National Catholic Register


Some Old-Fashioned Dancing Could Do The Culture Good

BY Kathleen Howley

August 23-29, 1998 Issue | Posted 8/23/98 at 2:00 PM


For a microcosm look at what's wrong with male and female relations today, look at the social dancing that grew out of the recent decades of cultural degeneration. Men don't lead, and women dance alone.

Even if a woman is dancing one-on-one with a man, which would be a rarity, she is still dancing alone. He's doing one thing. She's doing another.

Recently, I was at a party with lots of loud music. In the center of the room a few dozen people my age were engaging in free-form gyrations, as a group.

I was happily engaged in a conversation about politics, when someone grabbed my arm and said, “Come on,” motioning in the general direction of the dance floor.

“No thanks,” I said.

“Oh, you don't like to dance,” was the conclusion.

It was a bit unfair. I love to dance. In fact, when I can, I go out dancing once a week. I just prefer dancing in a duo that includes a man, accompanied by music that is not a throwback to a primitive era.

And, I'm not alone. While many people of my generation are stuck in the post-Woodstock era, people in their early 20s have discovered swing dancing.

In fact, swing is cool.

In most large American cities, bars with swing music are mobbed with young couples, who, it seems, have more in common with their grandparents than their parents.

And, swing bands are chic. The musicians, who look barely old enough to vote, sing about romance rather than promiscuity and violence.

That is not good news for the men of the Baby Boom generation. Put them on a dance floor with a girl and play some Glen Miller music — they'll probably feel the same way as their parents felt when they first faced a computer.

“I don't like to dance,” is the response that most men between the ages of 30 and 60 give, when the subject arises. Really, what they are saying is, “I don't know how to dance.”

Could their fathers have been so much more intelligent and physically coordinated than they are?

Or, to put it another way: if dancing according to a prescribed pattern is so difficult, how could it be that almost every man in the World War II generation knew how to do it?

Of course, the older generation had lots of motivation to learn. If a man wanted to be close to a beautiful woman, if he wanted to spend precious moments with her on the dance floor, chatting, laughing, inhaling her perfume, he had to know how to dance.

By doing so, he was catering to her wishes, because what women want more than anything is romance. And, there are few things in life as romantic as real dancing.

“Heaven, I'm in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak. And I seem to find the happiness I seek, when we're out together dancing cheek to cheek,” the old song goes.

In real dancing, the man leads. That means he has to plot a path through the crowd, communicate his intentions to the woman, protect her as they glide across the dance floor, and be attentive to what she is doing. In a nutshell, it teaches him to respect her.

The woman is responsible for not leading — it's called “following” — and here the hackles of the feminists rise.

On the dance floor, the man is the boss, a fact that seems to offend modern sentiments. But I would suggest that letting men lead, at least once in a while, could dramatically improve most relationships. After all, now that women run the show, are we really happier?

And, if women find it so offensive to follow, why is it that in any dance studio, or in any community center that offers ballroom dancing lessons, the women have dragged the men there to learn?

Hilary Tucker is one of those Generation-X Americans who, with her husband, has discovered the romance of real dancing.

“Ballroom dancing glorifies true femininity and masculinity. Think of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers gliding across a parquet floor. Then imagine that degree of romance apart from dancing. It's not possible. Dancing, the old forms and styles, is the perfect metaphor for falling in love,” she wrote in “A Dancer's Manifesto,” an article that ran in Crisis magazine several years ago.

“All able-bodied men can learn to dance properly,” she concluded, “provided they care enough to overcome nature, which has inclined them to boorishness.”

Kathleen Howley is a Boston-based journalist.