Friday, November 25, 2011

Dancing: My Personal Thanksgiving

This article was originally published November of 2007. After four more years I find my thoughts are about the same, only amplified a little. I'm actually doing more today than when this was written. Let me know your thoughts via the comments link below.

While most of us (including me) would say family and friends are the biggest reasons for thanks this season, I’ve been thinking about how dancing has enriched my life, so I’ll focus on it for this article. Starting my dancing later than most, I see distinct advantages to continue growing as a dancer. It’s been one of the most fascinating journeys I’ve taken in life, and maybe you’ll relate to some of my thoughts. (And please, leave me comments with what it’s done for you!)

In my case, I have to say I’m thankful that dancing has become a strong focus in my life. I’m happier, healthier and mentally challenged, all of which will serve me well as I move closer to AARP membership age. It brings another joy and different dynamics into play, and I’ll share some of my favorites with you.

For me, dancing is more than just a physical activity to burn some time. It’s a vehicle that allows you and me to grow socially, physically and mentally. It’s an excellent tool for working on our attitude and people skills, and provides a foundation for fun and enjoyment the rest of our lives.

Dancing has dramatically extended my social circles. I enjoy interesting relationships with a wide variety of people, many from backgrounds outside my previous circles. One of my early dance friends is a master auto mechanic named Edgar, originally from Guatemala.

As a technology professional, I doubt our paths would have crossed except we met at a salsa class, trying to figure this thing out. Edgar was always ahead of me since he had started earlier, and he always encouraged me to keep at it. We car-pooled to clubs relentlessly in the first couple years, keeping each others spirits up as we grew into more mature dancers.

Edgar’s a great guy, but he’s someone who would not have been on my radar screen before dancing. He works with his hands all day fixing things, and I fix things at the keyboard. In some ways we couldn’t be more different, but Salsa dancing gives us a common bond and connects us together. I’ve learned quite a bit from him and hopefully he has from me. (I taught him to hear the “one” in the music during our drive times; today he is almost always on the time and he passes that to some of his friends.)

He’s simply one example of someone who made a positive impact on me and I could fill twenty pages with more examples. I’ve become friends with CEOs, manual laborers, construction workers, tech geeks, teachers, bus boys, accountants, models, waitresses and waiters. You name a profession and I probably have danced with them or next to them. Nobody cares about my being an older white guy or having some gray hair, as long as I continue to grow as a dancer and treat others well.

I dance with women young enough to be my daughter and old enough to be my mom, and it’s all good. It’s amazing, and I don’t think it ends. Social dancing keeps me thinking about how I can be a better friend, connect with more people, and grow my circles of contacts. The diversity is a big win for me. Although I have to admit I’ve always loved people, social dancing opens a new, wide world of interesting relationships.

Dance challenges my mind and my body. I’m constantly gaining strength, balance and body control, while challenging my mind to do things I never imagined before I started. I’m reading more books on performance techniques and attitudes, taking classes, teaching classes and privates and constantly stretching to improve. It keeps me fresh mentally, and greatly improves my overall outlook on life. I’ve always been a student of accelerated learning and teaching, so dancing gives me another vehicle for growth.

I could barely bend over and touch my ankles when I started, and now I’m palms down on the floor and know I will do even better next year. Few will see me today and marvel at my flexibility, but before I danced I simply believed flexibility was for females and athletes. (You know--other people, not me.)

While my current status is nothing special for most females, I’m probably the most improved person in my classes (when you start where I started, just touching your toes easily is a big, big deal.) Now I’m learning from advanced salsa DVDs, teaching and taking private lessons, taking jazz classes and growing my dance skills in many different directions. I teach quite a bit and sub for some of the best salsa dancers in LA. I see the path parallels my music growth as a young adult, and it provides a newer vehicle to apply and refine previous knowledge.

I’m thankful I needed to lose some weight and I found my local gym had a salsa aerobics class. Occasionally I run into one of my early instructors and he laughs with me as we remember how I would have been voted least likely to succeed in the early days. Today he gets a kick out of telling people how weak I was in the beginning. I didn’t go to clubs for six months when I started partnering classes as I was too embarrassed when I compared myself to the others in the class. Many thought I was terminally slow, but I knew from my music days that laying a foundation was critical to longer-term dance success.

It's really something that makes me a better person and provides a vehicle for self growth, in multiple areas. I'm thankful I can pass that on to anybody else and I consider salsa dancing a "gateway dance". It allowed me to get started when I was out of shape, and over time expand into a new world of mental and physical improvements.

As a social dance, it allows me to decide how serious I want to take it (or not). I decided to take jazz classes after a couple years of salsa, and I always know I can quit anytime. I have moments I'd like to hide, being a little embarrassed with my skill level compared to others, but so what?

I use those moments to relate to my students and to build my personal mental toughness. It's a win even on my bad days, and if things are uncomfortable, I consider it part of my growth process. I always get physical benefits from it and sometimes I have to pat myself on the back for simply getting though the warmups. I couldn't do them when I started and today, few work harder than me during that part of the class.

I could go on and on, but I certainly stumbled onto something that has truly changed my life for the better. I have to give a shout out to Edie the Salsa Freak, who never gave up on me and encouraged me long before others recognized my potential. Edie made sure I understood it all takes time, and to just keep working at it. She’s one of many who have helped me along the way, and I’m thankful for so many people treating me well when I couldn’t make it work as fast as the other guys around me.

That said, I'm proud of so many others who have started in my classes and I see them on the same journey. Today I get to apply my dance and music skills to help others enhance their life. I hope the same thing is happening to you.

It’s an amazing journey, and after a few years I feel like I’m just getting started.

I hope dance has enriched your life; let me know the great things it has done for you!


  1. Don, I love this post! It is so inspiring and motivating and well worded! I hope you don't mind if I again write about you in my own blog as I think my students would benefit from your story!

    Sharon Galor
    Toronto Dance Salsa

  2. Hi Don!

    Thanks for the permission to highlight your post on my blog. I loved it and hopefully it shows...check out what I wrote:

    Keep inspiring us!



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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero