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  • Writer's pictureDawn Matthews

The Role Of Dancing And Grief

picture of a man standing near water, with text "the role of dancing and grief".

It might seem strange to put dancing and grief together, since one is inherently happy, and the other so sad. But those of us who have been dancing for a long time will know how dancing can help us through even the toughest of times – even the death of someone we know and love.


For me, dancing carried me through the first days when my Dad died. In fact, I decided to go dancing in the first couple of hours after he’d passed – because at the time I felt that I needed to avoid the numbness, and I wasn’t yet ready to cry. I knew my Dad wouldn’t have wanted me to feel the sadness, even though I know he would understood that I did… and I knew he would understand why I needed to dance. I only told three friends at that particular class, as I didn’t want to spread the sadness, and I didn’t want to feel the judgement of people who thought that I should be home. The thing was, (not that I feel the need to justify what I did) it was really, really complicated with my Dad, as he had been suffering from a mental illness for a long, long time when he died, and my feelings about our relationship were extremely difficult. So, on the day he passed, I wasn’t even close to ready to deal with the implications of his death, and all the things that I would need to deal with after that.


The other thing that goes hand in hand with dancing is that, because the age range of dancers is quite wide, inevitability you’ll find that dancers pass away. And this brings a strange sadness that I can’t describe, and haven’t encountered before. The first time I experienced this was when we lost John.  


I had known John for a long time – over 10 years at least – and had danced with him almost every time I danced at one of my venues. He was around 20 years older than me, and so I didn’t feel like I knew him that well, but he was a face I saw every time I danced there. We eventually moved a little way past the small talk stage when we both ended up buying new homes within a few months of each other, and our chit-chat while dancing came to revolve around how we were getting through the process of buying, how the move went, and how his garden and decorating was coming along. When he died a couple of years later, very unexpectedly, my heart broke. Although I actually knew very little about John, he was part of the dance family, and I couldn’t imagine him not being there.


Even now, over a year later, I still occasionally think I see him out of the corner of my eye when I’m dancing, and I certainly feel his presence whenever I hear Fireball on the dancefloor, (and even more so on our fancy dress nights which he loved and went to town for every single time!). while I didn’t know him all that well, I do know that’s how he’d want to be remembered, as the life and soul of the dancefloor. That’s why we held a freestyle for charity, with a dress up theme, to help celebrate his life. Looking back, I’m so happy I knew him, and although we only had that small connection, I consider him a dance friend that I hope I’ll meet, and dance with again when I reach the dancefloor wherever our souls go next.


Just recently there has been a few more dancers have passed away that I knew only vaguely, or that I had only danced with once or twice. Despite my not knowing them very well, I can’t help but feel sad that I won’t run into them on the dancefloor ever again. Had social media not let me know they had died, I might not have thought of them very often – people come and go in the dance scene, for their own reasons – but knowing they are truly gone really makes me sad.


When I started writing this post, I wasn’t sure where I’d go with it – I certainly didn’t intend for it to be a sad piece. Maybe it has simply highlighted the fact that partner dancing helps to forge those connections between people, and even if it is just the connection we have for a few minutes in a song, we dancers recognise each other as such, and we’re all part of a community that non-dancers don’t have. It is a powerful, wonderful thing, and I hope that people continue to come and join us forever.


I’ve made some very unexpected friends through dancing, and many are people that I wouldn’t have encountered outside of a dance venue – because we’re different ages, have different life experience, and so on. The fact that I’ll end up losing a lot of the friends I’ve made through dance is simply a part of it – it is the price I’ll pay for the privilege of knowing them and having them in my life, however long I get to share the dancefloor with them.

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