6 Important Life Lessons I Learned from Ballroom Dancing

A year and a half ago, I decided I wanted to try ballroom dancing. I have no idea why and it doesn’t matter because it was the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I learned many dance moves, but it also offers some broader lessons on life.

Dance Like No One Is Watching: When you’re on the dance floor, it’s easy to worry about what others may think of you, whether it’s your partner or an audience when you’re performing. In life, there’s always going to be someone watching you and there’s always someone who feels the need to critique you. Sometimes other people’s opinions may have value and can help you improve, but there’s always going to be someone who feels the need to judge you and put you down if only to make themselves feel better.

You Need To Trust Someone: Some of us trust others more easily than others. If you’re a cynic, you may feel the need to question everyone’s intentions. There are a people out there who really want to help you because it’s in their nature. Ballroom dancing is about trusting your partner. If you’re the lady, you need to trust your male lead (and yes, ballroom dancing is somewhat sexist). If you’re leading the dance, you need to trust that your partner is in your corner and wants you to succeed.

Don’t Be Afraid to Step on Other People’s Toes: When I first started taking lessons, I was terrified that I would crush the toes of my teacher or dance partners. And it did happen. The more I danced, the less it happened. We all want to be liked and sometimes we worry about taking action that may hurt someone’s feelings. It’s going to happen, accept it. People who truly care about you will forgive you and move on. Those who don’t hopefully will get over too, but if they can’t, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Live In the Now: Whether you’re taking lessons, dancing socially or performing in front of an audience, you need to be in the moment, focusing on what you’re doing, not worrying about the horrible day you had at work or dreading the challenges, real or imagined, that life has in store for you tomorrow. It’s not easy when you’re in a bad head space, but it’s important to focus on where you are now and what you can do about it, and not worry about what could have been and what might be.

Make Mistakes: Even the most experienced dancers flub a step here and there, and we’re all afraid to fail. It’s natural. Sometimes we let that fear keep us from trying new things and we miss out on some wonderful experiences or opportunities to learn.

Keep Moving: We’ve all had the winds knocked out of our sails at one time or another. When we make a mistake or get thrown a curve ball in life, our first instinct is often to stop and get upset at ourselves or someone else. If you flub a step on the dance floor, the best thing to do is keep going. In life, you need to keep at it and be persistent.

A friend of mine once told me that if I could learn to ballroom dance at age 35, I could learn to do anything. I try to remember that whenever I doubt my ability to take on new challenges.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

Yes, You Can Cha Cha to Lady Gaga

Daniella, Lindsay and GaryWhen I first started my ballroom dancing lessons last September, I’ve learned a lot more steps across six dances: waltz, tango, fox trot, rumba, swing and cha cha.

The latter has proven to be my favourite dance of late. It’s fast, it’s fun and it’s great for dancing to a lot of popular music. So when it came time to select a dance for my latest spotlight dance, it was a no brainer. I told Lindsay, one of my teachers, that a cha cha to Lady Gaga would be fun. I was half kidding, but only days later she and my other teacher Daniella conspired to develop a route to Bad Romance.

But here’s the kicker: I wouldn’t be dancing with just one partner – I would be dancing with two!

Dancing with two partners made rehearsals challenging, but I knew it would be routine to remember. It was tricky, but a lot of fun and it caught the audience by surprise too. My friends Jonathan and Izabella were there once more to cheer me on, as well as my friend Natalie and my friend David, who snapped some photos.

Care to Waltz?

Gary and LindsayLast week I performed my first dance routine in public.  Every few months students are encourage to perform a “spotlight dance” in front of other students and guests. It was scary and amazing at the same time.

This spotlight was close to Christmas so the dance was performed to a holiday song. I actually brought my entire Christmas CD collection into the studio for my instructor Lindsay to go through. Ultimately she selected a song by Enya. We did a waltz, which had quickly become my favourite dance.

I did two lessons a week for several weeks leading up to the big night and we even had a professional dance coach come in to help with the choreography. Preparing and practicing a routine is a lot like planning a wedding: It takes a lot of time but the actual event flies right by. The routine itself was two-and-a-half minutes.

I was so nervous leading up to the performance, but it went flawlessly. It was a fantastic experience, thanks in large part to my instructor Lindsay. My friends Wenn, Ashley, Jonathan and Izabella came out to watch.

When I first started dancing in September I had no idea I would enjoy the performance aspect so much. I can’t wait until the next one.

A big thanks to Wenn for capturing it on video!

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.