Say What

In an effort to remind ourselves that half of social dancing is social, I thought I’d address the topic of appropriate conversations at dances.  I’ve started with a list of comments/questions directed to me while dancing that although at the time I found painful, I now find hysterically funny.  Hopefully, these quips will amuse and entertain you, and perhaps take the sting out of some of the “slings and arrows” outrageous dancers have hurled in your direction.  Once I get everyone laughing at the absurdity of these quotes, I’ll propose some strategies for dealing with such comments.  Here then, for your amusement, are just a few of the more juicy items that I can recall from my years of social dancing:

-You must not know that step, let me teach you the right way to do it.
-Now that you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t be dancing so much or something bad will happen to your baby.
-Smile!  Look cute! (Said during a contest!)
-Why can’t you dance like X?   She’s a really good dancer.
-You shouldn’t be out dancing so much if you have a child.  You should be home taking care of your baby.
-Shake it baby!
-I don’t know why you won that contest.  I thought X should have won, they danced a lot better than you did.
-My friends and I have a bet as to whether or not you’ve had your breasts done-is that true?
-Doesn’t it bother you that your boyfriend dances like that with other women?
-Duck!  Turn left NOW, hang back more-give me a little resistance, your arm feels like spaghetti, spin three times here, you’re too stiff-RELAX!, toe-heel-cross, TOE-HEEL-CROSS!  Do what I’m doing, how come you never smile?  You should smile more-show your teeth a little-say how come you never ask ME to dance?
-Do you make love the same way you dance?
-Do you know any of those dirty moves?  I really want to learn those dirty moves-Why don’t you show me some?
-Tell me what I should work on while we dance, private lessons are too expensive.
-My friend/teacher says you can’t (pick one): teach/dance/spin
-Why do you like to lead?  Are you gay?
-X is a better dancer than you-don’t you think?
-Is it true what I heard that you and X are (pick one): moving in/getting married/getting divorced/sleeping together/sharing the same hotel room/breaking up/having a fight/having a bay/adopting a baby/seeing a therapist/losing your jobs/attending AA/moving?
-You look way too thin, are you anorexic or bulimic?
-I thought you knew how to dance.
-I don’t like women doing all that foot stuff, when you dance with me, just follow.
-I really like your new hairstyle-you looked like a drowned rat before.
-I hate dancing with you because people always watch.
-If you drank, you’d be more relaxed when you danced.
-You should learn to have more fun when you dance.
-I asked my friend to videotape us dancing so face this way and do all your fancy stuff so we can learn it off the tape because we can’t afford lessons.
-You should wear short skirts more often to show your legs-you’d win more contests if you dressed better and showed more of your body.
-How come you’re not turning very well?  I thought you knew how to spin.
-How come no one likes to dance with me?
-Why don’t I ever win any contests?
-You’re off time.
-You’re not dancing very well, are you?
-You should take more private lessons, they really help.
-I haven’t had sex in months.
-If you really work at it, someday you’ll be a pretty good little dancer.
-You should wear high heels when you dance, it’ll make your figure look better.
-How come I never see you and X together anymore?
-Was that contest you judged rigged?
-I just learned this cool wrap move and I’m not real good at it yet, but let’s try it anyway.
-You dance pretty well for someone from San Francisco.
-Do you think (pick one): women/men/blacks/whites/Hispanics/gays/Californians dance better than (pick one) women/men/blacks/whites/Hispanics/gays/Californians?
-I know I’m really sweaty, but let’s you and me dance one more song before I change my shirt for the next ‘girl’.
-Even though it’s a mixer, let’s not change partners.
-My ex-girlfriend is watching, so do something sexy to make her jealous.
-Samantha is really getting good, doesn’t it bother you that your daughter is getting better than you?

And my all time favorite-

“You look like you’ve gained a lot of weight since I saw you last.”  When I replied that actually I weighed the same as before he protested, “Oh no, I’m sure you’ve gained at least ten pounds, but it’s ok, I like my women with some meat on them.”  (I was so relieved…)

Now, since I’m primarily a follower, most of these comments obviously came from leaders.  But don’t harbor the misconception that only leaders insult their partners.  I’d bet money that most guys can easily recall a few gems of their own to add to my list.  The point isn’t that leaders per se are rude and inconsiderate-it’s that people in general sometimes don’t display the best manners.  If it is any comfort, it has been my experience that most rude comments come from ignorance rather than from maliciousness.

So ok, let’s face it-a lot of dancers are socially challenged; even those of us who try to be sensitive blow it on occasion.  I know I’ve certainly stuck my foot in my mouth more times that I care to recall!  Social situations can be anxiety producing and cause people who are shy or intimidated to painfully blurt out something inappropriate.  So how should we handle some of these not so pleasant situations?  Well, below are a couple of my favorite survival tips.

