Dance Lessons: Part 2, Partners

One last swing and the music ends. The last note fades. You thank your partner, then get right to work finding one for the next dance. Experienced dancers find new folks to dance with, old friends seek each other out, and everyone hurries to line up as the caller prepares the next dance.

Choosing a partner is no small thing. Your partner has as much to do with your dance experience as the caller or the band. With the right partner – the right one for you – you can have the time of your life.

My first few dances, I had the most considerate and helpful partners, gents who guided me through the line and taught me what I needed to know. They taught me to loosen my hold, to give weight through a spin, and to trust the beat to tell me where I should be. They also taught me that it’s perfectly fine to mess up and that nobody is going to care. They were patient and encouraging, just what I needed to build my confidence.

Once I have danced with a particular gent a few times and we get to know one another, I can read his non-verbal signals and know what he is trying to do. After a while, I am able to add new flourishes to the basic moves. Small things that add a little excitement and variety to the dance. An extra spin through a courtesy turn, a different way of doing a swing. Nothing of my own creation – all things I learned from other good dancers.

The best dance partners know how to read people well and quickly. They can tell if you enjoy adding flourishes or if you need to take things easy. They know how to gently pull you along if you get turned around in a dance. And all the while, they know how to keep you smiling.

Sometimes, for various reasons, the dance breaks down. Somebody misses a cue, and the dancers forget where they are in the sequence. The caller takes control and gets us back on track, often by simply telling us to find our partners and swing. While you might lose track of your neighbor or your shadow or some other person in the line, you know who your partner is. There’s something about returning to your partner and being safe in his arms again. It’s what you know, it’s where you belong.

Life is so much like a dance floor. You encounter different kinds of people going in different directions. Sometimes you get a little lost along the way. But if you have the right partner, it makes all the difference and you can have the time of your life.

My partners – my husband and my good friends – guide me along the way. They have taught me when to loosen my hold or when to hold on tight. They encourage me to trust my own heart to tell me the right thing. They remind me that it’s all right to make mistakes because they’ll love me anyway.

My partners know me well. They know when I need to have some fun, when I need to take it easy, and when I need to be pulled along. They also add flourish to life – the little things that keep it fun and interesting. And they make me smile the whole time.

Sometimes life’s challenges can break me down. I have so much to do that sometimes I miss a beat – I don’t even hear the music any more. I lose track of what’s important, and I worry about messing up. Then I remember that I can come back to my partners and be safe in their arms. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s what I know. It’s where I belong.

A painting of me and my favorite partner, by another great dancer and artist, Don Morgan.
A painting of me and my favorite partner, by another great dancer and artist, Don Morgan.

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