This is part one of a series chronicling Ethan Hartley and his progress towards participating in Mentor Rhode Island’s “Dancing with the Stars” fundraising event on May 2 at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet.
I’m the kind of person who, when it comes time to cut a rug – usually at a wedding after a couple of adult sodas – I sort of just let my body do the thinking. Believe it or not (I’d understand if you didn’t), I was actually blessed with a semblance of natural born rhythm, but to say I actually know what to do with my various noodly limbs while following a beat would be a large bridge too far.
So, when I was asked what type of dance I was looking to do while at the Dancing Feeling last week during my first ever dance lesson, my mind went numb and I realized I had, literally never once in my entire life, actually learned what a traditional “dance” is.
“Umm, something with tempo,” I answered sheepishly, hoping that my more highly attuned skill of throwing out a topical word that I think is relevant would overcome my complete lack of tangible knowledge.
It did not. Rachael just sort of looked at me, nodding politely as though she understood but with a clear message of, “Oh boy…” coming through her eyes.
I quickly segued into a new type of musical infusion that had caught my attention recently. I had discovered it through the normal course of finding random instrumental tunes on YouTube, which I use to zone out and write pretty much every article I’ve written in the past four years. After going down this rabbit hole, you get to some unique stuff.
It’s a genre of music that mixes old timey swing and jive music from the 30s, 40s and 50s with modern hip hop beats, bass rhythms and editing – swing hop, if you will, I told Rachael.
Her eyes did not change to reflect a greater understanding.
I realized this would probably be a good time to pull out my phone and play the samples I had prepared for her to get an idea of what, in my head, I thought would make for a good show during Mentor Rhode Island’s Dancing with the Stars. I wanted to start slow and pick up the pace halfway through. With only two minutes to wow the judges and the audience, it seemed to make sense.
Despite my complete lack of dancing acumen, I do have some experience messing around with music and took some time to cut and blend a couple of examples of what I thought might work. After listening to the tracks on the loud speakers, I could tell Rachael’s dancing brain was kicking into gear. It’s something I appreciate greatly about working with various experts in every different kind of profession imaginable over the years in this job. You can really tell when someone’s expertise is being utilized.
She and I agreed on one of the tracks to use for the dance, which I suppose was a pretty good success for the first day considering I was just throwing stuff against the wall to see what might stick.
Going through some initial, beginner steps for our dance choice gave me hope that I’m not totally in over my head when it comes to technically learning how to dance correctly. I’m not sure just how much I will be able to absorb in the next nine lessons, but I’m optimistic that with Rachael’s help I will be able to put together a routine that is as enjoyable to dance as it will be to watch.
I can truly say I never imagined I’d be in this situation, much less doing it for a cause as worthy as Mentor RI. As I approach my one-year anniversary as a mentor in the Warwick school system, I can say with certainty it was among the best decisions I have made.
There is nothing more fulfilling than feeling as though you’re making a positive difference in a child’s life. Knowing the complications that Mentor RI has found themselves in thanks to the financial strife of the city and the school district – which I have covered extensively since arriving here – it takes on an even greater meaning to raise money and try to further that mission.
I don’t know if I’ll come out of this experience a master dancer, but I will hopefully be able to do more than the classic “hug and sway” at my upcoming wedding.
To donate to Ethan’s fundraising campaign for Mentor RI, visit his fundraising page at mentorri.networkforgood.com/projects/68378-ethan-hartley-s-fundraiser