by Carolyn Schwartz, Ph.D. & Victor J. Goldman, C.S.W.
As you take your partner in your arms for the first dance of the evening, your mellow mood dissolves when halfway around the floor, she whispers in your ear, "You're holding me too tightly." A few more patterns and with the slightest irritation in her voice she adds, "You're pushing me."
Before you know it, you comment, "That's because you're moving too slowly."
She responds, "You're never supposed to push a woman."
You counter, "I thought we agreed not to criticize one another while we're dancing."
She quickly parries, "Well, I can't dance if you're forcing me to move instead of leading."
You go for the jugular, "Then, let's leave."
She one ups you, "That's fine with me." She may have the last word but you have the last move as you stop dancing and head for the exit.
How did that fight escalate so fast? What happened to your peace and contentment? Two days later, you'll probably forget what the fight was all about.
There are times in a couple's life when despite the best intentions to have a good time, a dance fight erupts, anger spews out, and a perfectly good evening is ruined. Having experienced such moments during the course of our many years of dancing and marriage, we offer the following suggestions to help salvage the situation and make a speedy return to the line of dance rather than to the door.
Step number one is understanding our reactions. While we may pride ourselves on our intelligence, human beings have the same evolutionary instincts as the rest of the animal world - SURVIVAL - when attacked, "It's Fight or Flight." In the above example, the woman experienced the man's lead as an attack on her space. In her effort to correct this, she communicated her discomfort. This in turn was experienced by the man as a critique of hie dancing ability and thus he defended himself. The need to be right comes from a core view that there's only room for one reality - Our own.
Step number two - Leave the dance floor and separate as gracefully as possible.
The third step is to begin taking some Deep breaths and focus on our bodily sensations. This activity slows down the adrenaline rush and quiets our anxiety and fear which fuel our defensive responses. By paying attention to our rapid heart beat and clenched jaw, we start to realize that we've not only lost our psychological center but also our bodily center which is necessary for the movement and connection which creates smooth dancing.
As our body begins to relax, we are ready for step four - Examining possible causes of the fight. Very often hidden issues of which we are unaware, may be simmering below the surface. A sharp word or an irritating touch may be all it takes to bring them into consciousness. Did something stressful just happen recently or are there some long term problems which have not been addressed with your partner. By becoming aware of the causes of your tension, it becomes possible to separate these conflicts from your dancing experience.
Step five - Ask yourself, "What can I do to improve the situation?" Take control of your behavior, rather than depending on your partner to apologize or calm you down. Remember, there can be no fight if only one person is arguing.
Step six - Reconnect with your partner and suggest a moratorium. Do not attempt to talk out the problem. Dance fights have a life of their own, do not die easily and can be rekindled with just a word or two. Instead, allow the power of dancing to begin healing the wounds both partners have suffered. Focus on the music - let the melodies soothe your heart and the rhythms re-energize your passion, let the movement help to release your tension and allow one another's touch to soften the anger. The joy of moving together can dissipate your frustration and hurt, and help you to re-establish your connection.
Finally, it is important to understand that even though dance fights can be painful and threatening, they provide messages which can illuminate new directions for a more positive relationship.
Footnote - Without the utilization of the above steps, this article would not have been written.