Body Language: Dancing in the Moonlight

Fred Astaire and Ginger RogersSocial dancing has been described as having sex in a standing position. The body movements in many social dances reveal the details of their origins. For example, if you watch couples dancing the “dirty” Bachata dance style, they are obviously emulating sexual activity. The “clean” Bachata dance style is not nearly as intimate. The man stands further away from his partner, he doesn’t gyrate nearly as suggestively, and it’s just a fun little dance you could teach your kids without wondering what they’ll be up to.

Tango is a popular dance style and many people consider it to be very sexy. I don’t. It looks extremely stylized and formal to me, and that reflects its origin. Tango was invented by Argentinian men who needed to pass the hours away as they waited outside of brothels. In Tango, partners rarely if ever make eye contact, and they often look over each other’s shoulders. They also are expected to maintain a very disciplined posture. Nonetheless, Tango has evolved in an artistic, graceful dance and I suppose that is why many women like it. It probably helps that the man has to provide a strong lead.

In Salsa, there are many moves where women are free to add some styling. They can swivel their hips, glance over their shoulders, stroke their hair, wave their arms with their palms out and up — these are all classic courtship body moves. They are flirtatious actions that make a woman look sexy and interested in a man.

Men do have some styling moves in Salsa, but not nearly as many as women do. I’ve seen men in the clubs assume some stances that Gloria Jones, my dance teacher in Houston, has told me not to do.

One movement guys tend to make is they put their hands behind their backs as they spin their partners. The technical reason not to do this is that it can throw you off balance, and indeed many guys just stop their footwork and guide their partners. But I remember when I was in college I went up to talk with a girl and I put one arm behind my back. A friend of mine came up to me later on and he said, “Michael. Don’t put your arm behind your back like that when you talk with a girl. You look like a dork.”

Okay, we don’t want to look like dorks, do we?

Another movement guys make is to place their hand on their stomach as the lead their partners across the floor (often in a Cross Body Lead or a Coca-Cola/Inside Turn). I’m not sure of why they do that. If a guy has a big gut, it draws attention to his stomach. The girl he is dancing with may or may not care about his gut, but he may be emphasizing his least attractive asset in front of prospective partners. More importantly, though, he looks like he doesn’t have control. Again, usually when I see guys place their hand on their stomach, they stop their footwork. They are so obviously concentrating they don’t look smooth or polished. It’s a good idea to practice dancing with your free hand held just slightly off to the side in front of you, moving gently in time to the music, as you continue your footwork.

I often sense, when I am dancing with beginning partners, what I can do with them. Some girls take a lead very well, some girls insist on leading themselves, and some girls just don’t dance well enough to either take a lead or give it. The best partners are relaxed and enjoying themselves. They concentrate on doing the moves but they are smiling confidently and maybe even flirtateously. Whatever is going through their minds, impressing me with their dance steps is not the priority.

If a beginning girl trusts me enough to lead her, I can get her to do just about anything. I’ve seen some dance teachers take a beginner and move her through some very complex stuff. They give strong, firm leads and the girls just dazzle everyone. A friend of mine once tried to dance with a beginner he had seen me dance with and she couldn’t do any of the moves he tried with her. He was so used to dancing with girls who lead themselves, he didn’t realize she needed a good strong lead.

An advanced dancer can take the gentlest of leads and do amazing things. But when you just start dancing with a new partner, you have to provide a firm guidance. This is a lot like starting out a relationship. We talk about “training” our new partners in relationships, and sometimes it’s a joke. But in reality we are looking to achieve a level of comfort as quickly as possible with new romantic partners (even new friends and new business partners). It’s the same way in dancing partnerships.

The more rigid and inflexible your body is as you start to dance with someone new, the less able you and that person are to train each other to achieve that mutually desired comfort level. On the other hand, if the woman is too soft (at least in Latin dances), she sort of drapes herself like a sheet across her partner. I have literally had to peel some women off my chest. There wasn’t much I could do with them in dance steps. Turning and spinning were pretty much out of the question.

If a woman feels comfortable enough with you to embrace you on the dance floor, maybe you just need to lead her over to the bar and buy that stereotypical drink. I don’t know. But if she won’t take any lead at all, about the best thing you can do is break off, say, “Thank you”, and move on.

The body language of dance is as important as the body language of love. You have to read how your partner is taking your lead. You have to project the attitude you want her to perceive about you. You have to be consistent and confident. Men who lack confidence in their dancing shrink in on themselves, they stand away from their partners, they apologize constantly, and they don’t smile. A confident man will come over to a woman and expect her to dance with him. An unconfident man may tremble or stumble or mutter through “Will you dance with me?”

Asking the girl to dance is the second thing the man should do. The first thing he should do is check out her body language. What is she doing before he walks up to her and says very casually, “Do you dance Salsa?” or “Will you dance with me?”

If she is holding a drink directly in front of her, you may have to chat her up. The drink is a barrier. If she is facing a friend, she is not interested in dancing with you (at that moment). If she drops her shoulders, she feels threatened. Back off.

One of the worst signals I’ve encountered with girls is when they look down. They are wrapped up in their feet. They don’t know enough about dancing to feel confident enough to look at you or over your shoulder. Dropping her head like that only throws her off balance and makes her dancing worse. If you see a girl dancing like that with someone else, either write her off or be prepared to bring out every funny joke in the book (and they probably won’t be funny).

When a girl is really enjoying a dance, she’ll push her hair back firmly. She is just so into the moment she doesn’t want to miss a thing.

The more I watch people’s body gestures as they dance, the more I understand about what people are silently telling us in other situations through their body gestures. If a woman holds her partner away in an intimate dance, she doesn’t want to be near him. If she only looks over his shoulder, she is not interested in him. If she remains upright and rigid when he drapes himself on her, she is feeling turned off. If she lays her head on his shoulder, she is feeling extremely close and intimate. If she rubs her hands on his back or shoulders, she is really feeling intimate.

Men tend to be very sloppy and lazy when they dance. Is it any wonder most relationships are ended by women? We lose our focus, take what’s happening for granted, and she just gets tired of not being made to feel special. There is an endless supply of men who are waiting to give her that special feeling, even if it’s only for a few minutes. For some women, that’s all it takes to tell a man she has to barf rather than dance with him. For other women, it may require a lot more (especially if she knows the man and he is tired or injured or sick).

A man who dances crisply, who makes his partner shine is always in demand. Women flock to him. A man who dances no better than all the other guys can go around the club asking women to dance with him, and plenty of women will agree to, but they won’t give him those ‘buying’ signals.

Your goal when you dance with a girl should be to make her smile, make her push her hair back, make her want to be with you again.

Is that any different when you’re in a more romantic situation?

If you lose your interest before she does, you’ll lose your focus. And when you lose your focus, when you lose your interest, she’ll know before you do. She reads you faster than you read her. I’ve had many a lackluster dance with girls I wasn’t interested in dancing with. They seldom ever asked me to dance again.

That’s where the magic lies: you find a partner that you want to be confident and smiling for, and she’ll smile and dig being with you more than anything else as long as you’re together. And then, when music ends, maybe you’ll continue dancing in the moonlight anyway.

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