Friday, October 25, 2013

Why It's Better to Date a Dancer (Expanded)

Based on a few of the comments I received on my last post, I decided to expand on some of the ideas I put forth. If you don’t know me, I’m a social dancer. I’ve been dancing for 12 years and I spend on average 6 hours a week dancing and/or teaching dance. My focus right now is a dance called West Coast Swing, which I enjoy due to its relevance in contemporary settings; Maroon 5, Matt Nathanson, John Mayer, Katy Perry, ZZ Ward, Rihanna, Daft Punk: all those and more have music I dance to. That being said, if we use language as a metaphor, I am at least conversational in waltz, American tango, foxtrot, swing from Lindy to East Coast, salsa, cha-cha, bachata, and can fake my way through many, many more. My experience is beside the point, however. I provide it merely as credentials.

For those of you who didn’t encounter the last post, it was entitled “Why Women Shouldn’t Date Men Who Can’t Dance”. While I think that is true to a degree, (nothing is absolute), I believe it is worth everyone’s time to learn to dance and the reasoning behind that opinion significantly informed the last, more playful piece. As I write today, I’m going to refer to leads as male and follows as women, which is the traditional form. Understand however, that I can both lead and follow (and have spent a lot of time recently improving the latter), and it is very clear to me that the best dancers can and arguably should learn how to do both. Furthermore, though I speak through a heterosexual lens, that doesn't mean my words don't have value if you mix the pronouns to whatever satisfies your tastes.

One of the points I made in my post was that men who dance tend to have better manners and more respect for women. An example of this can be found in the based-in-fact movie, Take the Lead. In the movie, Antonio Banderas’ character uses this information to convince a school board that ballroom dancing is important for their children. You see, in dance, men learn how to touch women without being sexual or violent. Dancing is about learning how to move your follow without force. It’s always very clear in a dance environment when a lead is new. Particularly when that lead can most accurately be described as yanking his partner around. Almost invariably however, such a the lead is truly interested in learning, what was once yanking his partner around settles into a subtler, more confident connection.

Of course, like any other environment, we are all human. There will always be those who think they know what they’re doing and refuse to change. But I think most good teachers care about their students and the health and well-being of the follows in their classes, and do their best to ensure that most learn to be considerate dancers. It's also perfectly ok for a woman to say no to a man with whom it hurts to dance.

One of the aspects I appreciate most is the culture of social dance scenes. Similar to men learning how to touch a woman with respect, the whole culture transcends the meat market attitude that rages through Western nightlife. I can ask a woman, -any- woman at a dance if she would like to dance with me and there’s a 98% chance she will say yes. She doesn’t assume I am trying to get in her pants. If she judges me based on my appearance, it doesn’t really matter. We’ll spend three minutes moving, spinning, playing, and creating a mostly silent conversation together and when its over, say thank you and move on to the next. If we both enjoyed it, we’ll probably do so again before the end of the night. If not, there are plenty of others to dance with.

Now, I’m not a prude. I appreciate sex, sexuality and sensuality in movement, and sexy women. West Coast Swing in particular is frequently a sensual expression of the self, in both movement and music. Between some dancers, tango can practically (or literally), be foreplay. It’s the context that bothers me in other venues, the assumption that men are nothing but horny dogs who are out to rut with any female they encounter. I’m passionate about dancing, I love it, and it’s disappointing to be out somewhere and want to dance with someone and be turned down with that look in the woman’s eye that suggests she thinks she knows what you’re after. That just doesn’t exist in my personal experience of social dance.

This is, to use a cliché, just the tip of the iceberg. Though the details vary from scene to scene, etiquette is an important part of social dance, one where supposedly old school manners are still alive. A request for a dance is supposed to be polite, and I’ll often offer my arm as I escort the woman I’m dancing with to the floor. Not everyone does the following, but I also tend to ask a woman’s date if he minds if I ask her to dance before doing so. I don’t do this with every couple, but you can develop a sense of where it’s most appropriate to do so. Of course, I do it with the full expectation he will say yes; the social dance scene is not one for the jealous. But then, if your partner can’t stand to give you up for a 3 minute spin around the floor, that may be a sign.

There are also personal physical benefits. Dancing teaches things like body awareness, improves balance, and since we’ll all be there someday, it’s worth mentioning that it has a 74% or so effectiveness in preventing memory loss due to aging. It’s also great exercise. I don’t really like to exercise, but when I’m dancing I don’t notice it happening. The exercise is a side effect and I do it 6 hours or more a week. Win-win.

