It was a cool November evening. The air was brisk yet refreshing as it gracefully swept over my skin. A wave of goosebumps washed over me as walked up to the door of the dance studio.
I had heels on for the first time in.. (who knows?). As a yoga teacher, I am usually barefoot or wear sandals/sneakers to and from my car to the studio or the front door of my home. I had to dig those heels out of a bin buried deep in the dark abyss of my closet for this special occasion.
I was meeting a friend for an evening of fun, lighthearted play. We both needed this. She was a new mother of a 3 month old baby girl, who although is so sweet and adorable, also demands a lot of energy and attention... leaving very little energy and time for my friend to give back to herself. I, myself, had been working everyday for weeks straight, doing various things behind the scenes to tend to the beautiful oasis that we call Lotus Pond.
We were both excited to do something slightly outside of our comfort zones, knowing that joy and laughter were sure to be a part of the experience. I signed us up for ballroom dance lessons because we both wanted to take a salsa class and this was the only place I could find that offered one on a Tuesday night at 7pm (mothers and business owners have to get creative with the random days/times we have available to play).
What I didn’t realize is that I had actually signed us up for a ballroom dance sampler class. It was an introduction to 7 different ballroom dances including: rumba, waltz, salsa, tango, foxtrot, hustle, and merengue.
What could have been intimidating to a beginner, felt welcoming and relaxed. The instructors were hilarious and made it easy to laugh, play, mess up, let it go and try again. I have to admit, I smiled so hard for that hour and half that my cheeks hurt the next day. At that moment, something clicked. I realized that I had moved out of my head and into my body. A feeling that was familiar in my yoga and meditation practice. I was curious about the parallels between yoga and ballroom dancing and decided to experiment with taking more lessons and group classes to see for myself how closely these two things could be related.
The result? Short answer is that it infused more joy, radiance and presence into my life. The long answer gives more clarity on how exactly that happened.
Cultivating Trust and Letting Go
In ballroom dancing, one partner is the leader and the other person is the follower. I was tasked with learning how to be a follower. Which, to my surprise, is a lot harder than I thought!
As a business owner and leader in our community, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to let go of control and let someone else take the lead for once. It was a huge awakening when my teacher told me again and again to wait for him to guide me and to stop moving ahead (lol).
Finally, he shared something that clicked.. If I kept trying to be one step ahead of him, one of us would surely end up stepping on each others toes. I realized that by trying to think ahead to the next step, I kept messing with the effortless flow that we were cultivating together.
This is so similar to what we experience in yoga classes when we try to move ahead in to the next pose of a sequence, say in a Vinyasa class, before fully embodying the one we are in.
How much different would life be if we stopped trying to control each moment and instead just surrendered and let go of expectations?
Mindfulness / Responding to Each Moment
I learned very quickly that when your mind wanders, you lose track of what step you’re on and what direction you may need to be going. I had to keep myself absorbed in the moment by responding to each step my dance partner took.
There’s a light pressure that’s applied with the arms and hands between partners that allows you to sense into the movements and respond accordingly. Once you learn the basic steps, it becomes easier to feel into this sensation. It’s similar to noticing how the body responds to each breath or each sensation that arises while in a yoga pose. Or perhaps how the mind responds to thoughts as they arise in the mind during meditation.
How are we showing up to life? Are we responding or reacting to each stimulus? What would it be like to observe more from a birds eye view, taking in everything that each moment has to offer?
Ballroom dancing has taught me to be even more in tune with the mechanics of my body. New movements and step patterns challenged my brain and created new neural pathways that took me out of the “box” (I literally learned a box step dance pattern so pun intended here) and into a more vast and visceral experience of my body and it’s capabilities. My new found discoveries translated into my yoga postures and provided a fresh landscape of sensations for me to explore deeper on my mat.
Taking Up Space
During one of my lessons, my teacher told me to extend my arm fully to proclaim my dance space to those in the room in certain moves such as opening to the side and turns. We used a shared dance space for practice with 5-15 other dance partners in the room.
