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Day 1 of divorce mediation boot camp: lessons in latin dancing

Day 1 of divorce mediation boot camp: lessons in latin dancing

SOS Mediation Boot Camp

A guide on how to prepare for divorce mediation when you just don’t like each other any more.


Come on, if you’ve ever tried it, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from. Whether it’s Salsa or other Latin dances, the men (in theory) have to ‘lead’ the dance. They need to be in charge of deciding all the moves – a prospect that may well strike horror into the heart of a divorcing spouse. However, by following the rules of Latin Dance, we can transform a chaotic battle of wills ‘off the floor’, into a smoothly executed piece of visual mastery when on the dance floor – so proving that harmony through strive is a possibility.

Latin dancing is very different from how many common ‘I’m in charge’ dances are played out in the marital home. For example: the ‘DIY dance’ He’s shouting instructions blaming on ‘her’ the fact that despite the shelf clearly not fitting the space – which she knows is because he hasn’t measured the space correctly – he nonetheless continues to insist that his wife is ‘holding it wrong’. All she wants to do is to drop the oversized plank and return to more immediate concerns, anything in fact, other than succumb to a minute more of “come on woman – higher!”

So she does – drop it – breaking (or so you’d think by the noise he makes) every toe on both feet. No, when dancing latino, a man must ‘lead’ in a different way. He must forgo the urge to shout instructions, or even to push out his hips in ungainly middle-aged abandon and fling his wrists in the air, but instead hold his wife in a respectful half embrace, guiding her with the skill of a snake charmer wooing his serpent, turning her softly but with clear direction wherever he wants her to move.

The fact that so many men are able to be rather good at ‘leading’ the dance has no doubt been a result of natural Darwinian selection. The husbands who kept forgetting the steps even after the 100th time of running through the dance, were long ago murdered by their wives. Not for getting the steps wrong – but because they refused to admit it. Those who constantly spun their wives in a wrong turn, smacking her in the face with their flailing arms and groping for the correct hand to continue the agony of a dance to the death, are no more, sparing us their descendants creating misery and mayhem on the dance floor whilst all the time shouting “This way woman!”.

Instead those wise few descendants of the latin groove learned a ‘better way’. They learned to ‘blagg it’.

If you are ‘leading’, you can make every dance step however you want – just as long as you communicate it calmly and clearly to your partner in a way that ensures the continuation of the species. As long as the woman follows – and there’s the rub.

And what about the wife? Well, she knows perfectly well on the dance floor if her hubby is creating his own choreography on the hoof, but so long as he keeps ‘leading’ in a persuasive and engaging way, she has the opportunity to follow, and just look good like a dance partner should.
But she needs to trust him first, and that’s no mean feat when you’ve been trodden on, over-spun and left exhausted feeling a bit of a fool – or even deserted on the dance floor altogether.

Which is why the latin dance day will make such a difference.  We don’t learn trust through consistently having our once-loved ones always doing everything right by us.  If that were the case, trust would have died out long ago with the progeny of dancers who confused a double spin in salsa with getting the missus to help put up a shelf.

Is it ‘lack of trust’, when a wife starts telling her partner he is a crap dancer, and trying to show him all the moves, making him look ridiculous and herself unable to ‘be led’?  Or rather is it a lack of trust in herself?  Allowing yourself ‘to be led’ takes a high level of self confidence and clarity of vision about what your ultimate goals are.  If a woman really wants to not get her feet trodden on, she will allow her partner the opportunity to lead, but not if she equates (mistakenly) ‘leading’ for ‘controlling’.

When faced with ‘mediation’, some couples may fear that they will be forced to ‘concede’, ‘compromise’ and even ‘stand in each others shoes’ – something which on the dance floor is ill advised.  But a few harsh lessons in salsa might jog some primal memories and instincts, allowing the husband to ‘take a lead’ in honest and open discussion, without using angry words, harsh moves or trying to change the tune by scratching the record.

And if the wife does allow her partner to lead the dance, to create a new dance altogether, she may find that he grows the confidence to listen to her creative ideas, communicated in a spirit of co-operation and shared vision, rather than from a place of fear or anger.

Trust is more like that sense of relief that comes with knowing that you are both trying to work together for a common sustainable goal, and if you don’t know the steps, or even when the music is going to end, it’s no matter – you are allowing the creation of a new dance.  You can scribble down the choreography later, but for now you just trust, and kind of go with it.

The cry from the latin dance instructor to the ladies is a constant “Don’t try to lead!!!”  When will we girls learn that to allow a partner to make up his own steps, this is not necessarily a reason to rebel.  ‘Submission’ on the dance floor is what captivates millions glued to “Strictly Come Dancing” on their TVs.  Why not give it a try in the mediation sessions?  Because even when a dancer does know the ‘right moves’ and puts them in a pre-defined order, unless his partner goes with him, a powerful partnership disintegrates into limping and reprisals.

If a couple who hate each other can flow together to create a new dance (let’s face it, all those flowing couples on Strictly Come Dancing can’t all ‘be in love’) – then surely couples could do the same thing through mediation in creating a new way of life?

This is why a day of latin dance instruction will be included in the SOS Mediation Boot Camp.

Suzy Miller is the creator of Alternative Divorce Guide: how to avoid adversarial lawyers

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