What is appropriate small talk for the dance instruction floor?
November 25, 2007 10:08 PM   Subscribe

What should I talk about while dancing?

I do social dancing (not club dancing) for fun. I also take group classes, in which we rotate in a circle (leads and follows). In these cases, we dance with each lead for a few minutes (at most, a few songs) before moving on to another one. It's a lot of fun to meet people and improve my dancing, but I'm running out of things to say while rotating around. Variants on "Do you come here often?" get really old, really fast, as do "Boy, it's cold/hot/crowded in here" and "How long have you been dancing?" Since we rotate frequently, I participate in these conversations several times, and I'm sure the leads do, too.

In other circumstances, I would love to go a little deeper --I'm really interested in people-- but it almost feels like talking about actual topics with people you've just met, in this context, belies interest of a different kind or is simply inappropriate. Am I totally off on this? What are some safe, unworn things to talk about while running the dance circle circuit? I'm looking for something to fill the gap after introductions.

Bonus question: Out on the floor when the band is playing, do the conversation rules change? It seems awkward not to say anything, but it's often just as awkward to try to hold a conversation when loud music is on and you're constantly twirling away from your partner.

Pertinent information: I am a female in my early twenties. I do swing dancing. I'm relatively new at it. I am not interested in dating or flirting or hooking up in the context of dancing.
posted by ramenopres to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could be genuinely interested in some of the information they give out about themselves.

I typically am interested in my partners' cultural background, and their dancing history. I observe their dancing styles, and discuss those. Travel, Music (about the band that's playing), Books, Movies, other hobbies.

If you think about it, there are loads of things to talk about. Choose what interests you, and what interests the other person. e.g. ask them about their hobbies, and be genuinely curious about knowing more.

P.S. male in not-so-early twenties.
posted by manish at 10:30 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

You could even ask "What got you interested in dancing?" or "What do you think of this band?" -- as any interviewer will tell ya, those open-ended questions are great at getting the conversation ball rolling.

And I think you could keep talking while the band is playing, as long as you don't have to bellow too loudly at your dance partner!
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 10:52 PM on November 25, 2007

given that you're not interested in flirting, conversation in an "intimate setting" can be a bit difficult. i don't dance, myself, so here's some general stuff.

generally, once you get comfortable with someone, when they talk to you they will volunteer information. you just have to learn to look for the cues. ie. "my weekend? went out with work mates" - "oh? what do you do?" and so on. people, if they feel they are being genuinely listened to, and interesting, can go on for hours. so ask them lots of questions and pay attention to the answers. that'll keep conversation flowing long enough for you to take it in an interesting direction.

also, it pays to know a whole bunch of stock questions you can fall back on - but given that you can't converse that well with loud music you might want to stick to simpler stuff, at least while the musics loud. wait till the slow stuff to pull out "so how was india/college/the breakup?" etc.

one of the best pieces of advice i can give about conversation is.. don't be afraid of silences. especially when you are doing an activity together, like dancing - you don't have to have constant conversation.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 10:57 PM on November 25, 2007

See here. Also, here. And lastly, this might be fun.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:57 PM on November 25, 2007

I'm close to your age and also swing dance. I find that when the band is going conversation isn't really necessary. A frequent smile and some eye contact is enough to let the person know you're enjoying yourself, and focusing on the physical contact and the music... it's really just a neat bond you can have with another human being that doesn't require conversation.

Though I've also done dancing in lessons or where there wasn't music (or it was quiet music) and we were switching partners and stuff... and it's nice to have a bit of conversation during that. Try normal small talk stuff like where do they go to school or what do they do for a living or what else do they like to do besides dancing or how often do they dance or what sort of music do they like.

Anything beyond regular small talk and the conversation will be cut short by a change in partners.

And keep in mind that some people count steps so talking might distract them in certain instances. Another reason to opt for silence and smiles. And of course thank them afterwards for the dance and/or compliment them... 'that was awesome! i hope we get to dance again soon.' something like that. Assuming that the person wasn't a repulsive dancer.
posted by purelibertine at 1:43 AM on November 26, 2007

The problem is that you have no context, zero history with the stranger, the dance partner in question. So you have two choices:
A. start with generic smalltalk "wow the weather's really cold" and build conversation from their responses "yeah, but it's nothing like Michigan", "Really? I went to school in Michigan. What part are you from?" etc., etc
B. "Astroturf" the conversation with pre-fabbed material. For guys talking with girls, anything regarding relationships is good stuff, "Do you think it's weird to date your best friend's ex?" "Yes/No/blahblah" "Reason I ask is my cousin is seeing this guy..." I'm not sure what most guys would want to talk about, given that you know nothing them, but maybe music, sports, etc. If you don't have any good stories to share, make some up. (Then immediately get out living your life so you'll have some great stories!)

