Last night at a social, a bachata leader told me that he loved me.
I said, “I love you, too.”
While this isn’t altogether too uncommon an experience, it is something I think about quite a lot. This is because I feel it quite a lot.
People tend to understand this, though usually they wouldn’t call it love. Most people – and especially non-dancers – when I tell them I experience love on the dancefloor, say that dance is too shallow for love. It’s superficial. It’s connected, sure, and maybe also intimate, but it’s not love. They tell me, often, that feeling something akin to love on the dance floor doesn’t mean anything in real life, because these leaders don’t know a damn thing about me, and I don’t know a damn thing about them. We don’t go shopping together. We don’t call each other when we’re sad. We don’t stare longing out the window and compose florid poetry about one another.
But I argue that dance love is perfectly real – just of a slightly differently flavor.
There are some smart metaphysicians out there who will tell you that separation is an illusion. As humans, we evolved to perceive the matter in the universe as discrete bits that manifest as things such as solids, liquids, and gasses. We see tables; we see trees; we see animals; we see other humans. To our limited senses, these are all very distinctive entities. To some degree, this is true. But to another, it is simply an illusion, as all matter is simply a super condensed form of energy, interlocking into different chemical and physical forms that are constantly in flux. To be clear, this is science, not some form of new age spirituality. Humans perceive separateness, and do experience consciousness separately. But it’s not necessarily the most accurate depiction of reality.
By my account, to love is to see beyond this illusion.
To love, for me, is to collapse barriers. To love is to dissolve separateness. To love is to experience a sense of unity, or oneness. What this looks like in the practicalities of day-to-day life is something akin to empathy. It is coming to see someone for who they are, and accepting them. It is acknowledging what makes a person different from you – what constitutes the separation that has come to characterize their life – and embracing it wholeheartedly. It is offering yourself genuinely and openly to another person. It is coming together, despite all the things throughout your lives that have kept you apart.
We experience this kind of love to varying degrees with different people. For most people, the collapsing of barriers is most intense with a spouse. They become like one. But it also happens intensely with family members, with children, and with close friends with whom they experience a lot of resonance. It is also possible to experience it with complete strangers. When I meet people, I can quite literally feel their humanity pulsing around them. I don’t know much about them, but I attempt to see them in this moment as clearly as I can. I attempt to experience the world through their feelings and their eyes, and to acknowledge our shared existential frailty. I feel a very real kind of love for them, even if its not the closely bonded type I have with close friends and lovers.
All of which is to say is this:
When I dance, I try to collapse barriers.
I think, to some extent, we all do.
When we dance, we are very much ourselves. It’s pretty impossible, I think, to lie about who we are when we dance. And so therefore we are vulnerable with our partners. We meet each other rather existentially naked.
And then we communicate. We move. We feel. We connect. We make eye contact. We see into each other’s passion. We melt into each other’s current emotional state. We get swept up in the music. We get swept up in experiencing the moment through our partner’s feelings, through our partner’s bodies. We learn much about who they are, in these kinds of moments.
We also do incredibly romantic and loving things when we dance. We keep avid watch on the couples around us to protect each other from wayward elbows. We flirtatiously laugh as we stare into each other’s eyes. We hold each other gently. We press our foreheads against one another. We smile as we sway. We inhale as one on the count of eight, experiencing anticipation and suspension together.
This, to me, is entirely real. Sure, sometimes people just don’t really get the whole presence thing. Sometimes, people are distracted. Sometimes, people only dance with me only for the sake of trying to convince me to fuck them later. But I do generally find that most of the time, the people I dance with are there genuinely because they want to be present with me for those four minutes.
And yes, absolutely, I feel it with some people more than others. With some leaders I feel pretty lukewarm. I enjoy their presence but there isn’t all that much electrifying about it. But with others, with leaders who are present with me and with whom I feel both vulnerable and met, my heart beats relentlessly and joyfully, as though on ecstatic fire. If I dance with them a lot of over time I experience added feelings of safety, gratitude, softness, and warmth. I have intensely fond feelings for people with whom I lovingly connect week after week.
I think this is a real, and intensely beautiful thing. I suppose I could think of what I experience and feel on the dance floor as not love, but I don’t see any good reason to do so. Given how vanishingly short life is, I’d rather take every opportunity I can to feel more rather than less. Dance gives me that. And, especially, giving myself to dance gives me that. Love on the dance floor, in this way, is one of the most potent forces in my life that makes it feel beautiful, and exhilarative.