Picture it: Loud music is playing. You’re swaying to the rhythm, dying to dance. You get asked to dance by someone you don’t know well. You extend your hand and enter the dance floor. Dancing commences. You smile. You make eye contact. Suddenly, his (or her) hands are traveling all over your body, you get pulled in tight, and he (or she) is breathing heavily in your ear. “Geeze Louise,” you think! “It’s happened again, hasn’t it? Why do I always end up in this situation?!”
I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all have had our friendliness mistaken for flirting at some point in the past. Sometimes seemingly meaningless actions and gestures are mistaken and we find ourselves in awkward situations. Personally, I had this problem too much when I was a new dancer and unconsciously stopped smiling and making eye contact to avoid such unwanted advances. I kept my distance in bachata as well until I got familiar enough with the lead to know that he’s not SOLELY trying to rub up on me. I didn’t even realize that I had done it until some leads pointed it out to me. They let me see that, though this method had been effective in keeping unwanted advances to a minimum, it also offended some of my dance partners. Some said I look “too serious” when dancing while others said I intimidate them, I suppose because I don’t make much eye contact or smile enough. What they didn’t realize was that I’m often having a blast inside my head, but my face just doesn’t show it. Since first hearing these comments, I’ve added some eye contact and smiling back into my dancing. It’s taken awhile to find a happy medium in which I can balance my desire to be both warm and welcoming, yet to keep enough distance to not be, you know…. too welcoming. I’ve found there’s no magic formula, as everyone dances – and flirts – differently.
Wouldn’t it be easier if we just had some basic ground rules that everyone could follow when entering the dance scene? In the name of friendly dance, I propose these guidelines for understanding my intentions on the dance floor. Feel free to cosign and share, or to contend them with your own opinions. Also, if you have a behavior to add to the list, I want to hear it!
- MINIMAL = I am distracted, my feet hurt, your breath stinks, or I’m not having any fun. You may also be talking when you should be listening to the music.
- MEDIUM = I’m glad to be dancing with you! I’m having fun! Keep up the good work!
- PLENTIFUL/CONSTANT = You intrigue me. I want to get to know you better. Perhaps we can talk a little after the dance?
- NO SMILING = I am distracted, my feet hurt, your breath stinks, you’re talking when you should be listening to the music, and/or I’m not having any fun. On occasion this means I am thinking really hard about the dance because you’re way better than I am or you dance a different style than me and I’m having trouble adapting. (In this case, YOU are probably giving ME the stink face.)
- FORCED/FAKE SMILE = I am trying really hard to be encouraging, though you are a beginner. You may have just stepped on my foot, and you might have tried to correct what I’m doing even though you’re wrong.
- MEDIUM AMT. OF SMILING = Thank you for dancing with me. I’m having fun! Sometimes it means “I know I suck compared to you, but I’m trying!”
- CONSTANT SMILING (especially while looking down then immediately back up at you with big eyes) = I really like you. Please come get me to dance six times later, and maybe we can make out around the corner if you like.
- CONSTANT SMILING (without lots of eye contact) = I am probably in a relationship and enjoying myself in this dance so much I have totally forgotten that you’re looking for signs. Sorry!
- I PUSH YOU AWAY FROM ME = BACK UP! If a woman pushes on the inside of your shoulders, please do not fight her by pushing closer, thinking she just needs to succumb to your will. Please respect it and give some space. Pushing does not mean the dance is over or she hates you, but right now, she would like some space.
- I DON’T LET YOU GET CLOSE / I PULL AWAY FROM CLOSED POSITION QUICKLY = It is either just way too hot for close bachata or I am not comfortable dancing this way with you. (Read facial expression to decipher which it could be.) Reasons I may not be comfortable: it could be that you are not skilled in how to hold me without feeling creepy, that you have something in your right pocket that hurts, that you smell, or that the song just started 3 seconds ago and I’d like to establish a base understanding of you before we start dancing close enough to make babies. Related: See this post (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfOrXEvIQek)
- I ALLOW CLOSE BACHATA (part way through the song) = I am comfortable with you. I trust you because you seem to know what you are doing.
- I GRAB YOU TIGHTLY AND HOLD YOU THERE THE ENTIRE SONG = You smell amazing. Maybe we can do this again later in private.
TALKING AFTER THE DANCE
- I WALK AWAY IMMEDIATELY WITH NO EYE CONTACT OR SMILING = Good luck in life, pal.
- “THANK YOU” + EYE CONTACT = That was a nice dance. We can dance again sometime.
- “THANK YOU! WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” + EYE CONTACT = I really liked dancing with you. I want to know you name so I can remember you later. I might add you on Facebook so you don’t forget me.
- “THANK YOU! WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” + EYE CONTACT + ADDITIONAL TOUCHING = I’m feeling you and am waiting for you to make a move.
In my opinion, these are some simple behavioral descriptors that can get a new male dancer through the scene without misinterpreting signals. As you can see, a polite smile does not mean I want you to have my number, and constant eye contact with constant smiling is probably more than just being friendly (though I will deny this if I change my mind about being interested in you later). These behaviors will change a bit from girl to girl, but I think my standards should work on average.
Men, if you were to write a list of guidelines, what would they look like?