Dancing is a wonderful training for girls, it's the first way you learn to guess what a man is going to do before he does it. - Christopher Morley
Anyone who has read Jane Austen probably remembers the Netherfield Ball when Elizabeth Bennet dances first with Mr Collins and then Mr Darcy.
“Mr Collins, awkard and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. Her moment of release from him was ecstasy.”
With Mr Darcy, on the other hand, their dance begins even before they step onto the dance floor when he, -
“took her so much by surprise in his application for her hand that without knowing what she did she accepted him.”
Austen makes no mention about how he dances, which, in Austen speak means he’s an excellent dancer. Instead she focuses on how they communicate. Elizabeth’s good natured teasing brings him out of himself. Darcy leads Elizabeth one way, she reciprocates in another.
How a man and woman dance together, Austen implies, says a lot about what kind of couple they’d make.
With this way in the back of my mind, I went to a beginning tango class last Friday. Note to self: if I really want to learn to dance the tango, best not to dance with other beginners.
This being a small class, I had the choice between two dance partners. The first was a guy with such large feet that I found myself continually thinking, must steer clear of clown feet, must steer clear of clown feet, must steer clear of clown feet. Didn’t help. Kept getting stepped on anyway. Until the teacher came over to explain the obvious—because of our pretty marked height difference I had to compensate by taking longer strides.
Second partner, height was not the issue, his being only an inch or two taller than I am in heels. All the same, the dance did not go well.
“I want to do more turns,” he said, “but you have to loosen up more.”
“But, I can’t tell where you’re leading me.”
He responded by squeezing my right hand while his other hand remained as limp as ever at my side.
Well, he’s trying, I thought. Give him the benefit of the doubt.
But while we were pouring ourselves some wine another student had brought, he said, smiling, “That ought to loosen you up.”
“Uh - huh,” I said, thinking, Excuse me, but I’m really starting to think you’re a dumbass. Then again, this was my first official tango class. What do I know about tango?
Then, dancing with a new partner, a latecomer, I made the mistake of telling him this was my first ever real tango class. “Okay,” he said, taking a teacherly tone, and suddenly I felt my every step being closely evaluated. “Okay,” he said again after a while, “First, you have to loosen up.”
Again with the loosening up?!! I thought. But was it really me? Or was it because I couldn’t tell where he was leading me either. From the few other times I’d danced with more experienced tango partners, I never had to guess where they wanted the dance to go. They led. I responded. It was fun.
But this...was so not fun.
But this also being my first official tango class, I just agreed with him. What if I had it wrong? What if the woman was supposed to lead as much as the man?
At least I tried to tell myself this. But my gut refused to believe—I was the one going backwards, after all. I couldn’t even see where we were going. The man had to take a stronger lead.
Dancing with partner number two again, and again finding myself playing guesswork against his indecisive lead, I told him about dancing the tango in Union Square not too long ago with some old timers who kept a firm grip on both my hand and my waist so that I always knew exactly where they were leading me. And of dancing, once, with a swing instructor. I didn’t even know the steps, but because he was such a strong lead, I found it easy to follow him just the same. But with his way of leading, using only one hand to direct my movements, I couldn’t help but feel uncertain about where to go. Straight backwads? Backwards left? Backwards right? What did he mean? It was really hard for me to tell.
He took it better than I thought he would. “I did not know that,” he said. “I’m glad to have learned something new.”
And, I was tempted to say, you were wrong for putting the blame entirely on me. Dumbass. But I didn’t.
Talking with partner number one during a break, I mentioned my little Austen theory, how you can usually tell what kind of partner a man will make by the way he dances with you.—(Like dance partner number two, I thought, but did not say, would be a total blamer. Anytime anything went wrong in the relationship, his first impulse would be to blame the woman. Probably an only son. And partner number one, a sweet enough guy, but...twleve or more steps to turn me around? Oh, so clueless I’d be tempted to send him to a professional for lessons. Also, needless to say, the weak lead thing...not at all appealing.)—And, only half joking, I said that every couple even thinking of getting more serious should be forced to take a tango class together first.
“Oh!” he said, “I don’t know about that. I know this one couple who never danced together at all. They even cut the first dance out when they got married.”