“In a culture of isolation, be the invitation to everything.” – Vera de Chalambert*
As dancers, we know the meaning of an invitation. Or rather, we think we do. We invite each other to dance. Leaders invite followers into patterns and movements. Dancers invite each other into a connection and embrace.
But, beyond the invitations we give our dancers in the context of the dance-relationship, are we truly inviting them in?
We usually think that if we know someone’s name they are no longer anonymous. But, a name is not the only indicator of anonymity. Anonymity in its broadest sense is tied to a lack of defining characteristics.
In a room full of dancers, we are typically defined as a group (dancers) rather than as an individual. This makes us anonymous. We can leave the room with no one noticing. We can screw up, and no one will be watching.
While this may not be accurate in small scenes, it is almost always the case at big events or in large scenes.
The benefits of anonymity
Being anonymous can give you a certain level of comfort. It means that, aside from your partner, no one is watching your mistakes. You can do almost anything without drawing attention to yourself.
Especially for introverts or shy individuals, this can make dance the ‘perfect’ social activity. You can get by in the scene without needing to let anyone in. Physically? Sure, if you’re doing a connection-based dance. Emotionally? You can stay very, very separate.
The detriments of anonymity
Even for a person who loves staying out of the spotlight, anonymity can be very, very isolating.
Anonymity gone wrong is the reason a dancer can go to an event and spend the entire time on the sidelines, alone. It’s the reason that we may miss a person who needs help. It may leave us feeling more unvalued than fulfilled at the end of the night.
If we don’t break through the anonymity, we can end up alone in a sea of people – just like living in a city. We can become isolated instead of just anonymous.
The counter-intuitive nature of dance isolation
It’s easy to recognize when we feel isolated at a dance event. It’s much harder to recognize it in others.
When we are isolated, we see all the people who are having fun, as a group. We don’t see the individuals who are having a bad dance, sitting out, or otherwise not feeling connected or welcome. We see only us; an island in a sea of fun times.
If we saw the other isolated people, we wouldn’t feel so alone.
When we aren’t isolated, the ones on the sidelines don’t even register. We’re too busy basking in the joy that the dance scene is bringing us. When we are fulfilled, it’s hard to stop our own enjoyment to pull another person off the sidelines- if we even notice them in the first place.
There are some who are very good at this. Most of us are pretty decent at spotting beginners. But, outside of the beginners, it’s not easy – especially if we don’t know the person well.
Breaking the Isolation
It’s very easy to tell isolated people that they need to ‘come out of their shell’ and ‘make connections’. Those who are easily outgoing already will. They break their own anonymity and isolation, because they’re not afraid of being ‘out there’. Those aren’t the people you need to worry about.
The people you need to look out for are the ones hiding in the corner. The ones who are afraid of asking anyone to dance. The ones who are so fraught with nerves that they can barely manage decent small-talk. The ones who are self-conscious, and are held hostage by the feeling of not being good enough.
Those people need you to be their invitation. They need you to invite them out of their isolation.
If we want to break the culture of isolation, we must look to our smaller scenes.
In small scenes, communities are forced to lose their anonymity. They become friends. It’s how they motivate each other and grow in the earlier days. The sense of community draws in people – and keeps them there.
In the early stages, there’s simply not enough ‘dancing’ yet to keep people around without a sense of community.
If you want to do your part to end isolation, be the invitation out of anonymity. Talk to other dancers about dance and their lives. Talk about their hopes and dreams.
Let’s expand the idea of invitation beyond asking for a dance. Let’s include creating interpersonal connections that will keep all of us from feeling alone.
* This quote has been updated to reflect the original author, previously unknown. I first came across this quote on a fellow dancer’s profile. While the original text is in a political context, the quote in this article is not.