I now know two of the dancers in this sequence, not that you can pick either of them out in the background of the potato-quality YouTube video. (You can spot one of them in the B-roll/outtakes if you're quick.) One of them was the choreographer, who happened to be a part of one of the collaborations in the most recent show I've worked. He is a very nice man. He has decided we are going to be friends! I begin to wonder if all of the ballroom dancers are secretly Labrador retrievers.

This is becoming something of a pattern. I'm not displeased, just bewildered. I have no idea why people with arts grants and IMDb credits continually talk to me like I'm a part of their community in any but the most hopeful amateur capacity, but they are clearly going to keep doing it.

I make it a policy, when I work front of house for performances, to not bother the dancers. Everyone in the performing arts has their own personal rituals to prepare for going out on stage, and it's considered rude bordering on sabotage to interrupt them. Working crew is a lot like being a butler: If you do it right, nobody knows you're there until you hand them something they need, and then you vanish again. I do my best to be not there while they're trying to concentrate, and I think I do a pretty good job.

This group of dancers did not want to be left alone. If they even noticed I was trying to stay out of their way, they gave no sign. So I seem to have made some new friends in spite of myself. One of them is a jazz vocalist-tap dancer, one is a Bollywood-classical Indian-modern dancer, and one of them is a ballroom-and-other-random-things dancer. They were collaborating on a piece involving doggerel and tea. It did not make what I would call "more sense" in context, but it was nonetheless enjoyable to watch.

The ballroom dancer grew up in Israel, which I know now because he is chatty. I've not seen him drink, but I'm pretty sure that after a few beers you could get him telling anecdotes to the potted plants. He'd know he was talking to foliage, he just wouldn't care. Telling the story is fun enough.

I read subtitles on people a lot. I talk back that way, too. The tap dancer is American, so that one's easy; the Indian lady is pretty well Westernized, at least when she's interacting with Western people, so that's easy, too. I know how to say 'hey, you guys seem cool' in my own home dialect. The Israeli fellow, though, I had to keep an eye on -- watch how much space he actually wanted in crowded lobbies and narrow corridors, when he wasn't thinking about it too hard. It's less than he might. It's not as prominent as the Italian kid I knew in college, who wanted to stand on my shoes all the time, but it's noticeable. His English says he's been here a good long time, but some part of his voluble little heart is still in the Middle East.

I don't think I can explain why I care so much about this without making it sound like five different kinds of melodrama. It's not; most humans watch non-verbal feedback and mirror it as a way to signal friendliness, they just don't think about it very much. Hence the endless books about the art of negotiation and magazine articles about "5 Ways To Tell If She's Into You".

I've always thought about it a lot, mainly because I was forced to.

When I was a kid and I complained that nobody liked me, I was always told I had to adapt to their way of communicating, rather than anyone bothering to care how I worked, because I was the smart one and it was easier for me. The observation was correct, but the conclusion was completely unreasonable. I learn non-verbal dialects the same way I learn verbal ones, but I'll be damned if I'll do it on demand. I refused for the longest time. It was a lot of effort just to get people to go from 'cruel' to 'indifferent', and I resented being the only one who was ever expected to make it.

It was not until I got out of there and into an environment where I had some level of choice in who I interacted with that I realized that piece of advice was actually pretty good, just intended for a completely different context. No amount of change was ever going to make the people I grew up with like me. They weren't interested in liking me. They were interested in not having to pay attention to me. When I did strange things, they had to think about it and decide they didn't like it. This annoyed them a great deal, as it took time out of their busy day of whatever it is normal people do with their lives. If I would just learn how to do conventionally annoying things instead, they could dismiss me immediately without spending any energy on it. I could go to any lengths I wanted, and the best I would ever get would be to make myself tolerable enough to be ignored instead of actively driven away.

Whenever I run into anyone who has obviously had to learn a different dialect of movement and space just to get along here, I remember that. It's exhausting to edit yourself constantly. If I'm interested in being friends, you are not required to anxious-babble or stand an extra four feet away or whatever it is you're doing to try and be comfortingly 'normal' around me. I'd really prefer you didn't. I'm not 'normal' for the culture I live in, I don't care if you're not, either.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. People who are being politely normal at me just because I'm there usually try harder if I imply they don't have to keep it up. They take it as a sign that they're not performing hard enough, since the object is usually to keep others from noticing that anything's 'off', and I've just pointed out that it didn't work on me. People who are doing it specifically for my benefit will keep going until they get it, and then it flips off like a switch.

I have no idea if it's a relief to other people like it would be for me; I can only recall one person ever saying explicitly that he appreciated me not making him translate things into words all the time. Others' reactions have suggested it, but no one ever really comments.

I justify doing all of this largely for my own peace of mind. I have a hard time figuring out whether people are talking to me because I'm me or because I'm there. When I try it and it works, I feel like I've successfully communicated that, whether or not they were talking specifically to me, I am talking specifically to them. I tell myself very firmly that this is information, and they can do whatever they want with it. I really only do it if I'm trying to build bridges, but at a certain point it's kind of out of my hands.

A good 90% of the interesting people I meet take my card and then wander off, never to be seen again. I figured if I wanted to be nice to this lot, I ought to do it right then, before they vanished on me. Boisterous as they were, they only managed to break one of their fragile bone china tea cups in a six-show run, and they cleaned it up themselves; I thought that warranted flowers, so I brought them some on closing night.


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