I’m a social dancer, have been for 10 years or so. My go-to is salsa, but I dance all the latin dances (street style, not ballroom), a smidge of tango, a whisper of east coast swing, and a generous, juicy dollop of blues. As most women do, I started by learning to follow. As most women don’t, I got bored with following and learned to lead. Actually, blues dancing taught me that if you don’t want to miss out on half of all the great dancers, you better learn to lead.
The experimental, fluid nature of blues dancing lends itself well to lead-swapping, so I spent several years learning how to connect, and lead all different types of movement. This has served me well in all my dancing, but especially bachata. Bachata, for me, has more room to experiment and play, so that’s what I do. I stay loosely within the choreography, but enjoy experimenting, playing, and seeing what my lead (or follow) will do next.
But I digress.
Tonight, Wednesday, was bachata night at the main local spot. I rarely go out during the week, but I was able to go out tonight and it was one of the best dance nights I’ve had in months. Months and months. Why was tonight so special? Because not only did I get probably a dozen great dances (as a lead and follow), I got to pass along an excellent piece of advice a friend gave me several years ago. Ready?
Stop looking down.
If you’re a social dancer, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve done it, you’ve danced with people who do it, we’re all guilty. We get into the music and we find ourselves looking down and slightly left – maybe at our feet. That’s the position our eyes take when we’re remembering feeling, smelling, tasting – anything kinesthetic. It’s a comfy place – we’re jamming out, our body is moving, and our eyes are probably glazed, down and left. But there’s something off about that whole scene, my dancing peeps probably already know – there is no way to connect with your dance partner if your eyes are pointed at the floor.
And the whole point of social dancing is to connect to someone else, through a shared experience of music and movement. That WILL NEVER HAPPEN if we don’t stop looking down. Looking down also means our energy is directed into the ground – not up or forward or out or around – down into the earth. The earth doesn’t mind, but our dancing and our ability to connect suffer from our narrow range of focus.
So among many other lovely moments, I had the opportunity to do something I rarely do on the dance floor – I gave some advice. I gave it in the form of compliment and a request (you have a beautiful smile. if you dance with me, I’d love it if you’d look up and share that smile with me) or something like that. Then, I made it into a private joke. If he looked down too long, I’d find a way to trail my fingers into his line of sight and up popped his eyes – big smile and dimple at the ready. Lavish compliments, big smiles and laughter, flirting and keeping the eye contact – all wonderful tools that everyone thoroughly enjoys.
I am so grateful. He is a dancer of enormous talent and potential, still young, and I’m so grateful he was willing and eager to listen, and to push himself out of that comfy spot. Each time we danced, it got better. He admitted it felt awkward, but that’s what happens when you’re doing something different that’s going to change your dance life – it’s awkward for a while and then it settles and the world unfolds again.
When dancing as a follow, it is always a risk to ask a lead to do something different. Leading on the social floor is so hard, and it’s ridiculously easy to accidentally crush someone’s confidence. On the floor, I make a practice of staying away from anything that seems like teaching or coaching, but sometimes, it’s the right thing to do. One of the biggest joys of being part of the dance scene for such a long time is seeing different dancers grow and progress and change over the years. Knowing that my support and encouragement has been part of that process is icing on the cake.
So get those eyes up, people, up and forward – 1 2 3, 5 6 7!