Finally we get to the meat of it. My passion within my passion: Connection, the true language of dance - the ultimate body language. This where a man takes a woman in his arms and moves her. The aspect of dance that is truly conversation. While the traditional roles are comparably the man speaking and the woman listening, that image only touches the surface. The lead has to be aware of several facets all at once: the floor and the space available on it, his partner’s ability and connection, where her weight is placed, their relation to the beat of the music. If he isn’t paying attention, if he isn’t doing his share of listening to his partner the dance can become awkward, physically uncomfortable, make her trip over herself, etc. He also needs to be firm, clear, and decisive. If his side of connection is lax or he can’t make up his mind, the follow finds herself confused. It is always a lead’s job to dance to his follow, not to judge her on her ability or test it excessively.

The woman isn’t suddenly released from the responsibilities of awareness because she has decided to follow her partner for a few minutes. The lead has his back to half of the room, so she has to do her part to keep him from accidentally backing into other dancers. She also has the responsibility of controlling her movement and distance in order to not fling herself wildly out of control or risk breaking the connection. Her key duty, however, is to listen. Has his weight asked her to move? Has he stopped her movement or redirected her direction? Has he queued a turn or lead a pause matching a break in the music.

What we have, then, is essentially two people who are dedicated and focused on working together to create a three minute long project. They are concentrating on communicating to do it, not trading blame but each taking responsibility for their own part and performing it to the best of their ability. Most of this communication is silent. It is founded in mutual respect and conducted throughout with that respect in mind.  Social dancers are basically individuals who regularly practice developing satisfying relationships with each other in ways that can translate into romantic relationships in a very healthy fashion.

 I’d like to note, before I close, that I have seen many couples in my years of teaching and there have been those I would almost guarantee didn’t, or won’t, stand the test of time. The individual behaviors betray all kinds of details about their relationship and personalities. Sadly, most such couples never come twice. I won’t say that dance is some kind of panacea, but I do think that learning the kind of communication that dancing requires would have helped many of those relationships.

Also, let’s not forget that physical connections create endorphins. More frequent physical connections with lovers generally equates to a better sex life, and the kind of intimate connection that one can create through dancing with another person can only enhance such things. I’ve always been fond of saying that I can know a woman and her body better in three fully clothed minutes than most of her lovers ever will. Maybe it’s a little arrogant. My experience in both realms suggests otherwise.

So, in spite of feeling like I barely skimmed over the surface of the topic, it’s no wonder that I think everyone should learn to dance. And that women shouldn’t date men who can’t or worse, won’t, dance. (Not to mention that every female dancer I know finds immense joy in dance and I don’t understand why anyone would deny themselves that joy in a relationship.) As for women who can’t dance, as one commenter asked, the answer is the same for everyone: it’s worth your while to learn. You won’t regret it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why Women Shouldn't Settle for a Man Who Can't Dance

I was browsing through the personal ads on Craigslist out of boredom and ran across a clever one that actually piqued my interest. (That's probably 1 in 100 at best.) The ad requested a short essay for any interested party, so for fun I went ahead and wrote the following. I meant it playfully, but, I also mean every word. I believe everyone who can should learn how to dance.

Ultimately, an essay on why a woman shouldn't settle for a man who can't dance would be an extremely long one that explores in-depth all the benefits of dance, of learning to do so if one doesn't know how, and the rest of the topic, but a research paper's quota of words might not make for the best means to reel in a lady's imagination.

There are many reasons a woman should hold in her list of standards a man who either dances already or is willing to learn. First, the obvious: she'll never miss a turn around the dance floor at a wedding, or any other such more formal function. Equally, having a man willing to dance provides a woman with many more excuses to wear that dress that has been collecting dust in the closet than any woman with a lesser model. Also among the more pleasant benefits is that he's likely to have better manners than most men, more respect for women, and he's probably not inclined to spend all his time on a couch.

Then there are the more subtle reasons, arguably more important. A man who dances should, if he's a good dancer, be skilled at connecting and communicating in a partnership. Any dance is a conversation. A language all its own - the ultimate body language. Each dance has its own rhetoric. It also involves frequent physical contact that can be more intimate than any a pair of lovers have ever experienced. There's a good reason that dances such as Argentine tango are used as tools for couples therapy.

