"All You Need Is Love"
by Mark Van Schuyver
For eleven years Ive watched dancers fall in love. Let me count the disasters! When both people are dancers, they are seldom at the same level so there is usually a heavy tension from the start. Most times one member of the couple is a non-dancer who, in the name of love, jumps head first into the sport of dance only to be smashed on the rocks of the learning curve. Some dancers simply go away forever rather than try to explain that dance is not a sin. When the new love will not dance at all and exhibits jealously at the mere mention of the word, the dancer sacrifices their recreation in the name of love.
In the pursuit of a Significant-other relationship, we all look for a ten on our personal scale. Finding a potential Significant-other who has everything going for them, except for dance ability, is not necessarily the end of life as we know it. I believe advanced dancers can evolve perfectly healthy relationships with new dancers, or even with non-dancers, without sacrificing involvement in their sport-like activity. How? First, use your imagination and pretend that you are on a man/woman hunt for Mr/Ms Right. Follow me please.
Finding Mr/Ms right is hard enough, finding one that dances is a much greater statistical challenge. Consider the millions of people that live in the Untied States. How many of those folks live within dating distance to you? Now, divide by half to separate the men from the women. Check out their ages, their education, occupation, likes and dislikes. Distill further and you have a few thousand potential significant others within your social range.
A high percentage of these "potentials" drive cars and have cats, but how many of these guys/gals dance? How many do West Coast Swing for example? Maybe, .0005 percent? Were talking a very small crowd here. Statistically speaking, a dancer/Significant-other is a tough combination to locate. Should you stop dancing and take up tennis to find a mate? Not yet! Keep searching maybe you will . . .Get Lucky!
Say you get lucky and find a 9.5 on your scale of 10. Nine point five because he or she has is a dream-boat in every way. He/she dances a little, or is willing to learn. The number is less than a ten on your scale, because he or she does not dance very well, or is a beginner. Now what do you do?
Well, with 9.5 out of ten points in his or her favor, you know you are going to go for it! In two shakes you will be dancing, romancing, and dining yourselves silly. In the beginning you will hardly notice the many times he or she steps on your feet while trying to impress you on the dance floor.
Time goes by and you do start to count the times he or she steps on your toes. The bruises on your arms are not getting better. You long for quality dance time with your friends and regular dance partners. Youd love to go to an advanced class or enter a competition, but you dont dare risk the damage it might cause to your new relationship.
You hang in there. "I can change him/her," you think. "I can wait; I can endure; it is worth it. Love will conquer all!"
Meanwhile, your new love is desperate to impress. By now he or she realizes how much dance means to you. He or she wants to play the game of dance with you at your level. He or she takes lessons, talks to others, and tries and tries to please you and be your dance partner as well as your lover. He leads with an intense and almost angry focus; or, she follows inserting spins and syncopations months or years beyond her current skill level. He or she is now on a very serious mission to make you happy and be your dance man/woman.
After a few months of this your life as a "dedicated dancer" seems at an end. Your old dance partners have abandoned you for people who still care. The opportunity to compete has come and gone. Youve lost your edge and your self esteem is in the t-bowl. Maybe you dont even want to go out anymore. Its not worth the hurt and the feeling of loss. It is not worth the frustration of dancing with a beginner, song after painful song . . . a beginner that you care deeply for, a beginner that you love but do not have the heart to hurt. You start to think that dance is not so important after all. Your Significant-other plays tennis, maybe its time to take up a new sport.
Meanwhile your boyfriend/girlfriend is thinking, "this dancing business is not for me!" By now he/she has finally faced the fact that he/she cannot gain years of dancing skill and ability in a few short weeks or months. Truth is, he/she cant play at your level and may never be able to. This is a very painful moment for him/her. The natural response will be to try to influence you to quit dance and do something else. "How about tennis?" they might suggest.
Split Up or Face Up?
It is at this time in the relationship that all such couples must decide between splitting up and facing up to their different skill levels and needs as dancers. Many couples simply walk away from the recreation. This is an unacceptable compromise in which the once excellent dancer loses forever the joy of dance, and the new dancer never has a chance to know the satisfaction that a high skill level brings. Both lose and the relationship will be badly damaged.
Both partners can win, however, if they realize and live to this one simple and basic fact. Dance is like a sport. Dance is like tennis, dance is like baseball, dance is like gymnastics. Dance is not making love in a vertical position! For real dancers, dance is a "sport" and nothing more.
