The question "Would you like to dance?" asked by a man is like music to my ears. These are magical words for a woman. The man extends his hand and I reach out to graciously accept his offer. He whisks me off to the dance floor. I place my left hand on his right shoulder; he reaches out with his right arm and places his hand on the small of my back while my right hand rests in his left with arms slightly outstretched. Two opposites in every respect are now facing each other. For the next four minutes, there’s nothing else but the music and the dance. Two people moving as one, in tune and in harmony.
I told myself a long time ago that I would never turn a man down when asked to dance. I’ve kept that promise to this day, with surprising results. I have ended up with wonderful dancers who helped me improve my steps and style. Not only that, but I’d rather dance with a man. I kind of roll my eyes when women turn down a man just because he does not look according to their ideals. They have no idea what they are missing out on. I consider it just plain courtesy to reciprocate the offer to dance by accepting at least one dance. As long as the offer is made courteously, and in good taste, I see every reason for going out on the dance floor with this man. He deserves a medal for asking a woman to dance.
I once went out with my friends to a lakeside restaurant/bar. Its customers are diverse. One can find golfers next to Harley-Davidson bikers. The band started playing the blues. It was pretty crowded, and I began moving to the music. Suddenly an older gentleman, whose teeth happened to be missing (and not through dental decay I assumed), was reaching out with an inviting gesture to dance. I accepted. There we were in the middle of an aisle swing dancing to Stevie Ray Vaughn. The crowd was clapping along and my friends just stood there with mouths hanging open. He was a great dancer, and not once did I have the feeling that I would fall. I felt secure and trusted my footing. He was a good leader. My friends, of course, have not let me live this moment down. What can I say? It was one of those rare moments in life where a "toothless wonder" became a gallant dancer.
Dancing is in my veins. I inherited it from my mother. It was she who taught me to waltz at the age of seven. It was in my grandfather’s old farmhouse back in Germany when my mother showed me the steps of a waltz. She counted out the three-quarter beat of a waltz by saying "eins, zwei, drei….eins, zwei, drei…" There we were waltzing across the bedroom floor, while my younger brothers stood in their cribs with sheepish grins on their faces.
As kids we really didn’t follow any sort of rules for dancing. At wedding receptions or during one of the festivals, girls would just grab a boy by the hand, and we would dance in circles. We did a lot of free-style dancing at that age, since none of us had any sort of coordination to speak of. That didn’t really develop until our teenage years.
My first real male dance partners were my father and grandfathers. They are the ones who asked me to dance and led me to the dance floor. The most trusted male figures in my life gave me the honor of stepping into my first official waltz. I was very shy and insecure with my dancing, but my father handled it well. He’s a good dancer and tends to whistle while he dances. This sort of broke the ice. I was quite a bit smaller than my dad and we still managed to dance to Strauss’ waltzes, and still do.
It was during my teenage years in boarding school when I learned the popular dance steps. Convent life can be pretty boring. We either studied or read. TV was not part of the curriculum. We did have an old record player down in the basement’s clubroom, and this is where the older girls passed on the dances to the younger girls. We learned everything from Fox Trot, East Coast Swing, Rumba, to English Waltz and Twist.
For the next two years dancing became our favorite pastime. It was something to look forward to, and helped us forget about being away from home. The only problem was that one of the girls had to stand in for the man. This meant different steps, different moves. We noticed a problem with that when we would go to parties or dances on the weekends and the girls had a difficult time following the guys. The girls were used to taking on the lead. That caused a few struggles at first.
I took dance lessons last summer to learn the West Coast Push. It’s an old dance from the 50’s and looks strikingly similar to Swing dancing. The lady who taught the class was over seventy years old. She looked young for her age, and I know dancing had something to do with this. This particular dance has a lot of different steps, turns, and twists. It takes a lot of practice of repeating the same steps in order to get the hang of it. Women had to learn different steps than the men, and many times we had to practice the routine on our own before we could dance as a couple.
The key, as it is in all dances, is that the man needs to be a strong leader. I noticed that if a man knows his steps well, and is secure and familiar with the dance, a woman can easily follow without much trouble regardless if she is familiar with the steps or not. The key again is that she is a good follower. She has to lean into the footing and submit to the cues the leader gives. That alone gives the man confidence to continue the dance.
I made lots of mistakes, especially when my dance partner was more advanced than I was. As long as I remembered my footwork and kept on counting to the beat, the dance was easily recovered. A few tiny double steps and I merged back in my right footing.
