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?


  1. Great topic , Frances, in depth and with such sensitivity. Also, amazing what you are doing with upcoming dance events and your dance links!

  2. Thanks Steph and Salsero.

    I don't actually go to all the dance events, just post the ones that I know of because they aren't posted anywhere in one place. :)