Lindyhop? Lindyflop.
May 16, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Before I met him, my boyfriend was an active swing dancer. He no longer dances regularly but periodically would like to dance with me. I completely freak out.

When we started dating, Tim told me that he used to dance, and maybe he will teach me some. In characteristic "new-boyfriend-must-be-perfect-and-agreeable" fashion, I say sure, even though I am NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS. Long story short, we dance a few times, some publically, some in the living room, and I just find the whole exercise stressful and embarrassing and awful. For example, I couldn’t sleep the week before we went to his friends’ wedding, and I did not get up off of my chair to dance ONCE because I was just paralyzed. And I felt AWFUL, because what the fuck, just get up and move around a bit, and it will be FINE. But I froze, I couldn't do it. That was 18 months ago! I STILL worry about it, when I remember it, I spend the rest of the day embarrassed and panicky and can't get my work done.

It’s funny: I like to dance, like, regular dancing, the kind where you just go to a bar with your friends and have some beers and dance around to Top 40 or whatever. That’s great! But this? With all the rules, and the following (and man leading? Yuck), and the structure? It just doesn’t make one lick of sense, I really find it physically confusing. Tim insists that I am fine at it, and obviously I don’t believe him, because he can’t tell me I suck, but I do believe that he’s seen worse beginner dancers.

We are talking about getting married, and I have these frequent thoughts about having a wedding and all is lovely and then we need to dance or something, and I go lock myself in the bathroom, need to go to the Emergency Room, or hurt myself. This is really no good.

I don't need to be the best dancer around. But it'd be nice to be able to dance around a bit when the situation calls for it, look silly or not, and just not care, and not worry about it.

Overall, I am not comfortable with physical activities. I think I went to OT in kindergarten for postural insecurity? I never liked sports, was a clutzy kid who others made fun of, that type of thing. I desperately want to blame my current woes on this (and secretly hope one of you will say "you had trouble learning how to walk down the stairs? Then this is not your fault and it is simply not possible for you to learn how to socially dance properly!"), but I odds are it is because I never got comfortable moving my body around, not because I am truly broken in some way. I am active enough as an adult, but in solitary pursuits, running and hiking. Activities that involve one moving object (me) and everything else stays put.

Obviously, a solution could be “just don’t dance!” And that might be what I need to do. But in my braver moments I find myself wondering if it would be possible to do this, and when I do, I just panic and freak out and get so so so anxious about the damn thing.

Has anyone found a way to suck it up and move from anxiety to ambivalance in something like social dancing? How? Suggestions? My only ideas are either continuing to ignore it, or scheduling a daily/weekly/whatever "dance in the living room for an hour with the shades drawn NO MATTER WHAT" type thing, but I don't know if that's a good idea. Maybe it will be desensitizing and help? Or maybe it will create a touch = anxiety association and I'll be posting in six months about how we aren't having sex anymore.

I'm a 25 year old woman, he's a 30 year old man. Dating for two years, we live together and plan on getting engaged soon. I feel completely ridiculous posting this, but it's bothering me enough that I thought maybe I'd get some good ideas here. Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It might help to go to a dance class without your boyfriend present. If you are like Mrs. exogenous, having him around is just contributing to the anxiety. He ought to be understanding of this.
posted by exogenous at 2:10 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

What if you went to classes without him?
posted by taff at 2:11 PM on May 16, 2011

It sounds like your biggest problem is that you feel obligated, but you don't want to do it. If you don't want to do this (for yourself) then don't try and make it your new hobby. You are not obligated to do everything he feels like doing. That's not to say you should tell him to go pound salt if you really want to do a nice thing for him, but if it's a favor then treat it like one; e.g. you will try dancing with him in such and such limited circumstances, and you will do it at least X times for X amount of time even if it's uncomfortable and scary.

Take control of the situation. Assert your own rights. It's not going to be fun until it stops being compulsory.
posted by jon1270 at 2:20 PM on May 16, 2011

It seems like the heart of the problem is that you haven't communicated this to him and so you're stuck trying to maintain this facade that you like dancing and that's totally fine while inside you're stressing out and hating it, and the conflict is driving you nuts.

The first step should really be to say to him, in a non-imminent-dancing setting, "Hey, you know what I've realized? Dancing totally stresses me out! I'm not sure why, it's kinda weird, but I need you to bear with me while I sort it out in my own head."

