How to boogie your way back into each other’s arms: Fights over the washing up. TV on separate sofas. After a year cooped up, LINDA KELSEY braved an embarrassing — but surprisingly effective — way of banishing the bitterness
- Linda Kelsey, 68, has been with Ronny, a 66-year-old osteopath for 12 years
- She says overtime they began snapping more than chatting in the UK’s lockdown
- Couple revived their romance with Peter Lovatt’s The Dance Cure programme
Lying fully dressed on my bed in the middle of the day, eyes closed, Donna Summer’s 1970s disco hit I Feel Love blasting through my headphones, is an unexpected consequence of life in lockdown.
But here I am, 68 years old, doing ‘homework’ set under the genial direction of one Peter Lovatt, otherwise known as Dr Dance.
The goal of my homework, being executed from a prone position, is to ‘find my groove’ and report back to Dr Dance when we next meet on Zoom. Will I get a gold star if I do find my groove, I wonder. Or will this G-spot prove as elusive as the one we are all more familiar with?
I open one eye (this is cheating) and spy my partner, Ronny, lying on the chaise longue beneath the window in our bedroom. He, too, has his ear pieces in, listening to music of his own choosing, head bobbing, a smile on his face.
Linda Kelsey, 68, and her partner of 12 years Ronny, 66, (pictured) tested Peter Lovatt’s The Dance Cure programme
How we came to enrol ourselves on The Dance Cure programme, as it is called, is a tale that will be familiar to many couples in lockdown. You and your partner may have vowed to love one another for as long as you both shall live, but that doesn’t mean your relationship hasn’t been sorely tested by a year of seemingly endless separation from family and friends, and way too much other half proximity.
The first lockdown was pleasant enough. There were glorious sunny days when we could be outdoors for hours at a stretch, and balmy evenings for entertaining up to six at a distance in the garden.
Ronny, a 66-year-old osteopath, was anxious about not earning money — I carried on as usual working as a freelance writer — but we counted ourselves lucky to be living in comfortable circumstances and managed to be cheery enough around one another.
Over time, though, the petty irritations mounted and, by this third lockdown, we were spending more time snapping than chatting.
A touchy-feely couple as a rule, we were avoiding our usual, easy intimacy and, instead, resentment began to set in, with rows breaking out over the most trivial things.
A three-day battle was fought over the washing-up. I carped that when he did it, the mugs remained tea-stained. I sneaked the mugs into the dishwasher; he surreptitiously took them out, telling me it wasn’t worth putting on when he could do it by hand. And so it went on until we were having several spats a day, squabbling over everything from where best to go walking to who left the lights on.
One evening, Ronny suggested we put on some music and dance in the kitchen to lighten things up. I said I wasn’t in the mood. He said he wasn’t either, come to think of it.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I remembered how much fun Ronny and I used to have in the early days of our 12-year relationship — dancing included — and realised we needed to break a pattern.
Linda said she and Ronny (pictured) began spending more time snapping than chatting by the third lockdown in the UK
What we desperately wanted was some joy and laughter to get us through the difficult months ahead. We weren’t at the stage where we needed couples counselling, but we did need something.
And so we find ourselves meeting Dr Dance on Zoom for three taster sessions of his programme.
SESSION ONE: CHART YOUR ROMANCE THROUGH DANCE
I’ve read his book, The Dance Cure, in advance. Billed as ‘The Surprising Science to Being Smarter, Stronger, Happier’, it turns out that Peter Lovatt is neither a dance therapist nor a psychotherapist, but a former professional dancer and now professor of dance psychology at the Royal Ballet School, and co-founder of the Movement in Practice Academy.
At first glance, 50-something Dr Dance, decked out in large spectacles, smart-casual white shirt and dark trousers, with unruly lockdown locks, looks more of an academic than a dancer. But that impression changes as soon as he starts to move with a gleeful lack of inhibition and a natural sense of rhythm.
