I just spent the past two hours dancing. Well, mostly dancing. Some sitting and watching. More than that, I spent the last two hours trying to convince my body to develop muscle memories from movements I’ve barely ever done. I am not naturally graceful, haven’t danced regularly in years, and have done very little partner dancing–why am I so surprised that I can’t master even the basics of Blues dancing instantaneously?

I started this goal with blues dance because I thought, “Easy.” My boyfriend is teaching the beginners class, you don’t have to have a partner for the lessons, and I already know a little. Easy is the wrong word. Convenient, definitely. A good introduction to trying to really learn different kinds of dance, sure. But easy? Ha! If it was easy they wouldn’t give lessons. If it was easy, I wouldn’t be so impressed with how good my boyfriend looks on the dance floor. Turns out, I conveniently forgot those facts in my excitement about learning something new. 

Blues isn’t a deeply complicated style. Step touch. Step touch. Only a shade more precise than the kind of moves I had in my middle school dances. That’s the basics, of course, and there’s infinite ways to vary that and keep it interesting. My way of keeping it interesting tends to involve too much hip movement to really be correct, but really, what else is dance if not an excuse to shimmy? The music is often slow and never faster than I can keep up with. It’s not hard to find the beat, and there are no strict rules about exactly how you follow it. What’s hard, for me, is forcing myself to pay attention to what my partner is doing. 

I’m learning to follow, because I enjoy it more. My favorite memories of dancing all involve taking ideas about how to move from friends and partners and trying them out. I like the challenge of reading nonverbal instructions correctly and improvising without getting in my own way or anyone else’s. If I were a poet maybe I’d write sonnets instead of free verse. But this isn’t a sonnet, exactly. If it was, it would be a messed up one: the meter and rhyme scheme would change part way through, depending on somebody else’s ideas, and I’d have to keep writing the same poem.

That’s what I realized I really need to learn tonight. I can move to a beat easily. I can stand on my tippy toes as long as anyone wants me to and twirl in circles all day long. But learning to dance means doing those things at the right time, and knowing the right time requires training your muscles and your attention to help you respond to another person’s movement. That right there? That I can’t do. That I’ve been trying to learn for years, and it still hasn’t clicked. I’m not even sure I’m thinking about it in the right way in this paragraph, and that drives me a little nuts.

I’m used to just being able to pick things up. I taught myself how to program, how to knit, how to play guitar. And, while I’m not the world’s expert in any of these things, I’m comfortable with my skill. I know how to assess what mistakes I’m making and how I can avoid making them in the future. When I get stuck I figure out solutions on my own. Despite generally trying to be an empathetic person, I forget that I am very lucky to have a brain that works this way. 

Dance is not like that for me. It doesn’t click quickly in my head. Maybe after a lot of practice it could be, but right now taking a lesson is like reading a paragraph and struggling to remember it five minutes later. Though I can see the different points teachers are making about movement, I can’t translate them well into my own movement. I have to learn how to learn to dance, and I actually can’t think of anything I’ve ever done where I had to start at that point. I’ve had things be more or less intuitive, but I’ve never really wanted to be good at something and not understood exactly how I could improve.

And I know some of that will come with time. I’m not counting on ever being the best dancer out there, but I’m pretty sure I can at least get to a place where there are connections between what I see and hear and how I move my body. And I’m proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone, even while I dislike that something just being not easy is so far outside of said comfort zone. Best of all, the payoff is pretty great. It’s hard not to feel cool dancing to songs like this, even when you aren’t perfect at it:

Totally counting this for enjoying more of my youth, too. I went dancing on a Thursday night like someone with a social life!