My wife—hi, hot stuff!—bought me ballroom dance lessons for Christmas. Even though I can cut rug freestyle, I was really excited about taking formal instruction. After finishing the eight week course last week, I am pleased to report it did not disappoint.
I fully expected to learn some new moves, but I didn’t expect the class to broaden my worldview and deepen my appreciation for music. But it did. Here’s what ballroom dance lessons taught me:
- The beauty of non-verbal communication. Humans understand body language at a young age, but choreographed dancing is altogether a different beast. While body language and gestures allow us to respond and communicate with someone for a few moments, formal dancing lets us have full on, several minute conversations without saying a word. It’s the other kind of body talking, the one you can do it public without getting arrested. The only way I describe it: magic. Seasoned dancers know this, of course. But for a newbie like me, it was a revelation.
- How to dance to popular music. I can honestly say I appreciate every genre of western hemisphere music. But I ignorantly thought ballroom entailed dancing to specialized waltz music that people rarely hear in every day life. Not true. After learning the Nightclub Two-Step, Jitterbug, Fox Trot, and Waltz, I can dance to a lot of popular music. For instance, the first three songs of a recent favorite album are a two step, jitterbug, and waltz in that order. I know because I danced with my wife to ’em, replete with inside turns, outside turns, open breaks, American spins, box steps, dips, and more. Armed with knowledge, I no longer just listen, air guitar, and freestyle dance to music. I can sync my body and a dance partner to it. AWESOME. I even discovered you can dance the two-step to Cypress Hill! (Clean version, of course. Do it for the kids!)
- Class enjoyment is 50% content, 50% teacher. I’m sure I learned this lesson while in high school, but the class reminded me of this altruism again. You see, learning how to dance is exciting, humbling, and empowering. But my wife and I both remarked how dry our lessons would have been without Bill Wright, our highly entertaining, witty, and always-on-his toes instructor. When people say they “LOL’d” they’re usually lying. This guy, on the other hand, is the real deal. He’s good. He’s encouraging. And he made me laugh out loud (if not amusingly chuckle) every single session. Moral of the story: Good things are worth learning, even from bad teachers sometimes. But great teachers make the best things in life so much more enjoyable and attainable.
- Genders should complement (and compliment) one another. How do you celebrate the male and female species and their innate talents (if not gender roles) while striving for equality? As the father of three girls and one selfless wife, I’ve wrestled with that question a lot recently. On one hand, my gender has shamefully exploited less physically dominant females for centuries—if not intentionally, at least inconsiderately. I realize that. But I also believe males are better overall at somethings (like football, killing spiders, and select industries) and women at other things (like sympathy, nurturing, socializing, multi-tasking, and other industries). So long as each gender is given a chance (aka feels heard and can strive for what they want to be, even if contrary to conventions), is it wrong that females excel at somethings while males at others? I don’t have all the answers, but I think dancing might have one. In dancing, the expectation is that males lead. It makes things easy, no talk required (see also lesson no. 1). That said, in dancing (as in ice skating), the females are the real show. They get to do a lot more cool moves. When in harmony, the propped male leads the female to brilliance. It’s a beautiful thing.
- Learning new things is invigorating. It keeps us young at heart, honest, sharp, and happy. I’m thankful for all the things we can learn from this oyster called “world.”
Mrs. Snow and I enjoyed the class so much, we start “intermediate” ballroom next month with Mr. Wright. Here’s to dancing with the stars and perennial improvement.
Originally published spring 2015