Love & Swing (2): Dancing vs. Non-Dancing Significant Others
Being a seven-part series concerning the complex love triangle of romance, swing, and our love for swing.
Part 2: The Battle of the Dancing and Non-Dancing Significant Others
[In this article, we will refer to non-dancing significant others as NDSOs, as if it's their Myers-Briggs personality type.]
“For me,” says Nina Gilkenson, a professional Lindy Hop instructor, “it’s been very hard to date non-dancers—civilians—because I travel almost every weekend with a male partner, most of which the guys I was dating didn’t know.” Nina, if you didn’t know, gives off the impression that a 12-year-old girl and an 80-year-old woman are constantly at battle over her mind. We, like many, love this about her. “I remember one conversation in particular with a guy I was seeing being super uncomfortable about me staying in a bed with my partner Andy while we were in Australia.” [Here she almost gagged at the implication of her and Andy in the throes of thunderous passion. She will have the same expression on her face as she reads the previous sentence.] “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, you don’t understand my life at all.’”
“On the other hand,” Nina continued, “dating a dancer can be hard too. Competing against them, judging them — in contests, not just in general :) — fighting about swing-out technique… and I think the thing that can really be the hardest is that you often have the same friends, go to the same dances and travel to the same events. If the relationship doesn’t work out it can be very hard to see them all the time and see them date new people.”
However, for many, dating a dancer is the dream.
“If you are a dancer, dating dancers has a lot of benefits,” Captain Obvious said. The square-jawed Captain* is a super hero whose main power is stating the obvious, which is a lot more useful sometimes than you’d think—especially in matters of love, where people often seem to miss the obvious. “You automatically have something very important in common to both of you. You always have a thing to do on a date, you always have someone to go with to an event, and it’s easy to find other couples to be friends with. Plus, they understand your obsession.”
“However,” the Captain continued, a dark shadow growing upon his raked brow, his eyes growing distant, “how often our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses.” His giant fist gently hit the table, gently denting it.** “For dating a dancer…how easily it happens that dancing becomes every date you go on. How easily it happens that every vacation is a dance vacation. How soon before one’s level improves over the other’s enough that tension occurs? And how easily does one’s obsession begin to drive away those one loves?”
One dancer in Silicon Valley, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me about her experiences with dating and swing in that particular scene. The large male demographic of the area means there are a lot more leaders than followers, and the general makeup of the labor-force implies that one of their dances is a great place to take your broken laptop.
“In our swing scene, there are a couple of people who are known for dating within the scene, but it’s not very common. There seems to be a general attitude that people are there to dance and not to get hit on. In some ways, it’s great because the women seem to feel very comfortable having fun without worrying about acquiring stalkers (yes, we do worry about such things), but I wonder if people feel that they’re not getting out of the scene what they wanted, and that contributes to our high turnover.”
Even though the scene doesn’t stress romance, she occasionally has attempted to combine the two.
“In college, and beyond, it seemed the guys were more intimidated by the concept that It’s always the lead’s fault —by the way, I hate it when instructors say this in class— and were much more self-conscious about getting it right and not making mistakes. I think it’s a lot easier for girls to get out on the floor and just let go and have fun, where guys feel a lot more pressure to do cool moves or entertain their follows,” she said. “I’ve brought dates to dance classes before, when I was still a beginner myself, and they started out really enthusiastically, but then were quickly intimidated by the fact that I seemed like I was picking it up more quickly and ended up just sitting on the side and watching, for fear of not measuring up. At this point, I decided that bringing dates to dance classes was not a good idea.”
So now we have another issue to consider: If you are a dancer trying to convert your male significant other to dancing, it’s not necessarily going to be easy. It’s hard to get the average guy into swing dancing, especially considering how clumsy it can feel to for the first year or so. It doesn’t help that almost every dance floor is filled with lots of intermediate and advanced dancers who are always showing them how far they have to go. If a guy’s heart isn’t really passionate about it, there’s little reason for him to go through all the trouble to learn.
“To me, it’s a lot like dating at work,” she said, when asked if she would prefer a dancer or an NDSO. “If it works out, it’s awesome. Here’s someone you can talk to about your interests, who has the same vocabulary you do, who has a lot of the same friends, and who won’t get bored when you all go on and on at dinner. Not to mention, they won’t resent all the time and money you spend on your hobby/obsession/second job. On the other hand, if it doesn’t work out, then you have to deal with the awkwardness of seeing each other on a regular basis, having friends in common, and possibly ‘tainting’ some of your best dance places. You know, like when you break up with someone, and can no longer stand to go to that book store where you used to hang out a lot? Imagine that, but with your favorite dance venue. Now, imagine that your ex brings their new flame to ‘your home.’”
