Spaciousness In Partner Dance: A Naturalism Demo

What Is a Naturalism Demo?

A naturalism demo is an account of a naturalist study.

If you’ve followed my work on naturalism in the past, you’ve likely noticed that my writings have been light on concrete examples. When you talk about a long and complex methodology, you’re supposed to ground it and illustrate it with real life examples the whole way through. Obviously.

If I were better, I’d have done that. But as I’m not better, I shall now endeavor to make the opposite mistake for a while: I’ll be sharing way more about the details of real-life naturalist studies than anybody wants or needs.

Ideally, a naturalism demo highlights the internal experiences of the student, showcasing the details of their phenomenology and thought processes at key points in their work. In my demos, I’ll frequently refer to the strategies I discuss in The Nuts and Bolts Of Naturalism, to point out where my real studies line up with the methodology I describe there, and also where they depart from it.

I’ll begin with a retrospective on the very short study I’ve just completed: An investigation into a certain skill set in a partner dance called zouk.

How To Relate To This Post

(And to future naturalism demos.)

Naturalism demo posts are by nature a little odd.

In this one, I will tell you the story of how I learned spaciousness in partner dance.

But, neither spaciousness nor partner dance is the point of the story. The point of the story is how I learned.

When I’m talking about the object-level content of my study—the realizations, updates, and so forth—try not to get too hung up on what exactly I mean by this or that phrase, especially when I’m quoting a log entry. I sort of throw words around haphazardly in my notes, and what I learned isn’t the point anyway.

Try instead to catch the rhythm of my investigation. I want to show you what the process looks like in practice, what it feels like, how my mind moves in each stage. Blur your eyes a little, if you can, and reach for the deeper currents.

I’ll start by introducing the context in which this particular study took place. Then I’ll describe my progression in terms of the phases of naturalism:

  1. locating fulcrum experiences,

  2. getting your eyes on,

  3. collection, and

  4. experimentation.

There will be excerpts from my log entries, interspersed with discussion on various meta levels. I’ll start with an introduction to partner dance, which you can skip if you’re a dancer.

What Is Zouk?

I enjoy a Brazilian street dance called “zouk[1].

Vernacular partner dances like zouk are improvised. Pairs of dancers work together to interpret the music, and there’s a traditional division of labor in the pairings that makes the dance feel a lot like call and response in music. The lead dancer typically initiates movements, and the follow dancer maintains or otherwise responds to them. (The follow is the twirly one.)

The communication between partners is a lot more mechanical than I think non-dancers tend to imagine. Compared to what people seem to expect, it’s less like sending pantomimed linguistic signals to suggest snippets of choreography, and more like juggling, or sparring. The follow holds patterns of tone in their muscles, which creates a “frame”; then the lead physically presses on parts of the follow’s body, which changes those patterns of tone, which ultimately moves the follow across the dance floor.[2]

I’ve been focused on learning the lead role in zouk, but I follow as well. I think I’m pretty well described as an “intermediate level” dancer in both roles.

Last weekend (Thursday night—Monday morning), I went to a zouk retreat. It was basically a dance convention with workshops by famous zouk instructors, and social dances that went late into the night. (“Social dance” means dancing just for fun, outside of the structure of a workshop or class. A “social” is where the real dancing happens.)

I went to quite a few dance conventions in college, when I was obsessed with a family of dances called East Coast swing, so I knew roughly what to expect: Many people, long days, intensive study, little down time, body aches, sleep deprivation, music, probable blisters, exhaustion, a roller coaster of emotions, and potentially some of the best dancing of my life.

For me it tends to feel a bit like being lifted out of my ordinary existence, tossed into a giant blender, and then suddenly spit back out again. Often I’m left with a new perspective on dance (and maybe also on life).

I usually attempt to wrest long-term value from these whirlwind experiences by choosing a specific educational objective around which to orient. Which is how I ended up completing an entire dance-focused naturalist study in just four days at this retreat.

Locating Fulcrum Experiences

I called my orientation an educational objective, but I did not think anything like, “At this retreat, I will master inside turns.” It’s rare for naturalist studies to begin that crisply; the toolset is designed for far fuzzier situations. If you know exactly what skill you want to gain, you’re already most of the way done.

