Glittering lights, sparkling dresses, swaying to the music…these are some images that may come to mind when you picture dancing at a holiday party.
Reality can be another story entirely.
Bruised toes, off-beat moves, pouting partners…a recipe for disaster! I have taught ballroom dancing to couples at different points in life—from wedding dances to retirees and newlyweds to empty nesters—and they all experience the same problem: communication.
The number one complaint I hear is about a partner’s lack of rhythm, but that is usually the easiest thing to fix. Most people just don’t know what they are listening for in the music. Communication, however, is a little bit more complicated.
Partner dancing IS communication—the language is patterns and technique is eloquent expression—in the moment of dancing together, you are sharing a conversation. The “lead/follow” language should really be initiate/respond, and more importantly, listen! Traditionally, the leader initiates a movement, the follower responds, then they move on to the next movement. When the timing and communication are perfect, the transitions are seamless.
But when it’s not, frustration ensues, arguments may follow, and working together ends in the battle of who’s “more right.” Sound familiar? Partner dance is pretty much a metaphor for every relationship you’ve ever been in, but mending the relationship in dance is way more fun than therapy! It sounds simple, but it’s vital to recognize the movements of your own body. So many of our actions are automatic, and in dance (especially learning it as an adult), you have to be simultaneously aware of what you and your partner are both doing at all times. It’s a concept called attunement—being in harmony with another person.
One of the struggles of dancing with someone you know is bringing relationship patterns onto the dance floor. But when you’re able to get in sync with each other, that shared history is also what makes dancing together so rewarding! The work becomes less about doing the patterns correctly, and more about enjoying the moments of moving together to the music. The smiles, laughter, mistakes, forgiveness, and sense of success all follow the ability to work as a team, and seeing that process unfold is one of my favorite things about teaching dance. It’s called the universal language for a reason! When two dancers, no matter their level, find that place of harmony and conversation, it’s breathtaking, tangible, and you can’t help but want to watch and smile with them.