Then you can move to phase 2, which can be private lessons or treatment for anxiety or explaining that you really do find the wall perfectly comfortable. But first of all you need to take away that stress of trying to conceal your own feelings while you're trying to deal with them.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:20 PM on May 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

First, the sports thing is apples and oranges. You do not have to be at all competent at sports to be a good dancer. At all. Second, if you're good at the regular dancing around at the bar kind of dancing, I think you'll be fine at other kinds of dancing too. But you're (perfectly understandably!) nervous about doing something at which you're a total beginner in front of someone who's already good at it. And he's your boyfriend on top of that, so even more (perfectly understandable) nervousness. I agree with everyone who said that if you want to try it, you should take a few lessons without him.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:31 PM on May 16, 2011

I've been swing dancing for about 4.5 years now, and I love it, to the point my recent move to Philadelphia was significantly influenced by the dance opportunities the city had to offer. I could talk (or type, or even just spout out links to articles and essays) for hours about the lead/follow relationship, the music, the structure, and dance-specific and art-general talk about how rules and restrictions are actually freeing and help with creativity and expression. But I won't, at least not unless you really want me to. I also won't talk about my own journey (again, unless you really want me to).

I agree with odinsdream's statement about it being unfair to expect someone to just get up and dance. It's tough. I've been on both sides of beginner/novice lessons and "crash courses", and sometimes there's a "natural", but that's relatively rare. Many people do not have good body awareness. Many people do not have good rhythm. Many people are very nervous.

Some people may find learning from a close friend or loved one helpful and comforting. Others have trouble with separating the relationships and get all anxiety-nuts about being criticized by someone who should be on your team.

If you let me know where you are, it's likely I could provide you with a list of good local learning resources. That is, if you truly do want to get into swing dancing. If you don't, then don't. There's nothing wrong with that.
posted by cardioid at 2:34 PM on May 16, 2011

I would think that a dance class would make you panic even more; I would see if you can find someone who can do one-on-one lessons, maybe even at your place if you can manage it (I know I'd feel intimidated going to a dance studio with lots of experienced dancers around). I would call some studios, and if they can do house calls, ask to schedule the appointment with their nicest, most patient teacher.

I've had similar experiences with sports growing up (lazy eye, zero depth perception, general klutziness), and I get very anxious about dancing in public. I get so anxious that I have a really hard time learning the steps, though I'm a quick learner otherwise. You wouldn't believe the anxiety I had when I took a belly dancing class! So that's why I do dance DVDs now; I don't know how well that would help with partner dancing, but it might make you feel a bit more confident if you had some experience before you tried it with a partner.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:36 PM on May 16, 2011

(and man leading? Yuck)

It sounds like you have some baggage or misconceptions tainting the foundations of your view of dance.

The man leading is not a dominance/leader thing, it's a sharing of the load to benefit the follow (you). It's not obvious at the beginner levels of dancing, but the dancer who doesn't have to lead is being freed up immensely to focus on dancing. More specifically, to put their energy into being awesome - or having fun - or both.

This is not to suggest that following is easy, but the follow is at a considerable advantage in dancing (just compare the couples at a pro-am competition - the students who have a professional lead look far better than the students who have a professional follow, despite the same level of skill experience).

So it's chivalry that the woman traditionally gets to be the follow, like how a guy offers you his coat when you're cold, and yeah, chivalry is sexist and old fashioned. But it's also a demonstration that the woman matters, a show of caring. The opposite of the men-are-in-control that I suspect you assume it to be. It's a system that allows the woman to be more beautiful.

(On a related note, if you're also thinking that leading means being in control of what the woman does, that's another beginner misconception, and will probably even seem kind of humorous/ridiculous later on :-). Leading means among other things, taking the burden, and part of that burden is adapting to what the follow does. A proper lead and follow is a two-way street, it's just at the early levels where for the sake of learning that gets put aside and simplified).
posted by -harlequin- at 2:48 PM on May 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

So look. I have known folks that were heavily rooted in the cult of lindy hop. I have a few observations:
1. He legitimately wants you to dance and be comfortable with it. He likes it, he likes you and he wants two great things that taste great together. He will be patient and try to help you with it as long as it takes - seriously.
2. You find it work and not fun. The truth: it is work while you spend your time getting out of the beginner phase. The only thing that will get you there is practice. If you don't enjoy the practice, you need to tell him that the dance thing isn't working out.
3. Le me emphisoze that: if you don't like it, and would rather spend your time doing other things, you need to be honest about it.
4. The truth is, lindy is a probably a significant portion of his life and the rejection of the dance will be interpreted as rejecting him. This piece here I will stress again, as this was the fundamental piece of the puzzle that lead my ex-wife to be my ex-wife. She felt a stronger connection elsewhere.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:53 PM on May 16, 2011

My only ideas are either continuing to ignore it, or scheduling a daily/weekly/whatever "dance in the living room for an hour with the shades drawn NO MATTER WHAT" type thing, but I don't know if that's a good idea.

