Touching People and the Remarkable Intimacy of DanceSport
Many of us dance with other people several times per week, if not every day. We move, our partners move, and the idea of dancing together has become so natural to us that we think little of it. This idea of touching another person is just a part of the sport that through countless hours of social dancing or practice, we’ve been desensitized to. Rather than talk about goals or motivation or practice methods this month, I’d like to step a step back to ponder that concept.
When we dance, we’re touching another person. Another human being. With thoughts, feelings, and a conscious perspective of the dance totally independent of our own.
We hold hands with them, we grab their backs and their arms, we brush our thighs together. All of these things are expectations of how we touch other people when we ask them to dance, but things we might not even consider until we’re on the third date with someone we met on the street. I’m not insinuating that dancing together is inherently romantic or sexual by any means, but it is intimate.
We don’t let strangers touch us in any of these ways; it’s not a typical aspect of communication nor is it allowable in regular social interactions. We, as people, are private, personal, and often defensive. We don’t want other humans to come take our hands or to stand too close to us, and even times when there is no breach of consent, we consider it weird, touchy, and abnormal behavior.
But if we open with the line “Would you like to dance?” then the intimacy that would be creepy in any other context is cherished. We touch total strangers with that intimacy that we avoid in day-to-day life. Not only do we hold hands and brush thighs, but we commit to these actions and focus on connecting with our partner, giving them private information about how fast our legs are moving, how much tension is in our shoulders, and other qualities of our current state of being that seem too personal to reveal to the rest of the world.
Why then, are we so comfortable letting other human beings, strangers, nonetheless, touch us in such intimate ways?
Because we’ve opened dancing as an avenue for trust.
We hate when people stand too close to us or brush up against us in the streets because we have no trust in the other party. We have no idea who they are or where they come from. Even if we do know them and it’s a coworker or a friend, we may not be close enough with them to be comfortable trusting them with this intimacy. When we agree to dance with a person, through many hours of conditioning and association, we establish some form of trust that says “You can hold my hand.” That trust encapsulates all of these forms of touching, balancing, moving together, and even forfeiting some control over our own bodies for the betterment of the dance. We trust that they won’t knock us over or push into a wall, and even moreso, we trust them enough to be comfortable touching them and letting them touch us.
That’s magical, and at the same time, it’s extremely vulnerable. Sharing that trust with another human being is a special experience and not something to be taken lightly.
I’ll close by asking you to think back to when you first started dancing. See if you can remember your very first dances when one second you were on the side of the room and the next, there was another person in your arms. Maybe it was weird. Awkward. Scary. Uncomfortable. Any number of emotions might come to mind to describe the dances you had before you learned to establish this line of trust, or before you were desensitized to how weird this all is. Remember that feeling and how that’s the way we naturally behave when we’re this touchy with another person this fast. Compare that to how you feel now when you touch your partner, and hopefully, you’ll have some appreciation for the magical thing that seems normal now.
So next time you dance, remind yourself that there is a person, a living human being, in your arms. Lead or follow, there is another person with a conscious experience that is trusting you in this moment. To me, that never gets old.
(Published in Sheer Dance magazine June 2019)