An Open Letter to a New Dancer

 A few thoughts on the process of 'getting involved' in country dancing

Dear Friend,

So you've just enjoyed your first traditional dance experience. Congratulations. I'm willing to bet that it was exciting and fun.

The music – especially if it was live – might have been the biggest surprise. You didn't know there were so many truly talented musicians around.  

Maybe it went by in a blur.  And as you think back, you might have a few qualms. There were things that felt odd and different, and perhaps left you feeling a bit uncomfortable. I’d just like to say – from my own experience – that’s perfectly normal.

Those of us who are experienced dancers - when we invite newcomers to join us - we often say, "It's easy."

To be honest – that's not entirely true.

It would be better if we said: "It's easy to get started."

You can come to one of our dances without any experience at all, and start dancing right away. But, as a newcomer, you're not really going to get the full enjoyment this kind of dancing offers.

Just like learning any other worthwhile new skill - it takes some practice. To understand the instruction. To master the dance figures. To become accustomed to the way dance leaders frequently "drop out" and leave you on your own with the music. To dance with different partners all the time. It all takes some “getting used to.”

You've just dipped a toe into the water. It could be the first step on a wonderful journey filled with music, dance, healthy physical activity and friendship.

You can be more than a participant, too. The volunteer organizations that run most traditional dances always welcome people who are willing to lend a hand. If you've ever played a musical instrument, there's likely a place for you in workshops or an open band. Maybe you know a bit about sound reinforcement – there might be a place for you helping with sound.

And all along the way, there are a lot of nice people who will become amiable acquaintances – and at least a few people who you'll get to know better and who may become very good friends.

You do need to be reasonably fit and be able to keep up with the physical activity. That’s essential. And it’s important for you to really hear the music and feel way the dance fits into the phrases of the melody. 

If you can do those things, then all you need to do to be able to become a really wonderful dancer is get a little experience. 

There will come a time when you will discover something wonderful. It may take two or three dances for it to happen, but a time will come. You'll suddenly realize that you've stopped thinking about what comes next or worrying about where you are supposed to be or anything thing else. 

You'll have this little epiphany. "Hey. I'm dancing."

Then you'll understand what this is all about.

See you on a dance floor somewhere.



Ridge Kennedy is a dancer and dance caller who lives in New Jersey.  He has been dancing since 1993. He started dancing after spending ten years standing on the side, watching folks dance and feeling too shy to participate.