Shall We Dance? Yes…But Not in Public

A poster for the Japanese movie, Shall We Dance?
(photo by elycefeliz)

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?

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17 Replies to “Shall We Dance? Yes…But Not in Public”

  1. Indeed, just i known, a lot of Chinese couples just like you said, usually don’t like in public to dance or do something, prefer just two people to share it. In that time he will say some words that usually would not!Another reason that’s say some words in public would let others people feel “肉麻”, hehe!

  2. I’ve seen the craziest things in Beijing. Such as couples groping each other in public. I’ve also seen people singing loudly and dancing in public. However, among the older generation, it’s rare to see couples display affection but they also don’t seem to look down upon those who do display it.

  3. I guess I’m lucky my boyfriend is half Japanese and half french and raised here though he was born in japan..

    hes very affectionate =^.^=

  4. If Korean men are the same way, thanks for the warning. Whenever there are Russian parties for the whole family, one of the requirements is to dance after food has been served, or at least something one has to do. I kind of enjoy it, but often wonder what would be my special friend’s reaction to it? This is someone who doesn’t kiss or hold hands with me in public. (He was okay with hugging.)

  5. Your husband might be conscious of his height. He didn’t know most people were intoxicated on New Year Eve. 🙂 Most Chinese minority groups have dance traditions. You will see public ballroom dancing parties on a summer night in most cities.
    Showing public affections are rare among Chinese youth today? I beg the differ. Doing that with a foreigner draws more attention though.

  6. In general I have danced with guys who were Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Chinese Malaysian…. I think it depends on the location, and the guy.

  7. Haha! My husband is exactly like John when it comes to dancing. I wouldn’t be able to pull him onto a dance floor even if I had strength of Superman. He’s ok about other public displays of affection, though he if he’s going to kiss me in public he’ll only do it if we’re sitting in the back row of the bus or otherwise when no one is looking. Though living in China you know someone is always looking.

  8. I must have married a weird Chinese guy: He dances and sings like there’s no tomorrow (well, now with two kids it’s not that easy anymore). He
    even took salsa lessons with me. He is also extra affectionate with me, with our daughters and his dad.

  9. Have to continue below (commenting with my phone is kind of problematic): When I say affectionate I mean ‘affectionate in public ‘. I can see that his very traditional father is embarrassed whenever my husband kisses his cheeks in public, because the old man cracks up laughing.

  10. haha cute! My Chinese hubby to be is the oposite of John it seems! His always pestering me to teach him to dance because he knows I did ballroom and latin for a long time. I was really surprised when he tried to force me to teach him in front of my parents lol!!!! Even in his shop that he works in, he isnt afraid to show some PDA towards me when I hang out with him in the shop!

  11. If your husband or BF does not like to dance in public, consider sign him up with dancing class where both of you can practise dancing moves. Kind of progression to build up confidence of dancing.

  12. haha i have danced with many different types of girls (all r girl friends only) in prom night during my college days…aaaaa i miss that big time 🙁 i would not mind dancing with my future partner anytime anywhere she wants hehe ^^

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