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Etiquette at Freestyle Boogie Ecstatic Jam Dances

Etiquette at Freestyle Boogie Ecstatic Jam Dances

Article by R. Solomon, Artist and Dancer for DolphinDancing

People dance alone, with a partner, or with several partners. Sometimes it feels as if the entire room is dancing as one whole “being”. In any group as diverse as this one, for interactions between dancers to happen smoothly, I have observed certain forms of social etiquette and behaviors over time that seem to help all the community members enjoy themselves and maintain a sense of safety and personal boundaries with a minimum of conflicts and misunderstandings or hurt feelings. 

Issues of personal space and boundaries are a major source of learning for all participants. Perhaps this begins with observing mindful positioning on the floor for safety (once you sit too close to a couple practicing vigorous Contact Improv, you rarely repeat the experience), as well as emotional comfort (you may not be welcomed with open arms if you leap unbidden into the space of another dancer)! 

Some people seem to quickly and instinctively pick up and understand the techniques of approaching potential partners, while others take longer in learning to understand the principles for comfortably going in and out of other people’s personal space.

In general I have noticed certain guidelines that usually work for me in identifying potential dance partners and entering their spaces in ways that are comfortable for both of us. Most people have certain dance styles and rhythms that vary with the tempo, style, and type of music played. Besides totally finding your own “groove” to the music, you can find other people on the floor who are dancing in a similar or compatible style to your own. Or there can even be someone moving in a style that you find so compelling you want to learn it. You can dance parallel to this person for a while, within the same part of the dance floor, or even across the room, from them, just within your vision. If you appear to be dancing in synch with them for a while, you may want to slowly move into a space near theirs, and let them notice you. Generally, unless this person is so lost in their own ecstatic dance (which sometimes DOES happen) they will generally notice you, and may give you some sign that it is okay to approach....or may even move towards you into your own space. If this person clearly sees you, but makes no effort to acknowledge you, welcome you into their space, or move into yours, the chances are they probably don’t want to dance with you. This is not necessarily a personal slight. There are many reasons that don’t necessarily involve disliking you on sight, such as they may just not feel like adapting their dance style to yours, or they may just be in the mood to dance alone. 

Once you have approached a partner (or vice versa) and have been dancing for a while, one of you may decide to end the dance for any reason, and can do so in a respectful way by putting both your hands together, palms facing each other, nodding your head forward, smiling, (an important step) and moving out of the shared space. The dance may not have been going the way you intended or you could be tired, thirsty or just wanting to take a break. This can be a much more polite way of ending the dance than abruptly breaking away and disappearing, which can be rather disconcerting for the person left standing there.

I have noticed another point of common politeness that may sound superfluous, but I believe needs to be addressed. In a room with very dim lighting (which Boogie has) it is not impossible to dance with someone, particularly if the two of you are in very close contact, without actually seeing enough features in the person’s face or body to be able to recognize them with any certainty at a later time, or passing them in the bright lights of the hall. I personally deal with this by smiling at nearly anyone that looks vaguely familiar, and hoping that if they danced with me, they will acknowledge me back. Or I ask their name after a particularly good dance, hoping it will ring a bell if I hear it again later on. I am open to feedback from anyone who has good advice on this topic who has acknowledged having the same situation occur!

Another more delicate area that I wanted to address is the area of sexual preference. Many of the dancers in the Boogie community are warm, gregarious and sensual souls, comfortable in their own body and welcoming of hugging, dancing and sharing touch with many people, of the opposite or the same sex. I am a heterosexual woman, but I have found in my experience that some of my best dances, and most of the best Contact Improv encounters I have had are with someone close to my own size and activity level. Since I am all of 5’3’ that frequently (but not always) means another woman. Generally, I have had no problems with misunderstandings in this department. It is only very occasionally that I have encountered a woman who misunderstood, and mistook my intentions for more than wanting a great compatible dance encounter. 

From talking to male Boogie friends, however, I have been led to believe that certain male dancers, newly entering the Boogie community have misread the principle of welcoming, open sensuality as a sexual invitation, which is frequently not the case.

When in doubt, it is always good to politely ask before making assumptions that end in hurt feelings or random acts of violence!

The reverse can hold true: a warm welcoming hug or touch from a member of your same sex can be just that, with no hidden message. Again, make no assumptions!

In the same vein, another delicate subject is the whole issue of intimacy on the dance floor. I have heard the quote from numerous male dance partners who are already married or partnered, “What goes on the dance floor, stays on the dance floor”. This does not necessarily mean that they are planning on having an obscene dance with you; Only that they may lose themselves in the heightened sensuality of the dance; They want to make sure that you know that this is a learning, fun experience for both of you, and is not a prelude to going out on a date, or starting a romance. They may become your friend, or even develop into a wonderful regular Boogie dance partner, which, for me, becomes a treasured relationship. Of most importance, again, is to make no assumptions.

Regarding relationship. A good dance can be nothing more than that. Of course, if both partners are single, willing, attracted to each other and of the same sexual preference, there is no reason that a relationship outside of Boogie can’t develop. 

The final issue I want to talk about at this time involves personal issues of hygiene and individual comfort. With the high levels of energy expended and many dancing, leaping bodies in one space, temperatures frequently climb within the Boogie studio. Many people dress in layers to accommodate changing temperatures. Indeed, this can be part of the fun for people who enjoy costuming. What is sometimes not as much fun for some people is trying to dance in contact with the body of someone, usually male, who is slippery wet and has no shirt on. Although I know this troubles some people not at all, particularly if they know the wet person, I personally totally appreciate the consideration of those people prone to sweating who bring either several changes of light-weight shirts to change into to absorb sweat, or bring a towel to wipe off with between dances. I hope this doesn’t sound to finicky, but some of the best dancers work up a good sweat, and it is wonderful to be able to dance with them and focus on the dance without getting a bath in the process.

I am sure I have missed a few important points of Boogie Ettiquette, and welcome open discussions on other topics as well as the ones I have already covered. My whole point of doing this is provide some framework of enjoyment without misunderstandings, particularly for new people coming in who may find this wonderful, diverse and unusual Community unlike anything they have encountered before.
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