Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Gotta Dance

The New York Times today covers the efforts of same-sex couples to be allowed into competitive ballroom dancing.

It may seem a bit trivial to make a fuss about the symbol when the substance is so far under attack. But symbols are important, at times of more immediate importance than reality. They provide a lens to understand the reality.

Ballroom dancing, as Henry Tilney pointed out in Northanger Abbey is, and always has been, a symbol of marriage. It is the exclusive union of one man and one woman for a mutual purpose. It beautifully illustrates the complementary nature of marriage: Men lead and women follow, not because men are generally better dancers, but because someone must lead and within the parameters of the dance it makes sense for the man to do so.

Submission in the dance does not lead to the man trampling the woman, but empowering her to do things the man could never do, and she could not do alone. It brings to mind that old line, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did--only backwards and in high heels" that beautifully illustrates the strength and grace of the traditional woman's role.

(Can a Baptist speak so warmly about ballroom dancing? But after all, any Baptist objection to it is based on the grounds that it provides such an excellent symbol of marriage that it ought not to be engaged in promiscuously. So the analogy holds.)

Even those promoting same-sex ballroom dancing acknowledge that it's a different art form than opposite-sex ballroom dancing. A man can't move the way a woman does. The leader-follower relationship must be changed. And even the emotional dynamic of the relationship symbolized influences the dance. Two men dancing is not the same thing as a man and a woman dancing. And thus the symbol draws us back to the reality.

I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis using the analogy (and another Jane Austen insight) of a ballroom dance in analyzing why women should not be ordained in the church. He argues that, on the fringes, one can treat men and women as interchangeable--that at a factory or at a ballot-box their sex indeed does not matter. But the closer you get to the center, to the realities at the heart of the universe, the more important the distinction becomes.

Ballroom dancing is the symbol of a symbol. Marriage and the church hierarchies are symbols of the reality. I doubt we will fully grasp the reality symbolized until we look into the face of our Father (not Mother or Parent) in heaven. But it has something to do with otherness. The delight of one person in another like himself could be merely narcisstic. Sex shows us the potential for delight in someone different; indeed, that part of the delight is the very differentness. Equating a same-sex relationship with an opposite-sex relationship hides the reality that God planted within human beings when he made them male and female: that although He is not like us, yet He desires us.


Carrie said...

Wowee -- to other OBCLers posting on dancing. This is a fabulous blog week! =)

Being into the dance scene myself, I find these arguments highly interesting.

Although I agree that dancing can be used as a symbol of marriage, I hardly think that to dance pre-marriage is to engage in promiscous activities. Intersting idea though.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Baptist objection to dancing is based on the idea that it will tempt one into premarital sex, which is not precisely the same thing. I'm afraid most Baptists don't have nearly enough understanding of metaphor to see dance as a metaphor for marriage. Most of them still seem to have a remarkable amount of difficulty with the concept of marriage as a representation of the relationship between God and the Christian, in anything other than the most abstract and tenuous of ways. I can only attribute this to the fact that the Baptist faith is based on the most literal interpretations of the Bible, and therefore attracts a disproportionate number of literal-minded people.

Auntie M.

Anonymous said...

It seems ironic that reading the blog on ballroom dancing that the blogspot add at the top of the page was for Ballroom dancing shoes and videos. Coincidence or conspiricy...


Queen of Carrots said...

I have not formerly given much thought to Baptist literalness (although I don't think it detracts from the validity of my post). Come to think of it, most of the Baptist types I know are relatively literal--but I just thought that was because people as a whole are relatively literal. Are there denominations with a greater concentration of imaginative people?

The concurrence between ads and postings is a conspiracy. That's how Blogger allows me to ramble like this for free.