My Left Feet

salsaBy Kay Howell – I have two left feet. Walking down the sidewalk, I often trip over tiny uneven spots or elevation changes. I am the master of the nonchalantly sticking my arms out for balance, and then pretending I meant to run my fingers through my hair or scratch my shoulder. So when I boyfriend suggested we take dance classes last fall, I sat him down and patiently explained that when I tried to move to any sort of rhythm, an extra left foot grows out of my left ankle, just to trip me up even more. Eventually he prevailed, by offering such compelling arguments as “it will be great exercise,” “it’s a fun couple’s activity,” and “I’ll buy you dinner afterward!” So in early February, bundled in winter coats and armed with a Groupon, we set out to take our first dance class at a studio downtown.

At the end of our lessons two weeks later, we certainly weren’t the most graceful couple on the dance floor. But by being challenged to try something new and completely out of my comfort zone, I know that I learned a few valuable lessons with applications off the dance floor:

Leading is hard, but following is harder

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly charismatic leader, but my nascent leadership skills decided to suddenly appear on the dance floor. Specifically, my inability to follow my boyfriend’s lead as we attempted to rumba, waltz, and tango. Dancing was challenging for me because it wasn’t something I could do all on my own, or have complete control over. Our instructor had to repeatedly remind me to “let the man lead, Kay!” Dancing was a great exercise, and not just in the cardiovascular sense. Instead, it showed me that I can’t always be in charge and that it’s okay to sometimes rely on someone else to take the lead.

Get the basics down

Each dance we learned began with a simple pattern. Only once we mastered the pattern, could we move on to more advanced steps and moves. Of course, we were impatient to get to the fancy stuff, so we sometimes tried to go ahead without knowing exactly what we were doing. Well, no bones were broken, but someone may have been twirled with too much enthusiasm into the nice elderly couple dancing nearby. Dance classes were a real reminder to me that nothing in life comes without practice, and that it takes time and investment to become actually good at something. And once again, apologies to the nice elderly couple.

Trust, trust, trust

More than anything else, dancing lessons reminded me that I had to trust my instructor and trust my partner. As someone who has worked in education for several years, I’m used to either being in charge of a classroom, or being a student in an academic classroom. Dancing was so far outside of anything I’ve tried to learn in the last few years. I had to open myself up to a new area of knowledge. While it was challenging at first to trust the instructor, two weeks of lessons showed me that the only way I would make any progress was to trust the steps the instructor showed, and to trust my boyfriend to lead up through those steps.

Well, we’re not going to win any awards for our dancing. At best, we’ll be that awkward couple that shuffles slowly by themselves in a dark corner at a distant cousin’s wedding. But darn it, we’ll be shuffling to the correct steps, and I will only have one left foot!

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