The Only One

Part of the joy of dancing is discovering how it relates to the random things that you come across in your everyday life. As someone in nonprofit communications, I read a lot of literature on how to communicate effectively and I never cease to be amazed at how appropriate the principles apply to dancing.

The latest gem actually comes from a book about successful people in the workplace. The author states that the difference between a “good” leader and a “great” leader is not just the ability to listen, but listening to people as if they are the only person in the room at the time. (Bill Clinton is apparently an excellent example of this – part of his charm as well as his ability to manage a presidential administration.)

I always teach that any good leader is also a good follower: one who responds to his partner, allows her to express herself and finish her intentions. But I’m curious by this idea of a great leader being one who dances with his partner as if she’s the only one in the room.

When I used to dance lindy hop, there was a certain leader who made every follower swoon. After noticing his magical charm on all the women, I asked some of the followers, “What is it about this guy?” And they all said the same thing: “He dances with you as if you’re the only one in the room.” They all knew that he did this with all the women, working his way around the room with equal flirtation for them all. Still, they loved dancing with him because for those few minutes, they experienced that feeling for themselves.

Then I think about competitive swing dancing, which is so much about showing off yourself, flirting with the audience, acknowledging that your partner is just one of many in the room. Most competitors win with this outward audience-focused energy, while few can draw people in with a partnership-focused energy. Angel and Debbie Figueroa’s “Sometimes” routine is an excellent example of how two partners can be so into each other, as if they were the only two in the room, that to watch is so captivating. In fact, it’s almost uncomfortable, as if you shouldn’t be watching such an intimate dance between two people. Personally, I think that kind of dancing is a real art, but few can master it, and few try.

But what about the social dance floor? How often do we really invest all of our attention and focus into our partner? How often do we treat our partner like he or she is the only person in the room? How easily are we distracted by our own issues, our dance “homework” and the many people around us? And if connecting with a partner is the ultimate goal, shouldn’t every dance have some of that partnership-focused intimacy?

Have you ever experienced the feeling of a partner treating you like you were the only person in the room? What was it like? And how do you think we we create that more often? Would you rather see an intimate routine or an audience-mugging one? Which would you say is “better” dancing?

One comment

  1. I know that I've always strived to give my partner the 'only girl in the world' feeling not even just the room. More times than not I am successful but the true challenge is when I test myself at events. The late night exhaustion dancing. A big part of how to give that feeling is basic partnering etiquette. Paying attention to your partner so you can earn their trust, keeping a good posture not only helps connection but shows your assuredness in yourself, eye connection is really key(it's more of how you look at them), finally being an open book and allowing them to really look into you and living in that song for the time that it lasts. I'm all about the subtleties that draw you in and they are a lot more powerful in a room full of people being flashy. Less is more. The little moments make those subtle dances. Restraint speaks volumes. I remember a recent west coast swing event that I attended where all of the champs danced their respective strictly spotlight and to pros danced shag. Then the all-skate came and they still danced shag to the upbeat song. Not only that but as the song got louder they got quieter! They went into closed position then got really close like balboa positioning. They danced as if no one else was there. There was no competition. I was entranced because of the contrast that they offered. Everyone else was being really flashy. That couple's choice won that for me and it was also part of the reason that they didn't win. Another reason was they were in an area where only the name shag was known, not the dance. Think about it, if there's a crisis who do you pay attention to, the loud person who is afraid or the calm quiet one?

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