It’s kind of amusing to me how much time I spend working to get people dancing when I spend so much of my own sitting through meetings or at a desk. So I jump at the opportunity to slip away and pop in on our Mad Hot schools. It’s easy to fit a class in around my schedule since we’re in so many classrooms—it’s become a part of my day. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time observing but eventually had my fill of that. Now I jump in and join the students.
They don’t all want to dance. They won’t all take my hand. I’ve learned not to push it. Darting, doubtful eyes can’t be forced into contact. But give it a little time and it will happen through the dance.
The first thing I do when I enter a Mad Hot class is check out the space to see if anyone isn’t dancing and try to connect. “Why aren’t you dancing?” I always want to know. When there’s no response, I’ll wait. “Do you like to dance?” That will often get a shrug or a flat out, No. Last week I was standing beside a young gentleman leaning up against the wall. He wasn’t feeling well, he said. I noticed a bandage wrapped around his hand. “What happened there?” I asked.
“I punched the wall.”
“Oh,” I nodded. “My son left a big hole in our wall once. Did it make you feel better?”
“Hmm…Well, would you be my partner? I’m not very good but I try.” I’m surprised when he slides off the wall and joins me in the dance.
Dance is about connecting as much as it is about movement—connecting to something you didn’t think you’d like, connecting to abilities you didn’t know you had, connecting to others. I learn along with the students—sometimes being led, other times helping with a step—and the dance happens together.
“What’s your name?” I always ask first. I didn’t get an answer from the young gentleman half my size in a class this past week. His hood was over his head and his sleeves covered his hands. He did not intend to dance with me. We shuffled through the steps as I held onto his sweatshirt sleeves. I tried not to take it personally but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. It hurts. I kept my eye on him as we rotated partners and noticed it wasn’t only me he didn’t want to dance with. I began to feel comfortable with the class and soon enough was laughing out loud as I did a triple step, rock step away from my partner and then back in. There is nothing more joyful than dancing.
By the time I made my way around to the hooded, sleeved student again, he took my hand. “Why are your hands so skinny?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” was all I could think to say.
He shrugged off his hood then. I watched as he yanked off his jacket, tossed it to the wall and said, “I’m in a better mood now.” We danced.
What’s your name?” I crouched low to the overly energetic little guy in another class.
“Tarzan.” He smirked.
“Alright, Tarzan, I’m Jane. Let’s dance.” We took hands and I noticed pretty quickly that he knew more, (and liked it more) than he was letting on in front of his friends. We rotated partners—every student in a class dances with all their classmates—and I can see I have a challenge. There are suddenly four boys pushing and teasing each other. “Come on now, focus gentlemen. What’s your name?” I ask the ring leader.
“Little Chicken,” he says and they all laugh. “What’s yours?”
“Big Chicken,” I say. “Let’s dance!” And we make it through the phrase. “Yes!” we high five. “Awesome!”
You might remember what it felt like to get a little affirmation from an adult when you were a student. I do. Sometimes that’s all a student needs. I am always motivated as I watch our faculty teach, inspire, affirm and persevere through many challenges.
I realized it was one thing to stand on the sidelines, and that it’s quite another to be a part of the dance—affirming and connecting. I was afraid I’d mess up and embarrass myself, but found out that was the very thing that made it work. The students teach me.
Why not take someone’s hand and join the dance? Someone is waiting for an encouraging word. Take a step and touch a life. Courage and joy—which is what I believe dance is all about—can conquer so many of our city’s challenges.
“While I dance I can not judge, I can not hate, I can not separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance.” – Hans Bos
Please give me a call if you’d like to join me at a school and let me share the joy!
Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom Competition takes place on Saturday, May 20th, 1:30 p.m. at the BMO Harris Bradley Center when 45 city schools will come together to compete in Salsa, Tango and Swing. Finals begin at 4:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.