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Help! I’m Dating a Dancer!

April 13, 2016

– by Maria

dreamstime_xs_52621084So! You’re dating a dancer. Congratulations! As any dancer will attest, one of the reasons we love what we do is because we get to be surrounded by great people. Generally speaking, dancers are happy people who have young minds. (I could cite research to this effect but that’s a bore – from personal experience I can tell you that dancers are awesome people to be around). Consider:

  • Dancing is a healthy hobby – dance includes exercise and socialization. It exercises the memory as well as the body and often makes people more likely to want to be healthy and fit. It is a very healthy hobby for introverted people who may otherwise not be comfortable in social situations, and for extroverted people who don’t like to hang out in bars.
  • Dance gives access to a great network – dancers come from absolutely every walk of life. Through dance, I have acquired a wide network of diverse people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. From engineers and statisticians to brain surgeons, teachers, law enforcement officers, public servants, psychologists, therapists, writers, doctors, and lawyers – dancers are everyone!
  • Dance is therapeutic – if you are dating a dancer you will likely witness how a night of dancing or a good dance practice gives them peace, balance, and even joy.
  • Dancers enjoy personal growth – dancers set goals and strive to achieve them. Examples of goals include improving technically, performing, competing, getting a compliment from a more experienced dancer, overcoming personal fears, and more.

Sounds fantastic, right? Well, it can be. It can also be tricky. This article assumes that your new partner is more “into” dancing than you are, thus the cry for Help! in the title.

Time is Finite

Relationships – especially new ones and especially adult ones – can be tricky negotiations. This is even more true when one partner spends a lot of time on an extra-curricular activity (be it dance, golf, music, crafting, a team sport, etc.). Time is finite for we mortals and sometimes, that drives us to do as much of one thing we love as possible. It also means that we might have to give up some things we enjoy to make room for others – like a new significant other.

At some point, if your new relationship goes well, specific negotiations will occur about how much time each of you spends on your private hobbies. It’s also likely that you’ll discuss trying each other’s hobbies as a means of spending more time together without having to give up something you love.

If you’re struggling with getting your new partner’s attention, the hobby isn’t really the problem. Maybe they’re just not ready to commit yet – it might take some time to make the decision that a new person is worth giving up something else to be with.

Whatever the hobby is, it will be helpful to show some interest. For example:

  1. Ask questions about it, and about why your significant other enjoys it – the answers are clues to the person you’re dating.
  2. Ask to watch videos to get a better understanding of the dance(s) and to watch your partner doing it.
  3. Do your own research and learning about the hobby – you might learn something that you find interesting and it will help you participate in the conversations.
  4. Show genuine interest in your partners’s progression – there is always something that a dancer is working to improve or struggling with. These can be the source of some great conversations that are windows into your partner’s psyche.

You Can Participate

If you have reached the point in your relationship where negotiations are underway, these strategies may help. They are commonly seen in the dance community:

  • Non-dancing partners who are interested in trying it out attend beginner classes to “get up to speed”. If you’re considering this, read our article:  To Dance or Not to Dance with Your Significant Other…
  • Non-dancing partners are included in activities that don’t involve dancing – such as dinners, hikes, and other outings that dance-friends sometimes enjoy. Among a group of dancers, dancing is likely to come up as a topic of conversation – but it’s likely to be a diverse group of people from all walks of life with lots of opportunities for interesting conversations about life, work, and other interests, too.
  • Non-dancing spouses become friends with each other and find ways to attend dance activities without being “left out”.
  • Non-dancing partners attend dance events and may or may not partake in the event itself – they may instead tour around the city, do some shopping, go to a spa, and use the weekend for R&R.
  • Non-dancing partners sometimes come to a dance to observe – it’s O.K. to sit in a chair and watch without dancing. You’ll likely find that people come up to you and ask you to dance or offer to teach you to dance. It’s fine to try and it’s fine to politely say no, too.
  • Depending on the dance venue, non-dancing partners may tag along with non-dancing friends. For example, if the venue is a bar or restaurant like what we do every Tuesday night at Amigo’s sport bar, non-dancing partners can socialize, play pool, play darts, and have a beer.

Understanding Dance Relationships

Dance relationships are weird, and dancers will be the first to admit that. In some ways, dance partnerships are like platonic marriages. In fact, we dancers have a variety of terms to help describe and explain our dance relationships – here are some contributions taken from the Dictionary of Social Dance Terms that we crowd-sourced:

  • Dance Crush – n.:  [A crush that you have on a favourite leader/follower that is] all about the dance connection, [with] little to no regard or relation to availability/interest off the dance floor.” – Kay Newhouse
  • Dance Husband/Wife/Spouse – n.: A dance partner with whom you have a married-like relationship (without the sex or shared assets) at dances or dance events only (see also: Dance-Married). –Maria Ford 
  • Dance-Married – adj.: Being in possession of a Dance Husband/Wife. – Daria Mikloukhina
  • Danceturbation – The act of dancing for your own pleasure, with complete disregard for your partner (if you remember that you have one). – Randolph Peters
  • Dancetasy – That feeling where dream and reality merge on the dance floor. – Marcus Dismas

The difference between other common hobbies and partner dancing is the “partner” part. Your dancing partner will be in close contact with others on a regular basis. Although this can be disconcerting to non-dancers, you can take comfort in the  fact that we have developed our own language for dance relationships – we need this special language because dance relationships are DIFFERENT from romantic ones.

