Dance Without Touch

Due to a complicated set of circumstances having to do with that delicate intersection between being silly and being stubborn, I got a chance recently to dance with someone without touching them at all.

Specifically, we were partners in a contra dance (a form of dancing where long lines of couples progress up or down the hall, repeating the same set of figures with each new couple. You dance constantly with your partner, and generally once or twice with everyone else in the set.) We were both allowed to touch anyone else in the set, we just wouldn't touch each other. This was a mutual decision based on our own amusement, rather than a spite decision one of us made against the other.

And it was fascinating. I'd previously only witnessed no-hands dancing between very good couple dancers, stepping through a one-step or swing based on very good eye contact and knowing each other very well. I'd never gotten a chance to do it on my own, and certainly not in a dedicated way like this. Of course, my partner is a talented dancer --I would have never tried this with a new dancer, as not being able to give them weight or help steer them would be a huge detriment to everyone involved.

The first thing I noticed was that dancing without hands has to be a little more precise. You don't get the physical cues from your partner that let you know you're in the right place. You have to pay better attention, and you have to adjust your body just a little more to compensate, especially if there's only one non-touching pair. (I refer specifically to things like a circle of four, which benefits from everyone being strong and well-balanced. When there's a broken link, it makes the circle that much weaker.) Most importantly, when swinging with my partner, I had to pay enough attention to pull away myself when I was in the right place. I couldn't rely on my partner steering me to the correct position like I often do.

The second thing was something I was already familiar with, at least in passing. Dancing without touching is arguably more intimate. Because you can't steer with physical cues, you have to do it entirely through eye contact, expressions, gesture, and if possible, verbal cues. I wouldn't dance like this with someone I didn't already know and trust to be a strong enough dancer to keep up. Having to trust someone not to be confused or led astray, paired with having to trust yourself not to mess up can be an enlightening moment --or an utter disaster.

Of course, contra's a lot easier than most dances to do without touch. The steps have already been decided by someone else, so you don't have to worry about leading or following successfully. Additionally in our case, we were still getting the necessary physical cues from everyone else in the line. If neither of us were touching anyone it may well have ben a more difficult dance.

I did enjoy the experience, and look forward to getting to try it again sometime. My mind is already trying to work out a more interesting way to swing when all you have to go on is eye contact --you can get the motions pretty easily, but it's impossible to get the speed without something to anchor against. And of course, I fully intend to get good enough at couple dancing to pull a strong partner around the room by just a clever smirk and a tilt of the head. And if nothing else, touch-free dancing has a wonderful effect on those watching, as the audience tries to figure out just what it is you're doing, and how much you've practised.

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