I hope you enjoy this article I borrowed (with permission) from
Why Men Should Dance
by Karl Kehde
I was driving into Toledo, Ohio for the first time while on a tour to promote my book, and I didn't know a soul in town. The local newspaper mentioned a dance in a church with a twelve piece band. That sounded promising. So I bought a map and headed in that direction. The church was big with bright lights and good sounds coming from the community hall. I took a deep breath and walked in.
There, before me, were more than a hundred people who liked music, dancing, a clean environment, and a man who could dance! In almost all of the hundreds of dances I have attended around the country, there have been extra women waiting for a man to ask them to dance. Had I been married, I would have brought my wife and had a great time. I paid my seven dollars and began a very satisfying evening full of fun, conversation, making new friends and dancing.
Music with a beat has always made me want to dance. But I never followed up until three years ago when I began taking group lessons at a dance studio called Paradise Dance in Northampton, Massachusetts. Group lessons include an instructor and about a dozen men and women with similar dance knowledge working together on a specific dance. An hour lesson cost me $5 if I took enough of them each month--and I took a lot of lessons. I learned so much, so fast, about partner dancing--and about myself--that I took as many lessons as my 62 year old body could handle.
I had thought that I was too old to learn anything as complicated and physical as dancing. It was a bit of a shock when I began, but what a refreshing awakening.
My behavior around women also improved. I usually don't like small talk. But, here in this wholesome setting, the emphasis is on dancing which begins with the physical connection. That really eases conversation. Also, in group lessons dance partners change continuously; a big help in learning social and dance skills. I learned that the man's role is to lead the dance partnership, suggesting steps in a way that makes the dance an enjoyable experience for his partner. I was also nervous about looking ridiculous in front of men and women I didn't know. But they were in the same boat, and we could all look ridiculous together.
Most of us beginners stayed at it, and within one year we were reasonably accomplished in Swing dancing as well as Waltz, Texas two-step, Rumba and Cha Cha. Learning to dance also proved a relaxing and up-beat outlet for dealing with life's problems. Focusing on my partner's well being and on learning new skills helped lift me out of feeling frustrated and stuck. I also found a few married men and women, whose spouses were elsewhere, enjoying and improving their dancing--and maybe their marriages. Partner dancing was looking like a pretty healthy avocation. Yet, since men are still generally expected to lead in partner dancing, our stereotyped focus on winning can get us into trouble.
Strength and control must become balance and support in a dance partnership. Talk about two left feet, I was like a bull in a china shop. Learning the art of graceful invitation started to benefit my whole life. I was learning to redirect confrontational energy to produce harmonious, forward progress for a partnership--and do it to music, no less. The power methods that I had previously used to succeed, and which had become second nature to me, were being replaced by a better way.
When a man leads a dance partnership, he offers ideas to his partner rather than demanding specific behavior; gentle, confident guidance rather than pushing and pulling; patient and considerate support rather than criticism. Learning to dance, a man has the opportunity to learn how to create and maintain a harmonious partnership. And, at $5 a lesson surrounded by beautiful music and other men and women with similar goals, it's hard to beat. Plus, the skills are applicable at home and at work. Gracefully leading a partnership works better to increase my assets and peace of mind than winning an argument.
Because men who can dance are in short supply, I received lots of support and reassurance from my instructors and partners. Learning the dancing and leadership skills was easier than I expected because I was appreciated just for being there. Consistent encouragement made the learning almost enjoyable. And, I was feeling better and better emotionally as well as physically.
The physical nature of partner dancing makes for great exercise. Learning the leadership techniques energizes the mind, while repetitively moving through the dance steps stimulates the body through cardiovascular and muscle restoration and training. As a former Marine, I can say that partner dancing is the most pleasant and effective exercise program I have experienced. And I could exercise almost any day of the week at dances near where I live.
Dance clubs across the country are seeking more men. Country-western, Latin, swing, and ballroom lessons and dances are available. Dancing is, for men, one of the best places to learn how to lead a partnership. It's fun, you are appreciated, and it's never too late to begin. You will love it. To get started check with a friend who dances or look in the yellow pages or search the internet for ballroom or swing dancing near you. Give them a call about group lessons.
Karl Kehde is an amateur dancer who belongs to the Blue Springs USABDA chapter in Daytona, Florida. While his home address is in Northampton, Mass., he travels extensively and attends dances throughout the United States. Karl is the author of "Smarter Land Use," a conflict resolution guidebook for neighborhood groups, developers, environmental groups and planning boards. His cell phone is (908) 625-0638 and his website is www.landuse.org. You are welcome to make copies of this article and have them available at your dances.