The lights were dimmed and the dancers were paired off, bodies pressed against each other, hips pulsing to the music, arms draped around a neck, shoulder, curved around a waist. Some danced with eyes closed or half-open, a half-smile playing on their lips, a dreamy look on their faces.
The dancers had come together from around the country and although some may have looked like lovers, or longtime partners, many were just meeting for the first time. Others were longtime friends who’d been on the dance scene for years.
Blues dancers, who take this on as a sport and passion, melt into the moment and make it effortlessly look as though every partner is the one they always dance with, or share moments of passion with. This dance is intimate and passionate, even as it is an art.
“Every dance is like a love affair,” said a reporter on a recent NPR story on blues dancing. I often feel this way when dancing, in love with my partner, even if he is a stranger, with the music, with our connection, just for that magical moment of three blissful minutes on the dance floor together.
Coming Full Circle
This was not the first time I’d “fallen in love” while dancing. That first happened years ago.
Last weekend, I returned to the Boston Ballet School where I had taken my first “official” dance class years ago, back in college. It was one of those times when it felt like my life had come full circle.
This time, it was for a weekend-long blues dancing event. I had traveled to Boston for BluesShout, a lindy hop and blues event featuring live bands, dancing until sunrise, and some of the world’s best blues dancing instructors.
Returning to those same classrooms, where I had pirouetted, plied and arabesqued, felt like confirmation that dancing would always be part of my life. It felt like coming home again.
The Love of Dance!
I loved to dance as a little girl, and did it for fun, high-kicking the Irish Jig in the living room with my dad, memorizing my girlfriends’ jazz routines, and pretending to tap dance like Shirley Temple.
Yet I never officially took dance lessons as a child.Â When I first took a ballet lesson in college at age 21, I fell in love ~ with the precision of the movement, the elegance and grace, the way that every muscle and its positioning became important somehow for me to simply move my toe.
I bought leotards and diaphanous ballet wrap skirts and made flying leaps in front of the mirrors. I marveled at using every single muscle in my legs. It was a revelation.
An Addiction Born
It would launch years of dance lessons for me in all different styles, including tango, flamenco, belly dancing, salsa, and then swing dancing. Eventually much to my own surprise I became a professional dancer.
That hadn’t been the goal or the intention in the beginning. Dance was simply something that I loved to do.
Because I loved it so much, I took more and more classes as a young adult, launched by the precise movements and simple joys of that first ballet class.
In 1998 I first discovered lindy hop, the original swing dance from the 1920s and 30s. A girlfriend of mine at the time wanted to attend the American Lindy Hop Championships, just to check them out. At the time, we were doing East Coast Swing, another swing style, heading to local clubs decked out in vintage dresses with twirly skirts.
We went, I watched, and I was head over heels again. This dance was improvisational, sexy, fluid, and the dancers performed it with musicality, grace and a sense of humor.
I watched the competitors perform and thought to myself, “I am going to BE one of those dancers someday!”
I knew I would become a “Lindy Hopper.”
A Vengeance and a Passion!
I took the dance up with a vengeance. Along the way I met another swing dancer and started dating him, and we ended up teaching together. He was new to the area from Ohio, was our new local dancing superstar with fancy moves that were new to us. He needed a teaching partner.
It was a dream come true for me of being the lindy hop teacher and performer.
We taught hundreds of students, and traveled often to study with some of the best lindy hop instructors internationally. We attended weeklong dance camps in the summertime, where we’d take dance classes all day and dance all night, stumbling back to our cabins in the woods, exhausted but deliriously happy, at sunrise.
And, we danced in front of thousands of people: at an outdoor summer concert in Albany; at First Night New Year’s Eve celebrations locally; on local television.
It was a clear case for me where without planning it, or knowing how to go about doing it, a dream came true for me just from the sheer force of passion and joy, just from being in action on it, and moving when opportunities presented themselves.
Returning To the Source!
Now, years later, I returned to the Boston Ballet School for blues dance classes, this time just for fun as a student. I got the chance over the weekend to dance with many of my favorite blues and lindy hop dancers from around the country.
Original lindy hop innovator and superstar Frankie Manning used to say that every dance is like a three-minute romance. You fall in love with your partner for three minutes on the floor, then spin into the arms of another man.
Indeed, all weekend, I fell in love over and over with the feeling of being in someone’s arms, moving together to the music, syncopating to the beats, moving our hips, bodies, hearts in unison.
Dancing all night long is still a dream come true for me, even if I am not choosing to dance professionally right now.
Reawakening the Dream!
Of course, it also made me think I want to be out there dancing more again than I have been in the recent past. Few things bring me greater joy than dancing, and I am a big proponent of doing the things in life that bring us the most joy.
Isn’t that a big part of the reason we are here? To enjoy life?
In my book, it is. Traveling to BluesShout reinvigorated my intentions to actively be out there dancing more, which for me in the near future will include more blues dancing and lindy hop events; more belly dancing, since that is another favorite of mine, and another dance style that I have performed in the past; and pole dancing classes at a studio in nearby Saratoga Springs, New York.
I also aspire to learn more tango, and to do more salsa again. My “return to dancing” may include some ’80s dancing nights at the local club, the Fuze Box, as well! We shall see!
For me the important reminder over the weekend was that it is so important to make time to do what we most love. And that we really never know when a passion will morph into a profession, or what will come of following our joy.
Live Your Passions!
I often remind my life coaching clients that if they are feeling unhappy or unsure of what to do next, or stressed or overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is simply to get out there and do something that we know makes us happy.
For me, dancing is one of these things. For others it could be gardening, cooking, hiking, biking, swimming, or countless other activities. We all have our favorites.
Engaging in activities that bring us great pleasure and joy is one of the fastest and most obvious ways to feel happy again and to elevate our spirits and energy levels. Yet sadly with the pace of modern life, many people sacrifice doing what they love for work that they may not love, and for just general “busy-ness.”
I would argue that getting out there and doing what we love will help us realize all of our goals and dreams, even when these two things seem unrelated, simply by raising our levels of joy.
We so often hear stories of people who meet their “soulmates” precisely because they are out there in the world doing what they love. And we are more likely to realize all of our dreams when we are coming from a place of happiness already.
If you are too busy working or taking care of others to do what you love, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your priorities and make sure YOU are one of them! In the end, after all, we do all that we do for one final goal: to be happy.
Isn’t that why we work hard, seek to make more money, and engage with others? We all ultimately want to be happy.
Here’s a quick check-in for yourself this week:
- What activities make you happiest, and bring you the most joy?
- When’s the last time you engaged in that activity?
- If it’s been a while, can you schedule it on your calendar now?
- Or better yet, do it today!
So make your goal being happy NOW and make that happen by doing what you love!
Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. She is also a lindy hopper, belly dancer and globe-trotter. Her post day is Tuesday.
Lisa Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on the Madam President Project.
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