Her name is Deb Lysholm, and dance has always been an important part of her life. She learned – and loved – to tap dance as a child. Later, teaching dance classes brought her joy as well as income. Dance became her refuge and her escape during 23 years in a violently abusive marriage. And when she was working to rebuild her shattered life, she started to dream of building and running her own dance studio. Virtually everyone told her she was crazy, and that she’d never be able to do it. But she did, and Heartbeat Studios recently celebrated its sixteenth anniversary. Both Deb and the studio enjoy a world-class reputation, and she has partnerships with dance studios in Barcelona and Tokyo. Every few years, Deb organizes a cultural exchange program with one of her partner studios, hosting students and instructors from that studio at events and classes at Heartbeat, or sponsoring trips, classes and activities for her students and instructors at one of her partner studios abroad.

And that’s how I ended up in Barcelona.

I’m not a student or instructor at Heartbeat Studios, but Deb is a friend and fellow writer. (Her book, Dancing to My Heartbeat, was published last year.) So when she announced that, for the first time, she was inviting people who weren’t directly affiliated with the studio to join her in an exchange program with her partner studio in Barcelona, I jumped at the chance.

I wrote in last week’s column about how fascinated I was with the different languages being spoken in Barcelona, and about communicating – through universally understood gestures and expressions, and knowing just a few words or phrases in a variety of languages – with people from different countries and cultures. Something else that I really enjoyed during the trip was seeing how this played out in the dance studio. Although I spent lots of time exploring Barcelona, I also loved the time I spent in the studio, watching classes and marveling at how the language barrier was no barrier at all. I understood perfectly well – as did all the students, both Spanish and American – when a jazz instructor said “No boomba!” as he jumped, then thumped the floor loudly while teaching a new step. Then he demonstrated the softer landing he was expecting from the students.

And while teaching a tap class, Deb smiled when a misstep by one of the Spanish students elicited a frustrated “Aahhhh,” from the young dancer.

“That’s the same reaction in any language when you make a mistake,” Deb told her, going over the step again till the student got it right.

During a flamenco show we attended one night, I was in awe of the emotions and energy expressed by a snap of the fingers, a clap of the hands, and a tap of the foot. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand a word of the stories or songs. The music and dancing told me everything I needed to know.

I’m really grateful for my friend Deb, and the opportunity she gave me to experience languages in an entirely new way. As a writer, language has always been important to me. And now, it makes me want to dance.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 30, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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