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Falling into Dance

By Chelsea Visser

I've talked a little bit about how I first discovered ballroom dance: Welcome Week, demonstrations, a post on the Facebook page, et cetera, et cetera. I don't think I've mentioned my first time dancing, and that's the story I'm going to tell today.

The University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club puts on an event every year in the first days of the semester. My freshman year, it was on Labor Day. I had been planning on going to the State Fair but had never actually bothered getting tickets. Ballroom seemed like an interesting enough way to spend my afternoon, so that day, I swung my Welcome Week bag over my shoulders, walked across the bridge to the student union, and followed the music down the stairs to the Great Hall.

There were tons of people crowded into the room, including a few faces I recognized from the last few days. We all stood, shuffling around nervously, as the club members running the event first made every move look effortless and then broke down the steps beat by beat. We all box-stepped around the floor, one-two-three, in a stilted imitation of a waltz, stepping with the wrong feet. There were a lot of giggles, a lot of apologies.

We learned rumba next, switching one-two-three for slow, quick-quick. Cue more stumbling.

My most vivid memory of Fall into Dance was the last dance: swing. I had gotten the basic down pretty easily—step, step, rockstep—and was pretty excited to be doing something even a bit faster than a waltz. That's where things started to get a bit tricky.

The cuddle is a pretty easy swing move and looks pretty impressive for its simplicity. However, for someone like myself, who, as has been mentioned at least once or twice before, is not exactly what one would call graceful, this move proved a bit more difficult than originally anticipated.

I was paired up with someone named Grant, who was nearly a foot taller than I was and had a little more dancing experience under his belt. As we went through the cuddle, me spinning towards his side, I tripped over his shoe and went tumbling backwards against him, nearly taking both of us out.

I apologized profusely, and he waved me off—we would get another chance.

Step, step, rockstep, step, turn—oh, god.

I tripped again, just barely managing to catch myself. I'm pretty sure he laughed again, me bright red with embarrassment, and sent me along to the next person in line as we all switched partners. That's it, I decided. Dance isn't my thing.

I tell that story a lot when I'm talking about ballroom dance. My friends tell me they're clumsy, or they can't dance, or they'd make an idiot out of themselves. I tell this story, and they laugh, and then I continue with this:

Even after that—even after stumbling and tripping and getting my feet stepped on in turn—I went back. I tried again, and again, and again, and again, and now I wouldn't give this up for the world.