I wake up with sweat streaming down my face after another “salsa” dream. It is always the same; I elegantly twirl my partner and claim first prize on America’s Dancing with the Stars. In reality, I couldn’t twirl my way out of a paper bag if my life depended on it.
I discovered that I am the world’s worst dancer when I began taking salsa dance classes as a form of stress relief from school. The pressures of medical school can seem overwhelming at times, especially when first starting out, so I looked to salsa dance as something fun that I could do whenever I was feeling down. However, I didn’t know that being left-handed also meant I would have two left feet. I was placed in the beginner class with about five middle-aged couples who were all MUCH better at dancing. I figured it would take no time at all to master the beginner level and move up to the intermediate class. Wrong.
Every lesson was pretty much the same. I’d enter the class wearing my polished dance shoes, confident that this was the day I would be promoted to the intermediate level. My partner and I would get into the ready position. This was it!
My palms would sweat as the music started to play. We moved, with me stepping first towards her and her moving back. I counted out loud, “One, two, three. One, two, three.” My partner looked at me like I was crazy. But I didn’t care. I just kept dancing.
Then came the first twirl, which we did successfully. Next, my spin, which I mastered. I started thinking, “Wow, we are doing great! Intermediate class, here I come!” And then I stepped on my partner’s foot, almost as a reminder for me to stop daydreaming and get back to dancing. We kept going.
And now came the hardest part; the combined twirl and elegant hand switch-off. I twirled my partner and stepped toward her at the same time she stepped toward me. We bumped right into each other. I tried to recover by moving my feet back, but I completely lost it. What started out as salsa ended up more like an Irish Riverdance as my feet flew frantically in all directions.
I looked around to see if anyone noticed. The music kept playing and my partner and I regrouped. Each time this happened, I was amazed she stuck with me.
As famed American football coach Lou Holtz once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” Salsa reminds me that sometimes the most important thing to do after a stressful day is to take a step back, clear my mind of all things that are troubling me, and invest an hour in doing something outside of medicine that I enjoy. Regardless of my clumsiness, my sweaty palms, and whether I eventually make it to the intermediate class, I LOVE to dance. Through salsa I discovered no greater satisfaction than moving to some great Spanish music (and, hopefully, not stepping on my partner’s feet!). I am making progress. I have improved my combined twirl and hand switch-off and I no longer count the steps out loud. Now I’m trying to eliminate the overbite (When Harry Met Sally anyone?) I get when counting the steps in my head.
About Robert G. Dorfman
Robert G. Dorfman is a 3rd year medical student currently taking a gap year as a Research Fellow in the Department of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at Northwestern. Robert holds dual degrees in History and Medicine and was educated at the University of Oxford, as well as Northwestern, where he was prodigiously admitted to medical school at the age of 18 through the Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME). Robert has published papers in the history of medicine on topics ranging from Franklin D. Roosevelet and polio to the impact of the discovery of anesthesia on the surgeon-patient relationship. He has presented this research internationally, as far away as Peking University 1st Hospital in Beijing, China. Robert enjoys making sense of modern medicine from a historical context, and likes to share his findings with others. You can contact Robert on Instagram @roberts_anatomy.