Last night I was a man. Well, at least for about 30-40 minutes. See, I showed up at the weekly contra dance at Lovely Lane Church, and there were a ton of women there, especially younger women. Plus, the Baltimore Open Band (a drop-in band) was playing, so a lot of the regular guy dancers were on stage playing music. So, I decided to help balance things out and “be a man” for a while.
I like switching roles now and again. It helps me see the dance and the dynamics from a completely different perspective. It’s such a different experience in terms of responsibility, and holding the weight of your partner and how you experience the dance.
Contra is a called dance and a community dance. People partner up–usually a man as the lead and a woman as the follow, and then the couples line up along the dance hall because each couple travels up and down, dancing with each other set of couples along the way. Each contra dance follows a pattern of movement; the moves are called out, which is quite different from a waltz or swing or bachata or whatever, where the man, or “lead,” has to direct and lead the dance.
Contra dance is a lot of fun, even if I’m not explaining it particularly well. It’s an easy “introductory” (or gateway) dance, especially for men, or leads, because while they still function as the lead in the couple, the man doesn’t have to come up with dance moves along the way; he just has to do the next move that is called out, and the one after that, and the one after that. After the pattern is grooved in through a handful of repetitions, the caller often backs out and quiets down, letting the dancers follow it from muscle memory and pattern-holding in their heads. While both dancers in a couple are still responsible for their moves, the lead has more responsibility.
Last night, I came to understand that concept more fully. It wasn’t the first time “I was a man” on the dance floor. I’d taken this role a few times before, but last night, I was all in on “being a man.”
In one particular dance, I was dancing with a stellar and solid dancer. It was fabulous. She was so responsive to my lead, so easy to move around on the floor, and such a delight to watch dance. Then she did something that threw me for a loop: she asked me a simple question–a question I’ve been asked many times before. A question to which I should’ve been able to rattle off the answer with ease. However, rather than answering her easily and fueling additional conversation between us (which is what I expect when I yammer on with dance partners while dancing), I found myself stumbling just to give her a couple of words as a short answer. I found it incredibly difficult to lead and talk at the same time.
Or, perhaps I should say, I couldn’t talk the way I was used to fluidly speaking while concurrently holding the pattern of the dance in my head. To myself, I laughed and thought, This must be some of the frustration that men often feel when they are concentrating on something and women, with a profound capacity for diffused awareness, interrupt them, not understanding the significance of even a small interruption on their focus.
I knew, intellectually, how men tend to have strong single focus capacity and women tend to have stronger orientation toward diffused awareness, but experiencing the role shift, and realizing I could focus on the dance or I could focus on the conversation, but not both, was quite eye-opening for me. It made me more appreciative of both men’s capacity for single focus and for their ability to talk while also being focused!
Here’s an educational and entertaining YouTube video from Allison Armstrong of Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women on the subject of men’s single focus capacity and women’s diffused awareness.