February 25, 2009
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Ballroom dancing is decidedly anti-feminist.
Now, when I say “ballroom dancing,” forget those incredibly stylized, choreographed performances you’ve seen on “Dancing with the Stars.” I’ll admit to a few transfixed stares when that show begins, because those professional dancers really can execute some amazing steps with unbelievable energy – meanwhile, I can be about as graceful as an elephant taught to balance on a giant ball. Still, the celebrities and professional dancers on the show don’t quite match my idea of ballroom dancing. Their performances are just that – canned routines so highly polished that they hardly resemble an actual dance anymore. When the judges’ critique starts, the performances become all about intangibles like “energy” and “heart,” or technicalities like “precision” and “form.”
That’s fine. That’s what makes the show. But who really dances like that, much less choreographs every song?
Real ballroom dancing, in my mind, happens when a couple walks out on the dance floor, the music begins to play, and a graceful, spontaneous game of follow-the-leader begins.
Yes, I did just compare ballroom dance to a game I played when I was five.
Here’s the catch in ballroom dance: the woman is walking backwards most of the time, following her partner’s lead as he dictates the steps. She’s moving in a direction she can’t see, and even if she knows every step in the books, she doesn’t know what’s coming next until her partner leads her. And her hand on his shoulder and his hand on her waist is the only communication between the two. Following isn’t as easy as it looks!
No matter how great the trust between dance partners, the temptation is always there – especially in beginning dancers – for the lovely lady to resist her role as follower. She’ll look over her shoulder to see where she’s going, or to pull her partner in the “right” direction when she doesn’t think he’s leading well.
I had a ringside seat to watch this unfold recently, when I helped teach basic waltz and foxtrot steps at a Valentine’s Day dance. Most of the couples there had been married a minimum of 20 years, but a good number of the ladies still had trouble following their husband’s lead. These ladies would stop in the middle of a song to tell him what he was doing wrong, grow impatient as he figured out the double challenge of doing the steps while leading, or warn him that he was about to run into another couple.
As I’ve slowly learned with my husband, David, the best dancing happens not when he executes the steps like Derek Hough, but when I focus on following whatever he does next. We’ve improvised some pretty, shall we say, unique steps on the dance floor because of that, and incredibly, they’ve worked. We’ve gotten a couple funny looks after that kind of improvisation, but they’re actually some of my favorite moments on the dance floor. The reason is pretty simple – it’s times like that, when he pulls a spontaneous new move and I manage to follow, that I know we’re connected.
And so I say that ballroom dance is decidedly anti-feminist. It’s no solo activity, and the woman must always follow the man’s lead. Yes, even when she thinks he’s going the wrong direction and can’t see where she’s going. Otherwise, it’s not really dancing.
Just as my husband leads me through the dance, so Ephesians 5:22-33 says Christ leads his church. The steps are far more elaborate, so that we can never know them all, but the technique of closely following is the same. For “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior,” and as we trust his leading, he will lead us on.
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.
– "Lord of the Dance"
Intersecting Faith & Life: Are you more focused on the exact steps you think your life should follow, or are you sensitive to the Lord’s leading? Are you so distracted by what’s outside of your relationship with Christ that you’ve lost your connection with him? In this Lenten season, let’s relearn to follow the leader.