Life lessons from dance class

In the middle of a spate of nor’easters, I began taking beginners ballroom dance lessons at a church hall around the corner from my home.

I am no spring chicken and have little dance experience save the exuberant moves I make on the dance floor while gleefully singing along with the music. If you were to describe me, graceful, coordinated or, much less, rhythmic would not be among your top twenty word choices. If you look closely, you will note I have three left feet. But I am enthusiastic. Boy, howdy, am I enthusiastic!

Even without formal instruction, I am one happy dancer. My teacher has been known to say with a grin, “Here comes trouble,” when it is my turn for a 1:1 with him. Clearly, he gets me.

So imagine what happens to me with a few months of lessons under my belt? I learned some life lessons.

The lessons you would expect – don’t bounce; practice is key; be flexible, especially in attitude; learn from everyone; bring your sense of humor and proper footwear is de rigueur – are there, but there are some surprise lessons that most certainly apply to navigating life.

Going rogue is not a good fallback position.

 “Whoa. Whoa. WHOA!! What are you doing?” Those words are from my dance teacher after I was inexplicably moved to throw him out in an impromptu, out-of-nowhere spin. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was having a blast, groovin’ to the music, doing my own thing and certain I had this dance nailed.

Historically, I have been the woman with the metaphorical clip board and whistle. I am accustomed to being in charge. Ballroom dance changes that paradigm. It takes two: one who leads and one who follows. My teachers have been clear that one of their goals is the containment of my free-style impulses. Ballroom dance is a coordinated endeavor.

I have come to appreciate the togetherness of ballroom dancing. Dance requires focus and attention and, of course, knowing the steps and how to keep the beat, which is still a challenge for me. In ballroom dance, we work together. I am not a boat being tugged across the dance floor. We each have our part to play. This creates a syncopated, rhythmic partnership, which makes the dance fluid and fun.

The same could be said of life, two people focused on a shared goal. We move in concert, each helping the other and share the satisfaction and fun.

Bring your whole body with you.

If I take a dance step, any kind of step, I need to transfer my weight from foot to foot. To simply twist in the appropriate direction is half-hearted; I have not taken my body with me for the follow-through on the step. As a result, I am going to get completely twisted up and out of sync. It’s akin to dipping my foot in the water and calling it swimming. I need to commit with my whole person.

We need to do this in life as well. If we are only operating from our neck up and coming solely from the mind, we are not fully embodied, which also means we are disconnected emotionally. We do not operate at 100% power unless we bring our whole selves to the table.

Don’t be a “skitter feet.

One of my teachers teased me and said I owed him $14 for all the extra steps I was taking during one dance. Some of this I attribute to my desire to do well or, at least, look like I have a clue on the dance floor.

In prior classes, my instructor told me to stop being a “skitter feet.” Think of a cartoon character with her feet going every which way. As the name implies, a “skitter feet” tries too hard and overcompensates with extra steps. See, I’m dancing, my feet are moving.

I have come to realize with much chagrin that I have been a “skitter feet” a good part of my life. I try hard, often too hard. See, I’m busy, I’m always in motion.

This is my biggest take-away from dance so far. And it leads to the following life lessons:

Go slower. Take bigger steps.

One dance partner says to me every time we dance, “We’ll go nice and slow.” I am a bit like a Labrador. I get excited, especially if I know—or think I know — the sequence of steps or the music engages my wiggle button. I tend to race through the dance.

Another partner said to me as we exited the dance floor, “Well, at least, no one got hurt.”  And there’s that.

Most of my life has been accomplished through quick steps, busyness and much-to-do. As I consciously slowed down these last few years, I’ve learned the slower, more considered pace serves me well, both in dance and life.

And speaking of life, instead of all those small, busy distractions I do before something big, maybe I would be better served by doing the one big thing s-l-o-w-l-y. Ahhh, who knew dance would have so much to teach me?

Go faster. Take smaller steps.

And here we have the converse, if I need to go faster in a dance, I am of no help to myself or my partner if I take giant steps, which a) slow down the process, b) increase the probability of missed steps and c) have the potentiality of a complete paralysis on the dance floor by yours truly.

This makes sense in life, too. It really is a flair for the obvious but I hadn’t connected the dots previously. Quick activities require focused attention. Smaller steps can be done quickly, one after the other, which is all part of the doing-it-faster theme.

