What I Learned from being a Zombie Nun Designated Dancer at Queer Slow Dance

 

I bit my lip, and hit “reply” to the text message.

That sounds exciting and scary, I wrote. Can I think about it and let you know?

My friend Erin had just asked whether I would join her to be a Designated Dancer at Queer Slow Dance.

These drawings make me VERY HAPPY

Queer Slow Dance is a regular night in Toronto (and Montreal) that pretty much does what it says on the tin. And my job as a Designated Dancer would be to spend two hours asking strangers to slow dance with me, gently easing the wallflowers from their seats and helping them to feel included.

It sounded terrifying.

Partly because of the concept. Slow dancing isn’t really a thing we do in the UK. My only experience was once, at my summer camp, when a Much Older Boy asked me if I’d slow dance with him. I remember finding it awkward and a bit too grown up to be comfortable.
But I was most scared of having to walk up to strangers and ask them to dance.

What if they say no?

What if everyone says no?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see one of my heroes, Mastin Kipp of The Daily Love (and author of the brilliant Growing Into Grace) speak.

He talked about how the notion that we should extinguish fear (some people call it False Evidence compassAppearing Real) is nonsense. If you want to be happy, you need to be growing. And if you want to be growing, then every day, you need to do something that frightens you. More eloquently put:

Unless your safety is threatened, you must use fear as your compass. Move towards the things that scare you.

Being a Designated Dancer at Queer Slow Dance scared me. I knew I needed to move towards it.

I texted Erin back and told her I was in.

The October edition of QSD was a Halloween Ball. A few days earlier, I’d hosted the Halloween version of my storytelling show, True Stories Told Live. For that, I’d dressed as Bryan Adams (we even had a mass singalong to “Summer of ’69”).

Whilst my intentions in being a Designated Dancer were purely to help and frighten myself in order to grow, there’s no denying that there might be romantic potential when slow dancing with 20 strangers.

 

And I knew no one would want to kiss Fake Bryan Adams.

If you’ve watched any of my videos, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that I have a surplus of costumes. Among them is a nun’s habit. That’s something I could look pretty in. But also… kind of boring. So I settled on Zombie Nun, planning to ask my best friend’s husband (a carpenter with a secret flair for costume make up) to Do Me Up.

Saturday night comes, and I head to their house. “I want to look like a convincing zombie,” I told the husband. “But also, I want to look like someone who people might want to kiss”.

About two minutes into the make-up process, I let go of that dream. But I did look convincing:

9.30pm, and Erin and I arrive at the venue. We put on the LED brooches that mark us out as Designated Dancers. I’m not a huge drinker, but I have a beer to steady my nerves. I make Erin practise slow dancing with me.

Of the many wonderful things about Queer Slow Dance, one is how respectful the culture is. There are long, beautifully written notes on the Facebook event page, explaining what it is and isn’t ok to ask and do. (“Just because you may have danced with someone for most of the song, if at any point you are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, you can simply walk away”)

I learned that you have to ask how people want to be held – shoulders and waist or hand and shoulders?

People begin filtering in, and I start to feel that pressure in the back of my head and my throat that comes with fear. I want one more drink, but that’s it. I neck a whiskey.

 

Finally, the DJ announces the first song – These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding.

I see a gentleman sitting in the corner alone. This is my moment.

Hi! Would you like to dance?”. I’m smiling brightly and making myself look comfortable, even though I’m kind of terrified.

He twists his mouth, “Um..”. Here comes the no.

Ok”

!!

He stands, and I say, “Shoulder and waist or hand and waist?”. He shrugs. I plumb for trad hand and waist/shoulder, and we start swaying from side to side, while our feet move us in circles.

We chit chat. It’s nice. The awkwardness of making conversation is weirdly covered by the dancing. You’d think that it would double it, but somehow, it cancels it out. The song ends, I thank him, and we part.

That was sweetly fun!

Angel Eyes by Jeff Healey Band starts up, and I ask the gentleman sitting next to my first dancer. Again, he kind of pauses, and I brace myself for a ‘No’. “Sure!”, and off we go.

I suddenly get wildly paranoid that I’m doing whiskey burps into his face, so I just own up. He says, “I love whiskey!”, and we have a nice chat about that.

The song ends, we thank each other – and I realise that I’m having a lovely time.

Next, is a lady in a fancy hat. She and I hit it off straight away, and I wonder if, by talking the whole time, I’m not fully entering into the spirit of Slow Dancing.

As I keep asking and dancing, asking and dancing, I alternate between the different poses. While there’s something lovely and old fashioned about hand and waist/shoulder, I do LOVE getting to put both my hands on someone’s waist.

Earlier in the day, I’d been to see an osteopath and was reminded of how much I love physical contact with people I don’t really know. Not in a creepy way, obviously – just when you’re getting a pedicure, or going to the dentist, or even in the crush at the front of a concert. One of my favourite song lyrics is from Regina Spektor’s Summer In The City, where she says, “I went to a protest, just to rub up against strangers”. I often think of that in those moments. 

