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Dating Relationship Analogies In Ballroom And Latin Dancing
Initiating, maintaining, and growing a relationship is a lot like Ballroom or Latin dancing. Have you ever watched a couple dancing on the floor moving through complex movements so gracefully and effortlessly that it seems that some magical spell has been cast that has caused the two beings to share one seamless consciousness? I was mystified by this phenomenon and was compelled to take classes myself. Being an engineer I had to analyze everything I was being taught about dancing so I could break it down into all of its constituent parts and then understand how they were assembled and functioned together. Enlightenment came largely as a result of having a patient instructor at the local YMCA who was also an engineer by trade. As I suspected, there was much more to being a good dancer than just being able to memorize a pattern of sequential foot placements.
In both the Ballroom and Latin style of couple’s dance, one person has to lead and the other person has to follow. This works best if the man leads and the woman follows. Initially, I wasn’t sure why this was but eventually it became apparent. One class I was attempting to Waltz with a woman and I could not seem to turn her very gracefully. The instructor came over and asked me if, whatever it was I was trying to do, could I please stop it. I explained to him my difficulty and he asked me to watch him with my partner. He placed his hands, palms up, in front of her and asked her to place her hands over his. She set her hands, palms down on his at which point he jerked his hands away telling her to hold her hands over his, not touching them, but maybe an inch above. After she positioned her hands over his he simply said, “Now, follow me,” and began to maneuver her around the room making her look like she was a gifted princess. Keep in mind, she really didn’t know anything more than the basic step (just learned less than a half hour previously) and neither was touching each other at all. Magic, right? Maybe magnets? As I recall he explained it to me this way:
“They key is to always keep in your mind exactly where you want to be three moves from now and exactly where you want her body to be three moves from now. If you provide a confident lead with that in mind at all times, she will be able to ‘sense’ where your body will be moving next and will respond accordingly.”
This is a lot like dating in that the woman not only likes to have a man with confidence but she needs to be able to feel it in order to give her perspective in the relationship. The woman wants to feel that confidence so that she can surrender herself to his lead in the knowledge that she is safe. In many turns and spins he may initiate her turn with one hand but he will often run the other along her waist to provide her with support and stability as she turns. It is not an independent move on her part but rather she is dependent upon the clarity, strength, and reassurance of his lead. It is the same thing in a relationship. She needs to know where he is at emotionally so she can decide how much to emotionally commit. If he is ambivalent or unsure of where he is in the relationship, she (if she is emotionally healthy) will become frustrated or impatient and will soon loose interest. Sometimes a man with a weak lead in dance may cause the woman to stumble, will step on her toes, or in some other way make her uncomfortable. This will cause her to naturally loose trust in him, making it more difficult for her to follow whatever lead he is giving. If a woman in a relationship finds that he is not invested in the relationship as much as she had been led to believe, at the very least she will be more cautious and reserved with her emotional investment thereafter. It won’t take too many miscues from him for her to again loose interest and move on.
Some women will get frustrated with a guy’s weak lead and will “back-lead” them on the dance floor. If the guy has any spine at all this will create much conflict and confusion as she will be pushing him around to tell him what she wants to do at the same time that he is supposed to be communicating to her what is coming up next. This never looks good and I can guarantee the woman does not enjoy this nearly as much as if she had a competent leader she could feel safe trusting and following. Just as in a relationship, she really wants to dance or be together with someone and so, will often put up with this dysfunctional, uncommitted substitute if only to avoid being alone.
I’ve wondered why the roles can’t be reversed. The man’s job as leader is many times more complex than the woman’s job as follower. Usually, women tend to want to dance much more than men, so why can’t we have the less demanding role? I think the answer lies in the male and female natural preferences and internal wiring. Given a choice of being unloved and unwanted or of feeling inadequate and disrespected, most women will see being unloved and unwanted as the worse option while most men would see feeling inadequate and disrespected as the more painful (ref: For Women Only, Feldhan, 2004). Giving the man the lead makes him feel trusted and respected while a woman who can follow a good lead feels wanted and cared for. Understanding this in the analogy should help two people dating see that both people have different but complimentary needs. As an example, if a man picks a place to eat for a date and pays for dinner, he will have his provider need met, especially if she tells him she enjoyed his choice. Likewise, she will feel much more cared for and desired if he spends the time and money to help her have an enjoyable evening. While many women sometimes seek control in the relationship, if the man surrenders his lead, becomes passive, and puts his whole heart on a platter for her, both are likely to be seriously disappointed. To quote Daniel Goleman’s, Emotional Intelligence (1995), “… and everyone knows that nothing will turn a woman off faster than knowing that she is in complete control of the relationship.”
