Friday, November 27, 2015

Learning to Dance, Part 4: Signals

RR crossing, Lordsburg, New Mexico.

As the follow in a partner dance, I need to catch the lead's signals so I know what he intends to do next or what he wants me to do next.

As a novice dancer, it is common for me to misinterpret or miss a signal.

Sometimes I smile when I think about dance signals because it puts me in the mind of a horse and a rider. An equestrian gives the slightest physical cues to a horse, such as a bit of leg pressure on a horse's flank or pressure on both sides at once, or a subtle lead on the reins - all to ask the horse to turn to the left or right, or to move into a higher speed, or back up or move forward. 

Sharing this analogy with a dance partner could lead to a whole other category of signals, so I just keep it to myself.

This way. Highway 3. New Mexico.

The Mystery of the Right Hand  

In October, I was dancing with an out-of-town partner - let's call him Jacques - and in the midst of a dance, he suddenly said, "What, are you afraid of where my hand is going to go?"

In my rapid-fire wit, I said, "What?"

Jacques said, "You're grabbing my hand and moving it."

I said, "What?"

He repeated his statement, and I said, "What are you talking about? I'm not doing that."

Jacques assured me that this was exactly what I was doing.

I proposed that he tell me when it happened again so I can try and figure out the deal.

Presently, he did. And then I understood.

It was a signal mix-up on my end. When we were dancing in an open position, sometimes Jacques would put his right palm up and I knew that meant we would begin to dance with our hands held, but still in an open position. Other times, when we were dancing in the open position, he would move his right hand toward me, but NOT with his palm facing me. I hadn't put it together yet that when Jacques did this, it meant we would dance in a closed position, with his right hand on my left shoulder blade and my left hand on his right bicep or on his right shoulder blade. So what would happen is that - often - when I saw Jacques' right hand come up, I thought we were going to dance with hands held, but in an open position. Therefore, I would mistakenly grasp his hand while he was in the process of trying to put it around me and onto my left shoulder blade.

Consequence: We both jumped to inaccurate conclusions based on the misinterpretation of physical signals, me on the basis of inexperience and Jacques on the basis of a past experience with a dance partner who did accuse him of cheekiness.

A Brain Shift

A day or so later, I danced again with Jacques, this time in a different dance venue.

About halfway through the event, I noticed that Jacques began to execute a new-to-me hand signal. We had been dancing with both of our hands connected, but in an open position. He disengaged his right hand from my left, and flicked his partially-closed right hand toward his right. Jacques' movement had the appearance of a careless toss of junk mail that you're flipping over to a counter.

Somehow, I understood this was a signal for me to turn to my left, and I laughed and joked, "I guess the honeymoon is over," editorializing on the apparent carelessness, the laziness - the taking-for-grantedness - of the gesture.

Even though my teasing was truly in fun, it did reflect my limited knowledge of signals. You see, in previous dance lessons and subsequent real-life practice, I knew what it looked like when a lead dancer wanted me to turn right when we were in a one-hand-held, open position - he made an extended sweep of his left hand, almost pointing me in the direction he wanted me to go.  I hadn't yet been exposed to the movement Jacques made with his right hand.

Jacques took the teasing in stride, without comment, and it wasn't until later the same night or maybe at a different venue altogether, that I noticed exactly the same gesture made by other lead dancers.

And do you know, once I realized this was a signal used and recognized by experienced dancers, things recalibrated in my brain with the result that I saw it in an entirely new light - as a smooth, studied move and not a casual, careless one.

Now, isn't that something? That brain shift?

Related links: 

Learning to Dance: Solving for X
Learning to Dance: The Tao of Following
Learning to Dance: The Pause

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