Shall We Dance?

By Larry Carlson | February 27, 2023

Recently we saw a fine movie called Shall We Dance? It was not so much about dancing as it was about close relationships and what it takes to initiate them and to keep them going. Seeing the movie reminded me of several years ago when Joy and I decided to take dance lessons. We were looking for an activity that would be fun, healthy, social, and long lasting, but there was even more to it for me.

In my school career, from the 9th grade party on, I secretly envied the kids who could dance. It was not a part of my upbringing but it looked so attractive. People were moving together in measured anticipation of each step, on and on, smiling, laughing and having fun. I wanted to have fun too. Dancing seemed like a wonderful equalizer. I could ask anyone to dance, even the tall blond in European History Class. Anyone! But I did not know how to dance and I never did learn how, so later, in my forties, dance lessons sounded like a good idea. They might redeem some of the misspent days of youth.

We signed up for a group class in swing dancing to be held on summer nights in the gymnasium of Cal State Fullerton. | had never danced a swing step in my life. Half way through the first night I knew I was in trouble because an elemental fact of dancing had escaped me. It was intended to be done to the beat of musical accompaniment, a great idea if you can identify the beat, but to me it was quite elusive. This proved to be a minor problem however in comparison to my inability to think quickly in terms of left and right. Parts of my brain simply do not process left and right directions to my feet. So when Ted, the young Italian instructor, says left, right, quick, quick, step, step, step, what I did was left, left, quick, quick, stop.

In the second lesson my troubles compounded. My sagging ego collapsed completely when Ted said that for the remainder of the lessons we were to change partners every few minutes so that we could get to know the feeling of several different partners. Not only were my shortcomings, and they were many, to be shared with my semi-patient spouse, but they were also to be distributed to at least ten other women. My failures with each were magnified not only by consistently stepping on their feet, but also by the prodigious amount of perspiration I generated.

In the third lesson several partners explained to me that they had no idea of the next move into which I was attempting to lead them, or of when that move might occur. Another partner thought I was partially deaf because the way I was moving had nothing to do with the beat of the music. My partners did not feel safe. Safety was important to them since they were generally moving backwards toward obstacles and toward other people. Mental images of the bumper car ride at Knot’s Berry Farm began to form in my mind.

By the final three nights I was so far behind that we hired Ted to come to our house before each meeting and give us private lessons. Each night Ted arrived about sunset and we went out on the deck to dance because that was the only uncarpeted surface large enough to accommodate us. I was unwilling to use the driveway because it was too public. Ted verbalized the responsibilities of the man’s role in the dance relationship but I needed to be shown firsthand, and yet I was not going to dance with Ted no matter how cute Joy thought he was. My technique continued to put us at risk of crashing through the railing to the yard below.

My hopes for successful dancing did not die easily. At the conclusion of the class I signed up for several hours of additional private instruction, this time with a female instructor. It was a less embarrassing experience but it was still so painfully slow that I stopped going and I have not returned. Nonetheless my inability to dance has not affected the quality of my life since high school. Friendships and activities are many and learning to dance is not a prerequisite for any of them.

As I look at the future I wonder what dances God still wants me to learn and I feel anxious because there is no longer a lifetime to practice them. Yet his word instructs me to “be anxious for nothing.” Maybe the reason his word tells me not to worry is because whenever I dance with God the good news is He leads. I follow. When I follow him I can only be looking in one direction and that is directly into his face. It is an odd feeling, dancing into my future with backward steps, but as I continue to look into his face he says, “I will never ask you to do a step that we cannot accomplish together. Trust me.”

Some days it seems like there is no music. The dance has stopped and I am sitting on the sideline waiting, just waiting, for who knows what, for some beat that I can understand, for some certified glimpse into my future. Eventually God comes across the room to my chair. He puts one hand on my shoulder and extends his other arm out toward tomorrow and says with a voice that goes directly to my heart, “Shall We Dance?”

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.
Psalm 95:7