The aim of our sessions, he explains, is to see how we can use dance to have an impact on our relationship. He has spent the past 20 years in university laboratories working to understand the impacts of movement on a wide range of human characteristics. These include our social relationships, thinking and problem-solving, as well as how movement and dance can help us to communicate emotionally or unblock emotions within us.
He also investigates the impact of movement on us physically, how it affects everything from hormones to our ability to withstand pain.
Linda and Ronny (pictured) began the programme by reflecting on significant ‘dance moments’ in their lives
Working with people with Parkinson’s disease, for example, he observed how dancing can help sufferers with both their physical and cognitive symptoms.
Our first task is to tackle the Doctor Dance Lifeline. This is a simple tool to find out the role of dance in our lives, and whether it has been used positively or negatively.
All that’s needed to get started is a piece of paper and some coloured pencils on which we map along a central timeline significant ‘dance moments’ in our lives and whether they were good or bad experiences.
Ronny and I end up talking about the first time, several months into our relationship, we got to dance together properly at a friend’s 60th birthday party. The music was irresistible and the champagne glasses were filled over and over again.
I say how I have never regarded myself as a natural, but that dancing, an approximation of a jive with Ronny who’s far better than me, made me feel energised and at ease.
RELATIONSHIP REVIVERS: THE BEST OF THE REST
Feeling the stress of lockdown? Relieve the tension together with an massage tutorial, such as Udemy’s Relax Couples Massage Class (£15.99, udemy.com).
This aims to help you understand you and your partner’s body, and is broken up into a series of two to five-minute videos on simple, safe massage techniques. Remember: practice makes perfect. . .
Until April 12, this may be the nearest you get to a night out: a virtual cocktail-making masterclass for two with Mixology (£120, mixology events.co.uk). You receive all the equipment and ingredients in the post to make and drink five cocktails each. It’s live and interactive.
REIGNITE THE SPARK
If you’re driving each other mad at home, celebrated relationship therapist Esther Perel is here to help with online course Rekindling Desire (£146, rekindlingdesire estherperel.com). She promises to help you re-spark your curiosity, overcome complacency and inject some excitement back into things.
DRINK & DRAW DATE
For a more meditative new hobby, head for a couples art class: Brush and Bubbles send out art kits (£48, brushand bubbles.com), which you can use alongside its free YouTube painting tutorials. It contains canvases, an easel, paintbrushes and paints — and bubbly to drink (or a non-alcoholic option).
Produce a gallery of paintings — or try painting each other.
It was a pivotal moment for me. There was the chemistry, for sure, but it symbolised something more.
Here I was, in my mid-50s, single after the breakdown of a 23-year relationship, feeling youthful, happy and exuberant as I danced with this special man in what felt like perfect synchronicity.
I’m not saying it would have passed muster with the Strictly judges, but it seemed to say something about how the two of us were together.
It was a special moment for Ronny, too, who put it: ‘I realised I can bring the dance out in her. It really delighted me that I could make her dance and that she could dance.’
So dancing became something that connected us emotionally, but we had lost it over the years and wondered if we could get it back.
Now it’s time to get moving, as Dr Dance puts us through our paces.
We are up on our feet, feeling somewhat silly, as Dr Dance leaps from his desk chair — all on-screen, of course — and starts urging us to follow his warm-up routine of shoulder rolls and hip wriggles.
We mark the routine with him several times without music, then he crosses to his sound system and starts playing Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke. I try to forget it’s the middle of the day and that we are dancing dementedly to the instructions of this stranger in cyberspace (Norfolk, actually), and remind myself I have nothing to lose except my inhibitions.
Breathless and laughing, we sit back down again.
Two bits of homework: one individually to map our Dance Lifeline over each decade of our lives, and then share it, and the second to try our routine on three occasions, choosing three different pieces of music. That night we give it a go. I choose Wilson Pickett’s In The Midnight Hour, Ronny selects the Malian musician Habib Koité and together we choose Sade’s Hang On To Your Love. Ronny hates learning the routine, while I am happy to do it until we’ve got it right.
