Friday, June 25, 2010

Dance Face

This is a tribute to my fellow dancers whose enthusiasm and love of the dance is expressed not only through their movements but also on their faces. These are the looks that I fondly refer to as "Dance Face".

A Quick Note: I focused on the faces that bring me joy and smiles. There are many other faces that evoke things that are not as enjoyable and I didn't write those down. Why dance if you're not having fun?

The “Blue Steel" Dance Face
A somewhat serious dance face: pursed lips, cheeks sucked in, brows a little furrowed and chin down with eyes not quite focused on you (his or her partner). This is a look that tells me my dance partner’s alter ego has appeared and I feel like I’m in a movie moment sharing a wonderful dance (usually) with my leading man.

The "Seriously Sexy" Dance Face
This is the look that says “Oh yeah, I’m getting my sexy on!”. This face invites an interaction that is intense and seductive. The lead only has eyes for his dance partner: he is the dark, brooding leading man, smoldering as he turns to face his leading lady. The lady is a seductress: fierce, strong and untamable as she only has eyes for her lead.

The "Cary Grant" Dance Face
I’m dating myself but if you don’t know who Cary Grant is, he’s one of my favorite leading men of all time. He always played that quintessential gentleman, polite, cool, always pleasant, never phased by anything, using humor to mask anything unpleasant. This look exudes confidence and ease; often accompanied by a relaxed smile and a twinkle in the eye. This interaction is guaranteed to be flirtatious and gracious with a light and breezy air.

The "Serious" Dance Face
For me, dancing is a joyful celebration and unless I’m dancing to “save my life” – it happens sometimes when I’m with a really good lead and the music FAST! – I just smile when I dance. For some people though, their visage is serious, formal and sometimes severe. This doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying themselves, it just means that they’re focused on what they are doing. If you’re dancing with this person what you need to look for is their reaction as soon as the dance ends. If you have a “mwah!” dance with this dancer, odds are that when the dance is done, a huge smile will break out on their face like the sun breaking through clouds.

The "Passionate" Dance Face
A face full of passion where you can sense every note in the music and every beat of the song directly through this person’s face and body. Eyes sometimes shut or half-open, mouth open and body fully engaged in the expression of the dance. When you’re dancing with this person, you’ll feel their passion flow through to you. It can get “mucho caliente!” on the dance floor.

The “Oh-My-God Did I Do That Right?" Dance Face
Questioning, unsure, this look is one that’s usually on a beginner’s face. It’s a face that’s puzzled, worried and concerned: "did I do that right?" If you encounter this face, just smile right back at them to take the edge off and help put them back at ease.

The "Oops!" Dance Face
Whether it’s a misled move or a missed lead, this face is almost an apology that gives away that something didn’t go quite as planned. Handled with grace, it’s usually accompanied by a smile or a shrug. Sometimes, you can see the “teeth smile” plastered on their face. For the serious dancer, you may see that rare sheepish smile break out. For others, the “O” mouth and then smile that turns a "faux pas" into a playful moment.

The "All Smiles" Dance Face
Ah! So infectious! This dancer’s joy is evident all the time and one can’t help but smile when one dances with them. There's no need to guess: this person is thoroughly enjoying the dance because it’s written all over their smiling face.

The "What's my next move?" Dance Face
Eyebrows furrowed into a frown and at times raised high thinking. Their eyes are looking up to the heavens or off to the side as they figure out what’s next. Sometimes, I can see the brain churning as my lead is thinking about the next move he wants to make.

The "Here Goes!” Dance Face
This look oftentimes follows the “What’s my next move?” face. It conveys the energy that a lead musters up to focus on doing some new move that they’ve just figured out or learned. There’s oftentimes a gathering of energy – like a big inhale as if to say “Ok. Let’s do this.!”. When the move is done, there’s a relaxed smile of accomplishment or relief that says “well that didn’t go too badly”. Otherwise, it’s a shrug to shake it off “ok, gotta work on that more.” If everything went as planned – then check out the “Nailed It!” Dance Face for what comes next.

The "Nailed it!" Dance Face
This is the look that both lead and follow get when, like magic, everything flows and just falls into place. It could be that you’ve just executed a complicated move or that you both have hit the right accents in the music, made the right shines that are the perfect compliment to each other without saying a word. I love that secret smile that just comes out because its like you both uncovered something between the 2 of you that’s simply mah-velous!

The "Adoration" Dance Face
This is the face that I see on a lead when his follow pulls off a move that they can fully appreciate. It’s a face that displays the full admiration for their dance partner after she’s done a particularly lovely shimmy or body roll or turn or footwork or anything that “stops” them for a moment. Sometimes, their eyes pop open as if to say “wow” and always a smile and a compliment - "mwah!"

The "Eyes Closed, This is Heavenly" Dance Face
Eyes shut, face serene, with a smile that hints of sweet secrets. This face conveys the ultimate trust that a dancer places in his or her partner. No visual is necessary: just close the eyes, focus on the connection, the music and movement and let go to enjoy a lovely, likely heavenly dance.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Intimacy and Social Dancing

There's a very fine line dividing a beautiful sensual dance from a crass distasteful one.

