Archive for the ‘social skills’ Category
You know what’s kinda fun, in a weird way? Going out dancing when you’re the only couple in the place who knows how.
I live in a small town an hour outside Portland. It’s in what they call “Wine Country,” which means up until twenty years ago it was all turkey farmers and hicks. Then the “wine people” moved in, and now along with the hicks, we got a lot of displaced Californians. Both types do an awful lot of drinking, the only difference being that half the population gets wasted on PBR, and the other half on Pinot. But none, I mean none, of these people know how to dance.
So a couple times in the last few months, one of our fancy wine bars in town has inexplicably started hiring small dance bands. I mean proper danceable Django cover bands. Why, I have no idea. It’s kind of surreal. After all, I’ve spent the last ten years of my life driving miles and miles each week to seek out places to dance. All of a sudden, there’s this place two blocks from my house – well, it’s just weird.
Both times it’s happened, my DH and I have shown up and there’s this great jazz happening, nice clear dance floor, and a bunch of people sitting around drinking and watching the band. I mean, just watching them, you know, like it’s a lecture or something. All serious.
So of course the first thing we do is we barge out there and start dancing. I mean, we got the whole floor to ourselves, and we’re not gonna let that band go to waste. Years ago, of course, when I was a kid I never would have done such a thing, but dancing changes you. And I guess maybe getting older changes you too. Because nowadays I’ll dance anywhere, I don’t care who’s looking. (I even danced in Staples one time when a good song came on, and another customer started dancing with me. Surprised both of us!)
Anyway, so naturally, at this bar, as soon as we start dancing, people start watching us. And we’re doing Balboa, so of course everyone is staring down at our feet, which I always find hilarious. They’re all just staring at the floor. But for a while it’s kind of cool; it’s like we’re part of the show.
But what’s really awesome is that after a couple of songs (and admittedly, after a couple of drinks), the other folks in the room start standing up to try it. And you can see that they’re not just dancing any old way, like they would if it was just from the buzz or the way they did at their senior prom. They’re actually trying to do what we’re doing. They’ve observed that we’re in a certain kind of close embrace, and they try that. They see we’re doing this sort of quick stepping business, and they try to make that happen. It’s really pretty adorable.
I mean, they’re awful, of course. They’re all dancing really big and sort of humorous, covering up the fact that they feel kinda foolish out there. But all the same, they’re having a good time. And it’s great because the only reason they have the courage to try it is that we stood up and did it first. They didn’t have to be the first ones. At least, they would have needed to drink a lot more before they would have dared to be the first ones.
Anyway, so now these people are like sheep without a shepherd. I just gotta figure out how to get some more teaching gigs in town so the folks will know how to dance without killing each other.
But it’s definitely a start!
Okay, a lot of folks have justifiably called me out on one aspect of my last post that really was unchill. I practically accused people of being homophobic if they don’t want to dance with a same-sex dance partner. And that wasn’t nice of me.
So now, I need to confess something. As much as I’ve been going on and on about how great it is for follows to learn to lead, have I ever mentioned that I don’t really like to dance with other women?
It’s something I’m trying to get over.
Part of the problem is that “real” follows – females, usually – know the difference between a good lead and a bad lead, while most guys don’t. So I feel like I don’t have to be perfect when I lead a guy, we can just goof around and have fun.
But the bigger and far more disturbing problem is that women just feel strange to me. I mean their actual flesh feels strange.
When I dance with men, there’s a solidness about them. Even men who aren’t particularly fit feel muscular and substantial. And they feel warm to the touch.
When I put my hand on a girl’s back or on her upper arm, it doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels cool to the touch, and mooshy. I feel like my hand sinks in too much, more than I expect. It’s a peculiar unsubstantial feeling. And with really skinny girls it’s even worse – they feel so flimsy, like they’re made out of straws.
And I don’t know, maybe there is just a lingering touch of social stigma about it for me.
When it comes to the stigma part, I can only imagine it’s a hundred times worse for men than for women, particularly in some parts of the world. And if girls feel creepily squishy to me, I must assume that men would feel bizarrely brittle to other men who aren’t used to that much physical contact with them.
