Warning: You Might Be Dancing the Wrong Dance

Danielle and I took dance lessons several years ago which we both enjoyed. But let me tell you learning how to dance with a partner is very challenging unless you’re just a natural.

I am one of those guys who can’t dance very well. I have okay rhythm, but my challenge is sustaining it. So I usually end up doing my own dance which gets me “the look” from Danielle.

We learned different dance steps like the Country Two Step and the Triple Two Step. We learned the Waltz and the Jitterbug. When I danced with Danielle (she is a natural by the way), I struggled to relax because I was busy counting under my breath. “One-two-three One-two-three”…or “step, step, triple step, triple step, step, step.”

When we dance Danielle looks into my eyes and smiles enjoying the sweet moment of connection. Until I mutter and squeeze her hand. Then Danielle’s smile turns into a frown. We stop; get the rhythm back in our heads and take off again until I mess up and squeeze her hand again. If this continues, we both end up frustrated ready to give up dancing.

However, when I am on my game, and I am keeping on rhythm, we have a great time. We laugh and enjoy each other, and we feel connected.

Imagine though that if I not only struggled with dancing well, but I tried to dance a completely different dance. Danielle would have a choice. She could stop and walk away, probably a little on the angry side. Or she could pay attention to what my dance is and try to dance the same dance. That could work if the dance met the song playing. Well we could still dance together and be completely dancing to a different tune. That would be interesting.

Paying attention to the dance our child dances

A child with a trauma background or one that struggles with sensory challenges or autism often dances to a different dance than those around them. Often their dance seems to not have any detectable rhyme or reason. This makes it difficult to parent them, and even harder to connect with them.

So how do we help our kid who struggles dancing with others?

  • Recognize that their dance is different. Any child will have their own unique dance. But a child from a hard place will have one that probably is different than you expect. They interpret social cues differently making their dance different.
  • Be okay that they dance differently. We can place expectations on our child to dance a certain way or even to already know how to dance like and with others. This will end up frustrating both you and your child.
  • Pay attention to what dance they are dancing. Instead of assuming that your child knows the dance or dances like others, do some detective work. Observe their dance. Learn their dance.
  • Delay trying to change their dance. Focusing on changing their dance rather than connecting with them and empowering them will be met with great resistance.  If we try to force to dance our dance, then we are dancing the wrong dance.
  • Try to dance their dance. You might find out that nothing is wrong with their dance. It is just different. If they need to learn a new dance, learning their dance first will give you insight into their world.
  • Patiently help them learn how to recognize the music that is playing. No one can dance well if they can’t recognize the tune that is playing. When I first learned how to dance, I had to listen to the beat and the rhythm. Then I thought what dance works with this music.
  • Teach them how to dance to the music. Even if your child dances a different dance, patiently helping them learn how to recognize the dance that others are dancing will help them relate to others better. But remember they may always have a different dance.

Relationships really are like a dance. The better we learn how to not only dance, but dance with a partner, helps us to connect better.

I think I will go see if I can learn my son’s dance steps a little better.

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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

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2 thoughts on “Warning: You Might Be Dancing the Wrong Dance

  1. Good stuff. I have a youth group I work with and one of the young men has some form of autism. It’s taken a while to work with him, and requires a ton of patience; one of those portions of the ‘fruit of the spirit’ which I am slowly gaining. I have told him I expect as much out of him as I do everyone else, and he works to achieve that. I have just had to learn that there is a different way to teach and equip him to accomplish what I want him to accomplish. The thrill he shows when he does, though, is a great reward. Each of us is a teacher in some capacity, and all our students have their own way of learning. It’s up to us to determine their learning style and work to assimilate it into our communications to help educate them. Thanks for likening it to a dance, it helps to explain and show the differences. Blessings to you and the family.

    • Deloy, always good to hear from you. I love hearing how you are embracing working with the young man in your youth group. I have no doubt that your patience, compassion, and willingness to learn his “dance” is and will benefit him for years to come.