In terms of men’s and women’s natural wiring, the woman is naturally better able to follow than the man due to her heightened sense of intuition. Studies show that women have many times more neural connections between their two brain hemispheres than what men do, possibly explaining why men, stereotypically, are such comparative imbeciles when it comes to intuitive deduction and empathy.
Another interesting dynamic in dance surfaces when studying the best way for each person to hold the other in the classic ballroom position (her right hand outstretched to her side and resting in his outstretched left hand, his right hand behind her on the lower part of her shoulder blade, and her left hand on his right shoulder or upper arm). A casual observer might surmise that the man is just gently touching her shoulder blade, her left arm is just resting on his right, and they just happen to be holding each other’s outstretched hands. Quite to the contrary, if done properly there is always a slight but definite tension among the three points of contact. This provides a more stable geometry for the dance so that he can more effectively communicate what his intentions are and so that she can more clearly detect the subtle shifts in that tension indicating where she should move. Women have a natural need for this tension because it is the means of communication. Have you ever wondered why it is that men are content saying (if not thinking), “Honey, I told you on our wedding night that I love you if that ever changes, I will let you know,” and why it seems to the man that when all is stable at home, the woman will seeming do something to create drama and disrupt that peace?
The reason is that most women tend to have a natural insecurity about their desirability and need to be continually reassured. In dance, assurance is provided through communication via the tension in the hold (nobody likes to dance with a dishrag). In relationship, it is provided via maintaining respect for each other as distinct, complete beings while the man frequently goes out of his way in creative and personal ways to let her know that he could do lots of things with his time and energy but he chooses to spend it with her. Notice I say frequently and not constantly. Provide the assurance then back off and let her enjoy it. Spend time doing other routine things or independent activities (chores, family things, hobbies, work, etc) and wait for that insecurity to come around again (times vary depending on the woman but it WILL come around). Don’t let it grow to be a problem but wait just long enough for the question to surface in her mind. Then, know her love language, and clearly and creatively communicate to her again that she is special and that you, this day, choose her. To the pragmatic male mind this may sound like a game. It does require planning, strategy, cleverness, and keeping track of both the clock and the score but it is very definitely not a game; it is a relationship between two uniquely wired and wonderfully created people with hearts both capable of love so great so as to bridge continents (cliché but true) and at the same time capable of such levels of depravity so as to render another incapable of loving or even to loose the desire to continue living.
In most of the dance classes I attended we would rotate dance partners so we could learn how to dance with other people rather than just developing a set of sympathetic bad habits with one person. Every woman I danced with was different and at first I could only think of them as better dancers or worse dancers. However, as I got to know these women better I began to pick up on correlations between their dancing style/ability and their life experiences. For example, one woman was tall (about six inches taller than I) and very beautiful but was insecure about her height. She was like dancing with a limp doll. It was difficult to lead her because I could not get any resistance to be able to feel where she was.
Another woman was married but came to the singles class because her husband was not interested in spending this kind of time with her. She would often put her body unusually close to mine and had a habit of touching her breasts with any part of my body she could get a hold of or manipulate into the right position. I can only surmise that she was probably lonely and very hungry for affection. Yet another woman I had to remind several times to let me lead as she would compulsively attempt to back-lead me. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman but many years ago had gone through a very abusive and ugly divorce and had been a single mother of several kids for a long time. She was very used to being independent and not being able to trust men. One other woman had a similar tendency to try to back-lead me when I was trying to learn a new move. She would get frustrated and impatient with my mistakes as I was learning and would try to “help” me by taking matters into her own hands. Turns out she was a bit of a critical perfectionist and had routinely cycled through relationships and marriages.
To be fair, I had my own myriad of issues that showed up in how I attempted to lead and dance but this just further illustrates the point that not only is dance a fitting analogy for relationships, but that the issues in the one have a directly related corollary in the other. Want to quickly get to know your date and what kind of emotional mapping they come with? Take them dancing or to dance lessons and then pay close attention to how they respond to you. I’ve illustrated mostly from the perspective from a man to a woman but similar principles apply in the other direction too. If those women wanted to, they could have seen pretty deeply into my soul just by dancing with me for a few minutes. They may not have seen a lot of detail but they could certainly pick out the major landmarks.
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