Why isn't it an option for you to just say "I don't want to do that kind of dancing." I'm reasonably capable of getting my groove on in a clumsy way after a few drinks at a live concert, but outside of that I don't want to dance at all. Not at weddings, not with instruction, not around the kitchen, not at all. Anxiety like you describe, for sure, but also I just don't enjoy it.

My dude likes to dance and wants to do all that swing dancing and contra dancing and all that, and he is welcome to it -- it's not something you have to bring your own partner to. I'm happy to go with him and serve punch or something but he'll have to dance with strangers or friends. No problem.

We do all kinds of things together and we each do things that we wouldn't normally do because the other person wants to. But that doesn't mean we have to do *everything* the other person wants to do.
posted by headnsouth at 3:04 PM on May 16, 2011

I'm happy to go with him and serve punch or something but he'll have to dance with strangers or friends. No problem.

I mean to say it's no problem for him either. He's ok with me not dancing.
posted by headnsouth at 3:08 PM on May 16, 2011

Has anyone found a way to suck it up and move from anxiety to ambivalance in something like social dancing? How? Suggestions?

You're a step up from me - I was mortified of even dancing at clubs. So at least dance itself doesn't scare you, just partnership dancing. Despite mortification and anxiety, I took some ballroom classes, not because I wanted to, or something I would ever enjoy, but because I felt it was something I should know how to do.
It was pretty horrific for a while. But I'd paid in advance so I had to keep going. After a while, a few pieces started to click in my head. I started making connections, and figuring out the systems. Instead of knowing "you do this then you do that then you do this", it was starting to become things like "this is an element and that is an element and the rhythm of this music means that those elements will work if combined in these ways, but won't work if combined those ways". Ie, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel where it's not about rules any more, where you make and break your own rules, as you see fit. The rules are the "paint-the-fence, Daniel-san, wax on, wax off" stuff. They give you some tools to start out with, and then you use the tools to build things that you like - and/or better tools.

At that point, suddenly, and very unexpectedly, this horrible thing - partnership dance - became fun. Exciting even. So I kept doing it. Now I even enjoy top-40s clubs, etc, not just partnership dancing.

Maybe it's not your thing. But dancing is already more your thing than it was mine, and I discovered it was fun. So you might find the same thing.

There are other paths too. What about being a flashy jaw-dropping dancer? Maybe social swing will always be a bit eh for you, but through it you discover dance competition, with world-circuit instructors who will drill your body until every move you make turns heads and makes guys drool. There's all sorts of different paths in the dance world :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:11 PM on May 16, 2011

Have you ever taken a dance class, especially as an adult (or at least post age 5-6)?

I like the "go to class without him" idea, but I think it might especially help you to choose a style for yourself and just go for the fun of it. Rather than as a Step To Win Dancity-Dancer Approval. Go check out belly dance or tap dance or breakdance and see how you feel.

A non Lindy class might be especially helpful if you're worried about athleticism - while enjoying dance and being good at sports are two very different things, it's true that Swing dancing is very athletic, in terms of the grand scheme of dance styles.

FWIW, I am also non-athletic and find myself in the opposite camp from you - I don't mind trying out Official Styles Of Formalized Dance, but the idea of an informal dance floor at a party scares the shit out of me. So please don't feel alone on this.
posted by Sara C. at 3:21 PM on May 16, 2011

Private lessons. With an instructor who 'gets' you. Lessons from my partner get me all nervous and scared, but a few weeks ago a friend of ours was in town and we worked on blues dancing (there's usually a blues room at late night dances during lindy exchanges) and I learned (and absorbed!) so much.

Take this with the knowledge that I'm a disaster on legs. My body awareness is distorted from years of physical childhood abuse, and I'm not a musical person. But! I enjoy the dancing, so it's worth the work to me. It also helps that I really feel a part of the core group of dancers in our scene.

Finally, consider taking a class in leading. Even if you never lead socially, it's really eye opening to actually feel all the things leads deal with.

Ok, really finally, as a follow, you can always bail on a move. If you dance the entire song with only basic, basic, basic, nobody will remark! I promise. Get really solid on the basic, add a turn. Add a second turn, and maybe have a class in musicality or partner connection. Have that partner connection class with someone who is not your partner, if you can.

If you have any questions, or want some dance lesson suggestions in your area, feel free to me-mail me.
posted by bilabial at 3:31 PM on May 16, 2011

FWIW I am a fairly well balanced, sane adult with good confidence and all of that stuff. I am also not good at not being good at things. It's just so awkward and miserable. I prefer to learn on my own, and in a partnered effort I certainly could not learn how to do something like dancing from my husband were he actually really good at it.

