The brain loves new things

Dancing has been a little awkward lately, and it’s not just me that’s having difficulty. Several of my square dancing friends are learning the opposite gender roles from the ones they are currently dancing. Boys are becoming girls and vice versa. Their brains understand the differences, but muscle memory reverts to the parts they already know so well.

My problem is similar to theirs. Now that I’ve been dancing two-step for about six months, I’m trying to learn to lead. Following comes naturally at this point, and I can do all sorts of fancy maneuvers with the right lead.

I’m finding the switch a tricky proposition. Leaders have more details to keep in mind—they have to plan the moves a bit ahead of time, while making sure they don’t steer their partners into someone on a crowded and constantly shifting dance floor. The hardest part, for me, is fighting that tricky muscle memory. Follows start on the right foot while leads start on the left. My feet tend to shift while I dance, forgetting that I have now changed roles. It can be frustrating.

I sometimes wonder why I am putting myself through this torture. I actually prefer to follow, but I know I’ll be a better dancer if I learn both roles. I want to be flexible enough to dance with everyone, and I also have a stubborn streak. Once I find something to be difficult, I don’t like to quit until I get it mastered. I want to choose to follow, not remain locked into one role because I am unable to lead. Perhaps I’ll even end up preferring it. I won’t know until I improve.

I was discussing this with my friend the other night. He was frustrated because he could not remember which hand to use on a square dance call in his new role as a boy. I reminded him that he is only having this difficulty because he’s learning new things, because he’s challenging himself. I think it’s more important to keep learning that it is to be perfect, and I told him so. I think he felt better.

As for me, I led a partner in a complex move on the dance floor last Friday, and she didn’t break. She even enjoyed it. That’s worth all the funky turns and confused footwork it took me to get there.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

186. Try something more advanced in a skill you’ve already acquired, or try doing a familiar task in an entirely new way.

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