“Okay, everybody! Shut up!”
Aaron*, dance coach of the MIT Ballroom Dance Team, stared out at the crowd of giggling students attempting, in pairs, to stumble out the steps of the international rumba. Here in Lobby 13, the dancers-to-be had convened from near and far, hailing from MIT, Wellesley, Harvard, and beyond for the Ballroom Dance Camp, Day 2.
“Look, enthusiasm is good,” said Aaron. “But you need to find internal enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm comes from outside, so it is only momentary. Internal enthusiasm stays with you forever. To dance, you must find a balance within yourself.”
He had quite a point. Calling MIT freshmen “enthusiastic” was probably an understatement. We’ve been positively explosive for the past two weeks, and even though classes just started this Wednesday, there are no signs of anyone settling down. The buzz of newness still fills the air as we roam MIT and Boston, losing sleep and loading up on free food, free t-shirts, free bags, free water bottles, free alarm clocks, and even…free levels, courtesy MIT Libraries. Every engineer’s gotta know where his level is, right? Mine is now on top of my roommate’s whiteboard, where it affirms that the whiteboard is indeed level (an accomplishment my roommate and I are fairly proud of, having mounted the whiteboard before we had access to a level).
Which brings us back to balance.
“I know you are having fun, but your dancing will always express what you are inside,” continued Aaron. “Stop talking. Focus. Feel the music. Feel the dance within you. That’s how you have real fun. You. Must. Find. Balance.”
Balance, is of course, difficult to find at a place at MIT. There’s just so much going on outside of classes and ballroom dancing. For example, slacklining between two trees outside the student center:
My introduction to slacklining went something like this:
Me: “Whoa, this is really cool! I’m gonna watch!”
Slackliner: “Hey, do you wanna try? Kick off your shoes and hop on!”
If there’s one thing about MIT I love so far, it’s that exchanges like this are totally common. Everyone takes immense pleasure in sharing their passions and hobbies, even with total strangers.
In any case, slacklining is not tightrope walking (because the line is, you know, slack). The line is a one-inch-wide nylon or polyester webbing that wobbles like crazy. It’s essentially a one-inch-wide trampoline. The trick to slacklining, so I gather, lies in training your leg to counter-wobble against the line’s wobbling. If you counter-wobble too slowly, you’ll actually amplify the wobbling by resonating with it and probably fall off the line. I’ve been slacklining a total of three times now (the slackliner is super friendly and invites all of his new “apprentices,” who are mainly interested noobs like me, every time he sets up the line), and I can now almost make it halfway across the line without having my hand on someone’s shoulder. The secret?
Sometimes you feel like you’ll fall off, and you have to throw out an arm or a leg to counterbalance and keep your center of mass above the line. Most of the time you still fall off the line, and you learn quickly to take it in stride, get back on and try again. And again. And again.
You’ve probably guessed where this metaphor is going. Finding balance in slacklining is, in this sense, a lot like finding balance in dance, and both slacklining and dance are (I suspect) a lot like life at MIT. It will be fun, and also equally frustrating. It will take focus and careful teamwork. I will probably fail often, and that probably won’t stop me from continuing to try. And hopefully, I’ll get better at finding balance day by day.