This post is for the dance junkies and the traveling dance instructors. But anyone who has caught the dance bug can probably relate.
There was a time when I took nine dance classes a week. There was a time when I went dancing four or five nights a week. I went to an all-night party a couple times a month. I drove 14 hours for a blues birthday party. I stayed up till dawn, weekend after weekend. I danced for 17 hours a day with only enough break-time to change venues or get dinner with friends.
The post-exchange blues, a common phenomenon, was bemoaned on dance boards of yore (Yehoodi! Swingtalk! Gargleblaster Blues! Blues Pulse!) and carried forward to Facebook conversations of today. The return to real life, real job, real sleep schedules after 2-3 days of non-stop fun, socializing and dancing leaves people with a chemical deficit. The dopamine and oxytocin stops flowing. You’re back at your work computer, faced with a pile of work, homework, and maybe that same old partner who doesn’t magically change every three minutes.
Dance Exchange culture is a high-reward lifestyle, with an easy shot of happy new chemicals every few minutes. Instead of drugs, we rely on a cocktail of dancing, talking, hugging, eating and drinking to keep the flow of happy chemicals steady. Robb Wolf talks about high-reward food choices in the context of diet, but to me the parallels to dance culture are close enough to consider:
“Certain foods can reduce anxiety and irritability and place us in a more positive place. This is due to the effects food can have on opioids, serotonin, and dopamine. Chronic exposure to foods eliciting these responses will down-regulate our sensitivity to these transmitters and force us to eat more to elicit the same mood altering response.”
Dancing has a similar reductive effect. Like getting stoned, you only need one hit at first to get high. A night of dancing can be incredibly satisfying, but once you go through the full exchange experience, a night of local dancing just doesn’t build the same high. Some have even argued that the more experienced a dancer becomes, the less they enjoy dancers of all levels. Don’t we then keep exposing ourselves to more dance culture, more fun, more party to keep eliciting the same response? And if we aren’t at the party, isn’t it a little bit tempting to party by proxy by scooping up news of the latest event on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?
In the absence of being at the event, we’ve learned to stimulate our reward centers by interacting with the digital representations of our beloved communities, clicking on pictures of parties, enviously reading and commenting on status updates, embroiling ourselves in heated scene politics debates—anything to stay connected to the party.
As social media has expanded and become a very integral part of the dance community, the very real phenomenon of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) impacts us all. FOMO has been written about in multiple media channels and clearly affects people of all walks of life. For us it’s a highly tangible part of our interactions. “Are you going to xyz exchange? You HAVE to be there!” When the stream of posts, photos, and videos hitting your news feed as the latest big event is in full swing, it’s hard not to feel left out of the action when it’s all being reported LIVE!
Part of this is good. It’s good press for the organizers. It means continued success for their event. Attendees largely choose to go to events because of who else will be there or because of who was there last year. And they want you to be there. So in an attempt to get you to go next year, your friends will guilt you by pointing out repeatedly how awesome a time they’re having without you, because wouldn’t you rather be there with them?
User generated press is always more believable than official advertisements and word of mouth is largely how our community thrives. (Most advertisers would kill, or pay moles to engage in the kind of evangelism we use to promote events.) Everyone’s capitalizing on FOMO to generate better attendance and greater success for the events they run or choose to attend. While it’s easy to fall prey to FOMO relative to your normal life, (and there’s enough documentation out there to help you work through it) here’s another less commonly defined phenomenon that concerns me: Fear Of Missing In.
The more I considered taking a break from extended travel in 2014, the more I realized FOMO would affect me. But all that time on the road was creating a stronger fear, that of missing out on who else I might be, on my other unexplored potential, on all of the non-dance interests and obsessions that I don’t have time for when I’m in the full swing of a dance tour. It’s Fear of Missing In… what’s In me.
I’ve been trying to write this blog entry for over a month. The first date of this draft is from 12/28/13. So, I was amused on 1/28 during a round of revisions to find that when I re-ran a search for FOMI, a new result turned up. Previously, there was no search result for FOMI. I thought I’d coined the term. But, it looks like somebody else was also experiencing end-of-year FOMI. The fact that I’ve been occasionally hacking at this topic for more than a month says that it’s hard for me to admit, hard to put it out there.
There’s so much else I want to do with my life. I’m not even sure if I want to describe my other ambitions. Part of me believes that writing them here will relieve the built up pressure I have (and need) in order to enact my new plans. So, I’m sorry if you’re curious. I can’t satisfy your curiosity about my goals. The deeper question for me is, do I have an identity separate from Ruby-The-Dancer? If dancing were to be stripped out of my life, what would be left?
What’s my point? Dancing is important. It’s how we connect. For many of us, it’s how we build friendships, relationships, and valuable networks. But it’s based on high-reward partying, which emphasizes novelty and constant change. It’s a highly structured way of interacting with yourself and your surroundings. It allows you to move on to the next dance, the next new and shiny, but often without going deeper. It’s a wonderful moving meditation, a way of being in the moment, and of experiencing flow. No doubt the more you do it, the better you get at it. But at what cost?
It’s a way of avoiding the rest of your life: avoiding relationships with people who don’t share your obsession, avoiding the study of deeper topics that aren’t as immediately rewarding. It’s a way of justifying not having a regular sleep schedule, of getting out of learning something that requires different skills. It’s a way of excusing yourself out of possible plans to go back to school, eat a better diet, quit drinking, pay off your debts, or write more because those things are harder to do when you’re dancing every other weekend.
I’m at odds here, because as a dance professional, I want more people to dance. Dancers inhabit their bodies more fully and have fewer hang-ups about interpersonal interactions. I want more people at events. I need people to be willing to sacrifice money, work, personal time, family and relationships to spend a weekend at my camp, learning from me.
But I also want rich dancers; dancers who bring outside perspectives, dancers who have other obsessions, dancers who play sports, or musical instruments. I prefer dancers who practice something else regularly, so that when I try to impress on them that practicing my drills every day will improve their dancing, they’ll believe me and do it, because studying something else always gives you new perspectives on your dance.
Yes, sometimes taking time off and spending the money to go to the party is worth it. It’s mind expanding. You learn something. You shake off the day-to-day struggle. You make friends. Fun and friends are part of your quality of life. But there’s a plateau to this kind of continual play, where dance becomes your whole world and your facebook feed of fellow dancers is your only source of news in the world. It’s a wonderful, yet limited world-view.
So, step out and do your thing, the thing that makes you you outside of that fishtail or that swing-out. I need you to bring YOU to the dance instead of being a cookie-cutter dancer. Bring your sense of learning, your ideas, your concepts, your fashion, your quirks. This is what makes a rich dance culture. This is what makes a community I can always come home to, no matter how many times I step out to do my own thing.