Typically, when we’re asked about our greatest influences, we tend to think about artists whose work we most admire, and who we try to emulate most.
But I like to think about influences in a wider sense of the word.
Recently, I talked about some of the interests in my life that have had a significant impact on me finding my way to some kind of happiness and stability. I’d consider these to be powerful, positive influences.
An excellent example in my life is salsa dancing.
Here are some of the ways it’s changed me, most of them unexpected.
Salsa changed the way I moved. Even though I don’t dance often now, I still step around the kitchen or bathroom in a way I didn’t 15 years ago, because of years of dancing to salsa rhythms. My body, especially from the hips down, moves differently. Salsa is just in my bones, and probably always will be.
It changed the way I spoke. Partly in that I had to dust off and ramp up my year nine Spanish accent to try to call moves like ochenta y ocho and mariposa so people whose native tongue is Spanish actually understood me.
And partly in that teaching classes of up to 50 or more people in busy clubs with other classes going on meant I had no choice but to amplify my generally quite softly spoken and often mumbling tones to a level that could be consistently heard.
Salsa changed the way I greeted and interacted with people. The group I taught with are all very tactile. Partly to gently ease in potentially terrified newcomers to the fact that salsa is a full contact sport – in a perfectly safe way – and partly because they’re just warm, affectionate people.
This meant I could leave my shy and awkward English inhibitions at the door and happily embrace two dozen people a night without thinking twice about what they might think, or being concerned about what my girlfriend might say. In a salsa class – especially as a teacher – there’s rarely a time where you’re not in close contact with at least one other person. It defines a new normal.
It changed my levels of confidence. Calling rueda (where two or more couples dance in a circle (rueda means wheel) and keep swapping partners) in large groups in a noisy club meant I had to project. (Forget the salsa you see on dance shows like Strictly and check out something like this to see what rueda is like.)
Teaching meant I had to know what I was doing inside out and portray that confidence to others, to make it look effortless. This confidence naturally seeped out to all areas of my life.
Salsa changed my fitness. I’ve never been unfit, but dancing four, even five nights a week for hours meant my body became lithe, strong, and high in stamina, all in a fun way.
And of course, most importantly, salsa introduced me to my wife, and led to us building a family together.
Photography has impacted me in similarly profound, yet very different ways.
Except the finding a wife part. Fortunate really, as I don’t want two.
Photography allows me to be almost constantly on the hunt for beautiful compositions in unlikely places, revealing the invisible golden frames that have always been there.
I see so much more than I ever did previously, and my belief that the beauty in life is in the details has grown steadily over the years.
It’s enabled me to focus just on what’s right there within the four corners of the screen or viewfinder, and let the rest of the world collapse away in that moment.
Being someone who can quite easily be overwhelmed by the vastness and chaos of the world and times we live in, this has been essential in maintaining an even keel.
Photography has allowed me to share this beauty I find with other people. I’m not the creator of the beauty but sometimes I am able to capture it and present it in a way that reminds another person what’s around us that we usually rush by and overlook.
Photography has enabled me to connect with other people, and through the initial shared interest of making photographs, has led to all kinds of other interesting conversations.
Usually when we talk about our greatest influences, we list the artists whose work we admire and try to emulate.
But I like to think about influences in a much wider reaching way, as illustrated above.
In the same way that our relationships shape us into the person we are today, so do the most significant interests we’ve explored and immersed ourselves in along the way.
How about you? What have been your greatest influences, and how have they shaped you and your life for the better?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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