Almost a couple of years ago, I decided that I would act out on a desire that I’d had for some time: to learn to swing dance (specifically, Lindy Hop). Going back to when I was in high school in England, I’ve always had an interest in 1920s America, that started during our history classes. I find it a fascinating time of enormous progress (and for so many a big roaring party too, think Great Gatsby).
Coming out of the devastation of World War 1, the economy was soaring in a new consumer market, everyday life was being transformed by new inventions, and people were buying the early versions of the household items we still have today. When you read accounts from people back then, there was a pervasive sense of it being the dawn of a new age. This was, of course, tragic, because nobody knew the two terrible events that were about to hit them: the Great Depression and then World War 2. Part of the legacy that the 1920s left us with, however, was swing dancing. Lindy Hop was born in 1920s Harlem in the vibrant African-American community, and subsequently became one of the most popular dances of the 20th century.
As for me almost 100 years later, I started going to swing dance events in the Boston area, doing a mixture of lessons and social dancing. Fortunately for me, I’ve been blessed since birth with amazing natural dancing skills and a huge presence on any dance floor (well, maybe). I wasn’t sure at first that I would stick with it. But I have, and am now at a stage where I am learning some choreographed routines. It’s a journey that I’ve really enjoyed, and something that’s added a new dimension to my life. Here are 5 specific lessons I’ve learned:
1. Have a hobby that is completely different from your day job. Hopefully you enjoy your day job and are surrounded by a great group of people. I know I am. However, it’s always good to do something that introduces you to a whole new and diverse group of people. It’s never a healthy thing to be surrounded by the same folk all the time. The world is a big place full of variety and different tastes, attitudes and talents. Go meet some of them! At swing dancing, there are people from college all the way up to their 70s and 80s (actually the older dancers are the best), from a hugely different mix of backgrounds.
2. The value of persistence. I hope after reading this article, if you’re not familiar with Lindy Hop, you go online and watch some videos of dancers in action. It’s a fast-paced dance that’s not easy to learn. I remember when I first started, even the most simple basic move (the “triple step”) was tough to get right. I frequently felt discouraged, because during social dancing, it seemed like I was always up there with people who were so much better than me. If you’re a naturally conscientious person, this can be a little disheartening. However, always remember that everybody was a beginner at one stage. All these months later, I am confident that I’m now in a position to at least “hold my own” with even a very experienced dancer—and not look like a total clutz.
3. Dancing for cardiovascular activity. I realized quite quickly that on the days I go swing dancing, I don’t need to get on the gym treadmill or go out for a run. It’s quite an intense workout. Adding in the social element too, I am not surprised that the United Kingdom’s National Health Service has started prescribing some simple dance lessons as a means to improve health and well-being. We should be doing the same in America.
4. All hobbies have a following everywhere you go. Over the last year I have found swing dancing events in different cities across America, and in London, Buenos Aires and Bangkok — on my travels. Popular pastimes have followers everywhere, in places you may never imagine. You can, therefore, keep up with your hobbies, even when you’re away for extended periods of time.
5. Have fun. Above all else though, swing dancing, like any form of dancing — is a great way to relax and have a load of fun (if you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be doing any hobby). There’s a famous line in the song Dancing in the Moonlight, that you can’t dance and stay uptight. That’s so true. Life is for living, and always be sure to make time for those things that bring enjoyment.
So, if dancing is something you’ve ever considered — be it swing, salsa, tango or ballroom — I’d highly recommend trying it out.
On that note, I’ll see you on America’s Got Talent soon doing a combo physician Lindy Hop act.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author, and an independent health care experience and communication consultant. He is co-founder, DocsDox.
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