One might put forward that dancing together is one of the most beneficial activities any couple can engage in. The list of pros is nigh endless, and far outweighs any cons. With so many advantages to dating a dancer, it's hard to imagine why any woman who enjoys dancing herself (and it seems most do), would choose to settle for one who doesn't.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mi Tango

Mi Tango

I have not loved you without patience.
But perhaps I did not love you
more than I loved my honor, my morals. 
I did not love so distractedly
that I forgot myself. I did not let go
and lose myself in passion,
not in yours, nor mine.
Perhaps, though I loved you 
through more turning moons,
spinning suns, and revolving earths,
though I loved you through more
fresh snowfalls, windswept leaves, summer storms,
and early crocuses than I care to count,
perhaps I kept my fires banked
for fear that we might burn,
perhaps I never loved you
as much as you deserved.

Friday, October 18, 2013



What good would a heaven be without you?
Who cares about eternity if we never meet?
What good would a heaven be without you?
I am Jericho, be my horn.
I am Jericho, be my horn.

All these dreams are nothing without you.
They can never happen if we never meet.
All these dreams are nothing without you.
I am Jericho, be my horn.
I am Jericho, be my horn.

Somewhere out there there's an angel waiting.
Let me fly into the sun, how willingly I'd fall.
Somewhere out there there's an angel waiting.
I am Jericho, be my horn.
I am Jericho, be my horn.

As someone who studied the reading and writing of poetry a lot in college, I frequently find myself reading my own work at a much deeper level than others might. The truth is, as one of my professors once said, my poetry is deceptively simple. Even this poem, with its frequent repetition (worth noting in and of itself), contains a significant amount of weight in its few words.

Though a strange endeavor, I want to approach this poem the way another reader might. As though the author is "dead," as it were. This, for the uninitiated, is the literary world's way of saying we as readers can never truly know the author's intended meaning without sitting down with the author or having copious notes or other documentation laying it out for us. 

First, reading the poem, I am not certain if it is a prayer or a plea. There is clearly a romantic tone, as the poet uses language suggesting a worldly relationship. However, the use of Christian imagery and references make it unclear if the author is making the plea to a woman, a specifically Christian woman, or to the Christian God. Is the poet asking purely for the love of a woman, or permission to love something beyond the realms of the emotional. The lack of clarity may suggest that the voice in the poem cannot, or does not, differentiate between the two. Caritas may be the kind of love the voice is seeking. It is reminiscent of John Donne, who treated material love as spiritually transcendent and spiritual love as materially fulfilling. 

The diction in the first line also begs the question of prayer or plea. Heaven is not capitalized, which suggests the author doesn't hold the typical Christian respect for the term, and as such, isn't referred to specifically as the Christian heaven. He states, "a heaven," which suggest that the eternity in question could belong to any faith, though that seems unlikely given the other specific imagery in the poem. Though to be fair, it could be considered Jewish imagery, but my exposure to Judaism isn't a strong and as a reader, it doesn't awaken those ties within me. 

It seems likely that this poet then, is either an atheist or agnostic with a strong background in Christianity. This likelihood makes the sense of prayer extremely interesting, as if the speaker in the poem were begging for an opportunity, not only for an end to the haunting loneliness of the poem, but   for a reason to believe in something larger. It's also extremely possible that, assuming as we should that the diction was very specifically chosen and intended, the poet just enjoys playing with tropes, or is truly so romantic as to make the desired love into an almost religious experience.

This brings me to what I consider the strongest and most interesting line in the poem, "I am Jericho, be my horn." It is clearly the most important to the poet as well, as it makes up six of the fifteen lines of the poem. Without refreshing my knowledge of the story of the fall of Jericho, I am reminded of a story of a city with strong walls that held against any assailant. One individual is given a magic horn that, when blown, topples those walls, turning them to dust in an instant. This image suggests that the poet, or the character he is writing as, identifies himself as having high walls, or strong defensive traits that somehow help to keep him from something he wants. Perhaps these defenses are self defeating, as he openly pleads for someone else to "be my horn." In other words, to miraculously break through those defenses and, we can assume, bring the kind of love he desires in.

I'm only going to touch on the second stanza, as it is the weakest of the three. It serves mostly to reinforce the idea that the poet has romantic goals that have yet to be fulfilled, and the figure to take part in fulfilling them has yet to be defined. It is interesting to note that the context of the prevailing line, while still maintaining the imagery explained in the previous paragraph, manages to take on new colors with each situation. This stanza is the earthly one, with the kinds of earthly hopes and dreams that are instilled within most of us from an early age.

