When I saw the look of sheer delight on my mom’s face while she was dancing, I knew I wanted that. Then, at sixteen, when freedom was granted in the form of a vehicle, I went directly to the local dance studio and signed up for lessons. Since that time, partner dancing has remained a crucial part of my life.
After years of practice, many tears and a lot of looking goofy, I have become a competent dancer and frequently find myself in the role of teacher. As a teacher my focus is on social dancing, that place where I saw my mom’s expression of joy and where the possibilities are endless. Social dancing is what happens when two people meet on a dance floor and agree that for a few precious minutes they will create an experience that will never again be repeated. They will explore what it means to move together in unison with the all-present third partner known as the music.
In a social dance, there are the identified roles of leader and follower, but these are simply labels of convenience. At a foundational level, leaders are action and followers are reaction. The reality however is that when a solid foundation exists, the roles of action and reaction easily transition between partners and the dance becomes a conversation expressed in physical form.
When teaching, I explain that respect and the willingness to adapt to one another’s individual styles are key elements required for a solid dance foundation. Upon reaching this point in the training someone invariably asks, “Who adjusts?” The questioner has gone to the heart of responsibility should a problem arise. They ask because there is a belief that boundaries exist around the designated roles of leader and follower. Inherent in the question is a fear of stepping outside of any perceived boundaries and possibly creating more problems. The questioner has forgotten that dancing is a conversation where there are no limitations on creative solutions.
Who adjusts? The one who knows.
If you know there is a problem, then you are responsible for making the adjustment. Use the skills you have so you and your partner can reach the end of the song, safely and together. The goal of the dance is not to remain fixed and unbending in your designated role. The goals are to create, to learn about yourself, your partner, the music and the dance. How lovely it is to look at one another at the end of the song and know that together, you have created a once in a lifetime moment.
As it is in dance, so it is in life. We are continually engaging and dancing with others in this life and the same rules apply. Respect the personal styles of others and adapt. Should a problem arise, we can only hope that someone will notice and step out of any perceived boundaries to make adjustments.
I recently watched a video of an encounter between two people that ended badly. What I saw made me sad because it was an ugly dance. Neither individual was interested in creating something beautiful. They were only interested in being right in their defined roles; in being righteously right. The possibilities eluded them.
I watched as the all too familiar formula predictably played out on the video and what I saw were the thousands of moments when an adjustment on the part of either person would have changed the outcome. The lack of respect combined with the desire to be right in this dance could only lead to disaster. As the intensity increased, I tried to change the outcome myself by yelling, “Don’t go into the water!” But the future was clear. By their choices, they were dancing their way into the dark waters that would destroy their lives. There, before the entire world, are two individuals dancing together to prove their points without regard for one another and showing us what hate looks like. They both made the choice to stand firm in their perceived roles to pursue righteousness rather than understanding.
My thousands of dances in this life, both on the floor and off, have shown me that mistakes and misunderstandings are masterpieces in disguise. I have seen the tone of a dance change when one partner interprets a misstep by the other partner as brilliance. The misstep becoming inspiration and the partnership now moving into higher levels of innovation. I have seen people from different worlds come together to dance, create, learn, grow and inspire one another. These are the occasions that bring joy, but only if we recognize when there is a problem and step out of any imagined or imposed boundaries to make adjustments.