I’m committed to the idea that this is something we owe it to ourselves to get over if we’re going to progress as dancers, and as human beings. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a significant hurdle. At least it has been to me.
What do you all think? Has anyone else experienced what I’m talking about?
It has come to my attention that my advice yesterday about being friendly when you go out dancing may not be particularly helpful for some people.
As someone rightfully pointed out to me, if he knew how to do that he wouldn’t need the advice in the first place!
Many of us get started at dancing for the very reason that, in the course of our normal existence, we don’t get the chance to meet a lot of people. Writers and artists of all kinds, those of us who work from home or in a cubicle, students and other brainiacs who have to do a lot of reading every day – there are lots of occupations where you’re isolated most of the time. Engaged in our important or not-so-important work all day long, we may gradually lose the ability to connect with people. And if we started out shy or isolated as children, we may never have acquired that ability in the first place.
Basically, our culture tends to make everyone more and more socially awkward.
Going out dancing is a great idea for correcting this! There’s no better way to meet lots of nice people. But the problem is that if you don’t know how to meet people in the first place, then you may go home from dancing feeling more isolated than ever.
So if that’s your situation, never fear! I’m going to quickly run through some of my best advice for the ultra-shy.
- When you go out dancing, always try to get there in time for the drop-in. Even if you already know how to dance. Actually, I think the drop-in is a lousy place to learn to dance anyway. If you want to really learn to dance, take some privates or go to workshops. But always take the drop-in because it’s a great way to meet people. The main benefit of drop-ins is that they’re full of people who all feel super awkward. So if you feel awkward, you’re not alone – everyone else does, too.
(A side note: Instructors, please remember this. Don’t try to stop people from talking in the drop-in. You’re not going to teach them to be excellent dancers in an hour anyway. So leave them alone. And please remember to rotate a lot! Thank you.)
Say you weren’t able to get there in time for the drop-in. Or you’re in the drop-in, but the instructors are being all weird and not letting you talk. All is not lost! People expect to be asked to dance when they go out dancing, so just ask people to dance. There have been a lot of posts in this blog already about asking people to dance, and there will be many more, so I’m not going to go into it here. But the following advice works equally well whether it’s in the drop-in or during the normal part of the dance.
- Introduce yourself to everyone you dance with. Just say, “Hi, I’m Howard.” Or Dorothy, or Spike or whatever. Normally, the other person will then offer his or her name. Memorize it. This is important, because I want you to thank them by name when you’re done dancing with them. Come on, you’re a brainiac, memorizing things is what you do, right? You can do this! Try to learn at least a couple of names per night.
- After you’re consistently able to introduce yourself, start trying to follow up the exchange of names by saying just one other thing. That’s all I’m asking you to do, say one thing. If it leads to a conversation, great! If not, you’re off the hook; just smile and know that you did your part. Remember that while you don’t want to ask personal questions right away, it’s easier for the other person to think of something to say back if you leave a question mark at the end of whatever you say.
Here’s some topic ideas:
- The crowdedness: “Boy, it’s crowded tonight, isn’t it?” or “Where is everyone tonight?”
- The lighting: “I wish they’d turn the lights down a little, you know?” or “Does it seem kind of dark in here to you?”
- The temperature: “Why is it so cold in here?” or “It’s like a sauna in here, isn’t it?”
- The room: “Aren’t those some crazy light fixtures?” or “Isn’t this floor amazing?”
- The building: “Isn’t this a cool old building?” or “Has this always been a dance place, do you think?”
- The music: “Is this Louis Prima?” or “I just love Ella Fitzgerald, don’t you?”
- The season: “How’s your summer going?” or “Are you all ready for the holidays?”
- The band: “Have you heard this band before?” or “Isn’t this band awesome?”
- The move: “Am I leading this right?” or “Have you done this move before?”
- The instructors: “Those instructors are fun, aren’t they?” or “Did you notice that instructor’s crazy shoes?”
You can use the above steps even when you’re not dancing. If you find yourself standing next to someone in line, or you’re both sitting out the same song, try introducing yourself and saying one other thing. You can think of it as practice, if that helps.
