I started ballroom dancing lessons during my first semester at Franciscan University. Coincidentally, my parents began taking lessons that same exact time. I told them I would join them when I came home- that is, after graduation.
Taking ballroom lessons back home and meeting and practicing with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met has been such a blessing in my life. When I started in August 2008, I felt called to make going to the Monday night lessons a commitment. I’m glad I had to either do it 100% or quit- because you just can’t do ballroom dancing halfway. Since then, I’ve joined other classes and am being challenged to do more and do the best I can with all of it.
I never expected to start dance lessons and form such camaraderie with all the other members in our classes. Our teacher is wonderful and plans showcases every year in which her students and herself show off their best dances, which she choreographs and works extremely hard on for months in advance. That first day of lessons was the day to sign up to perform the tango thirty days from then, so my dance partner and I decided to just jump in. Hence the camaraderie, because I believe the seven or so couples who learned the tango routine spent more time together outside of dance classes to practice and socialize than at the actual lessons.
That month, the ladies ordered corsets and bought black dresses and we all ordered Mardi Gras-type masks. My parents practiced together while I followed along, practicing in our sneakers in our driveway because we have all carpeting in our house. I don’t know how everyone did during the group tango, but I thought it was amazing. I remember being so dizzy and enthused the whole time. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my whole life.
But for me, ballroom hasn’t just been for fun- it’s been a learning experience and an opportunity to grow. Because of this, I have discovered many reasons why ballroom dancing is like having a relationship with God.
I believe that this call to be committed to this 100% can be compared to how Christians can’t be afraid to go all the way with God. The Bible says that those who begin to follow Jesus and then turn around to deal with things back home are not fit for the kingdom of God. He will lead the relationship; you need only to follow.
Trying to lead yourself is disastrous. I do this sometimes, because if I know the step, I sort of start doing it before my partner leads me into it. My dance teacher spelled it out for me when she told me to be the leader in a series of steps, and she’d follow. When I started to lead the steps, she stepped right into them before I’d even moved to do them. This is what it felt like to be the leader when your partner tries to control everything. My teacher also compared the feeling to driving a car down the interstate and the steering wheel coming off and controlling your hand movements instead of the other way around. It looks bad and feels worse, so now I try very hard not to rush the steps until I’m led to do them. Sometimes what you think is next is different from what your partner is leading you to do!
I think a lot of woman struggle because they know the steps, but they just have to wait to be led to do them. It’s one of those give-and-take situations. If we don’t allow our partner to lead- they never will. Such is true with God- and of course our spiritual lives are on a higher level here. My teacher told us we just have to allow ourselves to be led- and that’s that. My partner often says “How many times am I going to do the basic?” and I have to say “As many times as you want!”
It can be a very damaging thing in our relationships with others- and especially with God- if we get presumptuous and think we know and can control everything. Believe me, this has been a life-long lesson for me, and things like this have only helped me to break out of it!
You also have to give if you want to receive- in dancing this is called connection. Each partner has to put all of themselves into connecting by fingertip or hand contact, because the way you do the moves all balances off the other person. If one person isn’t giving their 50%, the other person instinctively tries to make up for it, and it doesn’t look or feel right.
We are to glorify God in all we do, and that includes with our bodies. Sometimes I ask God that, in my weakness, He’d be my strength and just start where I end. Dance truly is a sport because it takes work, it helps your tone because doing steps repeatedly helps to build muscle memory, and you have to practice if you want to get better. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun. When my dance partner said that the most important thing is having fun, I found this to be so true. I was reminded of this one day when I was frustrated over forgetting so many details, like having the correct frame, connection, tone, hand styling, feet turnout, the actual step, facial expression. Overall, it’s one of the coolest and challenging things I’ve done in my life, and it’s not something I’d ever leave because I get frustrated. But whenever I’d get really frustrated I would just remind myself that God called me to this- and that I only needed to do it for His glory- not my own.
I’ve also learned to never second-guess myself. If I make a mistake, I can’t stop, but I have to just keep going strong, just like the spiritual life. When I asked if I made mistakes during a public group performance, my partner just said I should never second-guess myself. The Lord allows us to make mistakes for our own sakes- for us to humble ourselves and begin again. We cannot go backwards to fix or correct our mistakes- but we can only move forward.
This reminds me of how funny it is how our personalities come out in dancing. I am shy, quiet, introverted, and I won’t open up to people unless I know them. I like to be independent and do everything by myself and sometimes that puts a strain on my relationships with people. It takes me a lot to just stop thinking about everything I need to do and just follow the leader. My dance partner purposefully improvs everything so I can’t think ahead and so I will become better at just following. My biggest challenge yet has been just following and establishing good connection.
Both having a relationship with God and being led in ballroom makes you vulnerable. It is very difficult for me to be vulnerable- to just let go and let God- but it must happen with both God and dancing if I want to improve- which I believe I have been.
Women must connect with their partner and let go of worrying what will come next. This builds trust and allows our partner to just lead us. Men have to obey their instructor as their partners obey them- just trust they’re following the instructor’s directions correctly so they can lead correctly as well.
There is always room for improvement. Sometimes there are frustrations, sometimes you’re afraid your dance partner secretly thinks you suck, sometimes you practiced but still didn’t do everything correctly. But the good outweighs the bad in ballroom dancing. Sometimes it totally makes my day, like the time when my dance partner said “You are escalating into a beautiful ballroom dancer!” in Bruno Tonioli’s voice.
There are times when I just stood back and watched everyone else practicing their steps and I felt so inspired watching them. It was like a scene from a movie. It’s so fun and innocent, beautiful, strong and graceful. I do believe this opportunity in my life came from the Holy Spirit, because it is Him alone who made every good thing.
I will end this with a meditation and a dancer’s prayer.
Dance with God
When I meditated on the word GUIDANCE, I kept seeing ‘dance’ at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn’t flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky. When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It’s as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.
My eyes drew back to the word GUIDANCE.
When I saw ‘G’, I thought of God, followed by ‘u’ and ‘I’. ‘God’, ‘u’ and ‘I’ dance. God, you, and I dance. As I lowered my head, I became willing to trust that I would get guidance about my life. Once again, I became willing to let God lead.
My prayer for you today is that God’s blessings and mercies be upon you this day and every day. May you abide in God as God abides in you. Dance together with God, trusting God to lead you and to guide you through each season of your life.
This prayer is powerful and there is nothing attached. If God has done anything for you in your life, please share this message with someone else, for prayer is one of the best gifts we can receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards; so let’s continue to pray for one another.
And I hope you dance!
I originally wrote this in 2009! 🙂