It was always cold, snowy and dark on Monday nights during my third semester of law school.
For three hours I would be in the chilly courtroom at Keller Hall, practicing opening statements or direct examinations in trial practice class, feeling that slight nervous flutter when the professor would say, “Ms. Wright! Your witness.”
Then, when the class was over, I would pack up my books, head out into the snow, and slip away into an entirely different world.
I would hear soft waltz music from the moment I pulled into the parking lot. South Dixie Dance Studio was warm, welcoming and beautiful. Pretty strands of lights strung around the mirrors and reflected off the sleek dance floor.
I guess the first thing I fell in love with was the music. Then, the sight of the instructor and his partner sweeping effortlessly across the floor, in perfect unison, with only the sound of their feet softly scuffing across the floor to the rise and fall of a beautiful song.
On that first Monday night, watching two people waltz, I decided I would learn how to ballroom dance.
I did not think at the time about what a long and challenging and wonderful journey it would be; I just decided that no matter how difficult it was, I would do it.
Of course my friend and his dance partner made it look easy.
And the first thing I learned about ballroom dancing was that it is not easy.
I was horrible at it. No matter how many times I tried the box step, the moment the music would come on, I would forget everything, step on someone’s foot, or trip over myself.
But I committed myself to the process. I learned to love the small improvements.
At the heart of learning is the feeling that you have no idea what you are doing. I embraced that feeling.
And it spilled over, into trial practice class and into the rest of my law school career.
Being thrown into a moot court round had an eerie resemblance to the Tango music starting, in all its staccato suddenness.
You’re never as ready as you want to be for a moot court round – or a Tango. But once it begins, you are forced to learn, to find your footing, to do your best even if you feel like you are falling apart.
At one ballroom event, I danced with a stranger who accidentally stepped on my foot, tearing my toenail. I slipped into the bathroom to stop the bleeding and bumped into a woman in a long sparkling dress.
“You’ll get stepped on a lot out there, honey,” she smiled. “Just suck it up and don’t be a sissy.”
I laughed, and found myself repeating that line in my head for weeks.
During my fourth semester I would leave a Cha-Cha class every Thursday evening to catch up on my family law reading for the next day. I traveled to Washington, D.C. over the summer for an externship and took a West Coast Swing class in Virginia every Friday night.
The night before I left Dayton for Columbus to take the bar exam, I was dancing a Tango at Arbor Hall.
The music would rise and fall, and all of it was about trying and messing up and trying again and improving, at last, in small ways. And then I would have those moments where my movement and the music matched in breathless perfection. Those moments made everything worth it.
Ballroom dancing taught me so many things, about people and music and life.
But what ballroom dancing in law school taught me was all about loving the process. It was all about showing up and showing up and showing up, and then suddenly realizing I could dance.
There is something about dancing that still reminds me that life is endless learning. I will still sit down to research a new topic, or look at a blank screen ready to write an article, or take a dance lesson with a new pattern, and have the sense that I have no idea what I am doing.
And I will feel the cold snowy feeling of those third-semester Monday nights, and smile.
It’s just another dance, another chance to learn.
Katie Wright is an adjunct professor at Wilmington College and a former Clinton County assistant prosecuting attorney. She will be competing in the Murphy Theatre’s Dancing With the Stars event on Sept. 22.