When you’ve done the above, you really don’t need to do anything else. Don’t keep trying to force a conversation if it’s going nowhere. But what I do suggest is listening when the other person answers you. If they’re skilled, they’ll answer you back in such a way that it gives you the chance to say something else, and it can go back and forth. It’s like volleyball; you both keep hitting the ball back and forth until someone drops it.
And someone will drop it. You can’t keep talking forever. If the talking gets too much for you, you can always stop. The other person will just assume you’re listening to the music or thinking about something. Same goes for them if they stop talking. Don’t take it personally. Just smile.
And remember one of the beauties of dancing: at most, you’ve got three minutes of awkwardness with any one person.
Okay, what can you do to make people want to dance with you? I’ve been blathering on about this topic for days, and I swear this is the last piece of advice I’m going to give you (for now). But it’s a pretty good one:
If you want people to want to dance with you, forget about getting people to dance with you, and instead, focus on making friends. Because people always like to dance with their friends.
I need to confess something here. When I go out dancing, I honestly have the best intentions. I always mean to try and dance with as many new people as I can, and sometimes I do a fairly okay job of it. But what always gets in the way is my friends. See, I’ve been dancing in this scene for so long that most of the people who are out there, I’m friends with. And if I don’t squeeze in at least one dance with them, both of us are going to be disappointed. And sometimes that can take up my whole night. Seriously, I have to make deals with myself. Three dances with friends, then one with a new person. Or whatever. Ridiculous, right? I know!
What I’m saying is that if you have a lot of friends in the scene, you shouldn’t have any problem getting dances.
Now, I know you’re not one of these creepy types who is just there to pick up a date. But you can’t tell me that you go to all the expense and bother of getting dolled up and going out because you DON’T enjoy hanging out with people. And honestly, they’re out there for the same reason. We’re social beings, and we can always use more friends.
I think sometimes we get so caught up in our own little world of pain and self-consciousness that we start to think of those other dancers out there as just things. They’re things who yank our arms, things who look at us funny, things who never ask us to dance, things who make us feel bad about ourselves.
But every one of those people is someone with his own pain, or her own self-consciousness. Even those snobby dancers who won’t dance with newbies. Even the cool people who think they’re too awesome to dance with someone who’s awkward. And even those people who are too awkward to dance with. They’re all way more interesting, and in way more pain, than you’d ever guess by looking at them.
They’re not just there to make you feel good or lousy about yourself, or to provide you with some sort of dancing experience. They’re not just machines you can put a quarter in and a dance with you comes out. They have their own issues. You have no way of knowing what’s going on with them if you just sit there and make assumptions based on their appearance. You gotta reach out.
So how do you make friends? Well, how do you make friends in the real world? Dancing is no different. Obviously you’re not going to go barging up to folks and chat them up while they’re trying to dance. But people aren’t always dancing. If there’s someone sitting there who you’d like to talk to, I’d suggest waiting until the song is well underway, until it’s safe to assume they’re not planning on dancing in the near future. And then just do what you normally do. Be friendly. Reach out. Say something nice. Whatever. You know how to do this.
It’s also perfectly legal to chat with people while you’re dancing with them. And it’s a great idea if you feel at all weird about your dancing, or if you can sense that your partner feels awkward in some way. Making a little small talk can be a welcome distraction, and keeps that grim look off your face that you get when you start thinking too much about dancing.
Don’t expect magical results your first night in a new scene. But you should certainly be able to manage at least one or two new acquaintances. And if you keep going back week after week, it won’t be long before you have your own little crew. And you’ll wish the night was longer because you didn’t get to dance with all of them, even though you were dancing the whole time.
I don’t know. Does that help at all?
Okay, so if you are concerned that no one wants to dance with you when you go out, there are certain obvious things to check. Like, do you smell bad? Clearly, that could be a problem. Or are you too rough? Or do you have a constant frown on your face? Are you sitting there texting or reading a book? Are you inebriated?
These obvious factors are just a matter of having good manners. It’s kind of like when you call the repairman, and the first thing he asks you is if the thing is plugged in. Duh! But every once in a while, the thing isn’t. So you can always check the common-sense things first.
