Open to experience. That’s me. “Fearless”. Explorer of life and its potential experiences. But only so far. I don’t fly. I don’t make speeches.
But I did go to a “queer slow dance” last night, for the second time. Yes 95% of the people were LGBT and everything else on the spectrum. But according to its wonderful host Sherwin Sullivan Tija, we’re all supposed to feel welcome. And we did.
Why did we go? Partly because I believe passionately in “inclusion”, and want to support progress. Partly because as dances go, Sherwin’s are warm, unpretentious and fun — equal to the great swing dances at Dovercourt House*. It was also an opportunity to introduce some gay friends to the event, and meet a new partner. Last but not least, I love being open to having my ‘comfort zone’ tested.
All was lovely, and just being there moves me. It reminds me of high school dances in the fifties – the air just brimming with vulnerability, hesitation, tentativeness. I wonder how many can barely believe this freedom. A sprinkling of people from countries where being gay could mean death. And a few older North Americans, many of whom had probably hidden their true feelings for a virtual lifetime, and are only now learning how to ‘reach out and touch’ others comfortably. There is no blasé here. Nothing taken for granted, and the wonder of it all is clearly treasured.
Yet in all this pleasure, I noticed myself feeling some slight nagging discomfort from time to time. Why? When a twenty-something woman asked me (a 70-something!) to dance, suddenly it came to me. I realized there were complications inherent in our just being there, partner and I: we are experienced dancers, there to dance and enjoy the atmosphere. Would our dancing intimidate many who are obviously new at this? What assumptions did they have about why I was there? Any at all? None? And why did I care? What are the expectations of those who ask a stranger to dance? Potentially much more complicated than at a run-of-the-mill “straight” dance.
I realized also, that I am still – despite a lifetime of trying to be more relaxed – awkward and self-conscious about ‘visibly’ dancing. Even with people I know, I don’t relax easily at dancing. I am relaxed mainly with the partner I’ve learned and practiced with for decades. Let’s blame it on ‘critical-judgmental parents’ for the sake of argument.
Partner and I talked about it as we left and came to a new – tentative – conclusion: we feel a little like interlopers, as if we are cheating, somehow. Sending out ‘mixed messages’. As we strolled away from the party sounds, into the city night, we both felt that it wouldn’t be fair to return.
That makes me sad. I always feel that much personal growth can occur, and so much resolution, through what I would call ‘open encounter’. It’s a kind of conversational exploration of feelings, hopefully to a point of resolving issues.
Unfortunately, a crowded dance hall is not conducive to such eventualities. If they ran the dance according to my whims, they would pause it about every hour, and run a 15-minute encounter group of all who wish to share and think and re-think, and are willing to communicate about it out loud! You might be surprised how many people there are who discover in the middle of it, just how stimulating it can be!
Meanwhile, I think Sherwin’s onto something. And I think such events will lead to whole new ways of communicating. The first time I was invited to dance by one of the volunteers, as we began to dance he said “I’m ‘bi-‘”. At the time I thought that was funny and possibly a little “anal”. But now that I’ve had my mind opened up a little more, I can see a whole new kind of self-introduction becoming as common and as comfortable as, “Good morning,” or “How’s it going?” And this is how new ‘sub-cultures’ get started, after all. Good work, Sherwin! Thanks for helping to make the world a better place.