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Middle-Aged Moves

Partner Dancing Partnerless

By Rochelle Lockridge

"Sorry, DJ. Nana can't stay and play with you after taco dinner tonight. I have to leave early. I'm going dancing."

I'm over fifty and divorced with no significant-other relationship at the moment (unless you count my four-year-old grandson, DJ). And I totally get the sentiment of a few other middle-agers at the dance studio: if given the choice of getting married again or having a dance partner for life, they'd choose the dance partner. But I'd take it one step further—I'd choose to dance with a variety of dance partners for the rest of my life. They say this is great for staying smarter longer. And after a lifetime of taking care of everyone else, I like not having to worry about getting home (except to let the doggy out) or making plans around another person's schedule. The empty, empty nest is great!

I love dancing. My newfound passion (my daughter would call it an obsession) with ballroom dancing has surprised everyone, including myself. And when I read the research study that found frequent dancing reduces the risk of dementia by a whopping 76%, there was no turning back. But according to a great article (which I highly recommend reading) from Stanford University dance historian Richard Powers "Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter":

"Not all forms of dancing will produce the same benefit. This benefit is greatly enhanced by dancing with different partners, not always with the same fellow. In social dancing, the follow role automatically gains a benefit, by making hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next …. Women don't follow; they interpret the signals their partners are giving them, and this requires intelligence and decision-making, which is active, not passive."

If making as many split-second decisions as possible is the key to maintaining cognitive abilities, what better place to hang out than at a variety dance party, partner dancing, partnerless? I'm currently learning how to hold a decent frame, how to create and maintain a connection, and working on improving my posture, which evidently requires that elusive strong core that many of us fifty-plus crowd struggle to find. In addition to learning the basic footwork and patterns for each dance and learning how to follow a lead.

"Okay, thank this partner and find a new partner for a waltz."

Oh, no, isn't that the guy I hit in the eye last week ungracefully flailing through what was supposed to be a turn? Quick, avert your eyes. Look away. We don't want to make matters worse by stepping on his toes again this week. Whew! He's asking someone else. Crisis averted.

"Okay, thank this partner and find a new partner for a cha cha."

Oh, god, no, not a cha cha. I have no idea how to do this one. Oh, crap, here comes a teacher. Quick, look away. Don't make eye contact. Look like you're practicing that hip thingy in the mirror. Create a diversion. Ahhh, it's not working! He's still coming over. He's reaching out to take my hand. Think fast. Smile!

"Thank you, but I don't know how to do this one."

"Don't worry. I'll show you."

"Okay, thank this partner and find a new partner for a foxtrot."

"Would you like to dance this one? What level are you? Bronze?"

"No, I don't think so. I'm a beginner, just learning how to dance."

"Okay, no problem."

What's bronze mean? There are levels besides teacher, student, and competition people? Wow, I seem to know what I'm doing with this guy. I feel pretty. I feel confident. I feel like I know the steps and am actually dancing. This is fun.

"Thanks. I could really feel what you were asking me to do, and I could respond. You are really good. That was a lot of fun."

A few days later ….

Hey, wait a minute. Isn't that the guy I was dancing with on Thursday night? He's dancing the showcase finale? I'm so embarrassed. I can't believe I was dancing with a ballroom dance champion who's been competing for thirty years and I go and tell him I can really feel his lead.

"Okay, thank this partner and find a new partner for a west coast swing."

"Nana, can I come stay at your house?"

"Sorry, DJ, not tonight. I'm going out dancing in the wild tonight. Yep. All by myself. But there will be plenty of people there for me to dance with and to learn from. Maybe someday when you're older, you can come dance with us too."