It’s only been one month since I started taking Latin partner dance classes (like salsa, bachata, and Brazilian zouk), and I’m surprised by how restorative it’s been for me. At first I thought I was simply learning something new—taking up a hobby to sneak in some physical activity after work—but it ended up being so much more than that. I never expected to learn interesting life lessons along the way.
For the entirety of my teenage years (and a little beyond), I was part of a hip hop dance team, so dance itself wasn’t foreign to me. What was foreign to me were partner social dances—one, because I rarely ever had a dance partner, and two, because most of my dance routines were choreographed and not spontaneous.
Latin social dances (like salsa) are the opposite. Yes, they can be choreographed and you don’t always need a partner, but when you go out for a simple night out where there is social dancing, you’re usually partnered with someone (even someone you’ve never met!) and your moves are spontaneous and not pre-calculated.
This is a challenge for me on many fronts—not just in dance, but in life.
I’m a planner; I like to know where I’m going, what my next move is going to be, and where I’m going to plant my foot. I’m not accustomed to “letting people into my space” either—not just in terms of physical proximity, but metaphorically speaking as well.
Latin social dancing has been teaching me to do the alternate: to meet new people, to let them into my space, and to trust in their leading.
Since these are partner dances, there are two roles: the leader (usually the male) and the follower (usually the female). The direction of the dance is determined by the leader, while the follower responds to the leader’s cues. Although this might sound easy, it’s actually harder than it seems.
It means learning how to relinquish control, letting go of the tendency to predict and anticipate, and embracing spontaneity.
It means being in sync with your partner, learning how to read his cues. And it means trusting in your own ability to respond without stumbling over your feet—and not being hard on yourself if you do.
Being a follower is not a passive role either; it mean maintaining your own frame so that you can stay connected to the person you’re dancing with.
And it means learning not to think too much. It’s often when you “let go” that you have the most fun and perform at your best.
Finally, it means remembering that no one becomes an expert overnight. Before you can do all those fancy, impressive moves, you have to start with the fundamentals, beginning with the first basic step. Before you’re ready to perform at shows, most of the work happens behind the scenes; your hidden, unnoticed progress counts, even if no one is there to praise you.
Funny as it sounds, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Latin partner dancing and the spiritual life.
Life, when it comes down to it, is like dancing with God—you are the follower and he is the leader. No dance is ever perfect, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be enjoyable. The more connected you two are—the more sensitive and responsive you are to the leader’s cues—the more delightful the dance feels.
And it all begins with TRUST. Do you trust God enough to relinquish control and really let him take the lead, letting go of the need to anticipate what the next move will be? Do you trust him enough to meet you halfway? Do you trust him enough to be patient and forgiving whenever you make mistakes? Do you trust him enough to let him into your space, to come close? Do you trust that your hidden efforts to grow spiritually will matter, even if no one else sees it but him?
As it is with Latin social dancing, I’ve learned that my role is not to have the whole “dance” mapped out in my mind or to know what the next “move” will be. My role is to become as pliable as I can be, easily moved and responsive to the guidance of the “leader.”
As I proceed through this spiritual “dance of life”, I hope these lessons will remain with me forever.
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