The Language of Touch

Often in my writing about dancing I will refer to the language of touch. I’m not using this as a metaphor it is very real and critically important in dancing. Without out it dancing becomes mechanical and relies on the partners having a common background in leading and following. The language of touch adds a certain magic to dancing that turns an OK dance into an otherworldly adventure. You will have a dance every now and again where at the end of the song you feel like the king of the world, an entire dance where even your mistakes looked superb and you’re bewildered as to why you can’t dance like that all the time. This is the language of touch at work.

The English language is a language of things, actions and descriptions. As a writer making an audience “feel” requires that I evoke those feelings and I have to use various literary tricks to do so. “Jane paused, the weight of the world descending into her chest as she spied the ambulance.” In English I can’t just say Jane is scared it has almost no emotional effect. I have to lead the reader into imagining a situation where they have felt the same thing evoking those feelings as they are read. How does this apply to the language of touch?

The language of touch is a language of intention, movement and empathy. There is no defense against hearing these things in touch either, other than pulling away. I’m guessing this is why western culture is almost touch phobic, empathy can be a scary place to be. When you dance the connection you have through touch leaves your every intention wide open, every movement you want to perform can be seen and you will know exactly what your partner is feeling. Men you will have to learn how to talk in the language of touch loudly and clearly and ladies you will need to learn how to listen. It’s not the end of the story either because as you get better you will need to learn the opposite as well, men to listen and ladies to talk.

In English I have to evoke feelings, with touch you have to intend for something to happen and you have to really mean it, you can’t just raise your hand and expect the lady to follow, she will be confused because there is no intention behind the lead. I don’t mean that you just want something to happen either, you have to see it in your head exactly how both you and your partner will be performing the next move. You have to feel how you will move to lead it and feel how your partner will move when she carries out your lead. Men when you have been dancing for 12 months and all your female class mates seem to be outperforming you this is normal. Learning to talk in touch is hard and as men we have the short end of the stick. The learning curve for learning how to talk with touch is much much higher than listening. The ladies understand this and they eagerly await the day you start to understand and catch up. They do really want you to get there, they have danced with you in class for a long time now and they implicitly trust you when you ask them to dance socially.

I’m only just starting to learn how to listen in touch so I’m sorry ladies I can’t do this as much justice as I would like here. When you start to listen with touch you will find there is a specific feeling passed through touch. As a guy I don’t need to look at my partner’s feet to realize she is on the wrong foot I can sense it coming through the connection. It’s likely because her intention is to not collapse on the floor with a broken ankle. When a lady wants to spend a four count doing a bonus (a solo flare or move that makes her look sexy and awesome) or she wants to take her time performing a move slowly I can feel it through touch. I’m still not sure how I know when she wants to do these things but intuitively you can feel her intention and you adjust your leading accordingly. At a guess I can feel when there is a resistance to my intentions, she has her own intentions for a time and as a leader it gives us a small break while she makes herself and us look good.

I said touch is a language of movement and this is the physical aspect of touch. If you push or pull someone they will move. This is the component of touch usually taught in class, it’s the “how to” of leading. When intention meets movement this is when you will start to see things flow. You may push her forward or back with your frame but if you lack intention at the end of the force being applied the lady will stop wondering where you want her to move next. You will find in class the moves you learn seem easy, yet on the social dance floor the same move falls apart. In class the ladies already know your intention in advance so when you move your frame the ladies already know what to do as they have seen it demonstrated. On the social dance floor you have no such guarantee. This can be daunting at first because you think you aren’t leading correctly, sometimes that is true, but sometimes you lack the confidence behind the intention and the movement you impart simply isn’t strong enough for a the lady to hear.

Empathy. You can tell a lot about your partner when you dance with them. You can tell if they are trustworthy, nervous, happy, sad and indifferent or a whole host of things. You won’t always get it right as it comes down to listening again. You can use this as you see fit but for dancing if a lady is excited and happy she will want to dance faster with more spins and turns. If she is mellow and wants to feel the music you will dance closer and slower and the entire mood of your dance will be different. Again this is something I am still learning so use your intuition but knowing how your partner is feeling goes a long way into turning an OK dance into an awesome dance.

If you’re a dancer the language of touch isn’t something that is taught, not in its totality, it’s something you have to pick up by yourself. It takes time and many mistakes, not to mention it’s always different with every partner. It will come eventually if you stick with it though. There is a lot to learn in the first six months of dancing and often on the social floor it is a compromise between feet, moves and leading (pick any two). As you learn you will pick up the language of touch and dancing starts to become much easier.


2 thoughts on “The Language of Touch”

  1. All of your posts make me want to get back on the dance floor and stay there through all the various rhythmic, melodic, and touch permutations of the different styles of dance. If I may ask, what brought you to dancing and how did the connection between dancing and writing first manifest itself to you?


    1. I almost missed this comment, it usually emails me.

      Divorce bought me to writing and dancing. Writing as a way of getting things off my chest and well, it just developed from there. Dancing was less direct but I had a friend who does Samba and it intrigued me. I also needed something in my life which expanded my set of friends and made me a better person. So I started learning Zouk.


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