If that sounds like it may be your thing, and you really like this guy and see a future for the two of you, I would suck it up and go take classes at the Y without him. Because all of that rubbish is your rubbish, not his, and depriving your partner of an occassional social nicety because of your garbage isn't very nice for either of you.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:40 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't help you w/ getting over a fear of partnered dancing (I'm the opposite of you - I can't stand club dancing, but find that the lead/follow relationship allows me to relax, follow the rules, and have fun moving to the music).

However - "and man leading? Yuck" jumped out at me as being an unnecessary hangup. In my experience, Lindy Hop clubs tend to be fairly liberal places. Where I learned to dance, it wasn't uncommon to see 2 (straight) guys or girls dancing together. In group classes, if the numbers are uneven, I've see a girl lead or a guy follow. My favorite partner and I would pass the lead back and forth in the same song.
posted by Metasyntactic at 4:22 PM on May 16, 2011

Anonymous, I'd just like to mention that dance was really helpful to me as a klutzy person. My mother was told by a doctor when I was a child that I saw myself as "a brain with a body dangling underneath" because I was so hopeless at sports and so uncoordinated. She got me into ballet classes and it really helped me to become more graceful and more connected to my body. And it showed me that there were physical things that I actually could do well, even if I couldn't catch a ball to save my life.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:50 PM on May 16, 2011

For the record, I hate swing dancing. The buy in is a lot of practice and work. It's not easy at all. People I like a lot love it, I kind of find it a little silly. That's just my opinion. But you don't have to like it.

Maybe you could try a different kind of dance that he's not so proficient at? Contra dancing is pretty fun and really quite easy.

But I know some shy awkward people who are great dancers and I'm sure were really shy when they started. It's just got to be something that you want to do.
posted by sully75 at 7:18 PM on May 16, 2011

Your post could almost be describing me… twice. Once as the klutzy boyfriend who had to be cajoled and browbeaten into dancing. And later as the person who loves swing dancing who is sad his SO is too stressed out by the dance floor to want to learn.

Consider signing yourself up for a couple months' worth of weekly lessons somewhere. Ballroom, swing, some kind of social partner dancing. Either one-on-one with an instructor, or the kind where the instructors teach a small group, whichever makes you feel less freaked out. All you need to do is get over the hump (and there is definitely a hump!) to the point where dancing starts to become fun, and then, hopefully, you can take it from there.

and the following (and man leading? Yuck),

There's no reason you have to stick to that. My old partner and I would randomly choose the lead/follow roles at each song. Most dancers don't switch, in most communities at least, but the roles really aren't set in stone. (IMHO, switching back and forth makes it easier to understand how to lead and follow, since you can learn what it's like from the other side.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:36 PM on May 16, 2011

(This doesn't answer the dance side of your debacle, but if the thought of an anxiety-inducing situation makes you think about hurting yourself, please take care of yourself and talk to someone who can help.)
posted by anonnymoose at 10:38 PM on May 16, 2011

Anonnymoose, I thought the same thing as you, on first reading. But when I re-read, I think what she is saying is that she is worried she will injure herself accidentally due to inexperience/clumsiness.
posted by taff at 2:14 AM on May 17, 2011

Take classes. And open you mind. It doesn't have to be complicated.
posted by eas98 at 6:53 AM on May 17, 2011

Have you tried something like celidh to break you in? During a celidh the band will tell you when to move and how.
posted by mippy at 6:23 AM on May 18, 2011

a). You sound so worried about it that maybe you should just treat it like any other form of anxiety/phobia. I.e. talk about it with an expert/counsellor, figure out what aspects are freaking you out (it sounds like partly it's being in that dynamic with your partner, right? And conforming to some kind of social expectation about dancing in formal environments? Swing by itself is not the cause of all that is bad with the world), and then look at desensitization training

b). If you want to dance with your partner, do NOT dance swing. Part of the problem is the disparity, right? You're a beginner, he's an 'expert', you don't want to be 'letting the side down' etc, etc, etc.
So if you want to dance, then either independently, or while talking with him, choose a completely different style of dance you might be interested in. Go take lessons by yourself. He's not allowed to join in until you've at least done a full beginners course by yourself. This puts you on a more equal footing - at this style of dance (or hey, any other pair-doable physical activity!) you're both beginners, and that might take at least half the pressure off.
Long after you're used to dancing together, you can try a bit of swing, and it'll be just another move.
posted by Elysum at 12:43 AM on June 3, 2011

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