After a few months, the teacher told the class that we all now know enough to be dangerous on the dance floor. “Dangerous” was the word he emphasized, looking directly at this nascent Twinkle Toes. And I smiled back because I have found my thing. I didn’t even know I was missing a thing until ballroom dance came into my life.

That said, there have been some weeks when it was a colossal effort to get out the door and make the effort. Given I have some rings around my tree, being the novice is not the norm these days. Happily, as the newbie, they are minimal expectations. It certainly teaches me humility, patience and practice. The advantage of being older is that I don’t take myself too seriously. It is easy for me to laugh – and laugh—at my foibles and missteps. So even if I trounce on my partners’ toes, throw my instructor a “wobbly” or completely space-out on what we are doing at the moment, I am having fun.

The combination of the music and dance have opened something up in me, something I didn’t even know was there. Post-class body aches and beginner status notwithstanding, I just love it. And I think I have finally determined why. It’s because ballroom dancing brings me to a place of flow and I experience unadulterated, unabashed joy. JOY! Who knew?

Meet me on the dance floor. I’ll be the one in the pink dance sneakers, smiling broadly and singing along with the music.










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10 Responses to Life lessons from dance class

  1. Adele Ryan McDowell July 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm #

    You’re so fun, Na’ama. Thanks so much. And who knows what stories I might have after 5 days at adult ballroom dance camp?!!! Love you dearly.

  2. Adele Ryan McDowell July 19, 2018 at 4:57 pm #

    Thank you so much, Gayook. Over the years, you would mention dance and now I fully get it. Thanks for your love and support and getting a kick out of my dance floor escapades.

  3. Adele Ryan McDowell July 19, 2018 at 4:55 pm #

    Oh Lin, I knew you would get a kick out of my latest endeavor. I know how much you miss dance, so I will dance double for you:))) I never knew it would be so joyous. Lovely to share that with you. Take precious care.

  4. Lin Charles July 18, 2018 at 9:16 pm #

    Knowing me as you do, and knowing I was a dancer since childhood, I am sure you will understand when I tell you that I can feel your joy and happiness from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. I am filled with joy for you, having known what you now are feeling! Your heart has been dancing, twirling and rhythmically pulsing with the Universe forever. It’s time you gave the rest of your body the same joy. My body isn’t cooperating anymore, so dance for me, too, Adele. I feel your joy in every molecule of my being! Samba, rhumba, and jive away, my sweet angel! ?????

  5. Gayook July 18, 2018 at 4:38 pm #

    Only you could correlate dancing to life and life’s many lessons. I can see where it’s opened up so much for you, and I’m ecstatic for you, as I’ve mentioned time and again. As you know, dancing has been my one and only athletic exercise for the longest time. Of all the other activities, It’s the only one in which I am fully in my body and not going “out of body”, something I hadn’t realized till I did some dancing in CR.

    I see ur going to keep dancing shoes companies in business for a long long time!

    Much love.

  6. Naama Yehuda July 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm #

    This was so much fun to read! Not only because of the obvious imagery that this elicited (yep, I could TOTALLY see your descriptions, even if I do believe — if I may say — that you are a bit harsh on yourself sometimes); not only because the lessons you describe so well are indeed so profoundly Truth; but also because the joy comes through, and the real-time learning, and the rhythm of all things new and reawakened.

    So delighted for you.
    And for your classmates. They’re lucky to have you. Every class MUST have at least one Twinkle Toes, or the lights won’t flicker right.

    BTW, with regard to the Spring Chicken stuff — gotta tell ya, my dear, by your birthday month alone, we both know you actually are … 😉

    Love ya much and then some.
    Here’s to music, flow, just the right steps and all the extra joy.

  7. Adele Ryan McDowell July 18, 2018 at 3:38 pm #

    Oh, Mary Swain, what a loving comment. Thank you so much. You are such a dear and I’m doing a happy twirl just for you.

  8. Adele Ryan McDowell July 18, 2018 at 3:32 pm #

    Amen, sister, amen!

  9. May Swain Landreth July 18, 2018 at 2:01 pm #

    Your post is lovely in every way, the metaphors, the words, the humor, the depth, the fun, and best of all, the reminder for all of us of the possibility and reality of joy available to any of us – just waiting to be discovered and nurtured.

  10. Stefania July 18, 2018 at 1:34 pm #

    Flowing on the River of Joy.