I have always thought of myself as a lifelong learner, someone who loves the challenge of picking up new skills and different viewpoints. I’ve made several runs through “institutes of higher learning”, changed my major career course three times, and I frequently attend one-off courses at community colleges and professional development seminars. I learned and played a variety of sports, have spent several years with yoga instructors of different stripes, as well as a number of meditation courses.
Here's what I learned about myself in ballroom dancing...
When my wife suggested learning ballroom dancing, I blithely agreed. I was not only a lifelong learner, I was also a “sensitive new age guy!”
A year later, with my ego severely thrashed and having left a session or two embarrassed and frustrated, I found myself agreeing with my wife when she observed I preferred to learn new things for which I already have an aptitude. I hated being on the “less than” trailing edge of the learning bell curve.
A couple years later, I’m still in dancing classes at Arthur Murray, and only infrequently find myself in a funk. What was the difference?
My Arthur Murray instructors are very talented teachers, and are quick to see when someone isn’t quite picking up the new moves. They also use many different ways to explain their point (e.g. comparing a particular way of holding your shoulders and upper torso as “pushing up on the edge of a pool” or a Tango step as “walking with flippers on your feet.”
They use a number of teaching modes: explaining, demonstrating, having students practice while observing, and individual lessons. I find I’m a “kinetic learner” in dancing, despite a lifetime of reading “how to” books. They found the teaching style that worked best for me, and that was a big help.
More importantly though, particularly for my own personal development, they helped me remember that feedback isn’t criticism, that dancing is a contest only if I want it to be, and that learning steps properly makes me a more predictable dance partner.
I’m a better student now, in all areas of life, because of dancing. Learning only the things that already fit your aptitude really limits life’s lessons!