Sample Essay: The Magic of Ballroom Dancing

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The Magic of Ballroom Dancing

by Jean Reynolds

I’m swirling around a beautiful ballroom in the arms of a handsome man. He expertly guides me through one complex dance pattern after another, perfectly matched to the music playing in the background. At the end of the day I go up to the judges’ table, where I’m given a handful of blue and gold ribbons—awards for my dancing skills. I’ve been a ballroom dancer for over twenty years, and what began as a casual pastime has become a passion. Ballroom dancing has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

One unexpected change has been increased confidence. I’m an English teacher who’s always been more comfortable in a classroom or library than at a party. When I started taking ballroom lessons, my teacher told me that I needed to go to the studio parties to practice dancing with other partners. I was terrified: Who would want to dance with an absolute beginner like me? What would we talk about? Would I fit in? What I discovered was that dancers are gracious people who encourage one another and aren’t bothered at all by an occasional mistake. Our shared interest in dancing meant that there was always something to talk about, and I began to expand my world beyond the academic little box where I usually spent my time. Twenty years later, I have rich friendships with a diverse group of men and women who love dancing as much as I do.

Another surprise was learning to appreciate music on a new level. I’ve always loved music, I have a huge CD collection, and I often stream songs on my computer when I’m writing. But I had never thought about phrasing, breaks, tempo changes, and other features of popular songs. After a few years of lessons and dance parties, I began to listen more closely to how songs are orchestrated and sung. For example, I used to think that most of Frank Sinatra’s songs were pretty much alike. But now I know that his music can be romantic, sassy, tender, brash, or elegant. My favorite discovery is that I can perform right along with Sinatra by improvising an arm movement or tossing my head at an exciting moment in a song.

The greatest gift that dancing has given me is fun. I love dressing up, experimenting with makeup and hairdos, and wearing fancy shoes decorated with rhinestones. Dance parties are always full of laughter, and often we play games on the dance floor. I used to be afraid of competitions and showcases because I thought the dancers would be stuffy and arrogant. The truth is very different: Dancing attracts people who want to squeeze the most enjoyment out of their lives. Ballroom dancing is surprisingly playful, with lots of teasing and joking on the dance floor. I’m always glowing at the end of an evening of dancing. The biggest surprise of all is that the lessons are just as much fun. It’s a totally different kind of learning that’s good for my body and soul.

It took courage for me to walk into a dance studio the first time, and even more courage to come back for the next lesson. It was scary to watch the other students gliding confidently with their teachers. Would I ever be able to dance the way they did? “The first steps are the hardest,” my teacher reassured me—and he was right. I’m so glad I decided to try ballroom dancing, and I can’t wait to put on my dance shoes again for another evening of sheer delight.

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