Swing dancer consults Abby
“I’m a very good swing dancer,” wrote a woman to Dear Abby, “and my boyfriend doesn’t dance.” She goes on to say that while her boyfriend is willing to learn, she doesn’t want to stop dancing with partners at her skill level while waiting for him to catch up. He doesn’t want her to dance with other men because it makes him feel jealous and insecure.
A common dance couple conundrum
This letter generated a huge flurry of responses from readers, most of whom were not dancers but a few who were. I read it all with interest not only because I’m a Dear Abby addict, but also because I run into this situation all the time. The guy is willing to take on an activity in which he has no real interest so that she won’t have to give up something about which she is passionate. In return, he wants her to dance exclusively with him. She is happy to dance with him, but she also wants to dance sometimes with other partners.
What is the missing information here? Unless you are a natural, leading is not an easy skill to master. It takes commitment and effort, and the reward for all this hard work is the light in your partner’s eyes when you delight her with a really fun move. It is fun to light up another person, and it’s especially so when you are in love with that person.
But what about all the time it takes you to get to the level of being a good lead on the dance floor? Is it fun for her to dance with you as a beginner? Well, up to a point it is. Depending on her personality, it may be exciting to see your progress and touching to see how hard you are working to share this special activity with her. She may get a lot from supporting you in your goal, but at that stage it’s still what a friend of mine refers to as a “mercy dance”. It can’t compare to the joy of dancing with partners who are already competent at leading.
Also, in the swing dance community, the custom is to dance with a variety of partners. Even couples who are at the same skill levels don’t usually dance any more with each other than with the rest of the crowd. A lot of the fun is the variety of dancing with a lot of different people.
So is there a solution?
So what is the solution? Well, every couple has to find their own way around their particular relationship issues, but I always suggest to my students that as a beginner you dance as much a possible and with as many different partners as possible. When you are practicing at home, the advanced dancer can help her struggling partner out as much as she can without feeling resentful. Again, everyone is different about how much patience they have with beginners. But when you go social dancing, if you are the beginner take responsibility for that and practice with other beginners. Dance once each with a variety of intermediate and advanced dancers, but don’t make a pest of yourself. Be grateful for the mercy dances and be gracious. And that goes for the help your girlfriend bestows upon you as well.
Also, remember that it’s not a game of how can I ever catch up to her. It’s not about how many steps you know. It’s about how well you lead them. Once you’ve nailed the skill of leading, you become a fun partner. You’ll want to increase your repertoire or you’ll get bored, but your partners will be happy with just a few steps if you lead them well. Concentrate on learning to lead, take private lessons at the beginning to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and make use of your dance community to get in your hours of practice without burdening your partner.
If you are too insecure to do this, the problem is not with dancing, as Abby was quick to point out. Use this new challenge as a challenge to work on the challenges of your relationship skills as well, and add couples counseling to your dance lessons. Your personal relationship and your dance relationship are more connected that you think. Work these issues out on the dance floor and your relationship will be more secure and more loving. If you don’t, your girlfriend just might take Abby’s advice and dump you!
by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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