Forgotten Details: Eye Contact
About two times a month, I hop on a bus East to the Chester Village retirement home and teach chair dancing to the locals there. This isn’t always easy, mostly because half my audience has a tendency to nod off in the middle of class.
After salvaging my bruised ego, I’ve tried various methods to increase engagement in my class – asking them questions, calling people by name, etc. – but the biggest improvement came from something more simple: Looking into the eyes of my students as I taught them.
I’m not just talking about the “1000-foot stare” at audience height. I’m talking about finding specific individuals, and connecting with them directly before moving on. Why? Those people will feel extra special, as if you delivered that message just for them.
“But Ian, I’m not a teacher. When am I going to use this when I dance?”
Well, how about during a dance performance? The best performances I’ve ever seen weren’t merely technically perfect – they drew me in. They made me feel I was part of whatever was happening onstage, sharing in the emotions, rooting for the protagonist, and so on.
By taking time to connect directly with whomever is in front of you, your performance transforms from a cold and distant “routine”, to something warm and inclusive. Your audience will feel you are sharing something with them, and clap that much harder in appreciation.
Even if you don’t perform, eye contact with your dance partner or team can deepen the story you are creating together. I remember a dance years ago, after which my partner exclaimed, “finally, someone who isn’t afraid to flirt a little!” I thought, “flirting? All I need was make eye contact and smile.” But that had been enough to create chemistry between us, for the time we were dancing at least.
Now, I should mention that I do NOT recommend focusing on eye contact until you have the basics down by heart. Looking someone in the eye can be very distracting, and connecting with an audience isn’t worth it if what you’re sharing gets messy. Also, prolonged eye contact on the same person can be a bit intense – stay with them for a second or two, then share the love somewhere else.
Dance is an art form, and like all art, it is most powerful when it is shared. Use your eyes to share your dance with everyone they touch, and they will remember you long after you’ve left the floor.
About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.