“The Power of Dance”

You never know in your life when someone is going to touch you with their tenacity, their courage, their strength, and even their smile. I had one of those moments last week while coaching the Arthur Murray in Dallas. I want to tell you about the one 45 minute coaching lesson I taught that will stay with me forever.

A few minutes before starting my lesson, the instructor came up to me to tell me about her student. She told me that this student had a stroke a couple of years back and as a result, he lost the use of his right side. He was unable to move his right arm, right leg, and even lost his speech. This teacher told me, however, that he has a great attitude and that I was not to be easy on him.

The teacher also expressed to me how proud she was of him because, since he has been taking lessons at the Arthur Murray Dallas Studio, he has come such an incredibly long way. When he first started dancing, he was unable to hold the lady on the back, but now he can stretch his right arm just far enough to make it to the front of the instructor’s hip. At the beginning his teacher had a difficult time understanding him since his speech was unclear. But every day he was in, he worked equally as hard to get words out, as he did on learning his basic steps. Now he and his teacher have an easier time communicating, joking and laughing with each other. While at the studio, he has learned to do dances like the Fox Trot, Waltz, and Two Step.

As I went out to meet her student, I was truly wondering… how was I going to be able to help him? What kind of difference could I make in his dancing? As a coach visiting in another studio, you typically only have 1 lesson to help a student make a big difference in their dancing. I wanted this day with this student to be no different; I really wanted to make sure he received the same amazing lesson as any other student would receive from me that day. As a young instructor, I had experienced teaching all different types of people; people with injuries, different abilities, and I even taught blind and deaf students. Unlike those students, however, I had only one lesson to make a difference for her student.

The teacher proceeded to introduce me to her student. He was an older gentleman and dressed like a country chap with country style slacks, coat, hat, and some dapper snake-skin boots. His instructor told me how proud she was of him and that he has a goal to one day perform a Viennese Waltz, so she wanted me to work on his Country Western Waltz as a stepping-stone. Now for those of you who have ever done or seen Viennese Waltz, you know this is no easy feat! My definition of “Viennese Waltz” is a REALLY FAST Waltz. Needless to say, his difficulty with controlling the movement of his legs, particularly the right one, was going to make this goal complicated but not impossible.

He and his teacher demonstrated his knowledge of the Country Western Waltz. This was a newer dance for him and he was able to do the basic step and lead the lady to turn. His steps were a bit jumbled, but he was able to make his way around the floor. My first goal was to get his right arm to move from the front of the lady’s hip around to the small of her back….closer to the ultimate goal of being on the lady’s shoulder blade. Mind you, after the stroke he was unable to lift or move his right arm forward at all. He proceeded to hoist and stretch his arm around to the small of his instructors back. His teacher naturally met him halfway, attempting to take his arm and placed it on the small of her back. I stopped her and said, “let him do it.” So he grunted and struggled and finally got his arm further around her back, all on his own! He was so elated and his face was beaming with excitement. His teacher was dumbfounded. We each gave him a high 5 and celebrated with him.

My second goal was to get him to evenly and clearly step with both feet. In Country Western Waltz the man is suppose to take a large step forward with the left foot then two small steps followed be a large step forward with the right foot then two more small steps. So the challenge was going to be to get that right leg to extend as much as his left. He tried and struggled, moaned and groaned, and quite often he would stop because his leg wouldn’t move. After I got him to get his feet underneath his body, he was able to muster up the strength to propel his right leg forward. We would make it part way around the floor, he’d mess up, and stop. Eventually we made it half way around the floor, before he stopped. Pretty soon he made it all away around the floor! We were all so excited for him! More hi-fives, shouting, and cheering! You could tell by the look on his face how proud he was of himself. He was doing it! Not only was he doing it, he was doing it really well! His instructors were right. He did have a great attitude. He tried really hard, and wouldn’t give up. The lesson went on and we continued to have him practice stretching out his arms and legs. There was such an overwhelming amount of joy on that lesson that there were several times during that lesson where I had to hold back the tears from the realization of what a gift I had been given. To be able to share my craft with people and make a positive difference in others lives.

He truly reminded me of that. The wonderful, patient teachers of Dallas also reminded me of that. And for this, I am grateful. This student is not just taking dance lessons; his teachers have completely changed his life. He is rehabilitating his mind, body, and soul, and I can’t think of any better way to do that than through ballroom dance.
The one thing I didn’t know is that right before the lesson, his caregiver had pulled the manager of the studio aside with a concern. The student’s caregiver was worried he was not up for the lesson. He wasn’t feeling well, and didn’t want to waste my time. The manager told his caregiver that it wouldn’t be a problem, and suggested that he try his best, but if at any point he needed to stop we would do so. Even as determined as this student is, he has his down days and needs encouragement. In that moment, there was a fine line of how that day could have turned out.

It is amazing how things work out. Who knows why he felt that way on that particular day. I truly believe once we had some fun and he felt some progress, he immediately felt energized, refreshed, and full of hope. Seeing him leave the studio that day in a different state of mind was another reminder to me of how we can affect people every day! It wasn’t just me, or his teacher that did that for him, it was the power of dance that changed his day.

Sometimes, it is such a fine line that we walk between success and failure. We all have the power to control our own thoughts. My hope for you is – when you doubt if you can do something, remember this story. I certainly will.

I would like to thank Ed for blessing me that day. The hope, joy, and perseverance you showed me is truly inspiring. For reminding me that what we does not only benefits the students, but the instructors as well. For giving me the gift of your presence and the privilege of working with you. It is people like you that motivate us all to succeed no matter what obstacles you may face.

Thank You, for your