A man extends his hand to a woman he barely knows.
She smiles and accepts. He leads her to an isolated location and places his hand on her back, caressing her gently.
She responds, placing a hand on his shoulder.
They’re together, and he’s guiding her back and forth in a rhythmic motion.
The two continue for several minutes, and when they’re done, the woman wipes her perspiring forehead, smiles, and looks for her next partner.
This exchange happens every night on dance floors in cities around the world, where adults communicate through the language of dance.
Living abroad, I found social dancing to be one of the best investments that expats can make. Not only are you engaging in a social activity that helps you meet people and make new friends, but you’re also engaging in a form of exercise with long-term health benefits.
One of the biggest hurdles to expat life is making new friends. Studies prove that making friends gets more difficult as we get older.
Beyond that, on a professional level, even if you know the language in a particular country, it can be extremely difficult to get a grasp on the culture and temperament of the people.
Social dancing provides a window into the minds of locals.
Shirley Kent is a Latin dance teacher from Hong Kong who regularly travels throughout Asia.
Speaking of the benefits of dance for travelers, she shared this insight on social dancing: “Traveling as a pure tourist or as a dancer are completely different experiences.
“Tourists will only see the surface of the country from sightseeing—what the tourism board paints a picture for you to see—but you have no access or connection to the real side, the culture, people, lives, customs, politics, and government.
“If you go social dancing, you get to meet and talk to the local dancers and understand what’s going on in their lives, their countries, their family customs, and their culture apart from dancing.
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“The exposure and knowledge are priceless.”
In addition to meeting new people, social dancing can assist with mental health and physical fitness, which is especially important to expats, helping them ward off depression and isolation.
Samir Becic is an internationally recognized fitness expert and author of the book “Resync Your Life: 28 Days To A Stronger, Leaner, Smarter, Happier You.”
Speaking of the health benefits of social dancing, he says, “My philosophical approach towards a healthy lifestyle supports the idea of people being active as a group.
“Considering that humans need to socialize for the sake of mental health, adding the physical component to it makes the wellness aspect whole.
“Cardio, coordination, endurance, mobility, and stress relief are all benefits associated with dancing.”
Think you’re too old to learn? I’ve met social dancers who didn’t start until their 60s.
Seniors use social dancing to keep themselves mentally and physically fit. A number of studies show that seniors who regularly dance reduce their chances of developing dementia.
Beyond physical benefits, social dancing helps you meet people and instantly places you in a dance-based community.
“Throughout history, social dances were actually extremely important to fit into society,” explains Samir. “Dancing was part of almost every gathering, and a lot of the courting was done through social dancing.
“Today, I think it is more niche, but also, on a larger scale, nightclubs and parties are relevant in our society… Social dancing relaxes people and allows them to have an easier conversation.”
Social dancers who travel also have a sense of community.
They never have to worry about finding activities these days because social media makes it easy to connect with dance clubs, groups, and teachers in areas where they’ll be traveling.
Being an expat can actually work in your favor when you’re learning a new dance. You’re in a new country, so you don’t have anyone around to judge you or place any expectations on you while learning.
When I took dance classes in other countries, it was a good way to meet new people, and incidentally, many of them wanted to practice their English with me.
For Shirley, dance has not only helped her deal with stress but has also improved her life overall…
“Meeting nice people who share the same passion and interest is kind of an escape from reality because all we care about in those few hours is to dance, have fun, enjoy the moment, put our problems behind us, and worry about them later.”
Now that you’re considering social dancing, where do you begin?
As a social dancer who’s used dance to connect with people in five countries, I recommend starting with Latin dance, particularly salsa.
This social dance is extremely popular, and you’re sure to find experienced teachers and salsa events in almost every major city in the world.
If you find salsa too difficult, bachata is a dance that’s less complex due to simpler movements.
When I first got into Latin dance, I found bachata to be much easier to learn than salsa, and I even used it to get over my initial fear of dancing.
Another great investment is tango, which is as popular as salsa. Most major cities are home to great tango teachers and social clubs with regular events.
If you’re interested in tango and want something that’s more popular, try Kizomba, also known as “the African tango.”
It’s recently become one of the more popular social dances around the world. It’s fun, rhythmic, and easy to learn. What you learn in Kizomba as far as musicality goes will help you learn other forms of social dance.
Wherever life takes you, you’ll definitely find a form of social dancing taking place. If you can’t find anyone who teaches any of the dances mentioned, make an effort to learn whatever social dance is popular locally.
Aside from investing in language lessons, one of the best investments an expat can make is to learn the language of dance.
You’ll improve your health, meet new people, and, in the process, discover some rhythm that you never knew you had.
Contributor, Overseas Living Letter