Violinist and historical musicology doctoral student Meagan Mason always loved music, but had never really danced to it—until she and her husband of eight years split. She's working through her break-up, in part, by learning blues dancing.
That dude who doesn’t dance at weddings—I was the girl version. I always felt too self-conscious and awkward. But touch is my “love language,” and without it, when I moved out, I felt like I was shriveling into a non-human. One of my new post-split roommates was into swing and blues dance. She took me to a fusion dance—a coupled dance drawing on a mix of styles like swing, blues, salsa, tango, and improv. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was immediately hooked. I loved the music, and the physical connection fed an emptiness.
I’ve definitely made more friends through dance because of our common interest. Social dancing is a relatively small community, even in a big city like L.A. It was an outlet for the loneliness I felt in my separation. At every event, you see people you know or recognize, often even in other cities. When you're traveling for your job or something, the social network of dance is there for you to fall into and meet people.
I was really shy before! I could never talk to or even look a guy in the eye, if I thought he was attractive. But on the dance floor, if he asks, are you going to say no? Of course not. You dance, and then you realize that you didn't crash and burn and fall through the floor, and you can interact with a cute guy.
At first the traditional gender roles reinforced in partner dance were comforting to me, honestly. In the instability I felt in my breakup, I enjoyed the comfort of being led by people who felt protective and knew what they were doing. This was true when women led me in dances as well. “Ambi” dancing, or switching between lead and follow, is fairly common in the blues world, and as I’ve started to learn to do it a bit myself, I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for the service, creativity, and care for your partner that goes into leading.
The roles within dance have taught me a lot about cooperation and synergy. Even if I am not the lead, as a follow, I contribute hugely to the mood of the dance and am able to add a lot. I’ve been learning more of what it is to have a voice that is my own and that positively shapes the way the couple works.
Relationships and dances are supposed to be mutually supportive. They’re both about creating something warm and fun together. The most fun dances are the ones that are highly collaborative. Sometimes the synergy is so tight I can’t tell who is leading and who is following.
Dancing has helped me know what kind of physical relationship I want. I learned what chemistry can be. I used to think any guy I found attractive was a potential mate, but I’ve realized as I’ve gotten to know myself and my body more, that attractiveness and attraction are two different things. I want to find someone I “click” with in the physical as well as emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual senses. It may sound strange, but to me it's comforting that my options have become more limited. Dancing has polarized men for me: very few are options, and most are not. I think it’s good to learn to be picky. There are a lot of fish in the sea.
Laura Brienza is the author of two nonfiction books for Globe Pequot Press: Discovering Vintage Washington, DC and New York's Historic Restaurants, Inns, and Taverns. Her writing has also appeared in Flavor & The Menu, Feminine Collective, 1st Amendment Media/IndyBuild, The Date Diaries, and she is a Weekend Reporter for Obsessed With Everything. Her plays have been produced and developed by The Lark Play Development Center, the Kennedy Center, and Luna Stage, where her most recent play Old Love New Love was hailed for its "sharp writing" and "poignant moments" by The New York Times.