Your dance style is an expression (and a celebration) of your own uniqueness. It gives meaning and value to what you do. It is not re-doing what others have already done. It is saying something in a way that has not been said before - but in a language others can relate to. That is why you need to grow your style from the heritage of the genre, the culture, and the era, while remaining true to yourself.
Explore the roots of the genre
The dance genre sets boundaries and expectations. Not acknowledging those would be like dancing Cha-Cha-Cha to Waltz music. On the other hand, formalizing dance with rigid technique can reduce it to dull sameness. Real creativity stems from understanding and enriching past conventions.
For me, going to Cuba and exploring the roots of Latin American dancing has been invigorating. The dancers that attended the Cuban Experience workshop found great inspiration by being “present in the moment”, by embracing improvisation and by enjoying dance for its own sake. Going back to the roots puts the genre into perspective and opens the doors for further growth.
Embrace the cultural heritage
The synergy of Western (European and later North American), African and Native American cultures is what makes Latin American dancing so vibrant. To ignore this rich heritage is akin to cutting ties with your family and ancestors. You can’t truly evolve by doing away with the past - you should learn to build on it.
Competitive dancing has unfortunately become far removed from its original source and purpose. It is almost a style in itself - a style with a lot of improvements, but often just for the sake of creating something new. A unique style should not be confused with shallow novelty. You can’t experience a sense of completeness without knowing where you came from.
Rebel against the era
The biggest delusion of our time is believing there’s nothing beneath the surface. It is like the superficiality of putting on a smile for an Instagram photo while feeling miserable on the inside - and then convincing yourself the happy photo is all there is. So ask yourself - are you dancing for pleasure or for pleasing others? Dancing to express or to impress?
The era we live in also makes everything instantly accessible and in abundance. There is too much information, but little wisdom. It is easy to get lost and discouraged by comparing yourself to other dancers - and wanting to be someone you are not. While you can use someone else’s style as a point of departure, it should not become the final destination. That is why finding your own voice is essential.
Many dancers have difficulty accepting themselves as they are and desperately need approval from the outside. Very few have the courage to walk their own walk and allow themselves to be rebellious yet respectful towards traditional values. To achieve a personal style, you need to embrace a personal way of seeing, followed by a personal way of doing and finally expressing.
Your style is your unique fingerprint. It is also the only footprint you can leave as your legacy. Embracing the comfort of sameness will only leave you unnoticed. So be brave, go forth and - be yourself.