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Dancing to Learn

Thanks to my friendship with Giulia, I have been on the accelerated “learn to dance” path. In 3 years, I have been “promoted” from beginner classes to intermediate then intermediate-advanced and now advanced…. and not always because of my dancing abilities. Needless to say, I have had limited time time to enjoy the view at each particular level. But here’s what I have managed to catch along my way: At the beginner/intermediate levels you are learning to dance – how to coordinate your limbs, how to dance with your head looking to the side instead of straight ahead, how to go from one move to the next. As you improve, the focus shifts. Advanced dancers are dancing to learn – how to take on a new persona, how to make someone else’s choreography your own, how to stand out while working in perfect synchronicity with your group. This week I got to witness both sides of the learning spectrum.

On Sunday I was having one of those bad mood days. No particular reason. I was just feeling lazy and lousy. I would have stayed hidden in bed all day if I hadn’t promised Giulia I would come by the studio to take a picture for the new brochure before her class. I’ll be honest – the last thing I felt like doing that day was smiling for the camera and, frankly, frustrating myself while learning new choreography was a close second. But I had made a commitment…. so I dragged my colorful high-tops and lazy bum into my car and headed to Tripoli Studios.

Class started with Giulia asking us to concentrate on the character embodied by the music. I sighed (I hope inconspicuously). The last time I was in a class where Giulia made us “take on a character”, we were divided into small groups of aliens. I stood in class praying that she remembered her promise to never make me repeat that experience. To her credit, she did assure me in front of an entire class of witnesses that we weren’t going to be aliens. Still, the idea of having to “act” in class paired with my foul mood left me with some reservations when class began. However, hindsight being what it is, I can now admit that, in retrospect, it was a great day for me to get out of my skin.

We started learning the steps to “Some Nights” by Fun. The style was different, incorporating contemporary-like bends and twists between fast moving hits. Trying to get out of my funk, I started to watch the dancers around me. Two in the front were helping each other go through the third count of 8, making sure they hadn’t skipped an all-important head turn or fist clench. On the other side of the room, a contemporary dancer was almost tap dancing as his feet worked out the order of the movements. One girl did a run-through facing the wall instead of the mirror, which I am assuming was a way of forcing herself to memorize the choreography. I’m not sure when exactly but eventually my body relaxed as I was subconsciously reminded that my goal in class was not to excel. I was there to learn… just like everyone else.

On this particular day, two of us were focused on learning to dance. The rest focused on other goals. Some dancers had to learn about subtleties – if all of the movements are made with the same intensity, none will have enough impact to stand out. A few were challenged by the persona of the dance – a rebel standing up for his rights (even if he doesn’t know what he stands for). Others were simply learning to pick up choreography at a faster pace.

Between run-throughs, Giulia gave personalized advice to 2 or 3 people at a time. I can’t quite figure out how dance teachers can watch a whole group and pick out individual nuances to correct. But Giulia managed to single out the minutia of each person’s performance in order to help perfect whatever was causing difficulty. Even I got my own personalized training regiment. When the class was divided into two groups (to allow people to practice with more space), I was told to dance with both the “1s” and the “2s”. Apparently, the key to perfecting my performance is more practice. Who would have thought?

When class finished, I was no longer in a bad mood. Maybe it was from the endorphins released after dancing for 1.5 hours, or from the comfort of knowing I was surrounded by friendly supporters, or maybe even from the satisfaction I got when, during the last run-through, I only messed up on one part.

Or maybe it was because, even though I didn’t feel like it, I found a way to crawl out of my cocoon and spread my wings.

Sometimes a butterfly just needs to fly.

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