Some other basic items to check would include:
- Being too sweaty.
- Wearing too much perfume.
- Wearing dangerous-looking stilletos.
- Being dressed in an embarrassingly strange manner.
- Having a tendency to throw girls up in the air or turn them upside down.
I’m sure we’re safe in assuming that your mother brought you up right, and you don’t do any of those things. Still, it never hurts to check.
Then there are the less-obvious factors that might be holding you back. These are less about etiquette, and more about psychology.
For example, if you’re a girl and you want to get asked to dance, you should probably try to avoid sitting or standing next to a lot of other girls who are also waiting around to be asked to dance. Reason being that it’s awkward for a guy to approach a whole pack of girls and pick out just one of them. So he ends up having to say something like, “Would any of you like to dance?” And that’s pretty weird. So he’s probably not going to bother.
Another way to not get asked is to engross yourself in deep conversations. Most people aren’t going to want to interrupt. Not saying that you shouldn’t converse with folks, just don’t expect to get asked to dance while you’re doing it.
If you’re sitting down, you probably look like you’re just watching. There’s lots of folks standing up, and they’re the ones who are going to get asked.
Just plain old avoiding eye contact will stop most people from asking you for a dance. Actually, I think this really could qualify as the universal signal of not wanting to dance. If someone is approaching you with that look in their eye, and you look away from them, they’ll probably change their mind and not ask you. Conversely, sometimes you can make someone ask you just by looking at them! Worth a try anyway.
If your issue is people turning you down when you ask them to dance, then as a follow I can tell you that leaders often err in two ways: either by being too formal, or being too informal.
Too informal means not asking at all. Guys will come up and just grab your hand, or give you a head nod. They might as well just do the Fonzie thing and snap their fingers. Pretty bad. Unless you’re really tight with someone, this can be a little insulting and more than a little pressure-y.
Too formal is things like saying, “May I have the honor of this dance, Milady?” and bowing. It’s a bit much.
Now, given the general shortage of guys, most girls probably won’t turn you down if you’re obnoxious like this, but they probably won’t be super happy about it either. And you might just earn yourself an awkward nickname, like the The Fonz or Sir Galahad. So don’t risk it. Just ask nicely.
For leads or follows, wearing weird shoes can sometimes make people think you’ll be uncomfortable to dance with. There was a period in my dancing history when I avoided dancing with people who wore black-and-white dance shoes; bad experiences had taught me that such folks were over-eager about their dancing, i.e. arm-yankers. I don’t do this anymore, but if people look grim when you ask them to dance, it may be your shoes that are terrifying them.
If the people in your scene are really into not dancing with certain people, newbies or people who don’t look like models or whatever, then following this kind of simplistic advice is probably not going to help much. But like I said, it never hurts to double-check.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a million of them. Anyone wanna chime in here with their pet peeves?
So here’s one of the ways you can make people want to dance with you: Work on your solo dancing.
This has been mentioned a time or two before in this blog, and lots of the comments agree. Solo dancing is excellent in so many ways, and if you’re having a crisis about your personal magnetism in the dance scene, there are some very specific ways it can help.
One is that it just makes you a better dancer. You learn better control of your ownself, and that’s crucially important. When things go wrong in a dance we so often blame our partners: “He was yanking on my arm.” “She was too heavy.” If people seem to be avoiding you on the dance floor, it could very well be that you’re irritating to dance with. Sorry, and I only say this to you because I love you, but the problem may be you. Maybe you are a bit hard to move, or maybe you are too rough. If you learn to move yourself properly, then at least you can eliminate this one very practical reason why your dance card might not be as full as we’d like.
Solo dancing also gives you confidence. When you’ve done a lot of solo dancing, especially in front of a mirror, or recorded yourself on video, then you can at least feel good about how you look when you’re dancing. If you have no idea how you look, it’s easy to make yourself think people don’t want to dance with you because you look goofy. Practice your solo stuff and you’ll know that at least that isn’t the reason.
But it isn’t just the practice of solo dancing that I’m talking about. I mean that you should actually take your solo dancing out to the floor. I know this is more customary in some scenes than in others, but personal opinion? I think every healthy swing dancing community should be embracing solo jazz on the social floor.
