Monday, June 21, 2010

It Takes Two

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.”



  1. Sounds like an interesting evening!

    Hubby and I don't dance. Never have. Not even at our wedding. We're just not dancers. But we'll be celebrating 20 years in October! So although Jane may have had a point for the late 18th C, I think a lot fewer people dance now than did then. And you know Jane, she was all about biting social commentary so maybe she was just making a dig at how shallow people are that they would judge the value of a marriage partner based solely on dancing skills!

    Or maybe not. Either way, sounds like you had more fun dancing tango in Union Square than in dance class!

  2. Great post!
    No really, I love your Austen theory.
    I think you hit the nail right on the head.

    Watch out for the cocky dancer with the abnormally large ego.


  3. What a gorgeous post! I love how you combine Tango, Austen, and "Dumbass!" Brilliant!! xxoo

  4. Adore the shoes. The boyfriend and I don't dance together either. We both love to dance but we have very different styles. It's just easier to stay off the dance floor and to dance with our laughter instead.

  5. very interesting post. i cannot dance, but a former co-worker and his fiance took 14 million tango lessons before they got married. they wanted to tango at their wedding. i cannot even tell you how much stress the tango lessons put on their relationship. he thought she needed to loosen up, she thought he was a terrible and indecisive leader, he thought she was trying to lead him, etc. it all worked out, but i hear it was a bit painful to watch them do the tango at the wedding. not an easy dance to master. not at all.

  6. I really enjoyed this post Cheryl and could see the dancing in my imagination. Beautifully written with great wit. :0)

  7. Such a nice post! I could totally get this... I took ballroom dancing in college and when you got a great lead, it was so easy!

    Then you got the limp arms partner and you both just muddled around without any clarity...

    I went country dancing with my gay girlfriend once... she told me I was most definately leading and to quit it! I was in the female position (lack of a better term?)

    I don't think the person in the female position is supposed to lead but sometimes the person in the male position leaves no other choice!

    I think you are so spot on for seeing how people react in conflict and nailing what their first defense is gonna are kewl!

    Furry Husband and I have not really danced..oh, we've shaken our money makers out on the floor and had fun but we've never really done any sort of organized/formal dance!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Embee, yeah, I enjoyed Union Square so much more. But it was a good learning experience. Now I know to watch out for men telling me I have to 'loosen up'!

    AS for the Austen theory, I'd never apply that to every man or couple I know! It's way too black and white for that. It's more a guideline than anything else...

    Hi Dutch Donut Girl, Thanks! Ha, ha! Have run into a few of those!

    Hi LBR, thanks! Haha, didn't think of that! Come to think of it, me too :) xoxo

    Hi Lianne, thanks! another proof against my theory! Oh well. Given the choice, I'd rather dance with laughter, too.

    Hi Drollgirl, ooo! I have to totally agree with her. Maybe if they'd switched roles for a bit and he came to see what it was like to dance with an indecisive lead, he would have understood where she was coming from. Not surprised, I have to say, that it was painful to watch them dance.

    Then again, as you said, not at all easy to tango...

    Hi Phil, thanks!!! Makes it all worth it...

    Hi Shannon, thanks!!! Yes, a strong lead makes such a difference!!! I think what men sometimes forget is that the woman can't see where they're going. She's putting all her trust in him to make sure they don;t collide into another couple. The limp arm men just don't get it...

    how people react in conflict...yeah...think my first reaction is to stare blankly at the person, then to wonder if he/she might be right, then to get mad, then to, as nicely as possible, state my point. I'm glad, at least, that partner number two took it so well.

    I'm beginning to wonder if it might be best to stay away form formal dancing myself. Might save a lot of trouble...

    Nah! I do like a challenge!

  9. I enjoyed reading this post, Cheryl, and I love your zest for life. Fabulous! xx

  10. You could write an entire book using this theory, Cheryl! I'm serious- an article at least. I loved your concept and presentation.

    After a bad fall during a martial arts competition quite a while, my right hip was ripped up a bit, so I had to quit dancing entirely. A woman I dated years later intuitively foreshadowed your thoughts when she told me, "How will I ever understand you if you don't dance?"

    So I say that with your interesting style, you could carry a book with this insight!

  11. Thanks Carol Anne!!!! :) xx

    Hi Rick, thanks!! Maybe I'll pursue that. Can't hurt, right?

  12. This reminds me of the old way of dancing (not tangos) when I was young. The "touch" was often more important than the dance itself. The tradition was then two dances at a time… and you could repeat it after a while… and later it was the turn of the ladies to invite and then you really knew if the “touch” had been OK. Today, I wonder how these “touches” work in the overcrowded discothèques. Probably better with tangos… and the right partner!

    (I guess you are preparing yourself for the famous tango dancing on the Seine banks?)

  13. Hi Peter, hmmm, don't think I would have asked any of these guys to dance again. But I think the touch would work even in an overcrowded disco. Little things can say a lot, whether a guy is attentive, indifferent, grabby...

    Yes! one day, soon I hope...

  14. What a romantic notion!

    Plenty of faithful spouses and wonderful boyfriends couldn't dance to save their lives, though.

  15. First, I thought I read and commented on this before but I guess not...

    First, I love this post! And so much fun and romantic and just ... everything.

    this post has been on my mind because my new fella has asked me if I wanted to take ballroom dancing lessons with him! I think I'm going to say yes... for lots of reasons, one of which is that I can buy new shoes. heehee!

  16. Hi BB, Your right...seems to be the case more often than not. But finding someone who can dance is high on my list.

    Hi Maggie, that is so nice to hear! Makes the practice of writing worth it. And your so lucky to find a guy eager to take you dancing! Most guys you have to drag onto the dance floor. Have fun! Hope you blog the results...


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