It’s no secret in this community that I love to dance.
I’m not a formally trained dancer, nor am I the best dancer on the floor at any given time. But – I still love to dance – and do so often.
I discovered swing dancing about 10 years ago and fell in love – with the dance that is. It’s probably not what you’re thinking. There’s no big band music booming at 150 beats per minute and no jumping, jiving, or jitterbug in my repertoire. I fell in love with a style of dance known as “West Coast Swing” – a slower, bluesy style of swing that developed in New York City’s underground blues clubs, during the musicians’ strike and 1942 recording ban.
West Coast Swing is a highly-improvisational partner dance best known for eschewing traditional ballroom rules and standards. It is referred to as a “living dance,” because it constantly evolves and adapts as musical trends change over time. Today, we dance to all kinds of music from old school blues to hip hop, jazz, pop, and lyrical.
People often ask: How do you partner dance when you don’t know what style of music is about to play or what moves your partner might throw at you in the next 2-3 minutes? And that is where the secret lies….
It’s about connection.
In this context, connection means that both dancers are paying attention, fully present, in the moment, receptive and responsive to the person at the other end of their arm – while also maintaining their own center and balance. No one is controlling the other – a lead is a suggestion, not an order – and each dancer contributes to the “conversation” as it evolves.
But why am I talking about partner dancing in a blog for Dana Hall?
When I began brainstorming ideas to write about in this first boarding life blog post, many thoughts tumbled around in my mind. Should I reveal the “Top 10 things people don’t know about living in a dorm?” Should I break certain myths about boarding life? Should I describe how things have changed over the past 24 years? (Yes, I have been here that long.)
I thought about all of these things – and may write about them in the future. But I really wanted to pin down what matters the most – and I had a lightbulb moment.
I realized that what I love most about the boarding community springs from the same core principle that fuels my passion for West Coast Swing: Connection.
This year (before I ever envisioned writing this post), I began asking students in my dorm to share “notable moments of connection” – moments they’ve personally experienced or witnessed that had an impact. And – with their permission – I began sharing their stories during our weekly dorm meetings.
The point of this exercise of course is to acknowledge and understand the power of connection and to recognize the value of paying attention to one another, being fully present (in real time rather than social media), taking time to listen, share, and respond to each other, even if an interaction is as brief as a 3-minute song.
What does connection look like at Dana Hall?
I will paraphrase some thoughts shared by students in my dorm this year:
It’s not just about living on campus, attending dorm meetings, or sharing a kitchen and refrigerator with 24 of your “closest” friends… That is not where the magic lies… Magical moments tend to occur when least expected…
Traditions like Harbor Cruise and dorm competitions promote connection on a grand scale, but it’s often the unplanned, unexpected moments that students remember most:
- Sitting with someone who is eating alone at the dining center instead of sitting with “the usual” friends… Students on the receiving end of this gesture described feeling valued and connected – sometimes for the first time – and the student who reached out felt valued as well.
- Finding an encouraging note on one’s whiteboard after having a bad day.
- Introducing an international student to the art of trick-or-treating and watching them joyfully dash off from one house to another.
- Learning how to say hello in 5 different languages while putting a puzzle together in the common room.
- Inviting someone (or being invited) to walk to Wellesley or Truly Yogurt for the first time. (Going to Truly is practically a right of passage at Dana Hall.)
Students invariably described how rewarding it felt to reach out to someone or do something outside of their normal routine or comfort zone. Connection feels good on both ends – giving and receiving – but it requires paying attention, noticing, listening, and choosing to engage with someone in the moment – much like leading and following in a partner dance.
Students also shared that despite taking the initiative and making an effort, they sometimes fail to connect. But our discussions suggest that what may appear to be an inconsequential interaction to one person can be truly meaningful to another. We never know what someone is going through at any given moment – and it may seem that they are neither receptive nor appreciative of our time and attention – but more often than not, that is the very moment they need someone to reach out and connect. It may just be the best moment of their day. So take a chance and dance…