On Hugs

7D451184-7D7C-4525-B234-01C2A72E2D7EI didn’t learn to properly hug until I was 28 years old. Before this year I was what you might call a chronic butt-out, back-patting “hugger.” The kind that would shoot my backside to the opposite end of the room and sprinkle in a few light pats on the back – lest any intimacy be created between me and the person I was “hugging.”

All of that began to change when I fell in love with a partner dance called Brazilian zouk. Brazilian zouk is essentially a variation of Brazilian lambda danced to music from the French Caribbean called zouk. And it’s really not made for shy people. Or people that mind sweaty strangers. Or people that have any concept of personal space.

Lucky for me, my interest in zouk coincided with an individual visiting DC from Rio de Janerio named Gui, whose workshops included titles such as The Universe Behind the Hug. Having Gui as a teacher is what changed everything for me.

The first series that I took with Gui focused on close embrace. Classes were held every Wednesday night in the basement of a church in DuPont Circle. Each week we explored concepts related to dancing in close embrace.

“When I first came to the US and saw people dancing zouk, they were dancing this . . . . . far . . . apart. And I thought no, no, no. That’s sad.” I recall him saying in one of the early classes.

Most nights we would do what Gui sometimes referred to as “the ritual.” The ritual involved a sort of reaching past each other before settling down into a hug and dancing.

One night Gui demonstrated that there should be as many points of contact as possible between you and the person you are dancing with. Cheeks. Chests. Hips. Thighs. Calves. All. Touching. Space creates room for misunderstanding, as I would learn, which was an unfortunate piece of information to find out as someone who harbored a fear of being felt.

The class became both my favorite and least favorite thing about the week. Every week I would have so much anxiety building up to the class. I would worry about being felt by another person. I would worry about having to be vulnerable. During class, I would be dancing with someone and then slowly the self-conscious thoughts would start to creep in: I wonder how I feel compared to other women. Am I making him uncomfortable? I bet he thinks I’m awkward. Will anyone ever want to social dance with me?

But every week I struggled through the class.  As the weeks went by, I became less anxious. I can’t remember the exact moment that it happened, when I realized that my goals were not divergent from the leads I was dancing with. When I realized that our end goals were the same – to dance with each other, be there for each other, to find connection in a world of increasing isolation. No hiding from each other.

My fear of hugging, of feeling connected with another person, really stemmed from a fear of rejection. From a fear of judgment. Each week I worked on letting all of that fear go. I worked on surrender. I worked on being okay with being myself. Because the only way to be truly connected, in life as well as in dance, is to be vulnerable.

I wanted to be fully in the dance with another person. Therefore, I had to be fully myself.

Nowadays I can’t even go more than two days without dancing and hugging both strangers and friends.  I still struggle, but I’m less scared now. Less scared of being felt, of being judged. By learning how to embrace other people, I have finally learned how to embrace myself. 

Photo Credit: Jennifer Prillaman Photography 



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