This question has come up a lot in my discussions with fellow dancers so I thought I'd share my thoughts on it.

Just how close is too close when dancing? When do you cross over from being tastefully sensual to being overtly crass?

Let's start by breaking down each word: Intimate Social Dancing

INTIMATE: By definition, intimate is an adjective that characterizes a close or warm personal relationship or a friendly, warm atmosphere.

SOCIAL: Implies a community; a group of people interacting together, enjoying friendly companionship and having a good time. There is an sense of openness in that everyone is welcome to participate.

DANCING: Is an activity that one actively engages in: a series of rhythmical steps with body motions in time with music.

Social dancing is an activity that embodies the interaction between 2 people (usually a guy and a girl or a lead and a follow) which involves music and movement: engaging body, mind, spirit, and feeling. It is personal, intimate, communicative, social and public all at the same time. It is also creative, spontaneous, individuals dancing in response to each other with a structure and convention framed around it. Leads initiate and follows respond and enhance what the leads initiate.

In my view, all social dancing has some level of intimacy because of the connection that is established between the lead and follow to the music. That unspoken communication is a form of intimacy on it's own. There are certainly some dances that require closer physical contact than others, and that’s where all the “fun” begins.

I often get asked how I feel about dancing in a close embrace: for example, during a bachata moderna or when I'm dancing the blues. My answer is pretty simple. There are many styles of dance and if close embrace is part of the dance style that’s how it should be danced: that close embrace is part of the appeal and one the reasons I enjoy dancing.

I love learning different forms of dancing – the variety in the steps and interaction with my lead allow me to express myself freely within the context of the music that we dance to. For me, an intimate dance, requiring closer physical contact has a strong appeal. Dances like Tango (I’m still a beginner), Kizomba, Blues and Bachata allow for a closer connection where I can experience the warmth of an embrace with another person: I close my eyes and the rest of the dance unfolds like magic.

Here’s the key to the “magic” of being able to enjoy the dance without crossing the line:

Both parties are there because they enjoy and respect the intimacy of the dance.

Translation: [pardon the directness] you’re not there to pick up some random person and get laid! You’re there for Intimate Social Dancing.

I’m not going to pretend that this type of dancing doesn’t lend itself to a different kind of intimacy off the dance floor: of course it can! I have many friends who’ve expressed that one of the biggest attractions is how enjoyable that close physical proximity is when dancing with someone of the opposite sex (not to mention the “thrill” if said someone is the object of one’s dance crush – oo-la-la!) On the dance floor however, it’s still a social (as in community) activity and one must be respectful of the people one interacts with on the dance floor and during the dance. That’s why there is some structure on how the dance is danced: even a dance as loose as the blues, still has the basic foundation in that lead-follow connection.

Everyone has different definitions for their personal boundaries and space. There are different degrees of close embrace. As a lead, one should understand that and respect what the follow you’re dancing with is willing to allow. That just comes with the territory. If you’re not sure about how someone will react when you first dance with them, just observe them dancing before you ask – “look before you leap” as it were.

Now, there are many occasions where this close contact can have very different results so I’m addressing those occasions in the form of Q&A. These have been collected from various conversations I’ve had with fellow dancers. Not all the answers are my own – many of them are compilations of responses that were shared during those discussions. Hopefully they help you answer your own questions and at the very least provide you with some entertainment along the way.

“I just don’t want to come across as “that creepy” guy when I’m dancing – how do I do that when I’m getting that close to someone I’m dancing with for the 1st time?”

It’s all about approach and intent. People give off a different energy when they are approaching with “shall we dance?” versus “I want to get in your pants!”. If you approach like a gentleman with respect and admiration, that’s always a good start. Just because that dance requires you to get close, doesn’t mean you have to start close right away. Take advantage of the introduction and ease into the close embrace. The lady or follow will tell you when it’s close enough. You should feel her relax into your lead and off you go.

I would also suggest that leads learn about the different styles of close embrace by taking a Tango or Blues class. There are ways to approach your partner so that it’s not an “in your face” or intimidating approach. Little things like open by inviting and then slowly closing the embrace will help.

“What if she/he just doesn’t want to be that close?”

Remember respect? It comes with the territory – everyone has different space boundaries and don’t force yours on who you’re dancing with: it’s just one song, one dance. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to dance with this person again afterward. In the meantime, be polite and handle it with grace and poise.

“What if I physically feel something from my lead that’s telling me he’s a little turned on by the dance?”

Let’s face it – this is an “occupational hazard”. I mean how can you not get turned on when you’re dancing with someone hot, to this wonderful music and the whole time you’re in a close physical embrace? I’m so lucky to be a woman because at least the physical manifestation of being turned on is not as obvious as a man’s. Here is definitely a moment where the line might get crossed.

The underlying assumption must be true: both parties are there to enjoy and respect each other and the dancing. Here’s some suggestions on how to gracefully handle the situation:

For the lead: perhaps adjust the closeness of the embrace until things subside a little so that it’s not so obvious. Your close embrace can be offset enough for you to maintain the close contact. You don’t have to say anything or make it a big deal. If you have the gift for just the right touch of humor for the occasion – a small smile or shrug to lighten the mood then that might help. Just remember “occupational hazard” and focus on the dance.

