Over seven years ago, I discovered one of my favorite activities of all times. Let me rephrase that. Over seven years ago, my "friends" forced me to participate in a humiliating activity every month or so until I learned to love it. Over seven years ago, I learned the basic footwork of the East Coast swing dance.
I feel burdened to explain my relationship with my friends at that time, but I think we all experienced this relationship before. Maybe you even have friends who are trying to convert you into swing dancers. Keep trying, brothers and sisters. Persistence is key. My friends were adamant that I was going to learn swing dance. AND enjoy it. After weeks of coaxing, they finally got my sisters and I to go.
My siblings and I were all homeschooled. Outside of church and Boy Scouts, the outside world was filled with rude men who were looking to make a move on three younger sisters. The hour drive to the dance quickly passed as I played out word by word how I'll cripple thugs and angsty teens. I wish I had the insight then to see the irony in that. At that time, my idea of dances was influenced by movies like "Grease" and "It's A Wonderful Life." Jealousy was present in both of the school dance scenes.
When we arrived, the swing lesson was just beginning. The instructors were a married, middle-aged couple. And the dancers ranged from high schoolers to seniors - the old kind of seniors. We joined the circle that surrounded the instructors. I attached myself to one of my sisters. My confidence was bolstered when I saw the wide range of people. Perhaps everybody here are actually decent people. It's foolish to be nervous. But any confidence I managed to muster was melted by the command, "Leads rotate."
Swing dancing of any sort is a social dance, and in this world of personalization and self, instructors try to encourage dancing with other people by having them take turns dancing with every other person taking the lesson. Of course, I knew that I would eventually hold hands with a complete stranger, but I thought I would have control over when that would happen. Before I knew it, I'm embracing an elderly lady while stomping out a loop turn into open position. Sweat soaked bodies and clammy hands aren't typically the things that come to mind when looking at a complete stranger on the other side of the room, but that's what was imprinted in my mind after that first lesson.
Strangely enough, the partner rotation didn't help me overcome my shyness. Thankfully, one of my friends felt the same way. We ended up being one of those guys who play cards in the corner of the room during a dance. Actually, that isn't a thing. We were just that awkward. If I were able to go back in time to that first night, I would tell my younger self two things. First, start dancing now because what you're doing now is so rude to the DJ. And second, bet high on the first hand of Texas Hold 'Em…
It would be a full year of these awkward game filled visits to the dances before I get the confidence to actually ask other, non-related people to dance. It was around this time that I started to actually enjoy swing dancing. I had always enjoyed jazz music, and I was finally able to really express that enjoyment through all those dance lessons. I should note that of the seven years of dancing, over half of that was attending beginner lessons. No, I wasn't confused over how to dance. I just found a comfortable place in the swing dance that required me to not go further.