Colin James – The Secret to a Successful Long-Term Relationship With Your Dance Partner | Tips from the PROS
Around 1969, when I was 8, dance as a social practice was very popular. My mother could dance, my father could not and he decided that all the boys in the family should learn to dance. Believe it or not, knowing how to dance is a huge social advantage. At that time it was even more important as there weren’t many things to do.
We all went to a local dance school in Woking where we were living. It took over from there, traveling around London mainly, the north and south of England and different dance festivals. That all happened until 1979 when I fell in love with and started to dance with a girl from Denmark. She decided that in that one gap year between school and going to college she would come to London to improve her dancing. Her name was Lene Mikkelsen. We were in a relationship for a year, her partner decided it was time to go back and I split with the partner that I was with. Lene and I decided to dance together. We thought we should give it a go.
We were out of the box
Two things were unusual at that time. I’m about 1,83 m and Lene is about 1,68 m. So it was quite a considerable height difference. All we heard was “This can’t work”. Normally you dance with someone your height. The second thing was that she was Danish so we were a mixed couple and, even though today it’s not that big a deal, back in the day it was quite unusual.
We didn’t qualify to do any event because we didn’t fit into the box; it was one Dane and one English dancing. We were only present at local competitions because we couldn’t qualify for other competitions because there were no rulings for that. We were 180 or something in the competition, so it really did not matter at that point. We kept our spirits high and we just concentrated to get better at dancing. Slowly as we started moving up in the ranks, we broke into the quarterfinals and then some semifinals. We wanted to at least qualify in a country to have the opportunity to represent that country because there were no open world competitions.
Denmark decided that if we signed paperwork that we’d dance for one year continuously they would allow us to do the National Competitions. We also asked England but they turned us down since in England there were hundreds of competitors; Denmark had a good selection but they did not always have competitor couples in finals. We broke through and we eventually became World and European Champions in ’84, ’85 and we also won all the major events that were run in London, in the UK – British Open Championships and International. We turned professional in ’84 and basically went straight into the finals and continued up into our retirement in 1991.
Spending 15 years with somebody turns dancing into something different
Working with your romantic partner, then going home to her/him every night brings a level of closeness that most couples never encounter. The most positive thing about dancing with the same partner for all those years is that you get to understand that person more and more. Being a team requires that level of understanding.
Understanding your lover’s work style and personality can help you avoid the tendency to take things personally. We had quite a different type of thinking since the English way was more conservative and the Denmark way was extremely progressive Lene was like “We’re going to go to the competitions”, “We can qualify to that competition”, her approach was planned and well thought-out.
Once you get home, turn it off
We both agreed from a very early stage that dancing would not interfere with our private life. We agreed on the direction of dancing. It might sound corny but the most important thing for us was to develop and not focus necessarily on the results. When you’re focused on the result, you tend to look at everything differently. For us it was a personal challenge and a gradual challenge, the more interest you put in it the more the teachers could work with us and get us from point A to point F – You can’t skip steps.
You would say some things stronger to the person that you’re in a relationship with than if you aren’t. The hard part is sometimes leaving work at work and enjoying your relationship away from the dance studio. This is what we had to overcome in the beginning. Once we finished practicing, we went home and that was it – we switched to having a relationship. This is how you come to be best friends and soul mates. This means that when you dance, you want to do that for yourself but you also do it for your partner. It’s not easy but I would not have any other way.
Are you and your lover dance partners? What are you finding to be the perks and pitfalls of it?
Photography: V.studio photos
Colin James is a Blackpool and UK Open Amateur Champion, and a second-time Grand Slam winner. His partner was Lene Mikkelsen and they have been finalists in every major international Professional Latin competition with his partner, Lene Mikkelsen.