The guts of partner dancing

OK, so partner dancing is great fun & good exercise. Anything else? Yes, as a matter of fact, there’s a lot more to it.

From the very first dance step you take, you’re connecting with another person. Partner dancing is a way to have more more closeness in your life, more intimacy, more human contact. Holding another person and moving together to music is pretty risky. It’s stepping ourside the normal safe zone of isolation and embracing another human, maybe someone you don’t even know. That’s not just an act of courage, it’s an act of love. Connection, closeness, intimacy, contact – those are all words about love. You can deny the love, and say that dancing has nothing to do with love, but the love is there, if you ever choose to turn & face it.

Love can’t blossom without respect. Respect is simply seeing, and acknowledging, that all humans are equal. If you don’t see that, if you think that your partners are in any way inferior to you, you won’t know love, and you won’t be a very good dancer. You have to respect your partner.

As you get to be a better dancer, more possibilities open up, and eventually you can get to a stage where partner dancing can become a tool for human evolution. So yes, there’s a lot more there, potentially, than fun & exercise. This website is about the guts, the deeper stuff.

What they don’t teach you in dance class

If you want to do partner dancing, go to classes; study and practice. Partner dancing is a language, and you need to learn the lingo: you need to develop dance skills. But dance classes generally don’t address the deeper stuff, and as a dance teacher, I can understand why. There is so much of this language of dance to teach! But dance skills aren’t enough to make you a good dancer; you also have to work on the love part. You have to respect your partner, and learn how to dance kindly and generously, dancing for your partner and not for yourself. If you don’t learn that, your skills don’t count for much; nobody likes dancing with a self-absorbed jerk, no matter how many smooth moves he’s got.

Learning to dance takes a lot of work, and it’s totally worth the time & effort. Partner dancing is a way we grownups can get play back in our lives, and everybody needs to play. Your ability to play is a very good indicator of your relationship with love, with the life inside you. Our connection to the love that’s inside, the love that doesn’t depend on anyone else, gets strangled and narrowed by life as we grow up.

As we grow up, play gets co-opted or trained or beaten out of us; we turn play into things like excelling at sports, crushing the competition, hardening & toughening ourselves in preparation for life’s battles. We turn play into war or discipline or competition. All the love & joy get beaten out of play, and out of us. What we’re left with is “play” that’s just another chore, or a way to get a competitive advantage, or something else to beat ourselves up over. Same old crap. Partner dancing is a way you can reconnect with real play, with joy, which is love spilling out of you.

The key is connecting with your partner

Connection is the guts of partner dancing; connection is what makes it valuable: dance with people you connect with, and connect with your partner while you dance. A good connection is light & easygoing; there’s no heavy-handedness about it, no one’s controlling anyone else. It’s also respectful and egalitarian: nobody likes playing with the kid who always has to be the boss. Other attitudes that get in the way of connection are being all caught up in how you look to other people, or being super technical & in love with your own technique, or being competitive, distracted, cool & reserved and so on. But dancing is so much deeper & richer if you take your attention off you and put it on your partner, so you can really connect and play; why settle for less?

Partner dancing is intimate: you hold your partner in your arms. From the very first step there’s the potential for a level of intimacy that many people know only with their lover. Partner dancers can have that kind of intimacy with dance partners; dancing can be a safe zone where you can know more intimacy and have more love in your life. More intimacy makes life so much richer. Some dancers hold themselves back and are not intimate with their partners; they stay aloof. Their dancing may be technically excellent, but there’s no love shining through. What a wasted opportunity. We can all use more love in our lives.

How to connect?

Connecting with your partner has nothing to do with how good a dancer you are. You can have mad skills & moves, and fabulous “dance connection,” as they say in partner dance lingo, but as long as you’re focusing on you, you’re not connecting. Connecting means being more interested in your partner than you are in you. Dancing that’s focused on you – how you look, your pleasure, showing off your skills, working on your excellence – is disconnected dancing. Dancing where you set yourself up as some kind of authority – correcting or coaching or otherwise “helping” your partner is particularly disconnected, not to mention jaw-droppingly arrogant. Connected dancing is respectful, humane, egalitarian, kind and playful. Dancing feels so much richer and more alive if you connect and play with your partner. Here are some things to consider if you want to connect:

You have to want to dance with that person, the one in your arms. Wanting to dance with someone is personal: you want to dance with that particular person. Dancing out of politeness or obligation or “why not?” or “anyone’ll do” is disconnected, tho’ it’s possible to turn that around by connecting as you dance. Wanting to dance with the particular person you’re holding in your arms is the very first step in connecting. If you find you don’t connect with someone,dance with someone else.
Dance with the person, not the role. The defined roles of lead & follow are useful in learning to dance, but they’re really not very important (heresy!), and there’s no human warmth in a defined role. Reach through the roles to the person in your arms. Your partner’s a fellow human, not a role. The roles are just play-acting, something you’re making up; stop taking them seriously!
Leads have all the power, which is a problem. Partner dancing needs a lot of human warmth to overcome the power imbalance. The system is inherently unequal; if you leave it at that, you don’t connect. Embrace your partner as a friend; that neutralizes the inequality because friends are equals. Then the unequal system’s just a game you’re playing with your friend; you don’t take it seriously.
Be kind. All those dance etiquette do’s & don’t’s can be replaced with those 2 words. You could replace not just dance etiquette but probably all the useful commandments & laws on the books, religious & otherwise, with “be kind.”
Don’t be afraid to say no. If you want to connect, it’s important not to let your time get taken up with disconnected dancing. It makes no sense to keep having dances with someone if you find there’s no joy, no connection when you dance with that partner. Some people you connect with and others you don’t; it doesn’t matter why and it’s nobody’s fault; that’s just how it is. Don’t dance out of obligation.
Don’t take dancing seriously. Dancing is way too important to be taken seriously. Taking it seriously defeats the purpose. The best dancing is profoundly unserious and transcendently playful.
This website has practical suggestions for connecting with your partner at beginning, intermediate, and advanced stages of partner dancing.

Connect with your partner at Waltz etcetera

I see a lot of playful, intimate, joyful dancing at Waltz etcetera, where I’ve been hosting dances and teaching dance for the past 11+ years. From 7:30 – 9:30 we play about half waltzes and half other dances, mainly blues, Latin & foxtrot/swing; after 9:30 we add in slower waltzes and more sensuous Latin, plus sweet & sultry ballads, cool jazz and other downtempo stuff. Come join us!

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