For one thing, if there’s a lack of appropriate partners to dance with, then what are you going to do, just sit around and feel sorry for yourself? You could do that at home and save six bucks. When a song comes on that you love, if there’s no one around to dance with, there’s no reason at all you shouldn’t be able to enjoy yourself. You paid good money to go out and have a good time. So have one!
Besides, doing some solo Charleston off in the corner makes you look like one of the cool kids. You don’t even have to be very good at it. People will give you credit for being out there. You’re demonstrating to the world that you don’t give a crap, and that’s extremely attractive to folks.
It also proves that you’re not just there to pick up chicks (or guys), you’re actually there to dance and have fun. That can really go a long way toward eliminating any creepiness factor that might be lurking, because honestly? People are paranoid sometimes.
Busting out your solo stuff also shows folks a little something about how you dance. Now they have more information about you than just your physical beauty or lack thereof, and your taste in clothing. They have a chance to notice your dancing, and it’s a way of sort of advertising yourself to people who might not have noticed you before.
The funny thing is that nine times out of ten, if you start dancing solo when an awesome song comes on, you won’t be dancing solo very long. Someone is gonna come over and start solo dancing with you. Before you know it, you’ll be in a little Charleston jam. Not always, but pretty often. It’s like they all wanted to solo, but weren’t brave enough until you stepped up and started it. So they’ll be grateful, and again, they’ll start to think of you as one of the cool kids.
Solo dancing is one of my favorite ways, but not the only way, to get to the top of the swing dancing food chain. Tomorrow I’ll talk about another idea.
Okay, so what can you do?
You’ve been going out dancing for awhile, and you’re seriously bummed out because no one seems to want to dance with you. No one ever asks you to dance, and when you ask them, they take one look at your grotesque self and either dance with you but have a pained look on their face the whole time, or they come up with a lame excuse not to dance with you at all. Either that, or they run screaming for the door. What can you do about this?
There are many voices out there that say you shouldn’t have to do anything at all. It’s those peoples’ fault, not yours. They’re wrong and bad and shallow for not wanting to dance with you, just because you’re the wrong size, shape, color, age, sexual orientation or whatever to fit their ideal. There’s no reason you should have to change anything about yourself in order to get dances.
And there really is something to this. It is just a dance, after all, not a marriage proposal. If people go out dancing it really does seem quite stupid to go around not dancing with folks. Life is short; we all really ought to be dancing with as many people as we can while we have the time left. And the leaders of our dance communities should be modeling and teaching this concept. This is all very true.
But apparently in the real world it doesn’t always work that way. People don’t always dance with folks. There’s probably some of this happening in all dance scenes, and in some scenes it’s apparently quite a problem. So what can you do?
One thing you can do is quit dancing. I hear this one more often than I’d like to. Just forget about dancing and try something else where people aren’t so mean and shallow. Although I don’t know what that would be. Anything that brings you into contact with other humans, you’re going to run the risk that those humans are going to be idiots. It isn’t just dancers.
Of course, we all know what the number-one, all-time best way of getting dances is. If you can possibly arrange to be born beautiful, that helps a lot. If you look like Liv Tyler or James Franco, most people are going to want to dance with you, no matter what. Even those jerks who won’t dance with anyone else will dance with you. Even if you dance like a wallaby with sciatica, people will be sniffing after you all night long.
Oh, so you tried that? Yeah, me too. Didn’t work so well. I tried so hard to be born with excellent genes. I especially tried to have long, slender legs, a flat stomach, long blonde hair and big boobs. But my parents had other plans, unfortunately, and didn’t cooperate. Dammit!
Okay, so another thing you can do is study for years and years and become a really excellent dancer. Lots of us are practically killing ourselves even now trying to pull this one off. If you’re a famous rock star, no one will particularly notice how funny-looking you are.
After all, think of all the rock stars you know. Funny-looking, right? Every single one of them. Come on, seriously? Has no one noticed this but me?
