Page 1Group 8Group 7Group 7
Beauty Style Fitness Wellness Living #RealTalk #EmbraceYourAge
Stay up to date

Get on the List

Unlock our weekly newsletter packed with tips on living authentically, healthfully, and stylishly at every age.Get on the List: The best beauty, fashion, wellness and fitness tips straight to your inbox

Swing Dancing to the Beat of a New Drum

It was a month after my husband moved out, and I was visiting New Orleans for a painfully dull convention. During the evenings, some colleagues and I did as NOLA tourists do: drank Sazeracs, ate crawfish, and visited the jazz bars on Decatur Street. At one of them, a small band was playing 1930s jazz, and a clutch of dancers caught my attention.

They were an exuberant group — around six couples twirling and sliding across the small floor. They lacked the self-seriousness of ballroom or tango dancers. Their dancing had sass and sexiness and even a sprinkling of silly. I watched as they seamlessly switched partners between songs, as a few of the musicians left the stage to dance and then pick up their instruments again. I loved their ease with each other, their rootedness, their creativity and palpable joy. As my friends moved on to the next venue, I stayed behind, now transfixed. What started as an inner smile grew to admiration and then to a deep-seated ache. My thought was “I need to do that.”

I knew I would never be one of those young lovelies swiveling in pencil skirts. But maybe I could learn some of those basic swing dance steps? Maybe there were people doing this where I lived?

Back home in New York the following week, I signed up for my first Lindy Hop class. The teacher, a wisecracking woman named Elena had left her banking job years before to become a full-time swing dancer and teacher. Elena taught classes on the basics with a gift for getting us to laugh at ourselves just at the moment we might be tempted to give up in frustration.


One unavoidable truth about partner dancing is that one person has to lead, leaving the other, by necessity, to follow. That was precisely why, years before, I had decided it could never be the hobby for me.


One unavoidable truth about partner dancing is that one person has to lead, leaving the other, by necessity, to follow. That was precisely why, years before, I had decided it could never be the hobby for me. Before our wedding, my husband and I had given it a go. At my urging, we signed up for the three-lesson “wedding package.” The instructor explained leading and following and taught us the steps of basic six-count swing. Let’s just say I was the more motivated student. My soon-to-be husband would stop mid-dance and object that I was leading him. “But,” I blurted out, “I know the steps!”

The instructor patiently reminded me to let him do the leading. I tried. But it was as if I was hardwired to perform for the both of us. It’s safe to say that this experience bore some predictive truth about dynamics of the relationship ahead. During my 16 years of marriage, I changed the diapers, emptied the dishwasher, walked the dog, and got the groceries — even when it was his turn. “How else is it ever going to get done?” I asked myself.

I hear all too often, from women I know, both married and divorced, who have been overfunctioning in their relationships for a long time. Its a near cliché: In her impatience to see things done “right,” the wife takes control of more tasks, leaving her husband with fewer. Eventually, their partners cease to be willing, or even able, to tackle things that were once shared responsibilities. It’s a kind of creep factor that can’t help but create, well, creeps.

Back in the classroom with Elena, I was expected to dance with a rotation of partners, some of whom were galumphing beginners, but others who were confident leads. Sometimes, an experienced partner would test me by adding something to the basic step we were learning, just to see if I was following or dancing the steps by memory. More often than not, I stumbled, and was immediately outed. We would both laugh, as the point was made.

Elena told me to try closing my eyes. “Think less, feel more.” The prospect was terrifying, but it forced me to feel where the dance was going by reading my partner’s weight shifts and momentum. Soon I started experiencing the magical sensation of stretch and compression in synch with a partner. I started to become not just a better follower, but a better dancer. It was a revelation to discover the joy of just doing my part. Dancing was suddenly an entirely different experience. Each dance became a mini vacation in which someone else does the all the planning and you just get to relax and go along for the ride.

Before I knew it, this feeling of lightness, motion, and rhythm had become addictive. When it came time for the first vacation of my post-married life, I found myself thinking about a dance destination. Never mind that I’d taken classes for only a month.

I heard from a high school classmate who lived in Austin, Texas, about an event called Hot Rhythm Holiday offering four days of classes and social dances with live bands for less than the cost of a meal for two at a trendy Manhattan restaurant. Plus, local musicians and dancers were offering to put up festival-goers in their homes!

The following Thursday, I found myself on a stranger’s La-Z-Boy chair in Austin, in a roomful of snoozing swing dance teachers and contest winners from around the country. They all knew each other from previous years and were mildly curious about the solo, considerably older, beginner they found themselves shacked up with. As we were putting on makeup and pinning our hair for that evening, one of them called me “brave.” What I often say about divorce is that when the thing you’re most afraid of happening finally does, taking risks seems a lot easier.


What I often say about divorce is that when the thing you’re most afraid of happening finally does, taking risks seems a lot easier.


When I finally put up an online dating profile, I pondered over how to fill out the blank space under “interests.” Women I know who list “surfing” are definitely getting dates, probably with hot, sculpted guys from Montauk. Others who list road biking have found a good string of eligible men too. Plug “swing dancing” into the OKCupid search bar and you’ll see at most 10 results. Of those, half mention swing dancing as the one thing they won’t ever do, and at least a few others are actually swingers.

Under “Interests” I eventually went with biking, hiking, and boating. Under “You Should Message Me If” I wrote, “you aren’t opposed to a game of Scrabble.” And way down at the bottom, in the section headed “Most Private Thing You Are Willing to Admit,” I coyly wrote “I’m a swing dance nerd.”

