(Almost) Everything I Need To Know, I Learned from Dance

I’ve had a tough time this New Years. Given my track record with new years lately, you can understand. I really don’t look forward to the future with a great deal of hope, confident that everything will work out.

So it was with a low heart that I went to the ballroom dance technique and group classes last night. I left the studio, however, with an improved attitude.

I have discovered that almost everything I need to know I learned in dance class. 

The first lesson from dance is “NEVER STOP MOVING OR DANCING. EVER.” I have a tendency to stop when I’ve made a mistake or get off rhythm. I feel like I have to stop, regroup, and then move on. My dance teachers keep trying to make us understand that we don’t need to stop. We can’t stop. We have to keep moving, dancing, until we catch up or slow down, or just plain relax into the dance.

My conversations with my instructors – while I’m learning or practicing often go like this.

Instructor, “Wait, why are you stopping? Don’t stop.”

Me, “I was off-beat.”

Instructor, “No you weren’t.”

OR

Instructor, “Don’t stop. You were almost there!”

I have nothing to reply to that one.

So, don’t stop moving. Never stop dancing. You’ll catch up, or get it right next time, or maybe you won’t. But you will eventually, and then it will be beautiful. Just don’t stop.

Lesson 2 is “MOVE YOUR FEET OUT OF THE WAY, OR THEY WILL BE STEPPED ON, AND IT WILL BE YOUR OWN FAULT.” There are a number of smooth (ballroom) dances designed to move around the floor, with the follower going backwards, counter-clockwise in an oval. The lead steps directly at the follower in regular steps. The follower steps directly back, moving smoothly through the hips. It doesn’t always work, but the follower’s job is to move! We know the lead is coming, we know the steps, it’s our responsibility to move ourselves out of the way.

The foxtrot, slow-slow-quick-quick, is easier for me simply because we start each sequence on the same foot. The waltz, however pretty, is not easy for those of us with balance and gait issues who can’t tell left from right. This lovely Beauty and the Beast dance, with its flowing up-and-down cadence, requires that you change feet. So it’s back with your right for the first 3-count, then back with your left for the second, then change, then change … All around the dance floor.

And don’t get me started on the tango.

No matter what, though, I am responsible for not getting stepped on. I always have been.

Lesson 3, “LOOK OUT YOUR OWN WINDOW,” is difficult for me because I smile like a goon when I dance and have a habit of looking my dance partner in the face.

This is all well and good in some dances, but in many others, each dancer looks out their own window, head turned, shoulders down, spine in place, and arms relaxed but in position. I mean, what could be more natural? But looking where you’re supposed to look helps craft the portrait of the dance and dancers. It also keeps you safe on the dance floor. It’s a little difficult to avoid the 12-pair pile up in the corner if you’re not looking where you’re supposed to.

So look out your window, tune in to what you’re responsible for, and smile (I have that one down cold.)

Lesson four is my favorite. DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR FEET! OR ANYONE’S FEET! If you look down you’re lost! You will have broken hold, distracted your partner, and likely stopped in a bad place. Your feet won’t automatically start doing it right if you stare at them. They’re worse than a gym full of high school students. I could make them behave with a glance. I’m not so good with my feet.

What to do? Well, see Rule 3 for starters, then always remember –

Looking down gets you nowhere. Looking down breaks every rule with a single movement. “Down” is the same as “The Past.” Too much looking back will only lead backwards. Looking down, you will see only what you are doing wrong. Looking up will show you the possibilities.

So listen to the music, that’s where the rhythm begins. Keep moving and dancing. Be responsible for your own feet. Look out your window, not anyone else’s. Look up, never down.

And relax, you’ll make it. It’s all about that breathtaking moment when you feel the beauty of the dance and the trust between partners, and simply let the music carry you.

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