Everyone knows that old saying, “dance like no one is watching you.” It’s meant to convey the idea that in the moment of dance, being present with the pure joy of dancing, don’t worry about what other people think about your dancing. But, of course, that’s easier said than done! For most people, “what other people think,” and conforming to the norms of the social group are often front-of-mind. Of course, dancing alone isn’t a whole lot of fun, especially when you’ve chosen to engage in what is intrinsically a partner dance. So “conforming” becomes, if not essential, then at least advised in ensuring you get that invitation to the next party or social.
On the other hand, blindly conforming can sometimes lead to unpleasant evenings at a club, unwittingly participating in one of the seemingly endless feuds among some in the dance/promotion business, or even feeling somehow compelled to devote more of your life than you might otherwise want to, to dance (lessons, socials, nights out during the week, and so on). Is there a way to predict some of the factors that might make you a more likely candidate for an urge to conform?
There is research that suggests some interesting ideas. On average, women are more likely to conform to their peer social group than men. Moreover, younger people tend to experience considerably more peer pressure than those who are relatively older, which in turn drives conforming behaviours.
An additional idea comes from the psychological concept of “self-monitoring.” Are you the type to deliberately catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror when you’re dancing? Are you more heightenedly aware of how you look to other people – especially other potential partners – while you’re dancing? If so, you are what psychological researchers call “high self-monitors.” Combine this attribute with a high need to control the outcome of every single turn pattern so that it’s as perfect as it could be, and you are more likely to conform than your friend at the other side of the dance floor. You know the one—they actually do dance like no one is watching, and goes more with the flow than you care to do.
One final thought: Certain cultures are more prone to conforming than other cultures according to an index of certain culture characteristics and how these translate to relatively more or less conformity. A quick scan through several Latin American countries suggests that their nationals are more prone to conformity than, say, Canadians or Americans. Perhaps, then, it’s true that everyone dancing in time and in step with one another is characteristic of Latin culture. So, whether you dance as if no one is watching, or as if everyone is watching, I’ll…
See you on the dance floor!
P.S. If anyone is interested in the actual research citations to which I refer in this article, please contact me directly and I’ll be happy to share them.