What I began with was not so much an objective as a nagging dissatisfaction, a yearning for something in the way I dance to be… different, somehow.

I went for a walk on the first afternoon, and meditated on this dissatisfaction. I tried to taste it, as though letting a square of dark chocolate melt slowly on my tongue.

What did the dissatisfaction taste like?

I called to mind memories of recent dances,[3] and found that the feeling was loudest when I thought about “timing”. It tasted a little like being rushed. Like going through security at the airport, when you’re trying to take off your shoes and put your laptop in the little tote at the same time, without holding up the frazzled people behind you.

Sometimes when I lead, I’ll hear something interesting in the music, and want to respond to it—a lilting vocal riff, an exciting syncopation—but I can’t, because I’m stuck in the tempo. I’m driven inescapably by the BOOM chick chick, BOOM chick chick of the basic zouk rhythm. So I just keep stringing together familiar movement patterns, mindlessly. Things move too fast for me. There’s no room left over for artistry.

Somehow, I wanted to stretch out time as I dance.

Taking some notes before dinner on Thursday, I wrote,

Where might crucial data live?

In moments where I feel pressure to move that feels alien, that doesn’t come from the groove, doesn’t come from connection with the music or my partner. In moments of panic or confusion, where I “just need to fill space”. But mostly I’m not sure.

Questions to guide me: What stops me from expressing the music through timing? What am I tending to do instead, when I make timing decisions in some other way? What forces are at play here? What does it feel like, to sink into the music or not to? Is “timing” even what I’m interested in, or is the real shape something else?

Getting My Eyes On

The social dance that night afforded some great observational opportunities.

I was stressed, overwhelmed, trying to adjust to being at this new place with all of these people. I did not dance well.

I danced like I was trapped by the tempo. Like I just had to keep moving forward, sending my partners into big flashy combinations of constant motion. I felt frantic.

In my notes before I went to bed, I wrote,

It’s 1AM and I left the dance early, after just two dances. But I sure felt relevant things. I think it’s especially hard to slow down and find space when the song’s faster than I’m comfortable with. Feels like “go go go” and there’s no room for metacog. Not that “metacog” is the way I expect “finding space” to end up going.

Notice that I’m using different terms after this bit of field work than I was using at the outset. Rather than just “time”, I’m now talking about finding “space”. The concepts I use to navigate dance were already reshaping themselves. My notes continue:

What did it feel like, to be constantly “mindlessly” stringing moves together? Fast, pressure, “no room”, “trapped”, “no time to think”.

I could feel it happening, could feel myself not liking it. I had reflective awareness of it in the moment, like: “This is the thing. I don’t know what to do about it, but I know I’m in it.”

It is very often valuable, in a naturalist study, to seek out dimensions of experience, often in the form of two points defining a line. Sometimes there will be the experience you’ve identified, and also the opposite of that experience, like hot and cold. Understanding cold can help you understand not just hot, but temperature in general.

On Friday, there was a class on isolations and micromovements, which ended up producing data that sensitized me to a dimension of experience in dance. When focused on micro, I rarely experience a frantic pressure while leading. I instead experience… something else, something that feels a lot like the opposite.

Here are some excerpts from my reflections on that evening, written during dinner.

I like micro. Even when I’m struggling a little to figure out something new. Why?


Micro movements largely happen outside of the context of the basic zouk rhythm. I feel freed from the structure of the footwork, from the pressure to hit the downbeat or to resolve a movement path on any particular schedule. It’s easy to “take my time”. What’s a better handle? To move as the spirit moves me, perhaps. To move in the groove, with the groove. “Free from the patterns” actually resonates more than any of those. I don’t feel locked into anything.


What does it feel like exactly in the moments where I’m doing the “taking my time” thing that I want to study? Even if only in pure micro.

Does it feel like waiting? No. Waiting involves anticipation. The future isn’t involved in this, I think.

Hm maybe that’s key, actually. The future isn’t involved.

