(This started as a short blog, but the inspiration hit, and ended up long enough that I've split it into two parts. Part two will be posted later in the week!) ~Jessica
If you ask me as a ballroom dancer what it means to follow, I would sum it up with one word – TRUST. But even as I say that, I hear the ladies saying, “Yeah right – sounds sooooo simple, but sooooo tough to execute.” And then you’ll flood me with questions like:
“How can I trust him when I don’t know what he is going to lead next?”
“What if I don’t know the steps or it is more advanced than I am comfortable with?”
“How do I ‘trust’ if my partner’s sense of timing is…different than mine (i.e. he’s completely off beat in my estimation)?”
“If each guy I dance with leads differently, then how do I relax? How am I supposed to do this TRUST thing?”
So let me unpack a few things I’ve picked up in my 10+ years of teaching ballroom dance. If you like to dance and want to become a better leader or follower, you may pick up a few tips. But I believe there is a broader application, and also hope to show you how learning to follow as a dancer applies to all of us as we learn to follow God and His will for our lives.
Then he [Jesus] told them what they could expect from themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am….Follow me and I’ll show you how.” Luke 9:23 (The Message)
Trust starts with focus
To become a proficient follower, you must become more aware of your partner than yourself. In dancing, the follower (the lady) needs to keep a laser-like focus on the center (or core) of the leader (then gentleman). I describe this more in depth in my blog note: When the Pace is Fast and Furious. Suffice to say that the faster the music, the faster the pace of life, the more I have to focus on my partner in order to see what pattern he wants to lead next.
But focus comes from more than just your eyes; just as focusing on God and his will for your life comes from more than just reading your bible on a daily basis.
Your eyes will sometimes mislead you – or you will misinterpret what your eyes see. You have to learn how to tune in with your whole self – in dance it is about becoming physically aware of your partner and feeling the lead – with Jesus, it is about tuning not just your body, but your thoughts and emotions, your prayers, to Him.
I’ve often challenged my gentleman students that a great ballroom dancer should be able to lead a blind lady; and it is a good test to see if you have mastered a new pattern if you can lead a lady through the sequence with her eyes closed. If the lead is unclear or half-hearted, she won’t get the signal and won’t follow – and if the lead is clear she will end up where she is supposed to be (and be delightfully surprised at how she got there).
In fact, I often ask my female students to close their eyes while dancing. Closing our eyes allows us to “tune in” to the signals and timing of the leader, and we eliminate the visual cues that can be misinterpreted. It is also an expression of trust in the one who is leading. Closing your eyes can be scary at first, but it can be very relaxing and therapeutic as well. A follower is at her best when she RESPONDS to the PROMPTINGS of the leader instead of anticipating them. Jesus is the perfect leader and He asks us to TUNE IN to Him, to close our eyes, and trust in Him alone.
There is a natural tendency for ladies to try to anticipate what the guy’s next move is going to be (we do this in relationships too, have you noticed?). Almost always the follower does the wrong steps, or gets the timing off, much to the frustration of the
leader. Group dance classes can actually make this tendency worse – because the nature of a group class is to repeat step sequences over and over to create muscle memory. Ladies fall into “pattern sequence traps” and automatically want to repeat the pattern, even if they guy decides to add in an extra two basics, or throw in a move he learned in the last class (usually to
see if she is paying attention). It gets even worse when the lady tries to “help” they guy she is dancing with by raising the gentleman’s hand for him; in essence, “leading” herself to dance an underarm turn. Come on ladies, we’ve all been guilty of this at some point, even me!
Similarly, we want to know what God’s next move in our life will be. We think it would be so much easier if we knew NOW all the details about how He was going to answer our prayers and those deep desires of our hearts.
Will my business be successful?
Who will I marry?
Why am I going through this trial, and how am I going to get out of it?
What is the next great horizon in my…(ministry, travel, education, career, relationship, etc.)?
We fall into ruts or “pattern sequence traps” with God too, usually in our worship or prayer – thinking that we can only hear from God if we pray a certain length of time, or that He will only meet us and pour out new vision on a special worship night, or, or, or. We end up putting more faith in the method than in the Maker. And we become so impatient with God’s timing, especially when it feels like he has us doing the basics, over and over and over again. So we try to second-guess His plans. Or better yet, we think we should “help” Him bring the vision to pass in OUR timing.
One of the best qualities social dancing teaches you is to stay present in the moment – to enjoy where you are at right now. Dancing requires you to focus on executing the move or task the leader has asked you to perform RIGHT NOW. Some social dance clubs will use a digital reader board to announce what the next three songs will be. But just because the reader board tells you that the next three songs will be a Rumba, followed by a West Coast Swing, followed by a Waltz – you have to dance
to the song that is CURRENTLY playing!
Are you – am I – more focused on the moment that God has me in, or in what I hope my future might be?
(Stay tuned later this week – part two will delve into the realities of leading, and how we can TRUST God to lead our lives and