BALLROOM DANCING: “It’s Just Like Couples Therapy, But Far More Fun!” — Or is it? A Westfield Couples Counselor Investigates
Will dancing together serve as a type of ‘couples counseling’ that can help distressed pairs? A local couples therapist investigates.

Westfield, NJ

By Terri DiMatteo, LPC Open Door Therapy (Open Post) – May 21, 2013
In the evenings en route to my downtown office where I work as a couples counselor, I can count on a predictable momentary visual delight. From inside my car, I see couples swirling about, dipping, holding each other close and gazing into each others eyes. What a lovely sight to behold!

Minutes later I am greeting couples whose relationship has become confusing or disappointing or who report that they ‘feel like strangers living under one roof.’

I recall the dancing duos — holding each other close, twirling, smiling and flowing together. “Who could remain angry or distant from their partner while dancing like they are?” I wonder.

I envision myself handing out Palm Beach Dancing business cards at the end of a rough session. I consider advising clients to exchange the “I” statements for a good pair of dancing shoes.

Are Dancing Pairs Happier?

Apparently, some of my professional colleagues seem to think so.

There’s this: “Why dancing is like couples therapy: Learning to dance together teaches communication skills, fosters respect”

“Dancing With the Stars,” professional dancer Tony Dovolani spends much of his time between seasons presenting seminars and giving private instruction. Wherever he goes, he sees couples reconnecting through ballroom dancing.

“It’s almost like you have a newfound love for each other,” Dovolani says. “Discovering new steps together teaches couples to interact with each other. They’re looking into each other’s eyes, anticipating the next move. It opens up energy channels of feeling and connection. It rejuvenates everything.”

Dovolani says learning to dance teaches communication skills and fosters respect. The physical activity is a great stress reliever and the positive feelings about the shared experience make couples excited to carve out alone time.

And this:

“Could Dance Be the New Couple’s Therapy? Get out on the floor and see how dancing can create better communication and intimacy between you and your spouse.”

And this: Could Dance Be The New Couple’s Therapy?

Dance forces couples to rely on nonverbal communication to tell a story together. One particular exercise that helps build a mutual understanding between partners is a role reversal class. During this time, the class is instructed to write down what they expect of their partners’ dancing, and then they switch roles with the women leading and the men following. As you can imagine, both parties discover that it’s not as easy as it seems. After, they switch back and often find they have the best dance ever.

I know putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is easier said than done, but knowing what it’s like to actually do it is a skill that can easily translate into your professional life and personal relationships.

Dancing will improve your overall well-being, better your posture, strengthen your eye contact, and most importantly, boost intimacy between you and your spouse and enhance passion in the bedroom. No matter what stage a relationship is at, isn’t that something we all deserve? Any good couple’s therapist, or good dance instructor for that matter, would say yes!

Couples Therapists and Dance Instructors: Friends or Foe?

Has the time come for me to surrender my license for high heels and a skirt that flares as I twirl? Do my colleagues realize that we are in danger of extinction and our biggest professional threat are not Life Coaches or eTherapists — but dance instructors?

Is Ballroom ‘Dance Therapy’ the best way for distressed couples to proceed? Is it true what the author of “Could Dance Be the New Couple’s Therapy?” writes about dancing with your partner: “It’s like couple’s therapy, but far more fun!”

The Investigation Begins

This couple’s therapist couldn’t rest. Was it true? Is ballroom dancing like ‘couple’s therapy’ only a lot more fun? Should solo practitioners feel threatened by the smooth moving, straight postured dance teachers? I had to know.

On a whim, I contacted the dance studio. The most delightful dance instructor Natalia  answered the call. I introduced myself as a local couples counselor and shared my curiosity with her. Natalia quickly warmed to the idea and was delighted with the opportunity to share her passion — dance and teaching dance. She then scheduled me into her appointment book — though neither of us mentioned Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the word “deductibles” never came up.

Couples Work With a Spin

When I arrived at the dance studio, Natalia greeted me and then she directed me to the office where I meet James O’neal, Owner and director of the dance studio.

I asked James and Natalia about their work with couples. What have they observed? What kinds of insights have they gained in their special type of ‘couples work’? Is it easy for them to get a read on the barometer of the relationship from the dance floor?

James and Natalia began to share the challenges they face in trying to teach dance moves to couples who are — well, out-of-step with one another. They said it’s not uncommon to see couples who are arguing, blaming and jockeying for power and control.

They nodded in agreement when Natalia said that a challenging pair is easily identified when a pair refuses to look at each other. The refusal of partners to make eye contact is a clear indication of disconnect sometimes accompanied by a type of contained ‘quiet seething’ that lurks just under the surface.

James and Natalia said they can “pretty immediately predict” how things are going to proceed from the initial phone call.

