My husband and I were flummoxed. My chest's intentions and my intentions for my chest diverged sharply after nursing two children. My husband—well, he has a lovely chest, but his extracurriculars run to playing the piano, not to more and more hours at the gym. Our instructor reached up and placed a hand between the shoulder blades of each of our backs and pushed. That imaginary dancer standing between us drew his last breath.
"His chest speaks to you. It is his heart, yes? It tells you what to do. It makes you go where he wants you to go. Your chest listens. Yes?"
In this moment, despite our apt-pupil diligence and our surpassing ability to count to eight over and over again, my husband and I knew we were being challenged at our cores. He would tell me what to do? I would happily surrender to his lead? Every knee-jerk instinct in my body rebelled at the idea of being pushed around against my will. My husband's instincts faltered because it is not in his nature to order anyone around. In his work he is, in fact, a leader. But it would never occur to him to use his authority in a heavy-handed way. He leads by inclusion, by gathering in people and their ideas. It is not a strategy. It is a genuine outgrowth of a kind and generous and emancipated personality. Our relationship is built, in part, on the acceptance of these aspects of our separate characters.
But now, in a basement dance hall in a barrio in Buenos Aires, I found myself calling our dynamic into question. The orthodox feminism I was reared on had become more nuanced over the years. I could have babies and wear feminine clothing, concern myself with issues both frivolous and weighty, and still be taken seriously in conversation and in my work. So, what was so wrong with being led around a dance floor? I watched as my instructor and her male counterpart demonstrated the dance for us. She was nothing if not powerful and in control. You would never know that she was being told what to do by the subtle press of her partner's chest. Would it be better, sexier even, if my husband and I could conform to more traditional roles? Just for one dance? Would it be...dare I say it...a thrill? Were we forever trapped because I read Mother Jones when I was 14 and he read about Gandhi?
"So," I said to my husband when our instructor had moved off to more able couples, "I guess you're supposed to tell me what to do."
"With my chest," he said.
"With your chest."
It was a comedy. I'd feel him press against me and I'd move in the direction I thought he wanted me to go, try to execute the step I thought he wanted us to do, and he'd move the opposite way. Suddenly, our sneakers were sticking to the floor, our feet were tangled, and where we had been moderately adept in our practice rounds, we were now utterly awkward.
We Hear You!