So, You Think You Can Dance?

I move left, she moves right.
I go forward, she goes backwards.
I dip, she bends.
I swing, she flies.
We move closer and embrace.

I’m a horrible dancer. The term “two left feet” has new meaning when applied to my dancing machismo. In the kitchen after work, I’m constantly getting in the way of Stephanie. Part of this is my inability to do two things at once, the other part is my lack of physical fluidity.

Interesting though, our relationship took off on a dance floor. It was New Years eve, and a planned group gathering with friends turned into a quadruple-date that ended up at a swing dance party to ring in the new year. I’d always hated to dance but there was this girl that quickly moved me out of my self-consciousness. My desire to be wherever she was made me the supporter of any and all things swing dancing. This ought to come at no surprise but she loved (and still does) to dance. Me being on the dance floor with her that night created some serious mojo between the two of us. Less than 6 months later, we were honeymooning in Nova Scotia learning a whole new kind of dance.

A friend of mine teaches marriage classes with a ballroom dance instructor. For an hour they sit in a room conversing about sex, fighting, communication and other marital pitfalls. Following the hour of marriage work, they begin the real work: Learning to dance. From what he’s said, the ballroom dancing part is more beneficial for the couples than is the workshop. The reason? Until we actually get up and start acting our parts, no amount of reading, listening, analyzing or planning will create connection.

When you stand on the dance floor with your partner, you have to communicate, someone has to lead, and someone has to follow. It’s amazing to watch a couple’s relationship tendencies come out as they struggle to make the moves on the floor. The woman resists the leadership of the man, she stumbles and they end up apart. The man resists leading, the woman leads and he wilts with shame and sadness. The couple holds each other like they are in Jr. High, neither looking at each other or wanting to be near each other and they end up dancing monotone.

Someone has to lead and someone has to follow.

When we marry, we agree to step on the dance floor with our partner. At the beginning, willingness is not an issue. We do it because it feels right, we know what we want and any doubts of ability are quickly erased upon the youth of love. Trust has not yet been broken because in someways it has yet to be established. The establishment of this trust comes with stepping onto the dance floor into a marriage relationship.

As the relationship progresses, we unconsciously create a new kind of dance with our partner around issues of trust, acceptance, rejection, shame, and hurt. This dance looks much different in year one than it does in year five of marriage. Early on, the failures are easier to accept and forgive. However, if left unaddressed or changed, five years later it looks more like a teenage school dance. The anxiety around being hurt or failed is often too much.

I move left, she moves left.
I wrestle her to move right, she resists.
She struggles to stay upright but ends up falling down.
She points the finger at me, I point back.
Blame shifting, defending, yelling.
We depart.

If there was a show on TV that highlighted couples emotional dance moves, you wouldn’t find many newlyweds who’d make it onto that show. It takes great amounts of time, energy and work to dance well together. Getting married is asking you to teach each other how you move, why you move the way you do, and what you need and want from them.

I’ve learned to be a great dancer but only because we both have taken great falls together. Even though I’m cognitively aware that a failed dance attempt creates fertile grounds for connections, I’m deathly afraid. Getting married is the riskiest act a human can take. In doing so, we are agreeing to give access to our lives to a stranger. They come from a strange land, and a strange family. We do life differently, expect different outcomes, want similar ideas but have vastly different ways of getting to where we want to go.

It doesn’t feel this way at the time, but getting married is inviting difference to come and share a bed, house and life. This reality creates difficulties on the dance floor. Which is what makes dancing such a powerful metaphor for marriage. Individually there is no right or wrong way to dance. You move, shake, jump and do what ever it is that you want to do. However, getting married means that we have to now consider the impact and implication of our way of dancing on the other person. How does it effect them? How do they feel when we do “x” or “y”? How do I feel about them not liking or wanting to do “x” or “y”?

The destination of a connected marriage requires a journey that first addresses ourselves: Where have we been, where do we want to go and how do we want to get there. This journey then asks us to address the relationship with the same questions, and the willingness to look at the impact on one another, the dance moves we create from that impact, and how/what we want to change because of that awareness.

The result? A broken harmony. The beauty of a redeemed dance that remembers the bumps, bruises and brokenness of past that all points towards the common goal of becoming one … together.

We move left, we move right.
We swing, jump and slide.
We hold close and gaze.
We laugh, cry and smile.
Our dance is together.
We dance.
With hope.


Samuel Rainey is a professional counselor primarily working with couples, men, and women addressing issues of sexuality, emotional health, relationships, and spirituality. He is the co-Author of So You Want to be a Teenager with Thomas Nelson. He earned his Masters in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in Seattle, Washington. When he is not roasting coffee, tending to his garden, or playing golf, he blogs about life process, parenting, and relationships at He can also be found on twitter @SamuelRainey. He and his wife reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee with their four children.

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