IT’S TIME TO MOVE | Why Ballroom Dance is the Shyt

Nothing parallels the exhilaration I feel while gliding across the dance floor with a man who knows how to lead. Well, maybe only one thing does—flight.

That bliss of masculine and feminine integration—the symphony of movement and emotions—they can feel magical, but they come from an utterly concrete fusion of intention and devout practice. If you’ve had the privilege of experiencing ballroom dance and liking it, you know what I mean.

How I fell in love with dancing…

My first memories of dancing are fond: as a kid, gleefully rocking to the rhythm of “Da Butt” from the School Daze soundtrack while my parents laughed hysterically; as a teenager, staying up all night creating my own routine for the step team and making the cut; then, as a young woman dancing alongside Maasai tribesmen in Tanzania while studying abroad.

Dance was always in the background of my life waiting its turn, but it didn’t begin to take center stage as one of my favorite pastimes until recently. There were several reasons for that.

For one thing, though I’ve loved dancing since childhood, I took a detour from the path of self-discovery and expression and embarked on a long and intense religious phase in my teens and early twenties. Where I’m from, that means no dancing whatsoever for the sake of having fun, showing off, or provoking passion. The only acceptable form of dance in our brand of Christianity is that which provokes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Later, even after I came out of my fundamentalist fog, I was very turned off by the meat market culture of the typical bar and club scenes. I generally hated night clubs. Seriously, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to one, and my only memorable experience in one was the aforementioned visit in Tanzania. That’s where I and my date had the privilege of holding a Maasai warrior’s spear while he played pool and hung out with us in a Dar es Salaam club.

Oh yeah, and there was that time I worked as one of the hostesses at a Philly club event for Laz Alonzo. It was a good time, but even there, I felt completely out of place, and he could tell. He joked me about it a little, but he was still down to earth and friendly. He told me to tell ya’ll he’s not short, since I was taller than him in my 5-inch heels.

I had a brief encounter, also, with Capoeira, the Brazilian art of dance fighting. A good friend who was a pro at it introduced me to the art form, and I took to it quickly in my introductory class. But then I got pregnant with my first child, and air boxing and dodging kicks from grown men no longer seemed like a good idea.

I came to love a good house party with plenty of meat, drinks, and good dancing music. I can dance the entire night away at one of those, especially if the soundtrack features modern Afrobeats or Soca. I’ve been known to sweat my clothes out in a scene like that then fall out cold on the host’s couch with friends.

That tends to be a safer bet, since, in those cases, I’m around lots of people that I’m acquainted with. I can have fun and I don’t have to look over my shoulder quite as much—though there may be a few swingers in the bunch looking to invite someone to the after party.

When I became interested in Latin dance, it was right after having my second child. Before a women’s CrossFit boot camp helped me shed the last few pounds of baby weight, it was Zumba and other random Salsa workout videos on YouTube that helped me feel like myself again.

A few years later, when I was no longer breast feeding, changing the pullups of two toddlers, or trying to juggle bottles and binkies, I decided to take a Salsa class at a dance school near me. That’s when I started falling in love with dancing.

Now don’t get me wrong. Plenty of people take dance classes to meet new people and possibly date, and it can be a great way to accomplish that goal. But there is a slew of other reasons why dance can be downright life-changing for an individual.

Before I get into them, check out this short video of me in a beginner Bachata class. Our instructor, Joe, has been with this dance school for years. He has a great laid-back vibe and really makes learning a lot of fun.

You could love dance, because…

Dancing is awesome exercise. As someone who’s also into weight-training, I was happy to learn that dance is a form of resistance exercise which can help you maintain and strengthen bone density.

I’m no medical pro, so weigh my words with discretion and talk to your doctor if you’d like to add dance to your workout routine. You can be certain, though, that it can also be very good for the heart. You’ll hardly feel like you’re “working out” while the continuous movement gets your blood pumping.

Dancing is also a good mental challenge. You’ll learn to become more sensitive to your surroundings and your dance partner. Plus, you’ll operate your memory as you learn new moves and combinations, developing agility.

Get out of your head and into the groove

On a deeper level, there are some benefits for me that go far beneath the surface of those general physiological advantages. For one thing, dance helps me to get out of my thoughts and into my body. I spend a lot of time in my head writing, working, planning, managing life, and often ruminating way more than I should. Dance shakes me out of constant mental calculation and refreshes my energy.

For me, dance is also a free and satisfying sensual expression. When I can experience it in a setting that’s dedicated to the art of dance with other people who want to improve their skills, it’s a safe space to feel beautiful and sexy without the typical expectations and hassles from entitled fuckwits.

There’s no moron making a sales pitch for some average hookup sex in a corner while I take a break and sip my drink, nobody waiting in the parking lot to make a desperate, last-ditch effort to take someone home.

Ballroom dancing – even when it isn’t meant to be a date – is like going on a date without being treated like a prostitute. You won’t get pressured to screw a guy because he shelled out a little cash for dinner. You’ve both paid your own way for class, had a good time, copped a couple of feels, and now it’s understood – its over. “See ya here next Tuesday.”

