We always tend to make assumptions about introverts. “He is an introvert, he does not communicate well” or my favourite “Introverts do not love dancing”. These are just few of the many assumptions and myths we have created over the years to describe people we don’t really understand.
What is introversion?
“Introversion is a basic personality style characterized by a preference for the inner life of the mind over the outer world of other people.”Psychology Today
In reality most people are neither purely introverted nor purely extroverted but display features of both. A better way to see extroversion and introversion is as complementary interconnected forces within us. Sometimes one prevails over the other, depending on the circumstances and our environment. Nevertheless, we do tend to show some preference on one over the other.
Persistent myths about introverts
One of the most persistent myth is that introverts are shy, and do not like socialising and dancing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although a crowded party may be a torture for introverts, they do enjoy socialising. But they enjoy more one-on-one interaction with familiar faces rather than hanging out with new people they haven’t met before.
For years I also believed that introverts do not love dancing until my friend Ivan proved me completely wrong.
When I was doing salsa classes in London, I met a very quiet and unassuming guy. His name was Ivan. Although we were in the same class for weeks, I had barely noticed him. It took a number of months before I was even introduced to him. Ivan was a man of very few words who usually shied away from most discussions. No-one in the class really knew much about him. There was this mystery around him. Who was he after all?
After every dance class we used to all go to the local pub, have a few drinks, and socialise with each other. It was an opportunity to get to meet and chat with people who we have been dancing with for hours. But even then Ivan would be the most quiet and reserved person in the room. I couldn’t kept wondering. How was it possible for such an introverted guy to like Cuban Salsa? I was making the same assumptions like everyone else. “He is introvert, he must hate dancing, what is he even doing here?”.
How wrong was I?
Dance as a means of self-expression
When it came to dancing, he was unstoppable. He would dance for hours with great passion, expressing himself very creatively. It was as if he was a complete different person from the persona I had constructed in my mind. And the surprises kept coming. One evening, Ivan and I were coming back from a 3-hour workshop along with 3 other friends. As we were waiting at a London underground station he started practicing his dance steps. He wasn’t shy and didn’t care at all about people looking at him. When we entered the train, he picked the hand of one of our friends and started dancing with her inside the train. People were smiling but it felt awkward.
This is a guy who would barely say a word when hanging out with others but who was perfectly comfortable in dancing in public. It remains a mystery to me how the same person could show such opposite extreme behaviours.
Years later and still I thought that I knew very little about Ivan, despite knowing him for so long. Outside of dancing he would rarely share any details about his personal life. This experience helped me dispel any myths I had around introverts and their love for dancing.
The silent power of non-verbal communication
We usually tend to focus a lot on verbal communication (speaking and writing), while not paying much attention to nonverbal. But, communication is much more than a mere exchange of words. In reality, most of our communication happens through invisible nonverbal cues. In fact, for thousands of years humans didn’t really speak or have a language. This was a later development in human history. Facial expressions, body language, rituals and dancing were the only way of communicating and building relationships with others.
Nonverbal communication is richer and can convey much more meaning than verbal. It is located in a much older area of our brain that is responsible for our emotions, memory and behaviour. As such, it is more involuntary than verbal.
Like with many other assumptions we make, we also tend to think that people who are extroverted and know how to talk are better communicators. Perhaps this might be true in some areas of business and life or perhaps people that talk a lot get more exposure due to our modern day culture. But overall it is a faulty assumption and in my view a quite limited view of the human potential.
The main reasons introverts love dancing
Speaking is much harder than dancing
As mentioned earlier, in evolutionary terms humans could dance long before they could speak. This is why dancing comes much more naturally to us, engaging our full bodies and minds more than speech will ever do. However, in the West in the last few hundred years we downgraded dancing to a past-time activity rather than a part of our daily life. Even worse, in many cases we have completely abandoned dancing. This historical process happened for many and complicated cultural reasons.
In the “The important social function of carnival” I describe how first the catholic church and then later the protestant reformation led to the ban of Carnivals in Europe. People were not allowed to sing, dance or show any signs of collective excitement. This gradually led to an epidemic of melancholy across Europe. Luckily carnivals, and dancing in groups made a comeback in the second part of the 20th century but the influence of history can still be felt.
In business, people that speak a lot often get more exposure and appear more capable than they are. Unfortunately, we tend to promote these behaviours while tending to ignore talented people who are more quiet and go unnoticed. Despite the fact that people who speak the least many times have the most to say. It may sound counterintuitive but introverts find it much easier dancing with others, even if they are strangers, rather than speaking to them, like my friend Ivan who was extremely comfortable dancing in public but hated making small talk.
They can express themselves better one-on-one and be creative
Cuban salsa is not a choreographed dance. It comprises of a mix of musical styles, rhythmic patterns and a syllabus of steps and moves, which the dancers use to improvise. Dancers are not expected to follow a pre-determined choreography but rather make it up as they go in a continuous interplay with their partners. The more experienced a dancer is the more he can improvise and intuitively links different patterns, making every single dance special.
However, improvisation requires significant cognitive effort and being in the moment. Introverts who naturally focus their energy internally may find it easier to react in the moment and be creative. Dancing, as a non-talking activity, provides the perfect opportunity for them to express themselves without inhibitions. In a way, dancing is their comfort zone and when people feel comfortable they express themselves better.
They are more mindful and attuned to those they engage with
In my experience, there is nothing worse that dancing with a talker. All their energy and focus goes to what they want to say rather than being attuned to their partner. It is very difficult to talk with someone while you are rotating and moving fast. It is confusing and disruptive.
This is not the case with introverts who are more mindful and usually connect deeper with those they engage with. In addition, they love the fact that when dancing they only have to interact with one partner at a time, which helps create even deeper connections with others. This helps boost their confidence and sense of achievement. It also makes popular amongst their dance partners. I remember that Ivan always had ladies queuing up to dance with him. He was attracting others like a magnet as he could connect with them on a much deeper level.
They have a more caring leading style
Quite often, extroverts tend to focus more on how good they look on the dance floor, and on seeking validation from others. For them dancing is more of an opportunity to display their skills and less to care about others.
In “Leadership and Followership – Coupled in the same dance” I described some particularly problematic leadership styles. Most of them describe extroverted people who use dancing as a platform to promote themselves and look good. For instance, the “Commander” is someone who wants to be in charge, is aggressive and does not allow any autonomy to their partner. For them it is all about command and control and show little care for others.
Another problematic type is the “Teacher”. This is used to describe people who love correcting their partners and verbally instructing them the “right” way of doing things while still dancing. No-one asked for their advice but they seem extremely keen to provide it. Unfortunately, it is almost never about their partner but more about their ago, they truly believe they know better.
But my ‘favourite’ one is the “Rockstar”. This is someone who does not care about their partners at all. For them, their partners are just the supporting cast that will make them look good on the dance floor. They are there to perform fancy moves for everyone else to see.
On the other hand, introverts are more mindful and caring about their partners as they do not dance to seek validation or self-promote but because they enjoy it. Cuban salsa is an ongoing interplay between two equal partners, who continuously adapt to each other. The leader’s role is to provide subtle direction, not dominate. Introverts can be more thoughtful, empathetic, and careful, which makes them potentially great dance partners.
In the end, the experience I had with my friend Ivan helped me realise how wrong I was in my assumptions and how much introverts love dancing.