I’ve never thought of “presence” as “present-ness”, but I think that’s a bunch of what’s going on. I do have an eye on the future, in fact, because I’m building structures that refer to my expectations about patterns in the music. But it’s… it’s different than the future-orientation I have when I’m not doing the thing. It’s like my perception of the future is coming from the present. When I’m “trapped” in “trying to hit the downbeat” or whatever, it’s as though my perception of the present is coming from the future.

I had my eyes on at this point. The crucial experiences were in the foreground, and things had begun to shift in relation to my topic. I was reflectively acquainted with the phenomenology of the sort of dance I did not want to have (rushed/​trapped/​mindless), and also with the phenomenology of the sort of dancing I hoped to learn (spacious/​present). It was time to begin collecting the experiences I’d learned how to see.


Once my eyes were on, I started using nearly all of my experiences as lenses for observing timing/​spaciousness/​presence.

Fulcrum Experiences In Diverse Contexts

I found myself making more deliberate decisions about how I spent my time at the retreat. I noticed when I was about to feel “trapped and dissociated” in a scheduled activity, and actively searched for opportunities to create space for whatever it is I wanted or needed at the time.

For example, I left campus for lunch, instead of eating in the noisy crowded cafeteria where I couldn’t hold a real conversation. I bailed on a class shortly after it started when I felt overwhelmed, and decided to invite someone to taste chocolate with me instead. (I know I used “tasting chocolate” as a metaphor earlier, but this time I mean it literally).[4] I took a shower when everyone else was at dinner, and ate a Meal Square in my room while reading about poetry.

None of these choices is unusual for someone at a dance conference; my point isn’t that I took unusually good external actions. My point is that I used many decisions outside of dancing as lenses through which to study time and spaciousness in dance.

In what sense is any of that “studying”? What does “taking a shower while others are at dinner” have to do with learning to respond more spaciously to the music?

The collection phase of a naturalist study involves zooming out to learn how a certain experience shows up across all the larger patterns you may encounter. After mining a small number of experiences for all the detail you can perceive, the next step is to train yourself to notice every single instance of your fulcrum experience, no matter when, where, or how it happens.

Experiences of time pressure, of acting “mindlessly” in response to overwhelming constraint, or of finding ways to avoid those traps, do not exist only on the dancefloor. The way it feels for me to read “dinner” on the schedule when I would really rather be alone is quite similar to how it feels when the quick tempo drives my feet forward when I would really prefer to stand still.

Increasing your awareness of a crucial experience across all contexts is a hallmark of my methodology for two reasons.

First, if I compartmentalized—if I tried to notice time pressure on the dance floor but not off of it—my awareness likely would not respond fast enough to catch every instance even in the context of dance. This low in the perceptual hierarchy, there is no time for compartmentalization. The sensations in question are smaller and faster than my larger understanding of what sort of situation I’m in. If I want to activate reflective awareness of a fulcrum experience in a target context, I need to plant that sensitivity so deeply into my mind that my awareness activates in every context where the experience appears.

Secondly, every context is a unique opportunity to see things from a different angle. When I consider whether to go to the scheduled dinner, I get to see a side of my fulcrum experience that I may not have noticed before, even if it does show up to dances in exactly that guise. By collecting a wide range of related experiences, I learn to recognize my fulcrum experience from the front, the back, upside down, or inside out.

Head Movement

I ended up attending a lot to this “time and spaciousness” thing in a certain class of zouk techniques known as “head movement”. I’m going to talk about that in detail, which will get pretty technical. Feel free to skip this entire section if you’re not in the mood for an infodump by an autistic dance geek. Really. It’s fine.

One of the ways zouk is distinct from any other partner dance is that it features what’s called “head movement”. It’s called that, but it’s really more about the tilt of the upper torso.

In partner dances, the lead does a whole bunch of stuff to direct a follow’s center of gravity. That’s an overly simplistic and highly mechanical, but I think mostly accurate, way to think about what leading is: directing the follow’s center of gravity.

