Ephesians 5:22 and Swing Dancing

I am returning in this post to the man/woman
leadership/submission debate. I spoke about it a good deal in both of my books,
and some of my blogs from years ago (mostly on my old blog which is long since
deactivated.) I haven’t re-visited that dynamic in a while. There are a lot of
topics like that which I used to speak and write about constantly in my early
twenties, that I simply don’t put much emphasis on anymore, e.g. modesty,
Theology of the Body, the Way of the Warrior, to name a few. The reason I don’t
get into them much these days is not because I think they are no longer
important, but because I spent years thinking them through from every angle I
could find, and came to a pretty good working understanding of them. Now I live
based on that understanding, and when I come up with something new I revise it,
but most of my thinking is devoted to other things.
The reason I am returning to this topic for one post
is because I ran across a comment on another blog to the effect that one of the
problems faced by Catholic men in seeking out wives was the need to find “faithful
and submissive” women. I found it a touch irritating, but mostly amusing. It’s
the sort of thing you would expect from someone who simply did not understand
the whole leadership dynamic. It reminded me of grumpy old men at a swing
dance, and a particular story involving a very dear friend of mine:
I enjoy swing dancing from time to time. I am not
particularly good at it, mostly because it isn’t something people do very often
these days, and so I haven’t had much practice, but it is fun when I do get the
chance. Last September I was on leave back on the East Coast and I did go swing
with a group of friends. One of those friends is a lovely young lady who works
at a school for special needs children. She is black, bubbly, sassy, and very
often dressed in purple, and never afraid to speak her mind. During the evening
she was dancing with one of the regulars, a slightly older gentleman, who
apparently was quite skillful and knew a lot of moves, but apparently was not
used to dancing with someone with a personality because, not thirty seconds
into the dance, he told her, “Look, I can tell you are a feisty one, but if you
want to swing dance you need to learn to follow.”
To which my friend shot back, “Well, maybe you
should learn to lead with some authority!” Okay, so sometimes she gets more
than a little sassy.
Every woman I have ever danced with (not a great
number, I could probably count them without taking more than one shoe off) has
been a different dancer. This particular friend had a very physical, almost
athletic style of dancing. I never had a problem getting her to follow my lead,
but it had to be a very firm lead. She didn’t like that finger-tips only grip,
she liked a firm, solid grip, so that she could spin out and away as fast and
as hard as she liked, confident that I would not lose her hand and let her go
flying across the room (I don’t know what that move is called. I call it the “Yo-yo.”)
When she spun back in she liked to know that I was going to catch her, not just
get out of the way. She would dip or jump without fear, as long as she could
feel that I had a solid hold and wasn’t going to drop her on her head.
Other dancers, some of my cousins, for instance,
would have been scared away by such “roughness.” One cousin in particular
prefers to have just the lightest grip possible, just thumb and forefinger on
her palm. She doesn’t like being dragged through the moves, or being tossed
around the ballroom. The slightest movement of my hand was enough to signal to her
what we were doing, and then she would flow through it. I still had to lead
with decision, because changing your mind in the middle of a move is just
awkward for everyone involved, but there was no place for the firmness that my
other friend enjoyed.
Dancing at my brother’s wedding recently I came
across another problem I had never seen before. I learned to dance in South
Carolina and Virginia, and my brother (not the getting-married one, a different
one) and his friends had learned to dance in the Northeast. Different styles of
swing, different moves, and slightly different leads, not to mention vastly
different experience levels, meant that often it was like speaking a different
In all of these different situations I had the same
job. If you are going to swing dance, as a guy, you have to learn how to lead.
You can fudge it for a bit, and most girls are not going to storm off in a
huff, but if you want to have more than one dance per girl, you have to learn to
lead. This is not simply a matter of learning the steps and the moves. You can
get through most songs with a handful of moves and some confidence. You don’t
even need real confidence. Fake confidence will do the trick as often as not,
as long as the girl has a sense of humor. What you absolutely must learn is
leadership. Moves do not make leadership. The older, extremely experienced
dancer who told my friend she needed to learn how to follow knew some moves.
His red paisley spats probably knew more moves than I ever will, but that did
not enable him. It actually hindered him from enjoying a dance with a great
lady. He knew how things were supposed to go, and was not prepared to listen to
her. She was doing it wrong, and he felt he had to educate her. She declined to
be educated by him and that was that.
What he could have done had he perhaps known less
about dancing and more about dancing with people, was listen to her. Feel her
out. Get to know her style, figure out how she liked to be led, what she was
comfortable with, and adapt himself to her preferences. Perhaps be willing to
accept a dance that was not as artistic as he was used to, a little
imperfection of style, or even a lot of imperfection and roughness, in the
interests of sharing a dance with her. I guarantee if he had stepped up his
game and tried to match her preferences, he would have found her making equal
efforts to adapt to him. Perhaps it would have been worse dancing, but it would
have been better leadership.
Sure, that one dance isn’t going to be as smooth and
artsy as it could be if it were someone whose style perfectly matched his, or if
he had danced with her regularly for a year or two and they had gotten used to
each other. Searching out that “perfect” human relationship too often
devolves into a single-minded, ruthless pursuit of one person’s private idea of
what perfection ought to be, which is always flawed. Perfection is impossible
in this life, and even harmony is achieved slowly and patiently, by listening
far more than by speaking. That is real leadership.


  1. It sounds like a “yo-yo” is another name for a swing out. From now on I will be using yo-yo instead. 😀

    On a more serious note- awesome analogy for TOB.


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