[Week 24.02] The Dance Is Not The DanceJanuary 29, 2024
Allegra and I had been practicing our West Coast Swing dance to Coldplay's song Magic for months. She loves to dance, and I am always eager to learn something new. Sophia, our amazing dance instructor, taught us the moves and helped us understand what it means to lead and what it means to follow. She explained how, while we each had individual roles, great dance makes a duo a single entity. Progress was slow to start, but over time, we got good enough, then good, and finally pretty good. I learned how to listen to the count without counting and how to share the beat without moving my lips. She showed us how to listen to the "two count" -- the second beat, which, in this song, was the snare drum. The second beat and I were one. We practiced the dance five times the day before our public debut and knew we were ready. Then, on New Year's Eve, the night of our wedding, we got up to dance our first dance. The music began, we felt the rhythm, and something was wrong. The bass overwhelmed the snare drum, so we could not hear the second beat. Our metronome, our lifeline, the sound we had depended on, was gone. We looked at each other with looks of bewilderment and did the only thing we could think of -- we began.
Without the second beat, we danced a little more freestyle than expected, but we still knew the steps. More importantly, our hours of practicing brought us closer together, taught us more about each other, and allowed us to trust that we had this. Without the beat, we synched to each other, dancing to our rhythm rather than the songs. Instead of listening to the music, we were more sensitive to each other. And we did the only thing one can do in that situation. We laughed.
Our practice kept us steady despite being in a completely novel situation. We had come so far in the months of preparation. I had been a challenging student; any the names of common dance steps and names sounded like a foreign language to me. We had to break down each part of the process, understand the mechanics and put it into terms I understood. I finally got it, and through repetition, I adapted to the conditions. Allegra had learned to trust my lead, and even though she had trouble finding the beat, she stepped when I stepped, added a little more flourish, and sailed elegantly through the routine.
Most importantly, the unexpected change opened the experience to a more human interaction filled with levity and joy. In the face of "adversity," we let go of our expectations. Rather than dancing as we had rehearsed, we had to find our own beat. Unable to rely on the music, we relied on each other. Rather than withdraw, we leaned in. With the eyes of the room focused on us, we could be focused entirely on each other. At that moment, we realized that the dance was not the dance. We were.
In life and leadership, we can practice our part and design the play, but when the music starts, our lived experience takes on a life of its own. More importantly, when we learn to rely on our partners and our teams, we open ourselves up to a flourishing that opens up a world of possibility. Adversity brings us closer together. Letting go of our lifelines allows us to explore more expansive possibilities. And perhaps most importantly, we should remind ourselves that in most of life, the task is not the task, the goal is not the goal, the dance is not the dance. Laughing and working together with those we love and lead is where you find the beat.
With love, gratitude and wonder.