But getting to rock-star status could take awhile. And although practicing and working on your dancing is a very excellent thing to be doing with your time, you can’t just sit around not dancing with people until that glorious day when you’re famous on YouTube.
So what can you do?
Well, I’ve got some ideas, but this post is already long enough. So I’ll save it for the next couple of days. But in the meantime, it would be nice to hear from some folks. How can you make people want to dance with you? What works?
Did stretching in public work for you last week? Because I gotta tell you, it didn’t for me. Most of the time I didn’t even remember, which I think was my brain’s way of rebelling against what it believed to be my body’s attempt at a hostile takeover. And then when I did think of it, well, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I honestly didn’t realize I had such a big problem in this area. But now that I know, I’m taking steps. I started taking a Dahn Yoga class that focuses on this very issue – we do a lot of silly, childlike exercises and practice moving “however your body wants to move.” I’m going to keep exploring this issue, and maybe one day, when I’m seventy or something, you’ll see me doing tai chi in the park. But not this week.
Okay. Well, inspired by some discussions in here during the last couple weeks, I’ve come up with a very simple challenge for you. This week, if you’re a lead, I want you to try and dance with every follow in the room. Every follow. That may not be altogether realistic, numbers-wise, but do your best. And follows, dance with every lead. All of them.
For both leads and follows, that means two things: First, even though you hate asking for dances, do it anyway. Force yourself. Just ask anyone and everyone, and if you get turned down, just ask someone else and don’t freak out.
And second, you have to dance with everyone who asks you. If you’re inclined to say no to a certain person, well, you can’t. Just do the next best thing and limit it to only dance one dance with them. Then if they ask you again you have my permission to refuse. But you have to dance with them at least once.
Got it? Okay, well then you’ve got a lot of dancing to do this weekend, so don’t sit here all day staring at the computer. Get your shoes on and go. I’ll see you back here tomorrow!
I posted an item last week (“On Feeling Rejected”) that seemed to bring out a lot of hidden angst among those who read it. It had to do with people who believe they’re ignored in the dance community, and what they can do to empower themselves. I was astounded at the range of responses it got, everywhere from “I’m totally with you” to “I see what you’re saying, but…” Several commenters gently implied that I was being dismissive of a problem that was bigger than I realized.
After reading through the responses, I do believe now that at least in some dance communities, there IS a big problem. It has to do with simple, old-fashioned good manners.
When we’re little kids, our parents, teachers and others charged with our management teach us to behave in a civil way. If we’re properly brought up, we’re taught to share our toys, to leave the last cookie for someone else, to take the smaller piece, and to wait our turn. Children have to stand quietly in line, or they can’t go out to recess. If they bring treats to class, they have to bring enough for everyone. They have to get along with each other, or someone will separate them.
It now appears that there are certain individuals in some dance communities who have forgotten their early training. Rather than sharing the toys with everyone, they hog them all for themselves. Instead of taking the smallest piece for themselves, they grab the biggest one before anyone else gets a chance. They don’t play nicely with everyone on the playground, but only with a few of their friends, while the other kids are left out.
Kiwi Lad said something amazing on that thread:
“I was always told by my first teacher (a follow), make sure you dance with every follow at a social dance at least once in the night. This has stuck with me ever since and I do my best to fulfil this task whenever I go dancing. I realise some scenes are very large and this may not be realistic, however the principle is still the same.”
To me, this would seem to solve the whole problem. It’s simply good manners. If you bring treats to class, bring enough for everyone. Just because we’re grownups now, that doesn’t give us the right to hog all the treats for ourselves. Are we all remembering to share?
Then Kiwi Lad posed a very good question:
“Is there a role for our teachers to be playing in the scene to encourage better dance etiquette?”
I believe there IS a role for the leaders of our dance communities to play in encouraging good manners. Teachers and organizers can have a special influence. It can be as simple as remembering to periodically announce, “Everyone, dance with everyone!” or “Dance with someone you don’t know!” These can be valuable reminders for those who know how to behave properly, and good instruction for those who don’t.
But it’s not only teachers. Everyone who cares about the future of the dance culture needs to take responsibility. We should all be watching for uncivil behavior, first in ourselves, and then in our friends, to make sure we adhere to the highest possible standards.
