In last week’s post about obnoxious dance partners I neglected to mention that lack of eye contact doesn’t always come from a swelled head. Sometimes it’s a sign of shyness and it’s hard to tell the difference. One year at a dance camp in Sweden I asked a man to dance. I was watching the floor and asking people who looked like good dancers. He didn’t look at me once and in fact looked a little pained to be dancing with me. In Sweden the custom is to dance twice with every partner and I fully expected him to be rude enough to ignore this custom, but he did ask for another dance and I assumed he was just being polite. There was nothing in his behavior to indicate that he enjoyed dancing with me.
After our second dance there was a Shim Sham, a jazz routine that most lindy hoppers know that is danced without a partner. After the Shim Sham he asked me for another dance and that’s when I realized he must have enjoyed dancing with me even though his expression never showed it.
At this same dance camp I had a friend who was a very earnest student of dance. He took his studies very seriously and got better every year. He was an excellent lead and looked up to me as a mentor. After asking me to critique his dancing, I said to him, “This isn’t what you’re expecting to hear, but you are concentrating so hard on the moves you are practicing that you’re giving me the impression that you don’t enjoy dancing with me.”
“But I LOVE dancing with you!” he insisted.
“I know that,” I continued. “But only because I know you. It’s more important to engage your partner than it is to ensure perfection in every move you make. Give yourself a chance to enjoy your partner and she’ll feel that and the dance will be so much more pleasurable for both of you.”
It’s so easy to mistake shyness, or earnest concentration, for contempt. If you’re shy, try creating a new habit of some kind that would reassure your partner. If eye contact is too embarrassing for you, practice saying “Thank you. I enjoyed that.” until it feels easy.
If you’re the partner of a dancer who doesn’t look at you, or smile, or make conversation, give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Even if he really is arrogant rather than shy, nobody is that much of an ass without having a lot of personal problems you don’t know about. So try to find something positive to say anyway, and always thank your partner even if you never want to share another dance. A kind word costs you nothing and you never know what effect your kindness might have on another person.
By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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