Dancing can, and should be the most excellent common ground for couples. Corina and I have found it to be just that. It is physical, romantic, skilful and it requires intimate teamwork. The masculine and feminine roles are perfectly complimentary, each validating the other. It yields a satisfaction that is unparalleled.
But, for many couples, dancing can become a source of division and separation. This is usually because one of the partners was a dancer before the relationship started, or for some reason one partner started to learn to dance alone. When the second partner tries to enter the world of dance, there are some pretty major obstacles to overcome. They feel exceptionally vulnerable, inadequate, an outsider and these feelings, if not understood by the first partner, inevitably lead to an early exit from the journey of learning to dance.
Let’s flesh out the reasons why, and then I’ll give you those golden keys to help avoid this situation.
Remember that everyone feels a unique vulnerability when they begin to learn to dance. It is a highly visual art and all beginners feel “looked at”. That feeling is compounded if your partner is an accomplished dancer. Your mistakes are far more obvious, and all the mistakes seem to be yours. Your partner waits patiently for you to “get it” but all the while you know that you are making them look novice on the dance floor – something they definitely are not.
At times your partner ventures to coach you on what’s going wrong. This is understandable, but in the vulnerable state you are in, it is difficult to receive and process the coaching constructively. What’s more, it pays no reference to the usual ebb and flow of your relationship. Most things you do together are already common ground – that is to say that you both have some experience, knowledge and skill in those areas, but dancing is totally one-sided. The learner partner brings nothing at all to the table here and their feeling of worth and value to the relationship as a whole can begin to be eroded.
Typically, the learning partner is completely in the care of the veteran partner. Who else could be better to teach them? The veteran partner is accomplished and has a vested interest in the learner’s success. This unintentionally narrows the learner’s experience of the world of dance, they rarely dance with a partner who is at their level or who has a different style of lead or follow.
The veteran’s routine is to stay late and do the intermediate or advanced class and the learner is expected to stay and watch, confirming their feeling of inadequacy. What they are seeing is literally the widening of the gap between their respective skill levels. Meanwhile, they are self-labelled “not yet qualified” simply because they are not participating.
Some of you are reading this and nodding your head in agreement because you have been in either one of these positions – sincere but unsuccessful. Perhaps you had your chance sometime in the past and found that the whole dancing thing was no help to your relationship at all.
It may have felt like you blew your one and only chance but perhaps the following keys will inspire you to try again. These keys assume the reader is the veteran.
- Don’t coach – encourage only. – There are a whole room of people who can coach your partner and help them along and NONE of them will find it as difficult as you to do it constructively. Likewise it will be easier for your partner to receive coaching from a mature and qualified third party. When you dance with them – mention only the things they are doing well (and then bite your tongue.)
- Let them dance mainly with others. – A love for dancing is what you really want for your partner – not just a demo dolly to help you look good. This love of dancing will have to be constructed through their own discovery, a sense of learning organically through practice and without pressure. That magic of being relaxed in the rhythm and enjoying a dance partner, will be found on the arm of many others nearer their own level before it is something you can share together. I would even recommend that you ask others to dance with your partner; not super hero dancers but those you know to be skilful and gentle – the kind who dance for the partner – not “at them” or “around them” or “over them”. The affirmation from these folks will do wonders to encourage your partner and chances are that they are indeed doing much better than you tend to give them credit for.
- Separate your dance schedules. – Hard as it may be, you need to provide a sense of independence about your experience of dance until your partner has “caught up”. It’s the same independence that you experienced when you started without them. Don’t make them sit through the intermediate class and watch you. If you can’t travel separately, better to miss the Intermediate class for 6 months and go home early. Your investment will pay off.If for some reason, one of you is required to stay home tonight – always defer to the learner. You will find that those nights when they go out without you will often be key milestones in their dance journey. After these events, if possible, let them “teach” you something they learnt.
- Buy them some good DVDs. – Great sales pitch here, but really, DVDs are an excellent tool to build confidence in privacy. With a DVD, your partner can sit without pressure and broaden and deepen their understanding of dance, be inspired about it, and find their own motivation to move forward. They don’t need to practice the moves with you to benefit from the DVD – just watching it is a start. If they ask you to step through it with them, then (and only then) you may. You MUST let them have control here.
- Finally foster a gracious attitude. You must remember that your partner’s performance as a dancer “doesn’t really matter”. You loved and valued them before they ever began to learn and their attempt to do so is a great gift to you. Laugh at mistakes and laugh together. Make your lead or follow a gift of grace. If it matters too much to you, it will always matter too little to them. And remember that if they only master the octopus, most of your work colleagues will think you were brilliant together. 🙂
Of course you know where to buy an excellent beginner’s DVD > here
I trust that, using these ideas, you can foster dance as a common ground in your relationship. I know that it will bring you great joy and satisfaction if you do. My favourite dance partner is my wife Corina. We both love to dance with others but we “save the last dance” for each other. Dancing has become a glue that keeps us together rather than a one-sided interest that draws us away from each other and into the arms of someone else. If that isn’t the reality of your world but you feel that it could or should be, it is well worth the effort. Anyone (including your partner) who can walk, can dance, they can enjoy dancing and they can look good dancing too.
Brent and Corina.