My Life in Dance
I was nervous and edgy. I almost talked myself out of going. Here it was, my fourth month of “doing something I’ve never done before” and I was thinking of ditching it at the last minute. But, I pushed through those feelings and drove to the dance studio anyway.
My hands were sweaty as I walked into the chilled studio and I was glad to see there were only a few other people there. That had been my plan, after all, when I scheduled the lesson for the dead of an afternoon during the week. I arrived and watched a woman who obviously was a competitive dancer go through some intricate moves with a partner, while an older woman shuffled along with an instructor on the far side of the dance floor. And, yes, there was actually a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling.
I took ballet and tap lessons when I was about 5. I still have the black and white photos to prove it, complete with the tutu and daisy headpiece sliding over one eye. But I had never taken any kind of ballroom or contemporary lessons and had never had many occasions to dance anyway. (I did go to my senior prom on a blind date...that's a story for another day.....and for the life of me cannot remember dancing.) But inside my head, I was a fantastic dancer, gliding down the staircase on the set of “Dancing with the Stars” to wow the judges with a spicy rumba or tango. In the real world, though, my experiences have not quite matched my mental images.
It had gotten so bad that I had taken to refusing to dance with the (few) men who asked me over the years. It was just too embarrassing to walk out onto the floor, not having any idea what was in store for me, and have the guy start gyrating his body, hands flapping around his head, eyes closed, while I stood there clueless about what I was supposed to do.
My father did teach me the two-step during the years that he and my mother were dancing their way through retirement. And I could follow someone who boxed-stepped me around the floor, and sometimes I would encounter someone who led me enough that I felt like I was “dancing.” But they were the exceptions. I usually stepped on a lot of toes and had mine routinely crushed. Or I stood there and watched the gyrations, anxious to sit down so people would stop looking at me. There might as well have been a large black arrow pointing at my head as The One Who Doesn’t Know How to Dance. At least, that's how I imagined it.
And here I was, ready to take my first real dance lesson. Imagine my surprise when it only took my instructor 40 minutes to prove something to me: I CAN dance, just like I experience it in my head.
What is required is a partner who knows how to lead.
Before we were finished, I was waltzing around the entire mirrored dance floor, head tilted just right, music flowing around us, with only a misstep here and there on the turns. We even did the cha-cha, his hand on my back gently telling me where to go as I flowed through the steps he had shown me. We finished with the swing, something I had seen other couples do but thought it must be too complicated for me to learn. It wasn’t. And it was a lot of fun.
This year-long journey of doing something new each month is proving many things to me. One is that we are never too old to walk to the edge of the cliff of a new experience and take a leap, even when we’re unsure of what awaits us at the bottom. It might take a little push to go over the side or maybe just someone who can gently lead us.
You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.
It's been a long time since I've been surprised by anything. Once you hit about 50, not much can jump out from behind a door, shout "BOO!" and still get a reaction.
But I have to admit....I am startled by my reaction to taking the "one" dance lesson in April that was my "thing I've never done before." The one twirl around the dance floor led to three more which then led to another 11. And now I'm signing up for months of lessons, expensive or not. I'm not sure I totally understand this myself, which is why I'm writing about it again. I write to process and this needs processing, believe me.
First of all, ballroom dancing for me is hard work. Ask me to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time, and then stand back and have a good laugh. My instructor knows when he shows me a new step, everything he's already taught me in that particular dance flies out of my head for a few minutes. It's like I wandered in off the street by mistake at that particular point in the lesson, a stranger lost in a new territory. We have to do it over and over for me to insert the new into the old and then put it all back together again, Humpty Dumpty-like. In other words, coordinated I am not. But when I get it (and I do), it is a thing of beauty. At least that's how it feels to me.
And unbeknownst to me all these years, I have been disconnected from my body. You want me to move my ribcage that way while my hips stay still? Are you crazy?? At least I'm secure enough to laugh at myself while I'm contorting my body the way he's demonstrating. How does he DO that? He's savvy enough not to laugh out loud at me, but I imagine he has a good chuckle when I stumble on home at the end of the hour. He's patient and kind and he's teaching me things I didn't even know I didn't know. I also have to trust him and relinquish control, one thing that I've learned as a single parent to withhold and the other I hold onto for dear life. Dancing challenges me to look at life through new lenses.
My life hasn't been much fun for a very long time. All that changed with my first step on the dance floor.
Things never go the way you expect them to. That's both the joy and frustration in life. I'm finding as I get older that I don't mind, though. It's the surprises that tickle me the most, the things
Sometimes in life we get it right.
Last night was one of those times for me. I did my "something I've never done before" for this month, an event that was unthinkable, unimaginable even six months ago. This teacher has become the student and the transition has been intriguing. My year-long journey of doing things I've never done before has put me into the role of the student in some new situations, and the lessons are many and varied.
The purpose of the journey is to rejuvenate, to experience life in a fresh way at an age when things often go stale. I started in January and have tackled six new things so far this year.
Who knows where the next six months will find me?
One of my new teachers chuckled when I admitted that I hadn't done the homework that he asked me to do. I hemmed, I hawed, I excused my own transgressions. I was pitiful, in other words. And then he seemed to delight in reminding me that my students must have felt the same way when I asked for THEIR homework and they started reciting the litany of reasons why they didn't have it. You know what they say about payback.
It has also been an eye-opener to be reminded from this new viewpoint that education is repetition. I hear the instruction, I see the demonstration, and I'm simply not getting it. Frustration mounts. And then, a mere change in terminology allows the same concept to finally sink in, making sense where yesterday there was no sense at all. Or it took me being ready to hear it....finally.
These are all things I know and have utilized from the instructor's side of the desk for decades. But by moving to the other side of the desk, the student side, my perspective has been knocked off kilter. And that is a very good thing, at any age.
A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard.