Something unusual happened during dance class last weekend. Upon walking into my Sunday afternoon dance class I noticed a young man sitting silently by the window at the front of the dance studio. I generally make an effort to introduce myself to newcomers to the class, but the instructors started playing music before I had a chance to speak to him.
After our class warm-up I noticed that the young man was still sitting by the window. He was watching us quite intently, but made no move to join the class. We soon began our partner work and I temporarily forgot about this “mysterious” stranger.
At the end of the class, nearly two hours later, I noticed that the young man was still sitting by the window. However, by this time he was no longer alone. Rather – he was speaking quietly with one of the female students in the class.
The two spoke briefly and then the young man left the studio. As I was now beyond curious, I approached the female student and asked “was that one of your friends?” She turned to me and said, “No. That was my husband. He wanted to watch me dance.” I said, “Oh—is he interested in learning to dance?” She replied, “No, that’s not it. He told me last night that he wants me to stop dancing because he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a wife to dance with anyone other than her husband. So he was here watching to see what goes on … he is really making me mad.”
Needless to say – many ears perked up at this last statement and some of the women in the room, including me, began to gather around this young woman. No one expressed shock at her husband’s attitude; rather we all began to exchange similar “war” stories in an attempt to comfort our fellow student.
Unfortunately, many of us could relate to this situation as most of us have experienced problems in either past or present relationships due to our involvement in Latin dance. Prior to meeting my fairly laidback husband, I was often interrogated about my “need” to go out dancing by the men that I dated. I even had to break up with one man who totally lost it during a salsa social when I danced with someone other than him.
Based upon the experiences of myself and my friends, most of the problems between dancers and their non-dancing mates seem to fall into the following categories: 1) dancers being begged and/or “told” to stop dancing; 2) dancers being told that they can dance, but only with their non-dancing or beginner dancing spouse/mate; and; 3) dancers being given an ultimatum to choose between dancing or continuing the relationship.
I should mention that my friends who have experienced the “relationship ultimatum” are all male dancers. Interestingly, two of the three men who complained of this situation actually gave in to the demands of their partners and stopped dancing COMPLETELY after years and years of dancing. As a side note—both of these men are now happily married to the women that offered the ultimatum, so perhaps this was a good choice for them.
Although I am writing from the perspective of someone who is an avid social dancer, I do understand the perspective of the non-dancing spouse/mate. The Latin dance scene is filled with attractive, interesting people whom are easy to connect with, both on and off the dance floor. For many non-dancers this scene is intimidating and is ripe with many possibilities for jealousy to rear its ugly head.
With regard to myself and my female friends –none of us have stopped dancing, but most of us have reduced the frequency and intensity of our social dancing for the good of our relationships. I can’t speak for my friends, but I understand that my husband did not marry me with the expectation that I would be salsa dancing in a club with strangers every night of the week. We’ve informally negotiated a dance schedule that gives me the dance time I need, balanced with the time my husband and I need to be together.
Some people have suggested to me that I should encourage my husband to take salsa or casino lessons so that we can dance together, but this suggestion makes little sense to me. My husband has no interest in dancing and would rather spend his free time doing something he enjoys, like playing golf or riding his bike. And, while I do not consider myself to be an advanced dancer I am certainly an intermediate level dancer who enjoys being challenged on the dance floor. Due to the inevitable gap in dance skills between a beginner lead and an intermediate follow, I doubt that my husband and I would enjoy dancing together on the social Latin dance floor.
A few of my dancing friends have spouses/mates who insist on accompanying them to dance events even though they have little to no dance experience. This puts a lot of pressure on my friends as they want to please their mates, but they also want to dance with the more experienced leads present at these events. Once again, the imbalance of skill and training between my friends and their mates leads to an experience that is usually lacking in entertainment for either partner.
Ultimately, when these kinds of problems arise, it seems that communication and negotiation are the keys to erasing or at least diminishing the negative feelings the non-dancing spouse/mate may have developed with regard to his/her partner’s dance life. The dancing spouse/partner should make an effort to balance his/her dance life with home life and to reassure his/her spouse that he/she will not allow dancing to destroy the relationship. Similarly, the non-dancing spouse should allow his/her spouse the freedom to dance, while making sure that he/she is still getting what he/she needs from the relationship.