Think Sideways Not Up

Posted by Jake on 15th March 2017

To quote the founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford - "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."  This quote nicely demonstrates the short-comings of vertical thinking versus lateral thinking. Without lateral thinking, we'd still be riding horses rather than driving cars.

How do lateral thinking and vertical thinking differ? Do they apply to social dancing?

Vertical thinking is about finding the 'correct' answer to a challenge like learning to dance - by using a logical, analytical approach.  The goal is to arrive at a single 'correct' answer.  Vertical thinking dancers prefer to rely on existing 'rules' and 'facts' in order to avoid failure.

On the other hand, lateral thinking represents the individual coming up with a variety of solutions to the same problem.  It involves using intuition, risk taking, and imagination to challenge the existing 'rules'.

Vertical thinking is about selecting possibilities, whereas lateral thinking is about generating possibilities.  In real life, 100% alignment towards a single method of thinking is simply not possible - we all use both methods to a great or lesser degree.

Rule-based vertical thinking is particularly useful in performance-based and competitive dances like ballroom and ballet.  It's not much of a competition if you don't specify the rules. Strictly ballroom indeed!

But it's my belief that we lose the original spirit of social dances like salsa and swing, when their freedom is replaced by rules and restrictions.  They are lateral thinking dances - in essence, about constantly adapting to the situation on the dance floor and the variety of different partners.  It's about merging your personal style with that of your partner and forming your own joint identity for a brief few minutes.

I believe that salsa is dominated by a rigid vertical thinking attitude, people who learn in a pedantic way and are convinced that their way is the correct way.  Nothing demonstrates this more to me than when a follow doesn't do what the lead expects them to do, and they say something to the effect of "you're doing that wrong" - instead of embracing the interruption and seeing it as an opportunity rather than something to tolerate.

I've never heard lateral thinkers beating a drum that their way is the only way - they accept that vertical thinking has its place. But I've had to deal with so much criticism over the years from people who think vertical thinking is the only way, that their way is the right way.  That they have the 'correct' answer.

At StreetSalsa we embrace chance interruptions and ask ourselves questions like:

  • OK so that's a rule, what happens if I break it?
  • What happens when I focus on richness not correctness?
  • It feels great to dance salsa movements to salsa music, how does it feel to other music? How does it differ?
  • How can the Follow take the initiative in the dance?
  • What happens when I adapt moves and techniques from other styles into the dance?
  • How can I express my identity in the dance?
  • What's my style?

So I'm today encouraging everyone to think sideways not up, think laterally not vertically and see what happens.  Vertical thinking has its place, shouldn't we give lateral thinking its place too?

By Jake

Nearly a decade ago, I resolved to run a salsa night the way I thought it should be run and the idea for StreetSalsa was born.  The rest as they say is history..

I've made some of the best friends you could wish for through dancing, and want to share what a life-changing experience dance can be.