“Ballroom dancing made a man of me.”
The mission of this blog is to motivate and inspire you to embrace Thriving Authentic Masculinity and to become the best possible version of yourself. Toward that end, we engage topics that affect your physical, emotional and spiritual health, along with subjects that can help you excel socially — like this and this. If you want to attract a quality woman — or to maintain attraction with the one you have, let me recommend ballroom dancing for your edification.
A generation ago, parents sent their adolescent sons and daughters to Cotillion to learn etiquette and how to dance. Stripped of its artifice, I see now that it was designed to provide some external reinforcement of social norms and niceties, but also to make introductions between young men and young women, with hopes that eventually some might become husbands and wives. (I said it was a long time ago.)
Every Friday night for twelve weeks, we would all crowd into our town’s Masonic Temple — boys on one side, girls on the other — and learn the Foxtrot, the waltz, the cha-cha and the shag (a Carolinas variant of the western swing and or the jitterbug). The instructors, a married couple older than our parents, would cue up the same records each week for each dance, and our respective ranks would imitate our human avatars. It was mildly interesting, but then they told us to walk to the center of the room and “pair up” with the person in front of us.
Now it was no longer theory. You had to actually dance with a girl and it had to be good. The pairs would only last as long as a song. After that, the instructors commanded us to change partners and each of us moved to our right to dance with the girl next to our former partner. No picking favorites. no skipping. From what I’ve read, speed dating uses a similar model.
After our twelve weeks of instruction, we were invited to a dance at the Country Club where we and our “dates” got to show our parents what we had learned.
It wasn’t long after this that disco became popular and ballroom dancing à la Cotillion was over. Nearly twenty years later when my brother-in-law got engaged, his fiancée was a professional singer, and they told their invited guests that her big band would perform at the reception. To get ready, my wife and I enrolled in a ballroom dancing course at the local community college.
Once again, the men lined up on one side of the room (a high school cafeteria this time), women on the other, and we learned the Foxtrot, the waltz, the cha-cha, the western swing and the Rhumba. It meant so much more to take the class with my wife and — here’s the best part — we still have occasion to use those steps from time to time.
Here’s what ballroom dancing can teach you:
- The man must lead. — Only one partner can lead the dance — traditionally it’s the man. It isn’t just an honorary role, and it isn’t patriarchal. No, to lead in the dance, a man must guide his partner with his hands, his body, his eyes. A little pressure on the hip, a little change in the grip — all of it has significance. Dancing well means leading well, and if the woman you’re dancing with is a good dancer, she’ll follow your lead.
- Learn the steps. — Confidence is attractive. Being unsure is not. Will you dance perfectly? Probably not, and most assuredly not over the course of an entire evening. If you’re solid on the five dances above, you can spend a delightful evening with a beautiful woman in your arms.
- Feel the music. — This can be hard to explain, but for dancing, music is not so much about hearing the music with your ears, or counting the rhythm in your mind. Instead, it’s about feeling it. If you’re not musical, or if you aren’t particularly good at keeping time, you can count beats while you’re listening to music, or go further and download a metronome app and become familiar with different rhythms and tempos. Learn to hear with your body.
- Don’t look at your feet. — To lead properly on the dance floor, you must be aware of your partner and where the two of you are relative to other couples on the dance floor. If for no other reason, you need to avoid looking at your feet. Stand up to your full height and look into your partner’s eyes as you lead her. Smile even if she steps on your new Johnston and Murphys. You’ll become more attractive to her. Honest.
- Style doesn’t cost extra. — If you’ve invited your date to a dance, look the part. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie, but if you do, you don’t have to keep the jacket on all evening. You’ll likely perspire if you stay on the dance floor. This means a man should show up properly groomed. Good grooming is mostly about eliminating excess — excess wrinkles, excess scuff marks, excess sweat, excess hair, excess odor — you get the idea.
- It’s your job to make her look good. — In the same way your leading isn’t chauvinistic, making her look good isn’t putting her on a pedestal. It is simply the etiquette of the thing. This is the same reason men wear tuxedos to formal events and women wear ball gowns, and why it’s a big deal if two women show up in the same outfit. To make her look good, review the items above and lead. Lead her onto the dance floor, take her in your arms as is appropriate for the type of dance, and don’t attempt any spins, turns, dips or flips if she doesn’t know how to execute them. You can always take a course together. If she’s not your date for the evening, when the song ends escort her off the dance floor and thank her for the dance. That’s rockin’ it Cotillion-style!
- Enjoy the dance. — Dancing is supposed to be fun, so do all the hard work before you show up at the next dance. If you’re at an event unescorted where there are other unescorted women, asking a woman to dance can be a great icebreaker. (That’s how I met my wife.) If you have mastered the basics and can lead with confidence, all you have to do from there is to be able to carry on a conversation. You never know where it can take you, but if you do it right you’ll have a partner.