I have received some unusual directions from Dominants. (In fact, my first Dominant described Dominance as “requesting that someone do something unusual and enjoying it when she does,” a state of affairs that sent me to the store in search of Q-tips and red food coloring.) However, the first suggestion I received from a Dominant has proven to have lasting influence on my views of Dominance and submission.
He told me to learn to dance.
I am not the world’s most graceful person. I have always thought of myself as more ugly duckling than swan. So it was with some trepidation (and trip-anticipation) that I attended my first swing dancing lesson.
In swing dance, as in many partner dances, there are clearly defined roles. One partner is the lead, while the other is the follow. The lead partner determines the course of the dance and uses his movements to communicate his intentions to the follow. (I use “he” and “his” for the lead partner and “she” and “hers” for the follow, but as with D/s, lead and follow in partner dances can be of any gender.) The parallels to Dominance and submission, where a submissive partner yields control to a Dominant, are both obvious and more subtle.
Our Dynamics Are Not Better Left to Chance
In a dance, the lead has to be in charge and is responsible for choosing the course — literally steering the pair around fellow dancers and other obstacles. The lead takes responsibility for the safe execution of the dance, and the follow trusts him to do so. In D/s, the Dominant makes the choices and has the control. The submissive responds to his instructions. In dance as in D/s, this surrender of control can give a sense of freedom and a joyous peace. When dancing is at its best, each partner acts from memory, habit, and instinct. Thought and planning are required, but in the moment, the movement is a union between two people, a joyful celebration. This is what we strive to achieve in D/s.
This seemingly effortless flow of steps in time with music is based on a great deal of effort indeed — both practice in dance and with a particular partner. Similarly, a D/s dynamic doesn’t happen by accident. Dominant and submissive have knowledge and skills honed by practice, and intuitions and responses developed in a relationship over time. And just as a dance is built on the experience of each partner and the connection between them, each D/s dynamic is unique.
D/s Is a Dance, You Learn as You Go
What makes a dance work is the same thing that is the foundation of a D/s dynamic: trust. In a dance, the follow is alert to a lead’s cues — often a tiny motion of a finger in her palm to signal a spin or a nudge against the hip to prepare her to fly in an aerial lift. If the follow hesitates or resists, the dance falters. Similarly if the communication, the direction, the control is unclear, the follow will lose rhythm and direction, and become confused and unable to execute the steps. D/s requires clear direction and alert response. Nothing is more beautiful than a well-executed dance — except possibly a confident submissive, moving within the will of a Dominant. For a submissive to have that confidence and surety of movement, just as in a dance, the direction of a Dominant must be clear and consistent and the submissive must be attuned and responsive to his cues.
In order to direct effectively, a lead has to be familiar with a follow’s ability. It’s useless to try a complex spin or a lift with a new dancer — or one who has a bad knee or an arthritic hip. The inevitable result of pushing beyond a follow’s level of knowledge or physical ability is a break in the dance, often a fall, and possibly an injury. This gives us a clue about the role of a submissive’s limits in D/s — some see them as an obstacle to be overcome, but I see them more as a source of information. Pushing a submissive beyond her limits can cause the D/s dynamic to falter or fall apart — or in the worst case, lead to harm to the submissive, the Dominant or both. Movement within both partners’ limitations is what makes a dance elegant, smooth and beautiful. Limits in D/s are not problems to be solved, but constraints that help give form to the relationship. That does not mean that dancers are limited to only forms they know well; dancers experiment, learn from their partners and others, and develop new capacities. Dominance and submission has these same creative elements of growth and surprise — but always within limits and in a way that enhances the trust that makes the dynamic possible.
It Takes Two To Tango
The thing that seems obvious about dancing and is equally true although perhaps less obvious about D/s is that both partners must be willing. Dragging someone around the room by her hair does not a dance make. On the other hand, dragging someone by her hair might be the perfect move in a D/s dynamic — but only if one’s partner is down with that action. Just as a dance is only a dance if both people are dancing, D/s is only D/s if both the Dominant and submissive want to be there and agree on their roles in the dynamic. In a dance, although one partner leads and the other follows, both are equal parts of the dance — you can’t partner dance without a partner. D/s may look unequal, as though the submissive partner is inferior to or less of a contributor than the Dominant partner. But just as the follow is every bit as important in the dance as the lead — and indeed, often gets to perform the most eye-catching and flashy moves — the strength, performance and above all enthusiastic participation of the submissive is what makes D/s possible.
Dance Like Nobody’s Watching
In watching a dance, a non-dancer may misinterpret the level of control and guidance provided by the lead. Specifically, when does a lead exercise the most power? It might look to the outsider that the most direction is exercised in the closed position, when the follow is held tight, close to the lead, and matches each of his steps with hers. But that is not the moment at which the lead exerts the most control. That moment is the time when they are furthest apart — when a spin has sent his partner far away, the length of both their arms, connected only by the barest touch. It is then with the tiniest motion of his fingers that the lead calls the follow home. He uses the movement of the dance itself, centripetal force, to assist in guiding her back to him. The follow is pulled back to him by the movement of her own body, when his fingertip telegraphs that it is time. Similarly in D/s, it is not always the obvious demonstrations of power — leading someone by a leash, requiring that they kneel, using an honorific — that are the times when a Dominant exercises most control. It is when the submissive is distant, perhaps away at work or even on holiday, and is faced with a dilemma, a choice, and relies on knowledge of the Dominant’s desires or wisdom — it is in those situations that the strength of the dynamic is shown, when the control is greatest. In dance, that moment of extension of furthest distance, when the turn begins and the follow spins back toward the partner, the follow experiences both freedom and control. This is the nirvana of submission for me — perfect choice and total control. The movement is mine, but the pattern is shaped by the Dominant, freeing me to surrender to the dance.
At the end of the day…
I can tell you what dancing is about. You can watch others dance. But to experience the joy and freedom of spinning across a dance floor in your partner’s arms, you have to dance. D/s is complicated and sometimes heartbreaking. It takes practice and dedication and trust. But it’s worth it. And in the words of Lee Ann Womack, when you get a choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
As always, remember: It’s your life, live it your way.