It's Wednesday and the world is at work. My feet dangle over Coxkill Creek. The rushing water reminds me of my former life: always pounding away or running around, catching a breath only to plummet in a wave of downsizing.
In 2004 I lost my six-figure job. Instead of seeking a new vortex, I "threw it all away" and became a full-time swing dance teacher with my husband. Friends, family, and colleagues balked. I was a global communications executive with two master's degrees. But I needed to reclaim my life. With my severance and savings to bridge the transition, I waded out of the corporate current.
This was terrifying given my childhood. My father had a gambling addiction, a wife, and five kids—too many hands in his empty pockets. So I started working at age 12 and never stopped, becoming compulsively more responsible as I acquired more obligations: student loans, cars, clothes, marriage, mortgage.
My husband and I met in an MFA writing program at Bennington College. After marriage and graduation, he worked on his novel and I worked to pay our bills, transforming corporate jargon into meaningful language.
Then we took a swing dance class. Except for partner-irrelevant body flailing, neither of us had danced before. It was like falling in love all over again.
Lindy Hop—the classic style danced to big bands throughout the '30s and '40s, and featured in many Hollywood movies—became our obsession. We trained extensively with master Lindy Hoppers, including Dance Hall of Fame inductee Frankie Manning, a legendary dancer and choreographer from Harlem's Savoy Ballroom during its heyday. Rediscovered working in a post office and coaxed out of retirement, he traveled the world teaching Lindy Hop until shortly before his 95th birthday.
While I had my corporate work, my husband continued to write, but he also joined a New York City-based performance troupe and started choreographing. My job became crucial to fund our dance mania, repay student loans, and secure the stately mansard roof over our heads. Soon, working 60 to 80 hours a week and fitting in dance whenever I could, all the poetry disappeared from my life.
According to social critic Eric Gill, "The free man does what he likes in his working time and in his spare time what is required of him. The slave does what he is obliged to do in his working time and what he likes to do only when he is not at work." My job loss became a chance to live up to my name, Freeman, and live a full-time life instead of shoving it into my spare time.
We started in a church hall with three students. Once my severance was gone, we paddled without lifejackets. But I envisioned the life I wanted: full classes, school programs, cruise ship jobs, being on television. I wrote it all down, censoring nothing no matter how outrageous. Magically, it began to unfold. A student who was also a travel agent asked if we'd teach on a cruise ship. A school librarian asked if we'd teach at her Poughkeepsie school. That program was filmed and made into a TV commercial against childhood obesity. As word of mouth spread, students poured into our classes. I wrote an article on Lindy Hop and it landed as a magazine cover story. I co-edited a book on Frankie Manning's life and brought him to teach a workshop in the Hudson Valley in 2006.
Swing dance still sustains us. Besides our classes, unique opportunities appear: performing at the Spiegeltent, teaching at the Dance Flurry, hosting our own radio show and a public access TV show. We worked as dance consultants on a film shot at Astor Courts a month before Chelsea Clinton's wedding there, taught a Biology of Dance program, and raised over $6,000 at a "Hop for Haiti" benefit swing dance. This year we'll be working at a high school with many of the kids we taught when they were in fourth and fifth grade.
By not focusing on money, abundance flows. Barter gets our house painted, computers repaired, garden planted. A student-made quilt adorns our bed. We spent a week on Martha's Vineyard and two weeks in Europe in exchange for private lessons.
Learning to swing dance changed our lives, but sharing that passion and transforming others made our lives meaningful. What a great job we have! We get to fundamentally change people's ability and perception of themselves. The shy man becomes a confident dancer—the favorite of the women in class. People seem younger when they swing dance. A recent study cited in the New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing reduces the risk of dementia by 76 percent!
And they gain friends. Our classes attract many adults in a life transition: They are suddenly single, the kids are out of the house, they're new to the area, or like us, they want something fun to do. At a party I realize most of the people there met in our dance classes. It is an honor to be part of the friendships that form.
We find this camaraderie happens even in our school programs, overriding bullying and bypassing cliques. "We got to dance with kids we never even talked to," said one fourth grader. Then there was the fifth grader who in second grade had wrapped a jump rope around a girl's neck. We didn't know there was a restraining order against him when we partnered them. They became inseparable.
This life is our abundant wealth. And while being a dance instructor is not filling our bank account the way my former life was, it is buoying up our existence and that of those around us. And that makes us far wealthier than any dollar amount ever could.
Linda and Chester Freeman run Got2Lindy Dance Studios and teach swing dance throughout the Hudson Valley. Visit Got2Lindy.com for information on their classes, dances, and events.