The pure fun of it helps me to release my death grip on all my concerns. I can be light and fluid. I also get a sense of seating deeply in the femininity with which I identify as a sis-het woman. I particularly enjoy partner dance—also called ballroom dance—because it calls for a leader and a follower.

I have absolutely zero interest in leading on the dance floor since I lead enough in my everyday life. In this expression, I’m able to let go, because I am never asked to initiate. It is understood, through the culture of Latin and other forms of ballroom dance, that the woman will be gently and skillfully guided through the dance. No debates. No struggling.

A pleasant, romantic surprise…

I never expected to become so enthralled by the partnership aspect of ballroom dance. I honestly didn’t understand it much when I first started taking classes. I just wanted to learn Salsa.

But a strange thing happens on that dance floor. The fun and freedom of platonic sensual expression gives you room to breathe.  Yet, simultaneously, wokeness and all those fake introvert idiosyncrasies that people love to show off nowadays go out the window as your instructor urges you to press your chest into your partner’s in an uninhibited embrace.

This is no place for smug antisocial types who insist on taking to social media every other day to remind the world that they hate people. Get over yourself and be friendly!

The dance floor is also one place where you won’t have to cater to the ridiculous assumption that humans are monogamous creatures. You can shake off the limitations of that infinitely unattainable fantasy and experience a number of different partners without judgement or having to hide the desire to do so.

There’s a distinct “leader” and a certain “follower”, and you’re both challenged to transgress your comfort zones while the surprising patience and friendliness of your partner (who’s likely a total stranger), provide a haven for your vulnerability.

You can totally feel this guy’s package against your leg. That’ll happen a lot as the instructor prompts you to rotate partners segment after segment. This will give you the chance to experience the nuances in different people’s dance styles, and to scout new favorite fragrances while you sample the different ones they’re wearing.

Not every partner will be as warm and engaging as another. Some will be a little nervous and giggly. Others may seem rather stoic and distant as they focus on trying to get every move just right. Some will offer an embrace that feels like a heated blanket on a wintry night with a cup of hot cocoa on the nightstand. Some will sweat more than others, and you just might like it.

You will mess up in front of everyone many times. If you can’t laugh at yourself and with others, you’ll be miserable. Get over it and just have fun. Everybody else will scew up, too.

No one can hide.

I tweeze the stray hairs on my perimenopausal chin like a mad woman before class, because I know, I will be seen, probably in more ways than I realize. That’s a great thing and exactly what’s needed for those who are taking dance to cultivate more confidence and poise.

Of course, some people come specially to see. And you will likely notice a set of eyes that seem to be looking in your direction. Wait, maybe he’s looking in the mirror right behind you at himself to perfect his moves, yeah. No! I think he’s looking in the mirror right behind you at your ass. You’ll rotate a couple partners to the left and see his eyes shift in your direction, and you’ll know for sure that he’s focusing on you.

“If you have to tell her to follow you, you’re doing it wrong,”

the instructor yells. This reminds the guys to engage their partners in a way that encourages cooperation rather than demanding it or shying away from the onus to lead.

“Don’t do the work for him, ladies! How’s he gonna learn?

Now, don’t get me wrong. A measure of independence is good for a woman to have on the dance floor when there are no viable partners. You can dance the night away and enjoy yourself without having to wait around for a good dancer to guide you. And you should know how to maintain your center at all times, so that even when dancing with a partner, you are never run over.

You could wait around for a good lead and it may never come. Or you could pick up his slack, lead the dance, and give him the impression that you’ll always be the one to lead. Who the hell needs that?

A woman like me who enjoys being led would certainly hate either one of those scenarios. Ultimately, as in other aspects of life, when you feel the need to change your partner, it’s best to change directions instead and dance with someone else.

When you’re surrounded by lots of good potentials, though, do yourself a favor and fall back so they can learn to lead well. As a follower, you’ll still ultimately get most of the accolades anyway. The ladies always do.

The dance floor might be one of the few places where you get to consistently experience that kind of romance and fun – the kind that isn’t tainted or shoved out of focus by the daily grind. And ballroom dance is an outlet for the reverie that can sometimes get in the way of practical living.

Come Together

Harmony. That’s what we’re aiming for. All the stumbles and fumbles, the light-hearted but unintended elbows to the nose and stomped toes—it comes with the territory.

Yet, it’s all noise. Without reciprocity it’s all just noise. This truly becomes a dance, a concert of movement, when both you and your partner understand the assignment, accept it, and surrender to this cooperative effort.

You have your partners’ affirming touch, the music, and the beat of your own heart to guide you as you explore the dancing community. You’ll all face anxieties, resist the small world of social media in favor of real contact, or simply spread your wings and have a ball together.

And, just like in real life, you can’t realize your full potential in this dance with an incompatible partner. You’ll fall short of the goal for every set. The dance will be constantly interrupted with confusion and by your inability to connect.

However, with good instruction and the right kind of companion, despite challenges, you will flow. The dance will feel smooth and natural, causing you to be surprised by just how brightly you can shine and how skillful you can become with the proper input, under the best possible circumstances.

If you’ve been looking for a new hobby or a way to have a fun workout with other like-minded people, find a dance studio near you and get moving. Now that the pandemic has been declared officially over, what’s your excuse? It’s time to be human again.

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