– by Maria
…that is the question which I will not answer in this article. Instead, I will share my personal and professional experiences in hopes of making you, the reader, more aware of the pros, cons, and various situations that may arise as you negotiate the paths of dancer and lover.
Living the Dream
Since childhood, we (well, little girls for sure) have been conditioned to romanticize about dancing with our lovers. Let’s call it the Disney effect. It’s useful to remember that this is a fantasy and that reality is usually not without friction.
There are a number of reasons that life-couples may take up couple’s dancing.
- Many newly engaged couples want “the Disney effect” for their weddings. Most of these couples may never take a dance lesson or dance together again after the wedding. (And that’s OK).
- Many new couples take up dancing as a shared activity that they can do together – and it’s a bonus that they get to meet others in a social environment at the same time.
- Older life-couples often come to dance once their kids have grown and they find themselves with more free time – and a desire to get to know each other again and spend more “couple-time” together.
- Many couples come to partner dancing because one of them (and NO it’s not always a female) really, really wants to and convinces the other to give it a try.
- Also, many singles take up partner dancing at least in part because it will give them access to other singles in a social setting with a built-in activity (versus the bar scene, which many don’t like). Sometimes, those singles become couples through dancing.
Whatever the motivation, there are pros and cons to dancing with a significant other or spouse – whether you started dancing together or got together because of dancing.
I can tell you without a doubt that the success of your dance partnership will depend entirely on your teamwork. If you’re a strong team, you’ll probably enjoy the experience of learning to dance together. If there are chinks in the teamwork armour, they will magnify as you learn to dance, because dance is communication-dependent.
Learning to dance together may strengthen your teamwork skills. You can learn a lot about someone new by learning something new with them. You might also learn a lot about someone you are trying to reconnect with – say after a decade of child-rearing or a separation – by learning something new together.
Be aware that what you learn about each other may not be what you wanted to learn. You may learn things about the other person, about yourself, or about your partnership that you find unpleasant. It can go either way – so give it a try and be open to it not working. As a corollary to the Disney effect, did you know that the iconic dance couple, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, didn’t really like each other all that much?
Motivations & Level of Interest
Whether you met dancing or took it up together as a couple, it’s unlikely that you and your partner will share the same level of interest in dance, or the same motivations. Honest and open communication will be important to keep the dance partnership running smoothly. For example:
- One of you may be motivated by competition; the other may be more interested in the social aspects of the dance. If your motivations are quite different you may not be ideal dance partners – many life-couples look for other dance partners for this reason.
- One of you may approach new activities with great zeal and Type-A dedication to practice while the other may be perfectly happy simply attending classes and never practicing. As with any relationship, it’s important to not force your expectations of self onto your partner.
- One of you may really like the social aspect of a dance (dancing with many people all night) while the other’s intention was that you’d dance only with each other. That’s worth sorting out early, and keeping lines of communication open, because as you become more experienced, your wishes may change.
- One of you may fall in love with dancing and the other may never want to return to it. You have to realize going in that this is a possibility and have a plan for what you’ll do if this turns out to be the case. Is one of you O.K. with the other partner dancing without them? Is your priority to find an activity to do together or is your priority to dance? Does it have to be a partner dance?
Some couples are able to enjoy partner dance together without necessarily dancing together much. They may have other dance partners. Or the more “serious” dancer may have a dance partner while the other dance partner attends the same dances and events for social pleasure or to contribute to the community in other ways.
There are MANY things to enjoy about partner dance, and you may enjoy it for different reasons than your partner. Talk about what motivates each of you and be sure that you’re each getting enough of what you need when you are dancing.
As a couple, you chose each other – differences, similarities, flaws and all. Taking up a new activity together will mean that you are spending MORE time with this person and all of their characteristics. We can learn and grow through new experiences – but we will not become different people.
Not every couple benefits from more couple-time; many relationships grow stronger when each individual has freedom to pursue his or her own interests.
I’m just going to put this out there. Partner dancing offers access to things that monogamous relationships don’t. Like the chance to interact with, smell, touch, and share intimate physical conversation with other people to varying degrees depending on the dance.
You have to be aware of this and be O.K. with it going in. You may need to set boundaries with your life-partner to manage all the feelings this may generate, such as jealousy or an increased desire to experiment with your romantic relationship. I like boundaries, particularly in relationships. They are clear messages to our partner(s) – life and dance – that make us feel safe and trusting. Safe and trusting relationships are the most fun because we can be wholly free within them.
I’m not here to tell any couple how to manage their private life – but I will say that in particular if you are a long-term couple just now taking up partner dance, these are things worth considering:
- Dancing and swinging are not the same thing. Do not enter a partner-dance community – including a swing-dance community – with the expectation that you will meet couples who are looking for other couples to swing with.
- There are different styles of partner dance; some are more open than others. West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, and Salsa/Bachata, for example, tend to be very social and everyone dances with everyone else. It can be difficult to tell which couples in the room are life-partners because they are not often dancing with the person they came with. Ballroom dance studios and Argentine Tango communities tend to be more focused on individual partnerships and may be a more comfortable environment if you don’t want to “share” your partner.
- Some styles of dance require closer contact than others. Swing dances like West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, and East Coast Swing afford individuals the most personal space. Blues dancing, Balboa, Tango, Kizomba, Waltz, and others require very close contact. Salsa, Bachata, Cha-Cha, and Rumba are somewhere in the middle. You can do some research on YouTube before deciding which style you want to take up with your partner.
- Every dance style and each dance community has its own culture and “vibe”. Some of these are more sexualized than others. You may need to check out a few different dance styles, studios, and communities to find the one that fits your vibe.
Selfishly, I hope you and your partner will discover the joys of partner dance. It’s really got everything an activity could have: the chance to learn, to socialize, to exercise, to listen to music, to enjoy each other’s company at the same time that you enjoy the company of others.
We often say that every dance is a 3-minute relationship – and that has implications for life-couples who decide to take up this hobby/sport/passion. I hope this article gives you useful information and a lot to talk about together!
UPDATE June 2016: An acquaintance who read this article brought my attention to these three excellent articles by marriage counselors who are also ballroom dancers. All good, thoughtful reads >>