Friday, March 24, 2017

First Dance


With a political mother and an engineer father, I frequently got taken to official functions with dancing.  Dancing at such formal occasions invariably meant ballroom social dances. Trans girls have a problem.  If you learn any dances, they teach you to lead. Lead tends to be associated with males. Ballroom can seem like a rather patriarchal dance style where men show off their lady, hold her and guide her. She wears a cocktail dress, he wears a suit. It's an area of life, like school uniform, where gender differences are deeply polarised. 

My mother loved to dance and as a teen I grew up wanting to dance too. I learned to social cha-cha and waltz but little more.  I seldom had a partner and when I did it felt awkward: Dancing lead came about as naturally as wearing a shirt, tie and trousers. In other words, not. For a girl who grew up making her own dresses and skirts in secret it hurt to even try to lead. I sometimes used to practise the girl's steps alone in my room. All from memory. It just felt lonely and sad. As for weddings, I had been taken to them too, watching wistfully the Bride and Groom took their first romantic dance.  The idea that that the Bride might one day be me was a total fantasy and I knew tearfully well it was never going to happen.

Trans Brides to Be can therefore be less than prepared when it comes to their own wedding. My eight month engagement was spent frantically learning to Salsa, Mambo and Merengue. Why did nobody tell me that dancing felt so good for a girl? Next to sex it is one of the most satisfying, exhilarating things you can do with your partner. 

Social salsa is traditionally danced and styled closer than ballroom.  It can be close and flirtatious if you wish but at the heart of it are those little hand, arm and wrist movements from your lead. He directs you. In hold you need to know where he wants you to go, what he wants you to do and what he has decided to do with you next.  His hand communicates that to you. He makes the rules and you follow, styling your moves to suit his wishes but also to have fun.  My mother brought me up a feminist. I have her to thank that I became a strong, confident albeit rather lonely woman. Salsa opened up a whole new world for me, learning to trust my partner, anticipate his wishes and let him make the decisions.  Anyone who has danced Salsa will tell you you're courting disaster if the girl tries to lead her guy.

So after all the beautiful banqueting, the sparkling wine, the wedding breakfast and the heartwarming speeches came the evening reception and dancing.  Traditionally, the Bride sits there looking beautiful during the Wedding Breakfast.  She says almost nothing. After being the centre of attention and having so much to say during the ceremony, it is a blessed relief! I got up briefly to speak (a little emotionally) about missing my parents but otherwise I kept to tradition and just smiled. Who could blame me if it was mainly at the amazing man who had just become my husband.

There was time to chill after the wedding breakfast, time to retreat to the Bridal suite, kiss, love and spend time with my husband...There was also time to be nervous about that first dance.  All those eyes on you, that choreography, the desire to look like the perfect couple....The first time we had danced together was late at night, on board ship somewhere between England and Belgium. The onstage band played Amy Winehouse's 'Valerie'.  We freestyled and the floor cleared so people could watch. It was the time I first realised 'Wow, this guy can DANCE!' We finished to a round of applause that stunned me.  So much in the zone with him, I hadn't been nervous.

As we practised during the months before the wedding, it became clear that he would need to get used to having me in a gown.  Traditionally, the groom doesn't see the wedding dress until the big day.  I guess I'm a traditional girl. I wanted to see the look on his face when I first entered the ceremony room. I wasn't disappointed. That left a problem though.  How do a couple who normally dance so close get used to the dress? I tried asking around friends to borrow a dress the same size but to no avail. We then tried dancing with me in a hoop petticoat.  It helped us to make some adjustments but it was clear that cross body leads would be particularly difficult.

The music we chose was 'Refugio de Amor' by Chayanne and Vanessa Williams, a beautiful love duet, all 5 minutes 28 seconds of it! The track begins so delicately with a lilting melody then picks up pace. By the time of the dance I was petrified.  This wasn't an impromptu, 'let's hit the dance floor' moment, you get announced and everyone watches.

I need not have worried. In the end the music took over and my deep affection for a man who truly loves and cares for me  I put myself quite literally in his hands. Dance is about trust, so important when you're in a floor length gown and heels.  You depend on him to lead you expertly and well.  He depends on you to hold your weight and balance.  Your first dance is a test of love, dependency and trust, it symbolises so much of what is to come and how you will cope.  This is not romantic nonsense, it is the essential for life with your partner and soulmate.  Without it you will trip and fall.....and we didn't.

He can remove his jacket to dance, but warning for her, dresses with layers of tulle underneath are hot to wear.  By the time we had danced more, I simply had to get outside to get cool. I recall negotiating the steps of the hotel entrance. We stood outside on Portland Street in the cool of an October city night.  It was so blissful. Totally wrapped up in each other we were barely aware of the traffic or the passers by. We have a selfie to remember it by.

And so to bed. Wedding dresses are like beautiful wrapping paper.  They take ages to put on. They also take ages to undo.  Mine laced at the back.  Once tied I couldn't unlace it myself. Your bridesmaids dress you but after that it's all down to your groom. It's traditional to leave the party early and lose yourself in each other. Why else are you getting married? Unwrapping a present is full of anticipation.  Everyone gets to see your dress but only he gets to see what is beneath.  A first dance is a metaphor for that first intimacy....or first intimacy now you're married.  Even if you have loved before, this moment is always so longed for.  Like Salsa, it involves trust and breathtaking exhilaration. It is also about the ultimate in closeness and loving; a moment your vows become a marriage. I felt well and truly married that day.

Huggs, Jane xx 

1 comment:

  1. Last year a small group of us went to a vintage weekend for a friend's hen do. There were lots of sessions during the weekend where you got to learn different dance style from the 50s, 60s and 70s. We did a Jive session and it's very much like Salsa, you have to have to trust your partner when they are leading and read their signals for each move.
    We all loved the experience and putting it into practice in the evenings.