The follow receives and interprets the lead’s suggestions about where to place their weight when, how quickly to move in what direction, what sort of rotational energy to have, and in some cases how close to the ground their center ought to be; but everything else about the follow’s motion is up to the follow, most of the time. It is rare that a lead needs to separately track a follow’s upper torso and hips, because both dancers are usually in a more-or-less ordinary, upright standing position, with shoulders stacked squarely over hips, torsos moving as single units. In lindy hop (another dance I like), exceptions include such advanced moves as the fancier dips and off-axis aerial turns.

But in zouk, off-axis movement is a common part of the dance. Rather than almost always dancing upright with shoulders stacked over hips, the follow’s ribcage is often tilted backward, forward, to either side, or anywhere in between, independently of their hips. So, In addition to directing the follow’s center of gravity, zouk leads are also tracking and directing the ever-changing tilt of the follow’s upper torso.

(Imagine a bendy straw. Imagine it gliding vertically across a dance floor. Now imagine the upper bendy portion rotating about all the while.)

Follows often accentuate these tilted postures by additionally bending at the neck, sometimes flipping their hair around, hence “head movement”. But ubiquitous though this is, as I understand it the head stuff is essentially optional styling.

Anyway, I’ve only recently reached a level of skill where I’ve felt comfortable beginning to incorporate head movement in social dance, both as a lead and as a follow.

Y’all, “head movement” is hella trippy.

Ordinarily, an important part of a spin or turn is the technique of “spotting”: Keeping your gaze fixed on a still point in the distance for as long as possible while you rotate. (If you’re a yogi, you may know this as “drishti”.) Spotting gives you a stable point of reference to orient around while you move, aiding in balance and control.

But in zouk, when head movement is involved, there is no such luxury. You can’t spot a stable point, because your upper torso and head could be tilted in any direction during the turn, and in fact the direction of the tilt will likely change while the turn is in progress. You may as well be blindfolded. (If you’re not a dancer, the takeaway I suggest from this bit is: You should be impressed with the balance and control of zouk follows.)

“Holding space” means something a little new to me after learning to both follow and lead head movement.

When you lead a follow through rotational head movement, they are going on a journey. It’s sort of like being strapped into one of those human gyroscope rides at a state fair. Even when I practice head movement by myself, without a lead, I feel a lot like I’m letting go into a trust fall: Trusting that my feet will stay on the ground, that the sky will still be “up” and the floor “down” when I’m done.

And you know what a follow does not want while all that’s going on? A lead who’s frantic, ungrounded, and rushing them through the movements.

Head movement adds a whole new dimension of technical difficulty to the dance. For me as a lead, the added challenge can trigger that frantic, ungrounded energy.

Yet head movement is also an opportunity to really slow down, to express any timing I want: Unlike larger traveling movements, it can happen in any relationship to the rhythm of the footwork. (Sort of; there are actually some fixed points in the relationship if you’re traveling, but there’s also a lot of freedom.) You can even stop the follow’s feet entirely, and continue the dance through just the head movement.

Thus, head movement proved a rich source of data for me this weekend. It’s difficult not to hem myself in when leading head movement, because I still find it overwhelming. When I fail it’s an especially dramatic failure, and it’s important I patiently help the follow exit the pattern gently no matter what I’m feeling internally (or else their cervical spine could be in danger); but when I succeed, it’s an especially dramatic success, and I can feel an incredible depth of expressive freedom.

Racing Tempos

The Saturday night dance was a “lemons to lemonade” situation.

There was a live artist who was playing a zouk gig for the first time. I liked her music; it was silky and joyful, like a strawberry ganache truffle. But it was also fast for zouk, especially for beginning and intermediate dancers like myself.

Trying to keep up, I was feeling panicked. I just could not step so quickly and still have time to think. I sat out more and more songs (or danced by myself on the sidelines), waiting for one I thought I could handle. But it never came.

Eventually, I sought out my dance instructor, who had organized the event. I asked her how long the set would last, explained that I liked the music but I just couldn’t dance to these racing BPMs.

She told me that I didn’t have to. I’m paraphrasing, but this is what I understood her to say: “Do some really simple movements, like basic in place, for just a few bars during rhythm-heavy portions of the music. Then the moment you hear something slow and fluid, pause for isolations, head movement, body rolls, languid turns, and explore those patterns for as long as possible.”

