Building Community Through Dance

Written By Cathy Gilpin

I’m a dancer because I love music and moving to it. At least that’s what I’ve always said (and there is a bunch of truth to that), but recently I’ve begun to realize that what I love most about dancing is the other dancers and the relationships I’ve forged with them. I feel this most with the team here at Ballroom Dance Chicago. When you dine with others, drink wine with them and share dances and conversation, it’s pretty easy to form real, lasting bonds. And that’s why I blame you, my Ballroom Dance Chicago family, for the strange relationship I now have with social media.

A few months ago, I made a decision to purge the majority of my Facebook “friends.” I was up to about 470. When I told some of my close, real-life friends what I was doing, they couldn’t believe it. “Why would you disconnect from all of those people?” “What if you need something from one of them someday?” “Don’t you love seeing what old friends from high school are up to these days?”

The truth was that, no, I didn’t “love” seeing what old friends from high school were up to these days. To be completely honest, I found it a little creepy that I was a witness to so many family photo albums and happy memories of the children of people I had had maybe a handful of conversations with over 10 years ago. I made it my mission to only connect online with those that I actually had (or would care to have) human interactions with on at least a semi-regular basis. This brought my list down to 39 friends.

A few months in, and I couldn’t even tell you how I ever got to 470. How did I possibly know all of those people? I didn’t. It turns out, now that I have only 39 friends on Facebook, I seem to have so many more friends surrounding me in real life. As an adult, it can be really hard to meet new people and make new friends. It makes sense for us to think we can hold on to hundreds of online connections imagining that one day, when we need them, someone will be there for us.

Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. We haven’t actually invested any time or energy into these so called “friends” beyond scrolling through their profile on our digital devices. So, why should we expect them to hook us up with their musician connections when we’re planning an event? Or help us find roommates when we’re left one roommate short? Or attend a performance we’re playing in when we haven’t spoken in ages? Community is among the most important tools for human survival; however, a sense of community cannot be established through social media and digital interfacing. Communities grow out of real-time, face to face, human interaction.

From a very young age, we are exposed to a plethora of opportunities to become a part of such communities. We go to school, church, extracurricular activities, summer camps, and all sorts of other organized groups that give us the sense of belonging we all need and crave. As adults, finding these groups can be a little bit more challenging. Some are lucky enough to feel part of a community in their workplace with their colleagues, but some companies adhere to a strict non-fraternization rule.

Myself and the other staff at Ballroom Dance Chicago are lucky enough to be a part of a company that not only allows, but encourages forging relationships with one another outside of the workplace. Because of our respect for each other and the integrity of Ballroom Dance Chicago, we have been able to cultivate an even tighter community as a result.

We know how great it is to feel like you’re a part of something, like you belong. Our top priority as a dance studio is to cultivate happiness in our dance students and our team by inviting and welcoming everyone into our community. From the minute people walk in the door to the moment they drive away, we want people to feel like they are amongst friends and are part of a group of like-minded individuals. We continue to make every effort to build community and connections between students so that each visit is not only like a visit to a friend’s house, but an invitation to a party with all your favorite people. At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we know the value of being able to form new and meaningful connections, and how seldom the opportunity arises to do so.

I’m going to leave you with a call to action. Delete Facebook from your phone (at least for a week), and every time you have the urge to scroll, take that time and energy and put it into a relationship that has a life outside of social media: Call up a friend you’ve lost connection with and set a date for coffee; spend time with your spouse or child playing a board game; take a walk with a loved one and reminisce about past experiences or build some new ones together. Invest time into the connections that will still be around once brightness of Facebook has faded.