I’ve come a long way in social dance. My early-on anxiety-induced death grip has devolved into mere “fidget fingers” (a phrase I regret ever saying in front of my teacher) and I’ve learned (occasionally) to relax the “focus face” and actually smile at my partner! But I still lack that one thing that would make me, what I believe, to be a truly desirable partner—a great first connection.
What is connection? Well, there’s the literal meaning of physical connection. The points of contact. Maintaining frame. Keeping your body constantly engaged. But this is more about the metaphysical meaning: about being sensitive to your partner and what their leads or follows or body language is telling you and reacting to it. It’s when you stop being two dancers and become one couple.
I’m really bad at connection. I second guess and misinterpret and back lead. It’s one of the reasons I like dances with close holds and multiple points of contact: it makes it easier to “hear” what my lead is trying to tell me when I have more than just fingertips to listen to. Of course over time I’ve also learned the idiosyncrasies of certain leads. My private teacher especially I feel the most natural and in tune with because I dance with him the most, whereas as different leads putting me through the same moves will likely have me so confused and flustered that after a polite thank you, I’ll never see him again.
Back in The Best Dance I Ever Had, I told you about the guest instructor who specialized in connection and becoming better leads/follows. After my private lesson, he commended me on how well I had picked up on these concepts. In reply, I told him I was worried I wasn’t actually becoming a better follow, but after an hour with him, I had merely “synced up” to his leading style, and that it wasn’t a result I could replicate with a lead I just met. I believe the words I used were, “It takes me longer than a song.”
He wasn’t really fazed by this, assuring me that wasn’t abnormal. Many or even most dancers can’t go into a dance cold with a stranger and have great connection right away. He also went on to say that setting was part of my problem. At a Latin club, a DJ may only play half a song before moving on. But at a Milonga, where Argentine Tango is all about connection and subtlety, couples dance entire sets of songs together. He told me trying to “force” a good connection just backfires. I needed to relax. I needed to not worry about. I needed to let it happen naturally.
Well, that sounds very good at the end of a great lesson when I can feel better about my skills in general. But what do I do when I’m out and one dance, one chance is all I get? As I often joke to my friends, “Usually, a guy will ask me to dance once than avoid eye contact for the rest of the night.” Generally speaking, the people who come back for a second or third are people who know me and who like me as a person more than as a dancer, and the fun we have comes more from our playing and less from our dancing. Or as one my friends likes to say “It doesn’t matter if you’re good as long as you’re delightful.” Which is a great ego boost for Luna the Person. Not so much for Luna the Dancer.
With a full room of potential partners, leads usually aren’t keen to give a mediocre first dance a second ask, and I can’t really blame them. Just like many people, I’m in constant search for my best dance of the night. But unlike many, I’m not expecting it in the first dance, but in a second or third. A lead I already have started a connection with. And so many of my dances throughout a night I know could be so much better with just another song. Sometimes I want to just tell them maybe I won’t be your best dance of the night, but give me time and I can at least be a nice one.