A couple of weeks ago I made my “Deb”. In other words, I was formally presented to my Parish and community at a Debutante Ball. Girls no longer officially enter into society these days, and so the meaning behind a Deb ball has diminished, although it does give young ladies the opportunity to dress in a long, white gown, and dance traditional ballroom dances in an age when Balls are rare.
Prior to the night, we had five weeks of dance training. As the instructor was explaining the steps, I was reflecting on how traditional ballroom dancing is very symbolic of male and female roles (As you do, right?).
One of my reflections was on how the differences in our steps played together to create harmony in the dance, and in the same way, the differences between men and women work together to create harmony in the family and society. Many these days want to tell us that women are no different to men, in order to emphasize their equality. But they are missing the point. A priest from our parish once said that men and women are equal, but different. In fact, the dignity of man as man and woman as woman, lies in their unique roles.
The gentleman’s role in a dance, is, of course, to lead the lady – to guide her with strength, and to dance his steps with confidence, so that the lady can trust him and easily follow. When the gentleman leads well, their steps work gracefully together.
In the same way, it is the role of men to be strong and firm leaders in the family and in the Church, protecting, guiding, and providing for those in their care. (Of course, I am talking about truly God-fearing men: men who strive to imitate Christ in all they do. It would never be right for a woman to follow a man into sin, just as the dancer would not follow her partner off a cliff.) As head of the family, a man must lead the members toward their heavenly homeland – particularly by setting a good example to follow.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25). And so, with this great role comes great responsibility. For just as the gentleman must stay on track and dance the right steps in order to avoid colliding with other couples or tripping the lady over, so too, in his leadership, the man must become as Christ, the head of the Church, and be ready to sacrifice himself in the same way.
In a dance, the woman’s role is to follow the man and, in so doing, bring beauty and fullness to the movement. So too, in the family, she lovingly supports and encourages, thereby promoting peace, unity and fruitfulness. As the man’s role is to be the head, it is the woman’s role to be the heart.
Now the concept of ‘following’ might sound passive and annoying to some, so I thought I would share a passage from Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen that beautifully explains this role of the woman. Speaking of Mary, the perfect model of femininity, he says:
“By pronouncing Fiat Mary achieved the full role of womanhood, namely, to be the bearer of God’s gifts to man.” -Life of Christ, p. 9
And he goes on to say: “There is a passive receptiveness in which woman says Fiat to the cosmos as she shares its rhythm, Fiat to man’s love as she receives it, and Fiat to God as she receives the Spirit.”
Now, if a man is to be as Christ is as head of the Church, it is the woman’s role to be as the Church is to Christ – ever striving for closer union with Him, and in her sacraments, distributing to her children the grace He has provided through His Passion and Death.
St. Paul says: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” (1 Corinthians 11:11) We are made for love and relationship. In a ballroom dance, you cannot have two leaders. Believe me, it causes chaos and confusion and you literally step on each other’s toes. But neither can both decide to follow, as that simply brings you to a stand-still. We are not meant to be independent and self-sufficient, but are made for communion with others, and this reality is reflected perfectly in the nature of ballroom dancing.
So, while the meaning behind the “Deb” may have diminished in today’s culture, for as long as there are male and female partners, the meaning behind the dances will remain timeless.
Sheen, Fulton J. Life of Christ. 1958. Doubleday edition. 2008