How to say “thank you” to a compliment.
Honestly, I didn’t realize how hard that would be. At some point many people’s lives, we suddenly started to perceive receiving a compliment honestly as rude, vain, or egotistical. There is that famous Mean Girls (yes, I’m going there) scene that perfectly demonstrates that mentality: “You’re really pretty.” “Thank you.” “So you agree. You think you’re really pretty.” So somewhere down the line we decided it was more polite and humble to deflect a compliment that receive it. But let me tell you, when your dance teacher finally says your footwork looks good, and your first reaction is tell them why it’s not, it doesn’t play out well. Take the compliment. Say “thank you.” Turns out, when people pay you an honest compliment, they don’t want to hear self-deprecation. Who knew?

How to maintain poise under pressure.
Not just physical poise, which I’ve also learned as my body language tends to crumple in on itself when I begin to feel stressed and my teacher is snapping at me to get those shoulders back. It’s emotional poise—not letting the audience know something went wrong when someone forgot a step or you rushed the choreo and are now a full bar ahead of the music. It’s not making Panic Face on the social floor when you make a mistake or your partner does something you weren’t expecting. This is something that has bled into my work world too, when I’m dealing with everything the day throws at me, the stress is high, I’m just trying to make it to clock out time, and suddenly a coworker asks me how it is I always look so calm and put together while everyone else is losing their minds.

How to assert my personal boundaries.
How many times have you ever ended up in the awkward hug with that one person who doesn’t really get personal boundaries? While dancing has taught me how to be more comfortable with people, it’s also taught me how to make the rules and enforce them with what is and isn’t okay with my body language. And that’s translated over into my everyday life too, so that not only am I giving people the silent message, I have the courage and confidence to enforce where I might have just put up with it in the past.

The importance of an undershirt.
All right, this one is for laughs. But when you’re wearing a flimsy, breezy summer shirt, you’re working up a sweat, and your shirt flies up during that inside turn to dip, you learn your lesson the hard way. Bonus points if your partner’s hands are cold.

The real difference between what looks good and what feels good.
So you’re quads are burning, your toe is pressed into the floor, your core is feels like you just did a hundred sit-ups, and that’s when your teacher shouts “Yes! Now that’s a beautiful pose!” Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that dance is a sport, and though it is fun and feels good, it doesn’t always start off that way. I’m using muscles in new ways or even or the first time, and it feels awkward and awful and what feels good looks ugly and just doesn’t work.

That kicks, stomps, and elbows to the face aren’t friendship-enders
In middle school, a friend of mine had the locker just below mine. One day I opened my locker and a text book fell out straight on her head. She stopped speaking to me for awhile. Fast forward about fifteen years, and I still can’t believe people still talk let alone dance with me after taking an elbow to the face. Or a heel to the foot. Or the shin. Or the knee. That being said, I’ve become pretty infamous for my very impressive leg bruises. Ballroom isn’t your tradition idea of a “contact sport” but you learn to take the blows when they come. Even if it’s your partner and not you opponent.

Shoe care
Before dancing, I would have laughed at the idea of shoe care, because I hate wearing shoes. I’d buy the cheapest, most comfortable sneakers I could find then kick them under the bed the second I got home (I still do. Sometimes even when I’m still at the studio). I didn’t even have the right shoes to start with. I thought character shoes and dance shoes were the same—I needed to be told about suede soles. And then I had to learn I about wire shoe brushes. I even looked up video tutorials on how to use them. Now I have my own care routine.

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