On My Mind: the writings of Sarah Bracey White                                                                                        

 
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"Who Leads When Dancing" appeared in the Journal News, 2007 & The Chappaqua Library's 2009 Memoir Anthology.


 

Who Leads, When Dancing?

            Today, a classmate from Ballroom Dance Sport, where my husband and I take lessons, asked how I deal with being a better dancer than my partner. "When you  remember the steps, but he doesn't, do you try to lead him?" she asked. I laughed out loud, recalling all the times I had tried, unsuccessfully, to lead Bob on the dance floor. And all the times he had said  -- after making a wrong step and bruising my toes --"That wouldn't happen if you followed me."

            Bob and I have been married a dozen years and it has taken me that long to learn that successful partners' dancing, like marriage, requires a strong, but gentle touch from both partners.

            On our first date, Bob revealed that he couldn't dance. "I've always wanted to," he said, "but I just never learned." Distressed by the thought of spending the rest of my life on the sidelines, I suggested that he wasn't too old to learn. He agreed to try.

            Now, my husband is not an easy person to lead, even when he doesn't know where he's going. Therefore, even though I discoed in the '70's, I didn't offer to teach him to dance: instead, I suggested that we enroll in a group class where we both would learn the right way.

            Finally, the week before our wedding, we attended our first class at an old Yonkers mansion. Our mid-day ceremony at Valhalla Town Hall provided no opportunity for dancing; but by the time of our formal reception a month later, we had mastered the basic Fox trot.

            Bob and I continued to take classes and our dancing got better. He loved leading me through the routines. And I, an ardent feminist, relished his twirling me, certain, that his hand would grasp mine when I turned back. Dancing does not come easily to Bob, but he is a determined student, and, he hears and feels the music. At the end of most dance lessons, we set up our video camera and tape ourselves executing the newly learned steps. Back home, we replay the tape and practice.

            Across the years, Bob and I have taken private and group classes at colleges and dance studios throughout Westchester. The Quick Step and the Tango have eluded us, but we do fairly well with the Cha Cha, the East Coast Swing, the Meringue, the Mambo, the Waltz, . . . even the Cajun two step. We've also attended dance weekends in the Poconos and the Catskills, where professionals give classes throughout the day , and then dancers dress up and practice their steps at formal evening parties. For a few years, a half dozen couples like us would gather monthly for dinner and dancing at any place that had a live band.

            When I look back at the many photos taken at dance venues, we're usually smiling. These days, I monitor the state of our marriage by our behavior on the dance floor. If we dance through the mistakes and keep going, everything is fine; if we're out of sync and argue over the steps, or I try to lead, things aren't so hot; we need to spend more time together - off the dance floor.

            In the beginning, I told Bob that I would never follow anyone who did not know how lead. Now I just try to relax, follow him and have fun on the dance floor. The less I push, the stronger his lead is. I feel lucky that he's willing to keep trying, even when he makes mistakes. If I criticize him and make the experience unpleasant, maybe he'll stop trying and I'll wind up on the sidelines. Anyway, it's just dancing, or is it?

(Look for us any Saturday night at Doral-Arrowood. We're the couple doing the triple-step Swing to In the Mood.)