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I Wish I Knew How to Rumba

From club sports to periodicals to PBHA organizations, you name it I went to the info session freshman fall. There was one activity, however, that I found particularly intriguing. It wasn’t a prestigious publication or a club known for its social caché: It was ballroom dance.

The fact that I resemble a crippled lemur on the dance floor did little to deter me from attending the first info session for the ballroom dance team.

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It was during that now-distant time at the beginning of freshman year when we really had no idea where college would take us. Every person we met in Annenberg could become our friend for life, or at the very least someone to pregame with in Canaday. Every poster in the Yard beckoned with our future extracurricular-fueled lives. The ballroom team’s flyer read “Beginners Welcome!” Now that sounded promising.

At that first meeting I arrived with a group of recently made friends. We were all ballroom amateurs, drawn by the desire to join something different than what we had done in high school. Who needed yawn-inducing activities like the yearbook or the newspaper when we could join new, exotic extracurriculars specific to college life?

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We watched enraptured as members of the team displayed their dancing skills. A couple performed the rumba. “I could do the rumba,” I thought to myself.

Next, a different pair performed the tango.

The tango appeared to be a little bit outside of my comfort zone.

Despite my misgivings about the tango, I left that meeting honestly believing that I would join the team or at the very least, learn the rumba. After all, they offered many “open” classes, which I would presumably attend regularly even if I didn’t make the grade for the traveling “A team.”

I chatted with my friends, and we all pledged to keep at it. “Seriously, we could do it!” I said. “Yes, seriously!” they replied.

And yet, that word, “seriously” came not to describe our commitment to ballroom dance—I never made it to a single other meeting—but rather to encompass our new view of ourselves and the way we should spend our time at Harvard. We started taking ourselves very, very seriously.

The activities we did became all-consuming and all-important. Sometimes, our self-worth and our GPAs became inextricably linked. The desirable extracurriculars presented themselves as well-known and established, prestigious and selective. Every club I joined claimed to have had T.S. Eliot as a member (T.S. was apparently quite busy during his time at Harvard).

Within that culture of seriousness, one of high achievement and unlimited ambitions, there was little time to spend on pursuits unlikely to take us any further toward a job or those that didn’t seem impressive to our peers.

It would have been ridiculous to spend a single afternoon learning how to ballroom dance, let alone join a club devoted to the practice. I would have just spent a few hours per week learning how to ballroom dance and presumably be laughed at and laugh at myself. I would never have been very good at it anyway. Or so I reasoned then and still do now.

In short, I spent a lot of time working on the newspaper.

I don’t regret doing the things I did—newspaper included. I would have been a terrible ballroom dancer. I cannot imagine myself ever mastering the rumba. But, I could have spent an hour a week laughing at myself. I could have struggled at something while impressing no one at all. I think we all could have benefited from that.


Leslie B. Arffa ’14, a former Crimson magazine chair, is a history concentrator in Adams House.

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