In music, we often talk about the drummer keeping time, setting down the groove for the rest of the band to play over. As dancers, we keep time with our feet and our bodies. But there are other ways we keep time as well, we mark the changes. In Annapolis, we would end each dance with the song “Annapolis Shuffle,” by Them Eastport Oyster Boys. At any event weekend, Sunday afternoon is always a mountaintop experience for me, another way I keep time.
Four years ago, I married my co-author, dance partner, and all around amazing woman, Susanne Randolph Sparks. A year later, we started teaching dance together. We will keep this time with an anniversary dance extravaganza on September 23rd. But I thought I would take a moment before then to share some thoughts and recollections about our time together as a couple who teaches.
- Teaching dance together reminds me that we are partners. As much as I’d like to say that things are always rainbows and lollipops, the truth is that relationships are messy. But once a week, no matter what, I had to set aside whatever disagreements or wounds I was dwelling on to teach with my wife. For those three hours, we were a partnership, whether we wanted to be or not. And by the end, I always wanted to be her partner even more. I like to think that I’m a good teacher, but with my wife’s critical eye, feedback, and guidance during classes, I think we are pretty amazing.
- We won’t always agree, and that makes us stronger. Susanne likes to say that the lead’s left hand should be at the ladies waist. I prefer to teach it as a straight line from elbow to elbow. In our conflict, we have both become more thoughtful about the dance, and grown in our own dancing. We established a rule early on not to critique each other’s dancing. But in teaching together, we’ve both been able to explore and push ourselves, share our ideas with one another, and hear the other’s insights without ever criticizing. Plus, teaching holds us accountable to each other and our students to strive for better in our dancing.
- Success in dancing, teaching and relationships takes consistent, hard work over time. I’d like to start by saying thank you to all of our students who took lessons from us that first year. We have learned a lot about teaching since then, and appreciate your patience as we learned. After every class, we always decompress about what went well and where we can improve. Over time, certain things have become pretty standard for us, but we continue to evaluate ourselves. We are also constantly working to adapt to our students needs. I find that the same things are necessary in our marriage. Check in regularly. Examine your routines. Adapt to meet you partners needs.
- Love means having to say you’re sorry AND make amends for the wounds you cause. Whoever said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was full of it. Its an inevitable fact of life that people will hurt each other, whether intentional or unintentional. We’ll screw up on the dance floor. We’ll screw up off the dance floor. Say you’re sorry and make it right to the best of your ability.
- The greatest rewards are the hardest to obtain. When I first started dancing, it was fantastic, like a new relationship. I remember early on when I was dating Susanne, we danced in her kitchen while I sang “They Can’t Take That Away.” Shortly after, we danced at a Jane Monheit concert when she sang the same tune for her encore. I treasure those memories, but wouldn’t want to go back for anything. Much like years of dancing have seasoned me and revealed truths about dancing I never could have imagined, my years with Susanne have revealed to me truths about her and about our relationship that were once unfathomable.