Today I went to my ballroom class like usual, and I kept getting frustrated because I felt like I was always behind the beat. Perhaps it’s not noticeable to someone watching, but I could feel slightly off from the music.
I told my instructor and he said, “You’ll never technically be on the beat. You are a follow, as a follow you will always be at least a fraction of a second off the beat. The leader is the one who is on the beat”.
I was shocked! How could this be? I definitely wanted to be on the beat!
He then said, “Think of it this way, I lead and you follow, I lead right on the beat and you go right after because you can’t anticipate exactly what I’ll be doing next. You are the echo to the beat, you must take that time between the beats and make them your own, decorate them, flourish them, make them hard and strong, or soft and elegant. The echo gives the dance dimension and space“.
This conversation got me thinking about spaces and things that are seemingly empty. It wasn’t long before I thought of this quotation:
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
—The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is now widely known, but when I read it back in 2013 I thought about the idea of standing on the sidelines and simply observing events passing by. I told myself that most of these things were really nothing that affected me and that in the end things would unfold as they would. I was in those blank white spaces.
Now things are different, I try and inform myself about what’s happening in the world, the country, and my community. I have more of a sense of the space I fill in this world and therefore what my actions can do in those spaces. It’s not just the people who pass laws, who discover new treatments for cancer, or those who score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. They might be “on the beat”, but the rest of us fill the rest of the space, we give those moments dimension and importance, or lack thereof. For example, if a million people turned to watch a Bolivian woman weave occluders, medical devices used in heart surgeries, those women may be seen as important as a famous soccer player who scored the winning goal of the World Cup.
We might not all step on the beat, but we do determine what we do in between those beats. Are we soft and elegant, enjoying and cheering on the important movements in this dance, or are we strong and brave, forcing our leaders to change the pace, change the rhythm, and focus on those things that we care about?
Let’s fill those spaces with strong, beautiful echoes filled with those things we believe will make the world a better and more beautiful place.