She lead me briefly to demonstrate. Although we danced slowly to fast music, it felt wonderful. It made perfect sense.

I tried to follow her advice. I felt into the details around speed pressure, my relationship to the rhythm, and slowing down. I danced a whole song in half time (that is, stepping once for every two beats in the music). I tried to make phrases of real dance out of just the foundational “basic step” (LEFT right left, RIGHT left right). I noticed that one lead I danced with largely ignored the tempo of the music, which I had some uncomfortable feelings about, but it was fascinating and instructive in context.

Sometimes, I found a little true spaciousness, and it was a bit like stretching out time. More often, I didn’t find that space; but I was able to watch myself not finding it every single time, and very often I was able to watch the franticness coming, before it actually arrived.

Holding Space, Making Time

One of the classes on Sunday was about patterns of tension and relaxation in the skeletal muscles, and learning to move efficiently, using only what tension is necessary to accomplish the desired motion.

A big chunk of the class was basically a type of massage: One partner lay down on their back with their eyes closed, passively relaxing as much as possible, while the other partner actively moved the passive partner’s limbs around (gently). The active partner’s job was to feel for subtle patterns and changes in the resistance they encountered while moving a body part, and to adjust the movement in ways that may help the passive partner bring more awareness to the muscles surrounding the joint (such as by jiggling an arm, or holding it still through a few breaths).

Maybe this sounds a bit woo. It’s for real, though; it’s a matter of signal to noise ratio. A dancer who can relax exactly the muscles that aren’t needed has a more responsive frame, and therefore wields greater expressive power in their partner connection.

I have a lot of body awareness and physical empathy, so I was good at this. So was my partner. It was a room full of partner dancers, after all.

But on this particular occasion, I think I was even better at this exercise than I usually would have been. Because my eyes were on, and I was collecting experiences of spaciousness, I saw myself as creating space and time for bodies and minds to communicate openly. To me this was about presence, in the sense of present-ness: I felt like I was constructing a pocket of time around each joint, where there is no need to accomplish anything on any schedule, and awareness is free to move through every detail of the sensations and impulses inside of the bubble.

While I listened to the tension patterns around my partner’s joints, I felt like we were both outside of time.

Hugging and Presence

I took one final class on Sunday, before the last social of the retreat. It began with a lesson in hugging.

(This was actually the second hugging class of the retreat. I am now great at hugging.[5] When I got home, my husband said, “Wow, that was a really good hug.”)

Half the class closed their eyes and held their arms open, while the rest of the class moved from person to person, initiating a series of 15 to 20 second hugs. (I went with “four synchronized breaths”.) We were encouraged to hug “as though reuniting with a loved one”. Halfway through, we switched, so that the huggers became the huggies.

At the end of this, one of the instructors made a point that hit me hard: “How many of you were bored? Raise your hand if you were bored at any point during that exercise.”

Nobody raised their hand. Not a single person. I, for one, had loved every moment.

“I played five whole songs,” he said. “Five songs, and all you did was hug. But not one of you was bored.”

“Boring my partner” is definitely one of the main fears that feeds the frantic state in which I mindlessly string together big flashy moves with no time to breathe, or to feel. It’s a major source of the “pressure” I experience when going into that state.

And five songs is a long time to dance with someone, no matter what you’re doing.

But zouk is danced largely in close embrace (basically “in a hug”); it’s lead from the hips and thighs as much as through the hands. So if I can just stand there hugging, for a whole five songs, and this is sufficient for both of us to have a good time, then clearly my fear is wrong about something.

I don’t think it’s wrong that my partner might be bored. I’m certain that it is possible to bore a follow, because I’ve certainly been bored before while following. I think that what my fear is wrong about is what causes boredom in a dance, and how to prevent it.

It seems to me that complex sequences of large, fast movements have the potential to cover up a kind of boredom and disconnection in partner dance.

