I first joined BALADS during the second semester of first year. I decided to join simply because I wanted to and because I thought that it would be cool to learn how to dance. Truth to be told, I had my eye on joining the society since the start of the year but self-doubt stopped me from doing it for the longest time. I managed to come up with excuse after excuse. You're too old to learn how to dance. You should focus on your studies. You won't know anyone in the society. Maybe you should stick to things that you're already good at to avoid embarrassment. And the list goes on.
Thankfully, my eagerness to learn how to dance eventually won and I found myself nervously glancing around the debating hall during my first class. Even though was a step in the right direction, it is important to remember that I was a nineteen year-old with absolutely zero dance experience. To make matters worse, I was not at all musical nor was I athletic. I didn't even have experience performing in front of a large group of people. Needless to say, I was a recipe for disaster.
Unsurprisingly, I found the first few months of learning Ballroom and Latin American dance excruciatingly difficult. It was like learning to walk all over again. There were so many things that I had to learn in a short amount of time: timing, choreography, technique and performance. All the teachers and the fellow BALADS members were so lovely. Time and time again, they repeatedly taught me how to do basic figures. Whilst I appreciated this greatly, I felt like I was wasting their time since my brain just wouldn't pick up choreography. When someone would give me advice on technique, my body could not physically do what my brain wanted it to do. I had no core strength and frequently lost control of my own body. My balance was also appalling. I would also have to continuously stop the teacher in group classes so that they could go over the steps that only I was struggling with. Even then, I still would not be able to do it and it felt like I was holding back everyone else in the class. Worst of all, the other dancers made it look so easy and I didn't understand where I was going wrong. I was angry, frustrated and often on the verge of tears. It was too late for me to learn how to dance. Why did I even try in the first place?
Yet, despite all the frustration I felt, there was something about dance that was so compelling. Every time I thought about quitting, I somehow found myself back in a practice room ready to try once again. It is true that I find dance extremely difficult. Nevertheless, this was precisely why I enjoyed it so much. Slowly but surely, I began to learn how to count music intuitively. It finally made sense to me to travel on a different foot each time in Ballroom and I was eventually able to isolate different parts of my body in Latin as my body awareness improved. Moving to the beat of the music began to feel more natural and I was starting to build up muscle memory with correct technique. It is true that learning to dance as an adult is an extremely challenging experience. However, the satisfaction that you get upon seeing the smallest improvements outweighs all the frustration felt during the initial learning process. After all, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, nothing in this world is worth striving for unless it means effort, pain and difficulty.
In a space of a few months, dance went from the most frustrating thing in the world to something which I absolutely loved and adored. With improvement came an overwhelming sense of achievement. Dance is something that gives me purpose. No one else made me work hard at my dancing. I attended classes and signed up for competitions precisely because I wanted to. Dance is something that I have voluntary chosen to do for myself because of the happiness and joy it brings to my life.
Even if my progress is still extremely slow, I accept that it is a lot more difficult for an adult to train their body to do something that they are not used to doing. Therefore, I have learnt to be patient with myself. I keep reminding myself that I will eventually be able to do it in the near future as long as I keep practising what is required. Dance has also encouraged me to confront the things that I do not entirely like about myself. For example, my fear of failure, perfectionism and my extreme dislike for being wrong. Through attending classes and private lessons, I have learnt how to take in constructive criticism and only compare myself to my last performance. I also learnt about self-compassion and recognise that I cannot expect myself to perform as well in a competition as in practice. I have really gotten to know myself through dance. I have proven to myself that I can now do something that I thought was impossible to do.
The best thing about Ballroom and Latin is that you get to share all the highs and lows with your dance partner. Through partner dancing, I have learnt a lot boundaries, mutual respect and compassion for one another. I learnt that my partners were also human beings (shocker!) and that I could not expect them to dance perfectly all the time. In fact, I shouldn't have the same expectations for myself. Most importantly, partnerships have taught me the importance of teamwork. When you get the results that you wanted, you always have someone else to celebrate with. And, when you don't do as well as you hoped to, you have someone there to support you and together, you will strive to improve.
So, why should you bother learning to dance as an adult?
Let me tell you: it is an experience like no other. It is a sensation you will never truly understand unless you try it for yourself.
Whenever I compete on a large dance floor, time seems to stop completely, All I can hear is my heart pounding and the blood pumping in my veins. The music plays and the melody disappears only to reveal the pulsing beat of the music. I feel my partner initiate a subtle movement and I am able to respond intuitively. Soon enough, the other competitors fade into the background. And, the only people left in the room are you and your partner. A big smile spreads itself across my face and I know that this is exactly where I belong. I forget about everything for about ninety seconds, including all the tears I have shed and all the frustration I have felt leading up to that moment. I feel a sense of fulfilment and pride in how far I have come. Most importantly, I remember that I am here because I want to be. The dance floor feels like home to me and it is where I can fully connect with myself.
The magic of dance is there to be shared and if you haven't already, I hope that one day you will get to experience it too!