If you ever watched the TEDx video of Trevor Copp and Jeff FoxLiquid Lead, at the beginning of the conference they typed ballroom dancing in Google and pointed out the result showed exclusively heterosexual couples, with a strict gender role division. It also appears that some adds for dancing are also far from the reality of social dancing, and looking more and more like adds for Tinder. Beautiful couple, sexy pose, in either close embrace or impressive aerial/dips. Advertising for dancing works the same way as selling deodorant or lipstick, the images associated with it are all the same : romanticism, sex, awe-inspiring…
Honestly… Do any of you actually dance like that in lessons or social dancing ?
Is dance about sex ? Probably. In history social dancing was ever about meeting a potential partner, being introduced to a potential mate, talking and even touching without the intervention of a chaperone. Tango was invented in the bordellos of Buenos Aires…. and after all couple dancing is about bodies touching, embrace and physical contact…
Maybe it is what brings us to dance, and we need some dream material before starting to dance. But nowadays couple dance can bring something else to the serial dancers that we are. A notion that I can be in contact with another body, male or female, without any sexual notion.
The vertical expression of a horizontal desire
Tango and Latin dances, in general, have the reputation of a very sexy and sensual dance. Tango is the vertical expression of an horizontal desire, that very famous phrase I often hear about tango, just before I explain to people that my dance partners are usually older than my dad, which place horizontal desire far from all the reasons I dance the tango.
We will have great moments with these beginners.
The difference between seduction and sensuality
The truth is, a majority of people have no other reference for body contact than the sexual one. We might hug our family, our friends, but it rarely exceeds a few seconds, except in romantic encounter we don’t have many occasion to confront another body. Sensuality is closely linked to sexual attraction by the simple fact that we have very few other types of connections.
But there is something more, dancers are sharing, the sensuality in dancing. And it is mostly non-related to physical attraction for our dance partner.
Couple dancing is a sensorial dialogue on music, we share simultaneous displacement on music and it can be very intimate and strong. Mostly purely platonic, and for the very simple reason, we dance with too many partners to feel attracted by them all (let’s hope so, or you are selecting your partner only based on their attractiveness, which is possible but then trusts me, you’re missing something).
In fact, it reminds me of the one movement who promote a share of human contact : the free hug movement.
So what are we, if not free huggers in a musical context ?
That sensuality through dance, if I had to name it, it would be Dansuality. This I personally can share with another human being, man or woman, young or old, it doesn’t matter. Of course some people, even advanced dancers, don’t feel necessarily comfortable to share a deep dialogue with people from the same gender. We don’t even have to share a deep connection at every dance or with everyone. It is a matter of personal boundaries and there is actually no problem with that as long as we have enough respect for everyone.
Demo versus social dancing
To bring us to dance, many organisers and teachers are counting on fancy posters and flyers, but let’s say that youtube demos contribute as much as the big gap between expectations and reality. It’s usually about sexiness, or about acrobatic/impressive steps, or both. Demos are amazing, they show top dancers at the peak of their art, performing complicated and impressive stuff, but they usually forget to tell you some things :
- Social dancing won’t allow it, mostly because of the lack of space and breakable partners
- Without a partner and 10 years of working together, there is no way a social dancer can perform these things in an improvisation dance
- Teacher’s demos are made to bring students in classrooms. Doesn’t mean they dance like that all the time, nor in social dancing
Nick Jones and Diana Cruz dance tango. Are they amazing ? Yes.
Do they represent the tango argentino we will learn in class and dance in milonga ? I believe not.
Tango dancers usually know the difference between “tango fantasia” and “social tango”.
Dance videos can bring you to dance, or they can keep you from it.
A small example with some friends who wanted to try forro until they saw the video on the left (major hit on Facebook). Amazing video, brilliant dancers, a bit SCARY for beginners. They were afraid to go, because they didn’t feel capable of doing something like this (but honestly, who can ?). But truth is, reality of social dancing is more like the video on the right. Both forro, both brilliant, 2 different things.
So why do we dance ?
People might be attracted to dance by the perspective of finding a mate or learn impressive steps to show-off. But if you actually ask dancers why they dance, there are a lot of different motives we rarely put forward in our communication.
Several sources tried to find an answer by simply asking people. And the reasons are diverse : to feel, to express, to connect to their roots, to work on their body, to relax, to have fun, to connect with people, to heal, to switch-off, to have fun, to be held… and yes sometimes to find a mate.
A quest for the Flow, that amazing connection between bodies
Amongst all the reasons that lead dancers to a ball, there is one very special you might need a bit of time to acquire : the mysterious Flow. What is it ? Some kind of bliss that make you and your partner shut down from the outside world, and make the time flow differently. I believe it is precisely what we sometimes mistake with seduction. It doesn’t exist exclusively in couple dance, as Fabien from Tango-agenda.com describes it in the article below (in french).
If we focus on couple dancing, to get to the flow mode, we’ll need :
- To be relaxed
- Good posture
- To have a relaxed partner with a good friend listening to you
- Good music and good dancing conditions
It isn’t related to the level of the dancer, even though I believe relaxed body, good frame, listening partners and immersion to music are not easy to attain when you are a beginner.
So what now ?
From that statement, I find there are some things we could do to make the dancing world a bit fairer. I won’t list them all, these resolutions are just the ones I feel capable of applying to myself on an everyday basis.
Teach gender free
If pleasure in dancing doesn’t depend on our partner’s gender, I don’t see why we should oblige men to lead and girls to follow. Like I said in the article Switch leading and Coguiding, we should open our minds and standards to other types of connections, embrace it, promote it.
Teaching connection instead of variations
It might be a bit tricky because beginners want to dance, to learn fast, and they want their efforts to be quickly visible, but I think many dancers will agree that quality is better than quantity and a good connection leads to dansuality and the holy spirit of flow.
I just love to watch videos of people dancing, it’s an endless source of inspiration. But for some dances, I struggle to find beautiful videos of regular dancers. Just the normal ones, the ones I can feel close to, because it’s doable, attainable, and makes me – or others – want to try social dancing.
I deeply believe we don’t need fancy poses on posters to advertise for dancing, even for the sensual latin dances. A lot of dancing communities already advertise on the many other values composing the dancing world, and I really wish it can become the new standard values.
Organisers and dancers invested in safe spaces
A bad communication vehicle a wrong message about social behaviour in our dancing spaces. It brings people to balls but giving them false expectations, stupid clichés and might lead to wrong behaviours :
- mandatory gender based connection
- strong leads are the best leads
- women love fancy stuff, dips and aerials
- dance is for attractive people
- dance is difficult
- dance is sexy
Organisers and teachers have to be attentive to newcomers and nicely make sure everyone is aware that social dancing is not like youtube, and provides a safe space, clear lines of conducts.