It happens to everyone, albeit for different reasons. Because I am quite tall for a lady, often for me it involves a significant height difference between my partner and I. It’s not that I don’t enjoy close dances with men who are shorter than myself, but if your face is approximately at the same level as my cleavage… please don’t hold me in close hold.
If I’m in close hold with someone who is intent on placing their face in my chest, I have two options. 1: give him the eyeful or 2: squat. Squatting is not comfortable. By the end of four minutes, my knees and thighs hurt, and generally I’m out of dance commission for the rest of the night. If I do decide to just tough out the personal space invasion, I end up feeling a little put off of my dance groove for a few songs at least.
I’m sure most of the guys who do this are not intentionally doing so (or, at least, I prefer to think they’re there for my dance prowess and not my jiggly bits). That being said, most other awkward moments – painful grips, bad odors, etc. – are equally unintentional. But, somewhere along the line, I have to think to myself how is it possible they don’t know this is happening? I mean, I’m probably guilty of smelling bad at least a couple times (due partially to my almost total absence of a sense of smell), but now I’m hypervigilant. I ask my dance friends to tell me if I start to be in need of a little freshness help. I feel like if everyone was just slightly overly vigilant, we could almost totally wipe out that one… especially if our close dance friends graciously and diplomatically informed us of our shortcomings.
Bad dance habits are a little trickier. As a follow, I’ve had pinched fingers, arm wrestling matches, and a grip akin to the jaws of life inflicted upon me on the dance floor. I’ve tried flexing my hand to loosen fingers, slackened my connection to indicate a leader is using too much strength, and attempted to create more space between myself and my partner in order to notify them that there is something awkward and uncomfortable for me in close hold. Sometimes, they listen, and things go back to happy-happy joy-joy roses and butterflies. Sometimes, they don’t. Those times are unfortunate, and usually I attempt to avoid that dancer’s gaze the rest of the night. On the flip side, I have heard leaders’ stories about the dreaded Leg Clamp and a little too much personal comfort on the part of other followers… contact that in these cases is not led.
I feel like we, as social dancers, need to pay extra attention to the reactions our partner is giving us. Some girls resist combs, or wince when being put through pretzels. Some stiffen and get uncomfortable in close holds. Some leads have similar feelings. I have to wonder how many awkward moments could be remedied by paying close attention to the reactions of our friends and partners, or by seeking advice from those closest to us on our flaws.
No social dancer that I have ever met wants to be unpleasant to dance with, but too often the shroud of politeness, ego, or obliviousness prevents us from really evaluating the extent of our positive or negative impact on the other person. Let’s change that, one person at a time! Give those in-dance hints, and be ready to receive them if your partner graciously throws them your way. 🙂