If someone asks me a personal or inappropriate question off the dance floor, I’ve found several strategies that help me deal with the situation:
I can excuse myself saying I’ve promised “this” dance to someone and exit the scene
I can choose to ignore the question and change the subject
I can respond with a question of my own.
I can choose to answer a totally different, but related question.
Sometimes I employ several strategies at once.  For example, if someone asks me, “How much did you pay for your outfit?”, I might respond with, “Why thank you very much, I’m so glad you like it!  Where do you like to shop?”.

If someone asks me an inappropriate question while dancing, I often pretend I can’t hear them over the music.  After a few attempts at repeating their question louder and louder to the point of almost shouting, they usually realize how inappropriate their question is and I’m off the hook.  On the rare occasions that they persist, I’ll look at them sheepishly and say, “I’m afraid I can’t talk and dance at the same time, which would you like to do?”.  No one has yet chosen to continue the “conversation” over dancing.

If someone invites me to comment on some nasty piece of gossip I usually say, “Oh my.  Last week I heard the same thing about you!  Aren’t rumors just awful?”  I also remind myself that the chances are very good that the original comment/incident was probably very different from the version told to me.  From my experience, I’d have to say if I’d done just half of the things that I’ve heard I’ve done, I’d be a heck of a lot more interesting than I am.  If you have been the subject of gossip, take heart.  A wonderful dancer and good friend of mine once told me, “Just be glad they’re talking about you at all.”

If someone tries to give me an unsolicited lesson while dancing I’ll say, “Thanks for your help, but I’d rather dance than take a lesson right now.”  Once, when I was really ticked off by a guy who was relentlessly criticizing me and who suggested I take more private lessons I said, “Obviously you think I need a lot of lessons to be able to keep up with you, so if you’ll excuse me I think I’ll take your advice and go find a qualified instructor right now.”, and then I walked off the floor!

So what are appropriate topics of conversation among social dancers?  Obviously if you know someone very well, then whatever you both agree to discuss is by definition appropriate.  Problems only seem to occur when one person presumes an intimacy that isn’t shared by the other person.  Just because someone sees you frequently, and even dances with you often, doesn’t mean they know you as a person, or that you consider them a close friend.  Since dancers usually find it challenging to carry on a prolonged conversation while dancing it makes sense to keep dancing comments positive and brief.  Below are a few pleasantries that I think are totally appropriate and appreciated while dancing:

-Nice move!
-That was cool!
-Watch out!
-Do you want to try that on me again?  I’ll pay more attention. (Said after your partner botches a new move and you feel up to being a human guinea pig)
-Nice spin!
-I really like dancing with you.
-The floor is really slippery/sticky over here.
-You’re really fun to dance with.
-Nice lead!
-Great save-thanks!
-It sure is crowded tonight (Usually said when I’m afraid I’m going to get run into, or run into someone else and I’m trying to warn my partner of potential hazards.)
-I’m glad we got this song!

As with all rules, there are always exceptions.  One exception to my “keep it brief rule” is that I sometimes intentionally start an involved conversation with someone who is ducking, tucking, wrapping, twisting and spinning me to pieces in order to keep the material more simplistic!

When I’m socializing off the dance floor, I usually try to keep the topics neutral.  As corny as it may sound, there are good reasons for starting conversations off with the weather, the lesson (And yes, the instructor’s abilities are fair game here!), the music, upcoming dance events and contests.  These conversations lay the foundations for more personal topics should people eventually wish to go down that road.  Usually such personal topics are discussed in a private area such as a back room or secluded table or porch where people are less likely to be interrupted.

I’ve found it especially important to keep all comments regarding other dancers positive.  Although competitors realize that the moment they step on the competition floor they give people permission to discuss their skills, social dancers are supposedly immune from intense scrutiny.  A comment disparaging another dancer might turn out to be extremely embarrassing when it is discovered that the dancer in question is the significant other of someone else in the conversation!

For people who are shy, it is often a good idea to ask others questions so that they can carry the conversation.  Good ice breakers include asking where someone learned to dance, or what other dances they know, or if they’ve attended a recent event.  I’ve found that just like in contests, if I focus on the other person rather than on myself I end up having a better time!

Well, I hope you found this article entertaining and helpful.  At the very least, next time someone says something goofy to you at a dance it might help to remember that their criticism is more of a reflection of their own insecurities than any possible flaw on your part.  I find I have a lot more empathy and compassion for folks who make inappropriate comments now that I’m more secure with myself and realize I don’t have to “own” what they say.  As for my own proclivity to insert my foot in my mouth, I try to take Annie Hirsch’s sage advice, “When in doubt, leave it out!”.

Say What?!?! – Copyrighted Kelly Buckwalter Casanova 1997 Revised 2005