Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ballroom Dancing Teaches a Godly Truth

Last summer my wife and I began to learn ballroom dancing. To my surprise, I learned that ballroom dancing is hard work! Being used to the individual practices of gymnastics and martial arts (both of which I have done for many years), learning to work with a partner in every technique was a challenge. Both of us had to learn together and be patient with one another. It took me a few months to learn that most of the mistakes my wife made were my fault.

In partner dancing, the man leads and the woman responds. The woman needs to be ready for a number of possible moves, and be able to respond to her partner’s leading in an instant. The man, however, knows what he wants to do, and is responsible for communicating his lead effectively without words, i.e. with body movement. If he doesn’t lead well, his partner doesn’t know what to do.

The man doesn’t lead by pulling his partner’s arm or pushing her in the direction he wants her to go. He might think that that would be easy, but it doesn’t work and the woman doesn’t like it. Women don’t want to be pulled or pushed; they want to be “led” to the move so that the couple may flow as one. The man leads, rather, with his whole body, and must communicate gently but clearly by how he moves. When it is well done, it is exhilarating for both the man and the woman; they are constantly communicating without words, and moving in a rhythmic partnership to music in give-and-take patterns as a couple that neither can achieve alone.

One day, one of the female instructors (in an apparent attempt to transcend perceived cultural sexism) declared, “Most people call it ‘leading’ and ‘following’, but I prefer to call it ‘inviting’ and ‘responding’. The man ‘invites’, and the woman may choose to ‘respond’ or not; maybe she will want to do something else.” Well it seemed to me, beginner that I was, that if the woman does “something else”, it wouldn’t be dancing.

Apparently the women in the class felt the same way as I did, since one of them said firmly, “But we want them to lead!” And the others nodded. “Leading” and “following” is what creates dancing. One is not superior or inferior to the other. Each is unique, different from the other, making a complement so that a single unit is created in the dance. Change things from what has been done for hundreds of years, and all at once you’ve got competition between individuals rather than a partnership, and you don’t have a dance any more.

Both the man and the woman know the dance and the possible moves. She needs to know clearly what he wants her to do, so the man must lead, being single minded and setting the direction. The woman, usually able to “multi-task” better than her partner and therefore move almost instantly in the direction he sets out of a number of possibilities, follows to create the flow of the partnership. Unclear leading muddles the entire dance.

For a time our instructor was a woman. In order to show me how to lead effectively, sometimes she would “back lead” me—that is, as I danced with her and tried to lead, when I was unclear she would lead me in the leading I ought to have done so that I would learn how to do it. But it was not a reversal of roles—it was the instructor teaching the student. She did not abdicate her role as “follower” to my “leading”, but rather showed me how to do my part (“lead”) better so that she could do her part (“follow”) better. It was partnership without inequality.

Now our instructor is a man—a very skilled and gifted young man named William. In this video on youtube he talks about “leading” and “following”. As William says, leading and following have a lot to do with trust.

I am sure that there is a great, Biblical truth here that our culture needs to learn and many of our churches need to relearn. “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Men and women were created by God to be different from and complementary to each other. When we understand this, relationships can go far toward being respectful, joyful, and fulfilling. Forget this, and we get… well, a lot of what we see in our world today. Much of the grief so many people suffer in relationships, perhaps, is brought about because many men have abdicated their place in relationships with women and families. Dancing is one way that the believer can see how God intended things to be.

At least so it seems to me.

1 comment:

loves2learn said...

Fr David,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on ballroom dancing. I've been taking swing dancing lessons for 7.5 months now and really appreciate the lessons I've learned working as a follow. Our culture has so much to learn from lost art of dancing, especially as it pertains to men and women learning how to be partners. I find it so disheartening that most people never learn how to dance and that dancing has been largely religated to the realm of feminity. So much of dancing can only be appreciated in the direction and response between a lead and a follow. I hope that more people will soon begin to see the many benefits that come from learning to dance!