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Life Through Dance

The Rhythms of Life

By Elizabeth Dickinson

Sometimes I just can’t hear a song’s rhythm. Even if I pick out the melody line, there are competing harmonies that throw me off. In a closed hold, my teacher can either lead me into the rhythm or, in the worst case, change the song.

It’s not an option to change the song at social dances. Some men I dance with have the same problem hearing the rhythm. We’ve all seen (or been!) the couple that starts dancing last because they can’t hear the rhythm. It seems particularly problematic in the Latin songs—there are so many unfamiliar instruments competing for attention.

A teacher observed once in a group class that most couples were just using the music as background, since no one seemed to be counting. While I’ve gotten better at counting, it continues to be problematic at the higher levels. There are so many alternate rhythms choreographed into my dances that it seems all the old rules for each dance have been thrown out.

Recently I was dancing with a gentleman who was fine with the basics steps, but every time he turned me, he’d completely lose the beat. He was even counting out loud, but his steps weren’t aligned with the rhythm he was counting—he was emphasizing and valuing the choreography over the rhythm. As a follow, this felt chaotic and, at times, dangerous. You simply can’t follow steps if the rhythm of a song isn’t being obeyed.

There is a rhythm to life, too, and when we don’t heed it, life, too, can feel chaotic. When we don’t eat when we’re truly hungry, sleep when we need rest, or act when our higher intuition guides us, we’re disobeying our own internal rhythms. If we continue to do this over time, we can become stressed, ill, or depressed. Worst case, life becomes chaotic and we become dangerous to ourselves or others.

Even if you’re doing your life choreography correctly, it’s not going to benefit you if you’re out of step with your own internal rhythm of when to take (or avoid) action. In this new year, I hope we all can find the correct external beat in dancing, and follow our own internal rhythm in our lives.