“I actually did date, for a little while, a guy that I met dancing; but he was never a regular and didn’t go back after we started dating. I used to joke that it was false advertising, since I thought I’d gotten a dancing S.O.”
Cindy Morris of Missouri has a non-dancing husband. She says people are baffled when they learn how accommodating he is with her dancing life.
“My husband came to me and told me that if I really wanted him to learn to dance he would be willing to take lessons, but it really wasn’t his thing. He loved that I love it so much, and is happy for dancing to be my ‘thing,’ like photography is his. This really has made both of our lives awesome, I never feel pressure to dance more with him than other leads, and he doesn’t feel pressured to come out and do something he doesn’t really enjoy.”
Thom Scott-Phillips of Edinburgh, Scotland, met his significant other a few months before he started dancing. He fell in love with dancing; she didn’t. Now, seven years later, the couple has found a similar balance as Cindy and her husband.
“Fortunately, she is very understanding of my passion,” said Thom. “I’ve slowed down lately because it all got somewhat tiring, but last year I was travelling in Europe for a long weekend once a month, and dancing three or four times a week back home, every week. The key is that she has her own passions. She loves the great outdoors: kayaking, mountain biking, triathlons, running, climbing, etc. I occasionally join her, but mostly these are her things. We go away for our weekends, and then come home and share our stories with each other. It works.”
Cindy and Thom’s relationships show how NDSOs can make it easy for both partners to get “alone time” to develop and keep their individual personalities, which probably does a great deal to cut an unhealthy dependence on each other. Because of dancing, Cindy and her husband, and Thom and his significant other, have a few nights a week to do their own thing without pressure, which everyone appreciates. It also allows them to go out dancing simply for dancing’s sake—in short, they don’t have to worry about relationship drama affecting their favorite activity.
At one point, Deb Palcious of Perth, Australia, was living in Seattle and dancing six nights a week of salsa and swing. “I often tease my husband that had we met in Seattle, I would not have even dated him, let alone married him. The thought of a non-dancing partner just wasn’t something I’d ever contemplated.” Deb had even been married once before, to a dancer (though she says that had little to do with their divorce).
“I think every dancer knows that heady rush when you make a real connection on the dance floor,” said Deb. “It’s only natural to speculate what that might translate into off the floor. But it didn’t take me many dance crushes to realize that a great connection on the dance floor does not necessarily translate into any kind of connection off the floor. It was a painful and difficult lesson, but one best learned sooner rather than later. However, even knowing that, I was always looking for that ‘perfect dance, and everything else partner.’ I think, ultimately, that I sabotaged every potential relationship with my unrealistic expectations.”
“When I met my husband, Colin,” Deb continued, “I was still toting around those expectations. I truly thought that the relationship we started up during a two-week organized bike ride in Australia was a ‘holiday fling.’ I mean, who quits their job, sells their house, and moves to a foreign country to marry a non-dancer they met on a two-week holiday?” Twelve years later, Deb and Colin are still happily married. ***
Deb acknowledges there is a downside. Colin can’t sweep her off her feet on the dance floor at weddings, they won’t ever bring in the new year dancing together, and, basically, Deb and Colin won’t be able to share that intimate connection that dancers share with the other dancers they love to dance with. “All of those would be lovely,” said Deb. “But would I trade them for what I have? Not on your life.”
Those relationships are perhaps the ideal for a dancer dating an NDSO. Emily Fleck of Philadelphia thought she was in a similar relationship in college. Her serious boyfriend at the time didn’t dance but expressed interest in learning, and, when he decided it wasn’t his thing, still supported her in her passion. However, upon breaking up, he accused her of using dance to escape reality and claimed that attending dances was the equivalent of running away from her problems.
“Imagine being confronted about alcohol or drug abuse; that was certainly my impression at the time,” said Emily. “As borderline-obsessed as I was about dancing, I never crossed the crazy line; my grades were good, I had non-dancing friendships, I did spend most of my spare money on dancing but I had accumulated no debt for it. It was a huge part of my life but not my entire life.”**** Emily is now happily married to a (different) non-dancer.
Though swing-dance obsession wasn’t the real reason for Emily’s failed relationship with an NDSO, it is a concern for some. Speaking from personal experience, if I had had a relationship with a non-dancing girlfriend at several different points in my life, it would have been extremely difficult for her, I’m sure, as swing dancing was a major part of my attention, desires, and dreams. (And well, now it is my livelihood, but instructors and love is a topic we will return to later.) However, if such a person were to put up with my obsession, perhaps it would help me have a better balance in life?
