It don't mean a thing

Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

You find your inspiration in your partner.

You tune in to him to the exclusion of all else. You respond to him, move with him in a shared rhythm, communicating through the connection of your bodies, in the relaxed, focused, deeply present and aware state of mind that comes with any meditative practice. You shut off the reasoning, thinking parts of your brain and become muscle and bone and heartbeat, bound by rhythm and contact to your partner.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing like an excellent dance. The uncomplicated joy of matching tension and rhythm, with none of sex's awkwardness or self-consciousness or baffling and anxious intimacy.

I recently returned from a vacation scheduled around the Oxford Lindy Exchange. (A lindy exchange is basically a three-day party centered around swing dancing. This was a particularly good one, with lots of excellent dancers from all over the world.)

I learned to dance about 13 years ago and I feel I am now in a position to state officially and publicly that swing dancing is, broadly speaking, better than sex.

Certainly in terms of the social standards that govern the dance floor, it's better.

For example, if you ask someone to dance, they simply MUST say yes. If they say no, it can only be because they're sitting out that dance; if someone says no to you and then dances that song with someone else, that is the HEIGHT of rudeness and that person has proven him- or herself to be a social MONSTER. You have to work hard to feel socially rejected in a situation like that.

It's perfectly acceptable, at the end of a good dance, to say, "Care for another?" It's a compliment; it means you felt comfortable dancing with the other person. This is particularly handy if you only dance part of a song with someone.

But two dances in a row is really it. You mustn't monopolize a partner; share and share alike.

Such rules, such clarity make life simple, angst-free. Would that the rest of life were so equitable and disambiguated.

And partner dancing fulfills the deep human need for touch, dancing in the arms of partner after sweaty partner (a man who sweats through the shoulder pads of his jacket is a man I want to dance with), without the potential risks, emotional and physical, involved in sexual contact.

Swing dancers don't usually drink when they're dancing, so it's free of those consent entanglements too.

And to learn the skill of following is to learn to attend to your partner with care and joy. You WILL be a better lover if you learn to follow on the dance floor. Learn to read the signals of your partner's body, learn to match the tension and rhythm of their movements, learn to listen with your muscles and answer with your gut. Learn to stay over your own center of gravity even as you turn and twist and skip and sway.

Dancing with your honey, like sex with your honey, is special. Remarkable. But dancing with a stranger... to find that you share a language, to make that instant connection through the music and the contact of your hand against his, is the most glorious communion. Want to fall in love at first sight? The dance floor is the place to do it.

(Unlike sex with a stranger, which is, too often, relentlessly dull and disappointing.)

Afterwards, you stagger home, arms and legs trembly with fatigue, your own skin sticky with sweat and scented by the perfumes, colognes, deodorants and aftershaves of everyone you danced with that night, and you collapse alone into bed, close your eyes and fall asleep dreaming of the dance floor.

Learn to dance. It'll make you a better lover and a better person.

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