Although free-style dancing is a personal style and demands individual creativity, my recent observation has encountered a few not-so-great performances by some Britney Spears or Janet Jackson wannabes. There’s a new dance happening on Saturday night. Two girls will go out and dance with each other with intentions of attracting a male dancer with their moves. They take control of the dance in a way that it takes the romance out of the entire experience. It doesn’t leave much to anyone’s imagination. And it is sad to say that this kind of dancing plays upon the weakness of someone else. It’s the kind of dancing that can make a king lose his mind, and a rebel lose his head (see John the Baptist) or lose his strength (see Samson). Well, maybe not quite that drastic. It just seems that a man is under the enticement of a lure rather than free choice.
There is fun in dancing and there’s fun in expressing individual style. Heck, I know, because I will be the first one to agree that dancing is great medicine for the heart. I love it. The ones who want to outlaw dancing have no idea what they are missing out of. It’s as ancient as man. Even King David danced in the nude when he praised God. Now, how crazy is that? And God didn’t chastise him for his behavior. He danced from the heart. It was his wife, who observed his dancing, that showed abhorrence for his actions. Maybe some dances are to be danced in private, and some expressions are also so personal that an outsider may not readily understand what is really taking place, as King David’s wife didn’t. These are sacred dances that take place in a person’s heart, with one’s Creator.
There is an expression that says "dance like nobody is watching" and there’s truth in that. The motive here is for the dancer to enjoy the dance. The dancer is unaware of an audience, which in itself attracts an observer. It’s as though the observer stumbles across an unexpected event that holds a fascination. But as soon as the dancer becomes aware of the observer, it breaks the spell of the dance. There’s a delicate line to walk between the real and unreal.
The most challenging dances, and also the most charming and vibrant dances, are still between a man and a woman. Just watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers perform one of their legendary dances, you will get the idea how smooth and graceful it can look. Not only does it look great, there’s definitely a sense of joy and happiness in their performance. That’s not to say that everyone will dance like this famous pair. I think the idea behind it is that a couple can find harmony in their dancing without losing their individual style. As a matter of fact, I think dancing can bring it out in each other. A great female dancer makes the man look good, and a great male dancer can let his female partner shine like a jewel, as long as the natural law of dancing is observed. Different couples dancing the same dance, to the same music, will look different in their execution and style. It is very individual.
Of course the entire picture of harmony gets distorted when two people want to take the lead. This happens when a woman will not follow and wants to lead; or when a man doesn’t know how to lead and follows the woman. The greatest obstacle for a man is when the woman unconsciously wants to lead the dance. There can only be one lead. It causes trouble for the pair and disrupts the dance. There’s no more music. The melody disappears into background and the notes disperse into fragments of incoherent sound. Everyone hears a different piece of the music and loses balance. When people trip or topple over each other, it’s because one or both have lost the music by wanting control or forgetting to lead. They lose the rhythm that holds the unity together.
Even if one is not a dancer, one can easily relate to the phenomena of power struggles. It’s draining and stagnant. It takes the life out of movement. Nobody in this kind of environment listens. Neither hear any messages that would encourage each other’s growth or build on each other’s talents. It’s all about "me" and never about "harmony." Both parties are pulling into different directions tearing the oneness of the dance apart. It turns into the dance of madness, and there are plenty of them these days.
Bad pairings can be between politics and religion; government and economics; power and pride. I can name more badly suited dance partners. They naturally repel each other, and yet they are being forced to dance together. They are being played against each other’s weakness and lured into a dance. They trip and tumble until it hurts. Held together by bandages, and limping on crutches, they continue to force themselves back on the dance floor and stare at each other with a distrusting posture. The dance of madness is a vicious cycle.
I think good dance partners complement each other. They observe a fundamental truth that requires that each individual knows who they are by their nature and uses their naturally given talents. On a larger scale, I think society and liberty dance well together; they produce a good economical system. Observance of existing moral laws and justice do well, too, they promote peace. Individual boundaries and individual freedom also do well together, they teach growth and maturity. I am sure there are more combinations out there.
I often thought that dancing is a good metaphor for harmony. I can easily see which partners make a good dancing couple. It’s apparent in their flow and movement. It produces an energy that’s electrifying and charges the entire room. New dances develop out of this. And old dances like a waltz will never die out, and neither will a tango. They are too close to romancing the heart. Good dancing makes happy people and produces a good and healthy atmosphere.
Not everyone will become a Gene Kelley or Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. It’s about learning how to dance and finding the harmony. There is a lot of fun in dancing. As I mentioned earlier, it is like medicine to the heart. Dancing is to be enjoyed; the more the joy, the greater the dance. It opens up the mind and lets in a little sunshine. The sweetest picture is when I see older couples on the dance floor that have been married for a long time. They have found their harmony over the years. They waltz into the autumn of their life with such grace and trust. And yet, there’s still that flickering of youth in their smiles in the way they look at each other. They dance like nobody is watching. They haven’t forgotten how to dance. He dared to dance, and she dared to follow.
Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.