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The Pilot Light Inside

Bonnie Stockwell

The Pilot Light Inside

By Bonnie Stockwell

Bonnie and Doug Stockwell 2010

During the winter months of my high school years, I worked each weekend at a ski lodge near my home in Ontario, Canada. On some of the most bitter, cold days, with temperatures as low as -40ºF, avid skiers would show up to brave the weather on the slopes. This always intrigued me. I wondered what compelled someone to leave a warm, cozy bed in the early hours of a Saturday morning for the brutal experience of a Canadian winter at its worst.

It was not until I found myself in a ballroom dance studio that I fully understood. It is said that deep within the recesses of the brain there exists a tiny little "pilot light". It is the potential for the release of one of our naturally occurring pleasure chemicals called dopamine. The action of this chemical can readily be seen the moment you ask any grandmother about her grandbaby. Immediately her face illuminates, her eyes light up and a beautiful smile emerges. This "pilot light" apparently ignites furiously when we are sharply focused on something we love, or when we engage in something we uniquely enjoy.

This is the story of my relationship with ballroom dancing, and it began about 6 years ago. There were earlier attempts to find that "thing" that I would enjoy, something that would provide an avenue for creativity or an escape from the demands of my career. I took lessons: ski, scuba, photography, floral arranging, painting, piano, guitar. All were fleeting, quickly fading, until October 2004.

The film, Shall We Dance, had just been released to theaters. Why I was so taken by the slow motion image of Jennifer Lopez being led into a beautiful deep oversway by her dance partner I cannot explain. Perhaps years of transient thoughts of learning dance came together at that moment. As my husband and I left the theater I turned to him with an emphatic plea, "Please, can we take dance lessons!" Surprised at his positive response, and fearing he might change his mind, I scheduled lessons the next day.

It was the beauty of that waltz that drew me to the studio, and over time we began to learn Foxtrot, then Tango, then Rumba and Cha Cha. I grew to love each for its own energy and expressiveness, though when asked today, I still favor a beautiful waltz.

So much is written about the benefits of ballroom dancing. It undeniably contributes to one's physical well-being and enhances socialization. Having been somewhat of a "tomboy" growing up, I am more in touch with my femininity during those graceful moves of smooth dance. The discipline of learning steps and style offers challenge, and the art of dance is a wonderful creative outlet.

That being said, my love of ballroom dancing rests much more on how it makes me feel. I once heard a doctor say that the search for spirituality has taken on many forms, including dance. This is the young child who stretches her arms outward and spins rapidly round and round, seeking an altered level of consciousness. It is just such moments, when I stop paying attention to my frame and my footwork, that I seem only to feel the music and the effortless movements of my body. That little "pilot light" ignites, and my thoughts are quiet and free. My soul is free. Nothing exists outside of the beautiful movements of the dance.

I am not certain of what lies ahead of me and my new passion for Ballroom Dancing. I have enjoyed participating in Showcases, and perhaps the challenge of a competition is in my future. One thing seems certain, though. I will see you on the dance floor very soon!