Educator’s Corner: Finding your happy feet on dance floor

ESL teacher Soraya Bilbao enjoys swing dancing, just like this couple dancing the Lindy Hop.

Patrick M. Len, Creative Commons

ESL teacher Soraya Bilbao enjoys swing dancing, just like this couple dancing the Lindy Hop.

Soraya Bilbao, Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: Educator’s Corner is column space for DHS teachers, counselors, administrators and staff to submit pieces for publication. Just email [email protected] and make your pitch! 

I’m an avid Swing dancer and I especially love the Lindy Hop. It’s what I call my happy dance. If you’ve ever seen Swing dancers twirling and jumping out on the dance floor to 140-180 beats per minute (or more) you’d understand.

I’ve also been told that I’m pretty good at it. I have a knack for adapting to and keeping up with different partners’ dancing styles. This sometimes surprises some of the younger generation, “Wow, I didn’t think you could keep up!” Yes, us old-timers still have some moves left in us. Now why don’t you be a dear and pass me my bottle of Bengay.

I’ve even had complete strangers come up to me and tell me how much they enjoy watching me dance. Under other circumstances, such declarations would elicit the willies. However, at Swing dances I am too focused on scanning the room for my next dance partner. Therefore, for all I know, they could be asking for me to donate my left kidney, “Sure, sure. Now, excuse me, I must dance.”

I began Swing dancing in 2003. I came across an ad for one of the several monthly dances that take place throughout Connecticut. What caught my eye was the fine print: “Beginners welcomed. No partner needed. $12 cover charge.” Perfect! I had no clue how to Swing dance, I had no partner, and I worked in non-profit. A match made in heaven.

Soraya Bilbao

So off I went to my first dance.

I was nervous at first. However, I soon learned that the Swing dancing community is very welcoming of newcomers and forgiving of anyone who happens to have two left feet.

Unfortunately for my dance partners that first night, not only did I seem to have two left feet, but my feet seemed to have acquired an affinity to the tops of their feet. For most of that night, my mantra went something along these lines, “Oops. Sorry for stepping on your feet. Oops, ha-ha,” (nervous laugh), “sorry again.”

Just when I thought that I would be banned from attending future dances, one of my dance partners shared some words of wisdom. He said, most likely as I was in the midst of apologizing for stepping on his feet, yet again, “You don’t need to apologize. We were all beginners at some point. Therefore, we all understand. Just relax and have fun.”

His words were liberating and from that point on I began to do just that, regardless as to how many feet got in my way.

I learned to Swing dance at the various monthly dances. These volunteer-driven events usually include a one-hour lesson where you learn some of the basic moves for dancing the East Coast Swing.

During my formative days of Swing dancing, I would recite out loud the basic count while I danced, “Rock-step, triple-step, triple-step… Rock-step, triple-step, triple-step…”

Seasoned dancers knew better than to engage in any sort of conversation that might break my conversation. Otherwise, there was a high probability that we would find ourselves dancing  to some other count that had nothing to do with Swing dancing or any other type of formal dance for that matter.

At the monthly dances you get to wear a colorful wristband. These are the ones that snap on for life so be sure it is loose enough so that you hand doesn’t start turning an interesting shade of purple while you are twirling out on the dance floor.

You also get to wear a name tag. Word of caution: please print legibly, lest you want folks staring and squinting at your chest for longer than necessary.

My predicament with name tags is that regardless of how clearly I write my name, I still have to convince would-be dance partners that no, my name is not Sara, and no, they can’t call me Sara for the night just because it is easier to remember than Soraya.

I especially love when monthly dances showcase live Swing bands. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than dancing in my canvas sneakers to the rhythmic beat of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, drums, a piano, and an electric bass guitar.

It’s times like these that my feet are blissfully happy. And so am I.