And the strange – and kind of lovely – thing is that all the slow dancing I did, didn’t feel very romantic. Some of the conversations were easy and some were awkward, and with some people I had chemsitry and with some I didn’t. And there were couples necking all around me.

But, for me that night, the delightful formalness mostly kept it pleasantly platonic.

Which, I do fully understand, may have just been because no one – NO ONE – was going to send “let’s get it on” vibes to someone who looked like this:

me zombie nun

About half way through the evening, I saw three girls sitting together. I’ll confess here: my mission for most of the evening was to find people who looked like they were doing more sitting than dancing (it’s for them that QSD recruits people to be Designated Dancers). But these girls were just pretty and looked nice and I wanted to dance with one of them.

So I asked the one to the furthest right. She smiled sweetly. “No thanks”.

Inside, I felt the kind of crushed that getting a “no” in front of other people gives you, but I know (because I teach it) that people will always follow your physicality – so if you act like this is totally not a big deal, everyone will assume you’re ok with whatever just happened.

Taking that advice, I trilled, “No worries!” and turned to the next lady. “Would you like to dance?”. “Um, not just now, thanks”. “Ok!”, I smiled.

Next lady, “Would YOU like to dance?”. “No, I’m alright thanks”.

At this point, mild panic was setting in.

But, again, I behaved as if I was utterly fine with this because I would get a “yes” soon (even though, inside, I wondered if I was destined to sit alone for the rest of the night, humming the chorus of “Careless Whisper” to myself).

One more pop – a gentleman sitting a couple of chairs away.
Sure!”, he said, and off we went.

Two hours later, my duties were done and we left. Before I went, I made sure to run and find my first dance of the evening, and thank him again for being so nice to me when it was my first time. He looked pleased.

 

Here’s where this all fits in with networking.

The Things I Learned From Being A Zombie Nun Designated Dancer:


1. Mastin Kipp is right – use fear as your compass.

(Click HERE to tweet this!)

I knew that, at the very least, I’d get a great story out of doing something so outwith my usual routine. I did, *AND* had a lovely night, *AND* got to have lots of physical contact with virtual strangers, *AND* some great whiskey and documentary and coffee shop recommendations, *AND* I’m going to go back next month because I liked it so much. AND – most importantly – I feel like I grew.

 

2. If someone is sitting by themselves, it’s worth seeing if they want to chat.

So often, people who go to conferences and events feel as terrified as you do. If you can go up and – respectfully – see if they want to talk, they will be incredibly grateful. (If you’re not sure whom it is and isn’t ok to approach – I made you a handy “save and keep” guide, HERE)

 

3. If you approach someone and it turns out they don’t want to chat, it’s not a big deal.

Smile sweetly and move on. Remember: People will always follow your physical cues first. So pretend to be confident and Ok With It All, and everyone will assume you are.

 

4. If someone’s done something nice for you, THANK THEM.

I feel like society would be a much nicer place if this happened. I truly believe that all anybody wants in life is to feel heard and truly understood – and to feel like they left the world better off than they found it. If you can tell someone that they did the latter, it will make their day. Even if all they did was dance with you. I give you a chance to do this every week on my Facebook page, in the Thursday Thank You.

 

5. If you want to get a kiss, don’t have a giant gaping wound on your cheek and black veins running down your face.

If you want to get respect for your awesome costume, though – totally do.

erin and marsha Queer Slow Dance

To find out more about Queer Slow Dance, have a look HERE.

Thanks so much for reading. If you enjoyed this, I’d love it if you shared it using one of the round buttons below (or floating, Halloween ghost-like, to the left).

Also, please tell me: what is your experience of slow-dancing? Are you a North American who did it in school? Have you ever tried it as a grown up with someone who isn’t already your sweetheart? Leave me a comment, below!

Thanks,

You rule,

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

 

PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo credits: Sherwin Sullivan Tjia, JoshArdle Photography, Shawn Dell, Lucy Brandon, untitled track, laura dye and Bryanna Reilly

6 Comments

  • Lucy Palmer

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    “If you want to get a kiss, don’t have a giant gaping wound on your cheek” – my favourite line from anything for a very long time. I LOVE your way with people and words, Marsha. I am so, SO glad I know you. xx

  • Sarah Jordan

    Reply Reply November 6, 2014

    Marsha, That was a very brave thing to do. I’m pleased that your hero would approve. I love hearing about all the crazy adventurous things you do, because I too try to make myself uncomfortable in order to grow…I felt like a total criminal because I was putting flyers on cars at the mall parking lot :)

  • Natasha

    Reply Reply November 6, 2014

    Did you pick out anyone *even* scarier-looking than you to ask them to dance?

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