Body language is an integral part of human communication. Through it, we are able to convey feeling and intention without having to say a word. In partner dancing, body language communicates patterns and techniques, musical interpretation, etiquette, floor craft, mood, and so much more. For all who study partner dance, it is important to understand what body language says. What results is a more complete dance experience.
On a basic level, body language can help a partner dancer:
1. know if someone is interested in dancing with him/her. (Is eye contact avoided or sought? Are the arms crossed? Is the activity on the dance floor observed or ignored?)
2. sense whether his/her partner is enjoying the dance. (Is there smiling, laughing, or singing along to the lyrics? Is there eye contact, or are the partner’s eyes searching for their next partner or for a friend to come to the rescue?)
3. gauge if his/her partner is stressed or tense. (Are his/her shoulders by the ears? Is the jaw tense? Is there little fluidity of motion? Is there an easy, natural response to the partner and the music?)
On a more complex level, body language can help a partner dancer know:
1. the intention behind a step. (Is s/he moving “on automatic,” respectful of the partner’s space, leading/following without conscious thought? How sensitive is s/he to the partner? Is the focus on individual technique or on the partnership?)
2. the partner’s technical ability and confidence. (Is the partner able to use arms, legs, hair, shoulders, hips, fingertips, toes to accent movement? Is there hesitation or anticipation of movement? Is there blushing, breath holding or grip tightening?)
3. the authenticity of movement. (Are embellishments and stylings true to the person and the dance? Is the dance truly enjoyed or “just going through the motions?”)
Understanding the dynamics of body language makes partner dancing much more of a two-way conversation, not the monologue of one partner. The attention paid by each partner to the other can allow for more freedom of expression — to interpret the music his/her own way.
Here’s a very interesting note about the use of body language in the dance world:
Body language is the way men ask women to dance in the tradition dance halls of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bear in mind that the tradition is based on a masculine-dominated culture — the men ask and the women wait to be asked. Un-partnered men and women are seated in separate areas. To ask a woman to dance, a man establishes eye contact from a distance and nods towards the dance floor. If she accepts, she nods back. Only then will the man walk over to her table and escort her onto the dance floor. Women seeking a dance partner slowly scan the room seeking eye contact with someone who is also hoping to dance. If she is not interested in dancing, she will not make prolonged eye contact to give a man even the slightest hint of interest in dancing.
Taking this concept one step further, there are countless applications off the dance floor. Observing body language can positively affect how one engages with others in all aspects of life. We start to become more observant of our significant others, adding a layer of connectivity that strengthens emotional bonds. We are more sensitive to our co-workers, enabling us to collaborate in ways that can improve the bottom line. We become more cognizant of what we communicate to others through our own body language, ensuring that we are better understood by those around us.
No matter who in the world you meet, on or off the dance floor, being a good observer and practitioner of body language will make communication easier.