I started ballroom dance lessons to gain poise, lose weight, and improve my crappy attitude (after 2 horrible months of 6am aerobics). I’ve had great success toward my poise, weight, and attitude, without actually becoming any good at dancing
My career and knack for computation and details had made learning difficult. I made my poor dance instructor adapt herself to my learning style, which I call “dancing like an engineer”; lots of counting, thinking and pattern matching all driven by Excel spreadsheets.
So it was amazing to return home (during my bike repair) to receive high praise from her. I was gone for 14 weeks and I could only squeeze in a single visit. She observed whenever “a gentleman” (I love being called that) is gone that long, he almost always “loses everything” and she has to “start over with him at square one”.
When she and I danced I was confident. I could tell. I could feel it.
I confidently held her in proper form. I kept on beat, and I did the handful of elementary moves that I learned before leaving and practiced at each stop (left and right hand openings, etc). I even casually switched up between steps to the same tune (foxtrot, rumba, even swing can be danced to the same medium beat). I performed for her naturally, without a lot of thought, and without a hint of being clumsy or self conscious.
Where did I find confidence? Dancing in Bare Feet.
Across these 14 weeks I’d been dancing ballroom wherever I could. This gives you random partners, random instructors, different environments, patterns, styles. Its a great way to grow your skill. I signed up for the ballroom class at both of my summer camps, so had 2 hours times 5 days times 2 camps. Plus each camp had social dancing at night, starting with an hour of ballroom then switching to 3+ hrs of modern rock & roll. Also, as I traveled, I dropped in randomly on dance group meetups, getting four or five more two hour classes. As I do the math, that’s over 60 hours of dancing, between instruction, social, and free style, in under three months time. And everybody I was with was a fun partner and a great sport about my novice skill level.
While I’m outgoing in conversation, meeting new people, leading groups, and making presentations (something most people dread), that does not carry over to dance. From the start I was self-conscious about my physical manner, feeling uncoordinated. I started my summer trip as a wallflower.
But UU’s are the most accepting people anywhere. There are dozens of inspirational stories, many among the parents of teens, where the terror of peer pressure to conform just doesn’t exist. It’s not suppressed or punished … it doesn’t exist.
So during SUUSI, I noticed the Young Adults would pile onto the floor around 10pm, and bounce and whirl and windmill to the beat; “freestyling” I would later learn, to their own interpretation of the mood of the music. Meeting the rhythm, but with no plan or moves, just feeling the beat and sound (and even the lyrics) in a primordial way. The breakthrough was when I noticed some danced in shoes and some in sneakers. But some wore only socks and a few of the most active were dancing in bare feet. They were not concerned they may stub a toe or another may step on their foot; they were too busy lost in the music and gyrating their muscles to it.
And they were HAPPY.
So I was dancing ballroom clumsy and stiff and counting my beats when I said “why not?” I’m at a camp with 2000 non-judgemental UU’s, themselves escaping from the constraints of their daily lives. So I sought a friend and sponsor.
Melissa was a mom, UU, and both ballroom and free danced both nights, but had not signed up for class. I had told her about my summer, and she had become my de facto waltz partner. During one waltz I told her my commitment: I would freestyle group dance that night, in the circles, with the kids, without thinking about it, and just feel the music.
She asked “And whats stopping you?” and I explained just how daunting an unorganized, empty, freeform performance was to me. OK, she said, “then do it”. An hour later, I was watching the floor full of bobbing heads, when I spotted Melissa out in the sea of faces. I saw her wave then point to the ground, the international symbol for “you get out her, right now”. She was funny, and I was held accountable. So I went to face my fear.
A minute of stiff dancing and I could feel the beat. I lost my sense of clumsiness, found my physical place, and danced off by myself into a sea of unknown young faces. The months of ballroom had trained me to both sense and hold a beat. It gave me confidence to move my feet individually or in concert, in single or double beat rhythms. Within a minute, my self-imposed limits seemed silly, even absurd. When the kids arrived later, I watched them bounce and jump and twirl. I was on the floor, so I tried to ape them, but couldn’t due to muscle aches, never again from fear or worry.
The next evening during ballroom, I said I would dance in my socks, “like the kids”, as this was still a self-limit. An hour later, while I was confidently out in the group, she pointed at my feet with “Tsk, Tsk”. I came back in my socks. It was freeing. A song, another, with no worries. Then I went back, spontaneously, and took off my socks. Her face lit up to see me dancing in my bare feet. I was not worried if I might step on a bit of this or that. Not worried if I’d stub my toe or be stepped on by another dancer. Closing my eyes, spinning in circles, swaying, bouncing, twirling … in bare feet.
I was done with worry.
Three weeks later I arrived in northern Michigan for AMUUSE camp. On Sunday night introductions are done in the main hall, which immediately becomes the dance floor. Without a second thought I stood up and freely moved to the rhythms. Actually, I noticed about one half the men, and one-third the women quickly beat an exit to the lounge and its jigsaw puzzles and coffee pot. But every night I was dancing, by myself, in groups, and in couples with confidence. (let me add with only novice skill, but with the full confidence and my infectious positive attitude).
So flash forward to my one-hour visit at home. No worries, no over thinking, no self-conscious limits. Just laughing and hugs and telling stories. And when it was time to dance? Hearing the beat, feeling the rhythm, and confidently stepping into it. Foxtrot, Rhumba, Waltz & Swing. Leading, turning and simple spins.
“Where did that come from?”, Larissa asked me.
All I could say was “Dancing in bare feet”