Feb 212009
 

It’s the first day of dance classes. Nervous men and the women are lined up in rows facing each other. They are in a dance studio with hardwood flooring and mirrors on the wall. There is some nervousness, some excitement and much anticipation. The instructor comes in and shows one of the basic moves to everyone. Then he takes one of the girls and they do a beautiful little dance together, even though she’s just a beginner. When one of the guys in the class try it, they look terrible, even with the girl who danced beautifully before. Why is everyone terrible, except when they’re great with the instructor? The answer is the most important thing they’ll learn in the course. They will learn the dance steps, of course, however they will learn something far more valuable. What they will learn provides a great metaphor for interacting with life.

I took dance classes not too long ago and it was a lot of fun. I highly recommend it. The benefits of taking even one dance course are numerous: you get to meet interesting people, you get to experience the richness of life, prevent boredom, learn a new skill, other kinds of dancing also improves (not just the one you take), you become more comfortable in your body, you learn that no one else knows what they’re doing while dancing so you stop being self-conscious, and you enjoy yourself! If you’re in college or university, check out your gym, they will probably have dance classes. There might also be dancing clubs. If you’re not, check out your local gym, they may have dance classes or be able to refer you to some good places. Or google, “(hometown) dance lessons” and substitute your hometown for the word. One of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had.

I should make this clear: in my class, the guys did the leading and the women did the following. However, the instructor explicitly said that that did not have to be the case. So, any time I say “guys” just substitute in “leader” and when I say “women” you can put in “led”. At least one lesbian couple chose one of the partners to be a leader and the other person to be led. Leader and the led are just roles in dancing, in this case filled by guys and women. I’m not sure dancing where both try to lead or be led would work well. You can find dance lessons that are alternative-lifestyle friendly if you ask around.

At the beginning, everyone is awkward and unsure of what they’re doing. However, an odd thing happens with the instructor starts to dance with someone: they look beautiful together. When the instructor starts to dance with a woman, it’s like she knows the moves, even though she’s a beginner like everyone else. This puzzled me. It took me a while to figure this out but here it is: he was leading her firmly and clearly. The guys weren’t doing that so it all looked like a mess. So, why didn’t they all do it?

There’s a number of reasons why the guys weren’t doing that. The first was that the guys weren’t really sure of the dance moves themselves, so they didn’t really have the attention to spare to lead the woman. The second was that the instructor didn’t explicitly teach leading and just taught the steps. I don’t know whether this was just something he did but didn’t know he did (implicit vs explicit–watch this entertaining video by Tim Ferriss for his dance story). This is important because leading works two ways: you have to be teach how to lead but also to be led. To lead, you have to send clear signals with your arms and body. To be led, you have to keep a taut stance to be sure that you receive the signals through the arms. Finally, I think that a lot of people just aren’t very comfortable leading. There may be self-confidence issues there such as, “who am I to lead?” and others may be in the love-hate relationship with the masculine role that guys seem to have. A guy should be strong and lead, but also allow the woman to lead? A lot of guys get confused by the mixed signals they get about the nature of manhood.

In any case, I started to lead with confidence even if I didn’t feel it and everything went wonderfully. Everyone I danced with had a lot more fun and we looked great. I realize that the role of the leader is a sort of stewardship. You have to fulfill your responsibilities to the other person, as well as listen to them while working towards a common goal. You can try bossing your dance partners around, but it doesn’t work very well. Sometimes your dance partner will tell you clearly what isn’t working through her body. She’ll refuse to do a move or be very resistant to it. How is dancing a metaphor for life?

Life is a bit like dancing. Your life is your dance partner and if you don’t lead, it will be a mess. The vagaries of chance, circumstances and past habits will lead you and you’ll end up with something you didn’t really want. Life will often tell you what’s not working and you won’t get the results you want. You have to listen to your dance partner. But you also don’t want to make assumptions about how life is. Don’t let timidity make you assume that you shouldn’t lead or that something is not possible. Try it and you’ll find out quickly. Let life tell you what’s working and what’s not and learn to listen to it, just like on the dance floor.

Even if you’re wrong, be confident and keep leading. Even if you make a mistake, you’ve learned something and the other person’s learned something and keep leading. Right after a mistake is when leading is needed most and that’s when most people stop or lose confidence. A lot of the dancers got thrown off by a mistake in the dance, lost their confidence and messed up the rest of the routine. If you keep leading, though, the mistake is barely a hiccup and people will often miss the mistake because you don’t make a bit deal of it and just keep on dancing. If you lose a job but go right into following one of your dreams (like living in Spain), or getting another job or starting another business or volunteering, the job less will barely look like a hiccup and it will just like it’s part of the plan. But if you lose a job and just sit at home, you’ve lost confidence after a mistake and ruined the rest of the routine. But you can start dancing and leading again at any time. Even if you’re wrong, you’re right so keep leading the dance.

Life is your dance partner. If you lead clearly and strongly, people can see a beautiful dance and go, “boy, they’ve sure got a great life”. If you let life lead you, you’ll often end up somewhere you didn’t want to. Live consciously.

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