At first, I felt guilty to extend my arm out.. thinking I would accidentally hit someone. My teacher told me, "it's really okay.. it's better to hit someone here than to get hit." What he meant was... by taking up space, I am communicating with my environment that I am here and it's up to the environment to respond to that.
This is exactly what we were practicing in each dance with each other - move, respond, move respond. Then I realized that I was actually getting stuck in my head and overthinking it, which in turn led to me holding myself back from fully opening up both on and off the dance floor.
I was reminded of a simple truth that, along with everyone else in the room, I was worthy of taking up space. This is something I tell my students in yoga class all the time (often in 5 pointed star pose). I thought it was interesting that it came up for me in this situation to explore even further through yet another layer of experience.
Small Steps Get You There Faster
Coincidentally, I had the opposite experience with my steps. I learned that my steps in rhythm dances were taking up too much space. Large steps cover a lot of ground, which made it harder for me to keep up with the faster pace of more rhythmic style dance music (salsa, hustle, swing).
The smaller the steps, the faster I could move with grace and ease. The larger the steps, the clunkier I felt and I ended up doing more hops than steps to keep up with my partner.
The moral of the story?
The little things add up to take us further than we know. Small steps every day allow for a smooth transition in the direction we are trying to go.
This could be translated into developing more consistency with a yoga and meditation practice. If you’re just now starting to cultivate a daily practice, take small steps towards that goal. Instead of aiming for 1 hour of practice every day, maybe start with 5-10 minutes and build from there. A little bit goes a long way!
Allowing Joy to Expand in the Body
Ballroom dancing is a practice that really opened my eyes to how often I would cut myself off from truly feeling the sensations of joy.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had many joyful and happy experiences over the years, but I don’t know if I truly gave these emotions the space to expand in my body fully. I don’t think I really allowed the sensations to bubble up and pop at the surface of my skin. Instead, I would divert my attention to the next task on my list that I would need to focus on in order to keep up with whatever list of expectations I created for myself each day. There’s a fine line between productivity and emotional bypassing. I’ve been aware of my tendencies to just “keep going” but never realized how often I would cut myself off from fully experiencing JOY.
The pulsing and radiant energy I feel every time I leave ballroom dance lessons felt like a lot to process at first. I remember reaching for my phone to call someone so I could talk as a distraction on the drive home instead of allowing myself the opportunity to feel the energy pulsing through my body. In that moment, I was reminded of the beauty that each moment can bring if I allow joy in.
I’ve started practicing this in so many areas of my life, which is equal parts reinvigorating and satisfying for my soul. To be clear, yoga has taught me this too. However, ballroom dancing reminded me of the truth that I already knew deep down and wasn’t opening up to witness.
Over the last couple of months, these reminders and lessons have allowed me to show up more authentically for myself and others. I am truly humbled by how much I still have to learn and integrate both on and off my yoga mat. I am a firm believer in the truth that I will forever be a student of yoga.
I hope that these reflections open your mind’s eye to see to how yoga can be found in the most unsuspecting of places. If I can learn more about my yoga practice through ballroom dancing, maybe you can learn more about your practice while cooking in the kitchen, walking your dog, fishing, watching football or doing whatever it is that you’re doing in your free time.
If you’re curious about the parallels between ballroom dancing and yoga, let me know, because I’m convinced I need to hang a disco ball in the Lotus Room for a night and bring some instructors to Lotus Pond to teach our community the basics of partner dancing. Please help me turn this dream into form! :)
You can also join me for class as one of my guests on an Intro Night at a local ballroom studio. I'm happy to share their schedule with you if you ask me. You don't have to convince me to go! I'd be happy to share this experience with you.
Until then, continue to practice mindfulness in whatever way feels true to you. Don’t wait until you’re at Lotus Pond to practice yoga. Let yoga be infused into your day to day life.
May we continue to walk this path together, one step at a time, with a knowing that we are exactly where we need to be.
With love & gratitude,