Ideally, in an engaged conversation, you'll mix the two: riff off their answers, adding experiences/questions/material of your own, but pull out the canned material when conversation grinds to a halt -- assuming you want to keep the interaction going.

Keep in mind that if you get good at this, and do have a really great conversation, esp. mixed with the smiles and strong eye contact, the guy *will* think you're into them, even if you're not.
posted by LordSludge at 8:49 AM on November 26, 2007

I didn't have a problem at the last dance class I attended.

You can communicate a lot with body language. If something funny is going on around you, smirk at it and try to get the other person involved with you in that non-verbal topic. Or if you think the dance is going in a particular way that you like, change your facial expression accordingly.

As far as actual words, you can make light-hearted small talk about things happening around you. This is kind of silly, and I don't know how you feel about it, but light-heartedly making fun of people around you can bring you closer... think Pam and Jim's relationship in The TV Show The Office. Once you've established some rapport, you can go to the bar or something later and have a serious convo.
posted by philosophistry at 8:55 AM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: purelibertine, definitely think those are good ideas, and I do thank always say thanks!

LordSludge, I think those would work well with people my own age. I guess, now that I think about it, awkwardness (or my perception of it) comes into play more with older leads. Talking about relationships and kids weirds me out when their kids could be my own age. Dancing puts on a level plane two people whose interactions would usually be governed by societal expectations, age...

Keep in mind that if you get good at this, and do have a really great conversation, esp. mixed with the smiles and strong eye contact, the guy *will* think you're into them, even if you're not.

Exactly. Is this inevitable?
posted by ramenopres at 5:12 PM on November 26, 2007

Having re-read the question, I think there's a misunderstanding: Engaging conversation, a genuine interest in your dance partner, strong eye contact, open body language... That *IS* "flirting". And there's nothing wrong or "inappropriate" about it, but its whole function is to signal attraction. A lot of guys won't reciprocate for whatever reason, but some will. Such is the dance.

Hmmm... Maybe wear a wedding band or engagement ring (or a look-alike** if you're single) and/or make occasional references to your fiance or husband. Or maybe don't talk/flirt with the single guys and only chat it up with the couples. At least be ready with the ole "I have a boyfriend" line for when you get asked out.

Crap. You're already "out". Dancing, even. (You're making this complicated for me, heh!) If you truly don't want to communicate (sexual) interest to single guys that you're dancing with, you'll need to remain stand-offish. Small-talk only, disinterested eye-contact, etc. Kinda sucks, but there you go.

** I call it a "Don't-Hit-On-Me Ring".
posted by LordSludge at 6:48 PM on November 26, 2007

I've been doing swing dancing for a while, and I don't find it's necessary or desirable to continually converse with my partner. You want to be able to concentrate on the movement, not the conversation, and it can be hard to talk when you are physically exerting yourself.
posted by yohko at 6:55 PM on November 26, 2007

Best answer: Male swing dancer in early 20's.
A couple of thoughts: Until I became really comfortable dancing (about 2 years in) I had a hard time keeping up much of a conversation while dancing. While dancing I would suggest avoiding any questions that require too much though, since really the focus should be on the dance. I don't really think there is much awkwardness in not talking during the dance, especially if the music is loud or you are spinning a lot. (When I am trying to talk while dancing I have to change up my style and use easier moves and fewer spins, so that I can do the conversation justice).

I have to say that as the conversation goes any further than polite conversation that I would begin to interpret it as interest in me. If you are just looking to dance you really only need minimal conversation unless it is someone you've been dancing with for a while. If a girl seems like she wants deeper conversation, then it suggests interest in me rather than interest in dancing, and unless you pair that with strong body language that suggests unavailability, I would likely interpret it as flirting.
posted by vegetableagony at 12:12 AM on November 27, 2007

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