A lesson in presence

by Alice Dommert
February 3, 2019
Mindfulness, Presence

Almost 6 months ago I got serious about learning to dance. Not just dance. To learn a partner dance called West Coast Swing. It is a social dance that at first feels like an awkward high school dance. A DJ plays music and someone asks someone else to dance. The music is popular songs you would recognize from the radio. Most people wear jeans.

One of the dancers, traditionally the man, is the leader. And the other person is the follower. I’ve been a self-appointed leader most of my life. Or that is what I have called it. Others have just called it being bossy. This time I made the choice to be a follower.

I started with dance lessons. The instructors teach the steps of both parts and you practice together. Each step is counted out and you both know what’s coming. They play one song for the lesson so that also becomes familiar. I’m a quick learner. After a few times of watching and trying, I caught on.

Then the lesson was over. The music changed and someone asked me to dance. There is a reason the follower is called the follower. You are supposed to FOLLOW. In West Coast Swing there are a few basic steps, but the whole beauty of the dance is responding to the music and to each other. There is no talking, no planning the next move. As the follower, you are to keep just the right amount of tension in the way you are holding hands with your leader and keep your “frame.”

Are you feeling a little lost with all that detail? Yes, that was my feeling the first few months of dancing. How do I know what is coming next? Am I going to mess up? Does this guy even know what he is doing? Do I trust my partner, or not? Did he just step on my toes?

Weeks went by, I got new dance shoes. I was sure these would help my dancing. (Not really, but I did not think they would cause more stumbles.) That night my toes got stepped on even more. I blamed it on the shoes. “Your feet are out in front of the rest of you Alice. Your steps are too big.” my teacher offered.

Ah, yes. When I was training to become a yoga instructor, our teacher said that people “do” yoga the way they do life. It seems the same thing happens with dancing.

I was getting ahead of myself. This was not the first time this lesson has spun me around. In the past, I have lost my footing and center of gravity and stumbled when my steps were too big, when I pressed forward in places that I was not yet ready for.

What I have noticed is that life is generous. Over and over the lessons we need are offered in different forms until our awareness fully tips to shift that habit.

This time I smiled. No more energy wasted on frustration. This lesson was looping again for me to get more practice. And to notice know how far I have come.

Someone asked me to dance. It was a fantastic song and my partner was an excellent leader. Then it happened. The flow of the music and some kind of magical synchronicity. This was what I had imagined those dancers were feeling when I watched all of those West Coast Swing dance videos. (Some people watch cat videos. I watch West Coast Swing dancing!)

How did that happen? How do I do THAT again?

I took my teacher’s suggestion, and the smile it had offered me. I stopped trying to figure it out. My yoga and mindfulness practice of being in the moment surfaced and I softened. I let my body feel the music and the guidance of my partner. It was awareness and trust, being open to the possibilities of the moment. And then the next one and the next one.

Dancing, like life, is about practice, alignment, balance and taking small steps to you keep your center of gravity AND the willingness to trust and follow the flow of what’s around you.

Focused attention, but not too much mind.
Confident steps, but not too big.
Trust your partner, yet hold your frame.
Surrender to the flow, of the music, and life.

This is presence. And it feels really good.

Where might you find more moments of presence and joy in your life?
These moments don’t just come after months of dance lessons. They are sprinkled throughout each and every day.

Which ones might you catch today?

Alice Dommert

Alice Dommert

Founder, Wholebeing Architect

View my other posts

Photo Credit:

Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash


Become a Prasada Wholebeing Insider

Free access to our Wholebeing newsletter, events calendar, wellness tips and health research to help you thrive

By joining you will receive the 9 Wholebeing Practices Guide: a free personal guide to living a life of health, purpose and joy.