Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover


A few months ago, I had a full day of private lessons. Like many teachers, I looked at who I’d be teaching and mentally prepared myself for each student: just learned swingouts, ok we’ll work on swing out technique; knows Balboa basics and a come around, alright we’ll go over lollies and toss outs. My next lesson was no different. She was a sweet older woman who liked to talk about her adorable grandchildren and the few ballroom classes she’d taken here and there. I had met her at our Balboa and Lindy workshop a few days beforehand, and could already guess what we’d cover in the lesson. She was new to Balboa, but had explored a few other partnered dance styles, so we’d probably cover just the basics. Having taught people of all ages for some years now, I knew that learning new body movements can be more difficult as people age, and prepared myself for the fact that the lesson could be difficult for her. I could not have been more wrong. In the words of George Elliot, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
She arrived early, donned her heels, and described her dance experience: some ballroom, some Lindy Hop. Her first Balboa class was our workshop a few days prior. Like every private lesson, we started with a warm up song: Billy Holiday’s rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.” My jaw just about hit the floor as I watched her dance with my teaching partner. She moved so smoothly and naturally through everything, I mean, everything. I jumped in as the lead halfway through, and was floored by her brilliant sense of inward connection and flow. I moved her through many movement and rhythmic variations, and she was spot on with everything. She moved with the ease and confidence of an experienced Balboa dancer. After the song ended, we confirmed how long she had been dancing Balboa: four days.
We danced through the lesson giving tune ups to her come arounds, lollies, toss outs, bal swivels, and out and ins. She took every bit of advice to heart, and made adjustments immediately. I had so greatly misjudged this charming, sweet granny. She asked in depth questions and made thoughtful observations about her movement and connection.
What an excellent reminder that brilliance can come from anyone, anywhere, at anytime. People can always surprise you, if only you are willing to be aware and see it. As a teacher, it’s always an amazing feeling to watch your students succeed, and even more so when they perform far better than expected. That lesson was one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of teaching. I’m so thankful to her for the lessons she taught ME that day.

— Lauren Smith (2017)

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