Learning to lead Part 1 of 3
I arrived for our first dance class at the Old Whitgiftians Clubhouse with a mixture of nervous anticipation and curiosity.
As I completed a new member form at the welcome desk I had a look around; at that point nobody was dancing but there were groups of people sitting at tables or standing around chatting, smiling and laughing; initial impression was a friendly atmosphere, my nervousness levels receded a little.
Then before I had time to run to the bar to calm my nerves and delay the inevitable moment of actually dancing, someone with a microphone invited everyone onto the dance floor for the first lesson. At the start of the lesson, they started talking about creating tension with your partner, great I thought, I have buckets of that to share. Then it quickly become obvious that this was a lead and follow dance ie, the man is expected to lead the woman and the woman is expected to follow that lead. Holy crap, how scary was that, I had no idea what I was doing on my own, let alone trying to lead anyone else and move my own feet simultaneously. I looked around and could see quite a few guys who looked supremely confident and happy as they appeared to magically lead the ladies.
Then things got really scary as our instructor calmly says "One lady round".
So I should point out that until that moment, I had been sharing my nervousness with my wife Simone, who had come with me. We thought that learning to dance would be something we would enjoy doing together but it hadn't really occurred to me that I would also dance with other women from the start. Nonetheless, Simone "abandoned" me and suddenly there was a complete stranger in front of me, holding my hand. I repeat, holding my hand. I am English and there are rules, rules ingrained over millennia of evolution, over centuries of civilisation, over decades of commuter travel. Touching others is just not very English, holding hands with the opposite sex is probably grounds for divorce. In the 2 decades prior to starting dancing I have held hands with:
- My wife
- My kids
- Somebody medically qualified when really ill
Ok, I maybe over dramatising slightly but definitely somewhat of a shock!
I think my first dance partner sensed that I was in complete shock and was extremely gentle with me, despite me doing a very good impression of a rabbit freezing in headlights. In fact, as I danced with different women I quickly realised that they were all very friendly and very understanding; people were just there enjoying themselves and when things went horribly wrong (most of the time) there was just laughter. As the first lesson came to an end and I could breathe a sigh of relief and sprint to the bar, many people came over to welcome us and get to know us. As I tried to hide inside my pint of cider I soon started to relax as it became clear that many people were beginners and even those that weren't were equally as friendly and understood that starting to learn to lead can be daunting.
About 20 minutes later, the beginner consolidation class started and we got lucky; being the only complete beginners, we had the instructors all to ourselves. Stewart and Debbie were amazing; they took things very slowly, explained the basics, were extremely patient with us and without always articulating it, made it abundantly clear that it is all about having fun. At the end of the class learning jive still seemed daunting but I came away thinking that if I just practice enough I might actually be able to enjoy it. Sincerest thanks to both Stewart and Debbie for getting me over the first hurdle (though definitely not the last).
Next time - trying to string more than one move together and not step on anybody's toes!