Dancing was more like therapy

an escape from reality because reality wasn’t something I wanted to face

dancing-therapy-1To be honest when I was asked by Heath to write an article about our experiences with teaching Jive classes at the Basement Project I felt a little unsure as to what to say and how to put it across. You see, you put me in front of a group of people and ask me to teach them to Jive and I’m comfortable. I served 22 years in the Army, 17 years of which I served as a Unit fitness instructor and at times I have had to take a large number of soldiers and put them through their paces in physical training sessions and was comfortable doing so but for me to put pen to paper like this and try to express myself is very much out of my comfort zone. When I thought about it, that’s what this learning to dance, learning to Jive for a lot of people here at the Basement Project is all about – being out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

I suppose the best thing to do would be to give some kind of introduction to explain how Lynn, my dance partner, and I got into the 1940’s and 50’s dancing and how we came to teach dance here at the Basement Project.

Each of our reasons for starting to dance are very similar and the reasons we each continue to dance are very much the same.

Lynn has been dancing for about 11 years which came as a bit of a shock to her when we worked it out as she thought it was only 7 years. Lynn had been brought up on music from the 1950’s and had a real love for it. She started dancing a few months after separating from her husband and the dancing became a kind of therapy for her, a little bit of time in her life that allowed her to escape from the reality of everything else that was going on. It made her happy and gave her a natural buzz for life. As time went on it stopped becoming an escape and became what it had always been for her which was a love for the music and for the dance.

dancing-therapy-4As I said our stories are very similar as to how we started dancing. I had been out of the Army for a couple of years when my marriage broke down and my wife and I separated. I took it really badly and lost the will to want to go on. To be honest if it wasn’t for my parents and my dog I don’t feel that I would have made it through the first few months. The friends that I thought I had seemed to disappear or maybe my mind wasn’t in the right place and I didn’t notice them trying to help. I just wanted my family back. It was just over 2 years ago that my parents got me to go with them to a 1940’s dance and introduced me to Jive. Like Lynn I had always had the 1940’s and 50’s music in my life while growing up. I loved the Frank Sinatra style music and various singers from the 1950’s and to be honest to my family’s annoyance love to sing the songs. When I saw the people dancing 1940’s Jive I just wanted to get up and join in but didn’t have a clue where to start, they all looked so professional. I was invited to the dance classes and decided to give it a try. It took me 4 weeks to get the courage up to go. But after the first class I was hooked and the more I danced the more I wanted to dance. Like Lynn I loved the music and I loved the dancing but it was more like therapy for me, an escape from reality because reality wasn’t something I wanted to face. So for that short period of time while I danced I was happy. Also like Lynn I now dance because of my love for dance and the music. I still get that natural buzz when I dance and when I learn new moves and when I see the change it makes in others.

dancing-therapy-2Lynn and I started to dance together just over a year ago. Lynn had been teaching 1950’s Jive at the time for a few years and I had assisted in teaching 1940’s Jive on and off. We were asked by my old dance teacher to teach a set of lessons to a group of people that wanted to have a Rock n Roll night and that’s when we met Mark* and Nicola. Mark had a real buzz about him and quickly got into the dancing and the music. The event came and went. I have to mention at this point that we had a Strictly Come Rock n Roll competition and Mark and Nicola won. One day Mark spoke to Lynn and myself about continuing to teach Jive classes. We hadn’t planned to but we had loved the way it affected the people we taught. He had an idea he wanted to put to us and so we met up and that’s when he told me a little about the Basement Project. I don’t think Mark was really quite sure how I would feel about the idea but the more he told me the more I wanted to go and meet with Michelle to see what the Basement was all about. So one Saturday Mark, Michelle, Lynn and I all met at the Basement and as we walked into the building Lynn and I both looked at each other and smiled because we both got such a good feeling, it just felt right. Before we’d even spoken to Michelle we knew that we wanted to teach there and just hoped Michelle would give us the opportunity to do so. I probably came over a little over the top but we have seen how dance changes people’s lives and makes them happy and we love to see it. Yes at times it can be frustrating if you can’t get the move right but you can’t get away from the feeling you have when you get it right and the feeling when you hit the right beat to the music. Lynn and I love the blank expressions on the faces of those coming to learn to dance when we demonstrate the moves. You can see that inside their heads they are saying “I can’t do that”. But they do, and then the look they have on their face when they get the move right and they start dancing to the music is priceless.

Michelle gave us the opportunity to teach and we have been doing so since May this year and are now on our second 8 weeks of lessons.

dancing-therapy-5Since starting back in May we have loved seeing each of those that have attended the classes and how each has progressed at their own pace but each of them able to dance their own style. We have loved to see them return each week ready and enthusiastic to learn and their approach to it all. We’ve found that the Basement is a place for people to come and put themselves out of their comfort zone and try something new like Jive. The thing that makes it work though is the support network that is so apparent here. It is like a brother and sisterhood, a family. We love all the different characters that we have met there. You need characters in Jive, it makes it more fun in the best way. That’s what Jive is about; having fun with those you love spending time with and making new friends. We love to hear the dancers calling out the timing because they have heard it repeated so many times and the occasions when some calls out, “got it” when they get the move right. It’s impossible not to smile at some point during a dance class at the Basement even if it’s at the mistakes I make when calling out the timing. Someone once said to me that they were amazed how something so simple can do so much good.

dancing-therapy-3The Basement for Lynn and I is a place that we love to come to each Thursday night because of the people that we spend time with there. We know that no matter how difficult our day or week has been, when we leave there at the end of the night we always leave on a natural high. We have been made to feel so welcome and part of the Basement. You get so much more out of the Basement than you could ever give.

[*Mark is Mark Baxendale of Baxendale Vanzie Solicitors]

Article featured in RecoveryTimes issue 5