Is life more rhumba than foxtrot?

Published 12:09 am Friday, March 12, 2010

The trick to dancing is always to remember the steps.

No matter the obstacles on the dance floor or the tempo of music, if you remember your steps you are well on your way to being a respectable dancer.

That may be the one principle I have gleaned from the ballroom dancing classes my wife and I are taking this spring.

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“Triple step, triple step, rock step,” dance instructor Teri Roddy and her husband Walt recited a few weeks back as our group of Dancing With The Stars wannabes worked on our basic swing steps.

Sounds simple, right?

Combine it with music and twenty other people dancing around the room and the whole scenario can be somewhat dizzying.

Performing a set of basic moves in one spot of the floor makes the dance deceptively easy. Add to the dance turns and arm styling and you begin to understand why some people refuse to step on the dance floor.

“Forward, back, cha-cha-cha. Back, forward, cha-cha-cha,” Terri directed to the beat of Latin music streaming through the speakers last night.

Of course the trick to remembering the steps is to make the dance become so familiar that the moves are like breathing — they come naturally without forethought.

With practice over and over again the steps become less deliberate and more instinctual.

Sounds a little like something from one of the Karate Kid movies in the 1980, doesn’t it?

Interestingly, learning dance moves is a little like discovering some Zen principle .

The “wax on, wax off” lessons from Mr. Miyagi are not too far away from “step, step, h-o-l-d” lessons in remedial rhumba.

Once the basic dance steps reach that Zen level, maneuvering through the more complicated steps is a little easier.

Besides, if you master the basic steps, few people are going to realize that you didn’t turn your head in the right direction or place your hand in the right spot.

Above all, don’t look at your feet.

“Slow, slow. Quick, quick,” Teri instructed in our first lesson of the Foxtrot.

When my wife and I first signed up for these classes at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, I hadn’t expected much from my two left feet. The thought of learning something new was exciting, but I didn’t expect to come away with any worldy insight.

Five weeks later I have discovered that life may be a little like dancing — you just need to remember the basic steps.

In any of the ballroom classics, the basics steps add structure to the dance. Fancy turns and moves add spice to the dance, making it less boring and more challenging. The basic steps keep it all together.

Similarly, my daily life has depended on some structure and routine.

With a nine-month old baby, learning a new dance called “parenthood” has been vitally important to keeping it all together at home. The morning wake up-feeding -diaper change and evening supper-bath-bedtime “dance steps” make the unexpected, challenging moments in parenthood enjoyable.

Relying on the basic dance moves in life helps bring everything back into focus, even if you step on your partner’s toes in the process.

Like life, a little humility and a confident smile makes up for the most egregious of errors.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at