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December 2017 Newsleter

Michael Maddox

Step by Step.

A rumba step here, a waltz step there—many of us acquire our dance repertoire this way. We retain one or two steps or techniques from each lesson and then deposit them into the brain/muscle memory that guides our moves on the social-dance floor. The process is gradual, cumulative, and pleasant: lesson after lesson, dance after dance, and it occurs while being with a significant other or with friends as we're out for an evening of fun. Though not as efficient as is intensely practicing a routine intended for competition or demonstration, the step-by-step means of learning—which most of us social dancers engage in—is social, physical, educational, additive, and fun.

When we began ballroom dancing, many of us experienced the following: We'd completed the first lesson, but then a week later couldn't recall any moves (I've since learned that videotaping the step and then reviewing it before lesson #2 helps me immensely in being able to replicate the move.) However, even though we might not recall a specific step from that first lesson, we did learn something. For those of us who said we had no sense of rhythm, we experienced moving our feet in time to the beat. For those of us who said we had two left feet, we experienced dancing in frame with a partner. It adds up, and those bits each contribute to our subconscious. Consequently, we continue to improve, looking smoother and displaying more variety in our dance. For nondancers who claim they'll never learn because they have no sense of dance, this how a sense of dance is acquired—by engaging with lessons and by getting out on the social-dance floor.

Lao Tzu said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,"and that's exactly how our fun-filled, ballroom-dance journey begins—with the first step, at the first lesson. After the first, we take a second, and then a third. We might even take the same "basic-rumba" lesson two or three times, but who cares? It's a night out, it's with other people, and if we're with our significant other, then it's time together once a week or more in a fun setting.

Eventually, we launch onto the social-dance floor, in public. We attempt a dance or two and then wonder where the steps we'd learned in class fled to. We'd been comfortable with stop-and-go lessons, in which each step was broken down by the instructor into thirty-second sections, but now those lesson-learned steps seemed to have evaporated in the heat of the continuous flow of music occurring on the big dance floor, where couples whirl all around us. We ask ourselves, will we ever be able to whirl and swing like that? Fortunately, experienced dancers, who've all been where we're at, come up to us with smiles and encouragement, and they invite us out onto the dance floor, where they (demonstrating consideration of their partners, which is what experienced ballroom dancers do) dance with us at the skill level we're at.

Two years elapse. We've taken many classes and attended many dances. Then, one evening, at a social dance, it dawns upon us: We're twirling most of the night to multiple rhythms and with multiple partners. Somehow we've instilled in our brains and bodies a storehouse of moves that now manifest on the dance floor. We can dance most of the evening should we choose. What a feeling! We're experienced ballroom dancers who can dance a lot (though we're still learning and growing.) A second realization occurs too: As we've journeyed towards becoming experienced ballroom dancers, we've been with friends, been out in town, been active and engaged, had physical exercise, learned an array of dance moves and techniques, and had fun! The pathway we'd embarked upon two years before is one where not only is the destination rewarding but so is the journey. Both the learning and the being of ballroom dancing have enriched our lives . . . step by step.

Michael Maddox

USA Dance Kitsap