It’s often revealed pretty early from the caller that one partner is excited and eager about the dance lesson and the other is reluctant. The reluctant one is easy to spot. They are the ones with their arms crossed and are sometimes overheard saying “I give up! You’re always right!”

Sometimes the reluctance is stark. Resistant partners sometimes don’t show up for lessons at all. There are endless ways for partners to ‘check out’ of relationship participation. Avoiding eye contact is one way. Not participating, another.
When there’s a misstep or a wrong move –James and Natalia often hear the more skilled dance partner blaming the other for ‘getting it wrong’.

“Power couples with high stress professional jobs”, say James and Natalia, “are often very focused on dance success and on ‘getting it right.'” Power-pairs can have a hard time switching gears and forget how to have fun, relax and enjoy one another.

If couples are not on the same page and one person is enthusiastic about the lessons and the other is reluctant the dance lessons can become an unpleasant uphill battle.

James and Natalia, however, and are ‘fast on their feet’ and can quickly ascertain a helpful relationship maneuver to refocus the couple and help them to both learn and enjoy.

They have observed that one in the pair tries to compete and “one up” their mates by behaving territorially. They may talk about the dance lessons in possessive terms such as referencing the studio as ‘my studio’ or the lesson being ‘my lesson’ which is taking place on ‘my time’. The possessive framing of the dance lesson experience results in placing their partner as an outside observer and can be alienating.

Tempers Flare as Tempos Rise

Patience with one’s mate — or, lack thereof — is something else James and Natalia notice when partners dance skill levels differ. Competition can ensue. The partner who is quick to catch on is often impatient with the slower-to-catch-on dance mate.

It’s not uncommon, they said, for the one who “catches on more quickly” to become a bit of show-off as they upstage the slower-groovin’ mate who can feel clumsy or awkward feeling as if he or she has ‘two left feet.’

Sorting Out the Dance-as-a-Replacement-for-Therapy Question

Of course, when a pair is stressed and under strain engaging in a pleasurable activity — such as dancing cheek-to-cheek — doesn’t always bring about the joyful experience one would hope for.

So who IS having the most fun twirling around nightly? James and Natalia suggest that there are a few answers to this.

For one: singles! Some who are newly single — through divorce or widowhood — sign up for dance lessons often to symbolize ‘getting back out there’ in the mix once again. Some singles sign up for lessons because they want to know how to dance (and feel confident) when they go to the dance clubs — and they often end up meeting new companions at the dance studio! More than a few love-stories have has their start at the dance studio.

James told the story of a single man who he noticed “completely transformed himself” as he began to grow in confidence and skill on the dance floor. He changed his hairstyle, his physique and his clothing style. In fact, he wrote James a touching letter about how the dance-confidence he gained changed his life for the better.

Then Natalia shared this observation: she noted that more mature ‘second-time-around’ re-marrieds seem to be having the most fun! She said that these pairs have often been through difficult marriages or have had their share of struggles and now they are happy to be together and laugh, cajole, tease, play and have fun together. They don’t compete or try to ‘one up’ each other — they poke fun at their own and their partner’s dance blunders, playfully and with good humor.

“The Last Thing People Come Here to Do is to Learn How to Dance”: The Conclusion

Before concluding, I request a big round of reader-applause, for the most delightful, fun, friendly, warm and inviting dance instructors James and Natalia. They absolutely love what they do, are expert at their craft, are deeply talented dancers and were just delightful to spend time with. Their students are very lucky to have them!

It is very clear that they very much enjoy teaching dance but they also love and enjoy people. Each is able to artfully interact with a wide array of individuals who are either eagerly — or reluctantly! — trying to learn to dance. James and Natalia know what they’re doing on and off the dance floor and give their customers a most delightful experience.

Now, back to the BIG question: Does becoming dance partners increase relationship bliss as my professional colleagues suggest?

Well, I would answer it like this: If a couple generally enjoys each other, has friendship as the foundation and centerpiece of their relationship, is good humored and playful — but their lives busy and demanding — then, YES!

Focusing on your loved one, moving to the music and learning something new together can certainly be a relationship enhancer and can bring out warm, positive, romantic feelings that busy lives can make difficult.

However, if a relationship is strained, distressed or negative — then running over to the dance studio will not only not remedy things, but will likely highlight the areas of disconnect.

In short, it is not that dancing will either enhance (or be a detriment) to your relationship — but rather, this intimate, close, shared activity will serve as a mirror reflecting back to you the actual relationship you have.

As we all know, couples with relationships discord can spend their life savings on an extravagant vacation and have a completely miserable time together — but those who are able to ‘sing a song that only the other can understand’ can experience joy just by sitting across from each other and sharing their favorite ice cream. It’s not what you do together, but how you feel about who you’re doing it with.


Here is another great article on why ballroom dancing is great for couples: Enjoy

 More ballroom dance studios, less divorce lawyers


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