One of my Facebook friends posted a short video clip of him dancing with his daughter at an event. Another one of my Facebook friends has posted a few videos of her son and daughter dancing and participating in local dance competitions. I’ve witnessed parents bring their sons and daughters to Steppin’ matinees beaming with pride because their children are able to actively participate in the event and able to hold their own on the dance floor. People at the event would always smile as the young people danced. They all smiled and were in agreement that the participation of our youth in such a beautiful activity, one that brings profound joy and great satisfaction, is a very good thing.
My life was shaped in much the same manner. I grew up like many in the community listening to music. Like so many others I can say that my life is a virtual soundtrack…there are specific songs that remind me of life-impacting events I’ve experienced over the years. Dance and music have always gone hand-in-hand for me. I’m somewhat introverted (believe it or not) so dancing was always my activity of choice for getting to know people and allowing them to get to know me. Anyone who really knows me can tell you that I’ve been dancing most of my life. Dancing saved my life. Dancing gave me a reason to live. Dancing brought me out of my shell growing up and in many ways it still does to this very day.
When I was younger my goal was to keep up with the latest dances. They were basically freestyle dances, but every dance had a name: Mash Potato, Four Corners, Jerk, Football, Twist, James Brown, Robot, Bump etc. (clearly I’m dating myself here). Although I was always a better than average freestyle dancer, my preference as I got older was couple’s dancing. Why? I loved being able to flow with another person and get caught up in the music and each other. I also loved being in the company of women. Back then women loved to watch and dance with a good dancer. If he was attractive and well-dressed too – “eye candy” as they call it – that made watching a guy even more intriguing and took a dance with him to a whole new level of “experience” for many. If he was a gentleman and carried himself as such, he was both admired and respected for his participation in any dance activity. And herein is the point of this entire blog post…
If we want to see our youth become more productive citizens, if we want them to respect life and to be loving, caring, responsible human beings with a zest for life and a determination to do something with their lives, I would argue that one of the best ways to do that is to get them into couple’s dancing. What better way to provide fun, structure, discipline and focus than to have our youth participate in something that will engage and challenge them. Dancing would help them to open up creatively and they would most certainly add their own style and finesse to the dance. We need more young people dancing. I don’t know about you, but it concerns me when I look at posts and pictures from events around the country and the participants seem to be getting “grayer’ as time goes by. Is this dance that we claim we love not worthy of sharing with our youth? Are we coveting a “gift” that could give hope and life? I would argue that we most definitely are. We clearly need a pipeline of young people gravitating to this dance and we need it yesterday. It wouldn’t take our youth long to learn the dance and become proficient in it because they’re fast learners. Those of us in a position to propagate Steppin’ should be about the business of getting our youth involved in this dance.
As a youth I did my fair share of dumb things. I was a bit thuggish, made some bad decisions running with the wrong crowd at times and could have easily gone down a different path. My father wasn’t in the home consistently so I had very little male direction. My father was a military man who was always on a tour of duty, often out of the country. My mom was a disciplinarian, but as I got older I was harder to control. I took to the streets looking for things to get involved in and something to belong to. I was a confused, direction-less knucklehead in the streets just floundering. I smoked a little weed at times and had my fair share of “oh God” experiences consuming too much alcohol. I would get in deeper trouble from time to time, even spent the night in jail once because I was out past curfew. I was, in the words of my friends, a “hot mess” with raging hormones. I was a middle-school loser with no hopes, dreams or desires.
Pretty girls who liked to dance changed all of that for me. I attended dance parties for high school students – someplace else I wasn’t supposed to be – and I would notice how girls would carry on and on about guys who could dance well. I remember specifically a group of guys called the Y.L.O.G.’s (Young Lovers of Gary – yes, that was their name, lol!) who would take over a party when they walked in the door. These guys would show up in their cool, uniquely designed black and grey leather jackets, black slacks and well-polished black shoes (that alone was pretty cool) and they could flat-out dance! These guys could put on a show and have the entire room watching them perform. And when I say they could dance, I’m talking specifically about couple’s dancing. The Bop and Slow Dancing were couples dances of choice back then and I had never seen anyone perform the way these guys did. They had a presence and a command of the floor that made quite the impression on me.
