If life is a dance, then I think I’ve learned some things from my Swing instructors that apply to stepping along this Earthly journey. Even if you don’t like to dance other than enjoying episodes of Dancing with the Stars from the comfort of your couch, you might benefit from what I’ve learned.
One of the first points the dance teachers’ make is Wait on the Lead. As a follower, you’re to wait until your partner, your lead takes the first move to indicate it’s time to start. This may seem easy enough, but for some of us, it’s not that simple. As I’ve often admitted in my posts, I can be impatient. When it comes to dancing, if it’s a song I really like–especially a fast tune, I sometimes lose my focus and get ahead of the lead.
This is not a new issue for me.
Years ago, my husband and I took our first ballroom dancing lessons at Bounds Dance Studio in Chapel Hill. I’d given us the series of lessons as an anniversary present. In retrospect, it may have been more of a gift for me than for him!
In our first class, the male instructor showed us how to get into the closed position and then demonstrated with his female assistant the count and first moves of an East Coast Swing. After we were shown the steps for both the lead and follow, we were instructed to do the same with our partner.
Several times my husband and I tried to follow the instructions. We were struggling and with exasperation in his voice, he said, “Let me lead!”
I was annoyed and responded, “If you would lead, I’d follow.”
It wasn’t a pretty site as I looked at our reflection in the mirrored walls of the studio; not the time to be fussing with your spouse. We weren’t a couple that argued that often, and when we did, it was in private; but you wouldn’t have known it at that moment.
The instructor came over to see about our problem. He separated us, taking me as his partner and sending my husband over to his assistant. I felt like a naughty child after fighting with a sibling– separated by the parents.
All these years later, I still have to be reminded, “Wait on the Lead.” That’s not only true in my dancing but in other matters. As a Christian, sometimes I’m waiting on God’s leading– for the next door to open, for a response to some request I’ve made. That space of waiting can be filled with anxiety, uncertain how things are going to turn out.
But in dancing, it gives the leader the time and space to decide what will come next. I appreciate those who take on the role of leader, because there’s a lot to keep in mind and a floor of couples to navigate around. With my directional confusion, I don’t learn dances quickly; If I had to lead, I don’t know if I’d be dancing. So, I should be especially patient with my partners, holding back when my tendency would be to move forward.
I’ve made some great friends in the dancing community. One of the women who is focused on improving her dancing, trying many different types, taking classes and private lessons, is Donna. She dances beautifully with her partners and I doubt she ever has a problem with waiting for the lead.
Over the last few months, I’ve taken West Coast Swing lessons at Loafers in Raleigh. Robin Smith is our instructor and has been teaching and judging championships for years. He is a stickler for getting things right–especially for precision footwork. In our last lesson, he made the point, “Take Every Step” in the pattern. He further emphasized that it was up to each dancer to do their part–and not depend on their partner to “make them look good.”
We were practicing a pattern with a wrap and I couldn’t quite get in all the steps–especially since we were just going through it. The dance floor is a circle of couples and after each time practicing that step with a partner– you have to rotate. Robin was watching to see how we were doing, and unfortunately, was standing near me. When we finished the pattern he looked at me and said, “Good cover” which meant I didn’t do all the steps but covered it up. For him, that’s like saying”Gotcha!”
I think about how this applies to everyday life and how we may want to take short cuts instead of making every step. Sometimes short cuts look like the better option, but we could be missing something that would have benefitted us had we taken every step. Like in dancing, steps to any goal build on one another and have a purpose. In dancing, there are things that happen on the second count, the second step that are integral to setting up that dance and to being where you need to be on the eighth. Taking all the steps allows the process to build upon itself and have a satisfactory conclusion. Isn’t that how it is with other things in life?
Sometimes the dance classes are overwhelming; how will I ever be able to do all those steps?
I’ve learned from my friend, Carol who is a retired teacher, that it takes lots of practice and sticking with it. Just as she used to help her middle school students with learning math and science–Carol knows the value of practicing, doing your homework, and getting help when you’re stuck.
I met Carol in a Texas 2-Step class in the months after my separation from my husband. I took that class from Shari Huggett-Milton to help me get through that hard time. In talking with Carol, I discovered that we were both raised on North Carolina farms. We had many other things in common and became fast friends. She mentioned that her sister enjoyed dancing and was quite good at it. Eventually, at the Southern Star Ballroom’s Halloween Dance, I met Carol’s sister, Donna– and realized we’d known each other from the Sunday Night Swing dances at the Elk’s Lodge.
Carol improves her dancing by taking classes as well as private lessons. When I feel frustrated she reminds me that you pick up a little bit with each class– improving over time. Like doing her homework, she takes time to practice after the classes. Her persistence is inspiring and helps me when I feel overwhelmed.
Another thing that Robin tells us is to “Take Your Time. Don’t Be Rushed.” This allows each dancer to be unhurried, getting in all those steps in the pattern. As you become more skilled, it allows for time to be creative with spontaneous moves that go with the mood of the music. When you’re not rushed, you’re less likely to get off balance. You’re more able to be present for that dance, with that partner than if you’re moving quickly to what’s next.
The instruction to slow down, to take your time is one that most people can use every day of their life. We’ve been so used to being rushed, to doing too much, that it can be hard to even recognize it. When we finally take notice and slow down, we see how enjoyable the journey can be at a reduced pace. It even helps us to wait for what’s to happen, and to be okay with each step–no matter how difficult
I’ve been so thankful for the gift of dancing. The friends I’ve made have been such a support for me–especially over the past two years with going through a divorce. Even when I was away from the dance for fifteen months during the Covid shut down, I had ‘phone visits’ with friends I’d met through this common bond. We understood being sad, feeling an emptiness without those nights of dancing under the mirrored ball.
Now, I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned from dancing over the years is not the specific instructions of Wait for the Lead, Take All Your Steps, or Take Your Time. Instead, it’s to have fun– no matter your skill level, no matter your partner. Just focus on that present moment enjoying the dance because
Dancing is a Celebration and Brightens the Heart!