Photo: Chiara Scarfato Fotografie

A Crushing Wall of Phones, or Why Dancers Say What Exists

I had the most interesting experience on the streets of Valencia. It had to do with a piano, a handful of dancers, and a bunch of tourists.

The story starts with me traveling around Europe with the purpose of finding a community of dancers with whom I could start a new life. There is an intimacy that comes with social dancing. It very quickly allows you to get a glimpse into the deeper layers of a person, a community, and a country. It is a very useful tool for understanding a potential place to call home.

One dance weekend took me to Valencia, Spain. The weekend itself was filled with much revelry, meeting of new people, and of course dancing. The organizers of the festival had arranged for the festivities to take place in several venues and open spaces around the city. Throughout the day, us dancers would make our way along the stone streets from dance to dance. At one point our group was making our way through the very heart of the old town and we came upon a street musician, merrily banging out skillful tunes on a piano. Sensing the moment, we dropped our bags, partnered up, and started dancing to the music. If this all sounds a tad romantic, gentle reader, then I can assure you that there is indeed a rush of joy that comes with grasping a moment fully. Sharing that moment with a dance partner and a musician transforms this joy into something bordering on bliss, perhaps even holy.

However, it was the response from the surrounding crowds of tourists that had the most profound impact on me. They all took out their mobile phones and began filming us. We were caged in, pinned together by a wall of electronic eyes, videos of our little dance instantly flying to every corner of the world. Our shared moment of intimacy had been become a spectacle.

I remember in that moment feeling anger towards the crowd of tourists. I remember wanting to shout at them to put their phones away. They didn’t. We finished our dance, thanked the musician, and continued to our destination.

It was only later on that I realized what it was that had frustrated me so much about the experience. It was that each tourist had a choice to join us in our dance, and yet they chose instead to consume us from afar. It saddened me to think that if they had put their phones down and taken one of our hands, they too could have felt that joy, bliss, and holiness. I wanted to share it with them.

It is with this thought in mind that Dancers Say What comes into being. I want this collection of stories to be both a window into the social dancing world, and an invitation to join us in our dance. I want it to be a place where we can pass along the stories that come with being a member of the social dancing world, and I hope to cover the full spectrum of the human experience this world offers.

My exploratory journey around Europe eventually found myself landing in Poland. Therefore, most of the stories at the beginning of this project will come from the people and places that I know in this region of Europe. I hope, however, that it will grow to include voices from all over the world. If you think you have a story to tell that will help enrich the social dancing world, please do get in touch with me. If you think you have something that should be passed along to present and future dancers, please do share. If I can leave this world a little more enchanted than when I found it, I will be a very pleased man.

So what is coming up? I have prepared several interviews with dance organizers and musicians from around Poland. These will be rolling out over the coming weeks. We also have several guest writers lined up to contribute their own opinions and stories. But the main flurry of activity on my end will be expanding my traveling to collect more interviews and essays. Want to contribute? Get in touch!