I was never much of a dancer. I was always more of a thinking person, someone who would rather sit with a nice little book in his hand, than go out and sweat, and move in a room full of people. So when I came to the University of Iowa as a Pre-Med student, I pretty much had a solid plan in mind, and dancing was definitely NOT a part of it.
August: My first encounter with the concept of swing dance was during the Student Organization Fair. So many things to choose from, I was walking around with the multitudes of freshman who were in just the same state of mind as mine: confusion and excitement. Not knowing where to go, I stopped at a table where people were just crowding. "This better be good" I thought to myself, as I didn't want to be crushed from every side, for something that won't be as interesting as the crowd indicated. Moving to the front, I noticed that the table belonged to the UI Swing Dance Club. Two girls were distributing pamphlets while a third was explaining what Swing Dance was all about. I took a pamphlet and after listening for a few minutes, decided to move on. Not something for me.
One Month Later: Despite my initial inhibitions about dancing, after a little research I seemed to be drawn to Swing Dancing. It must have been the music. The likes of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald have that effect. You just can't not move to their songs. I decided to go and check out what it was like, to dance. On the first lesson, I was a bit early, and people didn't start pouring in until ten minutes later. There was a demonstration of the East Coast Swing Dance style by the instructors, and then we were asked to 'pulse', which was somewhat like the bopping you do when you come back down after shooting a basketball. "Bopping to the beat is pulsing", I said in my head. Not bad so far. Then we were asked to pair up, and we did a couple of exercises to develop 'tension' and a 'connection' with our partner. Being a person who really loves his personal bubble, I was rather apprehensive about dancing with another person. But as the class ended, I realized that I had developed something of a liking for it. Somewhat like a drug.
A world in itself:
As a pre-med major, Stress levels are bound to be high as I realized soon enough. The reality of student loans, working jobs, and the importance of maintaining your GPA, and building an impressive resume were all consuming. Swing dancing provided me with an outlet. While my head is still filled with all things college and life, I didn't have to live in my head while swing dancing. When dancing, I feel like there is a time when I can stop worrying and just live. Swing dancing opened up a new world to me, a much needed escape hatch.
The amount of movement that swing dance involves makes it a very competent aerobic exercise. As a person with a busy schedule, I rarely go to the gym. So for me, swing dancing is something that qualifies as a full blown aerobic workout. The fact that it is extremely fun to do also means that it requires a lot less motivation than when I go to the gym, and hop on a treadmill. Dancing is the only exercise that has the ability to reduce chances for developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. All in all, I end up as healthy as I can be, while having as much fun as it is humanly possible.
Social misfit? Not anymore:
While I may be someone who doesn't socialize a lot, Swing dancing allows me to meet new people every time. Each dance with a different person allows me to increase my ability to open myself to others. Swing dancing is a very impromptu form of dancing, and thinking on your feet takes the pressure off socializing. Once I dance with someone, I feel like I've gotten to know them better than when I talk to them.
Like I said, I wasn't much of a dancer. But I am glad that I learnt. It's not just a thing that lets you have fun. It's more, much more. It's a culture, and I feel like I'm a part of something wonderful. I am a pre-med student because it is my passion to save lives. I am a dancer because I love being able to go to a place where I can let go of myself, and when I come back I am ready to take on the pressure all over again. Performing 'Frankie Sixes' makes me feel the same kind of rush that I would feel if I were shown an amazing surgical procedure. Perfecting 'Swing-outs' took time, and helped me realize that if I am going to get good at something, I need patience. But the greatest thing I have probably learnt is that just because I am going on a difficult path doesn't mean I can't enjoy it. I can hold scalpels and wear dance shoes, and I know that I can be just as darn good at both.