It’s a lot like misdirection in a magic trick: If you spin the follow fast enough, if you really keep them moving, they might be too occupied to notice that your connection is dull and your musicality senseless. Heck, if you’re watching them twirl, you might not even notice that deadness yourself.

But there’s another way. It’s the way you are when reuniting with a loved one, the way I was while helping my partner learn about patterns of tension in her muscles, and the way that makes head movement such a beautiful expanse of creative possibility.


I had some of the best dances of my life that night.

Truth be told, it was the first time that I’d really enjoyed leading.

Up to that point, I’d been nearly convinced that I just didn’t like leading. “I guess I’m a follow,” I thought, “the way some people are simply straight.”

I had been enjoying my study of leading, but the enjoyment was more of learning than of dancing. My experience had been sort of dutiful. I was driven by a desire to appreciate the dance from all perspectives, and by my passion for interesting challenges.

But on Sunday night, I lead more than I followed, and I genuinely loved doing it.

Compared to usual, I was creative in my dances. I experimented: Whenever I started to feel the pressure of the future rushing toward me, I tried something else. I stood almost still and made the most of the smallest movements. I moved when I felt moved. I tried things I wasn’t sure about, things with unknown-to-me durations that might put us in unfamiliar positions I didn’t know how to work with.

But I wasn’t afraid of those unfamiliar situations. Wherever we ended up, I knew I was free to take my time, to feel things out, even to stand there and hug my partner as we felt the music and breathed together.

I had broken a chain of stimulus and response, and replaced my default, mindlessly frantic action with agency.

I had very little new vocabulary by the end of the retreat, because learning new moves had not been my focus. I wasn’t showing off any fancy footwork. My execution of the familiar patterns wasn’t any cleaner than before, as far as I know.

Yet even follows I’d danced with only a couple weeks earlier seemed to have much more fun dancing with me than before. I had a lot more fun, too.

The Rhythm Of the Dance

Toward the beginning, I said that the point of this story was not what I learned, but how I learned it. I asked you to try to catch the rhythm of my study.

So, what was the rhythm?

Here is one way I might describe it.

I began by tasting a yearning. I sank into that experience, getting a gut feel for it, letting it suggest thoughts and images in my mind.

Guided by that feeling, I turned my gaze toward the parts of the world where I expected crucial data might live. I prepared myself to pay attention in the moments that mattered.

Then I put myself in those situations I’d identified as relevant, and I closely observed the experiences that resulted. I sensitized myself to sensations surrounding the situations I cared about.

Once I was sensitized, I broadened my focus. I zoomed out to attend to the crucial sensations in a wide variety of contexts. I got to know them like a close friend, until I recognized them even before they’d fully arrived.

Finally, I experimented with new ways of responding to the sensations I’d studied.

Or, in even briefer summary: I used an approach of patient and direct observation to untangle my default patterns of perception, thought, and behavior around a problem in my dance.

A word to those of you who were nevertheless trying to keep track of what I learned in this study (and not just how I learned it):

If you feel unclear at this point on what exactly I learned as a dancer—well, I’m not surprised. As a writer I apologize, because it’s generally poor practice to leave a reader feeling unclear. Part of me wants to make up a story about what I learned, something crisp and punchy, for the purpose of causing others to feel as though we’ve communicated.

The truth is, I do not have a solid conceptualization of what exactly I learned. And I claim that this is fine.

Why? Because the dissatisfaction I began with has resolved. I was held back by something as a dancer before, and now I am not. (Or at least, I’m held back by different things instead.)

In my experience, this sort of outcome is actually pretty common in naturalist studies. Sometimes it’s like, “I was confused about something or other, and then I did some naturalism stuff, and somehow I don’t seem to be confused anymore. I… don’t really know what happened.”


The very first time I shared a method I’d eventually call “naturalism” with other people, it was in a CFAR colloquium talk that I titled, “How To Solve Your Problem Without Ever Knowing What the Problem Is.” Naturalism does not primarily involve manipulating explicit models. In fact, it’s largely about getting explicit models out of the way, so they have less power to mediate observation.

Whatever story I try to tell about what exactly has changed—taking my time, holding space, presence, whatever—it’s clear to me that I learned what I needed to learn.