Many psychologists would argue that successful couples share common values on morality, familial desires, and sexual chemistry, and that these areas are much more important than the sharing of hobby. Others would argue that some hobbies surpass the description of hobby, and there are people to whom swing dancing is an important enough part of their values that it’s only natural that their significant others share those values as well.
Based on the information we have so far, one might assume this:
Venn Diagram #5: Dancing & Non-Dancing Significant Others
[You may want to click on it to see it better.]
Now, though the overall message is accurate, the diagram is a little misleading when we consider the reality of how our scene works. For instance, let’s say that in a year you were going to meet a hundred new people. If you spent your time going to karate lessons, cooking classes, religious services, school, etc., then the 100 people you would meet would likely be people who are involved with those things. If you were to go to swing dance weekends instead, then the 100 people you would meet would probably be mostly dancers. So, it’s not like you’re meeting fewer people by doing swing dancing than you would otherwise. In fact, I would imagine most people meet many more new people by going to swing dancing events than they would in many other hobbies, and certainly more than in a hobby-less life. So, the diagram misleads people into thinking that they’d have the opportunity to know so many more people if they didn’t dance. But in reality they would probably just know different people.
Another reason the graph is misleading is because swing dancing just so happens to bring lots of people who are romantically compatible together into one place. Most people who go to a swing dance are automatically going to meet (1) someone roughly their own age of the opposite sex, (2) someone who shares some of the same taste in music and activities, (3) someone who is roughly of the same class (swing dancing is now a dance almost strictly of the middle-class) and intellectual level, (4) someone who is physically probably pretty similar to them, and (5) someone who has a similar attitude. By attitude, I mean that every dance culture— ballroom, club salsa, tango, West Coast, Lindy Hop, etc.— has not just different moves, but different environments, music, people, and ways of dressing that appeal to certain types of people who share similar values and attitudes towards life.
A third way in which the graph is misleading is that most people’s hobbies keep them in their hometown. That means most people are only likely to meet people within the state they live in. Sure, your graph of compatible people across the world may be huge, but what are the chances you will be able to meet even the smallest fraction of them? A hobby like Lindy Hop, however, allows a lot of opportunities to travel. Because of Lindy Hop, men and women have the opportunity to meet people of similar interest not only across the nation, but across many parts of the world. For instance, there are very few professional swing dance instructors who haven’t dated a person from another country. It’s rather inspiring, that. Lindy Hop still continues to break down barriers and bring worlds together.
I’d like to close with the following, but I do not intend it as a conclusion of what has been said previously; dancing is a very important part of our lives, and can affect us in many ways far more complex than this ending might suggest. However, it is, I believe, a simple truth worth mentioning:
1. Some people think swing dancing is an important enough part of their life that their significant other must do it to some degree.
2. These people may or may not be right about themselves.
3. They probably won’t know for sure unless they test it out.
I think it’s at least safe to say that there are some pretty incredible non-dancers in the world, so it doesn’t hurt to keep your options open. It may be the best decision you ever made.
[Some dancers find themselves not only romantically involved with a dancer, but with a dance partner. In the next series, we'll discuss this tightrope act. Have any stories about partnering with your loved ones, or perhaps partnering with an ex that you'd like to share? Any advice to those who do? People will not be quoted directly unless I discuss it with them and get their approval beforehand. If you'd like, simply send me a message on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/robertwhiteiii
* — He neglected to specify the branch of the military in which he holds rank.
** — That line was stolen outright from Douglas Adams, my first favorite writer.
*** — Deb had this to share about why she thinks her marriage to a non-dancer has worked so well:
“1. We were both old enough, and secure enough, not to be threatened by our partner’s independence. We didn’t, and still don’t, have to do everything together, and we trust each other completely. What an incredible relief that is, when your partner refuses to be even one bit jealous.
2. Colin STILL urges me to go out dancing lots. He took lessons the first 18 months we were together, and was quite good. I could tell he never really enjoyed it, so I told him he didn’t have to continue just for me. He still loves watching me dance, but also knows that makes me a bit uncomfortable ☺ I go to dance camps without him, he goes on fishing trips without me…win win!
3. We have lots of other shared interests, and more importantly, shared values. We enjoy each other’s company. I tell him about my dance crushes. :)”
**** — Though we here at Swungover are not “certified” psychologists, we imagine that her boyfriend was using the act of accusing his girlfriend of running away from her problems to run away from his problems.