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0961 Learning to Dance

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 961 – Learning to Dance.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 961. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Go there and download a Learning Guide for this episode. You can also like us on Facebook at facebook.com/eslpod, and you can follow us on Twitter @eslpod. And if you haven't already, please go into iTunes and write a review for us. We would really appreciate it. You can write it in your own language. You don't have to write it in English. Any and all reviews would be very much appreciated by Lucy, me, and the rest of ESL Podcast team.

This episode is a dialogue between Arthur and Martha about learning how to dance. Let's get started.

[start of dialogue]

Arthur: You know that you’ve taken on an impossible task, right?

Martha: Teaching you to dance? I’m sure you’re selling yourself short.

Arthur: No, really, I have two left feet. I’m completely uncoordinated and have no sense of rhythm. I’m just not cut out for dancing.

Martha: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll just start by loosening up and swaying to the music. You don’t even need to swing your hips yet.

Arthur: That’s good, because I don’t think I can learn even the simplest dance steps.

Martha: Not only will I teach you some useful dance steps, we’ll put together a dance routine down the line.

Arthur: That seems like a pipe dream to me.

Martha: Nonsense. Before long, dancing to you will be as effortless as breathing.

Arthur: But until then, I’ll look and feel like a dancing hippo!

[end of dialogue]

Our dialogue begins with Arthur saying, “You know that you’ve taken on an impossible task, right?” “To take on” something is a phrasal verb meaning to agree to do something that is perhaps going to be very difficult – to accept a challenge to do something that will be hard. “I've taken on an impossible task” means I'm trying to do something that will be very difficult, and perhaps even not, or “impossible,” altogether. Arthur makes this into a question by adding the word “right” at the end and using what is called a “rising intonation,” where the voice goes up. “You're going, right?” You are indicating that this is a question, not just a statement.

Martha says, “Teaching you to dance? I'm sure you're selling yourself short.” Martha doesn't think teaching Arthur to dance is an impossible task. She says, “I'm sure” – I'm confident – you are “selling yourself short.” “To sell yourself short” is a phrasal verb meaning to underestimate your abilities, to believe that you can't do something that you really can.

Arthur says, “No, really, I have two left feet.” This is an old expression. “To have two left feet” means that you are a very bad dancer, that you can't dance very well. Of course, everyone – or most people – have a left foot and a right foot. If you had two feet that were both left feet, well, you probably couldn't walk or dance very well. That's what the expression is saying here.

Arthur says, “I'm completely uncoordinated and have no sense of rhythm.” “To be uncoordinated” is to be not coordinated. “To be coordinated,” then, means to be able to use your body in a way that allows you to be graceful, to do what you want to do with your body. An athlete, for example, has to be very coordinated. They have to be able to use their arms and legs and body together in such a way as to be able to do what they need to do in their sport. Here, Arthur is saying he is “uncoordinated,” meaning he's not able to use his body to do what he would need to do to be a dancer.

He says also that he has “no sense of rhythm.” “To have a sense (sense) of” something means to know about something or to have the ability to do something. “Rhythm” (rhythm) is the regular strong points in a song, what we would call the “beats.” Your ability to feel the beats is a “sense of rhythm.”

For example, a “waltz,” a formal dance – the rhythm might be ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, and in a different kind of dance it may be ONE-two-three-four, ONE-two-three-four, or one-TWO-three-FOUR, one-TWO-three-FOUR. There are different accents, different strong points in the music. Having a sense of rhythm is important in dancing, because you have to be able to dance according to the rhythm of the song.

Arthur says, “I'm just not cut out for dancing.” The expression “to be cut out for” something means that you are qualified to do something or you are prepared to do something. It can also mean that you have the natural ability to do something. I am not cut out for camping. It's not something that I like to do, and it's not something that I want to learn to do, because I don't think I would be very good at it. I'm not cut out for camping. Arthur is not cut out for dancing.

But Martha says, “Let's not get ahead of ourselves.” “To get ahead of yourself” means to worry about things that will happen in the future before you should be worrying about them. It can also mean that you are focusing on what is going to happen later, rather than what you should be doing now. “To get ahead of yourself” would be, for example, to plan your wedding before you actually have met anyone to marry. That would be “getting ahead of yourself.” Although I understand many women do that anyway.

