ideals

Bruce rhetorically asks, “Why do individuals…depend on propaganda?” Why do we lean so hard on the “shoulds?” When reality conflicts with our ideals, reality shoves our ideals right out of the way. Bruce seems to argue that clinging to ideals sets you up for failure.

You don’t need to be a Zen Buddhist to see the value in perceiving reality as accurately as possible.

Didn’t see that person swinging out in your direction? Your loss.

Thought your partner was moving more slowly than they actually were? Your loss.

Oh, and how about this: Thought you had that dance move down, but when you watch yourself on video you look like shit? Your loss.

Unfortunately, accurately perceiving reality is much harder than you might think. Instead of labeling our perceptions as black-and-white, accurate or inaccurate, let’s agree that our perceptions can either be “more accurate” or “less accurate.”

Which of these thoughts do you think are more accurate (closer to reality), and which are less accurate (more idealistic)?

  • I will get bumped and kicked on the dance floor.
  • That person sucks at dancing.
  • The best dancers win the competitions.
  • Some nights I dance well, and other nights I don’t.
  • If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
  • The lead leads, and the follow follows.
  • That move didn’t work the way I expected.

Realities of Partner Dancing

Here are some common ideals I’ve noticed in dancers:

  1. Mistakes are bad and must be avoided.
  2. My dancing should progress linearly (and if it doesn’t, it means there is something wrong with me).
  3. Dancing shouldn’t take so much practice and work.
  4. Our partners should do what we want them to do and be predictable.
  5. My partner’s dance ability determines how much I enjoy dancing with them.

These thoughts are much less accurate than they could be. In my experience, the following are more accurate perceptions of the realities of partner dancing:

  1. Planned mistakes are great learning tools. Unplanned mistakes can be embarrassing, but make you a better dancer if you learn from them.
  2. Your progress will slow at some point. It will probably make you feel bad about yourself.
  3. Everyone who is good at dancing worked really hard to get there–possibly much harder than you think.
  4. Your partner will ultimately do what they want, which may or may not be what you’re expecting. This is something you can handle and learn to respond to.
  5. At the end of the day, you are in charge of your enjoyment of the dance. You are responsible for your feelings and actions.

Ask yourself this: Where have you misperceived “what is” in favor of ideals or fears? What would be a more accurate way to look at it?

When you’ve gotten your perceptions more on track, then it’s time to address your actions. After all, actions speak louder than thoughts.

What will you do differently when you perceive reality more accurately?

How will it change your dancing?

How will it affect the way you treat yourself and the way you interact with others?

Photo credits: Jon Rawlinson (Bruce Lee statue)