A few weeks ago, I checked my inbox and saw a new face that was unusually fetching. I clicked and read the message: “I’d play you in Scrabble. If one of us gets a bingo, we’ll get up and practice our swingouts.” A swingout, I should mention, is the golden move of the Lindy Hop, the move you can work on for years and still have room for improvement. This guy was 59, blue eyed, and lanky. When we met, we talked about everything under the sun — except dance. It turned out that we had some friends in common, we both liked design, we had divorced when our kids were teens, we both loved boats and Maine. On our third date, I casually alluded to my thing for swing. Though he hadn’t gone dancing in years, he said, he had once been as fired up as I was and admitted to actually missing it.

Date No. 4 is on the calendar, and I don’t know what we’ll do. I’m wondering if I should insist we go dancing. Maybe I’ll just relax and take his lead.

Elise Pettus is founder and editorial director of UNtied, a comprehensive divorce resource for thinking women.

Photo: Courtest of Elise Pettus

You Might Also Like

I Feel OK About My Neck
#RealTalk

I Feel OK About My Neck

The late Nora Ephron’s essay “I Feel Bad About My Neck” is...

read
7 Lessons for My Younger Self
#RealTalk

7 Lessons for My Younger Self

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” said...

read
Every Wrinkle Tells a Story
#RealTalk

Every Wrinkle Tells a Story

As I approach 50 and beyond, I look at myself differently. Whereas...

read
Is Self-Love Overrated?
#RealTalk

Is Self-Love Overrated?

I’ve twice been told I have extraordinary arms. The first was in...

read
WTF Is a #CuratedLife?
#RealTalk

WTF Is a #CuratedLife?

I have been working to figure out social media. God, is it...

read
‘Gilmore Girls’ and Me
#RealTalk

‘Gilmore Girls’ and Me

The seven-season series Gilmore Girls and its four afterglow episodes, A Year in the Life,...

read
10 Real Women Who Endlessly Inspire Us
Living

10 Real Women Who Endlessly Inspire Us

They’re not celebrities. They don’t have a ton of money. But they...

read
5 Exfoliators for 5 Aging-Skin Problems
Beauty

5 Exfoliators for 5 Aging-Skin Problems

It seems that with age comes a more complicated skin care routine....

read
5 Standing Yoga Poses for Lower-Back Pain
Yoga

5 Standing Yoga Poses for Lower-Back Pain

If you have lower-back pain, you are not alone. According to the...

read
Has the Carbohydrate Conundrum Been Solved?
Wellness

Has the Carbohydrate Conundrum Been Solved?

New research studying carb intake in relation to mortality confirms that contrary...

read
Office Hours: How Can I Get Back Into the Workforce?
Living

Office Hours: How Can I Get Back Into the Workforce?

Welcome to Office Hours, where a Fairygodboss expert answers a question from one of...

read
5 Recipes for an Unforgettable Holiday Cookie Party
Wellness

5 Recipes for an Unforgettable Holiday Cookie Party

’Tis the season for a cookie party. Legendary cookie baker Dorie Greenspan...

read
Is Sitting Ruining Your Posture?
Wellness

Is Sitting Ruining Your Posture?

Back pain, leg pain, shoulder pain, headaches. We tend to attribute inconvenient...

read
Put an End to Your Perfectionism
Wellness

Put an End to Your Perfectionism

Earlier this year I had an epiphany: The never-ending feeling that I needed...

read
Women Who Inspire: Model Gillean McLeod
Living

Women Who Inspire: Model Gillean McLeod

Gillean McLeod, 62, admits being “late to the game” has been somewhat...

read
The Fine Line Holiday Gift Guide
Living

The Fine Line Holiday Gift Guide

From hard-to-shop-for men to the gal who likes it all, the people...

read
Fitness Gifts You Won’t Have to Sweat Over
Fitness

Fitness Gifts You Won’t Have to Sweat Over

If even thinking about shopping gives you a hot flash, you’re not...

read
Perfect Presents Under $150
Living

Perfect Presents Under $150

Holiday gift giving shouldn’t break the bank. We found 13 presents under...

read
Great Gifts for Good Guys
Living

Great Gifts for Good Guys

Why are guys so hard to buy for? We don’t have the...

read
The Tastiest Holiday Gifts for Foodies
Living

The Tastiest Holiday Gifts for Foodies

We got hungry just thinking about wrapping up these tasty holiday gifts...

read
Hostess Gifts to Show Your Gratitude
Living

Hostess Gifts to Show Your Gratitude

Whether you’re just popping over for dinner or staying a few days,...

read
Holiday Gifts for Women Who Love Wellness
Wellness

Holiday Gifts for Women Who Love Wellness

Don’t stress over holiday gifts for your gals who walk the wellness...

read
Eat This Now: Ultimate Cleansing Foods
Wellness

Eat This Now: Ultimate Cleansing Foods

If you’re among the millions of Americans suffering from obesity, diabetes, high...

read
Need to Know: Heavy Metals
Wellness

Need to Know: Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are odorless, invisible, and virtually undetectable — but they’re of increasing...

read
Problem/Solution: Teensy Bladder Leaks
Style

Problem/Solution: Teensy Bladder Leaks

You laugh. You sneeze. You cough. You do 13,791 burpees at the...

read
Shave Your Face: Yay or Nay?
Beauty

Shave Your Face: Yay or Nay?

Hair removal has long been an integral part of beauty routines. As...

read
How to Get Started With Exercise at 75
Fitness

How to Get Started With Exercise at 75

When you hit your mid-70s, you may feel like your daily routine...

read
5 Hormone-Balancing Foods
Wellness

5 Hormone-Balancing Foods

Are your hormones out of whack? Often the best place to start...

read
The Science-Based Solution for Aging Hair
Beauty

The Science-Based Solution for Aging Hair

There’s no question that our hair changes as we get older. It...

read
37 Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
Wellness

37 Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance

Hormones play an enormous role in how we look, think, and feel....

read
Load More
share
To Top