Learning to Give, Learning to Dance

For my wife’s family, life is filled with dance. Every New Year’s and Christmas, each cumpleaños and quinceanera, everyone would laugh and yell, cry and dance. And in the culture of her family, when the music is playing, it is the duty of the man to ensure that no woman was ever sitting. Everyone should always be included in the celebration, personally and corporeally.

So at each party and family affair, I would approach every mama and abuelita, every tia and young prima, and invite them to salsa or cumbia, and every gran dama de Colombia would politely smile and say, “Dios mio, how sweet. The gringo is trying to dance.” When my wife and I would weave and dip at weddings on my side of the family, all my cousins, WASPy and puritan, would whisper “Ohh, Sean and Jenny are such good dancers.”

At a recent celebration, one of Jenny’s 20-something cousins was sitting alone and I approached with palm outstretched. This young woman, nubile and lithe, could maneuver the dance floor in ways that would be illegal or impossible for an Irish-Catholic boy like me; bred in the suburbs and grown soft by middle-age.

And yet she took my hand and stayed with me, step-by-step. As Alma Socorro gently moved me around the room, conducting my every position and turn, she had the patience, awareness and grace to let me believe I was leading. And occasionally, in just the right amounts, she added a flourish to our dance. A flourish that gave reason to believe in the beautiful things.

So much of life is like that. After years of study and strain, we learn our trade or craft or art. Filled with this new-found knowledge and passion, we want to rush upon the world. We want to give of ourselves and offer everything we have to share. Meanwhile our poor little partner stands there, palm outstretched and wobbling on unsteady knees, and is easily overwhelmed.

Be patient. Remain attentive and aware, and always active. When we have something special that we want to give back so badly it hurts, we must do so with grace. We must have the presence to meet the others where they are. To come to them gently and stay with them step-by-step, as if teaching them to dance. We must learn how to guide, and follow their lead, simultaneously. Instilling confidence. Inviting play.

Like Nietzsche before me, I too consider the day wasted, in which there is no dancing.


©2017 John Albert Doyle, Jr.


  1. Another really timely one, Sean. Dance and play reinvigorate life, and this was a touching story. While it’s good to be able to take full advantage and throw things at folks or problems when the time is right, it’s so important to wait for the right moment. A great reminder.

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