Dance is a sport like chess. When I was a child, my father played chess with me for hours at a time. I loved it. He tolerated my learning curve. He took great joy in helping me learn. But he did not get better when he played against me. Only when he matched his wits against an opponent of equal or higher skill level did he grow as a player.
Dance is exactly the same. It is like a sport in which the players strive for perfection and continually challenge themselves to do more and do it better. To advance they must practice with people at or above their skill level. What would happen, for example, if a couple like the one Ive just described started playing tennis together? Suppose he is an A rated payer and she is a beginner. Chances are they would play together quite often and both would enjoy it. But you can bet that he would not give up his seat in the tournament! He would keep his standing practice sessions with his A rated tennis buddies.
Wanting her to get better and enjoy the sport he would naturally encourage her to take tennis lessons and to enter competition at the beginning level. He would help her find partners at her level and coach her and encourage her to grow as a player. Gradually, and without pressure, jealously, or competition from him, she would obtain a higher skill level. They would enjoy playing together more and more. Eventually they would find themselves playing doubles with friends and in competition. They would, in effect, live happily ever after in the world of tennis and their relationship would never suffer a scratch.
But what about dance? Why is it so much easier to imagine our couple growing old together in a blissful tennis-partner life than in a dance-partner relationship? Simply because tennis is considered by all to be a sport and dance is considered by non-dancers to be a romantic occasion. Aye! Theres the rub.
Dance, for real dancers, is simply and purely a "sport" in terms of sharing and creating with similar skills. Dance is perhaps a "sensual" sport, but then so is tennis if you consider what people wear to play it! Bottom line, dance is sport no different from tennis, chess, or water polo. And non-dancers must be educated to this fact!
What To Do
If you happen to be the more advanced dancer in a romantic relationship with a non or new-dancer and you want to keep your love alive without sacrificing your dance, try the following.
1) Explain from the very beginning that dance is like a sport.
2) Demonstrate that dance is like a sport by taking your new partner to a competition, and/or showing them dancing on tape. Introduce them to your dance friends and partners. Make it clear to them that these are similar to sport partnerships, not romantic partnerships. Take them with you to your advanced lessons and let them watch you work with your partners.
3) Make it clear that dance partners are like tennis partners. Tell them you need love from them and not another dance partner.
4) Dance with your partner in non-threatening ways such as slow dancing, freestyle dancing, or by taking a class in a dance that neither of you know.
5) Encourage them to take lessons at their level and do not participate as their partner.
6) Encourage them to dance with others at their level and help them find social dance partners and friends.
7) Involve yourself in a non-dance activity with your new love. As you take your first tennis or climbing or ski lesson, point out the similarity to dance.
8) Dont expect your partner to catch on right away. Give it time. Be honest and open with your feelings. If they truly love you they will come to understand.
If you are the non or new-dancer in a relationship with an advanced dancer, remember that:
1) He or she loves to dance and will love dancing with you regardless of your skill level.
2) He or she looks to you as their Significant-other, not as dance partner. Remember, Significant-other is a romantic relationship, dance partnerships are like sport relationships. Dont get the two confused.
3) Always remember that dance is like a sport in terms of the challenge at equal levels and that your advanced friend will need to play at their own level. This does not mean that they dont enjoy dancing with you! Remember the tennis analogy shown above.
4) Be very honored by the time your advanced friend spends dancing with you. Learn and enjoy and always thank them. Encourage them to dance with others and maintain dance partnerships with folks at their level. Be part of it by watching and praising.
5) Take lessons and seek partners at your level. Only by doing this will you gain skill and come to know the great joy that the sport of dancing brings.
6) Be open about your feelings. If you are insecure, tell them so and work it out.
In my opinion, no one who loves a recreation should give that activity up in the name of romance. This goes for dancers as much as for softball players and chess junkies. Tennis might be an easy sport to integrate a new love into, but given its sensuous appearance and shaky high-school reputation, dance will always be hard for new and non-dancers to cope with. The challenge all dancers face is to educate the Significant-others to the concept and reality of dance being like a sport.
We must start from the first moments of the relationship. If we do this, we can have our dance and our romance too. Like John, Paul, George, and Ringo said, "All You Need Is Love."
Mark Van Schuyver lives in Atlanta. He is a writer and a West Coast Swing enthusiast with over thirteen years experience dancing. More than 100 of his articles have been published in national magazines including many on the subject of dance. You can reach Mark at by e-mail at Zarrdd@bigfoot.com.