Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lessons from the Dance Floor

Ballroom dance lesson
"How do you let the woman know where you want her to go?" I asked. In any other context, it would have sounded chauvinistic, at best a little cocky. On the dance floor, however, it's critical if you're going to lead, and by cultural convention since I was the man, I was also the leader, and I needed a hint. The steps I could do, but how to communicate my intention to my partner?

"Ah! Good question! Watch me," said my instructor, as he simultaneously lifted his left hand and gently nudged his partner into a spin with his right. We were practicing making the waltz more interesting and as I imitated his movements, the lights began to come on. It's not a matter of whispering, "Okay, now we're going to turn," but rather of placing my hands in a position that draws my partner out of her usual pattern and into a new one.

I can't get over the subtly of what I'm learning from week to week. I still feel like a clod sometimes, an overgrown country boy clad in a too-large-for-his-feet pair of his father's boots, stomping around the dance floor. I feel sorry for my partners and apologize for misplaced steps that leave them wondering if they're dancing with the poster child for ataxia (staggering, stumbling gait). I watch my instructor -- he makes it look effortless -- and wonder if I'll ever come close.

It's so hard not to approach dancing like a medical student, analyzing everything and evaluating my performance as if a life hangs in the balance. "Close your eyes," my instructor admonishes, telling me, in effect, I'm over-thinking. I do, the step falls into place, and once again I apologize to my partner, this time for not looking into her eyes.

In the midst of it all, I get a glimpse of what's happening to me. I'm learning to lead, adjusting the power in my arms to match my partner's, too much for one and too little for another. Women are miracle and mystery embodied; the tension transmitted by the way they carry themselves speaks volumes and most men are too busy to listen. I'm learning to be a man with women in a way that's new, that doesn't care how many languages I read or how well I converse. I'm not sure I can describe it, but I like the way it feels. Sigh, lessons from the dance floor...I mean, who knew?

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