After witnessing the way these guys command the dance scene, I knew I needed to be a part of it. I learned to Bop and Slow Dance from a few of the same girls who made a fuss about the guys showing up at parties. They wanted to dance well so they could dance with the guys and they put in the time to learn. I had never seen anyone so determined to learn to how to dance well. These same girls allowed me to hang around them, but they wouldn’t give me the time of day unless I learned how to dance like them. They would only show me so much, then they’d make me figure the rest on my own. I struggled badly initially and sometimes felt like giving up, but when I got it, I GOT IT! The girls let me know when I got it too because after I mastered the dance, guess who was dancing with all of the pretty women!? And once I made it to high school, most of the ladies I danced with were always older than me and they made a fuss over me like I’d seen girls do with other guys. I was hooked from that point on. In my tiny universe, I was “the man”.
There are people I grew up with, that I attended high school with that will tell you that I’m still doing today what I was doing back then. Dancing helped me get through some tough times. Dancing was and is very therapeutic for me. Dancing was the perfect “meantime” as I was “going through” a rough time or a trying situation. Dancing was the mechanism of choice to cope and hope. It was a means of escape and a great alternative to drugs and alcohol. Dancing kept me out of trouble and got me respect from both youth and adults. As a youth growing up with seven other siblings in a home where sometimes the “ends” didn’t meet, dancing allowed me the perfect getaway and afforded me some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
I’ll never forget the first time I danced with my mom at a public event and found out she could dance too. We were at a political fundraiser and being the somewhat introverted guy that I was I didn’t know how to fit in. She took me out on the dance floor and we went to work. I discovered right then that my mom could really Bop! While dancing with her I was totally amazed at how well she could follow me. I mean, I thought I was giving her some of my best moves and she would fall right into them. When we were done, I was surprised and elated to hear applause and receive a standing ovation from the folks in attendance. My mom was proud of me and I was equally proud of her. I immediately realized the value of a having a skill that could assist me socially; of having a resource that would help me to fit in when I didn’t know how to.
Just as dancing helped me, I know it can help our youth. Instead of complaining about the problems with today’s youth, we need to provide practical solutions to help them cope with the challenges they face today. When you have to look another person in the eye, it becomes a little more difficult to want to bring harm to them. When you experience a renewed sense of “touch” when interacting with another human being, you’re less apt to want to bring harm to them. When you realize you have to learn to skillfully communicate both verbally and non-verbally, as one does in couple’s dancing, you’re more apt to seek alternative, healthy solutions for resolving conflict. When a young lady or a young man realizes that the potential to positively impact their lives resides in their ability to embrace discipline, order and structure for a desired outcome, all positive results of couple’s dancing, the sky is literally the limit for them for reaching their full potential. Our youth are looking for direction and guidance… we can help them find their way. WE can give them a gift…we can give them the gift of dance. We can teach them to Chicago Step! They can call it the Chicago 2-Step or the Steppin Dance. It doesn’t matter to me. I just want to see them off the streets and on the dance floor!
We can help save the lives of our young people. We can get them off the streets and on to the dance floor. I’m confident that there are many young men out there who are like I was, floundering with no discipline trying to figure out the next scheme, looking for something to get into or belong to. Dancing was the ticket I needed to put me on a different path. Dancing saved my life. It can save the lives of others who are just like I was. Their lives deserve to be saved too. They deserve a shot at becoming all that they can be. I plan to diligently do my part to help save the lives and my hope that you do so too.
Feel free to share your perspective on the need to engage today’s youth. Leave a comment below or and let us know what you think. And by all means, please share how you’re involved in helping our youth embrace dance!