This weekend I am up in Old Chatham, New York at the Powell House retreat center for the annual retreat of my spiritual community, the Friends Meeting of Brooklyn. Tonight I taught a small group of Quakers the basics of social dance both as a fun activity and to deepen their understanding about the concept of "balance" that we've been discussing all weekend.
It was a really interesting experience for me, that connects directly to my own spiritual leading on dancing. Learning how to translate and facilitate others to experience what I have been thinking about related to social dance is really challenging for me. But I think I mostly succeeded.
I began by having everyone stand up and bounce around, getting that feeling of being grounded and agile. Then I had them walk around and try and keep that bounce in their step. After that i put on a slow swing tune — Ella Fitgerald's "I'm Beginning to See the Light" — and had them practice bouncing and walking to that rhythm.
Then I spoke to them a little bit about dancer's frame, and demonstrated with Inga how frame helped me to connect physically with her. To let everyone feel this idea, I had everyone pair up and hold hands. Next, they were told to maintain frame as they leaned in and leaned out, feeling that rubber band effect as they moved their weight around.
After that, I had them walk forward and backward with their partner, each person getting a chance to practice leading and following. After a couple of tries at this, I told the followers to close their eyes. Several people said this really helped them to feel the lead.
I put on some more swing music and had them continue the exercise. It was almost like dancing!
Finally it was time for the real deal. I taught them the basic swing dance position, reminding them to keep that same sense of frame and connection that they had from the earlier exercise. Then I had them begin by swaying back and forth, slowly turn in place, and then do a basic follower's underarm turn and back. We had lost a few folks by this point, but the five couples who stayed were really dancing!
It was very gratifying for me to have people tell me afterward that they had never experienced what it felt like to be actually led or to lead before tonight. And I think everyone who participated understood better what I mean when I talk about the connection between two people that comes from social dancing.