It’s not complicated; we all learned how to do this in kindergarten. When you bring treats to class, bring enough to share. When you go out dancing, dance with everyone. It’s just good manners.
To a seasoned old lady dancer like myself, this almost seems like a silly problem. But I see it posted on forums everywhere, so I know it’s actually a serious question that’s on people’s minds.
“I’d like to go swing dancing, but I don’t know what to wear!”
I guess it’s only natural. People say the same thing about going to church, or to the gym. If it’s something you feel like you should be doing, but you also feel awkward about it, then the last thing you want to do is show up dressed funny. We probably shouldn’t feel that way, but we do.
So here’s my take on what people tend to wear when they go swing dancing:
In our scene here in Portland, for most ordinary weekly dances, maybe 75 percent of the people will be dressed very casually. Lots of jeans and t-shirts for both men and women.
About 23 percent will be dressed up a little more, with the men in slacks, shirts and ties, and the ladies in nice dresses or skirts, often with a slightly vintage flair. Usually, in our scene, it’s the newer dancers who dress up for an ordinary dance, but no one looks at them funny, it’s totally acceptable. Everyone likes to dress up once in a while, and it’s fine, especially if you’re on a date.
The other two percent will be in full vintage regalia. They’re usually instructors, performers, or people who are crazy about vintage. No one looks at them funny either; I think we all appreciate it when others go to the effort, even if we never do ourselves.
For a special dance, say one with a live band, or on an exchange weekend or some other big-deal event, I’d say eighty percent dress up.
When you dress up, don’t go overboard unless you know what you’re doing. Keep it fairly simple. Your clothes should be loose enough or stretchy enough that you’re not going to be fighting with them. You’ll want to keep in mind that after two songs that room is going to be about ninety degrees, so keep it light. Dress in layers.
Ladies, anything you have to elaborately pin or tape to yourself anywhere is probably going to wreck your night. Long necklaces are a pain, and so are loose bracelets and super dangly earrings. Long hair should be up or out of the way so you don’t keep whipping your partner with it. Some guys have told me they don’t really like things with hoods, so maybe watch that. And of course, always, always keep in mind that at some point during the evening your skirt will likely fly up in the air, so be prepared.
Also, don’t wear too much makeup. You’ll sweat, and too much makeup gets uncomfortable. If you must, get the kind that’s for sports, it stays put a little better. But you’re probably just fine with bare skin, maybe a little lipstick and mascara. We’re not primarily out there to be glamorous.
Guys, I know it’s hot, but please, no tank tops – sweaty arms are too slimy. Just bring a million shirts and keep changing them as they get drenched.
Shoes are important. You need shoes that you feel stable in, but that will also allow your feet to slide along the floor. Nowadays it seems like every pair of shoes is made with these super sticky, rubbery soles. Trying to dance in sticky shoes is horrible for your knees, so please don’t do it. A lot of us doctor up our shoes in various ways to make them less sticky, but if you’re just starting out, I’d suggest going to Goodwill and looking for a pair of dress shoes that are a few years old, before this mania for non-slip soles caught on everywhere. Hard leather soles are perfect. Don’t worry if they’re not the most beautiful things on earth; the right shoes are so important that everyone will understand why you’re wearing those ugly things. Later on you can get yourself some proper dance shoes. Oh, and no one cares if you wear sneakers with your dress-up clothes, if those are the best shoes you have – a lot of us do that.
A little cologne is very nice. Too much is not, though, so be careful.
Make yourself look as nice as you can. And then leave it alone. Don’t make your clothes an excuse for you to have a miserable time (see my post on Rejection).
Remember that most people are way more worried about how they look than how you look. Everyone’s super paranoid all the time, especially dancers. So don’t get sucked in. Everyone is so busy being self-conscious about their own appearance that they don’t have time to worry about yours.
Besides, if you’re relaxed about your appearance, you set a good example for others. Maybe next week they’ll skip the girdle and crinolines and have a much better time, just because you showed the way.
Okay, did I miss anything? I’ve heard that other scenes dress up a bit more than we do here in Portland. Anyone want to chime in here?