For the follow: remember “occupational hazard”, if you trust the intent of your lead, then don’t make it an issue. I tend to just ignore it and if my lead makes the appropriate adjustments, the dance continues and nothing more needs to be said. If my lead does say something to apologize, I’ll acknowledge it lightly as well.

NOW, if the lead does not adjust and the follow is uncomfortable, then follows – by all means, apply some “defensive” dancing maneuvers to distance yourself from your lead and remember that the dance doesn’t last forever.

Finally, if it really is uncomfortable for you, then either party should be able to excuse yourself from the dance – politely – and part ways.

“Oops, my hand accidentally brushed against (insert sensitive body part here)! What do I do?”

Same as above. It's an “occupational hazard” even in the not so close social dances. So. handle it with light humor (if you can), poise and grace - don't make it a big deal unless that line is really crossed. If someone is feeling you up and you're not cool with it or the touch/contact is uncomfortable for you, you're well within your rights to step away. You can just tell them you have to excuse yourself and leave.

“Wow! That really was a woozy of a dance… hand me a cigarette – please!”

Let’s face it folks – this is a high like no other really so why not enjoy it? Intimate Social Dancing is one big flirt fest and a celebration of how fun the interaction between the sexes can be.

One last word of advice:
If you feel like there’s something extra special beyond the dance, make sure you wait before acting on it. I think there are times when the “dance high” can be confusing and it can take a while for that to subside. Save yourself some drama.

If you have intentions to get to know a person beyond the dancing, it might be best to approach gently on the side with some small conversation and then setup a different time to pursue something off the social dance floor.

Don't let your dance high carry you away to never never land as far as relationships go. I never assume that someone is interested beyond the dancing unless he makes a definite move to get to know me off the dance floor. I'm excited for those opportunities to get to know someone off the dance floor, especially if there's already a strong dance connection. I mean what girl wouldn't want a leading man in her life that can literally sweep her off her feet?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Birthday Week to Remember

Another time out to share from my personal life - I've had the best birthday week ever and its the best way to start a new year. So I'd like to pay tribute to the events and people that share it with me.

Facebook deluge of birthday wishes:
Overwhelming! I heard from folks all over the world starting from Sunday forward. I started to say thanks to each one and then couldn't keep up.

Starting with a gift for my sister: We have birthdays that are 3 days apart. So I took the kiddos for a weekend so that she and her hubby could have time to themselves. I had a blast - we went to see How to Train Your Dragon and just had a great time together.

The usual things turned out to be FAN-tastic: I think i didn't realize how good my life is - truly - until doing nothing special for my birthday turned out to be quite special after all. I decided not to plan too much and just enjoy the things I do normally with the people I know and it worked out better than I could've hoped for.

A cupcake to kick-off the day: After volleyball the day before my big day, my friend got me a cupcake from Starbucks and it was a perfect way to start things off. I had it for breakfast in the morning.

Ah! The Surprises are always so much fun: On my birthday I had so many surprises, the birthday greetings flooded my inbox. An impromptu birthday dance in mambo dance class. Then at Bachata night, I had cupcakes, brownies, flan, chocolate, german chocolate cake, dark chocolate... it never seemed to stop! One can never have too much cake for a birthday!

The Firsts:
I had my 1st ever birthday dance! As much as I love to dance, I spent most of my birthdays playing volleyball somewhere and celebrating in a different way. I got to dance my very 1st birthday bachata dance and it was a BLAST!!! thanks to everyone that made it special! Here's link to my birthday bachata:

 I got one of the best compliments ever while dancing with someone at the Bachata Social. I had just finished spinning through a few moves when my lead stopped leading for a second. He shook his head quickly and smiled and said "Oh! My bad, I was just watching you spin." I thought, well there's nothing wrong with that is there? THANKS!

On Thursday I got to dance my 1st Salsa Birthday Dance and BOY was it fun! I didn't even have a chance to be nervous because once the music started, I had one great lead after another come out to lead me and spin me and dip me. I was swept of my feet! I only wish I could have planned it a little better and got a video.

 An evening at the Spa: with my sister despite the onset of a migraine was just what the doctor ordered. I got scrubbed and soaked in olive oil/honey/milk/cucumbers and thoroughly massaged. I was so relaxed by the end of it, there was nothing left to do but sleep.

 A weekend with family with lots of food and hugs: I went to Portland with my sis and her family and we had such a great time. The kids were awesome and we got to play, eat, walk around, drive around... there are great pics on my flickr stream but this one sort of shows the culmination of our eating adventures where we feasted on meat (after eating a LOT of donuts!)

Dancing at Folklife was soooo much fun - I'm so glad I got to dance the rueda with such a great group of people. The dancing that followed was just as fun and the rest of my Monday night was marvelous - like it always is ;)

Love, Joy, Dance, Hugs, Smiles, Food and Wonderful Friends and Family - there's nothing better.

much thanks, always