Martha says, “We’ll just start by loosening up and swaying to the music.” “To loosen up” is a phrasal verb meaning to relax, to allow your body and the muscles in your body to be relaxed, not to be tense. “Sway” (sway) means to move back and forth – once again, to the rhythm or the beat of the music. So, Martha is suggesting that they just relax and move back and forth with the music before they actually start dancing. She says, “You don't even need to swing your hips yet.” “To swing (swing) your hips (hips)” means to move your hips back and forth. Your “hips” are the part of your body on the side of your body, where your leg meets the rest of your body, basically.

Arthur says, “That's good, because I don't think I can learn even the simplest dance steps.” “Dance steps” are the individual movements or parts of a dance. Martha says, “Not only will I teach you some useful dance steps, we’ll put together a dance routine down the line.” A “dance routine” (routine) is a whole series of dance steps that you memorize and are able to perform. “Down the line” is an expression meaning later – in the future or eventually. “Down the line, I hope to retire to Hawaii” – someday in the future. I do . . . maybe someday.

Arthur doesn't believe Martha. He says, “That seems like a pipe dream to me.” A “pipe (pipe) dream” is a dream about something you want to achieve in the future that is impossible, that will never happen, that is not something that you will be able to do. That's a “pipe dream.” Martha says, “Nonsense,” meaning, “You are wrong. I don't believe what you're saying.” “Nonsense. Before long” – meaning soon – “dancing to you will be as effortless as breathing.” “Something that is “effortless” (effortless) is very easy. You can do it without trying.

Arthur says, “But until then, I'll look and feel like a dancing hippo.” Arthur is making a joke here. He says until he learns to dance, he will look like a hippo that is dancing. A “hippo” (hippo) is short for hippopotamus, which is a large animal with very short legs and a big belly and a big head that would, of course, look rather funny if it were to dance.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Arthur: You know that you’ve taken on an impossible task, right?

Martha: Teaching you to dance? I’m sure you’re selling yourself short.

Arthur: No, really, I have two left feet. I’m completely uncoordinated and have no sense of rhythm. I’m just not cut out for dancing.

Martha: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll just start by loosening up and swaying to the music. You don’t even need to swing your hips yet.

Arthur: That’s good, because I don’t think I can learn even the simplest dance steps.

Martha: Not only will I teach you some useful dance steps, we’ll put together a dance routine down the line.

Arthur: That seems like a pipe dream to me.

Martha: Nonsense. Before long, dancing to you will be as effortless as breathing.

Arthur: But until then, I’ll look and feel like a dancing hippo!

[end of dialogue]

Dr. Lucy Tse is definitely cut out for scriptwriting, and we thank her for being the scriptwriter here at ESL Podcast.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
New - Glossary

to take on – to agree to accept a challenge; to start to do something that is very difficult

* Are you sure you can take on another part-time job in addition to everything else you’re doing?

to sell (oneself) short – to underestimate one’s abilities; to believe that one cannot do something when one actually can

* Justin is trying to be humble during interviews, but he’s really selling himself short and employers don’t realize what a talented manager he is.

to have two left feet – to be a very bad dancer; to be unable to use one’s body gracefully or elegantly

* Bjorn has always had two left feet on land, but he’s a natural swimmer.

uncoordinated – not able to control the movements of one’s body in a graceful, purposeful way; not able to move one’s arms and legs as one would like to, especially not at the same time

* Lionel is a fast runner and has a strong arm, but he’s too uncoordinated to be on the basketball team.

sense of rhythm – one’s ability to feel the beats (regular strong points) of a song and move one’s body or play an instrument in accordance with them

* Even as a preschooler, Adele had a great sense of rhythm and would play with her toys as if they were drums whenever she heard music.

cut out for – prepared and qualified to do something; with the qualifications or characteristics needed to do something well

* I like the idea of helping people, but I’m not cut out for being a doctor, because I feel sick whenever I see blood.

to get ahead of (oneself) – to make plans or worry about what will happen in the future before one has dealt with what needs to be done right now; to focus on the future more than the present, especially when completing a task

* Wendy wants to pick out colors for new carpet and paint, but she’s getting ahead of herself, because we still have to save enough money to buy a house.

to loosen up – to relax and become less tense or stiff, especially in one’s muscles

* A massage, a warm bath, and a glass of wine can help anyone loosen up at the end of a long week.

