What’s Sex Got to Do with Dancing?
As a 25-year-old, one of my regrets was to reach that age not knowing how to dance.
Oh, I could “move,” as we called it. Early ‘80s dancing was all about flinging parts of your body in as many directions as you could manage without losing balance. I started with the pogo and improvised from there until I could hold my own on a strobe-lit dance floor better than some.1
But no one ever taught me how to swing, or waltz, or two-step. And I didn’t think I’d missed anything until I left school for the East Coast, where it seemed all the guys at least knew how to dance with a girl as an actual couple. They looked as if they’d been practicing all their lives. I wondered how they learned.
Dancing to a pattern had always seemed quaint to me, something the old folks did every third Friday down at the Elks’ lodge. But here I noticed that the girls loved it. And that got my attention.
A girlfriend would eventually introduce me to evening dance lessons, but not before a humiliating night at a C&W hall where a buddy and I had been dragged by a couple of friends. Our girls spent the whole time on the floor trading off with a half-dozen guys whose footwork made their cowboy boots fly like ballet slippers.
This experience came to mind as I was writing the Orthosexuality chapter of Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You. I needed a metaphor to illustrate what is right about sex, in contrast to all the wrongs the ‘60s and ‘70s had taught.
At that time, Dancing With The Stars was coming into its own. But that wasn’t the first successful dance show. There was a line of them going back to Lawrence Welk via Dance Fever and they all had roots in the musicals.2 People will set aside an evening to watch skilled couples work through a dance routine, even pay admission in the pre-TV days.3 Why?
The ballroom dance isn’t just two people moving to the same beat. In practice, it points to something greater than itself:
Whether it’s the swing, the waltz, or the two-step, what’s most important is that the partners are touching and in sync. They know where to go, what to do next. This connection allows them to enjoy the moment as one. They even look like one, because functionally, they are….
If either one withholds, the dance fails. So it is with the sexual encounter.
But if they relinquish their own wills, the pair can combine for an all-too-brief moment of glory demonstrating the beauty of human procreation: two complementary and opposite sexes united in forming a third, one greater than themselves, an immortality. 1+1=3.
It’s not because dancing is simulated sex. It’s because synchronized dancing creates something beautiful and transcendent. Sex does that, too, when it’s done right. We want that beauty in our lives. It’s intangible. And its catalyst is surrender.
As described above, the ballroom dance only works when each partner surrenders completely to the other. The male has to lead, as is his nature. To succeed at this, he can’t be paying attention to other women; keeping her safe while he’s guiding her must be his sole focus. And she can’t simply decide to take a different step. They move as one, and this is possible only because they’ve surrendered their will to the other.
Ballroom dance also requires a man to practice restraint. No matter how strong and fast he can move, he must keep time with the music and only take his partner in directions and speeds she can manage.
I think this is one reason so many women gravitate toward C&W dance clubs. The men behave more like men. Even if they’re there just to pick up girls, they’ll succeed not by preening like a sage grouse, but by knowing the steps well enough to lead and making her the sole focus of attention. If he dances well, it’s because he moves like a complete gentleman.
The biggest challenge of my book was finding a way to advocate positive sexuality, in contrast to all the negatives of corrupted sexuality, which are easy to depict graphically. So many times I’ve felt it’s inadequate to say, “It’s just beautiful.” (Bleah.) The equation mentioned above, 1+1=3, appears several times in that chapter because it sums up the way sex as it was intended creates something greater than the sum of its parts.
Orthosexuality contains a beauty that people want so much, they’ll set aside an evening in front of the TV just for a metaphysical glimpse of something akin to it.
1. In our dance clubs, we still paired off, but we rarely touched. When a guy said, “Would you like to dance with me?” he actually meant, “Would you like to watch me dance while I watch you dance?”
2. In the ‘80s we had something like musicals, Flashdance and Footloose, but those were merely acrobat shows with a teen love story tacked on top. The broader public wanted Dirty Dancing.
3. An audience won’t return each week to watch one person dance. Solo dancing is devoid of any metaphysical substance; it’s exhibitionism.