Happy Tuesday, internet!
So a month ago my West Coast Swing friend and All-Star dancer extraordinaire Maria Ford published two blog posts about the interplay of social dancing and romantic relationships. This one, about the pros and cons of beginning dance lessons when already in a committed relationship, and this one, about advice for the non-dancer starting a relationship with a dancer. (It should be noted that ‘dancer’ here is taken to mean someone in the swing/ballroom/salsa/social dance community, at any skill level.)
Suffice it to say I have *feelings* about the intersection of romantic relationships and social dancing, not least because I married a man I met through ballroom. I’ve seen it all–cases like mine, dancers dating non-dancers, couples coming to take lessons together. But for context, let’s start with what I know best.
My romantic life/social dance story starts in freshman year of college. Going through hard-core ballet withdrawal, I started ballroom, got dragged first into the salsa scene, and then broadened my social dancing excursions to more traditional ballroom socials. I also had a boyfriend, a long-distance relationship left over from high school. In a way, it was the best case scenario–I got to dance with whomever I wanted at SU, and I had someone to keep me virtual company on late nights.
When we both came home for the summer, High School Boyfriend valiantly agreed to take lessons with me, and so once a week we drove 45 minutes two towns over. I sucked up every drop of info from the sparsely populated classes while simultaneously trying to reassure High School Boyfriend (HSB) I didn’t look down on him for struggling more. I had a head start. I tried to tell him I liked dancing, but I also like dancing with *him*, however basic the steps. Current me hopes 19-year-old me was sincere and polite about it, but the memories have grown foggy.
Although it weighed on him, HSB grew to enjoy social dancing on its own merits, even helping found a swing club at his university. The distance and growing apart in other ways resulted in our break-up, and for the first time it occurred to me to seek out a partner through my various outings–though it was never my first priority. I ensnared a couple fellows, one by accident, one less so, but a growing crush on a certain gentleman with a funny-sounding name soon eclipsed all that.
Sven and I met on a mild September day, when I was a sophomore and he a newly-minted grad student. I was manning the Ballroom Club table at the student organization fair. He came up and stated something along the lines of “I would like to join the ballroom club. I began dancing at my undergrad institution and I wish to continue.”
(If you know the Sven personally the awkward formality should come at no surprise.)
I answered with something like “well, cool! Here’s the sign-up sheet, put your email down, we have practice Thursday…” etc etc.
No love at first sight. No insta-crush. I thought he was sort of lovably awkward. He was nervous about the new school and talking to strangers.
Our entire relationship, as it progressed from platonic to romantic, has revolved around social dancing. We danced together before we conversed. There have been times when we’ve been irritated with one another, gone out to dance anyway, and the movement and silent connection smooth down the edges of the conflict, making it easier to reconnect. The beauty of a social dance is that the music can take you through a kaleidoscope of emotions, and you and your partner get to act them out. A romantic, wistful Waltz. A fierce Tango. A flirty Cha-cha. A joyful Jive.
It’s important to note that while we’ve been romantically monogamous, we do not only dance with each other. Dancing socially solely with one person is paramount to shooting oneself in the foot, as I see it. I try and understand why some couples would choose to not rotate in lessons, but from a learning perspective it’s just a bad idea. But ‘jealousy!’ some people cry–to which my response is “If you aren’t secure enough in your relationship to see them hold hands with another person for 3 minutes, you have other problems.”
Is that perspective inclusive? Probably not. I demand independence. I love watching Sven dance with other men and women.
There is one line I have drawn, and that is the competition line. I will not seriously compete with Sven. Not because he isn’t capable, in his own way, but because we are on different levels, and I am not at all interested in introducing that kind of stress into our relationship. Competition training is stressful and is a platonic marriage/business arrangement in its own right. I am lucky to have a life partner who understands and supports my passion.
All this is to say that I’ve learned I need a partner who has dance in their life as well. I love dancing with him, making silly faces and trying new things. I appreciate his patience in being my mannequin when I teach and choreograph, especially when I struggle to articulate exactly what I want. (What do you mean you can’t read my mind???)
What Maria says is true–you learn a lot about a person from how they dance and how they deal with a less-skilled partner. Sven will never have the drive I do for dance, the desire to make it his life, but he enjoys it in his own way. That’s all I care. We both like to learn, and to share the floor, and we fully plan on being that geriatric couple shuffling and jitterbugging in circles around the youngens’.
Well. This ramble has become less a generalization of romantic relationships in the social dance world and more my own story. Social dancing is a great way to add something new and active to an existing relationship, as well as an opportunity to meet people of all ages. My philosophy can be summed up by the lyrics to one Michael Bublé song:
“You can dance, every dance with the guy
Who gives you the eye, let him hold you tight
You can smile, every smile for the man
Who held your hand beneath pale moon lightBut don’t forget who’s takin’ you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’ save the last dance for me!”