In Japan, ballroom dancing is regarded with much suspicion. For a couple to embrace and dance in front of others is beyond embarrassing. A married couple would never think of going out arm in arm, let alone dancing together! A couple would hardly say, ‘I love you’, out loud. The Japanese rather think that intuitive understanding is everything.
So began “Shall We Dance,” a 1996 Japanese movie that John and I happened to watch a couple of weeks ago. But the moment I read those first few sentences in the subtitles, I realized it was more than just a movie.
“Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like someone I know,” I said as I nudged John in the ribs.
He started laughing with his usual grin, looking far too embarrassed to even grace me with an answer.
Maybe he remembered the last time I ponied up to him and tried to pull him on the dance floor — New Year’s Eve, December 2010. There we were in a sweltering little club in Texas, music thumping in the background and neon lights flashing across the floor. I grabbed his hand and said, “Come on, dance with me, it’ll be fun,” and tugged him towards the rest of the people gyrating to the music. But he just shook his head and remained anchored against the wall. No matter how many times I smiled or tossed my hair or swung my hips at him, he still wouldn’t budge. I ended up dancing alone for a little while. But I felt a pang of guilt when I caught John wincing and cut the evening’s festivities short to take him home.
Why didn’t he dance with me? The question swirled around in my mind as I thought of every other time I invited him to swing with me to the music. Sure, he usually giggled about it, and sometimes I had to lead a little — he never took a dance lesson in his life. But never, ever had he refused me.
But then again, every other time I had asked him to dance, it happened in the privacy of our home — when the infectious beat of a great song inspired me to leap up and dance with my love.
“You know, you should take me out dancing sometime, I love to dance,” I once said to him, mid-whirl in the living room of our old apartment.
“Too much trouble,” he said, shaking his head.
“But it’s fun to get dressed up, to go out somewhere special and just dance. I miss it, really.”
I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was the kind of “maybe” that didn’t suggest an evening of waltzes or rumba would be coming anytime soon.
I started learning the rules of love in China long before I learned Mandarin Chinese — and long knew that Chinese men didn’t like public displays of affection. It took John years to finally kiss me before strangers — and even then, he practically cracked up laughing from embarrassment when the wedding photographers asked us to kiss in several photos. But until I saw “Shall We Dance,” I never realized that John might actually equate dancing with the same intimacy of a kiss, an embrace, and everything else we kept behind the doors of our bedroom. It’s no wonder he turned me down that New Year’s Eve.
One day, I still hope John might escort me to a public dance somewhere, where we could glide across the shadows of the dance floor in each other’s arms — maybe even something as enchanting as that final ballroom dance scene in “Shall We Dance.” But in the meantime, at least I know I’ll always have a dance partner ready and willing the moment that the music inspires me, right in the comfort of my home.
Are you or your lovers/spouses too embarrassed to dance in public? Why?