A strange and wonderful thing happened to me at a Halloween swing dance this year. As usual, it was a well-attended gala event. Most people, including me, were decked out in costume. It was early in the evening, a lively song came on, and I asked a masked man who was standing near me to dance. He wore a long cape with a hood and not one part of his head or face was visible. I had no idea who he was. He nodded yes, we got into dance position, took a few steps together. Then I looked up at him and the magic began.
He was smiling at me! Or rather, his mask was. Of course, I knew it wasn’t a real smile — it was fixed, molded, unchanging. And, the character it represented wasn’t a hero type, neither an Elvis nor a Superman. I believe it was the Guy Fawkes character from old London protests or the shadowy freedom fighter, known only by the alias of “V’, with a slim mustache and narrow beard.
But, nevertheless, it worked. We never exchanged a word. That smile alone said he liked me and liked my dancing. Every time I looked at him, it was there, that relentless grin telling me I was a good dancer and he was enjoying it. It had a mysterious effect. I felt happier, more confident. I even thought I was dancing better…and maybe I actually was. I kept smiling right back at that frozen face and maybe that made him dancer better, too.
Who was that masked man? If I ever dance with him again, by chance or intention, will his real face smile like that? Will something from that encounter stay with us at an unconscious level?
It’s not like “Dancing With The Stars”. Anyone who has been in the social dance scene knows there is an interpersonal dynamic that can make or break a dance partnership. People do not always connect well, physically or psychically. There can be a snobbishness or intimidation about dance levels and abilities, or just a personality clash. If you push the envelope, ask someone new to dance or someone who has been around but never asked you, this can play out in different ways. The most common way is by facial expression and almost anything other than a smile can be misinterpreted as a judgement on you or your abilities. Some people, for whatever reason, never make eye contact and give no feedback at all.
It happens. I am not a timid person; I dance well enough and am comfortable on the swing floor. I have found myself on both sides of this subtle struggle. I always try to be a pleasant partner and encouraging to beginners. The operative word is “try”. While a grimace when your arm is twisted or you get banged in the head is hard to disguise, a kind word afterward often helps. “Don’t worry; it’s only a flesh wound.” –or– “Dancing is a contact sport.”
Let the magic continue. Now I have a new tactic. I am going to be sure I smile a LOT. And, if I have trouble drumming up enthusiasm for the current partner, I will think back to my masked man and remember how wonderful I felt when he shined that immutable smile at me.