Now, here’s what you will need to be prepared for…

In partner dance, we have an expression that every dance is a “3-min relationship” – we have to connect with someone, build trust, figure out how to communicate, have a conversation, and orchestrate an exit within the space of one song. Everything of importance that might happen in a real relationship can happen in that 3-minute interaction, including incredible connection, total lack of connection, silky communication, difficult communication, miscommunication, hurt feelings, and even anger. 98% of the time, this is purely platonic. Therefore:

  • You might witness your significant other have an incredibly connected dance, and it may appear to be anything from friendly to romantic to erotic. For the dancers, it’s over when the song ends – but for a non-dancing life partner that can be difficult to believe.
  • Your significant other may have a dance partner (or more than one), with whom they spend a fair bit of time with honing their craft, preparing for competition, working on choreography, and so on. These partnerships are like combined business relationships and friendships. Chances are good that your significant other and dance partner have already worked out the nature of their relationship and its boundaries.
  • You might discover that your significant other has “dance crushes” – when we connect well with another dancer, we often talk about them or use language that “normal” people reserve to talk about romantic partners.

Simply be aware that all of this exists, it’s normal (to us), and it’s not a secret. It’s a unique part of our culture that we all negotiate and all help each other to negotiate – by talking about it, joking about it, and creating language for it.

Boundaries

As open-minded as you may be, as much as you may believe that you are not a jealous person, it’s still not easy to watch your significant other enjoy the company of another person in an intimate way – and partner dancing is intimate. This is where boundaries come into play.

Every relationship benefits from boundaries. If your partner didn’t dance, there would be other situations where boundaries might have to be established – such as the nature of relationships with other friends, behaviour when “out with the boys/girls”, behaviour with professional colleagues, etc. Examples of the kinds of boundaries that some life-couples set around one of the partner’s dancing include:

  • Time spent with dance partner, like a particular night of the week that is just for your relationship
  • Inclusion of dance partner in non-dance activities with other dancers
  • Time spent dancing / time spent with life partner
  • Number of weekends of travel given to dance events
  • Where dance practices occur (private space, public space, shared home, etc.)

Setting boundaries expresses your needs, concerns and expectations of your new partner. But if those boundaries include to stop dancing, or to dance much less, or to dance differently, or to end a dance partnership, you have only a 50/50 chance of being on the winning end of an ultimatum. And if you are on the winning end, you’ll be managing your partner’s feelings of sorrow, loss, and potentially their resentment for a long time to come. Not to mention that the partner may simply find another outlet for the void that dance left, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll like that new outlet any more than you liked the dancing.

A dance partnership doesn’t make a person any more or less likely to have soft boundaries – their personality does that.

What Others Think

As the non-dancing partner in the relationship, you’ll have a lot to learn, understand, and get used to about the partner-dancing culture. Your non-dancing friends and family, however, may not have the same opportunities for education and may make judgments.

Perhaps they’ll see a video of your significant other dancing with someone else, or wearing a skimpy costume, or hugging their dance partner or instructor. The list goes on. They will likely express their own opinions about these things. “Wow, I wouldn’t let my partner do that!” – “I don’t know how you can be alright with your partner looking like that in public.” etc. etc. Those types of opinions actually have little or nothing to do with you or your relationship – they are usually expressions of fear and lack of confidence of the speaker.

To manage the opinions of others, you can take cues from your dancing partner. He or she has been dealing with these types of perceptions and opinions for much longer, and has learned responses and techniques for addressing them.

One useful technique is to use the language of Dance Relationships (above) in open conversation with others – it helps to normalize things and help people outside of the scene “in” on the whole thing.

Expectations

For a dancer entering a relationship with a non-dancing partner, there are always concerns about how all of these challenges will play out. We talk about it a lot. We debate whether it’s better to date another dancer, or a non-dancer; whether it’s a good or bad idea to make a significant other a dance partner; whether or not it’s a good idea to try to bring a non-dancing significant other into the dance world.

If a dancer has chosen you, a non-dancer, as their significant life-other, it’s probably because they really wanted a relationship with YOU. Don’t assume that they want or expect you to learn to dance. And, if your new love interest is putting pressure on you to take up dance, read this other article together and have a discussion: To Dance or Not to Dance with Your Significant Other…

With thanks to Kay Newhouse and Daniela Bajtos for their insights and contributions.