It is around 9 p.m. and the dance floor is hot. A new song is just beginning. I snap my fingers and sway my hips, nonchalantly scanning the floor for available partners. Just when I think I’m going to sit this one out, a dashing gentleman appears and asks, “Would you like to dance?” I take his hand, and we instinctively glide to the nearest spot with enough room for two. We get into position and pause, taking a moment to feel each other as well as the beat. Then he leads me into a conversation without words. Our bodies quickly adapt to each other as we move through the song, our eyes almost always in contact. Although I follow his lead, this is no passive play. In the suspension after a turn, my feet slide into a seductive step that wavers between approach and retreat. In a few moments, our lips are so close I can taste his sweat. Then he whisks me into a dip, which I indulge completely, my hair nearly touching the floor in perfect abandon.
Who can deny the connection between sex and dancing? Whether it’s ballroom or hip-hop, sex and dance share a similar structure: give and take, push and pull, following and leading. The physical contact involved in dancing is more intimate than any other social activity. Often, two strangers come together. There may be an exchange of names, but in my experience, that usually comes later. Immediately you’re thrown into a scenario where you have to connect with a person for at least a few minutes, on some level, if you’re going to derive any pleasure from the situation. Of course you can always excuse yourself if you’re not inspired, but it’s bad form to leave before the last note once you’re already in the dance, just as it’s usually bad form to say, “You know, I gotta go,” mid-coitus.
The sexuality of dancing goes back centuries. In repressed, civilized cultures, before the age of the hookup, dancing was the closest people came to sex before marriage. Classic movies promote the idea that dancing is the beginning of romance, which in those days, was a euphemism for sex. Even the song lyrics of the day implied naughtiness: birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let’s do it, let’s fall in love. Modern cinema has more explicit examples: Dirty Dancing showed how an affair could begin on the dance floor, but it can also stay there, as in Shall We Dance (the 1996 Japanese version). I had a smoldering flirtation with a few of my dance partners, but I never had the desire to sleep with them. So I told them, “Let’s keep this affair on the dance floor.” Sometimes restraint is more erotic than consummation.
The erotic implications of dancing start innocently around the age of 12 or 13. That cheesy ballad you mock at the age of 30 means the world at 12 when your crush’s arms are resting tentatively on your shoulders or waist. You could barely look him or her in the eye during that awkward two and a half minute’s worth of synchronized side-to-side stepping, but you knew it just might lead to some handholding in the hall, or a kiss in the parking lot before your parents arrived to take you away from your prepubescent fantasy.
As we get older, we learn that dancing is about trusting your partner, communication and letting go. The same dynamics apply to sex. If you connect with someone on the dance floor, chances are you will connect with that person in bed. As for those dance partners who never made it into my bed, I always thought, yeah, we would probably be swinging in the sheets. My friend Ed met his current girlfriend while dancing. He said, “A few times it was so erotic that I thought that I would almost orgasm on the dance floor,” Ed says. “Dancing is sort of like sex in the way that you have to be really in tune and focused on that person and only that person. And things start to come sort of naturally and organically.” The body also experiences similar physiological reactions: heat production, sweating, increased heart rate and if there is pelvic friction while dancing, arousal. Of course, some dance styles are more erotic than others. In the tango you’re practically fucking on the dance floor, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting off on a round of polka. Whatever your style, New York has a venue for it. And if you have two left feet, there are plenty of classes where you can learn the basics.
Whether I’m doing the Lindy or receiving cunnilingus, a partner’s skill is more important to me than attractiveness. At swing dances, a lot of the old men can move better than the younger guys. Recently, I danced with a suave senior at Midsummer Night Swing and romantically speaking, I was more aroused dancing with him than with some handsome, clunky twenty-something tripping over my feet. I have to agree with Ed: “It’s very important to me that the person knows how to dance. I get turned off if they don’t. Even if they don’t have many attractive elements about them, if they can dance, I at least want to sleep with them. I guess you can say that dance brings out the lust in people.”