People used to tell me I looked pissed off. I was really just shy as hell. Unfortunately, it made me look pissed off.

That’s the exact opposite reaction I wanted. I was hoping someone would see that I was lonely and uncomfortable, and then take pity on me and start a conversation.

Lame, right? Well, I did it for a long time. I figured if no one came up and talked to me, at least no one would find out how awkward I was.

Before I did the mental work to improve my confidence level, I found every excuse to not be social. Hated, just hated parties. I was drawn to partner dancing as a social crutch. Like alcohol for some. At dances, I had a defined forum for interacting with people. And if I danced all night, I didn’t have to talk much.

It was fun for a while!

I think I knew I’d eventually have to at least try to talk to people. And when I finally did, I was disappointed I’d acted on my shyness for so long. Swing dancers are damn interesting people!

Being shy is okay. I couldn’t tell you not to. But you can work around it to meet people at dances and make many lasting friendships.

Here’s the method I used for pretending not to be shy:

1. Make a goal for the night. Maybe it’s “stay at the dance for 10 minutes after the lesson”. Maybe it’s “talk to 2 new people”. Make it achievable and measurable, and only push your comfort zone a little each time.

2. Prepare topics of conversation you think others will find interesting. “So I just bought a new Macbook Air…” Sometimes after dances you can have a quick chat with the person you just danced with. Many swing dancers are kind of geeky, and you probably are too. If you are terribly shy, refrain from cracking nervous jokes or talking about obscure trivia. It can come across as awkward.

3. Use open body language. This is as hard as anything. Uncross legs and arms. Sit or stand upright. Make eye contact and smile at people who walk by. Open body language shows others that you are friendly and open to socializing.

4. Put yourself in a place where people might come up and talk to you. A moderately to highly trafficked area is best. If you want someone to ask you to dance, stand right at the edge of the floor (closer…closer…). Use your open body language and glance at people as they walk by. Try to have a pleasant look on your face. Yes, some of us have to practise this.

5. Don’t forget to thank your partner if you enjoyed the dance. “Thanks, that was fun. Let’s get another one later in the night,” is my standard for big dances where I don’t know a lot of people. The second sentence is optional, and it’s more daring. Use it first with dancers you feel most comfortable with. Eventually you may feel comfortable asking for two dances in a row! Crazy, I know. But when you’re really jiving with someone, it’s nice to do two in a row.

6. Make eye contact with your partner while you’re dancing! I’m amazed how hard some dancers try to avoid it. Some people go too far the other direction and outright stare at their partner. A good rule of thumb is to at least glance at your parter regularly throughout the song. Four times total is not regularly. I’m talking at least 8 meaningful instances of eye contact.

Lastly, don’t see the lack of instant success as a sign nobody likes you. You are a work in progress. Own it.

(Although people tell me I seem outgoing, I still like to go home and recharge my batteries after a night out. I’m still introverted.)

Do you feel me? How do you work around your shyness on the dance floor or in other situations?

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