I think something is lost in our generation. We feel like there’s some something we should be getting, but just aren’t. This isn’t a new concept. My millennial generation reports higher rates of loneliness and depression. I think a lot of us feel this void – this “well,” so to speak – without being able to articulate exactly what it is or where it comes from.
I felt my well fill up in a ballroom dance class.
I was required to go for my job. We’re in the process of promoting the wellness ministry at the Myers Park Presbyterian, and this promotion would be incomplete without a visit to ballroom dance.
I walked in late and wasn’t at all greeted with the sort of we’re-going-to-half-ignore-you-as-you-walk-in-because-class-has-already-started-side-eye I was expecting (if you’ve been late to any studio workout class, you likely know the look I’m talking about). Instead, the room paused, all eyes beamed, and my shy, “Is this ballroom dance?” was met with a warmth and energy so strong, it felt like a hug. It almost took my breath away.
I was greeted by every single member of the class. Not with just a “Hello,” mind you, but with a smile, a handshake, and a, “What’s your name, dear?”
I was completely swept in.
One such hello was from the wife of the instructor, Vickie. Her vibrant red hair and easy dancing matched the warmth in her demeanor. She asked me about my work in the church, how I felt in that community, what I was looking for in the class. I asked her how long she’d been dancing. She said 10 years. I asked what brought her to it. She said after the loss of a loved one, her mom had encouraged her to take ballroom to meet new people.
This logic was so interesting to me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to a community event – especially one outside of my comfort zone – to meet people. Rather, most of my time is spent trying to find existing friends to go to events with me and be my social buffer – or more often, going to an event and spending the whole time buried in my phone.
I noted at this point that even though I was here to take photographs, I’d forgotten my bag, phone, and camera on the other side of the room. Oops.
Still talking to Vickie, I mentioned that I was okay with dancing by myself, but wasn’t sure I could handle a partner. She smiled back and said, “The hardest thing is not leading. We’re all stiff at first. The most important thing is to trust your partner.”
With this, she took my hand, and we started to dance. I wish I could say, “She swept me away,” but the more accurate phrasing might be, “I managed not to step on her feet for about three minutes.” She was patient, though, and soon I started to trust my partner.
When I looked at her eyes, kind and unwavering through her blue glasses, I felt a connection. Not the sort of connection you describe when you meet your “someone,” or even the connection you find in a close friend, but the very real, very raw human connection that comes from looking at someone who looks back at you with total, unadulterated attention. The sort of connection that makes you not need to pull out a phone – when you aren’t in a hurry to be done with a class, an interaction, or an awkward pause. When the person standing in front of you, for however long it takes, is the most important person to be with.
While we danced, I thought back to “The Three Questions,” a short story by Leo Tolstoy which I read in elementary school. In it, a king seeks answers to (you guessed it) three probing questions. He ventures on a quest to find out 1) the right time for every action, 2) who the most necessary people are, and 3) how he might know the most important thing to do. After meeting with learned men who offer him no consistent advice, he seeks out a wise old hermit. After putting him through a series of Mr. Miyagi-esque tasks that seem completely arbitrary, but are, in fact, relevant, the hermit reveals in the last lines:
“Remember then: there is only one time that is important – now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary person is the one with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is to do that person good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life.”
If ballroom dance isn’t your thing – though I’m newly convinced it should be everyone’s thing – I recommend you follow Vickie’s lead and put yourself out there. Get out there, even if it scares you. Even if you fail… repeatedly. Find a community where you can get lost, and lose your phone, even just for the length of a song. Find a place that helps you remember the most important time, person, and affair. If you do, I promise you’ll find yourself transformed to someone a little more connected to a new friend, a community, and to God.
If you would like more information on ballroom dance, or any other aspect of the wellness ministry, visit our webpage.