Dancing Through a World of Connection

By: Erica Berejnoi

When I arrived in Tempe almost two years ago, I knew hardly anyone. I arrived alone with four suitcases containing my adult life. After getting settled, I realized I missed my dance community in Kentucky and considered looking for dance organizations on campus. Within the first week of school, a friend invited me to join him in the Tango Club – I did so even though tango wasn’t my interest; I thought I had nothing to lose. I went that week, the week after, and the weeks thereafter – I was hooked, but also struggled. People often say tango is an elegant dance, but I had a hard time dancing to traditional tango music from the Golden Age in Argentina. Due to my distaste, it was difficult for me to trust my senses and to feel and see what other dancers were experiencing. Yet, something clicked within me toward the end of my first semester: I experienced vulnerability, connection, and trust, all at the same time!

A fellow dancer once shared “dancing tango is like falling in love every 12 minutes.” If you are a dancer, you likely understand what this means. If you are not, I will do my best to describe the experience: when you dance with another person, you are constantly connected to them. The other person can sense your emotions, mood, confidence, and ego; your body cannot lie. You stop using your rational mind and move toward a deep level of connection and feeling. With eyes closed, you know exactly where the other person is moving. Fear melts away as you can fully trust the other person. Tango made me feel loved and part of a community. I was learning the importance of quality and
authentic human connection.

I have reflected deeply on my dancing experiences, while observing day-to- day interactions outside of dance. I am interested in why we need connection and how we lose connection with one another. We have evolved to avoid threats and welcome opportunities. [1] Our internal bias for security promotes a desire for safe social environments [2] as we simultaneously seek connections to fulfill emotional, intellectual, and physical pleasures. We are social beings that need to feel part of a group. [3]

We can fulfill our need for social connection not only by interacting with other humans, but also by trying to connect with plants, animals, elements of nature, and our inner selves. Opportunities for connection are everywhere, but we may not see or take advantage of them. Failing to fulfill our biological and social needs for connection may cause feelings of loneliness, which can have detrimental consequences. “Loneliness not only alters behavior but shows up in measurements of stress hormones, immune function, and cardiovascular function. Over time, these changes in physiology are compounded in ways that may be hastening millions of people to an early grave.” 4 A lack of social connection may create mental and emotional unrest, and negatively affect physical health and our ability to perform, as well.

I grew up in South America, where we did not use cell phones and knocked on doors to call our friends to play. Times have changed, and many people today are missing a culture of connection. The spread of communication technology and the rise of a fast-paced society are some of the drivers. We demand more of ourselves than what we can sustainably give, sometimes sacrificing our relationships for more time at work. This may lead to feelings of loneliness and other emotional problems. As a result, we create a cycle of disconnection.

Human connection is what allows societies, cultures, and nations to keep moving. Yet, connection is a gift that we give to or receive from others. Empathy, care, authenticity, reciprocity, and love are some of the “items” inside that gift. These items are essential to developing meaningful connections and inner balance. That connection will allow us to fulfill our biological and social needs. Just as I received a gift of connection in my first semester of tango, I want to pass that gift onto you and invite you to be a participant in authentic and meaningful connection with those around you. It takes courage to take that first step, but once you do it, you will have a completely new experience of connection – one that is deep and powerful. Once you are there, you will be able to pass that gift onto somebody else to dance through a world of vulnerability, connection, and trust.

References
1. Nesse, R. M. (2004). Natural selection and the elusiveness of happiness. Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1333-1347.
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1511
2. MacDonald, Geoff, & Leary, Mark R. (2005). Why Does Social Exclusion Hurt? The Relationship
Between Social and Physical Pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131(2), 202-223. ISSN: 0033-2909
3. Eisenberger, N. (2003). Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion. Science,
302(5643), 290-292. doi: 10.1126/science.1089134
4. Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human nature and the need for social
connection. WW Norton & Company.

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