Learning to Dance

My husband and I are ballroom dancers. We started taking lessons in 2003. We have not taken formal lessons for a while, although we pick up a lesson here and there when they are offered at dances we are attending. We like to dance whenever we can which, for two pastors, often means wedding receptions.

We are usually disappointed on these occasions. The d. j. tends to play really good ballroom music during dinner. Then comes the parade of special dances—bride and groom; bride and dad; groom and mom and so on. You can usually tell if the couple has taken some dance lessons or been advised about dancing in front of an audience. For instance, most ballroom dance songs last about three minutes. Most popular music is longer than that. Four or five minutes is a long time to awkwardly sway back and forth in front of your friends and family!

We have also been to weddings where the time for special dances is extended by what is known as a “Dollar Dance.” First the bride is led to the dance floor and it is usually her maid of honor who collects money from anyone who wants to dance with the bride. Then the groom sometimes has his best man do the same for him. (Kind of humiliating, I think.) Eventually all of the special dances end. By this time, the crowd has watched other people dance for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. When the dance floor opens for everyone, the ballroom music is long gone. Instead there is very loud upbeat music that is popular at the moment. We can usually try out a cha cha or a swing dance since they fit with lots of popular music, but by then it is time for two preachers to go home!

Sometimes I will have a young woman come up to me and ask me if she can dance with my husband. I always say “yes”. If only their boyfriends knew how much these young women would appreciate it if they learned how to dance!

You can learn to dance by watching others dance. People who have taken lessons can always spot these self-taught people on a dance floor. They may come close to what they are supposed to be doing, but there are “tells” that they have not had lessons. For instance, there is always a line of dance on a dance floor; couples move in a counter-clockwise direction. Couples who want to dance more slowly or who want to stay in one place move to the inside of the floor. When people are trying to dance “upstream” you know they have not had a lesson. You can also tell people who are self-taught by the “hold.” Women have been taught to put their left hand at the bottom of their partner’s right bicep (not his shoulder, not his back.) This gives more ability to turn. They also have been taught that their “frame” is not dependent on their partner’s. If they step back from their partner, their left and right hand will stay where they are in hold. In other words, they are not leaning into their partner’s left hand with their right. They are holding up their own right hand. The list goes on. All of the things that we have learned in lessons make for small changes in the way we look on the dance floor. Their main purpose is to provide for the ability to accomplish the various moves in the steps that we know.

When new members join our congregations, we often expect them to figure out what it means to be a Presbyterian or, for some of our members, what it means to be a Christian, by watching other people. The ability to do this is based in large part on the people who are being used as examples. (You could probably name one or two people in your congregation whom you hope no one is watching to decide what it means to follow Christ.) If we expect them to learn by osmosis, they may end up being perfectly happy followers, just as many self-taught people are perfectly happy dancers. But if we do not give them the opportunity to study—to engage in Bible Study, to be in a small group, to be taught how to engage in the pastoral ministry of members for one another—they may miss out on being able to accomplish these tasks more fully.

How are you challenging the newer members (and the existing ones as well) of your congregation to be continually learning about their call to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ?


Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago