Move over Dance Crush, because there’s a new lead in town!
…okay, so he was only in town for the weekend before leaving to spread his dance wisdom on the world. But what a memorable weekend it was.
…Luna, what are you even talking about? Guest coach workshops, of course!
This story starts months and months ago when my teacher went out of town and to a big dance event, where this instructor was having workshops. The influence he had on my teacher was both instantaneous and profound. So much that of everything he saw and learned in this huge event, it was this man’s teachings he brought back to us, and my lesson plan was forever changed. Fast forward a few months, and my teacher tells me he has a secret. “You can’t tell anyone.” “Okay.” “You have to promise.” “I promise.” He holds up his hand. “Pinky promise.” I’ve kept “secrets” for my teacher before. But it was with this silly streak of a promise that really got my interest. And as we lock pinkies, he tells me, “I got him. He’s coming.” But before I can feel properly excited for him, he adds, “And you’re going to take all his workshops and have a private lesson with him.”
All right, so if you’ve read Private vs. Group Lessons, you know it took me a full two months between meeting my private instructor and having my first lesson with him. It took me two months to decide he was the one, that this was something I wanted to do. Workshops, fine. They were just a fancy word for group class, and group classes give me the edge of distance and time to get a feel for the teacher before I hit his radar. But to have a private lesson from a total stranger, with no idea of his temperament, teaching style, or anything other than his name and my teacher idolized him? This was a true test of trust for my teacher’s judgement. If my finances allowed it, I told him, I would. He told me if it came down to that, he’d make it work.
Still, that didn’t stop me from being very, very nervous. Especially how in the time between, lessons were sprinkled with little comments like “When he comes, I need you to…” Now I was feeling the pressure too to make the most of this opportunity and to best represent my studio and my teacher and myself.
Now, this wasn’t the first time my studio had brought in a guest coach, or that I had taken a workshop from one. However, as these champion coaches specialized in competitive ballroom and I prefer social ballroom, I didn’t take any private lessons. But from my competitive friends, I got the impression that even as they were good, likeable people they could be very critical coaches. While this coach specialized in improving lead and follow of social dancing, I was still bracing for whatever came.
Then he came. My lesson was after the first day of workshops but before the second. It was on my teacher’s recommendation to get to know him and his teaching first, and I was happy to agree. But my idea of distance and time went out the window the second he positioned himself next to me for the first workshop, pulling me into a demo before even learning my name. Talk about a first impression!
Speaking of first impressions, he made the best one. Kind, calm, soft spoken, and funny. But other than a minute of stationary hand leads, I wasn’t sure yet what to make of him as teacher compared to the others I’ve had. But then he pulled someone else into a different demo, putting her through her paces, and just like that it struck me:
Oh God, I want to dance with him so bad.
He taught leads the likes I’ve (almost) never followed while teaching us follows how to make those leads feel even better. I spent the next several hours balanced between “this feels silly” and “this feels so good” while just itching for my turn to rotate back to him for that ten second taste. That night there was a party in his honor, but I didn’t hold out for any hope of a dance. I had heard stories of the lines that formed of women (and men) waiting to dance with him. I wasn’t planning on wiling my night away for one dance, no matter how amazing that dance might be. After all, I had my private lesson still. An entire hour just to myself. So imagine my complete elation when about an hour or two into the party he walked over and stretched his hand out to me. It was definitely not the longest dance of the night, but certainly it was the best. I couldn’t wait until the next day.
That isn’t to say I wasn’t still nervous. As a notorious backleader, I was sure I was going to test the limits of even this master leader, whose life is dedicated to creating the perfect lead/follow.
I won’t say he went easy on me, but he was never harsh. He picked up on and remembered my anxiety ticks and chronic pains from the day before without me ever having to mention them, making it easy to be honest and open with him. Little by little he brought me out until by then end we were just dancing through songs back to back to back before he hugged me and said, “Thank you. That was beautiful.” And I believed him, because that was the best, most beautiful-feeling dance I ever had.
All right, so after all this time I’ve never once said what made him a great lead other than being a great lead is his life’s work. To that, I would say it’s hard to put into words. It was comforting and safe, so much that from the second he brought me into dance position my natural inclination was to trust him. And it was soft and subtle, so much that sometimes I couldn’t even explain why I was moving. I just knew that’s how I was supposed to move, like following the ocean current. He called the phenomenon the “dance trance,” and his leads truly did have a hypnotic, snake charmer way about them.
I’ve thought long and hard about it, and if I had to sum it up, I would say in addition to his skill, he made me feel that for as long as we danced, I was the most important person to him. Social dancing can feel like a transaction, a simple give and take. It can feel like one just using the other to show off: treating them like their prop instead of their partner. It can feel like two separate people dancing their own things while holding hands. This was nothing like that. I felt the care. I felt how important it was to him not to have a great dance but to give me a great dance. And in turn I wanted nothing more than to reciprocate. I didn’t want him to think I was a good dancer (okay, I did), I wanted to give him a good dance.
My only regret to this weekend was that it was only a weekend. The people I met and the techniques I learned will stay with me. And I hope the next time he accepts our invitation, that great dance can be even better.