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Tesla Mitchell: The work of getting swept off your feet

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Stan and Molly Breitlow

Stan and Molly Breitlow

I was never one to daydream of the perfect wedding.

But I did daydream about the perfect dance.

The one where I’m wearing a flowing red dress and am being swept across the dance floor by my prince charming.

We would move as one with grace and passion. And be the perfect couple.

It was something my husband knew I craved, and after our first year of marriage being dedicated to a baby, he agreed to step outside his comfort zone and take dancing classes as a way for us new parents to have a moment together.

It was invigorating. Passionate. Beautiful.

It’s a nonverbal body connection, Molly Breitlow said, as she and her husband talked about their experience of dancing and teaching ballroom classes in Winona following a recent class. The couple has been teaching and hosting dances in town for several years.

Molly: Your bodies are moving in rhythm together, which is very cool. There’s an unsaid union. You have to be moving in tandem. But when it clicks, when it happens …

Stan: When you’re moving exactly together, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

It’s also a complete and utter challenge. One we weren’t exactly expecting in our “recreational activity.” But it brought us closer. Learning to dance together helped us be more of a team. Helped us learn to navigate more than just the dance floor together. Helped us see where each of us could grow for the betterment of our relationship.

Do the characteristics of a relationship come out through dance?

Molly: Totally. Completely. It’s couple’s dynamics. It doesn’t matter their skill level or anything. It’s just the way they interact and navigate through their relationship.

During our first class, I realized how much I like to take the lead. I’ve always been independent, able to take care of myself, have always liked guiding my own life and controlling my situation. But in a team — and in dance — there are roles for a reason. They bring balance and division of responsibilities.

The leader guides the steps, navigates the dance floor. The follower concentrates on the leader, learning the cues, keeping in step. Creating the unison.

Each is important. Each is needed. Each has to be in balance for it to work — just like in any relationship.

Stan: I like to think of things in metaphors. When you start out, your dance steps, that’s your vocabulary. A (dance) pattern is … like a whole sentence, so now you can express yourself.

The leader is the narrator. Your partner is the main character. Both roles have their challenges.

Stan: On the floor (the man’s) thinking, what am I going to do next, how am I going to lead it, where are we going from here.

Molly: (The women are) always in this balance between anticipating and being active at the same time. If you’re not leadable … it’s not going to work. It’s like being adaptable at just the right amount.

A few classes in, I struggled to let go of the control. I have more dance experience. I felt I could lead it better. So I would try to “backlead” and nonchalantly control with undertones.

I’m thankful to know I’m not the only woman to try.

Molly: I’ll start to backlead … and obviously he’s not going with that because he wasn’t thinking that. Then I get pissed.

A huge element of following is letting go of wanting to control it, and do what I want it to do. Then it happens more organically, and then those discussions of what I want to do can happen later. Without fail, my backlead attempt created frustration, and a few times led to a bit of an argument.

Molly: I can’t tell you how many dance fights we’ve had.

Stan: Everyone has them.

Molly: All the time. As long as we can make light of it, though.

Stan: It’s important to know that there’s many ways to do something. None is specifically right. You have to let it go. Is it worth sticking up for your point or method?

Molly: In the beginning it was … every time I saw something wrong I needed to point it out. Every time it didn’t work I needed to advocate for my way.

When my husband didn’t follow the steps, I got agitated. Impatient. Just like he did with me when I was too busy trying to lead rather than follow.

Molly: But in time … knowing our partnership, doing that only hurts the situation. It’s not like I don’t need to say anything, because doing that would make me feel like I’m just silent. But we won’t get anywhere unless he feels like he actively is given the chance. With me coming down on everything, all the time, that’s just destroying.

A few times I said something critical, and immediately saw the enthusiasm in his eyes dwindle.

Stan: I know that’s wrong, I just can’t get it right, right now.

Molly: And just me remembering that he’s totally trying his best. And probably the real reason I see the flaws … is because I have more brain space to see that. I’m not thinking all of the things he is. Just to have grace with your partner.

Stan: And if she’s not following it, then the first thing I have to do is to think, What can I do better to lead in a way so she can follow it?

With each class we got better. He became more confident. And he was able to lead and communicate better.

I learned to read his cues more than concentrate on leading. I started to let go and not worry about whether we were doing it perfectly right.

Molly: It’s like navigating life.

Stan: How to be supportive versus critical.

Molly: When to say it and not say it.

Stan: And when to be constructively guiding. Nobody’s perfect.

The last day of the class came — perfectly timed to our first wedding anniversary. We caught each other’s eyes from across the room. My husband smiled in a way that made my heart flutter.

We embraced and prepared for our favorite dance — tango.

We were clunky. But we moved as one.

We fumbled. But we laughed.

We were off-beat. But we were beautiful.

My dream of being gracefully swept across the dance floor hadn’t quite come true.

But I was certainly swept off my feet.

Tesla Mitchell, a former Daily News reporter, now freelances and writes columns for the paper. She blogs at


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