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Learning the Two-Step

“Two-Step” Painting of dancers by Linda Ollmann.

The summer of 2018, I visited Austin, Texas, intending to learn to dance the Texas two-step. I stayed for a week in a little Airbnb a half mile from the legendary Broken Spoke – the honky tonk bar and dance hall that since 1964 has become a landmark of country music, with live music on its stage five nights a week.

I went to the Broken Spoke as often as I could, wearing my best jeans and boots and summoning my courage just to walk in the door, much less get out on the floor. One night I got a group two-step lesson from none other than Terri White, whose father, James, ran the Broken Spoke for over fifty years. Terri grew up there, amid country music and dancing, meeting stars like Garth Brooks, George Strait and Dolly Parton. There could have been no one better to teach me the moves.

There were about twenty of us in the group, of all ages and types and sizes, and by the end of the lesson Terri had us all two-stepping to music from her tape deck. At the end, we did the Cotton-Eye Joe, and I had the time of my life.

One of the memorable moments from that lesson was early in the class, when Terri had us all pair up and taught us the proper dance posture. She picked a married couple to first demonstrate it – because proper dance posture for the two-step means being pressed firmly chest to chest.

“I know some of y’all aren’t going to want to do this,” Terri said, looking pointedly at a young woman. “Y’all’s generation has trust issues.”

Which brings me to Gladys McGarey.

Rewind all the way back to 1930, in northern India. McGarey was born there, in a village called Fatehgarh, on the banks of the Ganges. Her parents were two medical doctors from Ohio – her mother was one of the world’s first female doctors – and they spent most of their lives working as missionaries in rural India. They offered free medical care to anyone who needed it – including, one time, an elephant.

Gladys grew up assisting with the treatment of patients (including the elephant) and from a young age knew she wanted to follow in her parents’ footsteps. She studied medicine in the United States and passed her board examinations in 1947. She then married another doctor, had four children, and moved to Phoenix with her family in 1955.

Gladys McGarey is still practicing medicine at the age of 103, in Scottsdale.

McGarey’s approach to medicine is holistic – she believes that all aspects of a person are interconnected: body, mind, emotions and spirit. She was one of the first doctors to use acupuncture, and she helped found the American Holistic Medical Association. She has received numerous awards for her service and is often called the mother of holistic medicine – although some say it would be more appropriate to call her its grandmother or great-grandmother now.

McGarey recently wrote a book, The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor’s Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age, setting out what she’s learned from her lifetime of practicing medicine. (The edition for sale on Amazon has a cover illustration of a gray-haired woman riding a bicycle – which if you remember my piece on Anne Mustoe, you know warms my heart.)

McGarey’s first secret is that you have to have “juice” – the reason you want to be alive, the thing that makes you want to turn toward life. In an interview, McGarey puts it this way:

“Whether youʼve lost touch with your juice or have never really given it that much thought, you can start by doing something—anything—that feels good. Start small. Think of … the thing thatʼs keeping you going, and lean into it. Or consider a satisfying project you can tackle in a short amount of time. Make something with your hands, get up and clean behind your sofa, or repot a plant. Remember what it feels like to put your love into action simply for the sake of it.”

And that juice always has to be flowing – moving. McGarey’s second secret is movement. In an interview, she talks about the Sonoran Desert, and how deceptive its appearance is. To someone who sees it for the first time, the desert might appear still and lifeless. But as soon as you look closer, looking for signs of life, you see them everywhere – birds, lizards, insects, jackrabbits, coyotes, and more. The stillness was an illusion.

McGarey says the same is true of our lives. When we feel stuck – like we aren’t moving – that is only an illusion, she says. Something is always moving, and when things seem stuck, you just need to look for what is still moving – the “trickle” around the dam. Follow that trickle, and you can get moving again.

“The power of movement can get us through almost anything,” McGarey says.

McGarey says her own life’s purpose is to teach that in order to be truly alive, people need to discover their life force – their juice – and put their energy into it. This will lead to more than just survival, it will create joyful participation in life, with every breath.

“I’m talking about dancing a two-step with life itself, finding our willingness and our positivity to keep dancing no matter what it throws our way.”

Which brings me back to the Broken Spoke and what Terri White said about trust.

There’s a certain amount of trust involved in dancing chest-to-chest, heart-to-heart with life. And that trust is something you can only build by doing it. 

Summon your courage to get out on the dance floor, take the risk, and you’ll find out there’s nothing to fear – and it’s a lot of fun, too. It will bring you back to life.

“Weʼre never done growing,” McGarey says. “And healing is never impossible. Itʼs always a good time to make a change.”

You can hear the interview with Gladys McGarey free of charge online at coachingforleaders.com. Click on the magnifying glass at the top of the screen and search for 631, which is the episode number.

About Patricia Sanders

Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.

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