Husband & Wife Articles

One Step at a Time

by Elizabeth Ficocelli

Each year, I brush off my high heels and gear up for our parish’s annual dinner dance, a coveted chance for my husband and I to make use of the sporadic dance lessons we’ve taken over the years. It occurred to me recently, as I rummaged through a small selection of fancy dresses hanging in the back of my closet, that ballroom dancing is a lot like marriage.

We took our very first dance lesson 25 years ago, when we were young newlyweds still trying to get a footing on what it meant to share our new life together. I remember walking nervously into the class that first night to find we were the only students without silver in our hair. We received a few empathetic smiles and nods from the other couples. I knew right then, my husband and I were embarking on a sacred, ancient ritual – dance and marriage. Would we have the stamina, desire, and fortitude to see them both through?

Like any novice dancer and newly married person, we frequently stepped on each other’s toes, often inflicting significant pain on our partner. We argued with great enthusiasm about whose fault it was. We often thought about quitting. And we would wonder in frustration: why is this so difficult, and why do others make it look so easy?

After a few more dance lessons and some additional years of marital experience, we realized there was a give and take arrangement to this whole thing. In short, we couldn’t both be the leader all the time. Someone had to follow.

In dance, I quickly learned that there was never any confusion about gender roles and responsibilities. Simply put, the man led, and the woman followed. At first, I felt resistance to such an archaic idea. After all, weren’t I a college graduate and my husband’s equal? But when I eventually settled into my dancing role, I discovered to my great surprise that being the follower had its advantages. Each new dance step, like life itself, was becoming increasingly more complex. Just remembering how to do each step correctly was consuming enough for me — never mind having to plan ahead which steps to gracefully segue into next. For this task, my husband proved to be a natural. He was always good at looking at the macro view of things and having long-term vision; I was better suited for dealing with the micro, at-the-moment matters. The roles seemed to be strangely comfortable and familiar.

And so, I began to relax and enjoy the gradual process of giving up control. I learned to stop doing everything my way and to look to my partner for subtle signals that would indicate a change in direction or momentum. If his lead was weak, the end result was disastrous. I would be going one way, he’d be going the other, and the rhythm was broken, the dance disrupted. On the other hand, if his lead was too aggressive or made without warning, he could find himself dancing alone.

There developed in all of this a delicate balance and complementarity between us, one of patience and anticipation, communication and understanding, firmness and gentleness, hard work and enjoyment. Today, when we successfully quick-step, spin, and reverse-turn ourselves through a particularly complicated pattern of daily events, we look at each other in surprise and amazement. How did that just happen, we wonder? And it felt so right, so easy!

Now it’s true; we will never be another Fred and Ginger. Nor do we aspire to be. We’re simply Mark and Elizabeth, and, for the most part, we’re having a ball dancing our way through marriage.

See you on the dance floor?