The final stanza takes both the religious tone of the first and the earthly tone of the second and combines them. The opening line transforms this unknown woman into an angel, a common enough theme. Given the poet's suggested lack of belief in such things, it's an interesting choice, however. The next line makes that choice even more intriguing. 

The author writes, "Let me fly into the sun." This is a bit of a turn from the Christian imagery, invoking as it does the Grecian myth of Icarus, but not entirely. We've already been lead to imagine an angel, and Icarus' character is a human who flew on feathered wings. He flew too high and the sun melted the wax that gave him the power of flight. The poet clearly knows this, as the next clause states, "how willingly I'd fall." Yet this suggests the fall of angels, the romantic notion of falling in love, as well as Icarus' ill-fated descent from the sky after reaching too far and too high. In five words, (counting "I would," as two), the poet has recognized his humanity, a sense of the divine in himself, a willing departure from the divine, a desire to fall in love, and the possible folly of all his desires. 

The poem finishes once again with what may be best called its refrain. "I am Jericho, by my horn. / I am Jericho, be my horn." It asks, the sound of the word horn echoing into the silence of its passing, for no more or less than it asked at the beginning. The poet is flawed, is human, is hopeful, is both touched and separate by the spiritual or divine, has guarded all that he is behind the high walls of an impregnable city, so high and thick that perhaps he has trapped himself within them and sends out his voice in supplication to something or someone to set him free.

As it is said, that which seems simple, rarely is.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wizard's First Rule

“People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.”
― Terry Goodkind, Wizard's First Rule

There’s a (sadly) accurate theme that philosophers (we’ll call them that), the world around have been intensely interested in over the last 40-50 years. It’s likely that the subject goes back much further to the Greeks and beyond, but for the sake of brevity we’ll focus on the modern and contemporary perspectives.

To sum it up, let me offer a quote from Robert A. Heinlein, one of the fathers of modern science fiction. “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”

The entire global community has a shining example of this in today’s government shut down of the most powerful nation in the world, and they find it mind boggling. Admittedly, so does the general population of that nation, from erudite to high school drop out. With some exceptions, who remind us that Heinlein’s quote will be apt until the day the race ceases to exist.

These exceptions bring to mind a much more in depth exploration into the definition of stupidity and the makeup of the group of such people. As written by the economics professor Carlo Cipolla, the number of stupid people in any given group is always represented by the variable s. It can only be represented as a variable due to the fact that the number of stupid people in any given group is always more than one thinks it is.

For those of you who don’t mind some light reading, his essay explains it all quite impressively.

Though written originally written in jest, it rings remarkably true, particularly as we continue to explore contemporary examples of the phenomenon.

Some time in the last decade or so while Jimmy Kimmel was still on The Man Show, he spent the only segment I ever saw petitioning to help end women’s suffrage in America, just to see who would sign it. If you weren’t aware, women’s suffrage is the 19th amendment of the Consitution, giving women the right to vote. I can’t find the clip to share with you, but lets just say the results of the attempt just goes to show how uneducated people are. Many, many women signed it and I did find several examples on youtube (that I didn’t watch), repeating the experiment.

Fast forward to today, when Kimmel hit the streets again to ask people which they preferred, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. The results were astounding, with a fascinating ability of individuals to support one over the other. You can see it for yourself here:

It is important to recognize, however, that this particular brand of stupidity isn’t one sided. There were plenty of people in recent polls on both sides of the spectrum too oblivious to know the two items were the same damn thing. Democrat or Republican, the quantity of stupid people in the group is still more than you think.

We can only wish that this had been staged, but tragically, that’s not even necessary in today’s environment. And with the exposure via media and accessibility of information today, it seems inexcusable. Alas, people would rather call data sources propaganda than read and learn. It’s a good thing s is unquantifiable or the numbers might be significantly depressing.

It’s disappointing that in this time where not only do we have to concern ourselves with some of the finest stupidity of our era, that we simply have an excessive population from which to draw an even higher degree of stupid people.

I don’t know that there’s anything to be done about this unfortunate aspect of life other than to be forewarned and forearmed. Be aware and, as the Boyscout’s say, be prepared. The best we can manage is to make an effort to hold ourselves individually to a higher standard and not fall victim to the flood of ineptitude. We can always argue for more and better education, but I’m not certain that will ever be more than a thumb in the dyke; at least not outside some utopian dream world where everyone values learning.

As much as I wish I could apologize for the apparent cynicism of this post, as evidence shows, it’s simply realism. All I can say is,

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

I can’t say it any better than that.