As a demo of naturalism, I give this study a B-.

I like that it was unusually legible: It was short and simple. I went straight through the phases linearly. I didn’t get lost or stuck. It was only four days long, so it’s possible to write about most of the critical moments in the space of a single essay.

I also like that it illustrates how “patient” does not always mean “long”, or even “slow”. I think people imagine that naturalism is necessarily a really drawn-out process, something that requires a lot of time for undistracted observation and quiet reflection. And sometimes it is indeed like that! It’s common for a study to take three months.

But once you get the hang of it, it can often be quite fast. This entire study happened over the most jam-packed, fast-paced, whirlwind of a long weekend I’ve experienced in years (including my wedding, and the birth of my child). Inside of that hurricane, I used this patient approach anyway, and I learned how to create pockets of timeless presence.

Patience of the relevant sort is not really about speed (or lack of it); it’s instead about tenacity, thoroughness, and (above all) setting aside desperation for solutions.

The main thing I don’t like about this study is that my write-up of it seems pretty superficial, to me.

I think that’s because this study was so easy. I actually did not think about the phases of naturalism as I went. I didn’t think explicitly about any of the techniques or strategies. The closest I got was asking myself, “Where do the data live?”

Naturalism is pretty deep in my bones at this point. For the most part, I only turn my full attention to the strategy level when I’m struggling with something. The rest is pretty automatic.

Because this study did not require a struggle (methodologically speaking), I was able to do almost all of the work “in the background”. For example, how exactly did I become able to recognize the sensation of “the future rushing toward me” that tends to precede mindless franticness in my dancing? I don’t know! I suspect it mostly happened on Saturday night, but that’s all I’ve got. I didn’t bother trying to consciously capture information about what exactly was happening.

Next time, I will share a study that did not go so smoothly.

  1. ^

    Note that many of the links in this post are to videos, which may autoplay.

  2. ^

    There’s sort of a pendulum effect as you advance in partner connection. Sometimes achieving better connection will mean thinking of leading more mechanically than you have been, and sometimes it will mean thinking of leading more as a series of invitations. For this reason, I think many partner dancers may be sort of horrified by my description, and imagine that I’m aggressively tossing my follows around. I promise I’m not. I’m frequently described as an unusually gentle lead.

  3. ^

    I was using these memories as reference experiences. A reference experience is a situation you can walk through in your mind, used as reference material for generating guesses about where the data live.

  4. ^

    Totally tangential, but: When I want to make friend at a big event, I’ve found that bringing some activity to share with one or two other people is a great way to do it. Chocolate tasting is wonderful for this, because it’s accessible, enjoyable, and intimate. I also get to present the remainder of the chocolate to my new friend as a gift, so they’ll end up revisiting the experience in the future.

  5. ^

    “Do you have any tips on how to hug better?”

    Yes, I do.

    The first is “be present”, which is a sazen, but maybe this post will help a little with figuring out how to do it.

    The second is “become unafraid to touch”. Do you think you aren’t afraid to touch the person you’re hugging? Maybe you’re right.

    But maybe you’re wrong, so let’s check. When you hug them, ask yourself whether it’s theoretically possible for more of your bodies to be in contact. Which parts aren’t touching?

    Is it the sexy ones? Are you scared about your hips, or your thighs, or your genitals? Are you scared about theirs? When I had breasts, I noticed that some people would only hug me from the side, or very gingerly from the front, apparently because they’re uncomfortable about touching breasts.

    I’m not saying, “Deliberately press the sexy parts together.” If you do that without presence and comfort, it will probably feel bad. I’m also not making any claims about whether your fears are correct, or whether you should be hugging well. What I’m saying is, if your approach to hugging is dominated by discomfort with touch, rather than by presence with your body and theirs, you will not achieve much intimacy through hugging.

    Thirdly, if you think you have both of the first two points down and something still seems a little off about the logistics, try stepping one of your feet in between their feet. You can get a little closer when your bodies are slightly offset. Partner dances with close embrace are danced a little offset in this way, for maximum communicative bandwidth.