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Love Lessons From Ballroom Dancing


It takes two to tango, but there’s more to it than just following the prescribed steps. Read on for five ways to take your romantic relationship for a different sort of spin.

By Chelsea Kaplan

elieve it or not, television’s Dancing with the Stars has resulted in more lasting romantic partnerships than matchmaking franchise The Bachelor. Is it the romance of the rumba? The titillation of the tango? Quite possibly, says Janet Carlson, author of Quick, Before the Music Stops: How Ballroom Dancing Saved My Life. “Let’s face it, moving rhythmically to beautiful music together is a turn-on that’s hard to resist,” she says. “It’s hard not to enjoy the person who’s helping you feel sexy, glamorous and elegant!”

Carlson, who has seen ballroom dancing illuminate more than a few truths about the keys to lasting love and ultimately help her endure and heal from her divorce, also believes that
Moving rhythmically to beautiful music together is a turn-on that’s hard to resist.
there are deeper reasons why ballroom dancing is akin to the “dance” of love: “In ballroom dancing, you learn the wisdom of respecting boundaries, trusting your partner and working together, just like in a relationship.” Here are more of her thoughts on the similarities between dancing and dating.

1. In ballroom dancing, if you consider your partner’s comfort, you’ll have a successful partnership.
“One of the first things I learned from a dance coach was probably the most important parallel between dance and love: Your job is to think about your partner’s comfort while you dance, and your partner’s job is to think about yours,” Carlson says. “My coach’s emphasis on this rule helped me realize that I had to think about and feel with my body what was going on with my partner and what I could do to make our dancing work better for him.” The bottom line: Look at your romantic partnership as a dance partnership — for a smooth, successful one, don’t step on each other’s toes, look out for your partner’s needs and make sure he or she looks out for yours.

2. The man shouldn’t always lead (and the woman shouldn’t always follow!).
Carlson explains that contrary to popular belief, in higher-level ballroom dancing, the man doesn’t lead and the woman doesn’t follow. “It’s much more like a dialogue; the man may determine the direction, but the woman will determine the distance they travel in a given figure. Both know what’s coming next.” Like in a flourishing relationship, both partners in ballroom dancing have a say in things and there’s a fine balance of power.

“I confess, being the kind of woman who’s mostly in charge and self-sufficient, it’s kind of sexy to experience the man being in charge when dancing,” says Carlson. “It’s taught me to stop trying to do everything myself in relationships.” She admits, however, that she also loves the moments when she’s driving the action and her partner must follow or go along for the ride. “This fluidity and trading of gender roles really adds to the fun and sexiness of dancing — much like in dating,” she says.

3. Unless you deal with your personal issues, your dance — and your relationship with your dance partner — is doomed.
Carlson explains that in ballroom dancing, as in a relationship, you must maintain control of yourself, take responsibility for your own actions and safety and stand on your own two feet. If you don’t, your success as a dance partner and the likelihood that you’ll excel with your mate on the dance floor is unlikely. A common roadblock of this nature is having control issues, she says, offering an example from her own experience: “I used to be afraid to let go of my weight during the downward whoosh of the waltz, a hallmark of the dance. My tightly controlled body movements were preventing my partner from swinging fully, preventing us both from swinging and fully performing the whoosh. Eventually, in
“It’s taught me to stop trying to do everything myself in relationships.”
order for us to be able to successfully perform the dance together, I had to learn to let go of my dysfunctional need for control.” Because control issues can interfere with forward momentum and excellence when dancing, you have let go of them, she says. If you don’t, your success is doomed, just like it would be in a romantic partnership.

Much like in the dance of love, there can also be control issues between ballroom dance partners, Carlson says. “The man might be a bully, for instance, or the woman might be pointing a finger at the man and trying to get him to change what he’s doing, when she’d really do better just shutting up and looking inward,” she explains. The solution in dance, she says, is akin to what most relationship counselors would advise to romantic partners: “To improve your dance, leave your partner alone, stop trying to control him or her and examine yourself instead. Compassion is the key in dance and in relationships.”

4. Ballroom dancing and romantic relationships both engage a full range of emotion.
There’s desire and love expressed in a rumba, playfulness in a cha-cha, anger and passion in a tango, something a little sad or wistful in the music of a waltz, a breezy confidence in the fox-trot, zaniness in a quickstep and even the extremes of dominance and submission in a paso doble, Carlson explains. The highs and lows of romantic relationships are no different, she says, as each new “movement” brings with it a different emotion and experience between partners.

5. You must bring trust to the partnership.
Bringing trust to your dance partnership can be challenging at first, as you’re getting to know each other, but if you can manage to do it, Carlson asserts, your experience dancing will be profoundly enriched, much like it would be in a romantic relationship. “I used to not know how to bring trust onto the dance floor, so when my partner was ready to support me in an outrageous pose where I’m stretched to the max off-kilter, I paid no attention to the poor guy standing there ready to help,” she recalls. “Instead, I tried to take care of myself and do the pose without using him.” She soon learned, however, that if she trusted her partner to do his “job” and allow him to support her, she wouldn’t fall. “Doing so made the pose much easier for me, and, no surprise, it was much more complete and beautiful. It was a great lesson for real life: Self-sufficiency and liberation are no excuse for not trusting.” All in all, when you let yourself trust your right partner, odds are he or she won’t let you fall.


Chelsea Kaplan is deputy editor of The Family Groove and a regular guest on Sirius XM Radio’s “Broadminded.” Read more from Chelsea on her blog, “The Momtourage.”
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