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Swing, or being a musician among dancers

So BYU has a reputation of having a great dance program. In fact, its top team won two firsts at this year’s Blackpool Dance Championships. Since good number of my friends are also involved in the dance program, it was only a matter of time before I decided to take the plunge.

Actually, I already plunged six years ago when, as a freshman, I took the obligatory Dance 180 (“Social Dance”). As my first ballroom experience, I fumbled through and somehow got bronze level certification, even though I was pretty certain that dance was beyond me. One mission and four years of undergraduate degree later, I decided it was time to have another go, and accordingly signed up for Dance 280. In the intervening years, the occasional dancing I’d done convinced me that now I did not have two left feet, and maybe only one and a half.

So this term I am taking “Social Dance 2,” and as I had expected, things actually have begun to click . . . mostly. The class is going just at the edge of my being able to keep up. Most of the time, it’s all I can do to learn the steps let alone apply the technique. The other day the TA came up to me and the girl I was dancing with and suggested that we try to dance in more masculine and feminine ways respectively. Right now, he said, we were dancing too neutrally. He showed us what he meant, and I might have noticed some slight difference, but mostly I thought to myself, “Mr. TA, I’ll accept the compliment that you seem to think I have enough control over what I’m doing to make that difference.”

That was cha-cha. When it came time to take the test, I did okay, though I had only negative (though valuable) feedback on my test sheet. With that, we moved on to triple swing. I think dancers need a translate function, too. There’s one step we were doing, called the “windmill,” that took me forever to figure out. The step involves leading the girl around you, kind of like a windmill. In the mean time, the guy is supposed to rotate himself while triple stepping. I couldn’t wrap my feet around how to do that nor could any of my friends or instructors point me in the right direction (though they tried). Finally, I sat out watching the rest of the class as they did the step until I realized, “That’s what I’m doing wrong!” (I’m not even going to try to describe it.) Then all the advice I’d been given suddenly made sense.

So today we tested swing, and this time there was a positive comment among all the “too much back lean” and “occasionally shuffling”: “You’ve improved a lot since cha-cha.” There it is, folks: I’m moving up in the dance world, one comment at a time. Mostly, I think I’m beginning to learn how to translate dancer sense of space and rhythm into a musician sense of such.