|Dancers at Contact: A Networking Event for Freelance Dancers|
1. Don't be afraid to walk up to an individual or group and just say hello. The first step of engaging with people you don't know is to calmly announce your presence. From there, you can usually find your way into a talking point to become a part of the conversation. Obviously, you don't want to abruptly interrupt or interject before you have been appropriately welcomed. But stepping up to an individual that is standing alone or a small group of people in conversation and saying, "Excuse me, do you mind if I join you?," is a perfectly acceptable way to join a conversation or to introduce yourself without feeling too intrusive.
2. If the person/people you are greeting is/are already in a conversation when you enter, be sure to give the participants space to complete what they are talking about. Sometimes they will take that route. At other times, a new participant can completely alter the direction of the chat, especially if the conversation was deeply personal. Be sure to leave room for that natural evolution to take place. But don't be unprepared if you are going to step in to introduce yourself, as the conversation's focus may quickly turn over to you. In the event that the group doesn't ask you to properly introduce yourself (beyond your name), I always suggest that you have a follow up topic in the event that your entrance turns the spotlight over to you. For instance, if you want to engage with a visiting choreographer after a performance, throwing out an, "I love your work and would love to discuss your inspiration for the piece," may work well. For a patron that you have yet to meet, it is always appropriate to ask them if they enjoyed the show. And when they say yes (which they almost always will), ask them what their favorite part was. There is no easier way to spur conversation with a stranger than to relate to the reason that you are both attending an event. If you are at a philanthropic event, ask how they got involved in the organization. If they are at an art gallery, ask them what type of art they like. If you were in a performance and they attended that performance, ask them about the show. If you directly relate to the reason that you are both in attendance, that can be an easy launching point to eventually lead into a more meaningful conversation.
4. This is something that I'm actually quite horrible at because I'm always afraid that I am going to be perceived as disingenuous. I actually have to practice being complimentary of other people, as it is easy to discredit simple things that may not seem exciting or compelling to me, but may be meaningful to others. I think that, as dancers, we often are used to accepting compliments from people outside of our field. But as never-ending critics of our own technique, we tend to be extremely critical in general, which leads to difficulty in offering positive reinforcement to others. If somebody at an event bought tickets in celebration of their anniversary, be sure to wish them a hearty congratulations. If somebody thought they wouldn't enjoy a dance production and was surprised that they found it compelling, reaffirm their achievement in overcoming an obstacle in them becoming supporters of your art. Again, all people enjoy feeling special and accomplished. A little nod or a few kind words can go a long way in having an enjoyable conversation and potentially growing a relationship with people you meet at events.
5. This may seem unnecessary, but always have an exit strategy for uncomfortable conversations or for people that are outstaying their welcome. Unfortunately, especially for female dancers, some patrons only attend events in hopes of meeting dancers for romantic reasons. Especially, if alcohol is flowing, there are the rare guests who can become inappropriate towards dancers. Not to validate this activity in any way, but this makes sense since dancers are often seen as untouchable creatures onstage, often wearing form-fitting costumes that leave little to the imagination. It is always a good idea to have a friend with you or nearby to help you exit a conversation as quickly as possible, if necessary. If you find yourself alone with a patron that is crossing certain boundaries, it is alright to tell them that they are being inappropriate and that you are uncomfortable and leaving. Yes, you don't want to be oversensitive. But you also want to be respectful to yourself and remain safe. Know what your line is, whether mild flirting is comfortable or an arm around your shoulders bothers you. But the second that lines are crossed, immediately exit without niceties or explanation and be sure to mention to somebody in a management position that a patron crossed a line with you to avoid situations like this in the future for yourself and/or others.
|Talking to dancers at Contact: A Networking Event for Freelance Dancers|