to sway – to gently and slowly move back and forth

* I love the sound of the leaves when tree branches sway in the wind.

to swing (one’s) hips – to purposefully move one’s hips (the side of one’s body above the leg and below one’s waist), usually while dancing

* When we were in Hawaii, we watched hula dancers who are very good at swinging their hips to make the grass skirts move.

dance step – individual movements with one’s feet while dancing; how one is supposed to move one’s feet and body while dancing

* The dance teacher is teaching the dancers some exciting new dance steps.

dance routine – a memorized series of dance steps used to dance to a particular piece of music as part of a performance; choreography

* The elementary school students are learning a dance routine for the holiday performance.

down the line – later; in the future; eventually

* Down the line, I’d like to become fluent in Mandarin, but for now, I’d be happy just to be able to say “hello” and “good-bye”!

pipe dream – a plan or dream that is impossible and cannot be achieved

* Owning her own salon seems like a pipe dream, but Hanan keeps saving her money.

nonsense – a word used to show that one does not believe what another person has said, and that it has no meaning or logic

* Did he really say that? That’s nonsense! Don’t believe a word of it.

effortless – easy; without trying

* Gustavo makes flying an airplane look effortless, but I know he’s had a lot of hours of training.

hippo – hippopotamus; a large, hairless animal with a big belly, very short legs, and a big head that spends most of its time in the water, often used to describe people who are not graceful or elegant

* Traci has always been slender, but she says she felt like a hippo while she was pregnant with twins.

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Arthur mean when he says, “I have two left feet”?
a) He isn’t a good dancer.
b) He isn’t wearing the right kind of shoes.
c) He was born with a birth defect.

2. What will they be doing when they start swaying to the music?
a) They’ll turn up the volume.
b) They’ll choose a band they both like.
c) They’ll start moving their bodies back and forth.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to sway

The verb “to sway,” in this podcast, means to gently and slowly move back and forth: “The sign above the main door makes a horrible squeaking sound when it sways in the wind.” The verb “to sway” can also mean to persuade someone or to make someone change his or her opinion: “We are trying to sway lawmakers to give more money to maintaining parks.” The phrase “to hold sway” means to have power or control, especially to influence other people: “Obese people struggle to change their lives so that food no longer holds sway over them.” Finally, the phrase “to be under (one’s) sway “means to be under someone’s influence: “It’s alarming to see how much Maggie is under the sway of her new boyfriend.”

down the line

In this podcast, the phrase “down the line” means later, or in the future: “What do you think you’ll be doing 10 years down the line?” The phrase “to toe the line” means to do what other people think one should do, even if one does not agree with it: “Do managers encourage people to express their opinions, or do they just want workers to toe the line without complaining?” The phrase “to drop a line” means to communicate with someone, especially to send an email or a letter: “Please drop us a line to let us know you’ve arrived safely.” Finally, the phrase “don’t give me that line” is a rude way to say that one does not believe what another person has said: “Don’t give me that line about being sick again. You’re just lazy and don’t want to go to the office.”

Culture Note
Television Dance Shows

In recent years, dance shows have become increasingly popular on American TV. “Dancing with the Stars” is probably the most popular show. It “pairs” (matches; puts in groups of two) professional dancers with “celebrities” (famous actors, musicians, athletes, or other entertainers). Then they have to “compete” (see who can do best) against other pairs in performing certain types of dances each week. A “panel of judges” (a group of evaluators) comment on their performance, and the “audience” (group of people watching something) vote on which “couple” (pair; group of two people) they like best.

Another show, called “So You Think You Can Dance,” “features” (shows) professional dancers who compete to “determine” (find out) who is the best dancer. They perform highly “technical” (requiring great skill) dances that are extremely challenging. This show also has a panel of judges, and the audience members vote for their favorite dancers.

“American’s Best Dance Crew” is a dance show based on the “hip hop” style. Like the other shows, it is a competition among the dancers, but they are always performing a single style of dance. Each show features a different “artist’s” (musician’s) music.

Other TV shows add dance into a more traditional show with a “plot” (story line). For example, “Glee” is a show where the characters often “break into song” (begin singing) with “elaborate” (detailed) “choreography” (design for dancing; organized moves for dancing). And a Disney show called “Shake It Up,” does something similar for younger audiences: the characters often begin dancing as part of the larger show.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - c