Dancing with your spouse

Mary is on the left. 

My wife, Mary, and I started taking ballroom dance lessons a few months before my son, Peter’s wedding in October 2006. We enjoyed the lessons, had fun learning together and we have continued taking some lessons. We have also learned that dancing with your wife and living with your wife have some remarkable similarities.

We often read in the Bible that the man is the head and most teaching emphasizes that the wife must submit to the husband. In reality, the Bible teaches that the man must submit, too, but that’s another topic. So what have we learned in our dance classes?

First of all, dancing with someone takes a lot of work. Neither of us had a lot of experience dancing, but we had to start somewhere. They didn’t exactly paint big letters R and L on our shoes, but we sure spent a lot of time looking at our feet. We would learn some basic dance step, then practice it a million times, until we were adequate, then they would teach us a new dance step, and it felt like we were starting all over again! But we kept at it.

As happens when dancing with a partner, there are times I make a mistake, there are times when Mary makes a mistake, and there are times when we both mess up. But, oh, it so much fun when we both get it right and can actually dance well for a few minutes.

Then one night, Mr. Otero explained to us that when the man makes a mistake, it is the man’s fault. And when the woman makes a mistake, it is the man’s fault. This didn’t seem fair to me, but the man is responsible to properly lead the woman, and not allow her to make mistakes.
We also learned the proper way to start a dance. It’s not the caveman move, where the guy drags a woman where he wants her and starts dancing. The man asks the woman – the man is taking the initiative, but giving the woman the choice. Assuming she gives her consent, the man then escorts the woman to the floor, and the dancers get into position to dance. But the man is not allowed to begin dancing until the woman is ready, which she signifies by putting her left hand on the man’s right arm. Then the man has permission from her to start. And off you go!

The man is then expected to lead. If he wants the woman to spin around, he has to give her a signal, such as lifting her arm, which tells her what he would like her to do. If he wants to change direction, or perform some other turn, he is always communicating what he wants to her. The woman is expected to follow. I’m told that is not always the easiest thing to do. (Remember that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in heels!) It is especially difficult for the woman if the man is not giving a strong lead, communicating well or in a timely fashion what it is he would like the woman to do. Often the man is surprised that they actually completed the last move, and has not thought ahead far enough to know WHAT he wants to do next.

But over time, with lots of coaching, our dancing has improved significantly. We’re not great dancers, and never will be, but we have a solid foundation and enough confidence in our dancing together that we will actually dance in public!
So, do I even need to explain the correlations to marriage? Good communication, thinking ahead, mutual respect, willingness to accept blame, getting better over time. The most important thing we have found is that the more we practice, the better we get. The better we get, the more we enjoy it, and the more time we spend together dancing.

P.S. A couple weeks ago, we took a special group class with Tony Dovolani, who has been on the popular Dancing with the Stars television program. He basically taught us how to move our hips: it was good. But there was one comment he made that caught my attention. He asked, “When you are dancing, who is leading?” In unison, we all obediently said “The man leads.” Tony said, “No, that’s not right!” We were all stunned – we’ve always been told the man leads. Then Tony went on and said, “When you dance together, the man does not lead, the music does.”
The more I think about that the more I like this idea. Jesus is the song that rises up in my heart, but he is not just for me. He is the one that Mary and I both must stay in step with – together.
Originally posted August 24, 2008

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