96: The Relationship Dance

96: The Relationship Dance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

The Relationship Dance

The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music. Bodies never lie.

~Agnes de Mille

Lisa and I arrived at the fundraiser for a local non-profit and dutifully wove our way through the lines of people placing bids on vacation packages, sports tickets, gift certificates to hotels and restaurants, jewelry, and kitchen makeovers. Every sheet seemed to be filling up with people eagerly trying to outbid one another. It was great for the charity but well outside of what I could afford.

I started looking for a way to slip through the crowd and locate our table for dinner when I spotted Lisa looking down at a bid sheet. When I walked over to join her, I saw that the bid sheet was empty. Not one person had bid on the item. What could be that unappreciated, so awful that not one person would bid on it? A complimentary colonoscopy? A Brazilian wax for men? Fruitcake for life?

My eyes widened in horror when I read the description. It was worse than I imagined — three ballroom dance lessons.

Lisa looked at me with her soft puppy-dog eyes and lips that were a breath away from a pout.

“Really?” I asked.

“It sounds exciting!” she said.

I squeezed my eyes shut. Why couldn’t it have been a colonoscopy?

Lisa handed me a pen. I sighed. “I love you,” I said as I wrote down a bid.

“I know you do,” she said.

I’ve heard that people who face near-death experiences have images from their life flash quickly through their minds. Every former emotionally draining, ego-sucking, fear-inspiring dance experience I had ever had careened through my thoughts. In third grade I played Frosty the Snowman. My mother volunteered to make the costume. Somehow she fashioned a bed sheet over a frame she made from coat hangers. I couldn’t see anything, but was told that all I had to do was dance. I still remember the sound of hundreds of children laughing.

I began practicing dance at home with a broom and later with my Great Dane, Luke, who was large enough to put his paws on my shoulders when I stood in front of him. I moved from slowly rocking from side to side to occasionally putting one foot forward or back and rocking in one awkward movement that resembled someone tentatively trying to step on an escalator. Luke must have lost patience with me as he disappeared a short time later.

One ballroom dance lesson turned into almost five years of them. I realized that as I’d struggled with dance over the years, I had also struggled with failed relationships and even a failed marriage. My prior relationships resembled my earlier clumsy attempts to dance. I either held the person too close and stepped on their toes or held them too far away and they drifted off. I wasn’t a very good dance partner. I didn’t pick up on the rhythm of relationships and thought more about my own dance steps than those of my partners. I had a picture in my mind of how the dance should be done and held rigidly to that even when the music changed.

In ballroom dance I learned a new sense of partnership from our dance instructor Francesca. To dance well in ballroom you have to believe that the whole is larger than the sum of the parts. There’s no room for selfishness. Nearly all communication is non-verbal. To become adept at the fiery passionate intimacy of tango, the amorous and sensual foxtrot, or the deeply romantic and graceful waltz, partners have to connect with one another and cooperate.

As Lisa’s and my partnership on the dance floor grew so did our relationship off the floor. Learning to dance changed my understanding of how to love and that has made all the difference.

~Chris Jahrman

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