This could be a flashpoint for another row, but despite Ronny’s frustration, we’re both in a much better mood. Later, we lark around to some music for the first time in months. Then we watch TV. We have two sofas and, lately, we’ve been sitting separately. Ronny moves to curl up with me.
SESSION TWO: GET YOUR GROOVE BACK
A few days later, we share our Dance Lifeline discoveries with Dr Dance. It’s a poignant exercise for me. I remember how I loved ballet classes as a child and how my mother thought I’d be better off concentrating on my studies than planning my future as a ballerina. (She was right).
I recalled the glamorous parties my parents used to have, the women in cocktail frocks and jewellery and the marks their heels made on the parquet floor.
The movie musicals I watched over and over, from Singing In The Rain to Dirty Dancing, in which I always imagined myself as the heroine (still do, in truth).
Linda said dance has player a bigger part in her life than she realised and the programme made her miss dance and Ronny (pictured)
The time my parents came home from a nightclub in the 1960s where they learned The Twist and taught my sister and I how to do it. The jiving and Saturday night discos with me in hotpants. Dance has played a much bigger part in my life than I’d realised, even though I always saw myself as someone who was more of a spectator. The whole exercise made me feel quite emotional. I was missing dance but, in an odd way, I was also missing Ronny.
For him, it also provoked poignant memories. He too, went to ballet classes as a small boy, dropping out on believing it wasn’t a ‘manly thing to do’.
Then, as a teenager, he recalled asking girls to dance and being rejected, a common experience that often puts men off for life.
It was only when he started going to salsa classes in his 40s that he gained the confidence to improvise without being horribly self-conscious.
Dr Dance explains how the routine he set was designed to see how we respond to structured versus freestyle movement. For some, a choreographed routine is more comfortable, while many freeze at the thought of being judged for the way they move.
Next Dr Dance talks about finding our groove. He couches it in scientific terms, describing the neurological mechanism known as sensory-motor coupling, whereby our senses give us the urge to move. A good example of this is the startle reflex provoked by a sudden noise.
For our next homework we are seeking our personal groove, noticing what makes us want to move and how parts of our body instinctively respond. Dr Dance suggests we each choose three further pieces of music and listen to them lying on the bed.
By the time I get to my third piece, Bob Marley’s Jammin’, eyes still closed, still lying flat, the blissed-out smile on my face signals I have found my groove.
That evening, Ronny and I dance again. I feel more attuned to the beat of the music, less consciously aware of my movements. We are neither touching nor mirroring one another, and yet we sense something flowing between us.
For a while, we forget Covid and allow ourselves to be happy.
SESSION THREE: KEEP IN STEP TOGETHER
Linda and Ronny (pictured) agree they’ve been less grumpy and kinder to one another, since doing The Dance Cure programme
I tell Dr Dance how freeing I am finding his exercises. How, the more lost in the music and movement I become, the less I feel like a 68-year-old woman and the more like the young girl I was.
Ronny and I both agree we’ve been less grumpy and kinder to one another, more physical and playful with one another. Dancing every evening together was something to look forward to.
Ronny and I approached The Dance Cure with equal enthusiasm, but I’m aware that in many couples one partner (usually the woman) loves to dance, and the other (usually the man) can’t be doing with it. Dr Dance agrees you can’t drag someone screaming and kicking, but he also cites reluctant rugby players he has converted to the joys of dance.
We leave the final session with more homework, encouragement to start a journal and a prescription for further dance medicine.
Dr Dance says that if we want to take things further he’d recommend we have a go at Argentinian Tango to encourage intimacy or Swing Dancing for youthful zest and fun. Maybe we will.
A further week down the line we are still dancing together every evening — and still getting on much better than before.
Dancing has allowed a bit of light back into our relationship. In these dark times, I can’t think of a more effective medicine.
Contact Dr Dance at peterlovatt.com. The Dance Cure by Dr Peter Lovatt (£12.99, Short Books).
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